How to Sell PDFs Online: The Complete Guide
Last updated: September 14, 2021
If you’re looking for an easy way to make passive income, selling PDFs online is a great way to do it.
Because you’re selling PDF files, there’s no “inventory” to manage, you can sell it as many times as you want, and you can adjust and update the content as needed to fit your audience or provide new information and graphics.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What kinds of PDFs can you sell?
- How can you create your PDFs?
- Where can you sell your PDFs?
- Getting Paid, Legalities to Consider, and Marketing
What kinds of PDFs can you sell?
When it comes to ideas for PDFs to sell, as long as you can put it on a piece of (digital) paper, you can make it into a PDF. Here’s a list of some of the most popular kinds of PDFs to sell online.
- Ebooks (fiction, non-fiction, comics/graphic novels)
- How-to guides, tutorials, or manuals
- Professional document templates (resumes, invoices, etc)
- Marketing templates (newsletters, calendars, etc)
- Workout and nutrition plans
- Sewing patterns
- Wrapping paper patterns
- Greeting cards
- Your original art or sheet music
- Industry reports
- White papers
How can you create PDFs?
Use or install the relevant software on your computer. You probably already have software that can make PDFs. Most word processing programs like Microsoft Word, Page on a Mac, or even Google Docs can create PDF files. Design software like the Adobe Suite will also export your work as PDF files.
- If your PDF is meant to be printed, make sure your paper size is compatible with standard printer paper (A4 or 8.5″ x 11″), or plan to offer different versions of your PDF depending on what types of paper sizes and printers your audience has available to them.
- Add content like text, images, and if it’s an ebook or course handbook (or anything that won’t necessarily be printed), add hyperlinks to online videos and other useful information.
- If you’re creating an ebook or a PDF with any text, make sure you check for spelling and grammar.
- Export and/or print test versions of your PDF to make sure that everything is legible. Also check that there aren’t any problems with the font, images, or links, and that the layout doesn’t have any issues. You can export your document to PDF typically by going to “File” and then “Save As” or “Print”.
- Once you’re happy with the layout, save the file version as a PDF. If you want, you can also add a level of security by adding a watermark or password protecting the document for each individual buyer. These features may not be available depending on what program you’re using.
Where can you sell your PDFs online?
There are two major ways to sell your PDFs online: on an online marketplace or on your website.
Method 1: Online marketplaces
With this method, you can start selling as soon as you sign up for a seller account. Some of the most popular online marketplaces to sell your PDFs are Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.
By selling on an online marketplace, you have their audience as potential customers already, so you don’t need to depend entirely on marketing. They also provide built-in services like terms and conditions, payment systems, and usually at least a basic level of technical and customer service.
However, because you’re using a third-party service, there will be fees that you’ll need to pay per month, per listing, or per transaction, depending on the marketplace. You’re also restricted to getting paid by their schedule.
You’ll have to follow their rules and regulations when it comes to what’s allowed in the product listings, what you can sell, and for how much. An important rule to look out for is file size restrictions. Every online marketplace has its limits on how large a file any digital product can be.
If you’re selling something like a text-only ebook or a simple template, this probably won’t affect you, since these kinds of PDFs tend to have small file sizes. However, if you’re selling PDFs like workout guides, magazines, catalogues, or anything that may be heavy with graphics and images, file sizes tend to be larger.
You’re also restricted to their style and layout — any branding that you can do will be minimal since most online marketplaces want to keep an aesthetic consistency between all their stores.
Method 2: Your website
By creating a store on your own website, you have the ability to customise the customer journey, add as much branding as you want, and possibly cultivate long-lasting relationships with your customers through follow-up marketing techniques like mailing lists or unique discounts.
Plus you don’t have to worry about direct competition and how that can affect your pricing. In an online marketplace, interested customers can tell quickly if the PDF they’re looking for is cheaper at another seller’s store in the marketplace. In these instances, you’re typically forced to price your PDF in line with other sellers. But by selling on your website you can set the price you want and customers will have to spend more time and effort looking for other alternatives.
But by using your website to sell your PDFs, your sales will be dependent on how well you market your product. You’ll also have to create your own terms and conditions to make sure that all the legalities are covered as dictated by your local and national laws.
In other words, this method is great for those that don’t mind figuring out problems on their own and want to have a hand in everything as they build their brand.
Option 1: Use your website builder’s eCommerce functionality.
If you’re already using WordPress, Squarespace, or another website builder, then you can add a store to your website or blog using their service. With some platforms this can be simple, with others it may require you to understand how to code or pay for plug-ins.
Option 2: Use a third-party service to create an online store and connect it with your website.
This method doesn’t have to take as much time as you think it would. There are services, like Payhip, which allow you to create a store where you can embed products or the entire store on your website or even act as a standalone website.
For instance, with Payhip, you’ll be able to set the prices you want, the payment structure you want (recurring vs one-time vs pay-what-you-want), get paid immediately, and not to mention you’ll get higher profits since you don’t have recurring fees to pay.
And since your store is tied to your website, you can create a cohesive customer journey that can follow the customer from cart to checkout to the marketing content. With Payhip’s ability to manage your customer information and provide analytics, you’re also able to tweak and improve your marketing campaigns.
I tried a few different services before settling on Payhip. What stood out to me the most about them was how easy everything was to set up and just start selling!
– Martha Jones, Social Media Shark
Selling PDFs Online: FAQs
How do I sell PDFs online using PayPal?
Most services will allow you to accept payment with major credit cards. But when you’re trying to decide on what service to go with, make sure they cover the options that you know your audience will also be interested in, like PayPal and Stripe.
Payhip offers PayPal and Stripe payment methods to customers automatically when you sign up for a Payhip account.
How do I get money selling PDFs?
With most online marketplaces, they will usually transfer your earnings (minus their fees) to your bank account or payment platform of choice. However, you’ll have to wait on a fixed schedule for payment.
If you sell on your website and connect your PayPal or Stripe account to your Payhip store account, you’ll get paid every time someone buys your PDF. No waiting!
Is it illegal to sell PDF books?
There’s an easy way to tell if selling a PDF book is illegal or not: did you create the content?
If it’s a copy or scanned version of a copyrighted book, textbook, or other digitisation of any existing content, then yes, it’s illegal to sell.
If you’re selling a PDF book in which you created all the content yourself, then no.
What’s the best way to sell PDFs online?
The extremely short answer: marketing. This applies regardless if you’re selling in an online marketplace or if you’re selling on your website.
One way to quickly start attracting customers is to use the store or product’s URL to share on your social media and marketing materials like newsletters or ads.
Along with the link, add interesting photos, facts, or maybe start a blog covering topics that relate to your PDF downloads. Get creative in finding ways to show why your PDF is useful, interesting, and probably better than what else is out there.
No matter where you try to market, think about what kind of customer you’re targeting. Are they teachers looking for printable teaching materials? Is it potential new readers for your sci-fi book? Someone looking to kickstart their content calendar and looking to follow a PDF guide?
Where do these kinds of people like to get their information? How can you connect with them?
Finding and reaching your audience will take some trial and error. Be ready to adjust to what your audience is telling you and keep at it!
At the end of every blog post, and in our Google and Facebook ads, there was our URL, directly linked to our Payhip store. As an afterthought I put it in our IG bio too. After a few months, I learned that most of our customers were coming from the IG link! Payhip’s Analytics helped me track that customer journey and now I’ve changed the marketing strategy, shifting it more to IG and our sales have more than doubled since!
– Alex Foster, Entrepreneur
Ready to start selling PDFs?
You now know what kinds of PDFs to sell, how to make them, and where to sell them. Plus you also have some insight into how payment for your PDFs work, some legalities, and how to market your PDF products.
Overall, it’s pretty simple, right?
If you want to get started now, sign up for a free Payhip account and start selling PDFs!