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6 best platforms and features for selling digital downloads online

Discover must-have features for selling digital downloads online. This guide covers what to look for and popular platforms to sell digital downloads.

TL;DR: The best platforms for selling digital downloads for different types of creators

When deciding where to sell digital downloads, make sure to look for a tool that offers ease of entry, functionality, support, marketing features, minimal fees, and reasonable prices.

  • Shopify and Etsy are designed for selling physical goods but allow you to sell digital downloads as well. Their digital product selling options can be more limited.
  • Gumroad offers robust features, and you can sell lots of file types with no recurring fees. The catch is that they charge high transaction fees on each sale.
  • Easy Digital Downloads is a WordPress plugin where you can sell products directly on your website. Even though it’s free to use, you’ll likely need extensions and integrations.
  • Podia is easy to set up and allows you to sell any type of file without limitations. There are advanced marketing features built into the platform, and our support is superb – or that’s what our customers say.

Before launching my first digital download, I thought the hardest part would be turning the contents of my brain into a quality product that people actually wanted to buy.

I had no idea that I would spend approximately one million hours researching the best platforms to sell digital downloads, and would remain tangled in a wild web of feature breakdowns and comparison charts for days.

We don’t want that to happen to you.

There are many places where you can sell digital downloads these days, but deciding which software is best for your products can be a timesink.

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide about what features to look for when selling digital downloads online, as well as some popular platforms that might work for your business.

Why should you sell digital downloads?

Digital downloads are files that are sold online. As a creator, digital downloads can be a lucrative part of your product lineup.

In 2020, the e-learning industry as a whole clocked in at $250 billion. This year, ebook revenue alone is expected to reach over $16 billion, so it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of money to be made in the digital product market.

Here are some reasons why selling digital downloads might work for you:

It’s inexpensive to get started. Creating a digital download usually takes less time and money than making a full-blown online course, and you can make amazing products using free tools like Canva.

Digital products are easy to scale since you can sell an unlimited quantity. One hundred followers want to buy your latest ebook? No problem! Since your product is digital and not physical, you can sell an unlimited number of copies to buyers anywhere in the world.

You don’t have to deal with inventory or shipping. If taking daily trips to the post office sounds like your personal nightmare, digital products are the way to go.

Because the selling process is automated, it can be a source of passive income. Once your digital download is created, listed, and launched, you could find yourself making sales while you sleep.

We’ve got more resources about how to create digital products you can dive into, but for now, let’s talk about one of the last stages in the process: deciding where to sell your digital downloads online.

6 features to look for when deciding where to sell digital downloads online

At their core, digital download platforms all serve the same function. They allow you to list your products, promote them to your audience, and receive payments when someone makes a purchase.

But some platforms kick things up a notch with advanced features, so it’s important to consider which software is most aligned with what you hope to create, both today and in the future.

Let’s face it: migrating your products from one tool to another is about as fun as a trip to the dentist. Save your future self the toothache by picking a tool that feels manageable but also gives you room to grow.

To make deciding a little easier, here are some features you should look for:

Ease of Entry: First and foremost, the platform where you sell digital downloads should be easy to use for you as a creator.

Functionality: You’re a multifaceted creator, so you might want to offer different types of digital products down the road. Keep an eye out for platforms that don’t limit the types of files you can upload.

Support: If you’re like two-thirds of customers, you expect answers to your support questions within ten minutes of asking them. Picking a company with excellent customer support could save you from frustrating delays later on.

Marketing: You might create the most incredible product on the planet, but no one will find it without good marketing. That’s why built-in marketing features are an important part of any decent platform to sell digital products.

Transaction fees: Transaction fees are a small percentage of each sale that the platform keeps. These fees are usually between 1–10% of the total transaction price. Some platforms also charge listing fees and credit card processing fees, which can really add up with each sale.

Price: Finally, we have to crunch the numbers. But cheaper isn’t always better since lower-cost platforms typically have higher fees and other hidden costs.

Simply put, there’s no such thing as a totally free platform.

Now that we know what features to look for, let’s compare some popular options to see how they stack up.

Podia

At Podia, we work hard to ensure you have everything you need to successfully sell digital downloads. Sure, we may be biased, but give this section a read, and I bet you’ll understand why over 50,000+ creators use our software to bring their dreams to life.

For starters, Podia was designed specifically for independent creators to sell digital content. Every detail was lovingly crafted with you in mind.

We’re an all-in-one platform, which means you can sell products, build your website, grow your email list, host webinars, and so much more, all under one roof.

This is a huge perk because if you decide to branch out beyond digital downloads in the future, you won’t need to switch platforms.

Take creator Shalena D.I.V.A., for example. She sells a business planner as a digital download but also offers coaching and training programs.

Podia is set up so you can sell courses, memberships, webinars, and coaching in addition to downloads, so we’re ready for wherever your business takes you.

Want to see for yourself? Grab a 14-day free trial.

Here are the pros of using Podia:

Even though we think Podia is pretty awesome, no software is right for everyone. Here are some reasons why Podia might not be the best choice for you:

  • We’re digital all the way, so if you want to sell physical products, a platform like Shopify or Etsy might be a better fit.

  • If you enjoy tinkering with technology and have coding experience, you might want to develop your own custom selling system. In that case, selling digital downloads from your WordPress site using plugins might be the right path for you.

Podia features

Ease of entry: 4.5 out of 5. The creator-facing dashboard on Podia is clean and easy to navigate. With our step-by-step instructions and support videos, you’ll have your products listed in a matter of minutes.

Functionality: 5 out of 5. With Podia, you can sell files in virtually any format, and there’s no limit on file size. You’re free to bundle your products, offer them as upsells, and price them however you please.

Support: 5 out of 5. Have you met our support team yet? If not, you should! Pop into the chat box at the bottom of the page and say hello. We have the most helpful, friendly, and speedy chat support in town.

Marketing: 4.5 out of 5. We built Podia to be a one-stop shop for all your business needs, and marketing features are an important piece of that puzzle. You can prelaunch and presell products, issue coupons, and even build your own affiliate program right out of the box.

I’ve taken half a point off since we don’t offer a marketplace feature, but this isn’t necessary for all businesses, and we make it easy to build your own audience through our lead capture tools.

Transaction fees: 5 out of 5. We don’t charge any transaction fees. There are, however, payment processor fees that are unassociated with Podia. Stripe or PayPal will charge a standard transaction fee of 2.9% + 30¢.

We also offer instant payouts to creators so you can access your money fast.

Price: $39 — $199/month.

Want to learn more about running your online business with Podia? Join us for a live demo to check it out:

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Shopify

Shopify is an ecommerce giant and a household name in the creator world. Over 1.7 million businesses use Shopify to run their online shops, and creators on the platform have generated over $200 billion in sales.

Shopify is most popular for selling physical goods, but it’s also possible to sell digital products. In recent years, Shopify has also added many international ecommerce features.

If you’re a creator who wants to sell digital and physical goods to clients all over the world, Shopify might be a good place to start.

Here are the Shopify pros:

  • Shopify includes powerful marketing features and integrations with social media platforms.

  • Shopify has its own payment processor called Shopify Payments. It’s easy to use and comes with all plans, so you don’t have to integrate with third-party processors if you don’t want to.

  • You can create beautiful, customizable storefronts and websites.

And here are the Shopify cons:

  • Shopify is oriented toward physical product sales. There are premium features you won’t need if you’re only offering digital products.

  • If you don’t use Shopify Payments, there are additional fees in addition to the monthly subscription price.

  • The fee system, in general, is complex.

Shopify features

Ease of entry: 3 out of 5. Since Shopify was first built for selling physical products, you’ll need to take extra steps to sell digital downloads. They have videos that walk you through how to add your products using the Digital Downloads app, but it’s not the most intuitive system.

Functionality: 3 out of 5. Again, Shopify loses points because a lot of the functionality is designed for selling physical products.

For selling digital downloads, the maximum file size is 5 GB per file. You can only sell one file per product variant, but it’s possible to add several variants like different image resolutions or ebook formats. You’ll need to use a ZIP file if you want to add many files to a single product.

Support: 3 out of 5. Shopify offers 24/7 chat support, email support, and a community where you can get help from other users. However, many reviews online report slow response times from support.

Marketing: 5 out of 5. Shopify shines in the marketing department. Their plans include a solid website builder where you can set up your storefront and run your blog.

There’s built-in email marketing with ecommerce templates, and you can create gift cards, issue coupons, and display real customer reviews. They also integrate with social media platforms.

Transaction fees: 2.5 out of 5. The Shopify fee structure is complex. It’s hard to know exactly what your transaction and credit card processing fees will be on a purchase.

There are no transaction fees on payments through the Shopify Payments system. But if you don’t use Shopify Payments, there’s a transaction fee for using a third-party payment processor.

Also, if you accept major credit cards, you’ll pay a credit card fee on each purchase. These percentages change based on which plan you select.

  • Basic Shopify:

  • Credit card processing fee: 2.9% + $0.30

  • Transaction fee if not using Shopify Payments: 2%

  • Shopify:

  • Credit card processing fee: 2.6% + $0.30

  • Transaction fee if not using Shopify Payments: 1%

  • Advanced Shopify:

  • Credit card processing fee: 2.4% + $0.30

  • Transaction fee if not using Shopify Payments: 0.5%

Price: $29 — $299/month. Shopify has three different plans. You’ll pay the monthly rate as well as the fees listed above.

Etsy

Millions of shoppers turn to Etsy to buy unique and handmade items. Etsy has a reputation for being the place to buy custom, vintage, and quirky products made by individual creators and small businesses.

Etsy gets almost 400 million monthly visitors, which is a lot of eyeballs on your products. They also have a robust marketplace where you can sell your products and get discovered by new customers.

Below, we’ll look at some pros and cons of selling on Etsy.

On the plus side:

  • Etsy is a well-known brand name, which can instill trust in buyers.

  • On your shop page, you can divide your products into categories for better organization and discoverability.

  • Etsy has an intuitive seller dashboard where you can receive reviews, message customers, create coupons, and offer discount codes.

  • It’s a great place to sell things like templates, presets, artwork, vectors, fonts, and creative pieces.

On the flip side:

  • Etsy is designed for selling physical items as well as digital items. Make sure to clearly state in your listings that the products are digital to prevent confusion.

  • While being listed in the Etsy marketplace is a nice perk, there’s lots of competition, and products in popular categories could get buried.

Etsy features

Ease of entry: 4 out of 5. Etsy has adapted to the digital product space nicely. You can set up your shop in an afternoon, and adding products is as simple as filling out a description form, uploading your product images, adding the files, and pushing the publish button.

Functionality: 3 out of 5. With Etsy, you can sell a wide variety of file types, but you can only upload five files per product. With a maximum size of 20 MB per file, this could be limiting to some creators.

Support: 3 out of 5. On the one hand, Etsy has a great creator community where you can ask questions. Sellers also have access to detailed help documents and a seller handbook.

On the other hand, Etsy support is only available through email. Right now, there’s a 1–2 day turnaround time, which isn’t great for urgent requests.

Marketing: 4 out of 5. Etsy has some attractive marketing features available to sellers. While other platforms may have a marketplace, none have the presence of Etsy.

The competition can be fierce, but it’s possible to drive serious traffic to your products. In fact, there are even third-party keyword research tools that specifically cater to Etsy search rankings. Etsy also has optional advertising available to sellers.

Transaction fees: 2 out of 5. There are a few fees to know about when selling on Etsy. First, you’ll pay a $0.20 listing fee for each item in your shop. Each listing is active for four months or until it sells.

When you sell a product, you’ll pay a 5% transaction fee in addition to a 3% + $0.25 payment processing fee.

Price: Free — $10/month. Making an Etsy shop is free, but it costs $0.20 to list a product as well as additional transaction fees.

Easy Digital Downloads

Easy Digital Downloads (or EDD) is a WordPress plugin you can use to sell downloads directly on your WordPress website.

It’s specifically designed for selling digital products, but it requires some extra lifting to get the same functionality as some of the other systems on this list.

On the upside:

  • EDD is a good option if you already have a WordPress website and to keep your products in the WordPress ecosystem.

  • This is also a good fit for people who want advanced customizations, but keep in mind that you’ll need to be comfortable coding and developing.

On the downside:

  • To get all the features you want for selling digital downloads, you’ll need to use extensions and integrations with other products.

  • These extra extensions and integrations might come with their own fees and technical issues.

Easy Digital Downloads features

Ease of entry: 3 out of 5. If you’re familiar with WordPress and have uploaded plugins before, setting up EDD will be business as usual. If you’ve never used WordPress, this wouldn’t be the best tool since you’d have to learn two new interfaces.

Functionality: 3 out of 5. With EDD, you can sell any file you can upload to WordPress. This gives you a wide range, but be mindful of your hosting bandwidth if you intend to sell large products.

As we’ve mentioned, EDD can be connected with third-party tools for more features. It’s highly customizable, but managing many systems can be complicated.

Essentially, it’s best for someone who wants to build and maintain their own selling setup. The building blocks are good; the question is, do you want to do the construction?

Support: 2 out of 5. EDD offers customer support through a ticket system, and there’s no live chat. Priority support is only available on higher-tiered plans.

Another thing to consider is that if you have an issue with an integration, you might need to contact their support as well. This can lead to frustrating back-and-forth conversations.

Marketing: 2.5 out of 5. Out of the box, EDD offers coupons and discounts, as well as a useful shopping cart feature.

Through extensions, you can flesh out your marketing suite to include affiliates, email, star reviews, cross-selling, and upselling, but some of these integrations are only available on higher-tiered plans.

Transaction fees: 2 out of 5. While there are technically no transaction fees from EDD, you’ll likely have other expenses to make the software work the way you want.

First, you’ll need to have a WordPress website, which comes with hosting and domain fees. You’ll also have fees for any premium integrations you plan to use.

Price: Free — $999/year. The basic EDD plugin is free. If you want more tools, you’ll need to pay for them separately and upgrade to a higher plan for full features.

Gumroad

Gumroad is a platform where creators can sell digital downloads of all shapes and sizes. In the last decade, Gumroad creators have collectively earned over $500 million selling online products.

It’s easy to use and a popular option for creators, but is it the best choice for you? Let’s dive into the pros and cons.

Here’s where Gumroad shines:

  • Gumroad makes it easy to get started, and you can sell pretty much any kind of product imaginable, including physical products if you so choose.

  • The platform is free for everyone to use; you’ll only be charged transaction fees if you make a sale. This is nice if you’re still on the fence about selling digital products and want to experiment before committing to a paid tool.

  • Creators have access to Gumroad Discover, a marketplace where prospective customers can find your products.

Here are some Gumroad cons:

  • There are limited customization options for your product pages and checkout pages. It’s difficult to make a traditional sales page, and there’s no website builder.

  • While it might be free to sign up, there are high transaction fees on each sale. This is fine when you’re first starting out, but as you scale, it could seriously eat away at your earnings.

Gumroad features

Ease of entry: 4 out of 5. Setting up products on Gumroad is easy and intuitive. You can publish your first listing in just a few minutes, and you’ll be ready to start selling.

Functionality: 4.5 out of 5. With Gumroad, you can sell digital files, physical products, memberships, product variations, and rentals. You can also choose a release date for your products, offer license keys if you’re selling software, and sell subscriptions.

For paid products, there’s a file size limit of 16 GB. For free products, the file size limit is 250 MB. Each product can include as many files as you like.

Support: 2.5 out of 5. Gumroad has a resource library with helpful articles and videos. They’ve lost points because there’s no live chat or phone support, so the best way to get in touch for specific inquiries is through their contact email.

Marketing: 4 out of 5. In the marketing department, Gumroad’s affiliate system shines. If you plan to use affiliate marketing with your product, Gumroad lets you set this up for free using their simple system.

Gumroad also has a handful of integrations so you can connect your email marketing tools, as well as a Zapier integration.

Transaction fees: 2.5 out of 5. With transaction fees ranging from 9% to 2.9%, this is the area where Gumroad loses the most points. The transaction fee rate goes down the more you sell, but 9% is a steep price for newer creators. You also pay a $0.30 fee on each transaction.

Gumroad has weekly payouts as long as you’ve met a $10 USD threshold.

Price: Free + Fees. There’s no recurring monthly price, but you’ll pay transaction fees based on your number of lifetime sales.

What to look for when deciding where to sell digital downloads

All creators are unique. That’s why it’s nice to have options when choosing what software will power your business.

With a reliable digital download platform by your side, you’ll be on your way to a more well-rounded product line and endless earning potential.

About the author

Nicola is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. She lives for lizards, loves to travel, and can often be found cooking up new recipes in the kitchen.