The best places to sell digital downloads online in any niche.
To succeed with digital content sales and delivery, you need these two things
1. A marketing channel or audience to sell to
2. A place to sell and distribute your digital download
In this article, I’ll discuss digital content platforms that include marketing channels and some that don’t. Whether you’ve already got a blog, a big social media following, an email list, or nothing at all, there’s something for you here. The most important thing to have is a product that people will pay for. Once you have a great digital product, the next step is choosing a solution or choosing multiple solutions for selling the product online.
So you’ve developed a digital product, online course, or digital service, and you’re ready to sell it online. Where are the best places to set up your online business for success, and what are the best platforms to sell digital products? Let’s take a look.
Gumroad is an online platform for people who want to sell digital downloads without worrying about creating a website, implementing shopping carts, payment options, and designing a user experience. The team at Gumroad has already put these things in place and you can get started selling digital products in minutes.
As a Gumroad creator, you can also benefit from the Gumroad community and Gumroad Discover features where new products are highlighted and promoted by the platform. Hosting your products on the ecommerce platform gives you the benefits of a high-authority platform with intrinsic visibility in search engines.
Gumroad lets you deliver any kind of file to customers and also gives your customers a place to find updated files and new products. You can deliver PDFs, software, license keys, documents, audio files, video tutorials, WordPress themes, and pretty much any kind of digital file downloads you might want to sell.
Gumroad takes care of the payment options, file storage, and download link creation. It’s a popular one-stop-shop, especially for solo creators, artists, and writers.
One interesting aspect of Gumroad is the free plan. You can sell unlimited products with no monthly fee on the platform. The only catch is the 5% charge fee per sale. The Creator Plan is a $10 per month plan that reduces the fees significantly and also gives you other perks such as a custom domain and the removal of Gumroad branding.
- Easy to get started
- High-converting shopping carts and mobile-friendly features
- High transaction fees
- Limited customization options
Teachable is an easy-to-use, affordable, and stable platform to sell digital courses and digital downloads.
One of the best platforms for selling video tutorials and delivering online courses, Teachable has fast become the first choice for teachers, marketers, and companies with education materials to offer. Selling digital downloads is easy with Teachable (although it’s not the primary focus of the platform). Pricing starts at $29 per month and features include unlimited students, coupon codes, discount codes, and a members-only community. The community is a feature of online courses that many people pay exclusively for. It’s like a digital product built around the users of your product.
- Easy to use and get started
- Many other courses run on Teachable so customers may already be familiar with the interface
- The minimum monthly plan costs $29 per month and all transactions incur a 5% fee (on top of the credit card or Paypal payment processor fees)
- More suited to delivering courses along with selling digital products.
Another online course platform that has helped creators sell almost 100 million courses is the popular Thinkific. It’s one of the most established platforms for selling courses and digital products and sets standards for other platforms to follow.
Thinkific and Teachable are similar, but it’s worth comparing the two as each has its own fanbase.
In many ways, getting started selling digital products or courses is easier with Teachable, but Thinkific offers better purchasing options, free trials, and custom payments. You can sell your digital downloads on the platform and also deliver the digital goods as part of the course or product bundle.
Thinkific is one of the more expensive options to sell online. And don’t forget that it’s aimed at course creators, so if you’re not selling a course, there are better and cheaper options. Thinkific offers a free plan, but it’s limited in features. Paid plans starts are ¢49 per month.
- well-established and trusted way to sell online courses
- multiple payment options available and discount codes features
- hosts all of your content
- integrates with many third-party tools such as Mailchimp and PayPal
- relatively expensive – the Basic Plan costs $49 per month
- mediocre drag-and-drop website builder
- lacking in upsell functionality – Thrivecart and Cartfuel do a much better job
SendOwl does away with fancy features and clunky interfaces. It focuses on one thing: simplifying taking payments and delivering content to your customers. And SendOwl does an outstanding job.
SendOwl lets your customers enjoy flexible payment options. And this converts customers much better than single payment options. The affiliate center lets you create a system for offering commissions to bloggers and influencers who promote your product. While it’s not as sophisticated as ThriveCart’s affiliate program, or as flexible as a dedicated affiliate commissions solution on WordPress, for example, it does the job for most creators.
SendOwl competes with ThriveCart and CartFuel (also on this list) but again, the features, user interface, pricing, and design differences in SendOwl are worth investigating before making a final decision.
- custom code and license key features are great for people that sell digital products that require licenses or unlock codes.
- Great tax management features
- powerful analytics and integrations with other products such as Google Analytics
- No transaction fee
- Unlimited products and shopping carts
- Comes with many excellent marketing tools
- Basic A/B testing
- Monthly cost, whether or not you sell anything (although the basic plan is less than $10 per month)
WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin that lets you create an online store for free. It’s essentially an ecommerce platform plugin that works really well with WordPress, the content management system that powers 40% of websites. Neither WordPress nor the WooCommerce WordPress plugin is perfect, but they offer several compelling reasons to use them together. Both tools are free, robust, highly functional and customizable, and are supported by a large group of developers backed by a billion-dollar company (Automattic).
If you’re worried about using free software to sell products, rest assured that you’ve got nothing to be concerned about. I hear this objection all the time from people that use Facebook, Gmail, Google Maps, and well even Chrome browser. These products are free to use and all have bugs from time to time.
There’s a bit of a learning curve if you are brand new to WooCommerce, but it’s not a steep one. And for many people, a couple of hours of setting up products is all they need. Of course, there’s more to it than that if you want to optimize your product pages for SEO, but we must do this on any platform. Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and other platforms talk about how they have built-in SEO and optimized sales pages, but it’s not true. They all fall short if you go with the default options. There’s no shortcut, so you might as well go with the best of the bunch which in my opinion is WooCommerce.
WooCommerce is perfect for selling physical items as well. In fact, most website owners use it for this purpose.
- 100% free – WooCommerce is open source
- Very customizable
- Lots of payment options available including discount code facilities built in.
- Great SEO built into the plugin
- Certain features require paid plugins
- No support – it’s a free product so support options are limited to public forums
- You need to build a WordPress site and WordPress theme to look professional
Thrivecart is an awesome tool for simplifying the process of creating shopping carts that convert visitors to buyers. The entire design and sales flow are based on proven conversion tactics and the checkout experience is considered the best in market. The team at Thrivecart are sales and marketing gurus and have built a product that has an army of raving fans in the marketing world. Many marketers and product developers use Thrivecart to sell digital product ideas before they are even created. By validating an idea and having a straightforward way for people to pay for it, they paved the path to success in product creation.
ThriveCart offers a few features that most of the other specialized shopping cart platforms do not (at least the ones on this list):
- An integrated system for selling and shipping physical products
- A/B testing. Thrivecart offers the ability to test variations of your sales and checkout pages. This is a proven way of discovering which copy and design layouts convert more customers.
- It’s a one-off fee at the moment, so get it while you can (admittedly, it’s been at this price for a long time).
Like Gumroad, Thrivecart has limited customizations so you’re more or less stuck with the look of the cart. But remember that the developers chose these layouts and design elements for a reason; they work.
Thrivecart is the industry-standard platform for selling digital products online.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Choose a product that is proven to work effectively.
- Lifetime (once-off) pricing (for now)
- Great at converting visitors to buyers
- Optimized for upsells and conversions
- Easy to create landing pages and sell products with lots of sales-focused features
- A/B testing features that beat most competitors in reliability and ease-of-use
- Large up-front cost
- Not very customizable
One of the best-known e-commerce platforms, Shopify has made a name for itself thanks to the ease of use and some clever marketing.
It’s easy to set up a checkout system and connect up your payment processor. It’s also pretty easy to add products and have everything set up in no time.
But keep in mind that everything has a cost. Custom themes are expensive. Most plugins must be purchased, and it seems that every change you want to make comes with a cost. Shopify also has a monthly cost that increases as your store grows. Sure, that might not be an issue when you’re making money, but remember that WordPress is free. You’ll need web hosting, but that shouldn’t cost you more than $10 per month. I recommend Cloudways because you can start off your hosting plan on the inexpensive but super-fast Linode servers for $10 per month. And the brilliant thing about Cloudways is that you can scale to a faster server with more space in a few clicks. You don’t need to cancel and order new plans. No need to change host every year. Just upgrade and downgrade as your business needs it.
Where Shopify falls short is in its blogging abilities. As much as they would like to tell you, this is not a blogging platform. I’ve worked with bloggers and businesses that use Shopify as their brand presence. And let me tell you, it’s difficult to make content marketing work on this ecommerce platform.
- fairly easy to use
- the industry standard for online stores
- excellent order tracking features
- monthly costs can be prohibitive for new sellers
- SEO features could be better
- more suited to selling physical products
Designed for course creators, digital product creators, and service providers who want to sell products on their own blogs, Cartfuel is an optimized shopping cart for digital downloads.
To help upsell more products. What’s upselling? It’s the process of offering another product or service in addition to the original one before the customer has completed the checkout process.
An example might be offering a $17 PDF (marketers love prices that end in 7) and when someone adds the PDF ebook to their cart, the system automatically offers them an additional related product. This could be cheaper or more expensive, but the idea is to increase the value of the overall cart.
The theory is that if someone has already decided to buy, they are more likely to spend more at checkout time for convenience’s sake.
Thrivecart offers a similar service but Cartfuel’s offers monthly plans, including a generous free plan.
Cartfuel lets you embed the shopping cart in your website so the whole process is seamless and consistent for the users.
You can sell physical products, services, digital products
- Easy to integrate into your website
- Beautiful sales pages and checkout experience
- Very simple cart creation system – easy to set up
- Limited number of payment gateways (currently only supports stripe)
- Not as sophisticated as other products.
- No A/B testing
You might think that an Etsy shop is only for crafts and home decor products. But digital downloads are very popular on the Etsy platform. Printables like calendars, fitness trackers, wedding planners, and budget planners sell like hotcakes. All you need to do is upload your digital file and Etsy takes care of the rest.
As one of the biggest ecommerce platforms on the planet, Etsy’s processes and systems are designed to make the buying experience easy for the user. Whether you’re selling a physical product or a digital item, you benefit from a huge user base, conversion-focused checkout experiences, and built-in payment processors.
- Easy to get started with – no need for a website or payment processor
- Large customer base used to buying through the platform
- can be a bit overwhelming for new users
- sellers compete against thousands of other creators with similar products
- Etsy charges listing fees and sales commissions.
Email is still going strong in 2021. Yep, it’s not dead yet. In fact, it’s getting stronger. And the rise of lucrative paid newsletters proves that there’s plenty of life left in email. If you can build an email list of people that are interested in your products, you’ve got an automatic marketing channel of people that are ready to hear what you have to say and buy your products. And it costs nothing (apart from maintaining an email marketing tool – don’t send to your list from Gmail or your hosting email account)
Creators, bloggers, and course builders tend to like ConvertKit. It’s a bit expensive to get going with, so try MailerLite or MailChimp instead. MailChimp is probably the most popular email marketing software on the planet, but I don’t recommend it anymore. It’s actually quite expensive once you pass the 1000 subscriber limit. And I’ve never found the interface or workflow intuitive. MailerLite offers a much better workflow and cheaper prices. You could also try SendFox as a more basic, but worthy place to start.
With ConvertKit, people that purchase a product can be added to an email sequence with the aim of selling them a higher-priced item. Potential customers that leave the checkout sequence before paying can also be reminded through a friendly email message to complete their purchase.
In practice, sales don’t happen directly in an email, rather the email sequence nurtures readers before sending them to a landing page or checkout page on your payment provider’s website. However, ConvertKit has a killer feature that lets you sell products directly in email.
Recommended email marketing tools to sell digital goods
- ConvertKit – Designed for online creators, bloggers, and YouTubers who want to monetize their audience.
- MailerLite – intuitive and great value email platform with in-email product widget integrations for Stripe for single purchases and recurring subscriptions.
- Email Octopus – probably the best value email marketing platform. Integrations with PayHip and Gumroad (through Zapier) to help sell digital products.
- great way to sell to your audience without building a brand new marketing channel or website
- easier to sell to engaged customers or readers
- not a dedicated platform for selling online
- limited upsell and shopping cart checkout features
So there you have it, multiple different platforms for selling digital downloads. There are many ways to sell digital goods and deliver digital downloads. You can also combine several of the platforms on this list. For example, Email Octopus can be combined with Cartfuel. Thrivecart integrates with WooCommerce. And the course platforms work well with most ecommerce platforms.
The choice of “best platform” is yours. There are many ways to create a system for selling online. Fortunately, many of the products in this review offer free trials, so try them all out and choose the ones that suit your workflow and budget.
By purchasing products via certain links in this post, I may receive affiliate commissions. This in no way increases the cost to you.