How To Sell PDFs Online In 2024 (Step-By-Step)

Want to learn how to sell PDFs online? You’re in the right place.

PDFs are one of the best types of digital products to sell. Why? Because they’re super quick to make, easy to distribute as digital files, and they sell like crazy.

In this post, we’ll be showing you the best way to sell your PDFs both on your own website and on third-party ecommerce platforms. Plus, we’ll also share some powerful marketing strategies that you can use to drive sales.

Types of PDFs you can sell

PDFs are a very versatile file format, so they can be used to sell lots of different types of content. Basically, as long as you can turn it into a document, you can sell it.

That said, here are some of the most popular types of PDFs to sell online:

  • E-books
  • Digital planners
  • Sewing patterns
  • Printables
  • Worksheets
  • Coloring pages
  • Calendars
  • Planner and diary inserts
  • Manuals
  • Blueprints
  • Comic stripes 
  • Craft templates
  • White papers
  • Greeting’s cards
  • Wedding invitations
  • Resumes
  • Business cards

Just keep in mind that some of these PDF categories are very competitive. That’s why it’s important to start by doing some market research and niche down. The goal is to find an underserved niche with high demand and low competition.

You can use keyword research tools to see what types of PDFs people are searching for, and then browse sites like Etsy to evaluate the competition.

For example, Keyword Surfer tells us that the keyword ‘coloring pages’ has a monthly search volume of over 450,000 in the US alone. So it’s clear there’s a huge market out there for PDF coloring pages.

01 Keyword Surfer - coloring pages

However, when we put the same search query into Etsy, it brings up over 194,000 results. 

02 Etsy search query - coloring pages

And it’s very clear that there are lots of existing Etsy stores selling this type of product, so it’s going to be tough to compete.

Therefore, if you want to stand a chance of making sales, it’s a good idea to niche down even further. Instead of focusing on PDF coloring pages, you might want to specifically focus on Halloween-themed coloring pages or botanical coloring pages. You get the idea.

Where to sell your PDFs

There are two main ways to sell your PDFs online. You can either sell them on your own website, or through third-party platforms. Both methods have their pros and cons. Let’s explore each of them.

Your website

The best place to sell your PDFs is through an ecommerce website that you own. 

That way, you don’t have to pay hefty listing fees or transaction fees like you do when you sell through third-party marketplaces. And as a result, you get to keep all of your profits and make more money per sale.

Plus, selling through your own site gives you complete control and ownership. You get to design your storefront however you want, sell whatever products you want, and choose your own prices.

There are lots of website builders out there that you can use to build your ecommerce store, but we’d recommend Sellfy.

03 Sellfy - ecommerce store

It’s the most beginner-friendly ecommerce platform we’ve tried and is specifically made for selling digital products like PDFs. Plus, Sellfy’s subscription plans are super affordable and it charges 0% transaction fees on all your sales. 

You can build your website with Sellfy in just a few steps:

First, sign up for the 14-day free trial (you can upgrade to a paid plan later) and log in to your dashboard.

04 Sellfy - dashboard

Then, go to Products > Digital Products > Add new product, and upload the PDFs you want to sell.

05 Sellfy - add new product

Sellfy will ask you to fill in a few boxes with the product name, description, price settings, etc. When you’re done, click Save product and your product page will be live on your Sellfy store.

After that, head to your Store settings to connect your preferred payment processor (Stripe or PayPal). This will allow you to start making sales. You might also want to connect a custom domain, which you can purchase separately through a domain registrar like GoDaddy.

06 Sellfy - store settings

And finally, use the drag-and-drop Store Customizer to change the design/layout of your store to your liking. There are a bunch of ready-made themes to choose from, and it’s very intuitive to use. 

07 Sellfy - store customizer

After you’ve done all that, launch your store and you’re ready to start making sales!

Online platforms

If you don’t want to create your own website, then you have the option of selling PDFs on online marketplaces instead. 

The benefits of selling via a marketplace are that it is very easy to get started, and it can increase the discoverability of your products. 

However, most marketplaces will take fees and commissions from your product sales, so you’ll lose some of your profits. Also, you have less control over your product listings, and you can’t customize your store in the same way you could with your own website. 

If you want to go down this route, here are some of the best online platforms for selling PDFs:

  • Etsy. Etsy is a global marketplace geared towards crafters and makers. It’s also one of the best places to sell digital files online like PDFs. You can list up to 40 products for free and you’ll only be charged a 6.5% commission fee on sales. The main downsides to Etsy are that it’s become heavily saturated with people selling digital products, so competition is high. 
  • Amazon KDP. If you’re thinking of selling ebook PDFs, then your best bet is to use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s the biggest ebook marketplace in the world so it’s a great choice if you’re a new author and you want to increase the discoverability of your products. However, Amazon fees can be quite high. The royalties you receive range from just 35% to 70% of the sale price
  • Creative Market. Creative Market is a platform aimed at creators, designers, and developers. You can use Creative Market to sell professional PDF templates such as resume templates, diary and planner inserts, meeting minutes templates, and more. The main drawback to Creative Market is its hefty fees. Creators only get 50% of the total sales value, and the company also introduced an additional ‘platform fee’ for customers, which goes directly to the company
  • Envato Elements. This is a subscription-based platform where customers pay a monthly fee for unlimited product downloads. Envato creators or ‘Authors’ are paid using a subscriber share model, where 50% of Envato’s net subscription revenue is shared between eligible Authors each month. Your share will depend on how many times your PDFs have been downloaded.

How to market your PDFs

Once you’ve listed your PDFs for sale, it helps to invest some time into marketing them in order to drive sales. 

This is especially important if you’re selling through your own website as you won’t be able to tap into an existing customer base like you can on marketplaces.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to market your PDFs effectively.

Nail your SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization.

It means optimizing your product pages and listings to make it easier for your target customers to find them on search engines like Google, as well as on the marketplaces you sell on.

To optimize your product pages/listings for search, start by doing careful keyword research to find out what kind of queries your target customers might search for. Then, include these words and phrases in your product titles, descriptions, tags, etc.

If you’re selling PDFs through your own website, you might also want to work on building backlinks to increase your domain authority, as this will help you to stand a better chance of ranking.

Promote your PDFs on social media

Social media is a powerful marketing channel when it comes to selling all types of digital products, including PDFs.

Make sure you have a business page on all the most popular social platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Then, work on growing your social following by regularly publishing engaging posts. Link back to your store from your social profiles and occasionally share promotional posts asking your followers to check it out. You can also use a social media scheduling tool to stay organized and manage all of your posts. 

Run a giveaway campaign

Another powerful marketing strategy you can try is to run a social media giveaway. You can use a contest tool like SweepWidget to set your giveaway up, and then share it on social media to get the ball rolling.

You might want to offer a free product bundle with all your most popular PDFs as the prize, and as the entry requirements, you can require participants to visit your store and share the giveaway with a friend.

Consider paid ads

Another option is to run paid ad campaigns using tools like Google Ads or Facebook Ads.

If you go down this route, you’ll pay every time someone clicks the ad to visit your store/product pages. The amount you pay per click will vary, but it can be as high as a couple of dollars per click.

Therefore, paid ad campaigns will typically only be suitable if you’re selling high-value PDFs like e-books or white papers. With low-value PDFs, you might not get an adequate return on investment (ROI) after you factor in the cost per click.

Frequently asked questions

Still want to know more about selling PDFs online? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic. 

How can I sell PDF files online for free? 

It doesn’t cost much to start selling PDFs online, but there are some fees involved with starting your own online store and hosting it.

However, if you’re looking to start selling with no upfront cost at all, Etsy is your best option. Etsy allows you to list up to 40 products for free, and you’ll only be charged a commission on your products once they sell. 

There are also some websites that will allow you to build and host a website for free, but you won’t have your own domain, and you’ll usually have to upgrade to a paid plan if you want to start making sales. 

Is it illegal to sell my PDF online? 

First off, a quick disclaimer: We’re not lawyers here, so don’t consider any of this legal advice. 

But as far as we’re aware, the simple answer is no. As long as you create the PDFs yourself, and it’s all your own original content, then you shouldn’t get into any legal hot water when it comes to copyright.

However, it’s really important to note that generally, you can’t sell ebooks using somebody else’s work if you don’t own the rights to it. For example, you shouldn’t just take a printed book written by another author and turn it into an ebook unless you’ve negotiated some sort of agreement with them first. 

Also, you can’t resell digital products that you have purchased online unless resale is stated in the licensing agreement.

Is it still profitable to sell PDFs on Etsy?

Yes, there is absolutely still money to be made selling PDFs on Etsy. However, the marketplace is a little more saturated than it was a few years ago. 

In order to compete it’s important to create high-quality products and do some research about trending products. This should help you to break into the market. It’s also a good idea to run promotions on new products, as this will help them to rank higher on the Etsy search pages. 

What tools can I use to create PDFs to sell? 

There are lots of different tools you can use to create your PDFs, but the best one by far is Canva

Canva is a drag-and-drop tool that allows you to design a downloadable PDF file or another digital product in a few simple clicks. 

There are a range of free elements and templates that you can make use of, and you can also pay a subscription fee to use the premium templates too. 

How much money can I make selling PDFs online?

The amount of money you make from selling PDFs is dependent on a number of factors including the PDF document, where you sell them, how well you market them, and more.

Selling high-value PDFs like white papers, it’s more than possible to make upwards of $1000 a month. 

You can also make this sort of money selling on Etsy, providing that you create high-quality products and that you do adequate research to ensure that you are targeting trending products with low competition. 

Final thoughts 

That concludes our beginner’s guide to selling PDFs online. We hope you found it helpful!

Whether you’re looking to make a small side income or build a lucrative business selling digital downloads, the tips in this article are sure to help you on your way. 

If you’d like to learn more about selling other digital products like PDFs online, be sure to check out some of our other articles including: 

Disclosure: If you buy through links on our site, we may make a commission. This helps to support the running of Startup Bonsai.