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PDFs are one of the best selling digital products for 2024. Why? For starters, they’re easy to create and share. But new technology has also made PDFs more trackable, so as a creator you can measure things like how far someone has read into the document or how many clicks different calls-to-action (CTAs) are getting – giving you a lot more control. PDFs also have the flexibility of being long documents like whitepapers or shorter infographics that support the microlearning trend. 

We’ll cover exactly how to create a PDF, price it, and publish it for sale. Plus, there’s a few tips on how to improve your sales and marketing processes to make the highest revenue possible. 

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What can you earn by selling PDFs online?

Selling PDFs can bring in a few benefits. These are the biggest three that creators love most:

  1. Revenue

One of the most obvious benefits of monetizing PDFs online is the revenue. Once the content is created and part of a well-oiled sales funnel, there is little maintenance effort needed. This makes it a great side hustle idea!

George Pitts is a great example of a creator who leveraged digital products like PDF and online courses to bring in a seven figure revenue since 2018. His courses also focus on how to create, promote, and optimize digital products to generate revenue, build a strong brand identity, and educate your target audience.

  1. Lead generation

PDFs can be fantastic lead magnets to bring in new potential sales for your courses or other higher-priced content. When someone purchases your PDF, consider launching a marketing drip campaign via email to see how they like the content or to offer them an exclusive deal on a different product in your marketplace. 

  1. Industry reputation

If you’re a new creator or trying to establish a stronger reputation in your niche, selling digital products is a great way to build some credibility. You can publish as many pieces of content as you’d like and keep them up to date as your niche develops. Then, share it with leads or customers to extend their experience with you. 

Where can you sell a PDF online?

Choosing where you sell your PDFs online is an important decision which can affect how much the time, money, and content requirements. At the highest level, there are two ways you can approach online PDF sales and it’s also okay to use both of these approaches at the same time. 

  1. On your own website

If you have a high amount of traffic on your site, it’s easy to set up your own marketplace. Shopify is a popular e-commerce tool that can support businesses of all sizes, or if you’re selling courses you can also use your Thinkific course website to sell digital products. 

The benefit to selling on your own marketplace is that you can customize the branding, have more in-depth analytics to user behavior, and often you’ll earn a better margin. 

The negative side is that there is more maintenance involved, set-up times are longer, and it takes more effort to drive high traffic volumes to the site on a consistent basis. 

  1. On a marketplace

If you want to take advantage of a third party marketplace tool, there are plenty of great options out there! It’s easier to get started with online marketplaces than building your own website and often you’ll have opportunities to do paid advertising directly on their platform. Plus, you’ll get views from the customers that may have originally come to the site for another vendor’s page. Here are a few places to try if you want to sell PDFs through an online marketplace:

MarketplaceBest for
GumroadSupport for new sellers
EtsySelling locally made or handmade items
Facebook MarketplaceBeing part of buying and selling groups
AmazonGlobal reach and advertising solutions

 

How to prepare a PDF for sale

Make sure to read through these steps carefully as they’ll ensure that you create a thoughtful piece of content that will appeal to your target audience (and therefore will be more likely to earn sales). 

  1. Create content for your target audience

Types of content you can create in a PDF file are pretty limitless, but some examples include:

  • E-books or whitepapers
  • Infographics
  • Templates or worksheets
  • Checklists
  • Published research papers
  • Cookbooks
  • Stories
  • Journaling guides

Before doing anything related to content creation, you should have a really strong understanding of who your target audience is and their preferences. Things to know about them include:

  • What problems they want to solve or topics that they want to learn more about
  • Their preferred way of taking in new information (eg. graphs, visuals, or written text)
  • The writing tonality that they will relate to best (eg. funny, professional, academic)

Don’t forget to add your own information and a call-to-action in there so that readers can contact you later if they need to. This is usually best placed in the introduction or at the end of the document.

  1. Get feedback and edit

It can be a good practice to get feedback from several people in your target audience while you’re creating content. Facebook groups, Reddit threads, LinkedIn, or your current customer base can be helpful spots to find people in your target audience.

You should also get someone to review the copy for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Often once your PDF goes live you won’t have a lot of opportunity for editing it so review, review, review in this stage! 

  1. Add design details

Depending on the type of content you’re creating, you might want to add specific design details. For example, are you creating a white paper that needs a cover page? Have you added your own branding like logos, colours, and fonts to the document? Are some examples in the PDF copyrighted (and in need of an overlying text that says “Sample” or “Copyrighted”)? 

  1. Choose the right format for exporting

Adobe has a great explanation on the many different elements that you can change when preparing a PDF file for export. A big determinant factor is whether your PDF Is expected to be printed or for digital use only. Printers use CMYK which is a different colour system than RGB that computers use, so the appearance of colours can change slightly. PDFs also come in various file formats that might change how the layout appears or which device type they can be opened on. Some file formats may need a special application to access (or you can even password protect them). 

These are just a few examples so do thorough research on the format you need for the file’s intended usage.

How to price digital products

Before going live, figure out your pricing strategy. Here are some potential options to consider: 

  • Are you pricing based on a one-time fee, subscription fee, or bundle pricing?
  • What are competitors pricing for similar content? 
  • How long and original is your content?
  • How will you collect payment?
  • Will you offer a return policy?
  • Are you offering any promotions such as discounts or free previews?

Remember that the pricing that you set at the start of your PDF sales journey doesn’t have to stay that way forever. As you launch more digital products and gain more sales, your understanding of your target audience will likely change a lot. It’s important to stay attuned to how your customers respond differently to various pricing strategies or promotions. Test around a few options and eventually you’ll settle on a high performing strategy. 

Tips for managing online PDF sales

The basics for designing and launching a PDF for online sales are above. And if you did just those steps, you’d be fine. But if you want to take your digital product sales strategy to the next level, try these tips! 

  1. Build a sales funnel 

A sales funnel is a crucial element when you’re monetizing content online. It creates a process for how people are expected to hear about your product and eventually convert into a paying customer. There are many steps along the way that help convince potential customers about what your product is and how it can meet their needs. An extended sales funnel will also look at future upsell opportunities to build customer loyalty or generate referrals. See here for an in-depth guide on how to build your own sales funnel. 

  1. Automate where possible

Creating content at scale is very doable, especially if you leverage technology like artificial intelligence. Some ways that AI can make your life as a creator easier include:

  • Sending reminders when content needs updating. Try building an AI bot that scans the news for developments in your niche and then pings you to respond to that change with new content. 
  • Creating ideas or outlines. ChatGPT is an excellent tool for helping you overcome a creative block or writing briefs for content in record speed. It’s not recommended to use AI to actually write your PDF content for you if you’re going to be marketing it as your own material.
  • Posting content and marketing. Plenty of marketing tools are now powered by AI and can help you schedule content, respond to comments on social posts, or optimize paid advertising campaigns, for example. This helps get word about your digital products to more potential customers faster. 
  1. Track sales and analytics

Never lose sight of the data. Your e-commerce platform, online marketplace, or other monetization tool should provide you with detailed insights about your sales, marketing activity, and target audience. Some things that you can keep track of include:

  • The cost per attribution. How much are you paying (often in marketing spend) to earn a new customer?
  • The average number of sales (and the average cart order) per day. Knowing this can help with revenue forecasting.
  • The conversion rate. Of the people that came onto your site or saw your marketing efforts, how many eventually purchased? You should optimize your sales funnel so that the conversion rate is as high as possible.
  • The cart abandonment rate. How many people almost purchased it but didn’t? You can dig deeper to find why they abandoned the cart and launch a new marketing or sales tactic to earn back those sales and keep this rate low. 
  1. Continuously optimize your marketing strategies

A/B testing is a popular technique to ensure your sales and marketing efforts are getting the highest performance. It runs two or more versions of the same content with one variable that is changed (like the title, CTA, or length of content for example). After a few weeks, you can review the results, direct all traffic to the highest performing version, and drop efforts on the underperformer(s). Check out this list of ways you can A/B test your PDF sales channels. 

  1. Regularly update your content

One of the biggest benefits to selling digital products is that they are relatively low maintenance. The one part that you do need to check in on consistently is the relevance of the material. Depending on your niche, topics may develop quickly or slowly. For example, the field of math doesn’t change that fast so if you’re designing templates to help elementary students learn multiplication tables, you won’t need to regularly update your content unless the local curriculum has changed. However, if you’re a baker creating PDF formatted cookbooks, you might want to update your digital PDFs whenever you update a recipe, launch a new recipe, or customize recipes based on seasonal ingredients.

There are different tools out there that can make editing a live PDF document easier. Traditionally, one challenge with selling PDFs was that it couldn’t be updated once it was out in the wild. A best practice is to sell your PDF as a live link to the file rather than the actual file. It’s easier to redirect a link that affects many channels at once rather than needing to update each individual channel with the new document. 

The next step to selling PDFs online

Now that you know exactly what to do to create and sell PDF content online, it’s time to get the right tools in place so you can start executing. Designed for creators, Thinkific is a one-stop-shop that includes tools to build educational content, marketing tools to help generate demand for your products, and monetization solutions to allow you to start earning revenue. Plus, it also has a dashboard of detailed sales and engagement analytics which enables you to continuously optimize your efforts for a higher return on investment. Get started for free here!