Selling digital downloads from your own website using Linklokipn

Posted on 21 December 2011 in Web Development (No comments yet - be the first!)

It was just over a year ago when I first published my first e-book, One Coast To Another, recounting the tales of walking Wainwright's Coast to Coast in the summer of 2010.

At the time I did two versions. One was for Kindle using Amazon's self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing. The second was a PDF available at no cost from my website - initially this one, and later from Rambling Man.

Over a pint, a friend asked me why I was giving the PDF away when I was selling the Kindle version. He could see no logic in it.

Initially it was an experiment. Would people be prepared to pay for something that was, essentially, a compilation of stuff they could read on the website, albeit in a nicely presented package? But as time went on, and it was clear that some people would, another reason was far simpler; I couldn't work out the technicalities of actually selling the thing. Thoughts like "what happens if someone spreads the download link and allows lots of free downloads?" filled my mind, along with the far more important "How on earth do I actually integrate all this stuff with PayPal anyway?". And so the free downloads continued.

Recently I decided it was time to look again. The Kindle sales were reasonable and it just seemed unfair to those people who had bought it that others could get the same thing for free.

Looking around, there were a few different services that promised to make things easy for the publisher. However most of them came at a serious cost. eJunkie is a prime example, coming in at $5 a month to sell and deliver your book. At $60 a year I need to sell at least ten copies a year. And that's before you take into account the various PayPal charges.

Now that might not sound much but it's an ongoing cost and when you don't know how many of those people who downloaded for free will be prepared to pay, it's a risk. I knew people would pay through Amazon, but would they through my own website? And even if I did cover the costs, it's still £40 out of my pocket every year that could be spent on a few beers. eJunkie was one of the cheaper ones too - some were selling their services for even more.

For some with high prices or volumes, eJunkie eta will be worth it, but for myself I was less convinced. Ideally I wanted a self hosted system - something that I could run and manage myself and after trawling the internet for what seemed like most of a day, I came across Linklokipn.

Linklokipn is a PHP script that handles the integration with PayPal and the delivery of digital files from your server to the customer. You just need to set up your PayPal purchase buttons yourself, then follow Linklokipn's well written manual to edit some variables in the PHP script. Once it's all set up, anyone making a purchase will be presented with a download link on a web page, and sent a copy of the download link by email too.

The script has various facilities built in to help protect your content from people who might want to get to your files without paying. Download links can be set to expire and your original files can be buried away in a directory of your website which no one should ever find.

Even more interesting is the price protection system. I don't know how easy it is to hack a PayPal buy now button to try and avoid paying the full amount of money, but anyone doing so won't be able to get a book at the end of it. In Linklokipn's scripts it knows the purchase price of your product and if the money PayPal has received doesn't match, there's no download possible.

There is also includes a test system, meaning you can test the process that happens after PayPal without having to actually make a purchase. Of course, you'll want to do an end to end test at some point but the easiest way to do that is simply to temporarily set your prices to be £0.01. PayPal will take that penny in charges but it's not a major loss.

I found it look me about an hour to set the system up properly for the first book, but once done, adding extra items took a matter of minutes. Indeed, the most complex part of the process was creating the extra PayPal buttons (which PayPal really don't make as easy as they could.)

Of course Linklokipn comes at a cost - $29.95 in fact (plus $5 in tax) - but it's a one off cost that's half the price of a year with eJunkie. The sale of a mere six books should cover that. That covers sales from one website/Paypal combination, but there's a 50% discount for additional sites.

December isn't the greatest time to sell walking related books - that's spring and summer from the experience of the last year - so I haven't exactly been flooded with sales so far, however the system seems to holding up so far. And if you're looking at selling a digital download from your own website - a book, music, software, whatever - and you're happy editing PHP files and messing a little with PayPal, this is an ideal solution.

And if you want to test it out, you could always buy the ePub or PDF versions of my latest ebook, The Secret Coast to Coast. Yes, this is a shameless plug.

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