Companies such as Adobe have built multi-billion dollar empires entirely on the back of digital product sales.
And, as the world becomes increasingly digital, the space to thrive as a digital entrepreneur continues to expand. There are even companies entirely dedicated to helping others be successful with selling digital downloads.
Our guide will show you how to sell digital downloads online — including top examples, how to create your own, and marketing tips to make your digital download sales soar.
Digital Products Vs. Physical Products
So, what are digital products, exactly?
In short, any asset that exists in the digital world. Anything from JPEG images to a $70-million game engine fall under the umbrella of digital downloads.
But, you don’t have to spend years and millions of dollars to creator digital products. The brunt of digital downloads these days comes in the form of PDFs, videos, stock images, etc.
On top of that, there is an increasing number of avenues through which to sell digital products quickly and easily.
That’s a lot of preambles to say a simple fact:
You can create and start selling a digital product in the time it takes you to read through this guide.
Why sell digital products in the first place?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you ought to sell digital downloads. So, let’s go over a few reasons why digital products are an excellent way for anyone to start generating income.
1. You’re still getting in early. Digital products still aren’t as widespread as their potential allows. Coupled with the fact that experts estimate the market for digital products will grow to over $117 billion by 2025
2. Low fixed costs. You can find ways to create and sell online digital downloads for little to no financial investment.
3. You may already have some digital products to sell online. Regardless of your line of work, you have likely created specific workflows, operating procedures, or even assets for personal use. Those are all valuable tools that you can clean up and repackage as digital downloads.
4. There are numerous ways to leverage digital products. You can use digital downloads to grow your email list and offer higher-ticket items down the line. Or, you can create license agreements for your downloads to reap recurring profits. You can even create NFTs and sell digital products online with smart contracts.
5. It’s easy. Perhaps the most compelling reason to start selling digital products is that modern platforms and tools make it easy and straightforward. Once set up, it’s a low-maintenance way to generate income.
So it’s all upsides! Or is it?
To be fair, there are a couple of things that could get in your way. Chief among those is that you’ll be competing with other people that have access to most of the same tools and platforms that you do.
A part of solving that problem is to set yourself apart with your own web presence, but we’ll get to that a little further down.
Another issue you’ll come across is piracy and theft. If your products attract enough attention, you can bank on the fact that someone will either try to replicate them or outright pirate them.
To prevent that, you have access to legal protection that you should learn about before you launch your products.
What Digital Products To Sell?
At this point, we hope we have convinced you that selling digital products is both profitable and accessible to you.
The next logical step is to decide what digital products you should sell.
Now, there are a couple of ways to go about that. You can either focus on what you know and create for a focused niche audience or find the most popular current digital downloads and think of ways to serve that market.
The advantage of working with what you already know and love is that you can serve a small audience exceptionally well. The drawback is that your target audience will probably be relatively small.
The upside of reaching a wider audience is a more significant earning potential, but you expose yourself to more competition from other digital downloads.
Ultimately, the answer will likely be some middle ground between those two extremes.
A great example of that middle ground is Stan Prokopenko’s art lessons. As an academic art instructor, his reach was relatively small. Still, he expanded quickly by offering character and concept art tutorials and lessons, which are much more in demand in today’s artistic landscape.
So, let’s look at some digital product ideas that you’re well-advised to explore.
As internet accessibility skyrockets around the world, so is the interest in online education. At this point, projections reveal that e-learning will exceed $370 billion by 2026.
Which is an indicator of how much demand there is for high-quality online courses.
Online courses are also among the most profitable digital products since they can produce revenue for years with minimal updates.
If you have in-depth knowledge and experience in a field or subject, an online course is an excellent way to get that knowledge across.
Sometimes, it seems like everything worth teaching already has a massive online library of courses. But, there will always be gaps that other creators don’t cover.
Those gaps are your opportunities, and it’s where we recommend you start your journey.
Work to create and sell an online course that explores certain areas more in-depth than others have.
READ MORE >> Don’t know where to start? Check out our guide with over 90 online course ideas to help you out of the gates.
A recurring membership site is another excellent digital product that’s increasingly popular.
It’s a model you could consider if you have a wide range of digital products, and it makes more sense to sell access to them rather than to sell digital products individually.
An example of this kind of membership is Netflix. Since Netflix has such a vast catalog of shows and movies, it wouldn’t be tenable to sell access to them individually.
Another scenario that fits the membership model is if you are consistently producing content.
In that case, your members are paying for access to fresh content. Paid newsletters, such as Trends.vc, are examples of this type of approach, and they’re hugely profitable.
The challenge with this kind of recurring membership is that you’ll be expected to produce valuable content regularly to justify a monthly fee.
In a sense, you can use the membership on all types of digital products. It’s about applying a recurring model to products you can sell online.
READ MORE >> If you’re interested in starting a membership site, read this step-by-step guide.
Yet another alternative is to sell services online.
And this is where a lot of eyebrows get raised. Are we talking about selling digital products online or selling services?
As it turns out, productized services are a trendy and accessible way to sell online.
It’s a pretty simple concept. A productized service is a precisely defined service constrained to an outcome or set of outcomes.
For instance, you can sell resume writing services as a product. Your client pays for a resume, and you deliver a resume, nothing more and nothing less.
For more examples of productized services, head over to Fiverr and take a look at thousands of creators and freelancers using this model to sell their digital products.
Like the membership model, you can apply this model to a range of digital products. The key is to be unambiguous about what you will deliver and at what price.
The biggest challenge you’ll face is a very narrow target market for your digital “goods.” Since you’ll only provide a small part of what is typically a much larger project, your ideal customers will be those who are only missing that one piece of the puzzle.
Digital products can also come in the form of tools and templates that equip professionals to complete tasks faster. And, they can give people the means to complete tasks that would otherwise be outside their skills, such as creating a beautiful landing page from a template.
The concept is simple: find pain points and bottlenecks in a process and create ways to streamline them.
Caption: Rob Love from One Page Love offers single-page templates on his website from many creators.
Web page and graphic design templates are among the most popular digital products to sell because many people have great ideas but lack the artistic vision to do them justice.
You can even create templates for popular tools, such as Canva and WordPress. In fact, you could go down this list of digital products and find excellent potential template ideas.
Whatever your field of work is, there are probably dozens of potential templates you can think of creating that will make processes more manageable.
Start by thinking about your workflows and how you expedite complex tasks without using too much effort. Chances are, those workflows are products you can sell online if you package them correctly.
Music and Audio
Although music and audio seem interchangeable as digital products, they’re distinct in a crucial way for digital products.
At this point, there are countless outlets for a musician to gain an audience online. But if you’re a studio artist who’s not interested in creating a personal brand, there are plenty of ways to sell your music online.
Stockmusic.net is an example of a marketplace where musicians can license their music for generic purposes.
But there’s also a massive market for audio online that extends beyond full compositions. Sound effects, voiceovers, and recordings are in high demand, thanks in part to the increasing popularity of podcasts and other audiovisual media.
Other audio products that you can consider including:
- Audio samples
- Background noises
💡 When it comes to audio, you’ll likely be licensing it rather than selling (except in specific cases), so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with licensing, which we cover later in this article.
Stock Photography and Video
Images are easily the most abundant digital products sold online. Many entrepreneurs have built entire corporations on the back of selling stock media (e.g., Getty Images).
You’re not likely to build the next Getty Images overnight, but you can certainly secure a reliable source of income selling stock photos and video.
With so many types of people and businesses globally, we will never run out of need for images. As such, there are countless possibilities for topics and styles of photos that buyers are looking for right now.
But that also means that it’s pretty challenging to stand out in the right ways. The key to being successful in the photography space is producing a LOT. The more precisely your image conveys what someone wants, the more likely it is to get purchased.
Stock video is in the same boat, although it’s far less competitive because there are fewer prolific and highly skilled filmmakers.
And, think about all the time it saves for someone that would otherwise have to hire a videographer, scout locations, capture the footage, process it, etc.
If you’re a talented digital artist, you’ll find no shortage of places where you can sell your art and find potential customers.
Sadly, though, you’ll have a hard time just selling art that you make for art’s sake. Instead, think of art as any other digital product — which is to say that it’s much easier to sell something that solves a problem.
What sorts of problems does art solve?
Loads. For instance, you can create generic logos for businesses or vector images for websites. It’s challenging to find a market for your art, but it’s easy to find a demand for solutions to common problems.
If you’re struggling with whether your art is good enough, remember that most people are looking for a way to stand out. And that doesn’t need to involve extreme technical ability.
For example, Mailchimp’s website stands out precisely because of the naive art style the company adopted.
Often used as lead magnets, documents can also be a potential source of income if you have enough value to share.
Swipe files, resource lists, workbooks, recipes, and spreadsheets are all candidates for products to sell online.
And if you’re thinking: surely anyone can make (say) an accounting spreadsheet or a list of resources, you’re right. Anyone can, but few people have the time to do so or want to spend time on that.
Again, you’re solving a problem that most people don’t want to deal with.
Spreadsheetnut is a site whose driving purpose is giving people a platform to sell spreadsheets.
We saved the best for last: ebooks.
There are hundreds of thousands of authors selling ebooks through various online marketplaces at any given time. And consumers purchased a whopping 191 million ebooks in the US in 2020.
Unfortunately, most of those authors fail to break even with their ebooks for various reasons. So, while they’re nothing like a get-rich-quick tactic, ebooks can still be profitable digital products with the right approach.
The key lies in understanding the marketing aspect of self-publishing, which is as essential as having a quality product.
As with all other digital assets, you’ll want to produce books about things people are already interested in. Ebooks that teach people valuable skills and tactics they can implement are more likely to be successful than fantasy novels from an unrecognized author.
What’s The Right Digital Product For You?
In all likelihood, you’ll want to use a combination of digital products to achieve the best results.
For instance, a personal trainer could offer a paid membership that gives his audience access to a library of video resources. In addition, they could also provide an ebook about nutritional advice to achieve weight loss goals. And, they could also sell workout programs adapted for various goals.
You can focus on a single digital product to get started, but it’s a good idea to always aim to expand your offering as you grow and become more successful.
Where to Sell Digital Products Online
Now that we’ve covered some of the best digital products you can start selling, let’s dive into where you’re most likely to have success selling them.
After all, making digital products is only half the challenge. The other half is finding someone to buy them.
Sell Digital Downloads on Your Website
By far, the best place to sell digital products is on your own web property. It will give you complete control over who you sell to, how you sell, and your brand messaging.
And, most importantly, it’s the channel that will provide the most significant chunk of the profits.
Having said that, it’s also the most labor-intensive way to sell your digital products. As the saying goes: you’ve gotta sweat to sell.
Caption: Tiago Forte uses his website, Forte Labs, to sell a wide range of digital products.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help yourself with one of the many site-building tools available on the market.
Hyax is an all-in-one platform built from the ground up to sell online. And whether you’re selling a digital or physical product, Hyax makes it a cinch to get started.
We even built tools to help you create digital products, such as online courses and memberships.
And, using Hyax simplifies pricing, so you know exactly what your overhead will be.
If you’re going to build your own property to sell digital products, we recommend starting with an all-in-one platform like Hyax.
Mor benefits include:
✅ Your digital downloads can be sold through a custom domain on your own website, without any of the technical challenges, and use our no-code website creator to set up a site in minutes.
✅ You can create, host, sell and market all of your digital products from one dashboard. With access to everything from a single account, you have everything you need to take your business to the next level.
✅ We are just a click away if you need assistance. The number one reason our creators choose Hyax is the outstanding customer support we provide.
From there, you have a slew of other options that are broader in scope but won’t give your the tools to create your digital product.
Squarespace and other site builders fall into this category.
They’ll help you create an attractive site for your digital products, and they’re a good choice if you’re willing to put in a little extra work. And, they’re well-suited for people who already have an established workflow for creating digital products.
Lastly, we have old faithful.
WordPress has been around forever and is the platform of choice for making websites.
If you want to make a website, WordPress will deliver in a big way. But, you’d better be ready to roll up your sleeves because setting up a shop for digital products on WordPress will take some time and effort.
For those ready to face a few technical headaches along the way but spend less in return, WordPress is the way to go.
Selling Digital Products on Online Marketplaces
A quicker alternative to creating your own site is to sell your digital products on online marketplaces.
Places like Etsy, eBay (yes, you can sell digital products on eBay), and Amazon provide options to sell digital products. In addition, numerous niche marketplaces specialize in marketing and delivering a subset of digital products.
We mentioned several of those in this very article.
Caption: Themeforest is a marketplace exclusively dedicated to selling WordPress themes and templates.
You’ll also have an easier time getting exposure in a marketplace environment since people come with a high purchase intent for your exact product type.
- Less control — all you can really control is how much you sell your product for, and often you don’t even get a say on that.
- More effort to manage — if a marketplace focuses on a single type of digital product, you’ll have to use other marketplaces when you’re ready to branch out.
- More fees — you’ll often face listing fees, as well as transaction fees, and even offsite ad fees in some cases.
- You don’t build brand equity — selling on a marketplace makes your brand much less important than the product you’re selling and limits your branding potential.
- Payments are out of your control — when and how you get paid is subject to the marketplace’s policies, which can be severely limiting.
Tips for selling digital products successfully
Now we’ve covered what digital products to sell, how to find potential customers, and where to sell them.
If you’ve been reading along, you’re well on your way to making money online consistently.
Yet, there are many minor (and not so minor) setbacks that you’ll run into, and we’ve run into them all. To help you learn from our mistakes, we’ll list some of the most salient here.
Tip #1: Start Building a Community Early
Don’t wait until you create your digital products to start building a community around them. Before you even begin working on a product to sell, create social media accounts and start being active in forums and groups that can help you launch your product.
Product Hunt is an excellent example of an open forum that can be instrumental for a new product launch. If you think it fits for a product you’ll launch, start supporting other products as soon as you can and provide feedback to others.
Activity and longevity will provide credibility when it's time to tap that same community for support.
Being active in relevant subreddits will also provide excellent returns with regard to having a warm audience to launch products to.
Tip #2: Get Serious About Email Marketing
Email is the second-most-important owned media channel you can have (aside from your site).
Long-term success without consistent paid advertising will largely depend on how good you are at leveraging email marketing.
In some cases, such a paid newsletters, email is not only king—it’s the entire kingdom.
This is to say that you’re well-advised to start building and curating an email list as soon as possible. Many creators even choose to lead with an email opt-in on their site because they know it’s a way to smoothly nurture leads that aren’t ready to convert.
Caption: Glen Allsop, from Detailed, uses an email opt-in directly under his website’s header.
In general, the most expensive your product is, the more touchpoints you’ll need to get conversions. Email marketing gives you a seamless way to get those touchpoints on your own terms without relying on pricey remarketing ads.
Tip #3: Know the Difference Between Ownership and Licensing
Problems frequently arise when selling digital products if you’re not clear about whether you’re selling ownership or a license.
The copy's ownership rights are entirely transferred when it is sold. Copyright law governs the sale of intellectual property products and limits a copyright holder's rights to copies of those products under the "first sale rule."
The buyer, for example, has the option to lend, rent, or resell the purchased copy.
In contrast, when a product is licensed, you’re allowing the purchaser to use the product only in the ways that the license permits.
For digital products, you’ll frequently run into the acronym LTU, which is a license to use a product. LTUs are licenses to use intellectual property such as patents or trademarks.
Tip #4: Look For Problems and Emphasize Solutions
We’ve been harping on some variation of this heading throughout the article, and it’s worth reiterating.
For a product (digital or physical) to be profitable in the long term, it needs to provide a solution to a problem enough people have.
So, your first step is to start noticing problems around you.
For instance, online privacy is a problem people are massively becoming aware of around the world.
The distrust toward Google and other big tech companies lays the groundwork for a slew of products that promise increased privacy. Messaging apps such as Signal and search engines like DuckDuckGo thrive because they solve that problem efficiently.
Caption: Brave is a very successful browser that explicitly promises “better protection from big tech.”
But noticing problems is only part of the challenge. The other—arguably more challenging part—is to create solutions that address the problem effectively and at the right price.
READ MORE>> read our in-depth guide to pricing online courses.
In short, you want to be as clear as possible in communicating what problem your product is solving and how it achieves that solution.
Tip #5: Start With a Minimum Viable Digital Product
When you come up with a million-dollar digital product idea, there’s always the danger that you get too hung up on trying to make sure it’s perfect before you launch it.
Many excellent digital product ideas never launch because creators allow feature bloat to overrun their budget and capacity. In fact, there are entire digital products, like Jira, dedicated to preventing scope creep and delivering products more consistently.
All this is to say that your first goal should be to build as little as possible to start selling digital products online. That means creating the minimum product that early adopters are willing to buy and launching it.
You can even opt for a soft launch to validate your product with minimal spending.
That way, you can use small successes to pave the way for more ambitious goals and even increase your budget to ultimately deliver a better product.
At this point, you’ve got everything you need to begin your journey selling digital products online.
We’ll end this guide with a few words of caution:
Digital products often have to exist in a world of razor-thin profit margins and high competition. Many, many people have made a decent living selling digital products, but “passive income” is anything but passive.
You will succeed if you’re willing to put in the work necessary to set yourself apart from the thousands of people who aren’t.
FAQs About Digital Products
What are some examples of digital products?
These can include any kind of productized digital media such as:
- Downloadable music
- Streaming media
- Logos, photos, and graphics
- Digital subscriptions
What kind of digital products sell best?
Both creators and customers have found that e-books are one of the most popular digital products. But, software and online courses are increasingly catching up to e-books with the rise in popularity of no-code platforms.
From there, in no particular order, photos and graphics, audio files, and video are some of the best digital products to sell.