In my last post in this series, I gave seven reasons why I think you should give it a go creating your own digital product and selling it online.

I did promise that next we would look at how you can generate product ideas, but first, let’s consider the options available for different types of digital product, and see what their strengths and weaknesses are.

1. Write an e-book


  • One of the most accessible options. Everyone can write, right? You just need to have something worth saying!
  • There are ready-made sites that will help you self publish such as lulu, and you can also sell on established sites like Amazon
  • If you’re a blogger, you may already have some material you can use to get you started
  • You can create additional bonus material to encourage customers to buy a “deluxe” package
  • Once it’s done, it’s done. You can of course update it if you want, but it has a clear “finished” point.
  • You can get people to pre-order in exchange for getting early drops of your manuscript.
  • It’s great for your reputation. Even if no one every buys it you can say “Oh yes, I wrote a book on that!”


  • Writing well is really hard! You’ll probably want to find an editor or some proof-readers who can help you improve your style.
  • Often there will be several competing books on the same topic. You’ll need to find a good way to differentiate your book from the competition.
  • Prices are typically quite low, so you need to sell lots to make it pay for the time spent creating it.

Video Training Materials


  • Even though YouTube is full of free tutorials on every conceivable topic, people are still looking for high quality, curated courses that will tell them what they need to know with minimal fuss. And they are willing to pay for it.
  • You can pick a small segment of your course to give away for free, which can be a great way to attract traffic to your site.
  • You may find that you can partner with a site that sells tutorial videos like I have done with Pluralsight. This means that some of the burden of marketing and advertising is taken away from you.


  • Delivery can be problematic. How will customers get access – do they need to download a 1GB video file?
  • You’ll probably need specialist software like Camtasia. And producing quality training videos can be a really time consuming and frustrating experience.

Software Application


  • Most mobile phones and soon most desktop operating systems will feature an “app store”. If you can get your product into one of these then you have a huge potential audience.
  • If your app meets the need of someone in business, they may be willing to pay a substantial amount for it.
  • You can usually offer a “trial”, allowing people to get to like your app before asking for their money.


  • Software projects always overrun! Getting the thing finished off, polished and tested willtake longer than you anticipated.
  • You’ll have to deal with customer support issues, including angry customers demanding bugfixes or refunds.
  • If its a mobile application, then people will expect to pay no more than a couple of dollars for it. So again you need large volume of sales to be worthwhile.



  • If you’re a musician, what could be more fun than spending time playing your instrument and honing your musical masterpiece to perfection?
  • Your hardcore fans may be willing to pay more for bonus material including you doing an “acoustic” version, or waffling on video about what inspired you to write the song.
  • You don’t necessarily have to target consumers. Many video producers will pay for sound effects and royalty free backing music, so creating sound libraries can be a viable option.


  • Competition is fierce in this space. You almost certainly need a band of loyal followers already who you can market to. Carl Franklin is perhaps the best example of this, taking advantage of his access to the .NET developer community to sell his “Music to Code By” album.
  • I know lots of awesome musicians who have produced their own albums. None of them have got rich from it. You can’t charge a lot per album, and you need great marketing to sell more than a handful. I once made an album that sold exactly zero copies (mainly because I was too embarrassed to promote it!)

Art (Photos, Fonts, Icons, Web themes, etc)


  • If you are artistically gifted you have a skill that the rest of us look on at with envy. We know we can’t create good looking things ourselves, so we’re more than willing to pay people like you to make something beautiful for us.
  • There are many sites to sell your digital artwork through.
  • You can sell physical versions of your products too – T-Shirts, Posters, Mugs, featuring your designs.
  • You may be able to offer a “commercial license” for significantly more than you charge to regular consumers.


  • It’s another saturated market with low prices. People expect to pay very little for all kinds of digital artwork.
  • Much demand for digital artwork is very specific to one customer’s needs, so it may be hard to create a product with a broad enough appeal to generate high volume sales.
  • It’s very easy for people to steal your best ideas and create copy-cat products.

Website Membership


  • If you create a website that offers a service people are willing to pay a monthly fee for, then you have the ability to derive recurring revenue from each customer.
  • You can offer tiered pricing options to encourage people in with a low-priced tier and upgrade them as their needs grow
  • Sometimes customers will simply forget they are subscribed and pay you for months without really using your service


  • It will be a lot more effort to set up, especially making sure you have the billing model set up correctly.
  • You probably will spend a good amount of time continually maintaining, fixing and improving the site – so it won’t exactly be “passive” income
  • You may find that your ongoing running costs are significant, and you need to maintain a base level of subscribers just to break even
  • Depending on the service, customers may actively expect new features and content on the site, and will cancel their subscriptions if they don’t see progress.

What have I missed?

That’s just a quick run-down off the top of my head. I’ve probably missed some whole categories of digital product, and certainly my list of advantages and disadvantages is incomplete. Let me know in the comments what you think.

What should you make?

Well I’ve given most of these options a try myself, although I’ve only made money from two of them. Your choice depends mainly on the skillset you have, and the amount of time you’re willing to put into it.

In the next post, I really will get round to talking about how you can generate some ideas.

Vote on HN
comments powered by Disqus