If you’re thinking about getting into the ecommerce game you can’t go wrong with selling digital products. From podcasts to ebooks, online courses to video games, we increasingly spend our time and money on intangible items and services.
Entire business models are being built around digital products. This is largely because they lack the production stresses of physical goods and the barrier to entry is lower, making it easier to launch, distribute and sell them online.
But what should you sell? In this guide, we’ll cover profitable digital product ideas and show how to successfully come up with and create your own products.
Put simply, a digital product is an intangible item that is sold and shared online, without the need for traditional manufacturing or inventory. These products are consumed via electronic devices and most often come in the form of digital files or streamable content.
“We all use digital products every day. Buying an album on iTunes, a theme for your WordPress website, a piece of art that you can download and print at home. Digital products are part of our daily lives, just as much, if not more so, then physical ones.”
Digital products offer a few unique advantages over their physical counterparts:
The digital products you create largely depend on your skillset and area of interest. Marketers aren’t exactly going to make a video game to explain the market research processes they use (as cool as that would be).
But it’s important to know what’s popular so you can align your expertise with what customers are looking for. With that in mind, here are some of the most profitable digital products to sell online in 2021.
Digital publishing is a rapidly growing industry. According to Statista, revenue in “epublishing” (which includes ebooks, digital magazines and newspapers) is projected to reach almost $30 billion in 2021 alone. So much for the doomsayers who believed people don’t read anymore.
The beauty is that you can write about any topic you wish. Want to self-publish a romance novel? A short story? A collection of poems? What about a digital cookbook or the ultimate guide on how to be an affiliate marketer?
With online publishing no niche is too small and no topic is too grand. If you’ve got the talent or the expertise—or want to gain further credibility in your field—writing is a great way to go. Plus, it’s dirt cheap to get started.
Where to publish? For a long time the only option was Amazon, but that’s no longer the case. You can sell PDFs straight from your own ecommerce website or use an existing marketplace. In the last year or so creating your own membership site through a tool like Substack has also become a popular, viable option.
Tik Tok. YouTube. Instagram. Vimeo. There’s a huge market for online video and, just like with written content, there’s an abundance of topics for you to cover—from selling stock footage to starting your own YouTube channel, or building an online course in Udemy.
You don’t need complex software or expensive overheads to get started either. Smartphones have gotten to the point where they can capture high quality video without any hassle and there is a range of affordable video editing software like Descript, Magisto and even Adobe Premiere Pro’s monthly subscription.
“In the early days it’s best to start small. You can add all the fancy gear once you’ve grown an audience and proven your idea works. Remember the smaller the costs, the higher the profit margins.”
When you think of video content your mind may instantly go to YouTube. However, a particularly profitable way to make money selling video is through stock footage. Businesses and individual creators will pay a pretty penny for it, and it’s ubiquitous across every field.
Whether it’s Lo-Fi beats playing in the background while working, a jazz record spinning after dinner or listening to a podcast on an afternoon walk, music, podcasts and audiobooks are a huge part of most people’s lives.
“At Paperform we take turns exchanging playlists as a way of maintaining a vibrant workplace culture in a remote team. It’s something personal and fun that allows us to connect with each other, something music has always been used for.”
Of course, if you’re a musician the chances are you’ve looked at outlets to monetise your work. It’s not about just building your own website, you’ve got to build an audience and explore ways to release material that appeals to their needs. Upload your songs to a service like Spotify, and offer direct digital downloads on your website.
Creating a podcast is much simpler. It can be based around a specific topic or just your mates chatting about movies you’ve watched. Monetisation here is a bit more tricky—but one avenue is to release “bundles” of downloadable podcasts all at once on your website.
Podcaster Sam Harris recently had success with this strategy. He released a podcast series with comedian Ricky Gervais on his website for a one-time fee of $15. Obviously you probably won’t have as large an audience as these two, but it’s certainly an idea that can be adopted.
Social media has allowed artists to reach people who appreciate their work (and are willing to buy it) on a whole new scale. Digital art is an attractive prospect for artists because it can be adapted across different mediums and unlike a canvas painting, for example, a single creation can be sold over and over again.
Digital prints that customers can download and print are the most popular way to sell art online. You can also get creative and expand your store to include things like colouring pages, guided sketch patterns and phone wallpapers.
Australian artist Mitch Revs’ store is a great example of combining art and commerce. He offers print-on-demand artwork and templates customers can download to get creative at home, along with physical products like puzzles, drinkware and clothing.
If you’re a photographer, both artistic prints and stock photography can be good avenues to pursue. You could even sell digital assets for Photoshop too. More of a craft-oriented person? Patterns for knitting, sewing and other templates for crafting at home can be fairly easy to create and simple to sell.
📚 Learn how to start a photography business.
Digital products can also be a great option for the graphic designers out there. People want their stuff to look great, but don’t always have the time (or graphic design skills) to do it. There’s a sizeable market for social media posts, printables, resumes and logos.
Creating and selling video games is one of the more difficult things on the list. But it can really pay off. There is a huge market for indie games and it’s not unheard of for the one-person dev teams to build games that are played by millions.
The most famous example of solo development is Eric Barone, who created the phenomenon that is Stardew Valley, completely by himself. It took Barone four and a half years to complete, and has since sold over 10 million copies.
Of course, video games require a wide array of skills—from coding and level design to writing a script, creating sprites and making an awesome soundtrack. While it’s possible to do this all by yourself, it’s not for the faint of heart. Use sites like Game Dev Market to find high quality game assets without breaking the bank, or team up with another creative who plugs the gaps in your skillset.
One of the best things about video game development is that you don’t need a perfect product to start selling your game and building an audience. Indie games are often uploaded to digital marketplaces like Steam in “Alpha” or “Beta” states, so players can offer feedback and enjoy it while you continue to make additions to the core build.
From apps that remind us to drink water to ones that track our library or keep our passwords safe, we all use apps and software on a daily basis. But have you ever thought about building one of your own? If you’re a developer, creating software, mobile or web apps has the potential to be a profitable enterprise.
But let’s face it. There is already a lot of competition in just about every category. The key is to identify problems with existing products and come up with a solution that addresses those pain points. In other words, what can you offer that others can’t?
This is what happened when Dean and Diony first came up with the idea for Paperform. Though the form building space was crowded, they saw an opportunity for a better way to build forms that weren’t ugly.
“You don’t need the full pie, just a slice–or maybe less. It’s a big world out there and lots of customers. So if you can make something that’s differentiated and useful, chances are you’ll find somebody who’ll pay money for it.” — Dean McPherson, co-founder and director of Paperform
Existing app and web development tools make the job much easier than it would’ve been as little as a few years ago. With the rise of no-code/low code apps like Bubble, DronaHQ and Adalo, and movements like #BuildinPublic, there’s never been a better time to start creating.
Learning is great. You know what’s even better? Learning without having to leave the house or put on pants. E-learning has been growing in popularity for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its growth to the point where the e-learning industry is projected to reach US $374 billion by 2026.
The key takeaway? Now is the time to start building online courses. Like any other endeavour it is a matter of combining your expertise with the kind of information your potential customers are after. From there you can create videos, learning materials and tutorials to put together a course that you can sell online.
There are two strategies you can follow: a one-off fee or a subscription model. Which one you choose is up to you. A one-off course can take a lot of work to set up but pay-off well into the future, while a subscription is more flexible and you can continue to offer value over time.
Once you’ve settled on a digital product type there’s a lot more work to do to get it to market. No matter what you sell, the process is the same: ideating, researching, creating and selling.
The big question: what are you going to sell? Hopefully you got an idea from the list of digital products we shared above, but you’ve still got to get into specifics. Ask yourself:
Maybe you’ve already got an idea, or your digital product is an extension of an existing passion (this is common if you’re a writer or artist). However, if this isn’t the case for you, it’s important to avoid one thing: purely chasing a payday.
You’re going to spend a considerable amount of time creating, marketing and selling this fancy new product, whatever it may be. If you’re only in it to jump on a trend or make a quick buck, it may be enough for a while, but it will not sustain you in the long run.
That’s why it’s so critical to find a balance between your skills and passion. Any great product, from the hit indie ebook of the summer to the latest mobile app, is driven by these principles — particularly when you’re a sole creator.
Market research can sound like a big, scary topic. It doesn’t have to be. All it’s about is taking the time to understand the products that already exist in your field, who your customers will be and what they will expect from your offering.
The goal? To plug gaps in the field and align your digital product with customer needs (or find what needs aren’t being met). For example, if you’re an author this means finding out what readers expect, both in terms of the content of your book, the way it's presented and the price you charge. The same goes for any product.
Plug your idea into your search engine of choice. Look at blog posts and existing products, as well as keyword data, Google Trends, forums and social media sites. Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook Groups in particular can be excellent channels to get your finger on the pulse of a specific niche.
The chances are there will be something similar to what you want to sell. Don’t be disheartened! Almost every idea is about execution—you just need to find your point of difference.
Creating your product is the most important step. It’s also—with the rare exception—the most difficult one. For some, a digital product will be an expansion of existing work (for example, an ebook made up of a collection of blog posts) and will be relatively fast to create. For others, it will be a long, difficult creative process.
This is the case for web developers and artists in particular. It’s rare that someone can build an app or piece of art worth buying in a couple of months, let alone weeks or days. Try to stick to a concrete routine and set yourself a roadmap for completion.
Building anything worthwhile takes time. If you’re working on your digital product in your spare time while holding a full-time job, consider setting aside dedicated project time each day. This is what our co-founder Dean did while building Paperform’s MVP.
“When we started Paperform, we were both [Dean and Diony] working full time. I got up an hour early every day for three months to work on it. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t sit down and start. An hour is what? A bit of TV? A lie-in? That extra time became the Paperform MVP that changed everything.”
One last thing—keep a sense of scale when just starting out. It can be tempting to shell out for all the latest fancy equipment. Don’t do this. Stick to the absolute smallest number of tools that you’ll allow you to build your digital product.
Where you sell your digital goods depends on what they are. For example, if you’re coding a video game then Steam is the way to go, while selling access to a digital marketing webinar could be done as a content upgrade on your own website.
Ecommerce platforms like Etsy, Amazon, Shopify and Gumroad are popular. Keep in mind, they take a percentage of your sales on top of any membership fees. This adds up over time, cutting down on your profit margins. On the other hand it opens you up to potential customers and helps you better manage your business, so it’s up to you to weigh up the benefits.
Looking for a simple way to sell your digital products that doesn’t skim any money off the top? Paperform is the best solution. You can create a fully-functioning ecommerce store that allows you to upload products, take payments or subscriptions, and manage your growing online business with ease.
There’s no need for coding skills or a major investment. Select from more than 600 templates with built-in features to help you sell online. We also offer 3,000+ integrations, empowering you to connect your favourite apps and simplify your workflow.
There’s no time like the present. Use this guide to profitable digital products as inspiration and start planning your dream product today. Put in the time and you’ll be amazed at what you can create.
Got an idea that you want to gauge interest in? Or ready to start your business and start selling? Paperform has you covered. Create landing pages to generate hype or build your ecommerce website today. Sign up for our 14-day free trial and see for yourself—no credit card required.
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