You can’t hold a digital product. But from music to ebooks to online courses, almost everyone now owns a piece of digital content.
Many entrepreneurs are building entire businesses around digital products due to their popularity and ease of distribution. Other companies are launching them to complement physical items and services.
What makes learning how to sell digital products appealing is the potential for passive income. Digital products can be created once and sold repeatedly to different customers without replenishing inventory. That makes them ideal for creatives, bloggers, educators, and freelancers looking for efficient ways to make money online.
If that’s you, here’s how to create, market, and sell digital products online—including examples of the top digital products.
Table of contents
What are digital products?
Digital products are intangible assets distributed online. They consist of media, software, data, and templates that are sold repeatedly, without the need to replenish inventory. Digital products often come in the form of downloadable or streamable files, such as MP3s, PDFs, videos, and plug-ins.
Why sell digital products versus physical goods?
Selling digital products has many advantages that makes it uniquely attractive to entrepreneurs:
- Low overhead costs.You don’t have to hold inventory or incur any shipping charges.
- High profit margins. There’s no recurring cost of goods, so you retain the majority of your sales in profits. Calculate your profit margins ahead of time.
- Potential to automate. Orders can be delivered instantly with no oversight.
- Flexible products. You can offer free products to build your email list, monthly paid subscriptions for access to exclusive digital content, or licenses to use your digital products. There are many options for incorporating digital products into your business.
- E-learning is the future of education. You have a massive opportunity to expand your business and impact with e-learning, an industry expected to be worth $840 billion by 2030.
But online digital products also come with specific challenges you’ll need to watch out for:
- You’re competing with free content. With digital goods, consumers will usually have access to free alternatives to what you’re selling. This necessitates careful thinking about your niche, the types of products you sell, and how to write your product descriptions.
- You’re susceptible to piracy. You need to reduce the risk of content theft by employing tools to protect your products.
Where to sell digital products
There are three main channels for digital products: self-created online stores, social media, and digital marketplaces.
- Build your own online store using an ecommerce platform like Shopify, then integrate a digital product app for seamless selling and management.
- Promote your digital products to your audience via social media. Use native shopping features or connect your Shopify store.
- Create a profile on an established digital marketplace within your niche and access a pre-established audience.
Remember, in exchange for exposure, some marketplaces can take up to 50% commission for every sale. Avoid seller fees by building your own online destination for trending digital products.
💡 Learn more: Trending Products to Sell.
6 best digital products to sell online
- Educational digital products
- Digital product licenses
- Premium content libraries
- Digital templates and tools
- Music or art
1. Educational digital products
Online courses are best suited for in-depth content. They require some effort up front, from creating a presentation to recording a video walk-through. When creating courses, start with learner outcomes: what do you want the learner to know or be able to do at the end of your course?
You can include quizzes, knowledge checks, and interactive activities within your courses to help break-up learning content and make your e-course more engaging. Consider learning and implementing a teaching model like ADDIE.
If you’re an expert on a topic, package your knowledge in a convenient digital educational product and sell it to others. Take How to Cake It, for example, which sells digital cookbooks for easy scrolling and bookmarking while you bake.
If there’s an abundance of free blog posts or tutorials about your topic on YouTube, compete by delivering content that promises not education but transformation. In other words, don’t sell the product—sell the customer’s potential after buying your product.
You can leverage an existing reputation as an expert to garner attention for your downloadable products to sell online or, if you’re starting from scratch, create and give away free content to generate leads for your paid digital products.
2. Digital product licenses
From stock photos to video footage, music, and sound effects, there’s a global ecosystem of licensable digital assets uploaded by creatives for other creatives to use in their work.
By offering licenses to individuals and businesses, you can charge for the use of your photos, videos, music, software, and similar top digital products. You can sell via your own store, similar to how EditStock sells licenses for students. Or you can sell through online marketplaces, such as these stock photo sites.
When coming up with assets to create, it helps to work backward from the needs of your intended audience. Start by thinking about what kind of assets they’d want to use as a way of identifying demand.
Be sure to protect your digital products with watermarks and other security measures, especially if you’re selling photos.
3. Premium content libraries
Instead of focusing on how to sell digital products individually, you can bundle them together and lock them behind a paid subscription to generate recurring revenue.
Snowboard Addiction, for example, is a destination for all things snowboarding. Customers can shop for physical snowboarding gear as well as downloadable tutorials.
This approach to selling digital products is ideal if you plan to maintain a growing library of premium content and nurture a community of passionate members. In some cases, paid digital subscriptions can even create an opportunity to directly monetize your existing content marketing efforts.
Since this content is behind a gate that only paying subscribers can access through their customer account, you can also host exclusive content that can be streamed rather than downloaded.
💡Learn more: How To Start a Subscription Business
4. Digital templates and tools
Digital products can also come in the form of intangible tools that equip professionals to do tasks that either fall outside of their skill set or take up a lot of time. You can sell digital solutions to the common pain points and needs of a specific audience.
For instance, RetroSupply Co sells digital product bundles for designers and illustrators across the most popular apps and software. Other examples of how to sell digital products online this way include:
- Digital marketing strategy templates for entrepreneurs
- Résumé templates for job-seekers
- Mobile apps for businesses
- Graphic design templates for brochures, flyers, posters, etc.
- Adobe Photoshop filters and plugins for media editors
- Icons, fonts, or UX Kits for web designers
5. Music or art
If you’re a musician or an artist, chances are you’ve explored ways you can monetize your talents or the audience you’re building. While print on demand products are always an option, there are also plenty of digital product examples for selling art and music.
A musician can sell ringtones of their best songs alongside their merch. A cartoonist could turn their art into prints and phone wallpapers. A filmmaker can sell their movies online.
An effective strategy for this form of digital product selling can be catering to a hyper-specific target market. For example, Materia Collective sells digital sheet music for popular video game soundtracks.
Since you don’t have to hold any inventory with online digital products, you can experiment with different formats to see what audiences want without much risk.
Services pair well with digital products. A designer can deliver logos alongside templates. A personal trainer might deliver a video workout plan. Leaning into this, you can position certain services as packages containing valuable digital products.
For example, you could offer a consultation for a fee, along with a personalized report or Excel spreadsheet, and then upsell your customers on your other services or products. Or you could offer a free downloadable product to generate leads for your email marketing list, a tactic that many online businesses employ today.
If there are common tasks you complete as part of your service business that are easy for you but valuable to your customer, you can consider productizing them to create revenue streams that require less of your time and effort to maintain.
How to create and sell digital products
1. Find or create a digital product
Find a digital product to sell. You can create your own digital products or become an affiliate partner for an existing creator. Popular digital products include:
- Entertainment content
- Design assets
- Photoshop presets
- Software and plug-ins
- E-learning courses
- And other online services
When generating ideas for your digital products, don’t be too critical—the key to brainstorming is to avoid overthinking. If you’re looking for ideas of downloadable products to sell online, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Can you teach customers how to use your products? For example, if you sell knitting products, you could offer appointments to teach advanced knitting techniques.
- Are there things you can help your customers with related to your overall industry? If you sell surfboards, you could create a workout program to help your customers stay in surf shape at home.
- What are the values you’ve built your business on, and what are topics related to them? For example, if you sell sustainable apparel, you could create a course teaching your customers how to live a more sustainable life.
- In what ways could you bring your community of customers together? If you sell kitchen supplies, you could run a virtual guided wine-tasting event.
- What are you good at? If you’re really great at product photography, you could teach other people how to get better at product photography too.
💡 Learn more: Finding Your Niche: 8 Niche Market Examples to Inspire You.
2. Product validation
Validate your idea before committing too much time to it. The last thing you want to do is invest a lot of time or money in a new venture without knowing it has a good chance to be successful.
Here are some ways to validate your idea as you figure out how to sell digital products:
- Keyword research. Use a keyword research tool to see how many people are searching for your topics. This will give you an idea of the opportunity size of each one.
- Google Trends. Search your topics on Google Trends. Look for topics that are growing in interest. This means the opportunity size will keep growing.
- Facebook groups. There are Facebook groups dedicated to every niche and audience imaginable, making them a great place to learn what your potential customers care about.
- Industry forums. Forums dedicated to hobbies and communities in your industry can help you learn more about what people want and need in your broader industry.
- Product reviews. Read both the reviews for your products and competitors’ products to get ideas. These could come from the reviews on product pages as well as standalone reviews on blogs and other websites.
- Start small and iterate. Sometimes, the easiest way to validate an idea is to experiment with a smaller version of the idea with room for growth. The goal is to get something out into the world as soon as possible so you can put your idea to the test and improve it from there.
No matter what industry you’re in, you have unique strengths and knowledge that would be valuable to your customers and selling digital products.
3. Create an online store
Once you validate a digital product idea, you’ll want to get an ecommerce platform to sell on.
Make a website to sell your digital products and get up and running in a few hours. Pick from a catalog of website templates, populate with your logo, copy, and images, and you’re ready to get selling.
Shopify is the easiest and most reputable way to create an ecommerce store for online digital products. You don’t need any tech skills or a big budget, and you can choose from more than 100 templates with built-in features to get set up quickly.
There are also over 4,000 free Shopify apps you can use for managing your store and selling more digital products online. Apps make the delivery of digital products easier than ever. Browse the App Store to find apps that plug into your store and do everything from hosting course content to delivering PDF purchases.
4. Market your digital products
With a digital product and an online store sorted, it’s time to find your customers. If you’re selling fonts or design templates, build an audience of designers and creators on the social platforms they use most. Also consider influencer marketing, social ads, or lead magnets.
8 apps for selling digital products on Shopify
- EDP ‑ Easy Digital Products. EDP is a popular app for selling downloadable files and license keys from your online store
- Filemonk. Filemonk is designed to make it as easy as possible for Shopify merchants to brand and sell digital products.
- SendOwl. For more complex digital product businesses, SendOwl comes with a variety of automation features.
- Courses. This Shopify app lets you create lessons, tutorials, webinars, and manuals and sell them online.
- Single. If you’re a musician selling music, Single bridges the gap between physical and digital music sales.
- FetchApp. FetchApp is another digital download delivery app with a free plan available (five megabytes of storage).
- Sky Pilot. This app for building a membership program. Sell files and exclusive video streams to customers.
- BookThatApp, Tipo, or Sesami. Use these apps to schedule consultations or coaching sessions with customers. All three have a free plan available.
Beyond these digital product delivery systems, there are other Shopify apps to power and protect your digital goods, such as:
- RecurrinGO!. This is an app for weekly or monthly subscriptions. Use it to automate recurring orders, invoices, and digital subscriptions for online memberships or programs.
- Disable Right-Click. When your content is your product, this app helps you protect it from theft. You can lock images and text so they can’t be saved or copied without your permission.
Note: When creating digital products in Shopify, be sure to uncheck “This is a physical product.”
Sales and marketing tips for selling digital products
Whether you’re a new business owner or adding online digital products to your existing store, keep these tips in mind:
Create a great digital product
The first criteria for creating digital products is to add value to your customers’ lives. Since you’re competing with free content on the web, invest in building a product people can’t find anywhere else.
Promote a free lead magnet
Regardless of how much your product costs, create a light version of it for free. A free product can help you build an email list you can sell to in the future. It also opens the door for upselling and retargeting potential customers with different promotions. Free products can build trust between your business and potential customers.
Start an affiliate program for your product
Affiliates are a huge source of traffic and sales for creators selling digital products. Find influencers who are established and trusted in your industry and offer them a commission for each sale they make. You can create different percentages for different affiliates, so if someone has a large audience, you can give them a higher commission rate to promote more and attract customers.
A great way to get early sales is by giving a discounted “early bird” price. If you’re releasing a new digital product, you can offer a 50% discount for the first 100 buyers, then 25% for the next 100 buyers, and then release the product at full price after the 25% discount runs out.
Offer a money-back guarantee
If you’re hesitant about offering a warranty on your products, it makes sense. Some people could buy and use your product then ask for their money back. But it’s all a part of running an online business. The rewards of higher conversion rates outweigh the small percentage of people who may abuse the policy. A money back guarantee shows potential buyers you’re putting the risk on you, not them.
Creating the best digital products for your business
Without the need to hold inventory or the overhead associated with selling physical products, all types of digital products can be profitable online business ideas.
There are countless ways you can create the best digital content to sell and resell and incorporate them into your business. With a little ingenuity and upfront investment of time, you can serve up irresistible value that can more than pay for itself over time.
Ready to create your first business? Start your free trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Digital products FAQ
What are some examples of digital products?
- Online courses and webinars
- Kindle books
- Software programs
- Web elements like Shopify or WordPress themes
- Membership sites
- PowerPoint templates
How do you create a digital product?
- Brainstorm digital product ideas.
- Research buyer pain points.
- Validate ideas through keyword and trend research.
- Produce your digital products.
- Create a Shopify store.
- Build an audience and market your digital products.
What digital products are in demand?
- Educational products like ebooks and online courses
- Exclusive membership communities
- Digital templates and tools
- Repurposed music or art
- Productized services
- Licenses to use digital assets