A while back, I gave some thought to the question “How can I sell my music online?” and concluded that a good mix seemed to be getting it as many places as you possibly can using a digital aggregator like CD Baby or maybe a no-frills option like TuneCore – while simultaneously making it available to purchase from your website.

Well, it’s all very well to say “I’m going to sell my music from my website” – but the actual process of setting up an online payment and fulfillment system is something else again. The process of integrating e-commerce into your website can be confusing and frustrating – particularly if what you have to sell are digital files rather than physical products.

Because when people make their purchase, they want their mp3s right then and there. And that means setting up automated, coded systems – which can be a little more challenging than sticking CDs in envelopes…

Someone else’s problem
The easiest way to sell mp3s online is to get someone else to do it for you. Whether that means have your web developer find/make a solution or whether it means integrating an external shopping cart system – it’s easiest to have the job done fully on your behalf.

There are numerous services online more than happy to take a little bit of your money and integrate some sort of online shop for you (and more than a few who want to take a lot of your money…). And most web developers are able to design or integrate for you a built-in e-commerce platform.

Offsite commerce
There’s a range of web-based services that I call ‘divert’ solutions. These are services that stand apart from your website, but which you link to. The integration is usually pretty seamless: the customer comes to your website, clicks a buy link, does the commerce somewhere else and is returned to your site on a ‘Thankyou’ page.

One example of this sort of service is E-junkie. I use this for selling an e-book on another of my sites. It’s pretty good.

There’s also Payloadz, but from my experience it’s called that because that’s what you end up doing. Your experience may differ, but I’m not a fan.

Clickbank is also worth a look (and E-Junkie integrates with it nicely). Although it’s kind of ugly and occasionally baffling, not only can you use it to sell files, you can offer affiliate programmes, so that people can earn money selling your files for you.

There are services available that will just provide an e-commerce system that is attached to your website, and will sell your mp3s for you.

For the most part, these will use a payment system like PayPal or Google Checkout.

An example is Easybe, which – for a one-off $68 payment for bands, or $168 for labels, you get your own online record store, and a bunch of simple, step-by step instructions that will help you upload products and install the site on your own web server.

That said, there’s a worrying lack of content or updates on the Easybe site – and while it looked like ‘the answer’ about a year or three ago – now it’s not quite so encouraging. The look’s also pretty dated. For $68, it’s probably worth investigating though.

If you’re using WordPress, then look no further. There’s a brilliant (albeit complex) little plugin made by my fellow countrymen Dan Milward, Thomas Howard, Chris Beavan and Allen Han. It’s called WP E-Commerce and it’s the business.

This will not only allow you to accept payment for digital files, it will also provide a range of tools that allow you to import your products into the Facebook Marketplace and Google Base. If you’re not already using WordPress, then this may be the killer app that makes you change your mind.

Oh, and like WordPress – it’s free.

No, I don’t work for them – but I am a bit of a fan.

E-commerce solutions
There are quite a few very good e-commerce solutions that will handle everything for you.

Foxycart looks really good. I haven’t used it myself, but it appears to be really simple, straightforward, aesthetically appealing and idiotproof. It’s $15 a month, and they host everything. Definitely worth checking out.

Likewise, Shopify does more or less the same thing, and looks great too. It is a bit more industrial, though there are light versions of the product, and you pay a monthly fee for them to do all the hard work.

To me, this monthly fee system is a lot more sensible than a one-time upfront development cost, followed by a ‘percentage of sales’ arrangement that some providers offer. That doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s like paying royalties to the guy who sold you the cash register. So I’m not linking to any of those.

Free solutions
There are quite a few open-source e-commerce platforms that will do the job, but the vast majority of them are based on the idea that you’re opening a shop and have a range of products in a range of categories.

For most independent artists, there’s one category: ‘My Music’ – and so these more heavy duty retail solutions seem a bit unwieldly. For the most part, they’re often quite cumbersome and tricky – simply because it’s designed for the retail industry, not for the solo musician who has a CD for sale.

Web Distortion recently reviewed 9 of the most popular open source e-commerce solutions. It’s aimed at website developers, but it’d be worth your while having a look through and seeing if there’s anything there that suits your needs.

[They seem to think that Shopify is based on a ‘percentage of sales’ system, but as far as I can tell, it’s not…]

That said, the best of the bunch, as far as I can tell, is Magento. It’s gorgeous.

Magento is a free, well-supported and documented industrial strength e-commerce system that is so lovely from the end user’s perspective, that people will buy from you just to experience the interface. I’m a big fan – and it’s remarkable how much you get for no money at all.

This is hardly a comprehensive collection of all e-commerce platforms, and there are no doubt others that will fit the bill just as well. However, all of these will require a little bit of effort on your part.

There’s more to selling mp3s online than simply pressing upload and waiting for the cash to roll in. Metadata’s important. You want to ask yourself if your music needs to be chart registered (though my sense is that this is usually pointless) and most importantly, you need to ask yourself how user-friendly this is.

Adding images, making sure your bank account connects to your Paypal account – all of these things take time.

There are payment systems and e-commerce platforms that are a dream to use, and there are online stores that are such a nightmare to deal with that you’ve given up by the third page of form-filling. Make sure you make it as easy as you can for people to give you money.

But obviously, there are people reading this site who already sell their mp3s online. I’m curious: what do YOU use?