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Sell PDF, Ebooks & Research Reports Online Securely. Stop sharing

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Selling PDFs, ebooks, courses & research reports securely online : stop sharing & copying

Why sell digital documents such as ebooks, reports, courses & PDF files online?

Selling digital documents, PDF files, ebooks, research reports and other information products online has many advantages, including:

  • Reducing costs – saving on paper and postage
  • Time savings with electronic distribution
  • Reaching new markets
  • Environmental benefits (less ink and paper)

However, the main disadvantage is that electronic documents can be easily copied, shared and pirated.

Issues to consider when selling ebooks, PDF files, courses & reports online

When selling PDFs online, or other digital documents, there are 3 main issues to consider:

  1. What is the best document format to use – i.e. ePub or PDF
  2. How to distribute documents – selling PDFs online via your website, selling ebooks on ebook sale platforms such as Amazon, selling side research reports on finance sites, etc.
  3. How to protect documents from copying, sharing, piracy and theft – how do you stop your intellectual property from being copied and shared freely or prevent someone from stealing it and selling it as their own?
  4. Allowing offline use – most users want to view purchased documents offline, so you should not force them to use a slow browser-based system, especially if your file sizes are large or you have complex documents.  Also, browser systems only provide weak security – they cannot prevent screenshots or lock use to devices, and users can easily share login info with others.

The most common documents sold online are:

  • Ebooks
  • PDF files
  • Online courses
  • Legal documents and compliance documents
  • Reports – research reports, valuation reports, side research reports, equity reports, analyst reports, law reports, market reports

These all contain valuable intellectual property that represents monetary value to a business.

Preventing revenue loss should therefore be the number one priority if you intend to make money selling ebooks or PDF reports and courses online.

Choosing a suitable document format for ebook selling

There are two main document formats, ePub and PDF, to consider when it comes to selling ebooks online.

Choosing the document format you publish in depends on whether you’re willing to trade multimedia and interactivity for security and consistency of appearance across multiple devices.  Your choice of format may also affect which ebook sale platforms you can utilize to sell and market it.


The ePub format (XHTML) was developed specifically for internet publishing:

  • It supports multimedia and interactive (epub3) elements
  • You can create responsive ebooks that resize automatically on some devices (except for multiple columns and tables)
  • It can be better suited to smaller devices if you have very large documents as it is much lighter than PDF (i.e. has fewer features)
  • Users can choose between different ePub readers but you will find they all display content slightly differently
  • Users must install Adobe Digital Editions, which has been the subject of privacy concerns – Adobe collects data regarding reading habits and all loaded ebooks and transmits this information to Adobe’s servers in plain text
  • DRM protection is weak at best.  There are many applications (including free ones) dedicated to the removal of ePub protection (DRM)


The PDF file format was developed to ensure cross-platform consistency of appearance (form and format) across all platforms.

  • If page presentation format is important (i.e. you want your pages to display consistently across all devices) then PDF is the better choice
  • Users must install a PDF Reader / Viewer
  • PDF DRM protection is available from multiple vendors who specialize in document security.

If you are reading this article with the intention of selling ebooks online securely, then the PDF file format is your only real choice.

Where to sell ebooks online – your website or ebook sale platforms?

Where you sell PDFs/sell ebooks depends on various factors:

  • How popular your website is and how much traffic it generates
  • If you use offline campaigns to drum up online sales
  • How easily you can integrate eCommerce into your site and effectively manage it
  • How your payment provider handles chargebacks and what control you have over your documents when this occurs
  • If you are willing to give away a proportion of your earnings in exchange for using a marketing platform such as Amazon (it can be 30% to 65%)
  • Whether a marketing platform forces you to use its own file formats or document security

  Choosing an ebook sale platform

If you sell legal documents online, sell research reports, or sell online courses, you’ll likely want to make them available on your own website.  This gives potential customers the chance to see relevant information about your product rather than competitor information.  Alternatively, you can try selling digital downloads with PayPal – attaching the document directly to an invoice.  This can be ideal if you’re supplying reports directly to a business that you have an established relationship with.

By comparison, an ebook aimed at the mass market may benefit from the promotion opportunities available from using fully configured ebook sale platforms such as Amazon (at a price).

  Amazon publishing fees

The costs associated with publishing on Amazon may be higher than you expect.  The retail giant will take 70% unless you’re one of the lucky ones that qualifies for its 35% option.  For a lower 35% fee, you’ll need to:

  • be selling it to somebody in an eligible country
  • price your ebook between $2.99 and $9.99
  • have the sale price at least 20% lower than your print price
  • make your ebook lendable for a 14-day period.

Either way, a big chunk of your profit is going directly to Amazon, and this doesn’t even cover the delivery fees (~$0.15/MB).  It’s worth considering if it makes more sense for you to spend that money elsewhere (such as on a marketing campaign).

Protecting digital documents from copying, sharing, theft & piracy

There are various companies that say they can help you sell PDFs/ebooks online securely and prevent sharing.  But how much help are they really? Here is an analysis of some common security methods and their value.


PDF password protection is one of the most common and cheapest methods of securing PDFs.  PDF documents are encrypted with a password to prevent unauthorized access, and PDF restrictions can be applied to control some document use (e.g. preventing printing).

However, it is completely useless as a form of document protection:

  1. Users can share the document password with others and post it online along with the document
  2. You have to give the user the password for them to view the document so they can remove it instantly
  3. Passwords can be removed by password recovery applications
  4. Adobe permissions (these control how a document can be used – i.e. allow or deny printing) can be easily removed in seconds by free online password removal tools

And of course, there is the problem of creating, distributing and managing passwords to begin with.

Secure Downloads

Secure download systems rely on generating a unique download link for each user when they purchase your documents online.  They often combine this with a password protected file, and the user is given the download link and password after purchase.

However, once the user has downloaded the file and has the password to open it, they can then share these with others.

Although secure downloads and passwords may stop users from arbitrarily downloading documents they have not paid for, they do nothing to prevent someone who has paid for a document then giving it to others for nothing.

Dynamic Watermarks with user information

Some systems watermark PDF files with user information – this is added to the PDF document when it is purchased.

However, what you are not told is that these watermarks can be easily removed in a PDF editor.  All the user has to do is to open the PDF file, select the watermark, and press the delete key to remove all instances.

Social Watermarking

Social watermarking, also known as social DRM, is a type of dynamic watermarking for ebooks that inserts hidden watermarks that identify the user.  Unfortunately, despite the name, it can hardly be called DRM.  It does not stop users from editing, which means that the code can easily be inspected and the hidden watermarks removed.


There are many ebook DRM systems available from the big brands (Amazon, Google, Kobo, etc.).  However, all of them provide only weak security: ebook conversion tools such as Epubor can remove the protection for free in seconds.  There’s little point in applying these popular DRMs since they provide no protection against piracy.

You should instead look for a good PDF DRM or ebook DRM system that uses multiple technologies to prevent the copying, sharing, printing, and piracy of your documents.  These include:

  • Document encryption to prevent unauthorized access and lock use to machines
  • Public key technology rather than passwords
  • SSL for secure key transfer to authorized devices
  • Licensing controls to identify users and devices
  • Dynamic watermarks that are permanent and cannot be removed
  • The ability to transfer licenses between devices – see ebook DRM & license transfer
  • Proprietary security techniques to control operating system behaviour – i.e. to stop screen grabbing applications from operating effectively
  • Full security and control over offline documents
  • Dedicated secure viewer applications to control document access and use

See our DRM technology to better understand how these components make up an effective document security system.

Some document DRM systems rely on plug-ins to Adobe Acrobat but these bring with them their own problems, including compatibility issues, security issues (plugins can be circumvented by other plugins), and failure to continue working after Acrobat updates.

How Locklizard enables you to sell PDFs online securely & protect your revenue

  • Strong PDF Security

    Unlike the simple removal of Adobe PDF password protection Safeguard PDF security cannot be easily bypassed.

    With Safeguard:

    • PDFs are only ever decrypted in memory
    • Keys are securely & transparently relayed and locked to authorized devices
    • DRM controls are persistent and cannot be removed
    • We stop screen grabbing tools being used to take high-quality screenshots of document content
    • We prevent printing to PDF files (an easy way to remove protection)
    • We don’t use insecure passwords or plugins
    • We use US Gov Strength AES encryption, DRM and licensing controls to enforce access and document use
  • Stops unauthorized use

    Stops sharing, copying and pasting, printing, editing and saving – and unlike Adobe permissions, document controls cannot be removed.

    Stops Windows print screen and third party screen grabbers and prevents printing to file drivers.

    Regardless of how strong the password you use Adobe permissions can be removed in seconds and this can be easily done without using any password removal tools.

  • Non-removable dynamic watermarks

    Dynamic watermarks (user’s name, email, company, date/time, etc.) can be displayed at view/print time.

    You only have to protect the PDF once for all users and the correct information is inserted depending on the user who has opened the document.

    This discourages photographs or photocopies (if printing is allowed) from being distributed since the user responsible is clearly identified.

  • PDFs are locked to devices and locations

    PDF files can be locked to a country location, a domain, or a range of IP addresses on a user or global basis.  For example, you might want to sell different digital products to different markets and ensure they can only be used in those locations.

    PDF documents are automatically locked to authorized devices so they cannot be shared.  If a user copies a document and keystore to another device it will fail to operate.

  • PDF Expiry & Revocation

    You can use PDF expiry to produce time limited trials or to ensure only the latest information is ever made available.

    • Set PDF files to expire on a fixed date, after a number of days, a number of views or prints.
    • Individual user access to the same PDF document can be set to expire at different times.
    • Revoke PDF files at any time no matter where they reside for single, multiple or all users.
    • Revoke user access to a single, multiple or all PDF files.

    User revocation can be invaluable if a chargeback is made and you want to ensure that a user no longer has access to documents they have not paid for.

    Document revocation can be useful when you need to replace an updated report if a previous version was found to contain incorrect information, or if a user should no longer have access to a specific document.

  • Track & Log PDF use

    Track & monitor PDF use – see when users viewed and printed your documents, from where and on what devices.

Safeguard uses US Government strength encryption and digital rights management (DRM) controls to enable you to sell PDFs securely and control their use.  Sell documents & ebooks securely online and stop piracy, theft, sharing & misuse.

   How to Sell PDF files online securely with Locklizard Safeguard

Selling PDFs online with Safeguard is simple. First, you protect the Safeguard PDF Writer application:

  1. Right-click your PDF in Windows File Explorer and select “Make Secure PDF”.
  2. Select the restrictions you’d like to apply, including restricting access after a certain date, which can be found in the “Expiry & Validity” tab. By default, editing, copying, and printing are disabled.
  3. Press the Publish button to protect the PDF and apply restrictions. On pressing the Publish button, Locklizard will output your encrypted PDF file.

    Once your PDF is encrypted, you can either manually add and give users access via the Safeguard Admin portal or make use of the Locklizard e-commerce option to automate the process after website checkout.  The PDF file itself you can safely host on a public-facing webpage, as only those who are authorized will be able to open and view it.


How do I sell ebooks securely?

The only way to sell ebooks securely is to do so in PDF format after protecting them with an effective DRM solution.  You can then distribute the PDF ebook on any site you like, knowing that non-customers cannot access them.

What is the best way to sell PDF ebooks online?

It depends on a number of factors, such as what  you’re publishing and how wide a market you’re wanting to reach.  Generally, though, PDFs target niche markets with course content or reports.  In such a case, the best choice is typically to publish on your own website to reduce fees and gain full control over anti-piracy mechanisms.

How can you stop sharing when selling PDFs online?

You need a fully-fledged PDF DRM solution to prevent copying, printing, watermark removal, and more.  Adobe Acrobat or ‘secure’ data room software will not provide adequate protection since the controls to stop sharing can be easily bypassed or removed.

Do secure download links protect downloadable PDF files?

No.  A secure download link only protects the same file from being downloaded by multiple people.  It doesn’t protect the files themselves — those can still be shared after they’re downloaded.

Is it safe to sell digital products online with Google Drive and PayPal?

Yes, if you protect them with a PDF DRM solution first.  Pirates can easily bypass the default Google Drive protection, and PayPal offers no protection at all.

Does encryption protect ebooks from sharing?

Not by itself.  Encryption alone only protects a PDF book when it is in transit or at rest (not being used).  As the encrypted ebook needs to be able to be opened by the user you have sent it to, they can simply decrypt it and then share it.  This is why it’s important to use a DRM solution that combines encryption with a variety of other methods to prevent copying and pasting, printing, screenshots, etc.

Can you sell documents online from a website securely?

Absolutely it is a great way to reduce fees.  You can create your own online store or storefront, and use a payment processor such as Stripe to accept credit card payments.  You just need to make sure you apply the proper DRM protection to your PDF books, reports, manuals, and other documents that you sell.

Does Locklizard charge transaction fees per sale?

No, we charge a one time fee or renewable subscription for use of our Digital Rights Management software.  Pricing information can be found here.

Does Locklizard support PDF stamping?

Yes.  You can stamp a PDF by adding a dynamic watermark to discourage unauthorized sharing and help prevent piracy.  This will automatically add the buyers name and email to each page along with a date and time stamp.  And unlike Adobe, the font, size and placement are fully customizable.

Does Locklizard prevent direct URL access to PDF files?

No, there is no need to.  If you prevent direct URL access to a PDF file, then once an authorized user has downloaded the PDF they can share it with others.  With Locklizard you can let anyone download a protected PDF (there is no need to prevent direct URL access) because only authorized users can open it.  In addition, you can also control how the PDF is used – prevent sharing, copying, editing, screenshots and printing, restrict access after a certain date, and much more.

  Download DRM Software to Sell PDFs, ebooks, online courses & reports securely

Download PDF protection software that uses US Government strength encryption and digital rights management controls to protect PDF files without using insecure passwords.  Protect PDF files from copying, printing, editing, and unauthorized distribution.  Lock PDF files to individual devices and locations so they cannot be shared.

Secure PDF files on your computer (no uploading of unprotected documents to the cloud), then sell protected PDFs from your website or distribute them just like any other file.

See how you can benefit from implementing Locklizard document security to sell PDF files securely – prevent IPR theft, protect your revenue streams, save costs and time, and instantly gain access to new markets.  Read our customer testimonials and case studies to see why thousands of organizations use Locklizard Document DRM to securely sell PDF files, ebooks, research reports, courses and other digital documents online.

Download your free 15 day free trial and see why Locklizard is the best way to sell a PDF document online securely so it can’t be shared.

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