Passive income is a sweet thing. By selling files, you can set it and forget it. Upload your files, and they can sell potentially forever! If you’re creative at all, you have more opportunities than ever to make money selling digital downloads online. I’ve done it myself, so I can tell you it takes a little time to get traction. But once you do, it’s a fun passive income model.
How to Sell Digital Downloads Online
More and more platforms offer an easy way to sell digital files online quickly and easily. When it’s as easy as uploading a file, you can’t help but get a little excited every time you post a new product!
Big marketplaces like Creative Market and Envato are dedicated just to digital files. Yet now, even Etsy is a popular destination for downloadable graphics packs and printables.
Whatever your creative outlet is, there’s probably something for you. If you’re a wiz at big software like Photoshop and Illustrator, or just make stuff on your iPad, people are making money from it. So here are 14 ideas to get you started.
1. Instagram and Social Branding Kits
Instagram story templates from this seller.
Instagram is one of the most effective marketing tools for people and brands both. It’s visual, easy to scan, and attention-grabbing.
That’s exactly why there’s a selling point there. The desire for aesthetic Instagram feeds has resulted in templates and apps for planning out the perfect feed.
Digital downloads for Instagram can include flat png files, Photoshop files, and even animations. Any files that helps create visual consistency and branding are good. Here are some examples:
- Borders and text overlays for posts
- Story borders, including animated ones like this one.
- Puzzle layouts like this.
- Lightroom presets for bloggers to use on their photos
This category extends to complete social branding kits with matching aesthetics for facebook pages and other social media.
2. Planner Pages
Planner page bundle from VanessaRyan.co.
This one may be a hidden gem, and it may also be my favorite. Planner inserts are the rage as sellable digital downloads. I’ve bought them, use them myself, and have favorite layouts to keep me productive. It’s a real thing.
In fact, the Etsy seller PrintablePineapple has sold more than 51,000 digital downloads of printable planner inserts.
Planners are so popular, they’re like the new scrapbooking craze that was its predecessor. Enthusiasts have YouTube channels and Facebook groups just about how they customize and fill their planners.
There are dozens of planner brands to choose from. Some have standard binders while others have custom binder clips where the hole punches go in the page so the brands can sell their proprietary page refills.
So, a lot of people find it more fun and useful to get custom pages and print them out themselves. Shops have popped up all over Etsy solely for selling such pages with very specific purposes.
Planner Page Ideas:
- Two-page weekly planner spreads
- Calendar spreads
- Meal-tracking and weight goal spreads
- Travel planners
- Blog planners and editorial calendars
- Habit trackers
- To-do lists and bucket lists
I buy blank, hole-punched A5 paper from an Etsy seller, and then print my favorite digital download onto them myself.
Sell your files in different page sizes, like A5. Sell as a bundle of spreads that go together if you want, but individual spreads also sell well.
How to Make Them: People usually make layouts using programs like Adobe InDesign. Some people use Word, and that’s fine if you can do it. Personally, I recommend using InDesign for the creative control and often cleaner page design.
3. Clip Art
Adorable clipart by EmilyPetersonStudio.
I believe clip art can be easier to break into than many other things on this list. Why? Because the types of clipart people want for their needs varies widely. While much of it is colorful and complex, there are plenty that are simple, monochrome line art and doodles.
You can sell graphic packs and clip art on sites like Creative Market and Etsy. Ever since Etsy allowed digital file sales, shops on the site have done surprisingly well selling simple clip art downloads.
Want to get started now? Think of some categories of items, and tackle one category at a time. Think of things like seasons, holidays, milestones, workplaces, nature, and entertainment.
Just open a shop, upload your files to a listing, and they will always be there for sale. Make sure you have a good print resolution!
4. Document Templates
We already talked about planners, but you can design and sell several kinds of document template files. Sell digital downloads that look better than what your customers can design. Make them easy to edit with their own info, and you’re golden.
If you can make sleek documents, you can help job seekers make their best impression.
They’re perfect for people who want to save money and edit a customizable template for their weddings and parties.
With eBook sales remaining high, a lot of creators want formats that look great on PDF files and Kindle readers.
Help people make more impressive presentations than they’d be able to make on their own.
5. Stock Photos and Graphics
Photo by Eaters Collective.
What better way to get more out of your photos than to sell them for passive profit? I’ve even seen people claim they make money selling photos they took on their phones.
The camera and the setup is up to you, but here’s what I will comment on: Take photos that would work for specific editorial goals and topics.
If you’ve ever worked in media, you have an eye for this already. Use clean backgrounds and good composition. Use good color theory. Be topical.
Even without access to models or a studio, you can set up a photo box and start photographing single products or flat lays. (A flat lay is a collection of items laid out on a surface and shot from overhead.)
Some sellers create digital downloads to sell online like WordPress themes, and then supplement them with collections of stock photography and stationery.
Here’s an example of chic stock photo collections of flowers.
Even if you can’t take photos, you can also make stock illustrations. Using text and figures, you can get ideas across just as well if not better.
Take a look at sites like 123rf, Envato, and CreativeMarket for places to sell your photos.
6. Logo Kits
Logo kits and bundles are a popular category of graphics packs. Buyers can get a bundle of pre-made logos in which they can customize the text and switch graphic elements around.
Be aware that huge bundles are for sale, as are themed packs. For example, there are wildlife and outdoors themed logo kits that include graphics and fonts that fit that style. If you’re just starting out, it’s probably easier to go niche with a themed pack. Here are some potential niches:
- Cosmetic / Spa / Beauty
New design trends are always emerging, so being on top of those trends when you release your kit.
Textures by PhotoHackLovers.
Graphic texture packs are collections of images that fill a whole frame. They’re usually relatively simple on the surface but can be brilliantly designed and diverse in appearance. The sky’s the limit.
What kinds of textures are there, and what are they used for?
- Nice textures make good backgrounds for business cards, stationary, and digital scrapbooking projects.
- Photographers and artists sometimes use them as overlays for photos and artwork.
- Professionals and hobbyists in 3D modeling can use them for surface materials like wood, grass, hair, and different types of cloth or patterns. In this case they are often repeating patterns.
Here’s an example of a colorful, watery ink texture being sold on CreativeMarket.
8. Game Content
Game makers themselves aren’t the only ones making money selling extras like DLC. Regular players are doing the same thing every day, making surprising full-time incomes.
Mods are usually made for free by passionate creators in the gaming community. But Steam has launched a paid mods marketplace. As long as a particular game developer allows paid mods to exist for its game, Steam will allow them to be priced and sold. Right now, Skyrim is one of the games that allows paid mods.
Games like IMVU, Sansar, and Second Life all have marketplaces in which users can create and sell their items. Items for sale are diverse, ranging from clothes, hairstyles, home decor, virtual pets, sounds, and scripts. For newer social worlds like VRChat that don’t have a marketplace, some creators have managed to make money selling avatars through their own sites.
9. Software Presets, Brushes, and Plugins
What software are you proficient in? Think of what you can add to it.
This is where it gets a little more technical, and if you’re involved in these creative outlets you probably already know how to sell your skills. But not everyone does, and there are people who pick up new skills quickly. Some quick examples:
- ZBrush: Textured brushes for the 3D sculpting program can feature cloth styles, grommets, stitching, and pretty much anything you can imagine. This artist sells his brush packs on Gumroad.
- Photoshop, Procreate, and Lightroom Presets: Just browse the popular add-ons being sold on Creative Market for ideas here.
There are several ways to sell fonts. Join a font foundry, or sell through a font reseller.
On sites like CreativeMarket, creators can really showcase their font in the context of beautiful design. For more incentive, they’re sometimes sold with add-ons like graphic packs and complementary font styles.
11. Site Themes
WordPress themes are always in vogue. A good WordPress theme is prized by bloggers and small business owners. Requirements are knowledge of PHP, CSS, and good design.
However, it’s not the only platform out there. Shopify is booming, and eCommerce sellers need Shopify templates.
Landing pages are also huge with marketers of all kinds who need to sell an item with convincing design and copy.
Premium WordPress themes require support for customers, so it’s not totally passive but can build huge momentum.
If you’re a musician, you can get on several platforms that offer either sales income or royalties.
Less glamorous, but still profitable digital audio downloads you can sell include:
- Sound effects
- Environmental sound design
- Commercial-license instrumentals
- Language lessons
13. E-Books and Information
Self-publishing online has made many people a living they can be proud of.
Amanda Hocking famously made it clear that self-publishing was viable when she unexpectedly sold millions of copies of her paranormal fiction novels. Her works were priced at only $0.99 and $2.99 per novel. Mark Dawson has also found success, after some trials, on the platform with his popular crime thrillers.
For people looking to solve some problem, learn about some new topic, or relate to someone like them, nonfiction titles also do well. The greatest rule is to provide real value. Buyers can be jaded by spammy titles by people looking to make a quick buck.
Internet marketers made, and still make, fortunes with the kinds of ebooks you can find on Clickbank. The site has made an effort to better its reputation with the kind of products it allows.
You should have provide real value and expertise. Including something novel like video lessons will set you apart from the competition. An example of non-spammy infoproducts that do well are specialty diet recipe books and cooking tutorials. If you have a niche blog, a good infoproduct might be the perfect way to make the most of your site’s potential. Remember that persuasive copywriting is paramount for selling information products, so don’t overlook a professional in that field.
Sites to Sell Digital Downloads
You can sell digital downloads on someone else’s platform, like Etsy or Creative Market. These sites come with a built-in audience, and you don’t have to maintain the technical aspects of the site. That’s a huge plus.
You can also set up an account with Shopify or Gumroad. These sites will let you sell digital files one your own storefront.
Since I believe in the importance of branding, I think you should have your own website no matter what site you choose for a shop. A website can link people to your store, all social accounts to get updates, and have a blog. Check out the guide to setting up your own website.
Are you going to try anything on this list? Do you have any other ideas? I’d love to see what you’re doing. Let me know in the comments! And please send a friendly message if you think I could update something. Happy making!