What is a Digital Product?

By Jeremy Deighan


Welcome to The Digital Product Blog. In previous installments, I've been telling you a little bit about myself, where I come from and some of my thoughts on online business.

Man Designing
Man Designing

Today we are going to start talking specifically about digital products. I'm going to give you an overview of my thoughts on what a digital product is, and why I love them so much. I will also give you some different ideas of digital products you can create. And over the next few blog posts, I'll talk about individual, specific digital products that you can create yourself and begin selling online.

Later on, we'll talk about the different ways you can sell those products online, either through your own website or by leveraging a platform or a marketplace. We’ll talk about marketing and advertising. And as the series goes on, we'll get deeper into those topics.

What Are Digital Products?

But first, let’s bring it back to the basics and explain what digital products are, and some of the types of digital products you can create to sell.

Let's begin by describing what a digital product is.

At some point, all business comes down to a transaction: receiving something in exchange for something else. So, you're providing a good or a service, and receiving money in return, or vice versa.

Typically, when we say “good or service,” we’re referring to something tangible that a customer can receive. Goods could be products, like food, clothing, books, or something else the buyer can actually hold or keep.

Services include tasks a person provides to clients or expertise. Services include things like cutting the grass or doing your taxes.

Since this is The Digital Product Blog, we're going to be talking about products. Later on, I will talk briefly about the services that you can provide online. But typically, I'm going to focus on things you can actually sell, that people can have in a tangible (digital) form.

These digital products include things like ebooks, online courses, or software. In all cases, the product is something that they can actually download or have access to, to use either for their personal or business benefit.

There are some times where digital products relate to services. For example, if you're a graphic designer, you are providing a service of designing for someone, and that would result in a product like a logo or digital file. But typically, that ends up in the form of say, like a logo or digital file that they can have. So there may be some crossover in the conversation, but typically, we're going to be talking about digital products that you can create and sell over and over to different clients, without putting in additional time or expertise.

I'm also not going to talk a whole lot about physical products, even those that are sold online. I don't have a lot of experience in them, and while many people enjoy selling physical products via online platforms, it’s a very different business model. So we're not going to be talking so much about dropshipping, or white label products or ordering stuff from Alibaba and, and creating it.

Now, there might be some crossover. For example, one of the first ways I made money online was by selling t-shirts, which is a physical product. But I wasn't personally creating the t-shirt. I wasn't manufacturing it or shipping it or any of the different tasks involved with handling physical products. I was just uploading designs and graphics and selling those shirts.

But for the most part, this series will be centered on creating digital products that you can sell directly.

Why Focus on Digital Products?

There are many different reasons I enjoy digital products personally. And I hope to convince you to feel the same way.

First of all, I like that there's no inventory when you create digital products because they're digital files. The only space they take up is hard drive space. And that space doesn't even have to be on your computer, it can be on the cloud somewhere. So I like that I don't have to worry about inventory. I also don't have to worry about shipping, scheduling pick up and delivery or the other things that you have to do when you deal with physical products.

Man With A Package
Man With A Package

So for instance, I did actually own a t-shirt business for a while (before the design-based business I mentioned above). And in that t-shirt business, I actually printed the shirts myself. So, I had to have equipment: the printer, the screens, the drying equipment, etc. And I had to store inventory in addition to that. So I had to have the t-shirts, which I had to buy in bulk, which meant I'd have boxes and boxes of t-shirts. I also had to keep the emulsions, inks, and sprays that go with creating the shirt. And, if I had inks, I had to have 20 different colors of inks. So there was a lot to store!

I was doing this out of my apartment at the time, so it was a very small operation. But I had a lot of stuff taking up space.

When I learned about digital products, I really got excited because I realized I didn't have to have inventory. I loved being able to create digital files (digital assets) and sell them, all from just a computer. The great thing about this business is I can do it practically anywhere.

Of course, there are exceptions. If I'm doing a video or an online course, I might need a computer that's really robust. I might need to be able to record, and maybe some lights and cameras and stuff. So, depending on what you create and sell, there are times when you might have to have a little extra. But it's nothing like having the inventory my screen printing business used. Most of this stuff, I can create from a single laptop, which means I can do it anywhere: from the comfort of my home, a coffee shop, wherever I can take my laptop with me. I really enjoy that kind of freedom, the ability to sit here with my computer and make money just with my ideas and hard work and creativity.

People Working At Coffeeshop
People Working At Coffeeshop

The other thing I love about digital products is how easy it is to transfer the asset to my customers. Back in the early days, it was a lot harder, but it's getting easier and easier now. There are so many different options for uploading files and sending them off to customers. There are lots of different payment processors, too, and different marketplaces that facilitate the sale of digital products. 

If you are a graphic designer or a photographer, or you like to write music or create online courses, there are websites made specifically for those things, where you can upload your photos or music or online courses. People will come to those marketplaces looking to buy those things, and you get paid through that platform. 

So the actual transactional process is a lot easier, too. When I did my screen printing business, I had to worry about order forms and sales letters and meeting up with the customer, not to mention making the transaction, waiting for payment, and then delivering the actual product. The digital product is so nice, because there are lots of easy ways to do that, and not have to worry about the face-to-face interaction, or having an office building where they have to come in and sign forms and so on. So it's just a much easier and simpler business to get into. 

Because of this, there is very little overhead. Back in the day, before online commerce, if you wanted to start a business, the general idea was to take out a large loan and buy or lease a space to have your business. You had to pay for electricity and water, and have insurance on your physical space. Of course, some businesses still do that. If you're in certain types of retail businesses or own a restaurant, for example, you're going to have those things. 

But that's not the path that I went down, and with digital products, I have very little overhead. With only a computer and internet access, I can get online and create products. And even if I have to pay for software or something like that, it’s usually a very small cost compared to owning a restaurant, or something where I have to keep stock or rent a space. 

So it's a very easy business to get started in. And there are so many ideas. Once we start breaking down some of these ideas, I predict you're going to start thinking about this all the time. You're going to be like, "Oh, man, that's something I can make." As we go through these, there might be some that don't ring a bell for you at all, but then you’ll hear one that makes you say, "I could do that." 

As we go through these....you'll hear one that makes you say, "I could do that."

So it's a great business model. Low overhead, you can make a lot of money, it's easy to facilitate the transactions. And, simply put, it's a lot of fun. 

There are several main categories that we'll be talking about in future installments. Within each of these categories, there are five, ten or even twenty products you can create. Over time, we’ll talk about every single one of these. 

7 Key Categories of Digital Products

That said, this isn't going to be an exhaustive list. I mean, I'm going to give you a lot of ideas, and I invite you to share your own ideas, too. But keep in mind that this isn't everything, and new possibilities are created every day 

The first category is writing, which encompasses anything that has to do with writing things for customers to read. In the writing category, we have things like ebooks. You can write a book, put it in digital format, and publish it online, either on your own website or through a marketplace like Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Smashwords. You can also create and sell PDFs and documents. You can create anything from recipe books to workbooks and cheat sheets, or instruction manuals and training material. There are many types of written information that you can create easily with a word processor (even a free word processor, like Google Docs), and begin selling immediately. 

The second category is audio. Maybe you're a musician, maybe you like composing, or creating musical tracks, even beats or loops. You can create and sell those online. You can do voiceover work, which means recording dialogue or announcements for people — video narration, for example. You can narrate and/or create audiobooks.

The next category is art and design. The design category includes everything from graphic design of specific materials like and book covers, social media posts, print materials and logos to pre-designed items like fonts and vector graphics. Design includes art, drawings, sketches, cartoons, presentations, templates, and printables. We'll dive deep into each of these going forward, but I want to give you some ideas right off of the back. 

Another big category related to art and design is photography. Photographers can provide a service, in which you're actually going on location and taking photos for people. Or, you can sell stock photography, where people browse through photos you’ve already taken and pay to license the images. If you like taking pictures of sunsets, and you go out and take beautiful pictures of sunsets, you can upload them and people may pay you for those images, to use in their own materials or website. There are some other avenues in photography that we'll talk about later too. 

The fifth category is video. Video is huge right now, and it's only getting bigger. If you enjoy taking videos, you can create stock footage, animation, documentaries, graphics, shorts, bumper videos and lots of other things. 

Next, we have the software category. Under software, again, we're going to have some crossover types of revenue. As we go through some of these, I've included applications and mobile apps, plugins, extensions, games, and creating websites and themes. Creating a website is more of a service provided custom for a specific client. But you can also create website templates, where people purchase your template and plug in their own information. 

The final category that I want to discuss is education, which includes any type of educational material. This is another one that often crosses over between categories because there is written education, audio education, video education, etc. There are also specialized products like online courses and training material, and applications that actually teach the customer how to do something. 

This should give you some ideas, maybe get you thinking about what you could create. What do you love doing? Do you play the guitar or piano every day? Do you like to sew or knit? Do you draw or do graphic design? Are you a programmer? Do you like to work with your hands? Are you a woodworker? 

Speaking of education, there are people out there who love woodworking, and they might write or draw out how to do their favorite designs for woodworking projects. If they're making a chair, for example, they can make those designs and sell them online. Those are very popular. 

Person Woodworking
Person Woodworking

For instance, my son is really into the Ninja Warrior stuff. I don't know if you've ever seen this on TV, but there are athletes who go through a challenging course: with ramps and things they hang from and other obstacles the athletes have to go through. It turns out, there's a guy out there who is selling blueprints for people like my son, who want to install Ninja Warrior obstacles in your backyard. It's DIY, how to create a ramp for a Ninja Warrior course in your backyard. He created these plans and now he’s selling them online.

There are so many great ideas, and it's much easier to get started than you may think. There are a lot of different ways to get help, too. We'll talk about outsourcing and hiring freelancers, and other people to help you out in the future also. 

If you’ve been reading, you know my passion is online courses. That's the path I followed. I've created a lot of online courses myself, and I've produced online courses for other people who have the skills to teach but don't have the know-how to create the courses. So the education category is one that I have a lot of experience in, but there are so many more ideas out there and I can't wait to tell you about them.

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