When you’re publishing your books, you have a big choice to make: Should you publish your book exclusively with Amazon or put your book up on all the retailers? We’ll break down the options in this post to help you make the right choice for yourself.
Are you wide? Or exclusive?
Uh, I’m … unsure?
These terms (wide and exclusive) are often thrown about in author groups, and I get asked about them a lot. Since I have books published that are exclusive to Amazon and ones that are available on wide retailers, I thought I could give an inside look at what these two choices mean, and why you might choose one over the other.
LISTEN TO EPISODE 193 – SHOULD YOU PUBLISH WIDE OR EXCLUSIVE?
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WHAT IS WIDE VS EXCLUSIVE?
I’ll do a quick breakdown. Most indie authors put their book up for sale on Amazon–and you should. It’s the largest book retailer. You can be on Amazon and not exclusive to Amazon.
If you choose to enroll your book in KDP Select, you’re making the choice for your ebook (not print) to be exclusive with Amazon for the duration of your contract (which is 90 days in Select).
WHAT DOES EXCLUSIVITY WITH AMAZON ENTAIL?
This means a few things. You can sell digital copies on Amazon and get paid that way, but also have readers who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited “borrow” your book.As those readers read through the book, Amazon tracks the pages read and pays you accordingly.
And by “accordingly,” I mean that Amazon makes up a rate that they think is fair and pay you that rate. They set the rate. They track it. They pay you.
If you are enrolled in Kindle Select, it’s a 90-day contract and you cannot offer your ebook anywhere else–libraries included. It must be exclusive to Amazon.
Being wide simply means that you make your book available multiple places and it’s not enrolled in the Kindle Select program.
WHY AUTHORS MAKE THE WIDE VS EXCLUSIVE CHOICE
I’m going to explain some of the factors that authors might take into account as they’re making the wide vs exclusive choice so that you can have ideas of what
I’m starting with ethics, because for many, the choice on whether you go wide or exclusive is one of ethics. Some people take issues with various things about Amazon, from the size to the massive stake in the market to the fact that they set the prices in Kindle Unlimited.
Many people don’t want Amazon to own them and don’t like how Amazon can set and change the rate that they’re paid for pages read. There are also things happening like scammers hiring click-farms to scroll through their ebooks in KU, making bunches of money. Others find ways to inflate page reads or stuff books withe extras–which is a bonus to readers who might buy a book and get ten, but it’s a violation of Amazon terms and a way to game the system.
Often, Amazon doesn’t do anything about that. In short, many people don’t want to give Amazon exclusivity for personal, ethical reasons.
You can make money being wide and you can make money being exclusive with Amazon. You can actually make a LOT of money with select, even thought each “page” is a fraction of a penny to Amazon. It’s also possible that you can promote a 99 cent book and get the visibility from the sale, but make MORE than that through the pagereads.
Personally, I used to be about 80% income from Kindle Select (pages read) but as I’ve moved one of my series wide this year, that number has moved up to being more than a 50/50 split with more on sales–JUST on Amazon. I’m still making more money on Amazon than other retailers, but if I toss in that money I’ve made on retailers like Apple and Barnes and Noble, I’m making a bit more now outside of Kindle Select and the exclusive books.
Many people recommend that authors start out in Kindle Unlimited and being exclusive because this gives readers a reason to try a new author, since they can just borrow the book. That’s a great point.
Some genres also tend to read more in Kindle Unlimited, but I’d like to point out that I’ve seen all genres represented in wide sales outside of Kindle Unlimited. You CAN be in a hot KU genre, but still make money wide.
Kindle Unlimited can be a great place to start with, particularly in certain genres, so often this is something people will say to new authors. Being in Kindle Unlimited does NOT mean that you don’t have to promote your book though. There are TONS of books in KU, so you still have to promote.
Going wide really is a different mindset. It takes a bit more work, and some longevity. It means finding and connecting with other wide authors for cross-promotion, and look for promotional opportunities that aren’t just for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Other platforms often have promotions and things that you can take advantage of as an author there, but you’ve got to do a little digging to find them.
This might sound odd, but there are certain cultures of readers. This is a massive sweeping generalization. But often, the KU readers are voracious and hungry, but they may not commit as much to being a superfan of one author. They want to read and they want to read NOW! They burn through books quickly and can be a little undiscerning. (I’m a KU reader, by the way, so I’m cool pointing this out, even though it’s also not necessarily true for me.)
I’ve found personally that a lot of KU readers (of mine) are older, or are on fixed incomes. They won’t dip toes outside of KU. They only read what’s in there.
Authors often talk about the wide readers being more discerning, more willing to stick with one author and even pay higher price points because they LOVE that author and their books. Snag a wide fan, and you can snag a fan for life who will stick with YOU and read YOU because they love YOU, and not just because you are a faceless entity on KU.
Again, generalization. But this is something I’ve seen authors talk about. I have also seen rabid fan bases for both KU and wide authors, but I’m pointing this out as something to consider. Kindle Unlimited is like Netflix and encourages bingeing of books and that type of behavior.
This is the one I want to highlight. I’m all about finding your why, considering ROI, and looking at it all in terms of the long-term goals. I said when I started writing clean romance that I wanted to build and Emma Empire. I’m well on my way.
Kindle Unlimited has helped me get started. I used the ease of it, and the fact that my genre is very hot there, to make a name for myself and build a readership.
Long-term? I’d love to be wide. ALL wide. I’ve started with one series, where I saw a pattern of success already in wide books, and I was able to secure my first two BookBub Featured Deals for those, which helped me launch those books wide. (It’s why my sales right now are beating my pagereads.)
One important thing to realize (that I’m all-too aware of) is that how you start is how you train your readers. If you START in KU and build a KU fan-base, that’s going to be a hard sell to people who are used to your books being “free” in Kindle Unlimited.
The series I took wide was an already established one of mine. When I just launched a book wide for the first time and at a higher price point… it did not go so well for me. Many of my fixed-income, KU readers just couldn’t hack a $4.99 price point.
HOW TO MAKE THE CHOICE
I’m not going to make the choice for you or say that one is better. We’re all on our own journeys, and I feel confident saying that authors should make the best choice that suits their needs and their goals.
Take into consideration the factors above. Look and listen in Facebook groups to authors who are making the journey. Think about your long-term goals and also your short-term goals. Consider your genre. Think about how you feel being exclusive to Amazon.
And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or weird about your choice! This is just a business decision you can make for your own reasons. I don’t agree with everything Amazon does. I’m also grateful that they opened the doors that make this current indie publishing world so accessible.
TIPS FOR GOING WIDE
I think if you’re going to go wide, you need to hang out with wide authors. Get in the mindset. Study what works for them. Network with other wide authors. Wrap your mind around the mindset shift.
The best place to do that is in Erin Wright’s group, Wide for the Win. As I suggest with ALL Facebook groups, don’t hop in there and start asking questions about your own journey or how to get out of KU. Read and listen first. See the culture and group rules. There are tons of helpful people and lots of files and pinned posts with answers to many of the questions you might start with.
- Listen to Erin Wright talk about being wide on Joanna Penn’s podcast HERE.
- One author’s wide vs KU case study
- My Facebook group (wide AND exclusive are welcome)
Lizzie Comrie says
Thank you! This is relevant to me right now!
I still think I’ll only try Amazon this time around (I don’t have much experience selling my novels yet). Kindle Unlimited is a familiar platform for me and one I trust.
Jo Richardson says
Really great post and info and even made me LOL. Thank you for posting it!
Gary Townsend says
I’m not publishing anything yet, but … I’ve heard/read that one strategy is to use KU to gain readers with the 5 days out of each 90 of promoting your book for free. The idea is to take advantage of having a link to another freebie in your book, available only at your site, for getting readers on your email list.
How well that works compared to having a perma-free book when you go wide (to get readers on your email list), I have no idea.
One argument I’ve heard *against* KU is that while you can make a good sum of money, you are actually *limiting* potential income, since what you’re getting there is just a piece of a limited pie of money that Amazon budgets for KU each year. The point here being, “Why would any author want to put a limit on their potential income?”
Of course, one argument against that is that it is highly unlikely that you’d make enough for Amazon’s KU budget to really put a limit on how much you make. But, yes, the more people participate in publishing in KU, the smaller that pie gets (if Amazon doesn’t adjust their budget accordingly).
There are a lot of factors, for sure! The permafree strategy and the 5-days free in KU strategy are similar but different in getting people through the door. I’m just now doing my first permafree, so I’ll see how it goes. I never use all five free days (though some do) while in KU, but usually do two days and pay for promos. I also pay for promos for my permafree book, like a few a month to keep it visible. We’ll see!
I’m totally not worried about the limiting the piece of the pie argument with KU. Why? If you check my latest post, you’ll see a glimpse at my very non-limited income, 80-90% from KU. Would I be making what I’m making without KU? No. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t be successful wide, and in a lot of ways, looking at wide as my long-term strategy is for sure something I’m considering. Sure, you’re getting a piece of the pie, but it’s a very generous pie. Yep, Amazon holds the purse–or pie–strings, but I’m okay with that for what I’m able to bring home each month.
For now, my genre is very KU heavy. The readers are many, and they read a book a day. They can’t afford to BUY every book they read. (Some of my readers–maybe a good deal–are on a fixed income and KU allows them to indulge in their reading habit.)
I want to become the kind of author that will be a one-click, no-brainer, don’t-even-read-the-blurb kind. Where readers see my new book up for preorder and buy. Period. I’m still growing into that. So, for now, and maybe even more long-term, I’m in KU for most of my series.
Hope that helps!
Gary Townsend says
I was actually regurgitating some of the arguments I’ve heard put forth by others.
The argument about KU putting limits on what you can earn might make sense if you’re a huge bestselling writer — the guy who made this argument was, or very close to it — but even then I personally doubt that that would put any real limits on what one can make, unless KU becomes heavily populated with bestsellers, which is an oxymoron if ever there was one.
After all, save for the “I’m a bestseller in my category” arguments that don’t mean much, the fact is that real bestsellers — those making millions — are few and far between, and they would have every reason to go wide.
If memory serves, the guy who made this argument was either SF writer and president of the SFWA John Scalzi (who, so far as I know, is only traditionally published), or it may have been traditional-gone-indie writer J.A. Konrath, but I could be wrong on both counts. I do remember that it was a very well known writer, though.
Matt Stone, in a course of his I took on getting subscribers, advocated KU and making full use of that 5 days, and using them all at once.
I’ve batted around the idea of possibly pursuing something of a hybrid strategy, using both KU and doing perma-free on Amazon outside of KU, all for the sake of building my audience.
I write in science fiction and fantasy, but mostly in fantasy. I like weird westerns, gaslamp (kind of the fantasy equivalent of steampunk), steampunk, alternate history. So, it’s all got an historical bent, and frequently is, in fact, bent history. LOL
Gary Townsend says
Man, that second paragraph in my reply was a mess! LOL Let me try to fix it:
** The argument about KU putting limits on what you can earn might make sense if you’re a huge bestselling writer — the guy who made this argument was one, or was very close to it. Even then I personally doubt that that would put any real limits on what even a bestseller could make in KU, unless, that is, KU becomes heavily populated with bestsellers, which is an oxymoron if ever there was one.
Gary Townsend says
I know of one guy who argues for going exclusively with Amazon, but *not* with KU. His argument is that you’re not going to make much money outside of Amazon, regardless of who you’re with — B&N’s Nook, Kobo, Apple’s iBooks, etc. But in terms of audience, that completely ignores a boatload of people (even if it’s a smaller boat) who would otherwise not know about you. Starting off it’s about audience and discoverability, based on what I’ve learned.
(He also advocates going with the lowest price possible on Amazon, but my problem with that is that it’s not competitive pricing. The psychology of his strategy can work against you: People thinking, “Why is his stuff so cheap? Is there something wrong with it?” That’s a thing, whether he wants to admit it or not.)
My problem with his Amazon-only argument is that it violates the old time-tested adage *against* putting all your eggs in one basket (I’m not using this as an argument against KU, only against this guy’s idea of avoiding other markets). Just because Amazon is an 800-lb gorilla doesn’t mean some other gorilla won’t come along and make them look like a 90-lb weakling. That other gorilla could be a company we haven’t seen yet, or a company already in existence that just hasn’t put on the needed weight.
I knew you were sharing other people’s views! I was just sharing my feedback on them.
I don’t know how that last strategy makes sense… it’s leaving TONS of money on the table to be exclusively with Amazon but not in KU. They could at LEAST be on other retailers too and open it up. There is NO reason that I can consider making sense to do that, but it’s not my books! Wish them the best. 😉
Anyway. We all do our things. I do know of at least one person personally who utilizes KU to make a million+ a year. I can sort of understand the argument from others, but not really in practical terms for the average author.
It’s for sure worth testing to have a permafree and then the series in KU, BUT then other readers on the other platforms won’t be happy. That’s why most people don’t do that and will a 99-cent start book or every-so-often free promos.
Gary Townsend says
Although I talked about a hybrid strategy earlier, I’m leaning more towards having a freebie on my site, but a 99¢ book on Amazon as my loss leader.
Part of the reason has to do with reviews. I believe it was Kristine Kathryn Rusch who — in her book DISCOVERABILITY, I think it was? — indicated that you tend to get better reviews on books with prices than with freebies. The argument was that readers with skin in the game are more forgiving of a book’s faults than when the book is a freebie. And, while you won’t necessarily make a ton of money off a 99¢ book, even a small income from it would be nice. (I’ve read Rusch’s novels since long before Amazon appeared on the scene, and I first learned about Amazon via a radio ad in the SF Bay area when I lived there back in the mid-90s. They advertised themselves back then as the biggest bookstore on the planet. And now they’re even bigger.)
My WIP, by the way, is a Civil War fantasy, making it kind of a gaslamp fantasy, but also kind of an alternative history story, since the history *is* bent.
Good discussion, though. Enjoyed the chat. Look forward to reading more that you publish here. 😀