by Amanda Clay
Are you exclusive or wide? It’s a question asked in every indie author circle.
Exclusive—meaning you publish your ebooks exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing; or Wide—your book is available on all digital platforms such as Kobo, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble, and in libraries.
It’s a distinction that’s highly debated, often contentiously. I’m not here to argue in favor of one option or the other. Each choice is a strategic business decision with advantages and downsides.
Let’s talk a little more about what each option means.
What exactly is Amazon exclusivity and why would anyone want to be exclusive just one retailer?!
Amazon is the only self-publishing platform that offers an exclusive ebook publishing program—KDP Select. When you agree to participate in KDP Select, which you can do at any point during your book’s life, you opt in for a 90-period during which you can’t publish your ebook anywhere other than Amazon, including any other publishing platforms, the library or your own website. A reader can only read that particular book on Amazon. This only applies to e-books and not the print or audio edition.
At the end of each 90-day period you can re-enroll in exclusivity or opt out and publish your book elsewhere.
What are the advantages of THAT?!
By agreeing to only sell your ebooks on Amazon, the giant offers you a few advantages. For certain markets, you earn higher royalties. There is also evidence (partly anecdotal, partly somewhat proven) that Amazon gives promotional priority to books enrolled in KDP Select. This makes sense, of course. Amazon is all about the customer experience, but also a business with its own self-interest. Offer readers quality books that they can only find on Amazon? Boom! Win–win.
But most importantly, and what’s usually the deciding factor for authors, being in KDP Select allows you to enroll your book in Kindle Unlimited.
If you’re not familiar, Kindle Unlimited is a monthly paid subscription, kind of like Netflix, that allows you unlimited access to thousands of ebooks and audiobooks. Rather than earn a flat royalty when someone purchases your book, a book read through KU earns royalties for every page read. The rate varies monthly, but typically, it ends up being about half a cent per page. Amazon calculates ebook pages by its own algorithm, but for example my 80,000-word book ends up earning about $2 if someone reads it all the way through in KU. For comparison, that same $4.99 book when purchased outright earns about $3.75 (in the US at 70% royalty rate).
In those terms KU royalties don’t seem like much, but KU readers tend to BINGE books. If you hook a whale reader and have a robust backlist of books they can devour, this can really add up. Amazon also offers royalty bonuses every month for authors with the most KU pages read (Kindle All-Stars). Some successful indie authors make tens of thousands of dollars each month on Kindle Unlimited pages read alone.
Another advantage of being enrolled in Kindle Unlimited is being able to offer your book “free” while still getting paid as a way to reach new readers who might be reluctant to spend money on an unfamiliar author.
Keep in mind, your book is also available to purchase outside of KU. So you can still reach readers who don’t subscribe—as long as it’s purchased on Amazon.
Lastly, from a technical standpoint, having all of your books on one platform makes managing your backlist that much easier. If you change a cover or publish a new edition, you only have one system to update.
Well, that sounds pretty sweet. What wouldn’t I want that?!
Good question. Namely because you might be missing out on lots of readers elsewhere!
While it’s true Amazon holds the majority of the ebook market, not every reader is an Amazon devotee and some people actively avoid it. Plenty of people prefer to read on Kobo or Nook or check ebooks out from the library. This is even more true internationally. By only offering your books through Amazon, you’re missing out on plenty of readers worldwide.
Financials aside, many authors simply dislike the idea of being beholden to any one vendor (especially a behemoth like the ‘Zon). Algorithms change, royalty shares change, Alexa grows ever more powerful…
True, you can opt out of exclusivity at any time. But once you’ve built a readership who is used to getting your books “free” through the KU ecosystem, you may lose them if they now have to pay $5 for your book.
“Wide” readers, on the other hand, tend to be less price-conscious (there is data to support this). So while they may be more selective in the books they read since they are paying out of pocket each time, they won’t bat an eye at that $5 once they know what they want. (In case you were wondering, yes, indie books tend to be priced much lower than traditional books. I’ll go into this in another post).
Ok, so now I’m confused—what do I do?!
This is a personal choice you have to make based on your own publishing goals. As someone who has done it both ways, I can say there are pros, cons, headaches, and rewards to both.
If you are just starting out and the idea of self-publishing is overwhelming (because let’s face it, there is a LOT that goes into it), KDP Select might be the way to go. It’s simpler, more manageable and you can introduce yourself to new readers at a low financial risk to them.
Remember, exclusivity is only in 90-day periods, so you can always change your mind. But depending on your genre and how many books you are able to put out consistently, you might consider staying exclusive to take advantage of KU whale readers. Some genres really kill it in KU—Romance, Fantasy and Sci-fi being biggies. Some of these readers will read a book a DAY. I have author friends in these genres who tell great stories, deliver their hungry readers a book every month, and swim nekked in their royalties.
But, if you don’t mind a little extra admin work (e.g., formatting and uploading for multiple platforms, keeping track of website links), and you relish the idea of a reader being able to grab your book on any digital platform, their local library, or your own website, then going wide might be the path for you.
Publishing wide also gets easier every day as there are now companies assisting in the management process (such as Draft2Digital) so managing your titles may not be as challenging as you think.
Keep in mind, it’s not an all or nothing game either. Some authors experiment with both. Some of their books are exclusive, some are wide. Your KU readers may never plop down cash for a non-KU book, but you could potentially reach a whole other ocean of readers this way.
Next month, we’ll talk more about real numbers—what does it actually cost to self-publish and what can you hope to earn in royalties exclusive vs wide.
If you have questions in the meantime, don’t hesitate to send me a note at [email protected]
Amanda J. Clay is the Amazon best-selling author of gripping romantic thrillers and suspense with unforgettable characters. A Northern California native, she currently lives in Denver, CO.
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