You can go one of two ways in eBook self-publishing. Go all-in with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, or “go wide”, selling on as many platforms as possible. Each have their pros and cons, and self-published writers agonise over this all the time.
What is Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited is when the customer pays $9.99 a month to Amazon, and in return, they can read any book registered in Kindle Unlimited for free. The author is paid “per page read” and prolific authors can make a considerable amount of money, if they get the right genre and pump out books in quick succession. Another upside is that Amazon promotes KU books more than they do non-KU books.
BUT the downside (and there’s always at least one), is that Amazon demands exclusivity from all KU authors. KU books are not allowed to be sold anywhere else. This is bad if your readers don’t buy from Amazon. You’re also locked into three month renewable contracts with Kindle Unlimited, and it can be hard to persuade Amazon to release you from those contracts early. After all, it’s not in their best business interests to lose your exclusivity.
So what is “going wide”? Is it better?
“Going wide” gives you more selling opportunities on other e-commerce platforms, and the chance to serve more customers. But those platforms are permanently overshadowed by Amazon’s stranglehold monopoly. So, in a sense, you’re throwing money away by going wide.
But on the other hand, do you want to go all-in with Amazon, unintentionally break their rules one day, get kicked out the program, and have absolutely nothing? It happens all the time and can kill an author’s career overnight if they can’t get their books distributed and sold on Amazon. It’s a sad state of affairs that one company has this power, but it is what it is.
Which is better if you want to make lots of money?
From a financial perspective, Kindle Unlimited is the better option. From a “keeping your business options open” perspective, going wide is best. It depends what you value the most.
As I said, this is a dilemma that many authors agonise over. On the one hand, they want to make lots of money (who doesn’t?). Their iron-grip on eBook sales makes that a certainty. But what if some of their readers buy from Barnes & Noble? Kobo? Apple Books? What if you want to get your books into the library? Then you can’t agree to Amazon’s exclusivity demands.
If you try to secretly do both – and Amazon finds out – they’ll ban you from Kindle publishing permanently. They’re very good at finding out, and appealing the decision is usually pointless. As I said, that usually ends your career as an author.
One way to decide if Amazon Kindle Unlimited is the right choice
I am now solely with Amazon Kindle, and how I decided was by analysing my monthly sales reports. I realised that 95% of my income was consistently coming from Amazon. Therefore it made no financial sense to keep the books off Kindle Unlimited. Ever since going into KU, my income has sky-rocketed.
If your sales reports are not conclusive, then try a three month trial period on Kindle Unlimited. See if your income goes up and by how much. Then decide whether or not to stay on it after the three months are up.
Tolino – a European eBook platform to watch and be on
If you want to break into the German market – a rapidly growing eBook market – you need to get your books into the Tolino eBook network, which is impossible under Kindle Unlimited. Germans are very wary of Amazon, and Tolino was established by the big German bookshops as their way of fighting back against Amazon and the Kindle. It has a surprisingly high adoption rate here in Germany. An easy way to get into Tolino is to use Draft2Digital.
So, as you can see, the decision on Kindle Unlimited versus going wide is not cut-and-dried. It’s a very complicated decision to make, and you can’t keep jumping back and forth. It’s not fair to your readers.
Amazon’s Expanded Distribution
Amazon now has something called Expanded Distribution, where you can get them to put your paperback books into other online stores. But again, there’s always a downside. The con here is that Expanded Distribution involves putting your prices up much higher – Amazon takes their cut, the other bookseller takes theirs, and you’re left with whatever is left (which isn’t much.) Under ED, I had to double the price of my paperbacks, which killed paperback sales on Amazon more or less overnight. What one hand giveth, the other taketh away.
More to come
I will likely go more into pricing strategies later, as this is something that really needs to be deeply analysed a lot better. In the meantime though, if you’re a beginner indie author, think extremely carefully about this whole situation.
Consider what your highest priority is. Is it making money, or is it building a network of loyal readers across different platforms? You can have both, but it takes a very long time. In the short term, going with Kindle Unlimited may earn you a nice amount of money, if that is an urgent thing for you.