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POINT OF VIEW: Amazon vs. Going Wide

going wide - Deposit Photos

If you spend much time in indie-pub circles, you’ll hear a lot of discussions about “going wide.” This is short-hand for “selling through many/most/all available book vendors.

You’d think it would be a no-brainer, right? Put your book in front of as many different audiences as possible?

Surprisingly, it’s not. And it’s mostly because of a little thing called Kindle Unlimited.

You see, Amazon sells books. Tons and tons and tons of books, along with hoses and candles and snow tires and just about everything else under the sun.

But they always want to sell more books, and to find a way to hook readers into their ecosystem.

The Kindle gave them a great start – it’s so easy to buy an eBook from the Amazon store, and then “poof” – like magic it shows up on your phone, your Kindle reader, your computer – wherever you’ve told it to go.

One day a few years back, someone at Amazon had a stroke of genius when they created an all-you-can-read buffet and called it Kindle Unlimited. As an incentive for authors to join, they offered higher ranking within their system for books that participated in the new program.

Authors flocked to it, and soon readers had a true feast on their hands at a real bargain – a low monthly fee which many were happy to pay, which of course reduced the number of people actually buying the books outright, and put more pressure on authors to join.

Win-win, right?

But KU has some downsides too, for authors at least. Amazon chose to make the deal exclusive, meaning that if you put your titles into KU, you’re not allowed to sell your eBooks anywhere else at the same time for a full 90 days. And if you forget to cancel, you’re locked in for three more months until the next renewal date rolls around.

This forces authors into an uncomfortable choice – offer your titles through KU and get extra sales and higher ranking, or “go wide” to other vendors and gain wider exposure, but lose those Amazon advantages.

KU generally pays less than a standard book sale, too. Because the payments are based on page reads, at last check you had to have about 100,000 words in your book to make the same royalties on a KU read as on a book sale. And the payment amount changes monthly, depending on how many total pages were read and the total sum Amazon decides to put into KU at the end of each month.

Amazon didn’t have to make this service exclusive – Kobo is testing out a similar option, but you can keep selling your book everywhere else too.

Do I wish KU would loosen the reins and let us sell wide while staying in the program? Sure, but Amazon is in it to make money. You want to play on their platform? You gotta play by their rules.

To be clear, I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here. This is just the way the book selling community works right now.

Some authors do fantastically selling through Amazon exclusively, and claim that when they’ve tried going wide, they haven’t been able to replace lost sales via other vendors.

Some authors do go wide, and find they are able to balance out those “lost” sales with sales they make through Kobo, B&N, Apple, Google Play, Smashwords, and others.

You have to do what works for you, and that may take a bit of trial and error.

When I first started pursuing indie publishing, I went Amazon-exclusive. I did pretty well there, and sales were slowly picking up. But I was increasingly uncomfortable about having all my eggs in one basket, subject to the rules of a single company who could break me if they ever objected to what I was doing.

So I’ve spent the last four months changing tactics and going wide, slowly pulling my titles out of KU and putting them into almost all of the other vendors.

It’s starting to pay off. Sure, I’ve probably lost some sales via Amazon. But the other sites are picking up the slack.

I also decided to pursue the bookstore market via Ingram Spark, and I’m really seeing some great action there. I sold twice as many paperbacks as eBooks for Dropnauts in its first month, mostly vis Spark. It has its downsides too – returnability, anyone? – but we’ll discuss those in another column.

So should you go wide, or hitch your cart to Amazon’s star? That’s up to you. But if you do and it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. You can always change things up in 90 days.

To my author friends – are you Amazon-exclusive or have you gone wide? How’s it working for you?

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