The business of writing can seem complicated at times, so in last month’s issue we explored how a simple approach to self-publishing can be achieved by launching a book on only one platform to begin with. For those of us in the UK and USA, that usually means choosing Amazon because they have the biggest share of the ebook market in those countries.
That doesn’t eliminate all decisions, because we still have to choose whether to enrol our ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) scheme. This is an all-you-can-read service Amazon offers to its customers for a monthly subscription.
However, signing up to KU requires us to abide by Amazon’s exclusivity clause, which prevents us from selling our ebooks on any other platform. Of course, if we’re taking the simple self-publishing route, this isn’t a problem, but what about the future? What if, once we’ve got to know the self-publishing business better, we might want to consider offering our books elsewhere? Is there a good business reason for doing so?
Amazon’s KU is not the only all-you-can-read subscription service. Six years ago, in February 2017, Rakuten Kobo launched their Kobo+ subscription service in The Netherlands and Belgium. It’s since expanded into other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Portugal, Italy, and France, but it’s not yet available in the UK and America.
However, unlike Amazon, authors don’t need to be exclusive to Kobo to enrol their books in their Kobo+ subscription service. This means we can sell our ebooks on multiple platforms and benefit from readers who use the Kobo+ subscription service.
Luckily, joining in Amazon’s KU is not a once-and-for-all decision. It automatically renews on a rolling 90-day cycle. Therefore, as the next 90-day cycle draws closer, we can opt out of the scheme. Once that 90-day period has expired, we are no longer subject to Amazon’s exclusivity clause.
In the self-publishing community, selling ebooks on many platforms (such as Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and more) is known as “going wide”.
‘I knew from the beginning of my author career,’ she explains, ‘that I wanted to play a long game because success wouldn’t happen overnight. That meant I couldn’t depend on a single platform to get me where I wanted to go. So from the beginning, I always had my books on multiple platforms.’
She’s also wide with her paperbacks, using Amazon’s print on demand KDP programme to sell her paperback books via Amazon, and IngramSpark’s print on-demand service to distribute them to other online and physical bookstores.
The joy of self-publishing on one platform, like Amazon, is there’s only one log-in to remember! Going wide means selling books on several platforms, which can mean having many more different log-ins and passwords.
There is a way around this. To make it simpler, we can use distributor services like Draft2Digital (D2D), who will distribute our ebooks to most of the other ebook platforms on our behalf. (Draft2Digital don’t currently distribute ebooks to the GooglePlay book store.) They cover their costs by taking approximately ten per cent of our royalty payment when we make a sale.
Interestingly, Gledé experimented with individual accounts for each ebook platform but eventually opted for this simpler distributor route, even though it has some drawbacks.
‘When I began publishing, I published on individual platforms. Then I started using Smashwords before I ended up with Draft2Digital. I will say that the decision to publish on individual platforms also had to do with promotional opportunities and the ability to change pricing based on marketing activities. On an individual platform, it’s easier to do. With D2D, for example, there is no way that I know of to discount your book with one particular retailer. Once you change the price, it runs across all the distribution partners. Having said that, Draft2Digital has been wonderful to work with and most of my royalties this year have come from them.’
Gledé’s right. If we have a separate account for self-publishing our books on Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc, then we could just log in to one platform and make a promotional price change on that platform only. Using a distributor takes away that flexibility.
However, we can still exploit some promotions. Draft2Digital regularly notifies authors of promotions on various platforms and invites us to apply to be included. Last year, they invited me to apply for a discounted long weekend Kobo promotion. My application was successful, and I sold three times as many books on the Kobo platform that month than I had in the previous month.
So, using distribution services like Draft2Digital does not prevent us from accessing all promotional opportunities.
Because Kobo+ does not require exclusivity, authors who sell their ebooks on many platforms can join the Kobo+ service. It’s still possible to do this when using a distributor, like Draft2Digital. It’s simply a question of ticking a checkbox to opt in, each time we upload a new ebook to their service.
Gledé enrolled in Kobo+ as part of her going wide strategy.
‘I’ve always published on the Kobo platform, but when I switched to D2D, I checked the Kobo Plus option. My thinking behind the decision was, again, the long game. Kobo is a great platform for book promotion because they work hard to provide authors many opportunities to get their books in front of readers, especially from a global standpoint. For the past several months, my Kobo sales have exceeded Amazon.’
Gledé makes an important point here. While Amazon dominates the USA and UK marketplaces, it doesn’t dominate, or even operate, in every other country in the world. When I upload my ebooks to Amazon, I can opt in to thirteen marketplaces, including Amazon’s stores in India, Japan, Brazil, and Australia.
However, Kobo currently operates in 190 different countries. Going wide with our ebooks is not just about making our books available on different platforms, it’s also about going wider across the world and accessing more readers in other countries.
Many authors focus on Amazon because it is the biggest player, and it’s the easiest way of accessing numerous readers quickly. However, for some authors, going wide gives them access to additional readers they can’t reach via Amazon alone.
‘Amazon was the dominant platform for sales of my books, but for the past several months, it’s been Kobo,’ Gledé explains. ‘Amazon is not the dominant player in every region outside the US so finding those overseas readers via Kobo is a step in the right direction for me. As to why my sales from Kobo are growing, I think it’s that global audience discovering my work. It will be interesting to see whether the pendulum swings back to Amazon. My last release, Our Wicked Lies, is my bestselling book so far this year because of Kobo.’
I, too, have noticed something similar over the past few months. I’ve been wide with my cosy crime novels since I published the first one in May 2021, but in recent months my Kobo royalties have exceeded my Amazon payments.
Some of this is down to being enrolled in Kobo+. I often earn more from Kobo+ per book than I do from a sale on Kobo. How? It’s all to do with how Kobo calculates its subscription payments.
Each month, Kobo totals the money from its Kobo+ subscribers to create a monthly revenue figure. Then they add up how many minutes their Kobo+ readers have spent reading that month. They divide their monthly revenue figure by the total number of reading minutes to arrive at a price-per-reading minute. Authors receive a royalty of 60% of this price per minute, which is then multiplied by the total number of minutes Kobo+ readers have spent reading an author’s book.
Naturally, the variability in reading time means the price-per-reading minute changes each month. But last year, a third of my Kobo income came from their Kobo+ subscription service. That’s income I would have missed out on had I not joined Kobo+.
So, keeping self-publishing simple by focusing on one platform at a time can make sense to begin with. But as our self-publishing confidence grows, there can be a business argument for investigating the wider marketplace.
As Gledé says, ‘Think about your goals and what you want to achieve, both in the short term and in the long run, and which platforms can best help you achieve those goals. It’s not a decision to take lightly. For some people, going wide out of the gate makes sense. For others, exclusivity may be the right approach. There is always room to adjust the strategy based on results.’
That’s the beauty of self-publishing. We’re in charge, so we can change things if we want. We can make it as simple or as complicated as we like. Nor do we have to do everything at once. When it comes to the business of writing, it’s our business, so we can take things one step at a time, when we’re ready.
For some writers, going wide works really well. For others, prioritising one platform can work better for the genre in which they write. But the only way to find out is to experiment, when we’re ready.
Apple Books: https://authors.apple.com/
Barnes & Noble: https://press.barnesandnoble.com/
(c) Simon Whaley