A Bigger Platform

Should self-published authors go exclusively Amazon, or dip their toes into the wider world of Kobo, Apple and more? Simon Whaley explores the pros and cons.

Writing Magazine – June 2020

Ask any self-published author which ebook platform they sell their books on, and most will say Amazon. It’s easy to understand why. In the UK and USA, Amazon is the dominant player in the ebook market.

But when we upload our text onto the Amazon platform, there’s a decision to be made. Should we enrol in their exclusive KDP Select scheme? It’s an important business decision to make, because it can have far-reaching implications.

Enrolling in the KDP Select scheme means you’re committing that particular ebook to the scheme. It does not include any other formats of the same title, such as print or audiobook, nor any other titles you may have. And if you don’t enrol in the scheme, Amazon will still sell your ebook. So what’s in it for authors?

A Select Approach

Amazon’s Prime customers can read any ebooks enrolled in the KDP Select programme (labelled as Kindle Unlimited) for free. Their Prime subscription gives them this perk. Think of it as Netflix for books.

As compensation for the loss of the ebook sale, Amazon sets aside some money each month, which is distributed amongst those KDP Select authors. The payment the author receives is based upon the number of pages of their ebook that have been read.

When Amazon launched the scheme in July 2015, they put $2.5 million in the pot, just for that first month. By January 2020, Amazon was putting aside $28.2 million a month for these authors.

One Site, One Process

Liam Livings (http://www.liamlivings.com) writes gay romance. He’s a hybrid author, with some of his books published by traditional publishers, while he self-publishes others. For his self-published books, he’s chosen to be exclusive to Amazon for his ebooks. It’s a practical decision.

‘All of my self-published titles are in KDP,’ says Liam. ‘It’s simpler, and there’s less formatting and uploading to just publish with Amazon. If I’m only publishing with Amazon it also makes sense to go into the KDP select programme.’

He’s also aware of his market and what his readers expect. For him, it’s a way of enabling readers who don’t know his work to try it risk-free.

‘In the MM (Male-Male) and gay romance genre this is a way many voracious readers enjoy their romance. It also means that they can try a new author with no risk. When I released my two Christmas novellas in November (Bear Best Friend and Mistletoe Kisses), I received the most income from any one of my titles ever in that month. They were all, mainly, from KDP pages read, and not actual buys.’

Liam also feels that being in the programme has also helped him to build the number of reviews for his books.

‘I’ve received lots of reviews saying they were the first book they’d read of mine and they’ll check out more. This visibility is a significant benefit of KDP select.’

Other Benefits

Peter Ralph is an Australian thriller author (https://www.peterralphbooks.com) whose ebooks are exclusive to Amazon. He used to be wide on other platforms, but found working on just Amazon’s platform was simpler.

‘I did try going with Kobo direct but don’t think their site is user-friendly and as a reader, their books are always more expensive than Amazon’s.’

However, he also felt Amazon’s KDP Select programme offered him other benefits he couldn’t get from other platforms, including: ‘the free and count down promotions, the 70% royalty I earn on those promos despite the price being less than $2.99, the free promos they do for me, and the ease of using their site. I find using the other retailers time consuming for little reward.’

Only authors enrolled in KDP Select can run countdown promotions, where you can drop your price for a limited few days. And, should you price your ebook at 99p for those countdown days, Amazon will still pay a royalty rate of 70%, instead of the usual 35% royalty rate it pays non-enrolled authors.

Amazon also pays their higher 70% royalty rate to KDP Select authors on any sales they make in Amazon’s stores in Brazil, Japan, India and Mexico.

Go Wide

Adam Croft (www.adamcroft.net) is one of the biggest-selling self-published crime authors, having sold nearly two million copies of his books in over 120 countries.

He also runs the Indie Author Mindset facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/IndieAuthorMindset/) and was recently appointed the Publishing Wide Advisor for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

For him, opting for exclusivity means being wholly reliant upon another business over which you have no control. ‘From a business perspective, putting all one’s eggs in one basket is never advisable. Amazon is far from the be-all and end-all when it comes to books, or even ebooks.’

This is because, while Amazon dominates ebook sales in the UK and USA they’re not the market leader in other countries. ‘In Canada, they’re a minor player,’ Adam explains. ‘The same goes for most of the rest of the world. It’s daft to ignore 95% of the world’s readers. I’ve sold books in more than 120 countries on Kobo alone, and that’s just in the English language.’

‘The potential when going wide cannot be overstated. Growth outside of the US and UK is huge right now, and those countries are generally non-Amazon. The US and UK growth has already happened, and it makes no sense to jump on a bandwagon that’s long departed.’

Going wide opens up new markets, far larger than Amazon’s KDP Select programme. ‘KDP Select provides one relatively small income stream for authors, but going wide provides many’ says Adam, ‘and they’re growing. Amazon is not my largest source of sales or income, and it’s reducing on a monthly basis, whereas others are growing. The Indian subcontinent, for example, is seeing huge growth, and is almost exclusively Android/Google Play-based. Don’t limit your options or ignore 95% of the world, just because you happen to be based in the 5%.’

Despite his wide sales success, Adam is not against the KDP Select model as a business model in itself. It’s the exclusivity requirement that’s the issue.

‘KDP Select as a model is fantastic. But the exclusivity clause is an absolute red line for me and many other authors and industry commentators. Once the exclusivity clause disappears, or Amazon introduce a second-level option (perhaps with reduced page-read royalties in return for not requiring exclusivity), I will be the first person to recommend everyone joins.’

Not Exclusive Forever

Enrolling in Amazon’s KDP Select is not a once-only decision. If you enrol, you do so for 90 days on an auto-renewal system. You can opt out before the next 90-day period has begun. Therefore, the exclusivity is not forever.

However, once an author is used to that KDP Select income, it can be difficult to give it up to explore other markets. 

‘The oft-repeated advice from authors is that anyone who’s unsure what to do should use KDP Select first, then consider going wide later,’ Adam explains. ‘The touted benefits are that it means you only need to get used to one system at first, then you can move wide when you’re comfortable. The underlying principle behind this advice is sound, but the advice itself is terrible for a number of reasons. Going into KDP Select at the start of your career locks you in.’

‘The more time that goes on, the less likely you’re going to be to want to risk losing that page-read income stream in order to effectively start again. Why build your audience twice, and lose half of it in the process? Authors are far better off setting their long-term goals upfront, then ensuring each of their short-term decisions works towards that goal.’

‘I heartily recommend using only Amazon at first in order to benefit from learning one system at a time, but that does not mean you need to tick that KDP Select box. You can have your books only on Amazon for a short while without locking yourself into the restrictive KDP Select ecosystem, and add new retailers as and when you feel comfortable.’

Individual Decision

Ultimately, the decision is yours and what’s right for your writing business. Peter Ralph believes dealing with one retailer is simpler. ‘The last thing a first time indie author wants is to be stuffing around with six retailers, five of which are a waste of time and energy.’

Liam also believes that KDP Select is right for him at this moment in time. ‘Given I have limited time to self-publish and given that 85% of my ebook sales are from Amazon, I’ll probably continue with this approach for my self-published titles. I know some readers may find this a challenge as they read through Kobo or Apple etc, but the paperbacks are available too. The formatting of books takes a significant amount of time, so given it’s going to only result in an extra 15% in sales, I’d prefer to spend that time promoting my existing books, or writing another one. Because the best way to promote your books is to write another one.’

The decision to go wide or exclusive is an individual one. It might be influenced by the genre in which you write, where in the world the biggest readerships for your genre lives, and which platforms they have access to.

But the sensible advice is to think carefully about which route you’re going to take. Because although changing your mind is possible, going wide at a later date could be more challenging than going wide right from the start.

Business Directory – eBook Distributors

It’s easier to go wide by using one of the distribution services available. By logging onto one website, you can submit your ebook direct to other platforms (e.g: Apple, Kobo, Scribd, Barnes & Noble, etc).

Smashwords and Draft2Digital take a percentage of your ebook’s selling price on all ebooks sold. Bookbaby charges a one-off fee per book.

Smashwords: www.smashwords.com

Draft2Digital: www.draft2digital.com

Bookbaby: https://www.bookbaby.com/ebook-distribution/

© Simon Whaley