When most new publishers think of selling ebooks, the first place they think of is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program.
This makes sense — after all, Amazon represents somewhere between sixty and eighty percent of the world English market for ebooks. Who wouldn’t want to have their book sold in the biggest storefront of all?
Amazon has created a program — KDP Select — that rewards publishers for offering their titles exclusively through the Kindle Store. A lot of publishers — and not just new ones — decide to put all of their eggs in the Amazon basket. They make some compelling arguments for why they do so.
I don’t — do so, that is. With almost all of the books that I publish, I sell wide — that is, at as many retail and distribution outlets as possible, in addition to the ‘Zon.
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Before we discuss the relative merits of selling wide or sticking exclusively to Amazon, we need to look at what the KDP Select exclusive program actually entails.
First of all, it’s a fully voluntary, opt-in program — just because you’re selling on Amazon doesn’t mean that they get exclusive rights to sell your ebook. You have to enroll each title — just because you’ve got one ebook exclusively at the Kindle Store doesn’t mean you can’t sell another on the iBooks Store, the Nook Store, Kobo, Google Play, and hundreds of other retail sites.
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Once you’ve signed up, whether at publication time or after, the title is locked in for a term of 90 days. In order to have the title remain enrolled, you have to keep that box checked — which it will until you go in there and change something.
In order to remove your title, on the other hand, you have to uncheck the box, and then wait until the term expires.
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By the way, just in case I haven’t made it clear, unless you sign up your book for KDP Select, you get no benefit at all out of selling exclusively on Amazon.
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Back when I first started selling ebooks, eight years ago, there were some nice benefits to enrolling in KDP Select. Although Amazon has added and subtracted over the years, there still are.
The current list of benefits includes:
- Making your title available through the KindleUnlimited (KU) subscription service
- Offering promotions:
- Increased royalties in some non-US markets
That’s about it.
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This is Amazon’s ebook subscription service — a “Netflix for ebooks” setup.
The reader can “borrow” up to ten KindleUnlimited titles at a time, all for the low, low price of $9.99/month. For folks who read in bulk — the folks who are our bread and butter — this is a very nifty deal.
From the publisher point of view, here’s how it works:
- Amazon estimates the number of “pages” based on the wordcount of your book. (They call this count the title’s Kindle Estimated Normal Pages or KENP.)
- When a reader checks out the book, Amazon keeps track of the highest-numbered page that the reader has reached. — You can keep track of “page reads” on your KDP sales reports.
- Each month, Amazon announces how much money all of the KU-enrolled books will share. (It’s usually a bit over $20 million.)
- That war chest gets divided by the total number of KENP “read” during the month — that’s the share each KENP earns that month.
- Amazon multiplies your total number of KENP for all titles that month by the share, and adds that to your royalties.
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Because the total amount of money that Amazon splits for a particular month is fixed, this has made it particularly vulnerable to scamming, and particularly maddening for the honest publisher — your only recourse in order to earn more is to raise the total number of pages read, which means either marketing the heck out of every title you’ve got enrolled in the program (which you were hopefully doing already), offering more titles (possibly pulling them off of other retailers to qualify them for KU), or offering longer books. But as more and more and longer and longer titles go up on KU, the value of each KENP share goes down.
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There are two types of promotions — Free and Countdown. In either case, you can offer the title for up to five days in a 90-day enrollment period, though during that period you can only offer one or the other of these promotions — not both.
Also, you can only offer them (at the moment) on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (the US and British sites). These won’t help you on Amazon’s sites in Canada, Australia, or India, for example.
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The countdown promo is fun; it offers you one or more promotional price over the period of the promo — and keeps a countdown timer going that announces just how much time readers have before the price goes up. This is a classic marketing ploy to take advantage of customers’ fear of missing out (the famous FOMO effect).
One other nice thing about the countdown promo: it’s the only way you can get a full 70% royalty for a title priced (temporarily) under $2.99.
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The Benefits of Going Wide
Back in 2014, when Amazon instituted the new KENP system for calculating KU earnings, I had about 50% of my titles enrolled in KDP Select — most of them short stories that earned incredibly well per borrow, and that served as “loss leaders” that lost me, in fact, nothing. Folks would read a short story by one of my authors (earning us both a royalty), then read one of the longer works, netting us more. Nice.
This lovely symbiosis disappeared with the KENP setup and its emphasis on longer KU titles.
Since then, I’ve stopped enrolling titles in the program, and over the past year I’ve slowly been letting the enrolled titles lapse. At this point I have just one KDP Select title.
The rest of my titles — about eighty by twenty authors — are offered wide. That is, they’re available on Amazon, but also on Apple, Kobo, B&N, Google, Overdrive, ScribD and many, many more.
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Unlike the KDP Select program, the three benefits here are really simple:
- I can earn more money.
- I can please more of my readers.
- I’m not encouraging monopolistic behavior.
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Most “wide” indie and self-publishers report that sales on Amazon represent 60%–85% of their ebook revenue. Myself, last year, I earned 62% of my ebook royalties through Kindle sales. In my most Amazon-slanted years I’ve earned about 80% of my ebook income from Jeff Bezos’s company.
That’s a lot.
However, I do wish to point out that that leaves 20%–38% of my income that wasn’t earned through Kindle sales.
I’d also like to point out that, while Amazon holds all but a monopoly on US ebook sales, outside the country it is a far, far less dominant market. The more my sales have gone international, the more I rely on channels like Kobo and Apple, and on distributors like Smashwords, PublishDrive, and Draft2Digital.
PG excerpted more than he usually does from the OP because he suspects Mr. Kudler operates in a different manner than a lot of indie authors do.
That said, PG thinks it’s a good idea not to run any business on autopilot, so he will be interested in the comments of others about the decision between Amazon with additional benefits vs. using everyone.