Kindle Unlimited (or Select) vs Wide
What’s the better choice?
As an indie, or self-published author, you have the choice of how you distribute your books. For ebooks, there are two fundamental, non-mutual choices. You can either participate in Amazon’s Unlimited (KU), or Select program, OR you can “Go Wide,” and publish on all the distribution platforms.
Kindle Select Program
What the program is:
Amazon’s subscription program, Kindle Unlimited, charges readers a monthly fee. For this fee, they can choose to checkout, or borrow, up to 20 books per month that are enrolled in the program.
Amazon itself markets this service as “read this book for free with Kindle Unlimited.” This is a false statement. The books aren’t free. The reader has to pay the $10 monthly fee, whether they borrow and read one book, all twenty, or no books.
For avid readers that don’t re-read books, like my niece’s kids, this option saves her money. However, for those who re-read or don’t read as much, this can be an expensive option.
Enrolling in the Kindle Select Program
Enrollment in the KU program is only for 90-days at a time. If you determine your books aren’t doing well in KU, you can remove them from the program at the end of the 90-day term without penalty. It is possible to ask Amazon to pull your books from the program; however, it is at their discretion. They may or may not honor the request.
How You Get Paid
Amazon pays authors in the program based on page reads, rather than a percentage of the retail price. Some authors, especially those that write longer books or rapidly release, can make quite a bit of money from this type of payment. In addition, the program allows authors to offer their book free for up to five days in their 90-day enrollment period.
Problems with Kindle Select
Not All Genres or Books are a Fit for KU
The Kindle Unlimited program isn’t a good fit for every genre. Some genres, such as Young Adult fantasy, romance, and paranormal romance, thrillers. These are the genres where readers are voracious and read several books a month or even a week. You will have to test your books and your genre to determine if the Kindle Select program is for you. When I first started, I enrolled my book in KU. It’s an epic science fantasy. It did dismally.
To put your book into the Kindle Unlimited program, called Select on the author facing dashboard, you MUST agree to be EXCLUSIVE on Amazon.
Any ebooks enrolled in the program can ONLY be sold, or published, on Amazon.
The exclusion provision does NOT apply to the print or audiobook formats of your books. Only ebooks are enrolled in the program and subject to the exclusivity clause. By agreeing to this clause, you are giving up control of your intellectual property. Amazon now determines what you can do with your ebooks and where you can sell them—ONLY on Amazon. This is why there aren’t any traditionally published books in Kindle Unlimited. They won’t give away a chunk of their income from other retailers to sell only on Amazon, nor will they give up the intellectual property rights they’ve purchased.
The penalty for violating this exclusivity clause is severe, and Amazon takes their exclusionary advantage over the other platforms seriously. Amazon has bots that continuously scour the internet seeking violations of this rule. They have the right, under your contract, to close your Amazon account if they discover your book listed on another site, even a known pirate site. They don’t simply remove your books from the KU program, they WILL—and have—TERMINATE your Amazon account. You will be unable to sell ANY books again on Amazon. It is a violation of their terms to create another account if they’ve closed your account for any reason. You won’t be able to go to a multi-platform distributor, like Draft 2 Digital, and publish your book on Amazon after having your account terminated. Amazon, and Draft 2 Digital, will block your books from being published if you try.
Going Wide, as the term suggests, is you publishing your ebook on all the platforms available, including libraries and your own website. You also list your book on Amazon. Because you aren’t subject to the exclusion clause of Kindle Select, you can sell your ebook anywhere you desire.
Benefits of Publishing Wide
More readers can potentially find your book when it’s available in more places. There are readers who refuse to use Amazon, even though Amazon is the major retailer of ebooks.
Your books aren’t subject to the 30-day cliff as they are on Amazon. Publishing to the other retailers is a long-game. They reward longevity, whereas Amazon rewards newness. You have a better chance of your back list growing and readers finding you years after publishing. The wide retailers pay attention to the books that are on their platform and are starting to gain momentum. They may reward you with including your book in one of their promotions.
The other retailers use humans to curate their lists, not bots. Your book won’t be subject to the whims of the algorithms that no one knows what they are looking for or excluding.
When you use a distributor like Draft 2 Digital, you can get your books listed on platforms that don’t work with individual publishers. This includes places like Baker and Taylor, which bookstores use.
Related to number 4, your book is now listed in the catalogs libraries use to order and purchase books. Your readers can request their local library to order your book. Once they do, it’s available for other patrons to check-out and fall in love with your books.
You aren’t playing solely in another’s sandbox. You have total control of your intellectual property and can choose what you do with your books. Do you want to give it away as a bonus to readers? Sure, you can do that. Would you like to use it as a reader magnet? Yep, that’s an option. You’ve set up an online store for your print books and want to sell your ebooks, too. Absolutely, you can do this!
The other platforms don’t artificially limit the price of your books. Amazon is the only platform that limits what you can charge for your books to receive the best payment. On Amazon, you can only list your books between $2.99 and $9.99 to receive a 70% payout. However, all the platforms have a clause in their contract that you must price your books the same on all retail outlets. For some books, such as nonfiction, you may determine the increased sales on the other platforms offsets receiving the lower 30% payout from Amazon.
You can sell box sets at a higher price. A common practice is to put your ebooks into a bundle, usually called a box set, or more properly an omnibus. On Amazon, you can only charge $9.99 for that box set. Many wide authors will bundle their ebooks and sell them on the other retailers, and skip listing it on Amazon.
If you are a new author, you could test releasing to KU. Your book could do fantastic there. However, if you later decide to go wide, STAY wide! Do not jump back and forth between being exclusive with Amazon and going wide. You will lose all the momentum you’ve started gaining on the wide platforms, and they pay attention to who does this. Your books won’t get any preferential treatment, such as listed on their onsite promotions.
There are authors who have been wide, and later choose to put their books into KU. Lindsay Buroker is one I’m familiar with. She offers her new releases to her Patreon subscribers first as a way of maintaining readership with those who prefer to read on platforms other than Amazon. After a certain time, she pulls the book from her Patreon account and enrolls it in KU. Others start in KU and later go wide, such as Erin Wright. More authors are now choosing to go wide from the beginning.
Personally, I abhor the exclusion clause of KU. I believe it is unethical. I prefer to maintain control of my intellectual property and have as many choices of how I sell my books as possible. My books are all wide, even my new contemporary urban fantasy series, which may do well in KU. I believe in offering my readers as many choices as possible to purchase and read my books.
As in all aspects of indie, or self-publishing, the answer of which you should do depends on your business goals, and what is right for you and your books.
Which will you choose? Wide or the Kindle Select program? For those who are interested in publishing wide, I highly suggest the book, Wide for the Win, by Mark Leslie Lafebvre, and the FB group by the same name.
If you need help in choosing which is best for your books, you can book a Micro Coaching session with me. Receive 10 minutes of asynchronous coaching for $10! For more in-depth assistance with your author business, my Author Business Coaching program may be for you.