In today's indie author world there are two choices: Kindle Unlimited (KU) or Wide.
There are pros and cons to both, but ultimately there is no “right” decision. It really depends on your genre, level of involvement you want, and a whole mess of luck.
What is Kindle Unlimited (KU)?
Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service offered by Amazon. If you spend $9.99 a month, you get unlimited access to the Kindle Unlimited library.
This is awesome if you are a big reader. Since many romance readers are voracious, there is a great market for romance. (Also LitRPG is big here too)
Authors are paid by how many pages are read. This is traditionally around .05 cents a page (half a cent). At 250 words a page, that means a 50K novel read from cover to cover nets an author about a dollar. This money is paid out of a monthly “pot” that fluctuates in amount.
Any author that wants to be part of this program must be Amazon exclusive. They cannot sell their books on any other sellers. (E-book only. Print is different) Their book will be part of the KU program and be available for sale on Amazon only.
Authors can join KU for 90 day contracts. You cannot get out early.
What is Wide?
Going wide is when an author sells their book on multiple sites. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Kobo are the big book sellers. Authors sell their books on all these (and more).
Pros and Cons
Pros of KU
- Ease. Being exclusive means you only have to have one version and uploaded it to one place. It also means that when you advertise your book, you can have all the ads lead to the same purchase page instead of making readers choose which version they want.
- Higher search rankings. Books that are “borrowed” in the KU program are counted in Amazon's search algorythms. Check out the top 100 books on Amazon and you will see a lot of KU books.
- Readers are more willing to try new authors with KU. They haven't “spent” money, so they are more willing to take a risk on an author they haven't tried yet.
- Amazon has some nice perks for exclusive books. There are Kindle Countdown deals and sales.
- If you are a top seller, you can get bonuses.
Cons of KU
- Exclusivity. You can't publish other places and have other revenue streams
- No hitting lists. With only one seller, you can't hit NYT or USA Today's bestseller lists.
- Following the rules. If you break the rules, Amazon will kick you out of the program. Unfortunately, many authors have been caught up in unfair practices or even targeted by other authors.
- Payment. One dollar for a full novel that sells for $2.99 or more is a big discount. The theory is that there are more readers in KU, so you'll make up the difference with volume.
- Unsure payments. All the page reads come out of a big pot. This means that the actual value of a page fluctuates on a monthly basis. It's usually around half a cent, but also tends to trend lower. You will never be exactly sure how much money you are getting paid.
- The problems with KU. KU is a mess. There are so many issues, scams, and payout issues. I'm not going to go into them here, but you can read about them here: https://andrewbeymer.com/2018/05/11/kindle-unlimited-snafu-scammers-suspended-accounts-and-page-read-reductions/. Innocent authors have seen their Amazon accounts terminated without warning or recourse. As someone whose entire income is books, this is terrifying.
Pros of being Wide
- Selling your book everywhere. Not everyone wants to buy from Amazon, and this means you can sell your book to them. It also means you can use cool promotions (B&N just announced coupons!)
- Can hit best seller lists like New York Times or USA Today
- You know exactly how much money you are making
- Amazon is less likely to ban your account due to scammers
Cons of being Wide
- More work. You have to upload to each site. You have to set your advertising to a specific website. You have to keep track of it all
- Less visibility on Amazon. Amazon favors their KU books because that makes them money. It means less natural visibility from Amazon unless you are a big seller.
So, how does an author choose?
If you are brand new, I recommend KU. It's easier and you will get more readers willing to take a chance on a new author in KU. It simplifies marketing and it gets your foot in the door.
If you're not brand new, this gets trickier. You have to look at your numbers. Are page reads a huge part of your income or are sales? Are you willing to do more work? What does your audience expect? (For example, the only website that sold stepbrother romances was Amazon. The other retailers wouldn't sell them, so being wide with a stepbrother romance isn't a good idea.)
It really comes down to whether you will make more money selling to multiple websites or if you'll make more with page reads.
There are many authors that do the first 90 days of their book launch in Amazon KU, then at the end of their term, go wide.
There are authors that launch wide and then go to KU when sales have slowed down on other retailers.
There are authors that are exclusive. There are authors that hate KU. There are authors that fluctuate and change as the market and their needs change.
It's a tough choice. Luckily, it's just a 90 day one. Experiment. Find your market. Then roll with the punches to keep your books where you want them.