KU or not KU? (Why I’m going wide)

One of the biggest decisions for an independently-published author, when releasing a book, is choosing between going into KU and going wide.

If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll explain.

KU, or Kindle Unlimited, is Amazon’s subscription service for ebooks. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and can then borrow as many books from the KU library as they want. It’s great for readers who devour books, and for a newer writer it can be an excellent way to gain more visibility‌—‌when readers don’t have to pay for each book they download, they’re more willing to take a chance on an unknown writer.

To compensate writers for these ‘free’ downloads, Amazon pay for each page a subscriber reads. While the individual page-read amount is very small (a fraction of a cent), the total can soon add up, often overtaking revenue from book sales.

‘Going wide’ means releasing an ebook through other retailers (although most writers still have their work available through the Kindle Store). While Amazon/Kindle is predominant in some places (particularly the US and UK), other ebook retailers have a larger share of the readership in other territories (such as Kobo in Canada). It’s also worth remembering that there are areas where Amazon does not have an e-book presence, and in these countries readers need to use some of the smaller services.

For a writer/publisher, the ideal situation would be to release books through every platform as well as enrolling these same books in KU‌—‌but Amazon don’t allow this. They have an exclusivity clause (for all but a few big-name authors), which means that a book in KU cannot be available anywhere else. So there’s a choice‌—‌either go into KU, or go wide.

ShadowsSeries(fromAmazon)I’m not a fan of exclusivity, so I released the books in my first series, Dominions, wide. But when I came to write my Shadows series, I decided to try KU, at least for a while. But after ordering new covers some months ago, I took the opportunity to rethink.

Some writers make a significant chunk of their income through KU page-reads, so looked back over my own sales and page-reads. I discovered that, since releasing the first Shadows book in August 2017, I’ve earned twice as much through page-reads as through sales‌—‌for each $10 of sales, I’ve received $20 through KU. If I were to go wide with this series, in purely financial terms I’d need to earn twice as much through other vendors combined as I do through Amazon.

Is this likely? To answer this, I checked the figures for my Dominions books (all of them are wide). Here, I discovered that Amazon brought in slightly more than other sites combined, but only just. The figures were roughly equal, so $10 of sales through Amazon equates to roughly $10 through everywhere else. This is about half of what I’d earn through KU page-reads.

From this, it appears that staying in KU is a better move, and also seems to suggest that putting the Dominions books in KU would be a sensible move.

But this doesn’t give the whole picture. There are other factors I need to take into consideration.

KU is owned by Amazon, and they can do with it whatever they want. Amazon continually tweak, aiming for better customer satisfaction in order to increase profits. There have been instances over the past few years where certain changes have cut some author earnings by 50% or more. It’s a reminder that it’s not usually a sensible move to put all your eggs in one basket. There’s more financial security in earning from multiple sources, so that changes resulting in a loss from one source can be offset by earnings from another. Yes, being in KU might be a good short-term move at the moment, but I’d prefer a steady income over many years rather than a quick spike in earnings.

But what of the readers who use different services and retail sites? In my own experience, and at the risk of making sweeping generalisations, it looks like there are.

One tactic often used by writers is ‘first book free’. The idea behind this is to have the first book in a series as a free download, a way for potential readers to try a new writer without spending any money. Then, if they enjoy that free book, they’ll be more likely to buy subsequent books in the series.

There’s a term for readers moving through books in a series‌—‌read-through. Often, there’s a middling to low read-through from book one to book two (especially with a free book one), but a significantly higher read-through from book two to book three. My own sales and downloads fit this pattern‌—‌but it’s worth noting that the read-through from book one to book two differs on different platforms. I have a far higher read-through on Kobo than I do on Amazon. I’ve also found that Kobo readers are more willing to post a rating, although this might be connected to the fact that Kobo allow ratings without reviews, but Amazon insist on a review.

Why this should be, I’m not sure. Maybe readers who specifically favour non-Amazon sites are less likely to be seeking bargains, or maybe they are more serious or dedicated readers. Again, this is a generalisation, and there might be other possible reasons that escape me at the moment.

But what it does mean is that, proportionally, I get more engaged readers on Kobo than on Amazon. I’ve had positive comments from Amazon readers, as well as from readers who use iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

Then there are those who download my Dominions books in places where Amazon don’t reach. So far, I’ve had downloads through all 13 Amazon stores (.com, .de, .com.br, and so on), but have had downloads through Kobo from 80 different countries. As the e-book markets change, and as mobile technology expands into new places (it’s growing particularly strongly in Africa and Asia), being with e-book retailers who reach these areas puts me in a stronger position for the future.

With all this in mind, I’ve now pulled my Shadows series from KU, and am now in the process of publishing the trilogy wide. The first book, Shadowfall, is in most stores now, and Shadowsiege and Shadowstrike are due to have their wide release over the next couple of weeks. At the end of the month I’ve got a few promotions lined up (in the run-up to Halloween, which seemed appropriate for a sci-fi/horror series), and I intend to explore other advertising options too.

Will this move pay off? Only time will tell, and if things go wrong I can always return to KU. But I’m confident this is the right decision‌—‌not for short-term financial gain, but for reaching new readers who will enjoy these books, and who are more likely to buy more books in the future.

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