One of the first dilemmas most self-publishers face is whether to go KU or Wide, or rather, should they sell exclusively on Amazon or try to sell on every publishing platform? There are pros and cons to both—as well as successful authors on both divides—so it’s not so much a debate on the right way to sell, but rather a question of what your personal preferences and goals are.
Still, when we started this post, we began to wonder if it’s really relevant because we’re Malaysians. OBVIOUSLY, if we want to sell ebooks to Malaysians, we need to go wide—otherwise, how would Malaysians get their hands on our ebooks? Then we figured that we might as well explain what KU or Wide is and how it impacts you so that you can make an informed decision.
So, first of all, what is KU?
Or, what do we mean when we say KU or Wide?
The term, as used here, is actually a misnomer. KU stands for Kindle Unlimited, which is the end user’s (i.e. reader) subscription service. What you, as the author, sign up for is KDP Select.
KDP Select? What’s that?
Remember #14 in our Step-by-step Guide to Publishing on Amazon?
Yeah, this whole post is about whether you should tick that button or not.
When you sign up for KDP Select, you’re basically going exclusive at Amazon for a minimum block of 90 days, which is automatically renewed until you opt out of the renewal. “Exclusive” here means that you cannot sell your ebook anywhere else, even your own website. This doesn’t affect print though, so you can still print your book and sell that on your website.
First of all, signing up for Select automatically enrols your book into Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). This means that thousands of subscribers (maybe more) have access to your books for a flat rate whilst you get PAID for what they read. (More on that at the end of the post.)
Secondly, you get to choose between free days or countdown promotions, which are pretty nifty promotional tools that non-select publishers don’t get.
You’ll also get 70% royalties in some markets (Japan, India, Brazil, Mexico) which normally only pays 35% royalties.
Why is KU a good thing?
The good thing about KU is that borrowers can read your entire catalogue for cheap to them, whilst paying you. Bigger plus point: you also get paid for however much the borrowers read of your book—even if they hated it and stopped after like page 20. The rate per page may seem small, but if you’re great at marketing, it may add up to a lot.
By locking yourself in to the Amazon ecosystem, you also get to take advantage of all the special selling tools Amazon has (as mentioned above), which helps with visibility, ranking, and ultimately sales.
So why the whole KU or Wide debate?
The problem here is the “Amazon exclusive” clause. Because Amazon does not have a Malaysian (or international, bar a select few) market presence*, this creates an additional barrier to making sales in Malaysia (or internationally, in general). Those who really want to buy your ebook internationally in places without an Amazon market* will have to jump through the usual hoops (VPN, gift cards, etc) to get it—and they’ll only do it if they’re already diehard fans. The casual reader or potential readers will just see “not available in your region” (if they even look at the Amazon page) and move on.
And let me reiterate, you can’t sell your ebook anywhere else, even on your own webpage, if you’re on KDP Select. Doing that will get all your books pulled from Amazon and your account might be banned/blacklisted.
Should I just go wide then?
Personally, we think you should. But that depends on your goals too. If you’re trying to tap into the American market and/or you write in genres with very avid readers, it might work to your benefit to go KU. If you’re hoping to sell internationally, or you write in a genre that doesn’t do so well with borrows, you should probably plan on going wide.
We found these questions on this KU board very helpful.
The questions (and answers) are:
- Do you want to quickly earn back the cost of the production of the book? Yes = try KU
- Do you live in the US and/or is your book geared towards US readers? Yes = go in KU
- Do you want to build a loyal reader base who will buy all your books? Yes = go wide
- Do you expect your books will have international appeal? Yes = go wide
Other advice on the web:
Susan Kaye Quinn, who’s this really amazing and generous author (we learnt a lot about self-publishing from her), suggests an all-in approach. Whichever way you choose, commit all your books to it so that you can work the advantages of either approach. Don’t try to go half-half, because you might end up frustrating readers.
What we understand from this is that if you have half your books in KU and half not (you need to opt in by book), your KU readers can’t read all your books and they might be stopped from continuing because they’d have to spend more to buy non-KU books above their monthly subscription fee. On the converse side, international readers who have purchased your book, say on Kobo or Smashwords, might be trying to find another book of yours to read—and if it’s in KU, they might not be able to get it at all.
She also says this in defence of KU:
‘KU readers are often people with limited incomes and a voracious love of reading. These people would normally go to the library or used bookstores to feed their habit, but often those things aren’t even available. KU allows them to have the bright spot of reading in their lives, even though they can’t afford to buy all those books. … the indie market has a lot of bargain shoppers in it, not just because they’re “cheap” but because they legit just don’t have the money.’
So, in this case, KU works in your favour if you write in a very popular genre with a lot of avid/binge readers.
Another big name in self-publishing, David Gaughran also espouses the all-in approach, with the point that success in either approach is mainly due to differences in marketing styles and systems:
‘…as soon as you contrast the authors who have been successful in KU with those who have been successful wide: they are two very different approaches. … Some people are succeeding though—both those who are in KU, and those who are wide, and what I’m seeing is that it’s usually people who are all in with whatever distribution model they have decided upon.’
Based on his analysis, because the Kindle store is algorithm-driven, big monthly blasts and advertising works well to boost sales. However, most of the other online platforms are often curated, or human-driven, which works better with a slow and steady, drip approach. There isn’t one answer (we agree) and he suggests that you’ll need to experiment to find out what’s best for you and your books.
David Gaughran’s article: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems
Bringing it back to the Malaysian context, Teaspoon Publishing’s founder, Anna Tan, wrote back in 2016:
Going Amazon Exclusive is not for everyone
There are a lot of tips on how to use KDP Select to your best advantage and head up the Amazon bestsellers list by keeping everything exclusive to the Amazon ecosystem. Which is good, if your audience is primarily in America, but not so good if you want to reach the international market.
In my case, since my primary fanbase (aka family and friends) generally do not have access to buying on Amazon, keeping it exclusive to Amazon, whilst it might help sales a little due to the free days and internal Amazon algorithms, will only hurt me in the long run. Because it’s friends who recommend to friends and word-of-mouth that counts, yes? Even with my international appeal (at least according to blogger’s stats), cutting out 25% – 50% of my audience by not selling it in a place they can access is just bad business sense. But well, this really depends on your audience or intended audience.
So should I go KU or Wide?
We really can’t decide this for you, but here are some simple steps to use to decide.
- Think about your goals and your books (genre, market). Also look back at the questions above!
- Figure out what marketing strategy you can cope with. Do you like complex marketing plans and frenetic energy or do you need something simpler?
- Choose whether to go KU or Wide based on #1 and #2
- Draw out a marketing and selling plan and stick with it!
- If it doesn’t work, start from #1 again.**
* This might seem confusing because you can shop on Amazon and get things shipped to Malaysia. But you’re purchasing as a Malaysian on the American website. They allow that for goods which require physical shipping but usually not for digital products, especially ebooks.
** “Doesn’t work” needs an evaluation period of at least six months to a year. Don’t try something for one month, get frustrated and give up.
More info on KU and KOLL
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription program for readers that allows them to read as many books as they want. It’s like Netflix, for ebooks! With Kindle Unlimited, customers can read as many books as they like and keep them as long as they want for a monthly subscription fee (up to 10 titles at a time). They don’t need to be Amazon Prime members. This is available for users in US, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia.
The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) allows Amazon Prime members to borrow one book per month for free from the collection or “library”. They can only keep one book at a time for a long as they want. This is available to Prime members in US, UK, Germany, France and Japan.
KDP Select authors get paid for KU and KOLL based on page reads, to a maximum of 3,000 pages per title per customer. Every time a unique customer reads pages in your book for the first time, you will be eligible for royalties. If the same customer re-reads pages of your book, this won’t earn you any additional royalties.
Formula: Monthly KDP Select Global Fund / total pages read for the month * pages read of YOUR BOOK.