Going Wide vs Kindle Unlimited as an Indie Author: Which One is the Best for You?

Wide Vs. Select

There are a lot of different Netflix-style book lending platforms out there where you can borrow books buffet style for a monthly fee, but none are as powerful or large as Amazon's Kindle Select program. It has millions of users and pays out a fortune every month to authors who enroll their books to be available for free to Kindle Unlimited Subscribers. There's only one major hiccup...

...you have to be exclusive.

Only Amazon would ask for all of their authors to give up the ability to sell books on other platforms for the chance to be in this exclusive system, especially when a book borrowed by someone on the KU program actually pays less money (sometimes by a lot) than an actual sale.

Traditional publishers wouldn't be caught dead enrolling books in this program, so why would indie authors use it?

Benefits of Amazon Exclusivity

Amazon wants you to make your book available to its readers, and only its readers, by enrolling it in KU. They offer some pretty hefty benefits in return, including:

  1. Pages read payment - Amazon takes all of the pages read for a month, breaks it down by title, and pays each for how many pages their books earned. Usually, this comes out to around half a penny per page read, so a one hundred page book is about 50 cents.
  2. Amazon Advertising - What better way to sell books on Amazon than with advertising directly on their pages. They have made this platform better over the last several months and continue improving and adding features, and it can generate a huge return on investment with careful planning.
  3. Ranking boost - Books that sell well are the books Amazon promotes. It makes sense, because they want to generate as much return as they can and are always trying to trim the fat. Your book rank goes up with a borrow on KU (whether it is read or not) the same as a sale.
  4. Exposure - This relates to the last point, because the higher your rank, the more exposure you get. But, in this case, you're also more likely to get readers to give your book a try because it's 'free' to them as part of their plan.
  5. Royalty Increase - This only relates to certain markets where you can get a 70% return instead of 35%, but in many situations your books won't sell enough here to matter for a long time.
  6. Quarterly promotions - Free or Discount book promotions that are promoted on Amazon's website

Kindle Unlimited can be a self-feeding behemoth for readers, generating interest in a book that in turn generates more sales, that in turn feeds back into the generate more interest. The countdown promotions are nice, but they only really work if your book is already performing well.

I've definitely had good luck with this, and often what ends up happening is your books get pulled into an also-bought niche where they are being recommended to readers who get a lot of Kindle Unlimited books. This can mean finding a built in audience for your book that will keep reading them for months or years to come.

However, finding that audience can be incredibly difficult and is not guaranteed. Certain genres do way better on Kindle Unlimited than others.

Downsides of Amazon Exclusivity

There are some problems with going exclusive with Amazon, including:

  1. Sales vs. borrows - If people borrow your book, they won't buy it and you make less money that might have been a sale.
  2. Exclusive - You can only go with Amazon. Can't sell anywhere else.
  3. Constantly reduced payout - Amazon is in a constant battle against scammers to fix their kindle unlimited system so that people can't rob the system as easily, and they are currently on the third version of the system, but each time the payout is reported it is lower than the previous month. This downward trend in payouts is worrisome, especially considering Amazon is raking in tons of money from it.

The other obvious downside relates to exclusivity: anytime you lock yourself into one platform, you are losing out on the other audience. That other audience is around thirty percent of all readers, which is a huge loss. 

The thing is, many people who use Kindle Unlimited won't buy books. This number isn't anywhere near thirty percent, but it is a sizable chunk of readers that won't purchase your book if you're not on the program. After all, they pay a monthly fee, so why would they buy your book as well?

No matter what happens, you're going to have to cut out a certain subset of audience members with whatever you choose. That is just the name of the game and a problem of the business we are in. You'll have to decide for yourself which audience is more important. Amazon is where most of your sales will be no matter what, so is it worth going all in on Amazon to really build your books up, or try other platforms and see if you can carve out a niche?


Essentially this all boils down to a one-sided argument because in the long run there are no great benefits or drawbacks to going wide with your books, because it means you get more chances to make a sale.

However, there are two sides to every equation. Amazon has about 75% of the eBook market under control and most books are sold on their website. That leaves 25% of sales you aren't reaching if you go exclusive.

I said 'sales' and not 'readers' like many people would, because someone who buys from Barnes and Noble doesn't necessarily never read anything on Kindle. Sure, there are haters out there who would never ever buy from Amazon, but assuming all 25% of the purchases made outside of Amazon are from those people is just as dumb as assuming none of them are.

The benefits of going exclusive are way stronger for an author just beginning her/his career than for someone who's been at it a while. Building on audience on other platforms can be extremely difficult, and turning down the viral advantages of Kindle Unlimited can stall out an author's career before it really gets going.

Another benefit is only having to manage one dashboard and website. You don't need to worry about tons of versions of your eBook out there, or getting declined by random systems (like Apple, who denies any book with links that aren't Apple based) or any other myriad of problems raised by maintaining multiple platforms.

I can't stress enough, however, that any system designed to monopolize the market is intrinsically dangerous, and that's just what Amazon is attempting to do. They get negatives in their consideration simply because it's dangerous and detrimental to free markets.

What this comes down to is a personal decision for each author and a marketing strategy. For some people, going wide is better by far, and for others sticking their entire catalog on only Amazon is best. Some people launch a book exclusive to Amazon, and then after the first enrollment period (90 days) they take it off of Unlimited and go wide.

My Recommendation

My personal recommendation would be to try Amazon exclusive to start your career, because you're trying to get people to try out your work for the first time, and that's asking them to trust you. Lowering the cost of entry for reading your books is always beneficial. Long term, you have to decide for yourself whether you want to stay exclusive or branch out and put your books in multiple markets. There is no right answer, and it takes practice and experimentation.

For me? I go Amazon exclusive, but I've been wide in the past and there's no saying I won't do it again.

A lot of people will say switching back and forth is detrimental, and readers don't trust authors who can't make up your mind. That is simultaneously true, and utter nonsense. Try new things and experiment and see what works for you, and anyone who tells you there is a one-size-fits-all model to anything is full of crap.


Lincoln Cole

Lincoln Cole is a Columbus-based author who enjoys traveling and has visited many different parts of the world, including Australia and Cambodia, but always returns home to his pugamonster and wife. His love for writing was kindled at an early age through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen King and he enjoys telling stories to anyone who will listen.

He has won multiple literary awards for his novels. He has also been a bestseller in multiple different categories.