I’m going to start this blog post with the thesis statement. If you read nothing else, read this:
Going wide is not a magic bullet means of staging a protest against Amazon because you don’t like recent KU payouts! It’s a long-term strategy for diversification that requires long-term effort, patience, and above all, a plan.
There. Whew! As long as we understand that, this blog post is going to go well.
I am a firm believer in the idea that it’s better to have as many books in wide distribution as possible than to keep all of your eggs in one basket. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more of my fellow authors either thanking the heavens that they are and have been wide from day one, or wishing and lamenting that they didn’t owe so much of their career to the mostly fickle whims (and occasional cringe-worthy errors) of The Great and Powerful ‘Zon. Building a career in which your books are available on every platform where readers want to read them is ideal, but there are some definite things to watch out for if you’re about to jump into the wide transition.
Facts are facts. Amazon just IS about 60% of the eBook market. On a good day. Now, that number might be way higher for some and way lower for others, but on average, I think it’s still about 60%. Maybe even more. Honestly, I think for me, Amazon represents about 85% of my book sales. The key is that those are flat-out sales, not page reads that net a fluctuating amount of money based on other people’s page reads or are subject to bizarre technical problems (like the one that seems to be a problem right now). Sales are much more dependable than page reads, and depending on the length of your book, net you more income than all the pages of your book would.
So if you have been exclusive to Amazon and put your books wide, you will no longer collect on page reads, but you will have the steadier income of Amazon’s 70% (or 35%) royalty rate per buy.
Sounds obvious, but I feel the need to state it. Because one key factor to consider in the decision to take your books into wide distribution is to do a little math and figure out if the total income from your page reads is more or less than, say, 15% of your sales royalties. If the amount you are making on page reads is less than 15% of what you’re making overall for royalty sales, you might not find yourself screaming at the end of the month when all the sales numbers come in.
Different genres perform differently on different devices. As a general rule, historical and sweet do better on Amazon, and contemporary and spicy do better in wide distribution. Though my recent personal observations are that they all do about the same on Barnes & Noble. (But B&N these days is a whole other, weird story). If you’re a sweet historical western writer, you might find yourself with a bit of an uphill struggle if you’re going wide. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
I have a theory about why this is the case. It has to do with audience demographics. Amazon has made Kindle eReaders really affordable. You can get a Kindle Fire for about $50 if you catch a promo. Conversely, iPads cost around $399 for the cheap models these days. Barnes & Noble has sort of given up on the Nook—although you can get one for about $129—and are pushing Samsung tablets, which start at $139, on their site. You can get a Kobo eReader for as little as $89, but Kobo does most of its business in Canada and other English-speaking countries. Things being what they are, in a general sense, readers who love sweet and historical books are often from more rural areas and have tighter budgets, whereas readers who indulge in the steamy contemporary stuff tend to be from more urban areas where people are into flashy gadgets.
That’s a HUGE generalization, btw. Another factor in Amazon’s market dominance is that they started the eBook revolution and have strategically marketed Kindles for years more than the competition. Plus, if iPad owners are anything like me, they spend more time playing games on those puppies than reading books.
So whether everything I’ve heard and am assuming is gospel truth or not, the facts remain—sweet and historical do well on Amazon, steamy and contemporary to well everywhere else.
If you build it, they will come…as long as you put a LOT of effort into getting them to go there. Which of course is the thing that everyone wants to know the most about and figure out. How do you get readers to find your books on other platforms besides Amazon?
Man, I wish I had a perfect answer for that! I can only start by telling you what other platforms don’t quite have the same way Amazon does—algorithms. Sure, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (and maybe Google Play, but I know virtually nothing about them because their pricing policy scares the *%#^$%#! out of me) DO have “Also Bought” sections, but I don’t know if they work quite the same way as the ones on Amazon do. They have categories that you can search through, but books don’t end up ranking the same way they do at Amazon, and for some of those sites, searching through the categories is an exercise in frustration.
So if you can’t rely on the sites themselves to position your books in such a way that readers can find them, how do you get readers to find them?
In a way, the answer is “The same way you get readers to find them on Amazon.” Through targeted promotions, newsletters, and Facebook ads. You have to target them specifically for each of the other retailers, though. For example, with a Facebook ad, you’ll want to have a specific Facebook ad that targets iBooks readers (or B&N or Kobo, etc.) and you’ll want to make those links available. And as with everything else, scoring a BookBub ad with links to all of those retailers does wonders for your visibility on those platforms. Same goes for those other promotional sites and newsletters.
Now, there’s one new thing that Kobo is doing that may or may not end up being helpful there. They’ve recently started beta-testing a promotions tab, which will lead to select books being featured on a special page on their site. It’s something you have to ask them for, though. My friend Angela Quarrels wrote a whole blog post about that, so I’ll send you over to her. (P.S. Her post is part of an entire series about, you guessed it, going wide!) But I can tell you that I emailed them, they put me in the program, and I have my first test in those waters at the end of November. I’ll let you know how that goes!
One other thing that is probably going to get me in deep trouble with someone… If you happen to find yourself at a conference and are able to set up an appointment with the iBooks rep, that’s always worth a shot. But honestly, I met with them a couple of times, they promised me the moon, and I got literally nothing. It hasn’t endeared me to their process all that much.
But really, at the end of the day, it’s a long-game. As I said, I highly, highly recommend going wide with as many books as possible, but it takes exponentially longer to build up a fan-base on other platforms than it does on Amazon. If you’re thinking of going wide because you’re fed up with Amazon and you imagine that the moment you put your book up for sale on other platforms you will see a similar amount of sales immediately…um, it ain’t gonna happen. I know one writer who got fed up with Amazon, pulled her books from KU, put them wide, and then was massively disappointed when she “only” sold a couple dozen copies elsewhere on her first day wide. (This was a few years ago) I had a hard time not laughing. Selling any copies wide right out of the gate is a very good thing!
Yes, go wide. But go into it with lower expectations. Remember that it takes longer to build an audience on other platforms than it does to build one on Amazon. You have to put the effort in, seek out promotions, and invest time in making them work. But once things do start to work, the benefits are awesome. No more reliance on Amazon’s page counts and the corresponding snafus! Higher royalties for the books that you actually sell on Amazon instead of page reads! And sales from other platforms which can serve as a buffer for the Weirdness of the ‘Zon! But it is work, and it’s not right for every book every time. I still have my sweet historicals in KDP Select. But one of the reasons I’m trying to move away from sweet is so that the books I’m writing will have greater sticking power on those other platforms.
It’s an ever-changing business, and those who survive are the ones who seek out opportunities and change as everything else changes.
If you have questions about something I didn’t cover, feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer!