Ruminations on Exclusivity

Ready for some cardio? Let’s talk exclusivity.

Amazon has long made exclusivity a major part of their publishing campaign. With the introduction of KDP Select in late 2011, Amazon began offering merchandising opportunities to authors who published on Amazon and no where else. This has always been a controversial and unpopular move. The #1 decision many authors face today is not whether to go traditional or self, but whether to go KDP Select or not.

The first advantage KDP Select offered was the 5 “free days” per 90 day Select period. These free days were golden tickets for a while, and many authors’ careers took off by taking advantage of the program. KDP Select also meant inclusion in the Kindle Lending Library, where Amazon Prime members get to select one free ebook per month. Self-published authors have been paid out of a pool of funds, with a historical average of around $2.16 per borrow, while traditionally published ebooks have received the full sales commission for every download. So began the divisions that would cause rancor among self-published authors.

The controversy really lit up with the introduction of Kindle Unlimited. Those in KDP Select (exclusive to Amazon) were automatically included. Reports have been very mixed, but many who aren’t in Select say their sales have gone down as readers enjoy the buffet-style unlimited reading. Those in KDP Select (and by extension in Kindle Unlimited) largely report this as a boom time, with sales and borrows combined more than making up for the earnings lost by pulling out of other outlets.

The greatest controversy, perhaps, has been the limited-time trial of Kindle Unlimited by top-selling authors, who have been allowed into KU without going exclusive. I’m one of those authors. This is not a lifetime exclusion; it is very much limited, just to entice those who make a lot of income elsewhere to see the potential benefits of exclusivity. I think Amazon knew that none of us would dare try this program without seeing for ourselves, in our own dashboards, just how it would play out.

Read another post about KU and similarities to 2011 here.

Here’s a comment I made today at KBoards about my KDP Select thoughts.

Now that a couple of months have gone by, and I’ve been able to watch my dashboard closely, I can say for certain that KU has more than covered the readership I gain from the iBookstore, Nook, and Kobo combined. That is: I would have more readers by being exclusive to Amazon than I would by having my ebooks everywhere else. I might be earning slightly less money, but with considerably more fanbase. This is the conundrum we face as we weigh whether or not to go exclusive, a decision I’m faced with right now as my limited time trial expires.

Another author posed the question of exclusivity like this: Would you rather sell 2,000,000 books to readers in Indiana, or 200,000 books around the globe? If the goal is to have your stories read, and exclusivity furthers that goal, then it isn’t a narrowing of readership.

This is further complicated by the fact that every retailer is in every home and practically on every device. You can read ebooks on most anything that has a screen. There are apps for reading ebooks on rival devices, which means publishing with Barnes & Noble places you on every Apple device and every Android device. For the exceptions to this rule, all my works are DRM-free and can be converted to be read anywhere. Is exclusivity really about limiting reader access when access is practically unfettered?

Another way to ask the question is this: What do we make of an author who only publishes with Simon & Schuster? Are they exclusive? Absolutely. But their books are available in many places. (Except when S&S is in a dispute with B&N, in which case you’ll have to shop elsewhere.) Who you publish with is limiting, though you don’t see authors urging each other to publish a book with every major publisher, “just in case.”

In 2012, I blogged about my results after pulling out of KDP Select. I was getting a handful of emails a month from readers who wanted to know why they couldn’t find my ebooks on the Nook store or the iBookstore. Feeling bad for these readers, and anxious about whether or not I was limiting my readership, I backed out of Select, even though it had helped launch my career. In May of 2012, I saw early signs that the readers I would gain elsewhere would not make up for the readers I would lose by the loss of KDP Select visibility. I’ve seen nothing to counter that observation since. I lose readers by spreading my ebooks far and wide. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true.

It might also be true that spreading our ebooks everywhere hinders retailer competition rather than increasing it. After all, the indiscrimination of signing up for all services means they don’t have to compete for our business. They are guaranteed to have it by those who urge us to “publish everywhere, no matter what.” I’ve blogged about this before, and also how it takes getting used to the idea that we can move our eggs from basket to basket at will. None of these decisions are final. The KDP Select period is a mere 90 days. How do you think publishers would treat their authors if they could move to another publishing house every 90 days? How would digital retailers treat us if we exercised this right more often? It seems clear to me that the lack of discrimination harms us more than it helps us.

Again, since May of 2012, my other outlets combined have failed to make up the difference in readers lost from borrows on Amazon. Part of this is certainly my focus on Amazon as my go-to store for customers. Their affiliate program, the ease and familiarity of their site, and the huge penetration of their devices and apps, made it my go-to outlet when someone needs a link to one of my books. Success feeds into more success. Just as major publishers focus on their largest sales accounts, I did the same with Amazon. Do I owe them my career? Or do they owe their lead among ebook retailers to those of us who concentrated our efforts on their sales platform? Or did their early advantages lead to that concentration, which led to our success, so on and so on?

I have a lot of friends who have done well with publishing, and we debate these chicken-and-egg questions. I personally see the joint success as a symbiotic and friendly amplification of good will and hard work. Amazon gave us opportunities; we seized them; we both benefited. Amazon is not my friend, but they’ve been an honest and fair business partner. And the best part is that they don’t own my self-published works. I do. As I stated above, no decision like this is permanent—it’s only for 90 days at a time. Compare that to publishing with a major house like Hachette, where you will be subject to the whims of its management for the rest of your life (and your children’s lives!)

Just this week, another salvo was fired in the fight to gain exclusivity. It is the recently announced KDP All-Stars, open to authors enrolled in KDP Select. This is a bounty program for the most-read authors and titles by measure of total sales, plus the borrows from the Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited. The bonuses are significant. And they are monthly. In the self-publishing community (and in the first sentence of this paragraph) you will hear authors interpreting this from our perspective, as a lure to draw us in. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a way of harnessing authors as a sales and marketing force.

The result of this bounty program will be more authors urging their readers to check out their books on the Lending Library and in Kindle Unlimited, to give the program a month trial, to read for free. For 100 or so authors a month, the bonuses will help even the playing field between the roughly $1.70 / month paid per borrow (post-KU) and the full commission given to traditionally published ebooks. The program works similar to ACX’s bounty program which rewards getting users to sign up for Audible. Again, it turns us into an eager and enthusiastic sales force, something I’ve suggested publishing houses should do more often.

Of course, some already see this bounty program as an unfair system by which the successful get even more rewards while the struggling author gets nothing. But following the bestseller lists, I know that those 100 authors per month will change, and more and more authors like Wayne Stinnett will find themselves with a nice bonus and a reason to write more, publish more, and promote their works on Amazon.

As the time ticks down on my trial run in KU, which way am I leaning? Toward exclusivity. A larger readership is only one advantage. It’ll also be easier to keep my works up to date by only having to upload to a single site. Another bonus will be to concentrate my sales into a single set of bestseller lists. One of the drawbacks of being published everywhere is the reduction of visibility, ironically. The more sales are concentrated in a single outlet, the higher your ebooks will be on bestseller lists, and the more prominent to casual browsers. Reviews will also be more concentrated. Like with the publishing house analogy earlier, all efforts are channeled into the biggest sales outlet.

What are the drawbacks? You can’t make the NYT or USA Today lists if you are exclusive. But that just highlights how un-linked those lists are to actual sales—and I haven’t seen that making those lists increases sales so much as gives a rough indication of past sales. Another drawback is that I will lose some readers who only shop elsewhere, but that leads back to the question of whether it’s better to have fewer readers across more outlets or more readers in a single outlet. If you were offered an end-cap in every airport bookstore for a year, where they would display all of your works, would you pull your titles from all other outlets? I would. That visibility would be incredible.

That leaves the biggest complaint I’ve seen about exclusivity, which is that retailers will go out of business, and then whoever is left will destroy us and take all our shiny things away. I don’t understand this argument. Digital baskets are too easy to weave, and retailers like Apple and Google are not in danger of disappearing, ever. As I write about here, again, the lack of exclusivity is what hampers competition. When an author only publishes with Harper Collins, she doesn’t worry that Penguin Random House will go out of business. She assumes they’ll remain competitive to draw in other authors. Perhaps her next work as well. It’s really useful to imagine a world where traditionally published ebooks could be moved to another house every 90 days. Does anyone really think publishers would offer worse treatment in such a world?

The reason I’m blogging about this is because it isn’t easy. The results of my years of experimentation and rumination are counterintuitive. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with where the data has led me, but it’s impossible to dispute my results. I have another month to watch my dashboard, see how Amazon is going to fund the KOLL/KU account, and then it’s all or nothing. I don’t know if my thinking out loud helps anyone else, but that’s my hope. It certainly helps me to write it all out, the pros as well as the cons. A lot of authors are facing the same conundrums. These decisions only get easier by sharing.



118 responses to “Ruminations on Exclusivity”

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with paying the best sellers even more, they are the ones making real money for amazon, and they are obviously the ones we want to see more of. Amazon should od everything it can to make the big sellers happy, because it rewards the readers.

    1. I agree, but it’s easy for me to say as someone who is more concerned with an audience for my stories than I am with how much money I earn. When I saw Holly Ward join the KU crowd, I squealed. And I’ve been pulling for the Big 5 to jump in as well, but they seem loathe to think as I do, that growing readership is the best long term strategy.

      1. We are on the same page with this. Apple creating the Itunes store for music at 99 cents a song was attacked as a cheapening of music, but artists make more money now thanks to Apple, everyone wins. In the old days you had to buy a whole album for the one song you liked, so you didn’t buy it, you just waited and recorded it off the radio; now you can buy just the one you want, sales are up.
        It is like the paperback debate, as you have mentioned, some said it would ruin books, but instead reading exploded. It is also like the Harry Potter books, kids were barely reading before they came out, those books got kids reading again.
        Anything that increases readership is good for everyone because once a non-reader finds a book they like, they want more. Books are the good drugs everyone should get hooked on.

        1. Nice, johnmunk: “Books are the good drugs everyone should get hooked on.”

          Sign me up as a dealer. Wait, a grower. Muh hah ha ha ha ha!!

  2. Thanks, Hugh, for a good analysis. On a much smaller scale (since I get far fewer sales-sadly for me) I saw exactly the same thing. I pulled my novels out of Select more than two years ago although it had done well for me. However, free promotions were no longer packing the punch they once had. I kept them out of Select for about a year and a half. During that time I did well. As I think you know, I sell well enough to make a living as an author although much more modestly than you do.

    However, when they came out with Countdown it was a deal changer for me. I am very dependent on 99 Cent promotions to keep my sales up and by far the majority of my promotion sales are on Amazon. The higher royalty on Countdown deals more than makes up for any loss of income from not being on Nook, etc. The borrows, which have been substantial, are a bonus and a nice one.

    I’m not happy with the payout of borrows that was just announced and it made me do some thinking, but I don’t see any way I could leave Select again in the near future. I simply would lose money and lose readers.

    1. So I take it J. R. that you recommend choosing the countdown versus the free promotion? When I read about Select I assumed that would be the option I’d want, but I only ever hear people talk about the free deals and I’ve always wondered why.

  3. I can’t speak directly to exclusivity in the publishing world, but I have watched how exclusivity has played out in the stock image licensing business and it hasn’t been good for very many people. And although it’s a different business, I think it can still serve as a cautionary tale for any industry in which it is possible to be an exclusive artist/writer/contributor/etc.

    What happened with the stock image business is that the top company several years ago offered the option for artists and photographers to sell images exclusively with them, only to slowly erode the benefits of exclusivity over the years and exploit the loyalty they had built with their exclusive artists. They lowered pay rates, took away various perks and benefits, and eventually forced people into various partner deals and affiliate offerings that essentially distributed images for free in some cases and with no compensation to the artist/photographer.

    That company also lost ground to another company and exclusivity lost its luster. Exclusive artists have been struggling with the choice between riding it out with the company whose basket they put all of their eggs into, or basically start over, drop their exclusive status, and try to get in with other companies and build portfolios elsewhere to diversify.

    Personally I’m a fan of diversification. I don’t like the idea of any one company holding all of the cards when it comes to my work and how I distribute it. Especially online. Things happen, companies go out of business, new companies emerge, websites get hacked, nothing is guaranteed to stay the same from one day to the next on the web.

    I feel as though spreading my work among multiple companies keeps me in a safer position. As well as a more advantageous position, being able to watch for emerging companies and startups with good potential to grow. Not being locked in with one company allows me the opportunity to constantly explore and test other avenues of distribution and sales.

    Again, I’m talking about a different business here. But I really feel like the benefits and pitfalls of exclusivity, especially on the web, apply across many industries.

    1. The difference here is that the company you refer to (and I’m a contributor there, as well as an author), pays exclusive authors more than non-exclusive. That means to leave you have to take a (very substantial) pay cut immediately. Amazon pays the same to exclusive and non-exclusive, so leaving is much easier. Of course, borrows do change things a little. I earned twice as much in borrows as I did in sales this month (and sales were on the high end of normal.) It would take something major for me to give that up.

  4. I have to admit, I was pissed off about the All-Stars bonus … until I heard from Wayne and Rosalind and others on Kboards about what it took to get on the list, and I realized I missed the cut-off by *THAT MUCH*. Mostly because I didn’t take into account when to release my books, I was simply going by the ol self-pubber’s mantra of, “Get it out when it’s ready!” If I had released my last book at the beginning of the month, I wouldn’t have ended up splitting the 7000 or so sales of my latest book over a two month period.

    Oh, what might have been.

    The one thing that really irks me, though, and I hope Amazon finally fixes it, is paying $1.50 (or whatever it is next month) to .99 cent 10-page “books.” I call bullshit on that. I have nothing against you people writing pseudo incest books, monster porn, or wolf threesomes, but give me a frakkin’ break.

  5. Thank you for this, Hugh. It’s helpful to know that the big guys struggle with this decision as much as I am right now. I didn’t go exclusive when I launched my first book for several reasons: many people waiting for the book who didn’t/don’t use Amazon (and at launch, I really needed their support); a severe discomfort with the idea of exclusivity (even if only for 90 days); the fact that I know the pain of owning Kobo and hating when an author’s work was only available on Amazon (and I can’t read on my phone, so no app was going to help me). Things have gone well so far… on Amazon. Elsewhere, I get one or two sales a day combined. I’ll feel bad for the readers who are looking for my book on other sites, but it really makes more sense to grab the benefits of exclusivity if that’s where the sales are, anyway… right?

    So why do I still feel skeevy even thinking about it? It makes perfect sense, but in my gut it feels like a bad idea. Maybe it’s the way “share with everyone, look out for the interests of others” was drilled into my head as a kid.

    Semi-related question: it seems like right now they have to throw a lot of extra money into the KU pot for authors to get a decent price for borrows. Will they keep doing that?

  6. Thanks for sharing your views on this Hugh. I pulled out of Select and I’m therefore not in KU at the moment. I’ve been waiting to see what authors I follow were going to say about this before making a decision. Thanks for experimenting for us! ;)

    It definitely helps to read your reasons for wanting to stay in Select and KU and it has certainly given me food for thought. I don’t like exclusivity either but if I gain a larger readership for my work, then I’m all for it. At the moment, anyway :)


  7. Here’s one reason exclusivity might boost sales:

    Sales of digital goods seem to often rely heavily on Best Seller or Top Downloaded charts. If you spread out your product across multiple retailers, you’re reducing the degree to which you can climb any individual chart (depending, at least, on how much crossover there is between the markets). Maybe being 12th on Amazon’s charts for your book’s genre improves visibility (and thus sales) more than being 40th on Amazon and 34th on Kobo and 48th on Nook, etc.

    1. But how much crossover is there, really? If a title is available on only Amazon, will readers who patronize B&N for their ebooks decide to buy the title from Amazon instead? In other words, is the choice between #12 on Amazon and #40 / #34 / #48 on Amazon / Kobo / Nook? Or is the choice between #40 on Amazon or #40 / #34 / #48 on Amazon / Kobo / Nook? I imagine the answer may be different for different books and different authors. Truly it’s not an easy choice.

    2. Adam, I definitely think you have the right idea. Being on a bestseller list is helpful, but it is a short term phenomenon and gains you visibility with a relatively limited set of readers. More important is showing up prominently in topical searches and in “also bought” suggestions.

      The evidence that makes me assert this is how free books work. Since free books don’t earn meaningful “also bought” credit, they are a good control case. As it turns out, the free books that do well at Amazon show up in “also bought” lists because they have sales in the past, are linked to other books by the author that have sales, or have been around since the time when Amazon put free books in “also bought” lists and have given away a stupendous number of copies.

      1. As it turns out, the free books that do well at Amazon show up in “also bought” lists because they have sales in the past…

        Thank you for saying that! I think that answers a question I’ve been mulling over for several days.

        An anthology that I have a story in was on free promo over the weekend. It did really well and seems to be selling steadily now that the promo is over, and better than it was in the immediate weeks before the promo.

        I’ve been comparing it to the performance of another title that I put on free promo nearly 2 years ago. It didn’t do well. I was wondering: why the diff? And I think you’ve put your finger on it.

        The anthology had been selling steadily since its release 3 months before the promo, slowly trending downward from its launch burst, but still selling.

        Whereas my other title that didn’t perform nearly as well was much newer, hadn’t been selling steadily, plus I’d not been able to give it good launch promo. Following your line of thinking, the promo didn’t have enough of a foundation to spring from on Livli’s Gift.

        Whereas the promo for Quantum Zoo had an excellent foundation under it.

        So much more makes sense to me now. Thank you for sharing those thoughts!

        1. J.M.

          My perspective comes as being someone who can’t produce multiple books per year. My wife and I have put out 5 books in the last year, but that pace will not continue. We spend way too much time writing too slow and otherwise editing the crap out of our stories.

          I’m beginning to think that making books free is a very complex proposition that needs to be evaluated from product to product. Yes, it’s a nice way to get some reviews when you’re unknown. It’s also good for general internet promo. Many free sites will list free books automatically, and there are a lot of additional free book sites to sign up for and get listed for free.

          It’s also very important to recognize which books are more magnetic and can generate sales with no help. In these cases, a first book in a series/genre should be priced above zero to get associated with other books more strongly. Then the price can go back to zero to put it into position to shoot up to the top of the free listings and also to give readers a free sample.

          The salient point is that each product, even from the same writer, is different, and needs to be treated differently. Charge what the market will bear to establish space in the Amazon discovery network. Give books away to get reviews and entice readers that are on the fence.

          By the way, this point of view comes mostly from watching books that aren’t my wife’s and mine and trying to figure out how what I see happening to ours fits into the big picture. My experience with this self-pub gig spans less than a year and I suspect that more nuance will rear its ugly head and make me figure out what bits I’ve got wrong.

          1. My experience with this self-pub gig spans less than a year and I suspect that more nuance will rear its ugly head and make me figure out what bits I’ve got wrong.

            @enabity: I’d say you’ve done some excellent thinking in your “less than a year.” I’ll be interested to learn your thoughts as you develop that nuance. :)

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience, Hugh. This is the topic that’s been weighing on my mind, recently. Your reasons for being exclusive mirror my own, only you have infinitely more sales and infinitely more data to go on. :)

    I’m exclusive now, but I keep wondering if I can get enough visibility if I only publish through Amazon. Right now, my plan is to stay exclusive until I finish my first trilogy, then see what happens.

  9. Great thoughts Hugh, and I can’t doubt that they will definitely help out other authors who are in a similar circumstance. I’m very much a pros/cons list kind of person so your outline speaks to me. Like so many thing in life, it just depends on what your priorities are as an author and businessperson.

    Amazon has consistently had more titles available than any other platform and every time I come across someone that’s looking into getting an e-reader, I tell them to look at all their options (Nook, Apple, Google, Amazon) and then go with the one that’s going to suit their needs the best. Personally, if you’re looking for a reading tablet, more than one to do FB, Twitter, and all the other hoopla on, I always recommend the Kindle to my friends and family. I like to think of the Kindle as the readers’ tablet.

  10. I think you’ve presented some reasonable and well-thought-out reasons for exclusivity. I went all-in when Amazon announced KU, since my sales in other stores were negligible to put it mildly. For other authors, there are more factors to consider.

    I cheered when I got the All-Stars announcement. I haven’t a hope of getting those rewards, but someone will, and those hard-working writers won’t subtract a dime from my earnings or harm my career. For me, for now, KU and KDPS are full of win.

  11. Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed with KU borrows. I write mostly non-fiction (history articles, travel photo books, and tech help for beginners.) About half of my titles were in KU when the program went live. Since then, I’m getting borrows on non-fiction titles AS IF THEY WERE A SERIES. People will jump from one to the next to the next. They’ll read my article on Constantine and then move on to my article on Caribbean Piracy. This didn’t happen nearly as often when I just branded the covers similarly and gathered positive reviews. Apparently there are people taking advantage of the fact that they can read a non-fiction subject, enjoy the author’s writing, and then try another subject from that same non-fiction author. Even with only half my books in Select, I made more last month than any other month so far. Earlier in September, I pulled my titles from other outlets and went all in with KDP Select (with the exception of permafreebies.)

  12. I can see the advantage for authors. And certainly when I get my royalty check, most of my digital sales go through Amazon.
    I can see it from the reader’s view as well though. Yes, my iPad has an app for Kindle. But the first place I go is the iBookstore. If the book isn’t there, I’ll only go over to Amazon if it’s one by an author friend. If not, I don’t buy.

    1. That’s exactly how I was when I had a Kobo, Alex. I didn’t put the author’s name on a list for when the book might come out of Select, and check back later. I just forgot about them and moved on.

      Though I guess a lot of readers might be doing that with books not available for borrows right now, so maybe we take a loss either way. :/

      1. And this is the dark side to exclusivity… if enough parties do it, then you have a fractured marketplace. If you want to follow multiple creators, and they are each in a different marketplace, then the customer needs accounts in both marketplaces – and is subject to privacy or security issues with their details in both. If both creators are available in both marketplaces, then I as a customer am able to choose marketplace by the quality of their offering to me.

        Having said that, I hadn’t previously considered this from the creator point of view – as you mention Hugh, if you have to distribute your books everywhere, then nobody needs to compete for your custom.

        I guess the problem is the uneven marketplace at the moment. If there were three strong contenders, each with 20-40% of the market, then I feel that exclusivity would become far less popular – getting a bigger slice of 40% of the market might not be worth losing 60% of the market. I’m curious how the iBookstore will manage to stack up against KDP Select and KU with the app being pushed out to everyone with an iPhone, will the competition improve the situation for everyone? If iBooks fails to compete against KU, will it dampen anyone else’s desire to try?

        I guess it’s naive to presume that Google isn’t paying attention as well.

        Interesting times.

  13. Great post, Hugh. I tried Select when it first came out, but at the time, I was earning far more at B&N and Kobo than I am now. I recently experienced a significant (and inexplicably sudden) drop in sales at B&N, and with Kobo and iTunes sales stagnant at a handful per month, going exclusive — just to see — is becoming more appealing. Learning that someone whose books sell far more than mine do is having even better success that way is heartening.

    And, like you said, it’s only 90 days. I can’t lose any more traction at B&N than I already have. :)

  14. I’ve been playing with selling on every platform since just before Amazon announced KU. I’m still there, with three of my titles still in KU and Select right now, mainly because I forgot to uncheck the box.

    I haven’t been impressed with my sales on other platforms. Although I received requests to make the stories available on other platforms such as Apple, Kobe, etc., I haven’t see the sales reflected from these requests.

    As has been stated, the Kindle App is available for iPads, iPhones, etc., etc. There’s no reason to put everything everywhere. If an Apple user wants an Amazon exclusive work, then download the App.

    I’ll be leaving those three titles enrolled in Select and Unlimited, and will give the other platforms until November 30th to show some sales. If they aren’t performing, I’ll pull them and make them exclusive to Amazon, too.


    1. I’ve been giving this more thought. I may just leave everything alone, and take my three lonely titles out of Select when the time’s up in October.

      This is such a brutally hard thing to decide for almost every author out there. If KU weren’t exclusive, I would gleefully participate. After all, I have titles at Scribd and at Oyster. Neither of those places asked me to be exclusive. I don’t want to be exclusive to Amazon, because I want to build a fan base with other sites. It just doesn’t make good sense to offer my stuff only through one platform.

      And, I have just begun listing with Google Play only to see what happens there.

      On the other hand, I’m writing a novel right now under a pen name, and it’s the first story that I’ve written with this name. I probably will start this new pen name in Select, at least for 90 days, to try to build a fan base with it…and keep the stuff under my real name available everywhere else.

      I can only imagine what you’re going through with this decision, Hugh, if it’s this tough for me with my lonely little bunch of titles…


  15. Thanks for sharing your results. Definitely provided some great insights. I’ll be testing the five down one in the hole technique you mentioned in a previous post, and will be combining that with KDP Select/Unlimited. I think this is the best strategy possible since I’m arriving a bit tardy to the game. Hopefully this will help me get some visibility in the Military category.

    If this is your thinking out loud, please do more of it- incredibly helpful!

    1. Chad, I’m working on the Liliana Nirvana technique also, aiming for a January/February release of 5 titles. Like you, I’ll debut those titles in Select/Unlimited. If they do significantly better than the 14 titles I currently have more widely distributed, I’ll keep them in Select. And do some hard thinking about putting my other titles in as well.

      1. JM,

        I think the technique makes an enormous amount of sense, and it’s forced me to write even more…so it’s paying dividends already : )

        I’m betting that KU has some serious potential for the smaller .99 titles in the categories I’m going for: Military, Veterans, etc. I’ll be releasing mine on Nov. 1st, then a few more on Veterans day, Nov. 11th. I’ll probably share my results via KBoards or with a video.

        What categories are you writing in? I’d enjoy hearing your plans, prep, and results. Especially interested to hear what you end up doing with your 14 other titles!

        1. I’d love to compare notes and really want to learn your results after your upcoming multiple release. I’ll have to haunt the kboards so that I can see your report!

          Like you, I think the technique makes tremendous sense. I’ve got 2 titles ready to go, and am working furiously on two more. Hope to finish one in October, then start my 5th while still working on the longer 4th.

          I write secondary world fantasy at various lengths: some short stories, some novels, some novellas. For some reason, I seem to particularly like the novella length. Thank goodness for the word-count freedom that indie pubbing gives us!

          Email me if you’d like to hear more details or are willing to share some of your plans! jmng -at- jmney-grimm -dot- com.

  16. It certainly helps me, Hugh, and thanks as always for sharing your experience and perspective. I’m publishing a debut novel this fall and Select seemed like such a no-brainer in that situation, where exposure is more important than income, that to be honest I haven’t spent a lot of time on the decision. But today I’ve been following this discussion closely around various sites and giving it more thought.

    I still haven’t seen any reason why Select wouldn’t be the best possible road for me personally under my circumstances, but it’s awfully nice to know I can make educated decisions about these things. The indie community is just wonderful in its willingness to share information and viewpoints, so those of us who are learning can benefit from the experience of others.

  17. Which path, KU vs. All Outlets, will get an author to Day Job Quittin’ Numbers? While Amazon sells 60% (might be more) of all eBooks, don’t we give up a large chunk of the market to be in Prime jail?

    I’m a big fan of modeling success, and Hugh, Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler are all indy success stories. All past DJQN long ago and all are part of KU. So, I guess that’s my answer.

    Let’s face it. Any human being with a screen that can connect to the internet can read an ebook through Amazon’s handy dandy apps (OK so maybe not on a Kobo). There are a few bitter enders who hate the Zon because they blame it for killing their book store or something, but catering to them kills off a lot of goodness that comes with Prime jail.

    Has anyone achieved great success (DJQN) by being on all outlets from the get go? Or is giving all our attention and loyalty to Amazon a sure path to DJQN?

  18. I have no problem at all with the idea of an author deciding to be exclusive in who they sell through.

    I don’t even mind Amazon offering bonuses for people who are exclusive to them.

    However, i do get a bit concerned when participating in a program like KU requires being exclusive, that crosses a line from encouragement/bonuses and it’s still the author’s choice to coercion, “we won’t carry you unless you stop doing business with our competition”

    It’s not right when the brick-and-morter stores band together and collectively refuse to carry amazon published books, and requiring exclusivity to participate in the lending library is just as wrong.

    I also think that this sort of exclusivity requirement isn’t really needed. As others have noticed, getting on the bestseller lists if easier if you are exclusive, and it provides a significant boost to sales, so there is other value to an author opting to be exclusive.

    But this exclusivity requirement is the one area that I really dislike what Amazon is doing. I also think it’s going to end up causing them legal problems in the long run.

    Every time I’ve seen mandated exclusivity, it’s ended up causing big problems

    look at Microsoft and their requirements that PC vendors not sell any other OS with their computers

    look at Intel and their requirements that manufacturers sell a specific number of Intel powered machines (which ‘coincidentally’ meant they had no space in their lineup for AMD machines)

    Having brands be exclusive to a store can work well when substantially the same product is available under other brands from other stores (think supermarket “exclusive” brands), but that’s not an option for books.

    1. You can still publish through KDP on Amazon without being exclusive. These are just special programs Amazon offers that entice people to sell through them exclusively if they think it’s worth it. And even then, the commitment is only for 90 days, to be renewed at the author’s own discretion. It’s entirely voluntary, and doesn’t stop anyone from continuing to publish on other platforms. So any comparison to inherently proprietary systems such as you bring up is completely inapplicable.

      1. Yes, every author is completely able to pull out, so it’s not exactly a lock-in proposal. Where the Microsoft comparison doesn’t fall short is that this could be considered a way for Amazon to pre-emptively kill off the “next big thing”. As long as Amazon makes it worthwhile to authors to stay exclusive, then any new players on the block that have some groundbreaking new idea are at risk of being non-starters, if they can’t get the content to back up that idea.

        Doesn’t mean it’s bad – the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship [citation needed]. It just seems to extrapolate out to no longer having any choices, rather than to healthier competition.

        1. Yes, it could work out that way, but does it? Right now there are already many alternatives to Amazon, including the Apple bookstore, Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, and others. The whole reason there’s even a debate about exclusivity is that there’s competition and thus a valid set of arguments to go either way. And many authors don’t go exclusive, or go exclusive only with some but not all of their books. That’s a good thing, and the trends in the industry are that ebook sales have been growing in the non-Amazon sector. Amazon’s share of the market has fallen from 90% after the introduction of the Kindle to about 65% now. That’s one of the reasons Amazon wants to be able to discount trad ebooks – to compete against these other ebook retailers. It could easily continue to fall in the future, making exclusivity less attractive to self-publishers in the future. That’s why Amazon has created these special programs for self-publishers to entice them into exclusivity. Which if their competition was smart, they’d match, as they already have on royalties.

  19. My experience was similar to yours and J.R. Tomin’s. I took my books out of Select two years ago and put them into Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. After two years, Amazon still accounts for 95.5% of my sales. I will gladly trade in that 0.5% for the promo tools of Select and the additional income from borrows. It’s the right business decision for now, and as you said, I’m only locked in for 90 days.

  20. This is an excellent perspective, Hugh. I’ve been using KDP books– novellas– to promote my indie-published novels in preparation for book three of a trilogy. Short stories involving the MC of the novels as a way to push the novels, in other words. In that regard, getting as many people to read as possible– buying or borrowing– has been and continues to be important. I’ve been pleasantly surprised both by how well that’s been working and how (accidentally) lucrative it’s been. The royalty on a $2.99 short is roughly the same as the money paid out from a KU or KOLL copy, after all.

  21. Thanks Hugh for taking the time and making the effort to allow me in on your thinking. I really do appreciate that.

    For me, any day I don’t have to practice law, is a huge win. Amazon gave me the opportunity to have that day every day. Hence, I have a great deal of loyalty to Amazon. I’ve only been at this eight months, however, and there’s still lots for me to learn. Today I have a Bookbub going on and Amazon is paying the bandwidth freight for that. They have earned my gratitude if not my loyalty. If someone makes the best-seller’s list or becomes an Amazon Superstar and gets a bonus, that has never been shown to affect my sales. It’s all a win-win and if Wayne can quit his job driving trucks and I can quit my job being demeaned by jurists, then I’m all for it.

    Sign me, Never Going Back

  22. I’ve also been in Select for most of the last 2.5 years and found that I had more readers than I had. I even remember getting some hate from one book reviewer who had a Nook, about how she would never read my books because of my decision to go exclusive with Select. (she’d had a review copy for over a year at that point without reading/reviewing, so that took some of the bite out of that particular threat.)

    My gripe isn’t so much with the exclusivity, it’s just that it would be nice if they rotated a few other books through the front page of KU on the Kindle Fire. I’ve been enrolled as a reader since the beginning of KU and other than the New Books in KU, the others haven’t changed at all. One way Amazon could really engage the average rank and file indie would be to have at least one row in there for books that are well reviewed but maybe not bestsellers.

    With KOLL, there was always the possibility of having a free day and reaching the top of the KOLL categories when a book returned to paid. I don’t see the same thing happening with KU because free days have been less impressive since people in KU might not even pay much attention anymore. (I know I don’t. I search KU library by genre and what I want to read–not free sites with the hope the few books listed free in the genre I read will appeal to me.)

    We all know a bit of luck is involved with becoming a best-seller, so why not increase more authors’ luck by reserving a row of titles in the front of KU for ‘Hidden Gems’ or something like that? The more books you have in Select, the better your chances of having one selected. That would entice more authors than this bonus fund that, the way it’s set up now, with the same books always on the front page, will probably always go to the same authors. Or rotate through a very small group. It wouldn’t even cost Amazon anything, although they might argue lost sales of the ‘bestsellers’, but I think readers will read the Hidden Gems as well–and might enjoy the variety.

    1. Shoot, no edit feature. First sentence should be: more readers than I had at the other sites combined.

    2. These are great ideas. Food for thought for future blog posts.

  23. Hugh,

    You got this absolutely right.

    One small typo, though, in the sentence, “Amazon gave us opportunities; we seized them; we both benefited. Amazon is not my friend, but they’ve been an honest and fair business partner.” The words “honest and fair” should be written “HONEST and FAIR.” Or better yet, all caps, underlined and bold as well.

    I’ve got five books in KDP Select and will be launching My Sweet Satan exclusively on Amazon as well. They’ve been astonishingly open, honest, fair and supportive when NOBODY else would give me the time of day.


  24. outstanding post, please continue this ruminating in public!

  25. Hugh,

    Interesting article, but I wonder have you considered:

    1) The power of your name? Your fans will follow you anywhere, at least enough of them will that it probably will not matter if your exclusive or not. I know first hand people that bought your book on Amazon and side loaded on to their Nooks. You name carries the power to drive people to that, what about the vast majority of indies who do not have your name? Do you think your experience applies? This is an honest question, I really would like to know.

    2) What about the loss of Permafree? How does that figure into this? Many authors credit permafree as the reason the broke out. Your story Wool was launch via permafree.

    3) I have many people tell me things like “I saw X at Y store, and then bought it from Amazon.” If you go narrow, you loose that. Again, this would not apply to you because you have fame behind your name, but an unknown needs as many chances to be seen as they can, IMO.

    4) You state you do not need the money, and that is great! I mean that! I love to see people succeed, but what about the majority of authors that do need the money? If their book is $5 and they only get $1.50 in KU, that is a big hit to the bottom line.

    5) The bounties for top 100 sellers does not apply to 95% of the authors, the curve is to steep, IMO. I believe you yourself have stated that there is a large group of authors who never make a list but make a living at this. This pretty much eliminates the prize money, and just makes, contrary to your statement, the best sellers more money. That is fine, I do not begrudge people making money, just pointing out it is not an incentive to 95% of the authors. At least, that is my take on it.

    I hope you read all of this as I intend it to sound. Calm, respectful, and a genuine interest in hearing your points. Thanks.

    1. I completely agree with all of the above points. With KU payouts being this low, and with the recent algo tweaks that push non-Select titles out of visibility, this only means it’s going to get way more difficult and way more rare for authors to be able to quit their day jobs, even if they do give in and join Select.

      This isn’t a positive change for 95% of authors. It has only made the entire gig more challenging for everybody who’s not already doing very well. I’ve never been afraid of a challenge, so it is what it is… but why so many smaller indies like me are celebrating this change is beyond me.

      1. I’m inclined to agree with you. But just for fun, let me throw another log on the fire — why aren’t other retailers doing the same kinds of things to entice authors as Amazon? Why don’t they offer exclusivity, front page promotion, free days, visibility boosts, names mentioned in newsletters, (etc. etc.)? Right now, Kobo visibility is “curated” — they basically pick which titles appear as “new” or “exciting reads” or whatever they call it. Still, these titles are hand-picked. So anyone joining Kobo basically has to cross their fingers.

  26. I might be the only author who does not give a crap about this KU stuff. I have some low-selling books in KU right now, but the performance I see in my dashboard isn’t enough for me to keep them there. I make about 20% at B&N, KOBO, and iBooks combined compared to my Amazon take, but I’ve never seen that kind of money from borrows. I’m happy being non-exclusive. I don’t think I’m missing out on many “fans”. Maybe I’m missing out on some readers, but I’m all about finding fans.

    My sales are better than steady. I’m working like a dog, but working like a dog still pays off. So all is good in my little slice of the Amazon pie.

    And as far as the bounty goes… yeah, I was, for like half a second, sorta excited. Until I realized I can make that money myself and not have to think about this shit at all. Enough said. I’m too busy to play games. Maybe I’m losing readers and maybe I’m losing money, but eh. Oh well. I’m indifferent.

    Now, I’m not complaining about my rep, she’s awesome. But if Amazon said hey Julie – we’ll get your Amazon rep to upload all your books and make sure it all runs smooth, like your own personal Amazon assistant if you go exclusive? Then fuck yes! I’m exclusive to Amazon tomorrow.

    But that’s about the only thing I can get excited about at this point. Money I can make myself, but I only have so much time in my day.

  27. Interesting points, Hugh. Obviously I’m not a big proponent of exclusivity, especially when it comes to Amazon, but I think that’s a topic that I’ve talked about enough. Instead I want to ask you a different question.

    A lot of your post focused on the benefits of Amazon exclusivity for authors, and you noted how the apps are on nearly every device and your work is DRM-free either way, so most readers could still access your works if they wanted to. You also note you’re seeing more readers from borrows and reads on KU than from other platforms, so you’ll get more eyes that way even if you may make a small monetary sacrifice. But do you think that’s short-term thinking?

    As ebooks proliferate into new markets, Amazon won’t always lead the charge. Outside North America and parts of Europe, it seems they’ve been slow to do so. There are many worldwide markets where Kobo, Apple, and domestic players have a greater share of the ebook pie than Amazon, and while they may be small now, or ebook prices may be low (consider the optimal price of ebooks in America vs India), do you think you might be missing out on the possibility of discovery by readers in those markets as they increasingly adopt ebooks?

    Obviously it may be a small concern right now, and you could always change course if you see the market shifting since you get to change your mind every ninety days with Kindle exclusivity, but I’d love to know your opinion.

    Furthermore, another question just happened upon me. Have you ever consider making your works available with a pay-what-you-want model, or even experimenting with it with a new work? If eyeballs are your main goal, then I’d imagine that may be the best way to do so.

    Anyway, best of luck with the decision, though I will lament not being able to buy your books on other platforms if you do go exclusive.

  28. Your thinking out loud certainly helps me. It’s easy to double-guess ourselves, so hearing what our peers are thinking, helps to ease our questions…or allows us another point of view. Love your posts, Hugh.

  29. I’ve got a few new releases coming up in the next 2 months, so I have been thinking over this very issue.

    You’ve made some great points, and on top of that you’ve got a good sales engine to provide some solid data even if it is biased (as a data set) by touching upon only one author and a limited selection of sub-genres.

    Thanks so much for posting your thoughts on this and giving me (yet more) food for thought.

  30. With KU payouts being this low, and with the recent algo tweaks that push non-Select titles out of visibility, this only means it’s going to get way more difficult and way more rare for authors to be able to quit their day jobs, even if they do give in and join Select.

    Correct. The market cannot support the number of people who want a writing income sufficient for all their financial needs. The supply of writers if far too large. Suppose every fiction writer had a day job. So what? Good for them. They get to eat.

  31. Hugh —

    As someone who both writes fiction and produces audio books, I am always caught wondering if the way Audible has hammered a certain segment of the production community is a foretaste of what Amazon will someday do to authors.

    As you know, it’s possible to get a two-fer from Audible where, if you buy the Kindle book, you get the audio book for as little as $1.99. As a producer, that means I’ll be getting about 39 cents for having produced the audio. At that rate, it will take me years–if ever–to recoup my time at minimum wage. If you want to be a narrator or a producer and you enjoy working for free, try Librivox. They tell you you’re working for no pay up front.

    For your readers who don’t know how ACX works, it takes about eight hours to produce a finished hour of audio. An ten hour audio book takes me roughly 80 hours–two weeks–to produce. If I sign up for a royalty-only deal, I get no up-front pay for your work, and must rely upon royalties at 20% of the sale price.

    Amazon owns Audible and it is naive to think they don’t know what they are doing financially to the artists who create product for them. I have stopped auditioning for royalty-only production deals at Audible . I can’t afford to work for nothing.

    Even so, as I prepare to release four novels by the end of this year, plus a fifth novel I co-wrote with Scott Nicholson, I am all-in with whatever Amazon and Kindle want to do. You can quibble about details, but in the final analysis, if Amazon murders the goose, we still own our rights and can go in search of whatever replaces it. And something will.

    Maybe I’m too gullible, but I believe Amazon will continue to make it worthwhile to publish with them, whether you are new like me or Stephen King. ACX is self-destructing. But Kindle? Sign me up.

  32. Hugh, a couple of points.

    With Nook tanking, the balance of Amazon/non-Amazon readers is going to swing, and I doubt many Nook customers will become iBooks customers.

    I understand your argument about exclusivity increasing competition, but I think exclusivity can only weaken competition in the short term. In the long term, the internet is a beautiful thing. Information flows too freely for one player to dominate an information market while also treating its partners and/or customers badly.

    The long-term scenario of Amazon taking over the world and then powering up the Death Star is that a zillion small ebookstores spring up, each with some kind of unique hook into facebook or Twitter or Google+ or book blogs or whatever, and all using an open format that transfers easily. That’s probably the fate of all super-successful retailers, though who knows what the timeline will be for Amazon.

    The problem is that Amazon will have to go through a dark phase, and suffering has to be the catalyst for change. Knowing that things will change eventually isn’t much consolation when you’re living through the bad part. It will come, so we’d all better be getting ready (financially).

  33. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Hugh. This actually isn’t what I expected at all from this article, heh. Figured it would be an anti-exclusivity post.

    I’ve never been in KDP Select, and I suppose I’ve missed out on a lot of the opportunities, but I started publishing before it was a thing, and I already had readers on the other platforms. I didn’t want to suddenly start publishing only on Amazon, especially since I was working on a series and had people loyally following along with it. But I’ll agree that sales haven’t been that perky these last couple of months, especially on the older stuff, and it is occurring to me that with the series now complete, it probably wouldn’t offend many people if I stuck it in KDP for 90 or 180 days to try it out.

    I do think that for the program to not utterly gouge Amazon that borrows are going to have to drop to closer to 50 cents (who but prolific readers would pay that $10 a month? I can’t believe those people aren’t borrowing 10-20 titles *at least* a month, with some probably trying more and abandoning them past the 10% mark)), so I wonder at how profitable this particular program will be for authors in the long run. I’m a little “meh” on their bonuses, too, since they’re less than what I make on the other platforms in any given month, but it’s hard to pass up the chance for more visibility on Amazon. Something to think about anyway. ;)

    1. I should add that the bonus I was “meh” about was the one the Kboards author mentioned. I do not, alas, make $25,000 a month through Smashwords. :P

    2. Who but prolific readers would pay that $10 a month?

      I did. And I don’t read 10-20 per month. To date, I am a few bucks ahead when borrowing vs buying. If the book I am looking for is available on KU, I hit the KU button. If it isn’t, I hit the buy button. I don’t look for KU books. I don’t even know how. I simply hit the KU button if I am on a book I intend to buy.

  34. Never has this argument been closer to the forefront of my mind.

    When I first published, I published everywhere. I put my first little book in as many places as I could because it seemed like the right thing to do. A few months later, when there were very few sales to speak off I came across Select thanks to Kboards. I thought, why not? I pulled the titles from everywhere else, signed up, had a giveaway, and then sold 400 books in a few days. From that point on for me, it was a no-brainer.

    Since then I have had differing degrees of success, and whilst free comes with it’s own set of problems (curse the 1 star reviewers who chose to read a ‘disturbing psychological thriller’) the free giveaways are still the thing, especially combined with advertising like bookbub, that make the difference to my monthly sales. By about 1000%

    I have just released book one in a new sci-fi series, and in my effort to make that free, I loaded it up with SW, and am trying to get the Zon to price match it. Only yesterday I had decided that I would make the rest of the series available everywhere, but then I read this post it makes me consider my own results with a bit more clarity. That makes exclusivity look a bit more attractive that my first superficial thoughts.

    Ultimately, I (and I assume most writers) want a wider readership. Amazon offers that. Especially the more I sell. I agree with Milton above. At the end of the day the decision is not final, because whatever happens, I own my rights.

  35. As a low-midlister, I’m going to have to say that this does not map to my experiences at all. When I started in 2012 I went exclusive with Amazon for a few titles, and I still do now and again. At most, I’ll get 1-2 borrows a month, either through Select or Unlimited. It isn’t a factor for me, and it never has been.

    However, back in mid-late 2012, when I stopped going exclusive, my BN income met and even exceeded my Amazon sales. It’s dropped since then. A lot. A frightening amount. But my Apple and Kobo earnings have risen a great deal to almost match what I’d lost.

    Would I go exclusive again? No. I don’t have the safety net for it. This is my sole income, and I don’t have the margin to risk half of it because I might start getting borrows. I’m not risk averse by nature… I’m just too poor to take chances.

  36. “This has always been a controversial and unpopular move. The #1 decision many authors face today is not whether to go traditional or self, but whether to go KDP Select or not.” –

    Hugh, I’ve been a consistent critic of exclusivity for a long long time, but this is the first even-spoken, well-addressed post explaining how and why it can work in a competitive environment. Thank you.

    Also, for me, digitally, I’ve felt subscription programs were my choice of vehicle. I believe in them as a customer and as a content provider. They’ve proven their value to me via Netflix and even particular cable TV program options.

    So my real question, since early this year, has really been about Scribd and now, more recently, KU.

    I do think, as a reader, that both Scribd and Kindle Unlimited offer complimentary reading material programs. I can benefit, again as a reader, from both.

    What I hadn’t gone through in my mind before though, at least well enough to make a difference, was your reminder and reasoning about how each venue is really pretty much available on any device anywhere. Using your analogy about a person with a big publisher, if they are signed with one, they aren’t worried about not being also signed with a competitor.

    And regarding ownership of one’s IP, well that’s one I’ve been hard-wired about since the early 80s when I had an unfortunate turn because I hadn’t registered my work with the LOC. So I’ve never been tempted to give anything like that up. In the 90s, I even turned down a contract from a well known (not top tier) card company for my wife and I’s poetry, because of the IP terms. We’ve continued selling our work ourselves since :-)

    Anyway. I feel this is the best article I’ve read from you that speaks to me as well as it does, particularly regarding exclusivity.

    I appreciate your honesty regarding the limited time for you and other well known writers to be able to choose. And hearing of your sales history via other channels the last two years.

    It helps me hear you a little better, thank you (smiles).

    1. I think the big question is if this is really a competitive environment or not.

      For Tablet readers (where they can have all the different app installed), it may be close to one, but the network effect makes even this questionable (people are going to look at buying a book from the app they are in at the time, which makes it more likely they are going to be in that app to buy more…)

      But for e-readers, it’s not competitive. While you can side-load books (and I am one of the fairly rare people who do), it’s not common. e-readers are pretty much locked into one store.

      I really wish there was more competition, but I think true competition would require the stores being opened to more readers (apps and hardware) so that you could read/purchase books in one app (or one one e-reader) from multiple stores.

      1. David, I didn’t even realize I’d gotten a reply, sorry ’bout that. I think the counter argument, which I also have trouble with, is that exclusivity-tied benefits “are” a competitive maneuver against other ebook stores. The point where competitiveness becomes anti-competitive (anti-capitalistic) though, has been blurred in our current big media big-corp environment. Think gasoline etc.

        Meanwhile, while it’s true the Kindle app is available on iPhones etc, Scribd is also available on Kindle Fires etc.

        The biggest thing keeping Scribd from making more noise in the marketplace vs Kindle Unlimited, I’ve become convinced, is their glacier slow reporting via Smashwords. And I’ve word from folk with Scribd that the actual data is known to them (Scribd) the moment it happens.

        And the kind of feedback Amazon provides to authors, in terms of when sales happen, is huge.

        If Scribd could release their data to writers the same way, along with the detailed reader info they already present (dates and percents read), that would be very powerful.

        But I’m also wondering, with Apple’s purchase of BookLamp, and it’s ability to refer readers to work they would like, not to generically similar work that’s already selling well (thus reinforcing the status quo) is Apple isn’t getting ready to bring out its own subscription program. Especially with iBook being included on all the new iPhone operating systems.

        Vincent, in the comments above (September 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm) also has some important points, and I hope Hugh gets around to responding to him.

        Also wish there was a way to sign up for updates on the comment thread (or maybe I just missed that).

        Anyway, interesting times David, thanks!

        1. As long as Apple limits the reach of it’s stores to only people who buy Apple hardware, they will remain a niche player (a large one, but still a niche), and not really threaten Amazon.

  37. […] Hugh Howey wrote a great post about wrestling with exclusivity, and Wayne Stinnett wrote a passionate post on Kboards about how well it worked for him. […]

  38. I typically earn about 67% of my revenue from Amazon.

    In September, so far, that figure is 58%. I’m seeing great numbers from Apple and Kobo right now. BN is dropping, but still relatively strong.

    I have 20% of my book catalog in Select. Those books are underperforming the other 80%.

    I’ll balance having some books in Select with having most in wide distribution, but I make far too much from Apple, Kobo, and BN right now to justify being 100% in Select.

    If my revenue distribution skewed toward 80%+ from Amazon, I’d rethink it.

  39. This post raises some interesting points, but I would suggest that it does not need to be framed as an either/or question for any author with more than one book for sale. Obviously, you can choose to have some books in Select and some books on the other outlets simultaneously. This could be the “best of both worlds” with opportunities for visibility in both the Amazon ecosystem and the other ebook outlets.

    My wife and I have about 25 nonfiction spiritual titles, and right now we are splitting them about 60/40 Amazon exclusive/all outlets. The balance might shift as we see more results, but it does cover more of the bases to at least have some presence on the iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster and B&N stores. So far, our aggregated sales on Smashwords from the other stores have stayed pretty steady since we switched 60% of our titles to Select two months ago, so it seems readers on those stores are just being focused onto the titles that are still available. This way, we can also still offer permafree on a few titles which has always been a key element in our success, as well as being something we love doing for its own sake. It just feels good to give something away for free.

    I also wish that Amazon would spread the bonuses deeper and wider. Instead of focusing the money on the top 100, why not focus it on the top 1000? If they want to inspire authors to be exclusive and to promote their Amazon titles, then why not enlist 1000 authors instead of just 100? Yes, the bonuses would need to be much smaller, but even a $100 bonus would get my attention and make me feel more inspired about pushing sales on Amazon.

    1. Along these lines, can anyone on here confirm if it is OK to have a collection of your books non-exclusive while the individual titles are in Select? In other words, if you have a series of three books that are all in KDP Select, and then you also offer them non-exclusively as a combined edition, does that violate the exclusivity requirement for the three individual titles? Or is a collection considered a completely different work?

      If it is allowed, this is another way to cover all of the bases.

      1. That’s a violation, unfortunately.

        1. I did just read on the Kindle boards that you can publish a collection of individual books that are all in Select on KDP, but simply choose not to put it the collection in Select also. The only restriction is that you cannot publish the collection on any other ebookstore. The advantage of doing this is that if the collection is also in Select, then a borrow will only count as one book borrowed. If someone is already reading the books for free on KU, then you might as well get credited for a borrow for each individual book.

          So again, it is OK to publish the collection on KDP without putting the collection into Select, as long as you do not publish the collection anywhere else.

  40. My library has a “local authors” promotion. If I have ebooks in Select, can they also be lent by my library?

    1. I “think” only if it’s physical copies your library is dealing with.

      Digital copies, as per responses I’ve read on other blogs, would not be allowed.

      That’s another big sticking point for me re exclusivity (if true), being unable to contribute to the community via libraries.

      Of course that would be even more of an issue of libraries could find my titles via OverDrive :-)

      1. Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it.

  41. Many thanks for the insights. Seems like a good thing at the moment, and they have solid business reasons for doing this (crush the competition)–but I am inherently suspicious of exclusivity. Will 90-days become a year, or more? What happens to sales when they shut down the affiliate system for entire states (as they did for CA some time ago), or remove the download buttons from their website (as B&N did today), or tick off too many readers with explanation-free whole-library wipes? (Readers don’t own copies of our ebooks; they lease them from amazon; if ever there were an indication of troubling mindset, this is it…) Amazon seems fabulous in many respects, and I am a fan–but once there’s no competition, how long will that last? How long does it ever? Just sayin’…

  42. I am looking closely at the whole KU thing, and have actually put a few books up on Kobo just to test the waters (these were books that weren’t among my best sellers on Amazon, so it really wasn’t much of a risk). I looked at my earnings reports for August and found that my number of borrows through the two programs had doubled over my better months, and I made about $850.00 on a approximately $1.50 a book. This is in a month when my total income through Amazon and Createspace will be about $16,000, so it was a nice extra chunk, but not Earth shattering. I released a new book in August in my Exodus: Empires at War series, which shot up to number 1 in Space Opera in the UK and in the top five in the US (Amazon of course). I did not put it in select, with the thought that I wanted people to buy it first. It has sold about 4,600 copies in a little less than a month. Some fan actually sent me an email thanking me for having my books on KU, then asking why book 7 of that series wasn’t. I thought my best strategy was to put it out for sale for two months, then swing it into KDP select to pick up those borrows. Just another experiment, but one I can afford at this time. As for the bonus program, right now it really doesn’t affect my planning at all. If it happens, cool, but, even though I am well read and well paid at the moment, I have never gotten too far below number 400 to harbor any hopes at bonus money. Maybe someday, but not this day. Thanks for the informative article though. I really don’t think Amazon will become the monolith that turns around and slaps down authors. It’s too easy for someone with some money to start up a competitor and use Amazon’s practices against it, such as offering 70% royalties if Amazon drops theirs to let’s say, 40%. Remember, at one time Montgomery Ward was the big dog, to be surpassed by Sears and Penny’s, who were almost buried by Kmart, which was steamrolled by Walmart. And someday their day will also come. Monopolies that aren’t mandated monopolies (such as the power company) don’t really work. Even the cable companies face competition in what used to be their monopolies by a number of satellite providers.

    1. Good points–but how does Walmart treat those it pays? Guess we’ll see what we see, For now, things are good. Thanks for the stats–always helpful!

      1. What I was saying was, if Amazon decided to cut author royalties in half, someone else will come along, start a company, and offer writers 70%. Most of the bigger sellers would jump ship as soon as their 90 days are up. Walmart, on the other hand, could lose every single employee to a new company, and there are still enough unemployed for them to rebuild their workforce. But if someone comes up with a better model than Walmart they will rise to number one.

        1. Point taken, though 35% from amazon may be more than any competitor offering 70%, for a while at least. Now, lower-tier Big 5 authors as Walmart employees, there’s a thought… Walpub?

        2. Doug, I think Amazon’s goal was to pioneer the eBook market & get a stranglehold on it, which it has already done. It used self published authors to do this in the early days. I think Amazon promised people FREE & dirt cheap ebooks in an effort to get people to but the Kindles. People did. Now Amazon doesn’t really need SP authors like it did in the beginning. I mean, this is just my opinion & take on things as I see it.

      2. How does Walmart treat people it pays? It doesn’t matter what we think. We can probably get a good indication by observing how many of them keep coming back to Walmart. t

        1. Terrence, it’s not a good indication. A lot of people who work for Walmart don’t have the skills to really go elsewhere, you know? A bad job is better than no job to a lot of people, if that be the case.

  43. I’m an anomaly when it comes to Amazon.

    I get far more sales from Kobo and Apple than I ever have from Amazon (about 6-1 and 3-1 respectively). In fairness, I don’t sell thousands of books like you or other luminaries in the field, but I feel I’m doing okay for someone just starting out.

    I’ve wondered several times if the difference in sales is due to the stories I write (based in Canada instead of the US or UK) or due to the fact that many services American/British authors can use are unavailable to me, or if I don’t have enough titles out there (I don’t), or for some other reason entirely.

    I do like Amazon for a lot of reasons, especially how easy it is to publish through KDP (no Meatgrinder), but some of their terms (like payments and tax withholding) are terrible if you don’t reside in the States. Things like payout thresholds for non-Americans are 10 times higher than they are for Americans ($100 instead of $10). Amazon is more than willing to sell my books, but paying me for them, well, for a long time that was another story indeed.

    I’ve contemplated writing stories just for Select, but every time I go to publish and see how well I’m doing on Kobo compared to Amazon and I decide against it.

    If they want me to ever go exclusive, they need to level the playing field for everyone in KDP, not just Americans and Brits.

  44. “When an author only publishes with Harper Collins, she doesn’t worry that Penguin Random House will go out of business.”

    She — or he — should. Being part of the publishing industry for more than 25 years, I witnessed a tremendous decrease in outlets for authors in traditional publishing. The result has been less competition for authors/their works, resulting in lower incomes for many, many, many authors. (Although, of course, a few individuals have benefited greatly in trad.)

    Indie publishing’s rise broke traditional’s exclusivity, giving authors many more opportunities. I don’t see exclusivity suddenly becoming authors’ friend (though it might be the friend of some individual authors.)

  45. And yet at the same time that they are trying to gain exclusivity from authors, after I’ve sold 150,000 books in the last two years, and have been a very vocal enthusiast about going exclusive with Select, I get kicked out of the program because someone random posts an 8 page excerpt from one of my books on Google Play and puts a price on it (the second time this has happened so the KDP email labelled me a repeat offender – like, a criminal?).
    I got one curt email from KDP. No time to fix the issue. All of my books removed from the program the next day.
    I sent several emails explaining the situation, and all I got back is template replies about how it’s my fault it happened and that I was a repeat offender (Yes, twice someone pirated my books).
    I’ve sent some emails since, asking what my status is if it happens again. Do I risk having my account closed? Template replies and no answers.
    So basically I’m publishing wide because I can’t risk going exclusive with them. I still have books in select – but they are ones published by other people.
    I still think KDP Select was the best thing I ever did, and wish that I could commit to it again. I just can’t trust them (and feel stupid that I ever did).

    1. Obviously not a common situation (one would hope), but this is one of the dangers of monopoly: what happens when this happens, or an author is booted from amazon entirely (both likely by a machine and not a person)–and there are no other big distribution options?

      Btw–you say an 8-page excerpt; how long is the entire work? I ask because I wonder if this could happen because someone posts (as I do) the first few chapters of their book on their own website? That’s more than 8 pages, but not a huge portion of the whole…

  46. Very interesting read. But one thing you can’t get through exclusivity is “permafree”. For authors with a need to grow their reading base, permafree is still a powerful tool.

    Also: I’m a different “john monk” than the previous poster. I wonder if I’m the evil Monk or the Good monk? :)

  47. […] Kind of. Almost all of my sales come from Amazon already, so I might be giving up five or ten percent by going Amazon exclusive. My bet is that the perks of Kindle Select more than make up for that loss. Hugh Howey, author of Wool, has been experimenting with this for a couple of months, and he’s found that the sales jump on Amazon easily overcomes the loss of other outlets. […]

  48. Very interesting analysis. I used to be everywhere but was getting virtually no traction anywhere but Amazon. About a year ago I moved everything into KDP Select. My sales are not consistent yet, but I’ve definitely benefited from the marketing features and the borrowing aspects. I recently packaged three books together and used a Bookbub ad and along with a Kindle Countdown deal and garnered thousands of sales in a month. In the next year I’m going to publish two series, releasing them almost simultaneously, and I feel Amazon’s exclusive programs offer me the best chance for exposure and sales. Also, from an administrative standpoint it’s a lot easier for an Indie dealing with only one vendor/publisher.As you say any reader can read any Amazon book on any device so exclusivity is a bit of a myth, something that is hardly ever mentioned.

  49. Thanks for posting this Hugh. I just released a new book and was on the fence on whether or not to join KDP Select again. My previous experience with KDP Select made me decide to pull out of the program completely, but now I’m reconsidering. Maybe I’ll give it another go.

  50. I am all for other people going exclusive. That means less competition on other retailer sites and more money for me!

    B&N may be in a death spiral thanks to not allowing side-loading any more, but Kobo is not. (Hi, Canada!) While Apple seems like it could care less about its iBooks platform, it seems unlikely that the one thing they’ve gone to court with the feds over (and lost) is a platform they’re going to dump in the middle of a desperate grab for tablet and phone market share — Android devices outnumber Apple ones everywhere else but in the U.S. [This was in the news yesterday because of the data protection move they just made to sell themselves as better than Google at privacy. Only tech experts know the end result for privacy is “meh” and the big shift will be in law enforcement procedures, but going off-topic here. The point is they want to woo consumers beyond already hooked Americans, and if global market share is important to Apple, it should be to everyone else, too, because you would think they could do just fine inside U.S. borders and they obviously don’t think this is enough.]

    Also, if you’re a genre writer, some of your fans are used to buying on multiple sites (think Baen for sci-fi and AllRomanceEbooks and several others for rom readers), and exclusivity will piss some of them off. A lot. This really goes double for romance readers.

    Just food for thought.

  51. We might remember that more competition for Amazon would put downward pressure on retail prices, and downward pressure on wholesale prices. The competition would not be limited in its effect to what independent authors want. The market doesn’t care what they want.

  52. […] first saw a post by Hugh Howey discussing the potential cost versus befits of going exclusive with Amazon a few days ago. I was thinking of saying something about it, but it kind of takes on added […]

  53. Interesting article. Like Lindsay, I too thought you’d argue for non-exclusive. I’m really torn about this, personally. As a mid-list author who generally pulls in anywhere from 8-15k a month in royalties (sometimes in upwards of 20-30k), these last few months have been awful for me. My royalties have been halved, even after going all in with almost all of my series for KDP Select. I’ve since pulled most of my series because I honestly can’t afford to be in it if my sales are this low. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I know I’m not the only one who has seen sales significantly decline. Only for me, the borrows and KU didn’t make up for it. It helped a bit, but it did not significantly contribute to royalties meaningfully enough.

    That doesn’t mean I won’t give it another try once things stabilize. I’m just trying to figure out what happened and get back to where I’ve been for the last few years.

    I am attracted to what Amazon is further offering for KDP Select members and your arguments about pooling sales and exposure into one place make a lot of sense. It’s something to consider and I’ll be thinking more about it. Thanks for your insights.

  54. […] good news is that publishing is changing almost as fast as I am. Indie author Hugh Howey recently wrote a post about the advantages of being exclusive to Amazon, when the dominant way of thinking for the past […]

  55. […] recently read an article by Hugh Howey wherein he discussed his considerations around going all-in with Amazon. I won’t go into […]

  56. I just want to make a comment about Amazon’s KDP/KU “90-day” rule. When you “unpublish” a book from other distributors in preparation for being exclusive to Amazon, there’s a long lag time for the other distributors to “unpublish” the book or books, and if it’s not done by the time you enroll in KDP/KU, you’re likely to get a nastygram from Amazon telling you that you’re in violation and in danger of having your book pulled. I learned this firsthand when one of my books somehow turned up on Flipkart in India, and Amazon not only pulled that book, because it was in violation, but pulled thirteen more of my books that were in KDP/KU and not in violation. So, I had to first find out how my book got onto Flipkart, then notify them, and then Amazon agreed to reinstate all of my books. I also lost my 90-day advantage when re-enrolling because that started me at square-one again. So just be aware that, when switching on an off the 90-day KDP/KU track, Amazon can slap on violations and pull your books at their discretion.

    1. Does that sound incredibly high-handed and arrogant to anyone else, or is it just me? Reminds me of PayPal–ready, fire, aim–except you were actually able to correct the problem…

  57. I have been experimenting for the past two years as well. For me, a series that begins with a permanently free title is my best seller, and a substantial portion of the revenue comes from Apple (a little more than 30%), with Apple in England and Australia selling just as well as Apple America.

    For standalone titles, Select works better. But I’m not anywhere near a point yet where it makes sense for me to leave the other retailers out on my series. And, while KU is the most recent big change in this market, we have another big one on the horizon. iBooks is coming standard on iOS 8, pre-installed from the get-go. Although Amazon has the US market on lockdown, and the US market was the first to go all-in on ebooks, the UK and Australia are coming along, and in those markets, my sales suggest that Apple is at least on equal footing with Amazon.

  58. These are all case studies. “This works for me, therefore I will do this.”
    That’s okay, since all we have are case studies, but it just goes to show that one size doesn’t fit all author-publishers.
    I had a good ride with Amazon in 2012. 73% of my income came from them, followed by 12% from articles in the Medical Post. The rest came from Smashwords, print books, short stories, and Access Copyright (I’m Canadian).
    I haven’t been so meticulous about analyzing my income splitting since then, but I rode the Zon pretty well 2012-early 2013, and since then, my Amazon income has dropped precipitously (hardly ever do Select, etc.), and for me, for 2014, Kobo out-earns everything.
    I’m an outlier because Kobo has supported me in particular (briefly hit the Kobo bestseller list in March, and am now the centre of the Going Going Gone contest where, in the next two weeks, a reader can win $5000 and a Kobo H2O Aura–thanks, guys!).
    But I wouldn’t have those opportunities if I’d gone exclusively with Amazon. Obviously.
    I read the argument that you’ll reach more readers with Amazon, and a million readers in Texas are just as valuable as a million readers around the world.
    I see that right now, bestsellers will make more money going exclusive with Amazon.
    For me, though, every day I have to look myself in the eye and say, “Did I do the right thing?” (This applies to writing, medicine, and motherhood, all areas where the right thing is not cast in stone.) And when I ask my conscience, it tells me that I want to reach readers around the globe, not on one platform, even if going exclusive would make me an instant millionaire. Money is not everything to me. Never has been, never will be. Writing good stories, reaching smart readers, trying to preserve the earth…all more important to me.
    And I freely admit that I am far more loyal to Kobo than your average entrepreneur. I have walked in their office, shaken their hands, and seen for myself that they love books. They’re not just selling everything they can as cheaply as possible. Kobo values readers and writers. They adore good stories. I want them to survive and thrive.
    I am also possibly in the minority because I would rather work my day job than write things I don’t want to, or sell my writing in a way that makes me uncomfortable.
    I’m not trying to judge anyone. Your mileage *will* vary. It’s dangerous to say, “This works for X, therefore it will work for me.”
    It’s all an experiment.
    “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
    And every single one of them is right!”–Rudyard Kipling

  59. You do realize that you are breaking Amazon’s exclusivity agreement by selling content on this website don’t you? It states specifically in the agreement that you cannot sell exclusive content anywhere else, *including your own website*. You are a competitor to Amazon yourself, and as such you cannot legally sell your own books under the contract terms. I know from personal experience that Amazon will cancel your contract and withhold funds should they discover you are breaking those terms. You may have a different deal with them since you seem to get special treatment, but the rest of us must abide by the terms stipulated, or choose not to sign up.

  60. […] few days ago, I stumbled across a post by Hugh Howey on exclusivity with Amazon. It made me think–a […]

  61. […] other is Hugh Howey’s very public rumination about whether to go exclusive with Amazon or not, in which Howey wonders out loud whether he […]

  62. […] outro é a ruminação em público de Hugh Howey sobre se ele deveria aceitar a exclusividade com a Amazon, na qual Howey se pergunta em voz alta se […]

  63. […] Howey, in an article on his site entitled, Ruminations on Exclusivity, laid out the most reasoned line of thoughts I’ve come across yet, why being exclusive on […]

  64. […] My 2nd book (The Remnants) is a bit different. It is $2.99 so I’m making around $2.07 for every purchase.  So every time the book is borrowed I actually get less than I would had it been purchased. But at the same time I’m getting the book into people’s hands while still making $.  As Brian pointed out Hugh Howey recently posted about this dilemma […]

  65. Just a heads-up on recent Amazon practices—which are beginning to sound an awful lot like the Big 5…

    Japan’s Asahi Shimbun is apparently reporting that Amazon Japan’s “new system gives higher rankings to publishers that pay higher fees to Amazon Japan and to publishers with larger eBook catalogs… Additionally, eBooks from publishers ranked higher are given more prominence on the website.” (

    Also, Amazon is now planning a crowdsourcing program intended to acquire all ebook and audio rights for at least 5 years, upon payment of a $1500 advance, while paying a 50% royalty on NET ebook revenue. They will then give the books away/put them in library. (

    Food for thought. (Both stories found at The Digital Reader)

  66. Thanks for the article, Hugh; it couldn’t be more timely. I initiated a long thread today on The Writers Retreat today about this very subject and received some very — how should I say — focused opinions on the topic of KU and diversification.

    Let me say, I was fortunate enough to be #94 last month and received a nice $1,000 bonus for my KU/combined sales. This made up for the drop from $1.81 to $1.54. (Probably won’t make it again this month.) But, Hugh, I’m of the same mind as you. I have found a lot of success in Select and KU. I’ve been out of the other venues for going on a year now, and I never found any traction outside of Amazon. So how IS diversification helping reach new customers? Do people really shop exclusively at only one online bookstore? I love your comment about how our books can now be read on just about anything with a screen — even my TV! I know that for just about everything I buy online now, I go to Amazon, if only to check price. If they ain’t got, then it probably doesn’t exist. I’m sure it’s the same with books.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but for now, it looks like I’m staying in Select and KU. And thanks again for your post.

  67. Oh, and one other compliment. Your statement about consolidating all sales into one venue for rankings and visibility is priceless. If those advocating diversification could bundle their combined sales into one venue, I’m sure they’d see a dramatic rise in ranking. That’s nothing to be dismissed lightly. Great point, and one I’d not thought of before.

  68. Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s
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  69. […] out that my decision to not limit my leadership limited my readership! Here is a recent quote from Hugh Howey’s blog (one of those authors with whom I stood shoulder to shoulder in 2011 […]

  70. […] Hugh Howey had laid out some compelling reasons in his post, Ruminations on Exclusivity. […]

  71. […] the Smashwords Guide to Ebook Success at first convinced me not to do it. Hugh Howey’s blog post made me see that there was an equally logical counter-argument. My decision to try it for the […]

  72. […] Hugh Howey perhaps the exception. Howey left KDP Select back in 2012, but in September of this year was saying going all-in with Amazon was his inclination. (LINK) […]

  73. […] copies a day. Joanna Penn–Mostly just because Joanna Penn is a lady worth listening to. Hugh Howey–Because Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey’s first WOOL story is a post-apocalyptic dystopian […]

  74. […] Hugh Howey said it pretty well in his epic post Ruminations on Exclusivity. […]

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