Going wide and being selectively exclusive is definitely the safest way to a sustainable and scalable author business. But is it the same for fiction and nonfiction? And what is the best approach at different points of an author business?
Boni (sitting in for Orna) and Adam discuss going direct to retailers or using aggregators — what are the pros and cons of each, which are worth the effort of going direct, and are there differences between fiction and nonfiction?
Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by Izzard Ink Publishing, where self-publishing is no longer publishing by yourself.
Here are some highlights:
Adam Croft on Audiobooks
And I'm finding now that Audible is maybe my third biggest audio platform. You know, it's not my biggest audio income anymore. There are there are other vendors out there and other markets that are are bigger than Audible in terms of the number of sales that you get. It's not necessarily that they've got more customers, but I think they are, perhaps, more voracious listeners.
Boni Wagner-Stafford, on What ‘Wide' Means
So your books would be on Amazon but you would also have them distributed by, for example, IngramSpark and you would choose, you know, all of the territories so that potential readers anywhere, at any retailer have an opportunity to find your book. That's the notion behind wide.
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About the Hosts
With almost two million books sold to date, Adam Croft is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world and one of the biggest selling authors of the past few years, having sold books in over 120 different countries. In February 2017, Only The Truth became a worldwide bestseller, reaching storewide number one at both Amazon US and Amazon UK, making it the bestselling book in the world at that moment in time. The same day, Amazon’s overall Author Rankings placed Adam as the world’s most widely read author, with J.K. Rowling in second place. In March 2018, Adam was conferred as an Honorary Doctor of Arts, the highest academic qualification in the UK, by the University of Bedfordshire in recognition of his services to literature. Visit his website, The Indie Author Mindset, or find him on Twitter.
Boni Wagner-Stafford is a nonfiction author coach, writer, ghostwriter, and developmental editor. Since 2015, she has helped other authors publish memoir, anthology, how-to and journalistic nonfiction titles. She also miraculously managed to cross the line with a couple of her own titles, with the requisite gazillion half finished. She’s an award-winning former television reporter, talk show host, and news anchor who later led public-sector teams in media relations, issues management, and strategic communications planning, then muddying her hands as a creative entrepreneur. Visit her Ingenium Books website, find her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Read the Transcript
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Hello and welcome to the October edition of the Fiction and Nonfiction Self Publishing Salon. I'm Bonnie Wagner-Stafford and with me is Adam Croft. You'll notice that Orna is not here today. She sends her apologies. She's doing something quite fun, though. She is at the Amazon Storyteller Awards this evening. She's one of the judges.
And if you don't know very much about the Amazon Storyteller Awards, I didn't know very much about it, it is apparently open to all and this year has a cash prize of 20,000, includes marketing on the Amazon store and includes a film option deal. So, obviously, the awards are tonight so it's too late to try to enter for this year but it is open to writers in the language of English around the world and the submission window is late spring, early summer. So you can think about your title and get ready to submit next year. So Adam, it's you and me today.
Adam Croft: It is.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: It is. Yeah. And I have one other piece of news and housekeeping before we get right into our topic today, and that is that we are happy to announce that we have a new sponsor for the Fiction Nonfiction Self Publishing Salon, and that is Izzard Ink Publishing, where self publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. So you can find out more about Izzard Ink on the web page for this podcast and this live broadcast rather, once it's a podcast, and we have it published on the ALLi blog there will be links and some more information but welcome to Izzard, and we very much appreciate your support.
So today we're talking about wide versus exclusive, what they are and whether there's any difference in approach whether you're publishing fiction or nonfiction. Maybe to kick us off, Adam, can you do a quick explainer on what we mean by wide and what we mean by exclusive?
Adam Croft: I can, yeah. I mean, these terms refer only to ebooks. That's probably the best thing to say at first. It mainly refers to Amazon and Kindle Unlimited or KDP select program to be more accurate, which allows you to have your books in the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program where some readers will pay I think $10 a month roughly, and they get access to borrow books and download those free of charge within that and authors get paid per page read, which is a great idea.
But the downside to that, as I see it, is that they demand exclusivity and that you can't have your ebooks over available elsewhere. Being wide means that you have your books on Amazon, but they're not enrolled in KDP Select, not available through the Kindle Unlimited lending library. And you can therefore have your books available for sale with other vendors around the world as well. And not just exclusive to Amazon.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: So you have an opinion that you you just started to talk about there. Can you tell us a little bit about why you don't think it's a good idea to go into KDP Select?
Adam Croft: I mean, even in defining the terminology there, I still couldn't help myself, you're right. I think a lot of people see being in KU as having the option of people buying your books, and you're serving yourself up to an additional market of borrowers. That's not strictly true going by the experimentation that I've done. For me, it's the exclusivity that is the issue. There's a big wide world out there that is not the UK and is not the US. And for me, that's where I'm seeing a lot of the growth in these international markets. I mean, for example, through Kobo alone, I sold books in 120 different countries in the English language alone, so this is not including translations. This is just where my English language books are sold.
That's just not possible through Amazon, they just don't operate in that many countries for a start and in some really huge, huge countries and big markets and big territories around the world, Amazon, aren't dominant. They're only really the dominant player in the UK in the US. Of course, in this industry, we are quite UK/US dominant in terms of our outlook in the way that we look at things. And also in terms of where the authors come from, and it seems to be centered around this Amazon UK/US thing but 95% of the world Don't live in those countries and don't have Amazon dominance and, you know, it's just not a thing elsewhere.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: I often get the question from people, you know, what's the advantage of being an Amazon KDP? What is Amazon and KDP offering me to make it of interest to entice us to sign that exclusivity deal?
Adam Croft: Well, a lot of people claim that the reason is money. And yeah, that's true, you can, in some genres in the short term, if you're not willing to, or not able to put in the effort to market wide in those territories, which is more difficult, but the spoils are greater, so it can be easier with lesser efforts to make more money being in KU. Now to say the world's getting bigger in the foreign markets, the ones that are growing the most, and I've seen growth on vendors outside of Amazon being faster and bigger and more aggressive than the growth on Amazon.
So the non-US/UK markets, the ones which are growing the biggest and I barely advertise in the UK and US anymore because it's just becoming saturated and there's more to pick up elsewhere. A couple of years ago it was very US/UK heavy, but it doesn't seem to be the case anymore. So I, personally, don't think it makes good business sense to be exclusive.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah, we're going to talk some more about that in just a moment. I need to let people know I'm in Mexico, Adam's in the UK and we've had some storms here the last couple of days and the internet connection is a little bit iffy. So I apologize if you're getting a broken signal, but it's part of the nature of being a global organization with people all over the place. We have to kind of adapt to their internet strength. I did want to just talk briefly about a little poll we did on the ALLI private author member forum.
Orna put a post up a couple of weeks ago asking for, you know, one of those polls you can do on Facebook, who was wide, who was exclusive, who was a combo and it was kind of interesting. You know, it wasn't a huge poll, we had a couple hundred, 300 people or something, but 40% of respondents were wide, 29% said they were a combo and 27% were Kindle Unlimited only. I thought those were kind of interesting numbers since ALLi's recommendation is to go wide and not to go exclusive.
And, you know, ALLi is a broad church and whatever anybody feels is best for their author business, obviously is fine, but the advice from ALLi is to go wide and Alex just has a question and we're just going right now, Alex, which is “What's the alternative to Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Alex, you just missed Adam talking about Kindle Unlimited is KDP Selects, Amazon KDP where you would put your ebook with Amazon and agree not to sell it anywhere else.
So that's the exclusivity part of it. And then your book would go into what's called the Kindle Unlimited program where people can read the book for free. Now, they're paying a monthly fee to be part of Kindle Unlimited and then you would get paid for page reads not book sales. So that's a quick explanation again of what that is. So back to those numbers and the breakdown, Adam, of what our members seem to be doing 40% going wide, 27% with Kindle Unlimited so it's kind of interesting. I know you've done some additional number crunching.
Adam Croft: I have, yeah, it's quite interesting actually that nearly three quarters of authors who responded to that were either wide, partially or mostly wide-
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Or a combo.
Adam Croft: So in some form, they are pro wide it seems. But it did lead me to do some more number crunching as I am want to do and with the help of Dr. Google, I looked up some information. It's going to be a bit number heavy, but bear with me. So I discovered that the US/UK market, which is essentially what we're talking about here when we're making these decisions, is only 5% of the world's population. Less than half of the world's population is even eligible to be in KU and to sign up for it as a buyer, because Kindle Unlimited operates in less than 7% of the countries that are actually on Earth.
Now there was an estimation in 2017 by a website, they approximated 3 million KU subscribers, which is not .4% of the world's population, even if KU is growing tenfold, that's 1,000% growth in two years, which it hasn't, then they still got less than half a percent of the world subscribed in KU. Almost about 90% of the world can read, which is a market of nearly 7 billion potential readers compared to 3 million KU readers. 20% of those people speak English, that's one and a half billion, which is 500 times more readers than are in KU.
Something else that's worth noting, which is often overlooked when talking about wide or KU is if they are two completely opposed things and there's no crossover at all, where it's not the case. A large percentage of my readers, because I survey them every year, a huge percentage actually do subscribe to KU because they are keen readers, but they still buy my books.
So leaving KU does mean you're leaving those readers behind, they will follow you and those who don't aren't worth having as readers anyway because they don't spend money on books. So there's not really a whole lot for it and having those guys around as it is. So it's not the case that coming out of KU means that you suddenly lose those readers. They will still buy your books if they are keen fans and keen readers of yours they'll buy them anyway, your books are still on Amazon.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah. We have a question from Julie Cordoner. Hi, Julie. She's saying that she's wide with her nonfiction, but she's seen hardly any sales on non-Amazon platforms and most of our sales are in print. So we were just discussing this just before the show, Adam that nonfiction sells more in print and audio than ebooks and fiction tends to sell more in ebooks. But she's interested in how we do the marketing for the wide platforms.
And I want to say that we're not ignoring your question, but we're going to have to come back to marketing on another show because we would be here for the next three weeks, but we will come back to it. I think it's a really good point and it does mean that you need to do some marketing a little bit differently and I know nothing about the Amazon algorithm, except that it exists and I have seen chatter on that Facebook forum about Amazon's algorithm favoring books that have signed that exclusivity agreement and that are in KU so that, you know, I don't know how they do it, but that your book has a chance of showing up higher in search results if you are, in fact, in KU. Adam, can you talk about that at all?
Adam Croft: Yeah, that does seem to be the case. Proving it is an issue, Amazon won't admit to it, largely because that would actually be illegal in many of the countries that they operate in. So there's not something that they're going to admit to for obvious reasons. But yeah, the indication is that it may well go on, to be honest, when I left KU four years ago, my sales certainly haven't dropped since, in fact, you know, that's when things really started taking off for me.
On Julie's point, though, for me, she talks about nonfiction, which of course, you know, we do focus on a fair bit on this show. She mentioned that most of her sales were from print, but she does sell ebooks. And that's an important thing to note that if you write nonfiction, certain types of nonfiction, especially, ebooks really are kind of a third rate thing for you anyway, because it's print and the audio that really make the money. So it's it's not a massive issue either way. But, I mean, what I would say is that it depends.
Sometimes your nonfiction could be tied to a particular territory, you might, we were talking before the show about, you know, if you're writing about applying for a mortgage in Canada, for example, that's really only applicable in Canada. So it does depend massively on that as well.
Also, point to note, is that nonfiction customers tend to expect a higher price point anyway, than fiction customers, the discounting thing isn't really there in nonfiction. They're willing to pay for that. So you'll probably find that most of your non fiction customers are perfectly used to paying and paying higher prices for their books. They're not looking for these books are being KU.
Having them in KU probably isn't going to benefit you in any way whatsoever. You're going to get less money per copy read, and those people would have bought them flat out anyway because, you know, non fiction isn't really a massive KU market. So I think you could end up doing yourself out of some royalties, at best and there's just really no need to be in KU there either. That would be my take on it.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah. Another question from Alex and apparently I'm breaking up a little bit. I'm sorry. But Alex missed the top of the show where we were talking about the difference between wide and exclusive. So I've explained exclusive with KDP Select. Wide, Alex, yes, is where you are not exclusive with one particular distributor but you sell your books via several distributors in more than one geographic territory.
So your books would be on Amazon but you would also have them distributed by, for example, IngramSpark and you would choose, you know, all of the territories so that potential readers anywhere, at any retailer have an opportunity to find your book. That's the notion behind wide. So, Adam, we know that we have some authors in some genres swear by KU, and it's not that there's anything wrong with that. But we also know that there are people who've reported that they rotate in and out of KU. Can you talk about why they might be interested in that and what your view is on it?
Adam Croft: Well, they're kind of attempts to try and game the system. I don't mean that in a bad way or derogatory way at all. I mean, it's a way of trying to get more from it and tickle algorithms and you know, that's essentially what we're all doing in some way or another. It's not something that I'd recommend going in and out of KU, or having a series first in KU and then come out. I don't think long term that's a great idea. It annoys readers.
It probably won't help with your ranking, certainly not in the long run. It's going to annoy Amazon and it's going to annoy other vendors, if they don't know from week to week whether you're going to have your books even for sale with them, then they're not going to prioritize you for promotional opportunities. A lot of the things they do are planned two or three months in advance. And if they don't know if your books are either going to be on their platform tomorrow, then you're not going to be considered for those promo opportunities and that kind of push that they'll be doing.
Working with the other vendors, it's very much a case of you get out what you put in. So, I don't think, you know, playing that sort of game, for me is something that, you know, readers are going to like, or the retailers are going to like and you know, we're all in this together. We're all trying to buy more books, sell more books, and generally do well at this so I don't think kind of annoying two thirds of that pie is really a great way to go about it.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: So the notion of going wide is often referred to as more of a long game if we think about, you know, longer term objectives or building an author business. Can you talk a little bit about that? I saw you taking water there and I'm gonna have to do the same. Excuse me.
Adam Croft: I'm desperately trying to stave off the cold that my son's been trying to give me a week. So he can keep it, frankly, I'm trying to hold on to myself. Yeah, in terms of the long term mindset that comes with being white, it really is a business thing, really. I mean, first of all, I mentioned earlier that the non-Amazon or Amazon minority territories are growing hugely, far more so than Amazon sales in the US and the UK, which is, frankly, saturated. And I mean, personally, I'm no fan of short term gold rushes, particularly if they're likely to harm authors or readers in the long run, which I think KU will. Restrictive clauses and exclusivity demands for me and I think, for most people, are not really conducive of long term business sense. Unless you're Jeff Bezos, of course-
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah.
Adam Croft: Who's getting something out of this. And frankly, the only reason Amazon can have for demanding that kind of exclusivity is their quite open and brazen aim of achieving monopoly in all areas, which is their business plan, they're quite open about that. And that's fine. But it's not something that's going to be good for our industry. It's not gonna be good for authors, it's not gonna be good for readers. And personally, I think from a business point of view, from an ethical, moral standpoint, and for the future of what we do, and you know, wanting a job in 10-20 years time, I think it's vital that we maintain a strong multi-vendor market for the future of our industry and for readers and authors or we just won't have jobs.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yep, all good points. It's like putting all your eggs in one basket and putting the blind folders on wWithout understanding that that means you're at the beck and call or you're at the whim of what Amazon does. that's to do with its business. It also means you're not developing any other skills. You're not learning what the pros and cons are, and the little, you know, idiosyncrasies of some of the other platforms, which is what I think I'd like to talk about now. In many ways, it's easier to go into KU because you just have one distributor, you just have one place to think about it, you just have AMs ads, you've got your keywords and metadata. And if you go wide, you got to learn how to interface with Ingram Spark. You've got to learn how to interface with Kobo and Apple and, you know, consider whether you're going to use an ebook aggregator and again, ALLi's recommendation is that you go direct to the other ebook retailers. But I think once you have the concept down, they're all asking you for the same information. They're all going to ask you for your sales copy. They're going to ask you for the title. They're going to ask you to upload your cover and your interior and they're going to ask you to fill out some meta data and those, you know, forms are a little bit different and the way they phrase the questions in IngramSpark's questions are a little bit different from Amazon's, but it's really the same information. Any tips there, Adam?
Adam Croft: Yeah, I mean, when it comes to Ingram Spark, I mean, they're kind of not really a part of this argument in the sense that everyone should be with them anyway, because you know, you shouldn't be in ebooks for IngramSparks but you should be using them for paperbacks and Amazon won't demand exclusivity over paperbacks. So, you know, it's well worth every author who has print books out there using Ingram Spark.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah, good point.
Adam Croft: When it comes to going direct or going to aggregators, I mean, I have no real firm view on this actually. I know, I know. I'm actually sitting on the fence about something. I mean, aggregators do make it somewhat simpler. But they take a cut as, you know, of course, they have to exist somehow. I'm a fan of the D2D, Draft to Digital. I'm also a fan of PublishDrive. I do use both, but I only use them for the smaller and overseas then as I go direct Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Google Play.
When you're working with aggregators, there are some aggregator-only promotional opportunities, which are available and the vendors have set up with those aggregators. But on the other hand, you can set up your own exclusive promos direct with those vendors, which you might not be able to do if you're through an aggregator. So it's, you know, it's one more dash really to use.
Although I would say, even if you're looking at using an aggregator, I would certainly go direct to Kobo at the very least, because their dashboard is really, really easy to use. The whole platform is beautiful. They're a great company to work with directly and if you publish directly with them, you can get access to their promotions dashboard, which isn't available if you go through an aggregator, or get your books on Kobo in any other way and that is actually a very, very valuable marketing tool if you're wide.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Right. I wanted to go back to something that you said earlier. Four years ago, you said you came out of KU, and that you, overall, didn't see any downward swing on sales. Was there even a blip for you? Was there any temporary change? And if not, what did you adjust in your marketing, for example?
Adam Croft: Well, I was well aware that I was going to have to market to those other vendors and I got in touch with them and said, “Look, how do I sell more books on your platforms?” And they're not Amazon. You won't get, you know, a response from somebody in the back end of nowhere with an automated reply to your email that doesn't even actually address the question that you asked. You know, you will get an email back from an actual person quite high up in those companies who will be more than willing to help you because they want to sell more books.
I mean, I didn't notice a big blip as such. It starts to tail off, the KU reads do tail off. And weirdly enough, I still get KU read money most days and certainly every week from books that people have borrowed four years ago, and are only just getting around to reading. So it's not the case that the day you come out KU your money suddenly dries up and doesn't come in. And I was open and honest with my readers and I said, “I don't think this is a good thing to do. I don't think it's great to be Amazon exclusive.
So I'm having my books available everywhere else so if you read on these other platforms, you can buy them there. But my books are still available on Amazon. It's just that rather than being in the KU program, they are paid for separately outside of that, and they're all completely fine with it. I think once they understood from a moral and business standpoint why I was doing it, at the end of the day most readers will want to support authors over Amazon.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah, absolutely. We haven't talked really about audio books wide versus exclusive. And that's an area where I think there's still some shifts that as authors we would like to see. Can you give some tips or advice, Adam, on wide versus exclusive on audio?
Adam Croft: That is shifting massively and earlier this year I went wide with all my audio. There wasn't really,. until then, a way of doing it. The audiobook market was lagging so far behind. Readers and consumers were really picking up on it and it was growing from their point of view but the market was still ridiculously congested in terms of being so Audible heavy, to the point where with Audible, of course, authors can't even set the price of their audio books.
There's some kind of mythical magical system where you haven't got a clue how much money you're going to make. You don't know how much your books will be for sale for until it goes live. And even then you don't know what your royalty's going to be. It depends whether they borrowed with it, whether they've bought it, whether they've used tokens, or you know, there's just no way of knowing.
But I now go through Findaway Voices and I found that, particularly with things like Chirp, which is BookBub's audio book promotion platform, and the promotions that Findaway voices do, I've got one coming up, for example, next week on Apple that they set up for me there, a big kind of audio promotion, and things like that really do shift large amounts of audio.
And I'm finding now that Audible is maybe my third biggest audio platform. You know, it's not my biggest audio income anymore. There are there are other vendors out there and other markets that are are bigger than Audible in terms of the number of sales that you get. It's not necessarily that they've got more customers, but I think they are, perhaps, more voracious listeners. It could be that there aren't as many audio books on those platforms because everybody's still very much with Audible, so they're more likely to find your books and come across those ones. I'm not really sure why it is, but I'm certainly not complaining.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah, so we're just winding down to our last couple of minutes here, but I just wanted to highlight so we're fiction and nonfiction and we've been talking about KU vs. wide. Kindle Unlimited, of course, for ebooks only, not paperback. And audio is important because for nonfiction, ebooks are less of a market for nonfiction. Paperback and audio books are much, much better sellers. So that's one of the differences between fiction and nonfiction. Okay, Adam, I think there's time for your takeaway tip for authors today on wide versus exclusive.
Adam Croft: My takeaway tip is the one I've been trying to hammer home, I guess, throughout the whole show.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah.
Adam Croft: Think about those overseas markets. There are lots of countries in the world that Amazon just cannot penetrate and where it isn't even a big player, nevermind the biggest one. Many countries don't even entertain the idea of Amazon and won't have them operating there. Ebooks and particularly English e books are growing massively in those territories. KU subscribers will buy your books outside of KU, they'll still be on Amazon. So basically, don't ignore the 95% of the world's readers because that's a huge amount of money to be leaving on the table.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Yeah, makes sense. And I'm just going to second that motion and, you know, be familiar with what the differences are between fiction/nonfiction with the ebook, audio and print, make sure you understand where your book fits in that. And Alex, yes, had another question about whether there's an info sheet on this.
This will be appearing on the ALLi blog on Wednesday. There will be a transcript and a link to replay the audio as a podcast and there's probably also many blogs on the ALLi blog about this, and lots of conversations on the ALLi Facebook forum. So that is the time we have for today. Again, Orna sends her regrets and says hello from the Amazon Storyteller Awards where she is a judge. And she will be back with Adam for the November Fiction/Nonfiction Salon. Adam, thank you so much. Do take care of your incoming cold. I hope you manage to stave it off.
Adam Croft: Thank you. So do I although I think I'm already fighting a losing battle on that front.
Bonnie Wagner-Stafford: Sorry to hear that. Anyway, all right, 'till next time, bye bye