Kindle Unlimited Publishing vs. Publishing Wide

When self-publishing, authors face a critical crossroad: Publish exclusively with Amazon KDP Unlimited or publish wide with other retailers? To determine what’s best for you, let’s go over what to know about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited publishing vs. publishing wide.

This write-up covers:

What’s the deal? Before diving in, here’s what you need to know. Amazon is the largest retailer of self-published books. Publishing on Kindle Unlimited (Amazon’s subscription program for books) requires you to agree to its exclusivity clause, where you sell your book to KU and nowhere else for the first 90 days. The alternative move is to publish wide on all other retailers like Apple Books, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Either side can debate that one is better than the other. If you’re on any author forums, you’ve probably seen this conversation play out. The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Rather, it all comes down to your goals, preferences, the genre you write in, and more.

What Is Kindle Unlimited Publishing?

Kindle Unlimited is the Netflix of books, where readers subscribe to a library of digital books and borrow up to 20 titles at a time. How many Kindle Unlimited subscribers are there? This is a popular question which we don’t have exact numbers for. But some experts estimate more than 4 million subscribers. The millions of books listed in the program are ebooks, although thousands of audiobooks, comics, and magazines are available as well.

How Does Kindle Unlimited Work for Authors?

You can publish to KU for free using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Once your book gets uploaded, you have the option to enroll in the KDP Select program (the other name for KU used on Amazon’s publishing platform). Opting in gives Amazon exclusive rights to sell your book for each 90-day term you’re enrolled. This means you can’t list your book anywhere else, including other stores, blogs, websites, and beyond – not even on your own direct sales site.

Whether you agree to Kindle Unlimited exclusivity rules or not, you can still sell your book on Amazon.com. All you need is a working computer and your book files ready to upload. See this step-by-step guide on how to self-publish on Amazon.

How Do Authors Get Paid on Kindle Unlimited?

How does Kindle Unlimited pay authors? KDP Select uses a payout system called KENPC or Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count. This system uses the KDP Select Global Fund every month to determine author earnings. The share of funds is based on several factors, like exchange rates, customer reading behavior, and more. Then, Kindle Unlimited author payouts are calculated by the share of total pages read.

Here’s an example. Let’s say the month’s share of funds is $10 million available, and 100 million total pages were read. If you have a 100-page Kindle ebook that was borrowed and read completely 100 times, you would earn $1,000. $10 million x 10,000 of your pages read / 100,000,000 total pages. To get a thorough breakdown of how this works, see here.

Now, let’s get to self-publishing on Amazon pros and cons –

KDP Select Pros and Cons

Pro #1: Get paid for page reads

As mentioned above, Amazon uses a unique payout system called KENPC. This is beneficial if you’re a more established author with lengthier books or bingeable book series. That’s because, under KENPC, every book page counts towards your monthly payout.

Pro #2: Access exclusive marketing

Another perk of enrolling in KDP Select is the exclusive marketing opportunity. You can run a promotion period where you provide your book for free or at a discounted price. This helps boost discoverability among KU subscribers. Learn more here.

Pro #3: Reach Kindle Unlimited subscribers

Amazon is the largest retailer in the world and #1 when it comes to digital books. With an estimated pool of more than 4 million book lovers subscribed to KU, focusing on this singular vast market may be a strategy you prefer.

How about the cons for Kindle Unlimited authors?

Con #1: Limited reach

Reaching KU and KU only means you miss out on every other market available. In other words, you miss out on reaching your book’s full sales potential. Here’s what the digital book market looked like in 2023:

Yes, Amazon is a giant that captured 60% of the book market. But a significant 40% of book sales came from other stores, including retailers like Apple Books and Google Play Books. With different types of content consumers, from Apple users to Nook enthusiasts, why limit yourself to a single pool of KU subscribers?

Con #2: Content restrictions

Amazon’s exclusivity policy is super strict. While enrolled in KDP Select, you’re not allowed to distribute copies of the book in any digital format anywhere else. This includes free copies and samples that exceed 10%. If you violate these terms, Amazon may keep your royalties (or even block your account).

Con #3: Uncertainty

Lastly, putting all your eggs in one basket is a business risk. Veterans who have been following Kindle Unlimited self-publishing know just how unstable Amazon can be with its constantly changing processes. For example, Amazon updated its book categorization system in 2023, negatively affecting numerous authors and their revenues.

Plus, when it comes to how much do authors make on Kindle Unlimited these days, payouts are decreasing as competition grows. (You want to go where there’s growth!)

Ultimately, consider your entire publishing strategy, such as what you write, how many titles you’ve got, who your target audience is, and more. Most readers who use KU are in the 24 to 35 age bracket. If your primary readers are in the 65 to 75 age bracket consuming paperback, KU’s digital-only program will not make sense for you.

Let’s dive into the alternative, publishing wide –

What Is Publishing Wide?

Publishing wide means publishing in every format, country, and store possible. It’s a best practice aimed at maximizing and diversifying reach. This strategy requires more legwork in managing different stores and royalty reports. However, you can use an online self-publishing platform like PublishDrive to take care of wide distribution for you.

The benefits of publishing wide are backed by recent sales numbers and market trends. Check out this video recapping PublishDrive’s 2023 book sales statistics:

 You can publish in every market possible with PublishDrive.

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Publishing Wide Pros and Cons

Pro #1: Discoverability

If you’re interested in building a long-term, sustainable career as a self-published author, discoverability is key. Being exclusive to Kindle Unlimited publishing means closing yourself off from thousands of other sales channels and avenues for discoverability. See these top bookstores in sales growth:

Also, Amazon is large, but KU isn’t everywhere. In fact, Kindle Unlimited for authors reaches only 12 countries. KDP alternatives reach over a hundred countries.

Pro #2: Less risk

As already mentioned, relying solely on KU to support yourself can be risky. Publishing wide gives you multiple income streams. If something happens with one platform, you still have the other platforms to keep you afloat.

Now, the cons.

Con #1: Time

Gaining traction may take some time. Amazon’s intuitive platform does a fantastic job of getting readers’ eyes on your books. But if you’re not restricted by exclusivity while publishing wide, you can take advantage of marketing tactics like distributing review copies and applying for retailer-specific promotions.

Con #2: Investment

KDP Select has an easy promotion tool you can use. So, when you go wide, make sure to invest in book marketing services and tactics. You’ll most likely need to invest in other tools and resources to distribute to more than one market as well.

Final take? If you’d like to experience KDP Select yourself, you can always enroll for 90 days and then choose to pull your content out. If you already know that you’d like to reach more readers in more markets, consider publishing wide from the get go.

Now You Know All About Kindle Unlimited Publishing . . .

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✅ Be supported: The team at PublishDrive already helped tens of thousands of indies publish over hundreds of thousands of books.

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