Everything about exclusive distribution: definition and examples

Going wide or KDP only? Today’s article is covering exclusive distribution definition, examples and arguments for and against it.

Exclusive distribution means that a distributor has unique rights to distribute your book: you can’t sell it anywhere else. Currently KDP Select is the most popular exclusive distributor, as most self-publishing authors already know: for a higher percentage of royalties, authors can enroll in KDP Select for a 90-day period and re-enroll any time. If your book is available through KDP Select, it is available to KU users, Kindle Lending Library borrowers and to everyone using Amazon. As a return for the exclusive rights, Amazon offers a wide range of promotion services, including 5 days when you can sell your book for free.

The advantages of exclusive does work for many authors. But what about the other number of distributors and markets Amazon doesn’t reach? The limited reach is one of the biggest disadvantages of exclusive distribution.

Exclusive distribution: pros and cons

Your book is available on Amazon only.Your book is available on Amazon and everywhere else you want it to.
Your book will be available (mostly) to readers in U.S, U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia.Your book will be available to readers from all over the world (depending on which stores you send it in to).
You reach up to 80% of readers in countries where Amazon has a big market share.Depending on the country, you can reach 20-70% more potential readers.
Your pricing and discounting options are limited.You can set the price yourself and change it as you wish. You can even go permafree.
It is very difficult to get a promotion done (eg. through BookBub).You can promote your book through services like BookBub.
You can still sell your paperback wherever you would like to, but there is a higher chance for distributors to reject it if they can’t sell the ebooks as well.You can still sell your paperback wherever you would like to.
Your book will be available to Kindle Unlimited and KOLL readers.Your book can be made available in other subscription services like Scribd or Bookmate.

Getting paid through KDP Select

The greatest pro of KDP Select is considered to be Kindle Unlimited: your book is available as part of a subscription program in U.S, U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia, and you’ll be paid from a global fund based on how many pages your readers have read.

While this might work out great for some authors, not everybody benefits from KU. Advantages include great visibility: if subscribers can download your book for free, they likely will. (Each download through KU counts towards your free ranking.) As big publishers are not participating in the KU program, the competition is smaller: you only have a few smaller publisher and other self-publishers to run against. If your book is long and people read it, you can be paid as much as $15 per reads, according to the Written Word Media’s 2016 data.

Amazon calculates your royalties after books enrolled in KU and the Lending Library according to KENCP v3.0: this is an algorithm that calculates how many ‘standard’ pages your book contains. As a KU user, you’ll be paid out for a maximum of 3000 pages read from a monthly pool: so your earnings will be changing every month, depending on the size of the pool, location and pages read altogether. While the size of the pool is announced on the Kindle Forumevery month, it is a jackpot how much you’ll actually earn, calculated in mysterious ways. The system favours authors of fiction, especially novels: short-stories, poems and nonfiction books are generally not read page-by-page from the first to the last, resulting in lower royalties for this authors.

While Amazon KU is not the only subscription service paying authors by pages read, others, like Scribd or Bookmate do not ask for exclusivity: you can enjoy all advantages of great visibility and high download rates while still selling your books through other channels.

KDP Select vs. Rankings

But what if we look at other areas of sales, eg. Amazon rankings? According to Amazon FAQ, once you are enrolled in KDP Select, sales made during the promotional, free days will not influence your ranking: during those days, you can top the ‘Free’ charts, but once your promotional period is over, you are back where you have started:

In the Kindle Store, the Best Sellers Rank is divided into Free and Paid lists. If you enroll in KDP Select, your book will have a ranking in the Free list during its free promotional period. Once the free promotion is over, your book’s previous Paid rank will influence its new rank when it enters the Paid categories again.

To top this, Amazon’s Popularity List is handling paid and free books together, but it is influenced by price: free books are worth only a tenth of a paid book.

To sum it up: if you are aiming for consistently high rankings, five free days are not the best way to go.

The broader perspective

By no means am I against Amazon: they do a lot to promote reading in general and it is a fair question where would self-publishing be without Kindle at all. They saw a business opportunity nobody else really did and turned it into a giant business.

But, as the ConsortiumInfo blog points out: as Amazon’s market share increases, the chance for competition decreases. A monopoly on ebook distribution would likely kill innovation (as there wouldn’t be a fight to ‘capture’ readers and writers) and the conditions of self-publishing would likely continue to go down.

Without big publishers entering the game (only around 3% of the titles on KU are not self-published), KU is only opening the gap wider between trad and self publishing. Its alternatives, eg. Scribd work with both traditional and self-publishers, offering a wider range to choose from and bringing the two players to one field.

On the other hand, let’s not forget about legal bits and pieces: while the terms and conditions of using KDP Select are very clear and Amazon is by no means secretive about them, signing up with a distributor you don’t know in order to reach certain territories can be hurtful in many ways. The Digital Publishing 101has a long list of things you should be aware of when choosing a distributor, starting from terms of withdrawal, length of contract to what they are doing to prevent thefts. As a rule of thumb: if you don’t understand the contract, don’t sign up.

Exclusive distribution: case studies

There are tons of case studies available for and against exclusive distribution. The Book Designer definitely is against it, but the comments suggest otherwise. Pro-arguments include saving time and resources when focusing only on one platform – you can, however, use an aggregator to save time managing your books on different platforms.

The author of the Your First 10K Readers weights the advantages and the disadvantages and decides that it is a no-go. He highlights, however, that building up an audience on different platforms takes time with targeted marketing strategies – no wonder, sales never magically happen.

Susan Kaye Quinn from the Self Publishing Advice Center writes about how she is only getting 42% of her overall sales from Amazon and how did she set out on her journey to go wide. (Well, she wrote a new book: anyone to follow?)

The same goes for the Just Publishing Advice blog: they argue that for most people, KDP Select simply does not worth it. Unless you are a first time author, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

On the other hand, Jane Friedman shares a guest post from Robert Kroese who is arguing for the opposite. He says that a first time author has better chances of getting discovered if they go for Amazon only and focus on the ranks.

Alternatives to exclusive distribution: definition of intensive and selective distribution

At this point of the article you are probably wondering that what are your options if you don’t want to go for KDP Select (or, at least, not with all of your books). Many authors decide to go with intensive distribution: this means that you display the product (in this case, your book) in as many stores as possible. The large scale distribution, depending on the target market and pricing, could lead to increased sales. Downsides of intensive distribution include low brand visibility and lower brand loyalty.

Many people won’t get their money’s worth using either intensive or exclusive distribution strategies. Definition of selective distribution means more channel than one but not everywhere. Established brands (eg. white goods companies) usually go for selective distribution, establish long-term partnerships and believe in brand-loyalty. Selective distribution (eg. Amazon, iBooks, Google and B&N only) could work for people who already have an established reader base.

Exclusive distribution: is it for you?

The good thing is, that you don’t have to decide! An exclusive agreement like KU will only last for a couple of months. If you are a first time author with only a few readers and low sales, KU could be the thing that helps you get your feet on the market. If you decide to do so, give distributors enough time to take your books down: depending on the site, it could take a few weeks.

If you have more than one books, however, offering them all through KU will likely result in much lower royalties and less readers reached than you would get outside KU. Try offering only the first book of a series through KU and the rest wide and see what happens.

Have you used KDP Select before? What are your experiences?

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