KU vs. Wide: Should You Be Exclusive to Amazon or Not?

One of the most prevailing questions in publishing right now is: should you publish exclusively with Amazon, or should you publish wide (i.e. with all the other ebook retailers).

Amazon has their exclusivity program known as KDP Select, which gets your book enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU). It boasts a number of advantages that make it a tempting offer.

On the other hand, there are many reasons why you might want to publish wide instead.

We’ll go over both options, and conclude with our recommendation on when you should use Kindle Unlimited, and when you should publish wide.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The pros and cons of Kindle Unlimited
  2. The pros and cons of publishing wide
  3. A tool that will help you make a decision
  4. Which option is best for you

So let's dive straight in.

What Do We Mean by KU vs. Wide?

First, let's start with some definitions.

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription program that Amazon created for its readers. A reader can pay $9.99 per month and have unlimited access to all of the books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

Authors who want to enroll their book in Kindle Unlimited must remain exclusive to Amazon's platform, meaning they cannot publish on Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or any other place online.

When a reader decides to read a book in Kindle Unlimited, it is known as a “borrow”, and authors are paid by page reads instead of sales. Meaning that if someone borrows your book and reads all the way to the end, you will earn more than if they borrow your book and only read the first few pages.

Additionally, each “borrow” is counted the same as a sale in Amazon's algorithm.

Publishing Wide

When we talk about publishing wide, we are referring to publishing your book everywhere, including on Amazon. However, in order to be published wide, you cannot be in the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program.

There are many different publishing platforms that you can use, but some of the most important are:

  • Your own website
  • Amazon
  • Apple books
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Google play
  • Draft2Digital

Side note: The reason we mentioned Draft2Digital here is because it is the best way to reach all of the other minor retailers beyond those listed above.

KU vs Wide Framework: Which Should You Choose?

So which should you choose? There are a number of Pros and Cons for going wide or staying with Amazon (jump to the pros and cons of KU, or the pros and cons of going wide), but ultimately, we've created a step-by-step framework to help you decide if you should choose one or the other.

Step 1: Your Personal Preference

Let's face it, if you absolutely hate Amazon or don't like having all your eggs in one basket, then you shouldn't worry about anything else. Just go wide and figure the rest out later.

This is step 1 because it's likely the biggest determining factor. Many authors have opinions one way or the other, and it's okay if that's your only reason for going wide or staying in KU.

However, if you're indifferent and could see yourself doing a mix of KU and wide, depending on the data, then proceed to step 2…

Step 2: Look at the % of books in your Genre/Category that are enrolled in KU or Not

Once you've selected or located the target categories or genres you want to write in, it's important to take a look at the percentage of top books in that category or genre and see whether or not they are enrolled in KU. Knowing this percentage can help you choose the strategy or angle you best want to deploy.

If you see that there are a large percentage of books enrolled in KU, this can mean one of two things:

  1. All of those KU books that are doing well in Amazon are not listed on other markets – since they are enrolled in KU, they can't be on B&N or Kobo or others. Therefore, going wide, you wouldn't have to compete with them.
  2. Because Amazon gives preferential treatment to KU books, if you're not enrolled in KU, you will be at a disadvantage in the Amazon store

Now, it sounds like those two things oppose each other. Not so. Let's say that 90% of the top books books in a category are in KU. You either need to join KU, and then fight to beat them. Or you can note that you will be in a disadvantage on Amazon, but your topic/genre is much easier somewhere else. Thus, if you choose to go wide, then you really need to focus your marketing on it.

Now, let's look at the other end of the spectrum. If the percentage of KU books is low, then that means that joining KU can definitely give you a leg up on the others in the genre or topic and you can benefit more.

Using Publisher Rocket's category analysis feature, we can determine quickly if a book category is largely made up of KU books.

For example, in the following screenshot, you can see that a large percentage of Paranormal Urban and Werewolves is in KU. That means that if you are not in KU, you will have to compete against those that are.

A higher percentage of KU books means more competition for non-KU books.
Captured in Publisher Rocket.
IMPORTANT! It is true that Amazon does give preferential treatment to KU books…sort of. Since every “borrow” counts as a sale, and every sale increases that book's ranking/exposure, then the greater number of borrows actually boosts that book above the competition.

I created a whole video talking about this subject, which you should check out here.

Now, if after looking at the KU percentages you still aren't sure, then move on to step 3…

Step 3: Look at the % of books in your Genre/Category that are backed by Large Publishers

If you're still on the fence and not sure which one to do, then the last step is to look at the percentage of large publishers dominating your category or genre.

Most large publishers will NOT put their books in KU – but keep in mind that there are some that do.

Therefore, if you are looking for a way to gain the advantage over them, then perhaps consider joining KU. This way, you benefit from the above preferential treatment.

Captured in Publisher Rocket.

This step isn't as strong as the first two, but can be a tipping point if you see that you would be surrounded by books that were backed by large publishers. Gaining any advantage over these can be a big help.

If after these three steps, you're on the fence, then go back to step 1, and truly reflect on that and see what feels best to you.

Self-Publishing with Kindle Unlimited: Pros and Cons

Kindle Unlimited is a popular option for many authors, and a tempting offer. It tends to do well, financially, for many authors, and usually results in greater visibility on Amazon.

However, there are also a lot of disadvantages. In this section, we will discuss all of those.

Pros of Kindle Unlimited

Here are some of the advantages of going exclusive with Kindle Unlimited.

Pro #1: Greater Amazon Royalties

While this is not 100% true across the board, it is true that many authors earn generous royalties from Kindle Unlimited. It is enough to be the driving motivator behind many authors that choose to go with Kindle Unlimited, and for those who stay.

Of course, this is not universal. There are plenty of authors making a killing on other platforms. But from my personal experience, it is often easier to make higher royalties by staying in Kindle Unlimited.

Pro #2: Every “Borrow” Counts As a Sale

Because every borrow in Kindle Unlimited counts as a sale, this drives up the Amazon algorithm, meaning you get far higher visibility and a greater chance that Amazon will begin marketing your book for you.

Amazon has a wide variety of marketing avenues, from promoting your book in searches, to sending out emails that include your book. When enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, your chances of this type of automated marketing go up.

Once again, this is not guaranteed, and you can still see similar results when wide, but it is just more common in Kindle Unlimited.

Pro #3: Better for Certain Niches

It's a well-known fact that certain niches do better in Kindle Unlimited than wide. This is especially true of hyper-specific niches, as well as emerging niches.

But how do you know which niche is better for KU?

Well, with a new feature on Publisher Rocket, you can actually look at every category on Amazon, and determine the percentage of books in the top hundred that are selling in KU, and the percentage of books owned by large publishers.

Generally speaking, if your category is higher in Kindle Unlimited, it is more likely to be indie friendly.

Pro #4: Access to Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotions

If you are enrolled in KU, you have access to additional promotional tools that you don't get when publishing wide, namely:

  • Kindle Countdown Deals: you have probably seen deals like this on the Amazon homepage, where they are discounted for a limited time, and you can see a countdown for when the sale will end.
  • Free Book Promotions: Amazon does not normally let you set your price at free, but it will let you do so for a limited time, after which the price will bounce back up.

These promotional tools are very useful for giving your book a boost in the Amazon algorithm.

Cons of Using Kindle Unlimited

Despite all of the advantages listed above, there are some big disadvantages.

Con #1: Exclusivity

By far the biggest issue with Kindle Unlimited, is that you are forced to remain exclusive with Amazon. That means you, essentially, have all of your eggs in one basket.

This rubs a lot of authors the wrong way, and it closes you off from a lot of other opportunities to sell your book.

Even though Kindle Unlimited does usually result in more revenue on Amazon, there is a lot of potential revenue lost at other retailers, including anything sold directly on your website.

Con #2: Amazon Bugs and Account Shutdowns

Amazon is known for having the occasional bug, and very often in their attempts to take down scammers, they end up hurting a lot of legitimate authors as well.

Additionally, if your account is ever shut down by Amazon, you lose all of your revenue if you are exclusive to them.

Restoring your account can be a long and painful process (we have a detailed guide on restoring your account here).

A lot of authors are living in increasing fear of this issue, and it doesn't seem like the bugs that Amazon experiences are getting any better.

Con #3: Amazon Might Penalize You for Someone Else's Piracy

Imagine this scenario: someone pirates your book and posts it on another website. Then Amazon discovers that your book is available on this other website, and determines that you are not following the exclusivity guidelines they require.

Then Amazon reaches out to you and claims you are in violation, when in fact you were simply a victim of piracy.

This is another scenario that has happened to many authors, and one that is difficult to deal with.

After all, if someone else pirated your book, it is extremely difficult to take down your book from that piracy website.

The fact that you have little control over this should be a big warning sign.

Tips to Make Kindle Unlimited Work

If you are choosing to sell your book on Kindle Unlimited, here are a few tips to make it work for you.

  • Be more algorithm focused: since Kindle Unlimited gives you an advantage in the algorithm, make this a big part of your focus. Learn more about what makes the algorithm work and use a steady promotional strategy using Kindle countdown deals in book free book promotions, as well as a lot of ads, to make big marketing pushes of your book.
  • Use Kindle countdown deals and free book promotions: you should be regularly using these tools. I would even set a recurring to-do item in order to promote these books as often as you can, for every book that you own.
  • Optimize keywords and categories: while keywords and categories are useful for wide authors as well, they are especially useful for an Amazon algorithm-focused author. Using the new category tools in Publisher Rocket will help you find the categories that are indie friendly. Plus, Publisher Rocket will make finding your keywords much easier.

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Self-Publishing Wide: Pros and Cons

Now that we've talked about Kindle Unlimited, it's time to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of going wide.

Going wide can be a more complicated process, but with greater returns. And there are huge communities that will help you to optimize your wide sales.

One of the best communities is the Facebook group, Wide for the Win: which is full of authors who are making a living selling their books wide, and it is one of the best resources around.

Personal side note: I recently made the decision to move to a wide-focused model, for many of the reasons outlined below.

Pros of Publishing Wide

Here are some of the best reasons why you should publish wide.

Pro #1: Access to All Other Retailers

The most obvious reason to publish wide is that it gives you access to all other book retailers, including Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Draft2Digital.

Not only does this give you access to other stores, but it gives you access to other countries where Amazon is not as big of a deal.

For example, Kobo is a much more competitive player in Canada than Amazon is.

And because so many people are exclusive to Amazon, there is actually a lot less competition in these other retailers, meaning you have an advantage.

Pro #2: Selling Direct on Your Website

One of the biggest pros, in my opinion, is the ability to sell books directly on your website.

If you can build an audience that is faithful to you, the website is the best place to sell them your books, because you will get 90+ percent of the royalties, and you can set your price at whatever you want.

Selling directly on your website also allows you to try some models that Amazon doesn't use, such as bundling ebooks with a print book, or selling signed copies of your book.

You can also create mega box sets and sell them for much more than Amazon will let you sell.

There used to be a time when buying a product from a random website was looked on as risky. People trusted big sellers like Amazon more than a potentially scammy website no one had ever heard of.

But that is beginning to change, and people are much more likely to buy direct from you than they used to.

Pro #3: You Don't Need to Pump out Tons of Books

In order to feed Amazon's algorithm, it is often necessary for Kindle Unlimited authors to churn out book after book after book.

Because of the way Amazon's algorithm works, you will lose money the longer you go without releasing a book.

When publishing wide, this is less of an issue, since you can take a drip approach to your marketing, and maintain steady sales across multiple platforms.

This means that you can go for longer without publishing a book in a series.

While it is true that many wide authors do not make as much money from Amazon, due to the fact that they are not triggering Amazon's algorithm, some of the most successful wide authors don't need this.

Pro #4: Multiple Streams of Income

Publishing exclusively with Amazon puts all of your eggs in one basket, which can be upset by a single Amazon bug, or from Amazon shutting down your account.

When publishing wide, you have multiple streams of income, meaning that if Amazon were to mysteriously shut down, or your account is terminated, you still have other ways to sell your book. I know some authors that publish directly on their website and don't publish anywhere else. It is possible to make a living without Amazon.

Pro #5: BookBub Deals Are Much More Likely

For many years now, BookBub deals are's have been seen as the holy grail of ebook promotions.

However, it is increasingly difficult for anyone in KU to get a BookBub deal. Making your book wide gives you a much better chance of getting one.

Book promotions, in general, tend to do better for wide authors, and remain one of the best marketing avenues to reach readers who prefer a different platform other than Amazon.

Cons of Publishing Wide

Despite the many advantages, there are some disadvantages to consider.

Con #1: It Is Harder to Get Visibility on Amazon

Because you don't have the advantage of Kindle Unlimited “borrows” to boost the algorithm on Amazon, it is far more work to get the same amount of visibility.

(While there is no proof of this, it would also make sense if Amazon purposefully valued their own Kindle Unlimited books over those published wide.)

Con #2: Ads Are Harder to Make Profitable

When running a Facebook ad, you have to direct the reader to a specific store, usually Amazon. It is already difficult to make Facebook ads profitable, and when you take out the potential revenue of Kindle Unlimited, the chances of a profitable ad go down even more.

This is also the same for Amazon ads, which are obviously exclusive to Amazon, and are therefore more likely to benefit Amazon-exclusive authors.

Con #3: Wide Requires More Work

Because you have more platforms to work on, and you can't count on Amazon's algorithm to do some of the marketing for you, publishing wide generally means more work.

You will need to get more aggressive with your email, selling in person, optimizing your website, etc.

For many authors, this will not be a problem. If you are treating your books like a business, you need to give the your full attention to this process.

But for those who simply can't spare the time or mental energy, this may be a significant con.

Tips to Make Wide Work

If you decide to go wide, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Focus on audience, not algorithm: rather than focusing on “triggering” Amazon's algorithm, you would be better off focusing your marketing efforts on growing your audience. Focusing on email is a great idea here.
  • Try releasing on Kickstarter: Kickstarter has become a viable option for book launches, and there are many authors who publish all of their books on Kickstarter first. It is a great way to know exactly what the demand is for your book, and make a lot of sales up front.
  • Get aggressive with email marketing: as mentioned above, you want to focus on your audience. Therefore, email marketing is going to be one of your best friends. If you can build your audience up to 1000 true fans, you can still easily make a living with your books, even if Amazon is not a big part of it.
  • Use lots of promotions: promotions are one of the best ways to market wide books, as they allow readers to select the retailers they like the most, giving you an advantage on those platforms.
  • Create up-sells: when you sell wide, get creative. You can create multiple up-sells such as huge book bundles that wouldn't work on Amazon, swag boxes, digital art, and whatever else you can think of.

Other Factors to Consider

In addition to everything listed above, I would pay special attention to the following:

1. Hybrid Approaches

It's important to note that publishing on KU or Wide doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can have some books in Kindle Unlimited, and some that are wide.

This may be especially pertinent to you if you have books in a niche category that does better in Kindle Unlimited, but other books that are more suitable for a wide release.

It is also important to note that Kindle Unlimited is only for ebooks. You can be exclusive to Amazon with your ebooks, but wide with your print books, audiobooks, foreign translations, etc.

2. Sell Direct First, Then Go to KU

Another hybrid approach that many authors use is selling direct on your website, or through Kickstarter first, then enrolling your book in KU after a suitable time period.

This allows you to get the best of both worlds, with some direct revenue on your website, but then you get the advantages of KU.

You can think of this as a theatrical release, with the “home-video” or KU release leader.

Should You Use KU or Go Wide?

While I am personally wide, I understand that going wide is not necessarily for everyone. Here are our official recommendations on when to go wide or when to use KU:

Kindle Unlimited might be better for you if you are just starting out and “learning the ropes”. It might also be better for books in a specific niche category. Once again, check out Publisher Rocket to analyze which categories would work better in KU.

Publishing wide might be better for you if you have a long-term strategy. If you are looking to build a fan base, rather than make money in the short term, wide is definitely better.

The relationship between Kindle Unlimited and publishing wide is a bit like the relationship between the tortoise and the hare. The hare is faster, and makes a lot of progress in the short run, but ultimately slow and steady might just win the race.

For that reason, if you are hoping to be a full-time author in the long term, I personally recommend wide.

But as mentioned above, this decision is not cut and dry. You might have some books wide and some books in Kindle Unlimited, and that is absolutely fine.

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