Conflicted about exclusivity

19 August 2015 07:30

Anyone who has ever viewed the Books page on this site knows that I have 4 books currently available from multiple channels, both in print and as e-books. I rarely sell print copies, but my e-books do get a moderate number of sales. I haven’t checked my most recent statistics, but historically about 60% of my sales come from Amazon, 30% come from Barnes and Noble, and the remaining 10% from other sources (primarily iTunes though).

A while ago Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which offers subscribers unlimited e-books in exchange for a monthly fee. For authors, this means they get paid relative to how much of their work is read (there is some controversy to this, as the system used to favor number of books checked out rather than pages read). However, to join this program you need to agree that Amazon can be your only distributor for said any e-book you enroll. It’s been my opinion for some time that I’d rather not stick to an exclusive distributor, not just because it would be putting all my eggs into one basket, but also because it would mean abandoning a third of my readers.

Yesterday, as I was reading Twitter, I noticed Rachel Aaron linking to a post by self-publishing superstar Hugh Howey about his experiences with the program. The article was insightful and well-written, and offered some really compelling points on why exclusivity for Kindle Unlimited wasn’t such a bad deal. I recommend you read the article if you want the full explanation, but the following quote triggered something for me:

If you were an author and you had to choose between 1,000,000 sales to readers in the state of Illinois and 100,000 sales to readers all around the world, which would you take? I’d take the million sales, smiling all the way to the bank while giving both Barnes Noble and iTunes the finger.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I am facing the reality that I have no idea how my upcoming books will do. They’re unconnected to the Hunter in the Dark series (which, to put it mildly, isn’t a bestseller), and I cannot accurately determine which e-book vendor has the most potential readers for my books. To borrow Hugh’s analogy, for my upcoming series there might only be a 10 people in Illinois who want to read it, as opposed to 10 million worldwide. The only data I have to go on are the results of my previous books, which are in a different genre (High Fantasy vs. Paranormal/Urban Fantasy), and get rated higher on BN than they do on Amazon. Exclusively releasing my books on Amazon might work out spectacularly, but it might also be a dud.

On the other hand, it’s not that hard to get out of the program. I believe that, as with KDP Select, there is a 90-day period during which you need to grant exclusivity, and you can easily disable the auto renew (I know because Gift of the Destroyer used to be in KDP Select), after which I can still upload the book to Barnes Noble and other vendors. Also, my books are DRM-free, so there’s nothing stopping you from buying the book from Amazon and converting it to the format of your choice (software such as Calibre can easily convert a MOBI file to an EPUB for use with your Nook, Kobo, etc).

Further complicating matters, however, is the payment model. The total money paid to Kindle Unlimited authors is based on the number of subscribers, and divided among them based on the number of pages read for each author. This is a fairly new approach for them, as the original division key was based on number of titles checked out. Either way, the formula as it currently stands comes down to $0.0058 per page, based on last month’s numbers I spotted on KBoards. What does this mean in practice? My first 3 books average about 280 to 300 pages by Amazon’s count, so a full read-through would net me $1.62, which is about two thirds of what I’d get for a sale at BN or iTunes. To offset these differences, Kindle Unlimited would have to lead to at least 50% more readers (assuming they all finish the books they download). And this only applies to my current books. The five books I intend to release later this year are novellas, which means their page count is closer to 80, by Amazon’s reckoning. A sale on BN would net me 65% of sales price (assuming $2.99 sales price, this comes down to $1.95), whereas a full read on KU would net me just 46 cents. This means that KU would need to give me a reader base almost five times as large for it to be the financially better choice. If the difference is, as Hugh Howey stated, a factor ten, then this is a sound decision.

Considering the success of subscription services such as Spotify or Netflix, it’s probably a bad idea to completely ignore subscription-based service for e-books. Amazon has a tremendous reach in that regard, so it’s fair to say I’m tempted. Alternatively, I could go with something like Scribd (probably through a third party such as Draft2Digital), but somehow this feels like the 100,000 sales to readers all around the world option.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Are you a Nook reader who will curse me a thousandfold? A Kindle Unlimited subscriber who’d love to get my new books? Let me know what you’d prefer.