A bookstore owner I respect, whose indie bookstore I adore, posted a very thought-provoking thread on Facebook last night. He was talking about how disappointed he was that so many authors share links to Amazon in their book marketing posts. I get that. . . he is in direct competition with the ‘Zon, and honestly, he can’t compete. He can’t do the marketing, give the discounts, deliver the next-day delivery or free shipping. He’s a small business . . . I completely understand because so am I.
Still, I do sell my books through Amazon, and I’m okay with that choice . . . with conditions.
The Basic Distribution Choice for Indie Authors
For indie authors, there are two distribution options – Amazon only or “wide. If you sell only through Amazon, you get to participate in their Kindle Unlimited program, where authors are paid for the number of pages read in their ebooks, not just the number of copies sold. Plus, there is some sense that Amazon puts a bit more marketing effort in their “Amazon only” books. (A lot of what Amazon does is very secretive, so it’s hard to be sure about that.) That Kindle Unlimited pages read piece, though, that’s a big deal because authors with lots of books in that program can make a LOT of money from page reads. And if you’re an indie author putting out good-quality books, that money can help you cover your costs of publication (editing, cover design, formatting, etc) as well as simply pay their electric bills and buy groceries.
If you are wide as an author, like I am, you distribute your books beyond Amazon. For some of us, that means selling through Barnes and Noble or Apple or other online retailers. For others of us (me included), that means making your books available as widely as possible through all the online retailers we can but also through a distributor like IngramSpark, the place many bricks-and-mortar bookstores get their books.
The reasons people choose one distribution option or the other are complex and various, and I don’t disparage any indie author for the choice they make. We all do what we need to do to pay our bills and keep writing.
The Reasons I Make the Choice to be Wide
When I first self-published The Slaves Have Names I started exclusively with Amazon, mostly because I didn’t really know enough to make a different decision. Over time – and through conversations with lots of other writers – I came to believe that the best choice for me was to go wide with my books. This decision took considerable effort and cost on my part because I had to buy ISBNS (comment below if you’d like me to explain that) and because I had to decide how to get my books out in more places. For me, that choice includes using an aggregator, a company that distributes ebooks digitally (I use Draft2Digital and love them) and a distributor that distributes my print books (I use IngramSpark.) Both of these choices cost me a bit of money because they take a cut of my sales in exchange for distributing my books; I’m okay with paying that, but it’s not the choice all authors make.
Here are the major reasons for why I went wide:
- I believe in independent bookstores. I shop in them. I want to own one one day, and I believe whole-heartedly in how they improve their local communities. So I wanted my book to be available to them in a way they felt good about, which meant not selling only through Amazon.
- I know that other people don’t support Amazon and wanted them to be able to buy my books. For many reasons, people have real quandaries with Amazon’s business model, and so many people I know don’t buy products from Amazon. I wanted them to have access to my books too.
- I wanted my books to reach as many readers as possible. That means selling through every avenue possible including everything from Google Play to Apple Books to Scribd and Playster.
- I wanted my books to be available to libraries. My mom and I have probably built wings on our local libraries with our overdue book fines (a cost I am NEVER loathe to pay).
- Finally, I have some personal struggles with Amazon’s business model. While I need them to support my work as an author (for me and most indie authors I know, our vast majority of sales come through Amazon, even if we’re wide) , I didn’t want to contribute to their growing monopoly on the book industry. I actually actively want to fight that.
I will say this – if ever it becomes possible for me as an author to sell a reasonable number of books without selling books through Amazon, I will do that. But we’re not there yet. We may get there – and indie bookstores can help us get there by selling the books of indie authors more easily. (I really, really struggle with getting my books into indie bookstores because there is still a stigma among many booksellers that indie books are lesser entities. I heartily disagree with that statement.)
Until that day, though, my books will stay in Amazon even as I do most of my marketing efforts to sell them through other means. I’m okay with that because I believe in my books, and I want them to find as many readers as possible, even as I wrestle with the ethical implications even still.
There are no simple answers here. I trust my fellow authors to make the best choice for themselves, and I understand the pain that the ‘Zon causes indie booksellers. I hope my friend the bookseller understands the pain for us indies, too. We’re all in this together, I believe that . . . and the more we do to help get books into the hands of people, the better. That’s my bottom line.
Are you selling your books through KU or are you wide? What factors went into your decision? I’d love to chat about this in the comments.
Note – there is a serious issue that is ongoing with counterfeit books on Amazon. I definitely recommend people be wise and aware. . . and send your books back to Amazon if you find they are counterfeit. We need to pressure them to fix this serious, serious problem.