Deciding between exclusivity and wide distribution can be a challenge. Like every other part of your author business, distribution should be handled strategically. You’ll want to look at the goals and needs of your business to determine the best plan—and it’s best not to assume that any one plan is better by default. In this week’s post, we’ll look at reasons why you might choose one strategy over another, and decide when exactly is a good time to go wide.
DEFINING OUR TERMS
In the world of digital publishing, you hear ‘exclusivity’ and ‘going wide’ quite a bit. Just in case these terms aren’t quite clicking with you, let’s take a look at what they mean in context.
This term can be a little confusing because it’s often used to describe very different concepts in the publishing world. In traditional publishing the term is generally used for contractual terms—such as giving a specific publisher exclusive rights to publish all works produced by an author during a given term.
In terms of independent publishing, exclusivity means that you have opted to make your book available on only one distribution platform. This can sometimes be contractual, as in the case of Amazon’s KDP Select—when you agree to exclusivity under this program you are locked into publishing your book only on Amazon for 90 days. Or you may choose to stick to one publishing platform voluntarily, for a variety of reasons.
NOTE: It’s important to note that unlike exclusivity with a traditional publisher, the contract applies only to a specific book, and not to the author’s work as a whole. You can be exclusive to KDP Select with one title while publishing more books with other vendors.
Exclusivity may also refer to distribution in just one region, such as availability only in the United States or the United Kingdom. Within various distribution platforms, including Amazon’s KDP Select, you can narrow the number or regions you distribute to. In effect, you can be exclusive to either a distribution platform, to a specific region, or to both.
Advantages of Exclusivity
There are certain incentives for going exclusive with your work, and they vary from distributor to distributor. For Amazon KDP Select, exclusivity enables you to benefit from the KDP Select Global Fund, as well as a higher royalty (70% versus 35%) in select regions such as Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico. The Global Fund offers authors the advantage of being paid based on pages read, calculated from the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC).
KDP Select automatically places your book in Kindle Unlimited—a subscription-based lending library that allows readers to check out books for ‘free’ (no additional charge beyond the monthly subscription). Authors are paid for each KENPC page, up to 3,000 pages.
For more information visit the help page on this topic on Amazon’s KDP page: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=AI3QMVN4FMTXJ
And finally, exclusivity can sometimes encourage a distributor to help with promotion of the book—though not always directly or on demand.
If your book is available exclusively through a specific vendor, and it shows signs of doing well (lots of readers picking it up, reviewing it, etc.), you may get a friendly and helpful boost from that vendor. You may find your book listed in promotional email, or placed in a prominent position on a results page. These sorts of perks may happen anyway, if the book really is doing well. The odds tend to trend upward, though, when your work is exclusive to a given distributor.
Disadvantages of Exclusivity
The principle disadvantage is pretty straightforward—you are literally limiting your reach and your audience to those readers who buy their work from that specific vendor. In many cases, authors can still make quite a living from the large number of readers any given service offers. But for most, and especially those who write work that appeals to a narrow, niche audience, the number of potential readers is limited.
In addition, exclusivity limits your options if a particular vendor decides to change the rules. Any perks or benefits that a distributor offers for exclusivity are always at the vendor’s discretion. And just as authors will make decisions in the best interest of their business (as they should), a vendor will do the same. Many times those decisions are not favorable to the individual author—and if you find yourself locked into a pre-determined timeline for exclusive distribution you may be stuck with the new order of things until the clock runs out.
This is also called ‘wide distribution’ and sometimes ‘non-exclusive distribution.’ For the purposes of the indie publisher, the term means that your book is distributed on a variety of platforms, rather than just one.
You’ll also see this term used to refer to global distribution—meaning your work is available for purchase in more than just one regional market.
Draft2Digital, as a distribution aggregator, gives you the means to do both of these from one place—you’ll be able to post your work in multiple storefronts and in multiple regions worldwide, and all at your discretion. Our vendors include known industry powerhouses such as Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and more.
Amazon also gives you some limited means of going wide by allowing you to distribute your eBook in the regional markets of your choosing. If you’re enrolled in KDP Select, you’re still limited to distributing through Amazon, but your book can be available in any region Amazon serves.
Advantages of Going Wide
Wide distribution allows you to maximize your reach, without limitations on distribution platforms or regions. You retain full control over where your book appears, and you can even fine-tune your book for different regions and platforms.
There’s also the advantage of additional security and stability.
Above we mentioned that exclusivity can sometimes turn sour when the distributor decides to change the rules of the game. Suddenly a fund is no longer available, or the rate dips, or promotions are no longer offered. Or maybe the distributor closes shop in a region where your book is popular, so that your readers can no longer reach you.
If you are distributing on a wide model, these problems are mitigated. You’ll be able to shift focus away from a dud distribution channel, and focus on one that brings you greater margins. You’ll be safe from closures and rule changes and dropped regions, because you’ll have multiple channels where you can aim your efforts.
Disadvantages of Going Wide
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of going wide is the amount of time it takes to become profitable in the business.
Building an audience takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort. The exclusivity model offers a few shortcuts for this, helping you to become more profitable faster with programs such as paid page reads and newsletter and site promotions. It’s a bit easier to build up financial momentum when readers can get your book for free while you get paid by the page.
Wide distribution is what’s known as a ‘slow burn.’ All your time and energy is spent on audience building and writing and publishing more books. This upfront work is foundational—ultimately you want to create a nicely-packed powder keg that, ultimately, will explode in a mushroom cloud of sales that covers the widest possible area. But that does take a lot of time.
As a result, many authors become frustrated with the process long before they see solid results—the proverbial ‘fifteen feet from gold.’
This makes exclusivity seem all the more attractive, since it takes a great deal less effort to start turning a profit, while it may be years before you start seeing real traction on a wide platform.
That’s a brief overview of the two terms, including their ups and downs. And there are nuances we could dive into further, for sure. The gist, though, is that you essentially have two options for distribution. Which begs the question …
WHICH IS BETTER?
As a distribution aggregator, clearly Draft2Digital is going to be on the side of ‘go wide.’
Most of the time.
The truth is, there are perfectly valid reasons for choosing either of the options above.
If you have only one book, for example, you might consider exclusivity with a program such as KDP Select. Having your book in this program allows you to make a bigger profit, faster, by tapping into Amazon’s large pool of Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Giving a book away for free is a time-honored way to build a readership. Traditionally you would recoup the ‘loss’ of the freebie by asking readers for reviews or, if you’ve gotten this far, asking them to by the next book. You can get them to sign up for your mailing list, or ask them to spread word of your book far and wide so that your readership grows and you’re prepped for the next big release.
KDP Select allows you to get the additional benefit of being paid per page as readers enjoy their free book. That’s a tough deal to beat.
So for those authors with only one book, or with a new translation of a book, or with some other limitation, exclusivity may actually be the right choice for you.
There. We said it.
On the other hand, you might want to consider the game you’re playing.
THE LONG GAME
If your goal is a long-term success with a worldwide readership, then you might be better off avoiding the siren call of the short-term gains of exclusivity. The money is tempting, for sure. But there’s a ceiling on your reach, and it’s incompatible with true long term success.
Going wide gives you the advantage of building a platform with a great deal more depth and longevity. It will be able to weather storms a little easier, keeping you from potentially losing your primary income stream if a distributor changes their policies or goes out of business or just decides they don’t want to offer their incentives any longer.
You also gain the advantage of a bigger brand presence. If your goal is to be known for your work, to have readers pining for the next book in all the corners of the world, then the only true path to that success is wide distribution. After all, no one ever said to themselves, “I can’t wait to start a writing career and only be read by people who subscribe to one specific service!”
Ok, maybe there are a couple of outliers out there—the world comes in all flavors.
But for the majority of authors, going wide is the better choice, because it means greater potential reach.
SO WHICH, THEN?
Two very valid approaches, and either could be the path to your author success. The path you choose depends entirely on your own goals.
If you’ve just started, and you have a very limited catalog (one or two books, maybe three at the most), go exclusive. It gives you the greatest chance to gain notable financial success and a loyal readership in the shortest amount of time.
If you have numerous books (three or more), and your goal is to reach a broader and more global audience, go with wide distribution. The time you’ll spend marketing your work is the same, but the long term benefits will be greater. You may see less short-term success, but you’ll be setting yourself up for more later.
And, of course, a third option of sorts—do both.
There’s nothing that says you can’t start with books in KDP Select, for example, and then move them into wide distribution after the 90-day period ends. In fact, this could be a great strategy for building momentum in waves, rather than in one burst. By staggering your releases across platforms you can do multiple marketing pushes, and reach new audiences with a bevvy of reader reviews and good buzz already behind you.
The important thing is to decide what type of author career you’re trying to build, and which strategy puts you closest to your goals.
Before you push publish on any given platform, take all of this into consideration. It will save you from headaches and heartaches later, and it could mean the difference between toiling away unnoticed for years or achieving commercial success right away. It’s worth taking the time to consider which strategy fits best with your business.