How should I distribute my books? Do I stick with one marketplace and possibly limit my options, or do I diversify and risk spreading myself too thin? These are questions every author struggles with. Dave Chesson is here to discuss the pros and cons of both options.
One of the most controversial ongoing debates in the writer world is the decision of whether to go wide or narrow. Going wide refers to placing one’s books in multiple stores, while staying narrow means focusing on a single platform. Some authors are passionate advocates of one stance or the other.
Personally, I believe either approach can work, if carried out in the right way. Today, I’d like to share with you the main arguments for staying narrow, the pros of going wide, and how to make the right decision for your situation. It’s a decision with important consequences for your book sales, so please approach it with care.
Arguments For Focusing On A Single Market
By choosing to place your books for sale in one marketplace only, you can enjoy the following benefits:
- Access to exclusive programs, such as Kindle Unlimited, that you can’t access if you choose to go wide
- You save time. A single market means only one set of sales reports to check, one place to monitor your book’s rankings, and one in-marketplace author platform to maintain.
- Only one set of competitors to monitor
- You can focus all efforts on getting reviews at the time of launch in a single place
If you’re an English language author, you might consider Amazon for your choice of single platform. According to an Author Earnings report from February of 2017, Amazon accounts for more than 80% of English-language ebook purchases, Apple another 10%, Kobo 2%, and Nook 3%. Amazon also has the advantage of being in the physical ereader space itself.
Perhaps the main reason for focusing on a single market is the opportunity to master it rather than simply dabbling in it. As Chandler Bolt said while sharing his thoughts on writing a book:
“But you can’t simply publish your book and expect people to find it. Instead, you need to dedicate some time to mastering the publishing and marketing processes. This is the only way to make sure that your book makes its way into the hands of the people who will benefit from reading your words.”
Seeing as the publishing and marketing process described above differs for every book marketplace out there, going wide increases the learning curve you will experience. Being able to learn the ins and outs of a single market is one of the best arguments for staying narrow.
Arguments For Going Wide
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons you may wish to focus on a single market, let’s consider the other perspective and examine the arguments for going wide. By placing your books for sale in more than one online marketplace, you benefit from
- Diversifying your risk. Sometimes, authors find their accounts are banned from particular marketplaces. By having your books in multiple locations, you protect against suddenly losing all your revenue if something happened to your account.
- Protecting your stability. If you leave yourself at the mercy of a single marketplace, you are powerless if they change their royalty rates or other terms. Diversifying your marketplaces protects against fluctuation due to changing terms. (As an example of how payment rates can fluctuate over time, check out this excellent post at Rogerpacker.com—particularly that first graphic.) By limiting your book to an exclusive program, you have to be prepared to experience this type of change.
- Accessing a greater number of potential readers. Some people will only use one marketplace or another, so limiting yourself to a single market ensures there are some readers you will never reach.
- Discovering which marketplaces work best. Some of your books will naturally do better from in different places a different times. By offering your books on multiple platforms, you give yourself the freedom to invest more of your time and attention into the marketplace which is performing best at any given time.
Be aware that going wide requires you to invest more of your time and to juggle more balls at once than staying narrow. However, this can be mitigated by using the Draft2Digital or Smashwords distribution services, both of which handle the hassle of going wide in exchange for a percentage of your royalties.
Author David Kudler presents his experience and those of his fellow authors after going wide in the following quantified way:
“Most “wide” indie and self-publishers report that sales on Amazon represent 60%–85% of their ebook revenue. Myself, last year, I earned 62% of my ebook royalties through Kindle sales. In my most Amazon-slanted years I’ve earned about 80% of my ebook income from Jeff Bezos’s company.”
How To Make The Right Decision
There’s no single right answer when it comes to choosing whether or not to go wide. However, answering the following questions will help you find the right decision for your present situation.
- What is the initial time investment I will need to spend getting set up on a single platform? How does this compare to getting set up on all the platforms I’m potentially interested in?
- How much time will it take each week to monitor and maintain all the marketplaces I’m interested in? How does this compare with my available time?
- What are the royalty rates offered by each market? What proportion of my sales would I expect to achieve from each market?
- Are there any exclusive programs, such as Kindle Unlimited, I lose access to by going wide? How much money would I expect to make from these programs vs. the extra money of going wide?
- What are other authors in my network currently doing? What kind of results are they getting?
Ultimately, you must decide if the extra revenue generated by going wide would outweigh the extra time and energy you’d need to invest.
Some authors suggest the method of going narrow with some titles and wide with others. You might find the answer changes at different points in your author career. You may wish to test one way vs. the other by keeping one book narrow and another wide. See the differences in performance and use these to inform your wider decision.
Thanks for checking out my thoughts on whether to go narrow or wide. Here are my three takeaways:
- Staying narrow can allow you to focus, achieve mastery, and save time.
- Going wide can give you extra revenue in exchange for extra effort.
- There’s no single right answer, and you must weigh the pros and cons.
If you’ve got an experience of going wide or staying narrow, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Dave Chesson runs Kindlepreneur.com where he provides tools and information for authors, such as his book title generators and recent review of Grammarly. His free time is spent immersing himself in nerd and indie author culture.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Karen Myers says
You should also mention ebook distributors PublishDrive and StreetLib. They are both excellent services with many channels and, while they have some overlap for the most common channels, they also have unique specialties for different parts of the world (Europe vs South America). They include common channels you may have difficulty reaching, like Apple and Google Play.
They are modern and up-to-date for screen entry, and very responsive. Everyone who goes wide should be using both these distributors (just don’t duplicate your channels on more than one distributor).
Ingmar Albizu says
I am still unpublished. However, I rather go wide. I don’t believe in putting all my eggs in one basket.
Also, I would love to reach as many readers as possible. And yet, there is something to be said about starting with a narrow approach and slowly expanding.
Great article, Dave. You make good arguments for both and gave me plenty to think about.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Thanks for weighing in, Dave. I think even for people who have been publishing for a while this is a good reminder to always be evaluating. At different points in a career, or even with specific books, it might be better to choose one route or the other, and be willing to experiment a bit. 🙂
Paula Cappa says
Interesting post today. I’ve done both experiments with my mystery novels and while Amazon does sell more for all three books than any other online sites, Smashwords is the next best because their distribution includes Kobo and Apple ibooks. Smashwords is kind of a one-stop wide distribution. I get decent sales on ibooks through Smashwords. And oddly I get more Barnes&Noble sales through Smashwords than direct on Barnes&Noble. I find Kindle Unlimited to work effectively if you do any advertising on Amazon; KU enhances advertising sales, especially if you advertise with long term campaigns.