Indie Publishers — Exclusive or Wide?

“Amazon is not too big to fail… in fact I predict one day Amazon will fail.”

What? Who said such a thing?

“Companies have short lifespans, and Amazon will be disrupted one day.”

Bullshit. Gimme a break.

“Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be thirty-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.”


You know who said such things? Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. The guy who killed bookstores. These are direct quotes from Bezos’s 2017 letter to shareholders.

Bezos goes on, “Starving off death is a thing we have to work at, but it’s inevitable for Amazon, just like other companies, to die. The world will always try to make Amazon more typical—to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort to stay alive as long as possible but, eventually, Amazon will fail.”

Reading this makes me think of the logic behind my move two years ago from publishing exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS) and additionally partnering with Kobo, Apple, and Nook—commonly called “going wide” in indie publishing terms. Two years later, I have no regrets leaving Amazon’s bubble and casting about with the competitors’ nets.

Exclusive or wide is a big debate among indie publishers. Many indies don’t use the term “self publishing” because indie publishers rarely produce products on their own. I, for example, work with others like a cover designer and a proofreader as well as many nameless humans busy behind the scenes keeping day-to-day operations going at Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Nook who sell my entertainment products and deposit proceeds into my bank account.

Am I worried about Amazon going broke? Not anytime in the immediate future, I’m not. Same with Kobo and Apple, but I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel on Nook’s future as Barnes and Noble have been shaky for quite some time.

I didn’t go wide for fear of Amazon’s financial failure which would end my publishing days if I remained exclusive with The Zon. No. I went wide because it made good business sense to distribute my entertainment products as widely as possible.

I have eleven indie publishing acquaintances making decent money writing and selling their entertainment products. All are wide—except for one who finds it easier to manage his business by being Amazon-exclusive. He says he’s making sufficient bucks at Amazon and prefers his time spent producing new work than fussing about on all the platforms.

I see two solid reasons to remain exclusive on Amazon and, let’s face it, in the indie publishing world you’d be crazy not to have an Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) presence. One is the Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS) program. The other is Kindle Unlimited (KU). KDPS gives you some marketing perks for your exclusivity. KU lets you share in a monthly pot for lending your products and being paid in a percentage related to page reads.

Reasons one and two? Insufficient to retain my loyalty to Amazon alone. Last month, I made 52 percent of my indie income at Amazon, 37 percent on Kobo, 10 percent on Apple, and 1 percent on Nook. I haven’t published on Google yet, but that’s on the blackboard task list.

Notice how I keep referring to entertainment products and not books? I developed this mindset two years ago when I was mentored by a high-selling indie publisher who lives in the UK. He forced me to treat my writing as a commercial business, not as a when-I-got-around-to-it hobby. Fortunately, I was in a financial position where I could then devote full time to commercial entertainment writing production which allowed me to build this business into an increasingly well-paying return.

Part of my going wide mindset was viewing my books as products, not babies. I well know what it’s like to have the first-born alive on The Zon. It’s a thrill like few other thrills in life, but the novelty does fade away. It’s like the baby soother story. Your first child spits the soother out on the playground dirt . You take it, boil it, before you hand her soo-soo back. By your fourth kid, you don’t even wipe it off.

Actually, I’m not so callous with my books, er, ah, entertainment products. I love them all but I was taught—as a business— this is a numbers game. The more products you have out there, the more sales opportunities you have.

To appreciate the wide opportunities-in-numbers, it’s important to get the old head around the concept.

One ebook is one product. Published on Amazon exclusively, it’s one product for sale.

Two ebooks published on Amazon are two products for sale and ten ebooks are ten products for sale

Two ebooks published on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Nook are eight products for sale.

Ten ebooks published on the four platforms are forty products for sale.

Ten ebooks with print editions multiply the sales opportunities again.

Add in audio books, boxed sets, or whatever concoction you can cook and the numbers are exponential.

There’s another catch to this wide angle. That’s the areas of distribution each platform has that increase the product exposure. This is where the numbers really grow.

My Amazon portal allows distribution in thirteen countries: US, UK, Canada, Australia, India, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico. Kobo has a far, far greater worldwide reach—practically anywhere a free citizen can get internet access.

In the past two years, I’ve had Kobo ebook downloads in ninety-six different countries. I have eleven products listed on Kobo, and Kobo provides a great tracking system. It includes a bubble map showing the countries and the proportion of downloads relative to the location. Here’s a screenshot of my Kobo overlap map from March 2020 till today:

Apple gives similar stats. I’ve only been there less than a year, but I like how I see the progression. They serve over fifty countries whereas Nook, I believe, is strictly American. I can’t speak for Google—yet.

This brings me back to the thought of Amazon failing. I don’t believe for one moment that DoomZday is approaching any time soon. But, some disturbing trends are happening with Amazon’s value.

Today (16March2022) Amazon’s market capitalization is $1.51 trillion. The stock price is $2,996 USD which is a drop from its high of $3,719 in July 2021. That’s a 21.5 percent haircut. Is it a long-term concern? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now the entire stock market is up and down like a new bride’s pajamas.

Do all big companies eventually fail, as Jeff Bezos says? The precedent certainly is out there. Sears. Lehman Brothers. Kodak. PanAm. Blockbuster. Poloroid. Pontiac/Oldsmobile.

Amazon, though? I wouldn’t worry. But if you’re an business-minded indie writer—exclusive with Amazon—seriously, you should consider going wide. This is a numbers game, and there’s money in them thar wide numbers.

Kill Zoners—let’s further this exclusive or wide discussion. If you’re an indie, which camp in do you sleep? If you’re traditionally published, do you consider going indie (or at least hybrid) and what way would you go—exclusive or wide?


Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Now, he’s reincarnated as an indie crime writer who’s left the dark side of Amazon exclusivity for the wide light of other publishing platforms like Kobo, Apple, and Nook.

Garry is a west coast Canadian product who happily writes in his mind lab on Vancouver Island. He contributes bi-weekly to the Kill Zone as well as hosting a deadly blog at You can follow him at @GarryRodgers1.


43 thoughts on “Indie Publishers — Exclusive or Wide?

  1. Wide, always. I see no reason to keep my books away from folks who don’t buy books strictly from Amazon. I use an aggregator (Draft2Digigal, which just acquired Smashwords) to greatly expand my retail and library and subscription-service reach. Amazon and the other “biggies” also feed books (well, licenses) to smaller booksellers around the world.

    • I’m going to look into D2D, Harvey. The more products I put out, the more work it takes to maintain the distribution/updates/backmatter links.

  2. Wide. Wide. Wide. I see no upside at all for anyone selling anything to limit the availability of their wares to one vendor.

  3. I’ve been ‘wide’ since I started publishing ebooks, back in the days when you published to all platforms that sold books. This was pre-Amazon, when readers were discovering this new way to read (on their PDAs) and went to the company website to buy. Ellora’s Cave started it, then created Cerridwen Press. There was All Romance ebooks, and I can’t remember the others, but if a reader bought from X and wanted my book, I wanted to have it available.
    I went with Amazon when it started, then saw no reason not to branch out. There was no “Select” then, or KU, and once I had my audience, small as it might be, I wanted my books there.
    So I’m wide. The more places readers can find me, the more product I sell. Yes, the Zon is the majority of my income, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those who buy their books elsewhere. (Like me.)
    Note: The Hubster and I are on Social Security. I’m NOT supporting a family, putting food on the table, paying the mortgage with my royalty income. It’s “gravy” to me, but it’s a rich enough gravy to let me walk into Tiffany or the car dealer and not put a dent in what we live on.
    Could I do that by going exclusive? Maybe, but I won’t diss my non-Amazon readers to try it.

    • Great comment, Terry, and an eye-opener. I’ve been e-publishing for ten years and didn’t know there was an e-life before Amazon. To be honest, the reason I pubbed with the Zon is that the Forbidden City, as Jim aptly calls it, wouldn’t have me. Best rejection I ever had – even better than when “She Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned” dumped me.

      • I did a little math (very little) and like you, 52% of my income came from Amazon. I didn’t break down the others, but Kobo and B&N were about equal, with Apple (via D2D) about 1/3 less. While it’s impossible to say how much I’d have made with all my product in KU, losing half my readers would make me uncomfortable even if I picked up some more via the “Only read KU books” crowd.
        One thing to mention: If you’ve been exclusive, you’re NOT going to get equal payouts as soon as you switch. It took me years to build my readerships at Kobo and Apple.

  4. Great post, Garry! You and Terry inspired me to go wide about a year ago. So far, I’m only putting nose prints on Tiffany’s window but I wouldn’t go back to Z exclusively. I don’t like the idea them having total control over my books. If I somehow displease them, they could shut everything down and there’s no recourse.

    Draft2Digital is the way to go. They take a percentage of sales, which bothers some authors. But, for me, not having to deal with different platforms makes it well worth it.

    An ironic news note: I just read Amazon is closing all their physical bookstores. Guess they found out it’s not as easy to succeed in that world as they thought.

    • Another thing about exclusivity and KU at Amazon. KU readers tend to stick to KU books, so if you’ve only got some of your books on that platform, odds are those readers aren’t going to buy your Non-KU books.
      Genre plays a big role: Romance readers read prolifically, and are likely to grab KU books. Other genres don’t do as well.

      • Great comments, Terry. Sci-Fantasy have rabid KU readerships but do decently wide in my experience. I was pleased to see a a number of bestsellers on various Amazon mystery lists are wide or trad published..

    • Thanks, Debbie. It takes time to get traction on Kobo and Apple. It was about six months on Kobo before my downloads picked up and that was due to Kobo ads – also that Kobo is originally Canadian (now owned by Rakuten) and I’m Canadian and the content in my books on Kobo are set in Canada. I did see that about AZ bookstores closing – I didn’t know they had that many.

    • I’m with you, Debbie. The final straw for me (with Kindle Unlimited) was the way they “hide” the Kindle version (for those who don’t want to join KU) and want to actually “buy” the Kindle version. Amazon pushes KU to the point that some readers give up trying to “find” the Kindle version for sale. And Amazon does this even when you have a sale for Free.

      When three very intelligent and successful people told me they didn’t pick up the free book, because they didn’t want to join KU, I decided Amazon had lost my loyalty.

      • Amazon is loyal to its own. If I search for my own book, using title and my name as author, you’d think it would come up first. Nope. Have to wade through “sponsored” books first. I don’t know how many readers would bother scrolling.

      • I just looked at my KU stats, Steve. I have a bunch of early publications still on KDPS/KU and that’s because I didn’t want to spend the effort crossing them over to the other platforms. In the past month I’ve had 74 page views in KU which doesn’t likely add up to a penny.

  5. Good morning, Garry. Great rundown of the two publishing options. I’m also wide with all my book, as well as the three anthologies I’m in. I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket, and I love being available in as many places as possible, which includes libraries with my eBooks as well as print. I also don’t like giving any one platform power over my publishing.

    I started out exclusive in Kindle Unlimited in January 2017, and that gave my new indie publishing endeavor a cash stake to use six months later when I went wide. Received my first BookBub featured deal in February 2018.

    I publish on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and, yes Google Play. Definitely put up your books there, Garry. There’s a large group of readers there to reach 🙂

    My income at each has fluctuated. Last year, with only one publication, a novella in a shared anthology, my income was down, but with promotion, still ended up being decent (for me) while I worked on transitioning to mystery writing. Being wide steadies things, money wise. When one retailer is done, another is up. I’ve done well on Nook, but if B&N eventually folds, I’ll still have the other retailers. I also publish to Tolino (a large German retailer) on D2D, which I also use to put books onto Hoopla, a library ebook streaming service. I use Kobo to get my books into Overdrive, the vendor that sells eBooks to libraries worldwide.

    In my own view, the two paths have separate groups of readers–Kindle Unlimited sees a number of “whale readers” who consume books daily (or even faster) and can run through a series in a week. Wide readers are the steady, regular readers who might get through a book in a week or so. KU readers won’t read wide books, and often baulk at paying money beyond their monthly KU subscription for books.

    I do have several author friends who do quite well in KU, but I like the open, broad waters of being Wide.

    Have another great day, my friend.

  6. All (most?) publishing houses are wide, so I’ve been wide since day one. I recently got my rights back for two novellas and my course ended two nights ago, which freed up my crazy schedule a bit. So, as soon as I finish my thriller next week, I’ll republish the titles on my own. And yes, wide. I may even dabble in recording my own audiobook. Never say never, right?

    • You’ve been a busy bee, Sue. I’m closely watching the AI text to speech technology advances. Hiring a human voice actor seems like a long road for a ROI. I’ve considered doing my own recordings but I’m not sure I’m up to it. I think you’ll do a great job of recording yours, though. You do a great job of everything you do 🙂

      • You are too sweet! It’s not true, but thanks for making me feel good. 😉

        Yeah, totally agree. And if you get the wrong narrator, it can destroy your overall review rating. Sadly, all reviews get lumped together. Terrible idea, IMO. The author shouldn’t suffer the consequences of a horrible narrator, especially if they had no say in hiring them.

  7. Thanks for mentioning print and libraries, Dale. I only have one book offered in print and no library presence. My print book doesn’t sell well at all whereas the e-copy does quite well. The way I look at print is it costs about $150 for my cover designer to do a spine and backjacket which requires considerable sales to break even. However, for my new series set for release in the fall I’m looking at covering all bases – ebook, print, and audio. Maybe even library lending now that you brought the issue up.

  8. I’m wide on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Apple, Ingram Spark, and as of a couple of weeks ago, Google Play. My first book was traditionally published and is on those platforms with the exception of Google. (I’m in the process of getting the rights to that book back so I can control my own destiny.)

    I don’t know if Amazon will eventually die. I’m more worried about it taking over the publishing world. And it “sticks in my craw” (as my great Aunt Pearl used to say) that Amazon tries to drive other companies out of the business by using its position to get authors to go exclusive.

    I’m currently doing all the platform distribution for my indie books, but I want to look at Draft2Digital. I’d like to keep as much control as possible while delegating the time-consuming distribution tasks. For those who use it, are there any downsides to it?

    • It’s interesting that Amazon hasn’t tried to compete head-to-head with traditional publishing – the Big 5, soon to be the Big 4 is the Penguin Random House./ Simon & Schuster merger goes through. I guess they see it’s safer (more profitable) to let traditional publishing come to them to use the Zon store.

      I also found it interesting that Marc Lefebvre left Kobo for D2D. To me, that’s a great endorsement of D2D’s worth – also that D2D acquired SmashWords. I can’t speak to the up or downsides, Kay. Let’s hear what others say.

      • It’s interesting that Amazon hasn’t tried to compete head-to-head with traditional publishing

        Garry, Amazon has been doing that for many years now with its own publishing imprints (e.g., Thomas & Mercer). I’d say they are doing pretty well, considering Dean Koontz is now with them!

  9. I have yet to publish but found this interesting to read with my coffee. Can Amazon fail? I would argue that Amazon may fail if it cannot adapt. I keep thinking about Sears and its failure to reduce its retail space and embrace online sales. I work in the oil industry – the failure I can see there is many oil men don’t embrace all energy such as green and alternatives.

    The other thing I wonder about is can indie authors adapt to the future? What happens when something else comes at us – unforeseen – and we’re all dependent on some new technology and we need to adapt to?

    I guess it’s all down to the business of books and maybe we’re all dinosaurs going extinct and our failure is not being to change or evolve.

    • Being Canadian like me, Ben, you’ll well remember the Eaton empire collapse. Whod’a thunk Eatons and Sears would be toast with The Bay being an endangered species as well.

      I’m gonna make a technology prediction about AI’s influence in “book” world. I foresee a day coming right at us where interactive books will be the rage. By that, I mean e-reading accompanied by audio and visual options built right into one product. When that happens, I’ll be all over it. Not gonna wait for the asteroid hit.

  10. Sheesh, Garry, again? It’s one thing to be an apologist for your position; it’s quite another to be an evangelist. Why are you trying so hard to make converts? E.g.,

    But if you’re a business-minded indie writer—exclusive with Amazon—seriously, you should consider going wide.

    Why? Because of pie-crust promises like:

    This is a numbers game, and there’s money in them thar wide numbers.

    Where is the data to back this up?

    Here’s my data: I was wide at the start (that would be a good title for a diet book). A few years ago I decided to take the plunge and go exclusive. The difference in income is by an order of magnitude. I have a number of indie friends who made the move to exclusive within the last two years, and with equally happy results.

    This business is not just about “sales opportunities.” It’s about maximizing revenue. Since I do this for a living, that’s kind of important.

    Also, your math is a little off. It’s not “one ebook is one product for sale.” With exclusivity you’re paid two ways, sales and page reads. And then there are the promotional advantages. Last week I had a BookBub feature and, as always, my KENP reads are having a major spike. It will remain so for several weeks. Historically, I make as much from that two-month spike that it nearly equals my entire annual income from the other platforms combined when I was wide.

    As I’ve pointed out, some writers have philosophical reasons for not going exclusive. That’s fine. People have craws they don’t like things stuck in, and knickers they don’t want in a twist. Whatever makes you comfortable.

    But for me, the business side is primary, and that comes down to maximizing revenue. There’s a reason one of the most wildly successful digital publishing companies out there, Wolfpack, has all its books and authors in KU.

  11. A few years ago, “small publisher” meant a real publisher with editors and staff, not someone hitting the “publish” button for their own works. These publishers have dropped like flies recently, I lost both Mundania and Double Dragon which published a majority of my novels, but others still remain. They deserve to keep that title. Rant over.

    Whether Amazon goes or stays, I’ve always questioned why anyone would trust Amazon with everything. I’ve been watching Amazon since before it was profitable, and it has done lots of evil crap, particularly to small publishers and indie authors. It deliberately drove one of my paper publishers to bankruptcy, apparently for funsies. And its algorithm can destroy an author/publisher’s reputation and close it down. I’ve been Casandra giving the Amazon warning for many years, and those who have laughed at me often ended up crying when their books disappear for no reason, and they are banned for no reason.

      • Amazon got to where it is by being, get this, visionary and really good at what it does. We used to cheer businesses that did that. Except, I guess, when they actually succeed.

        Yeah, it’s a cutthroat world out there in big business, but that has always been the case (remember what Barnes & Noble did to put little bookstores out of business? Remember when Borders tried to put B&N out of business? It’s called competition). According to the FTC, it is not an anti-trust issue if a business is “competing on the merits in a way that benefits consumers through greater efficiency or a unique set of products or services.” That’s Amazon. And it does have competition, primarily Walmart.

        As for writers, Amazon is the company that made it possible for writers, for the first time in history, to make real dough without having to go through that longstanding oligopoly–the traditional publishing/brick-and-mortar Forbidden City. For that I am grateful. Doesn’t mean I don’t keep my eyes open and ear to the ground (and at the same time, my nose to the grindstone…and now I’m out of metaphors).

  12. Starting in late 2017 I was wide for about a year. Kept hearing about the wonders of Page Reads with KU so decided to give it a shot. I’ve never looked back. For every $100 I make on print books, I make $300 on ebooks and $900 on page reads. Yes, at any time amazon could go belly-up or change the way they pay authors, etc. If that happens, I’ll just let my 90 days expire and go back to wide.
    Early on I had some of my readers complain that they couldn’t read my books on Kobo, etc. I just kept educating them re the fact that you can download the Kindle app on your phone, tablet, laptop, etc. and turn ANY device into a Kindle reader.

    • That’s a healthy outlook on Amazon, Deborah. Kobo recently offered a subscription service called Kobo Plus. It test-drove in the Netherlands and it’ just become operational in Canada. I have to admit that while I sell on Kobo I buy books from Amazon and use a Kindle app on my PC.

  13. I have been wide from day 1, but I’ve seen other authors who rack in good money on KU. Since last summer, I’ve been researching if that makes any sense and decided to move some of my backlist to KU, the books that don’t sell much anymore. Now I’m taking advantage of those programs to move the old books (and I can keep my name wide by keeping my paperbacks on the other platforms). This is a “year of test marketing” to see how it works, and I am seeing page reads for the backlist, so at a minimum I’m gaining more readership that way. Had my sister ask me once why she couldn’t find me at KU and I told her it was because I’d have to be exclusive to them and she sputtered and said “well, then I wouldn’t either!” Jury’s still out on if I continue with KU, and how much I’m actually making on those page reads, but the backlist reads beat zero sales on those same books.

    • Thanks for your interesting comment, Karla. I’m not sure what to make of Amazon’s exclusivity, but I have no doubt they’ve thought it through and chose to go with the program. I also doubt they’ll relax it any time soon. I just left a note above with Karla about Kobo Plus. I’m enrolled in it and they don’t require exclusivity – they don’t care if you dance with the devil – they’re just happy to sell your stuff and make some money.

      • I’m with Kobo Plus as well, Garry, and it ups my Kobo income considerably. Some months it doubles it. And I do like that they don’t require exclusivity.

        • We’re in a changing indie-publishing platform world for sure, Terry. Doubling income with subscription without exclusivity sounds like a good return.

  14. First, Garry, I’m with you on the terminology. I’m a “Creator & Packager of Information and Entertainment Content.” Always have been, always will be. Book authoring/publishing is just the latest chapter (get it? ;-).

    But I’m NOT with you on the Wide thing. Nope. I’m happy in the Zon Exclusive group. Several reasons:
    1. I started (5 years ago) in KDP Exclusive and continue to like it, now 4 novels and 4 novellas in.
    2. My KU page reads continue to be roughly 50% of my total revenues. I seriously doubt the other platforms would make up for this.
    3. Kobo? Seriously. Look at your bubble map. Canada, baby. You’re Canadian. I’m not. Just looked and my Canadian sales are dismal (although my Canadian Zon KU page reads more than make up for it).
    4. And there’s the whole algorithm thing. Amazon promotes my books. It’s a built-in feature. More so if you’re exclusive.
    5. I’m not worried about Amazon failing in my lifetime. FYI: I’m old. Ain’t gonna happen while I’m swimming on the surface.

    Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind. As always.


  15. First, Harald, you’re not old. Dirt is old.
    Second, I had to Google “Adelante”.
    Third, you and I can be buddies even though I’m wide and you’re not.

    You make great points about Az KDPS and KU. I hadn’t thought about algorithm nepotism but, come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I had an email from Amazon suggesting I buy my own book. Adelante, my American friend!

  16. I’ve been Indie Published for 9 years. I started wide and then went exclusive with Zon. I’ve done 3 trials with removing my books and going wide and I’ve lost income (30-40%) every time. Yes, I hate having all my eggs in one basket, but I’m chasing income.

    • Nothing wrong with chasing income, Alec. In this wide vs exclusive world, an indie publisher must do what’s best to capture income. Thanks for your comment!

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