Last updated on Jul 07, 2021
READ THIS Before You Enroll in KDP Select!
KDP Select is a program available to all authors willing to grant Amazon exclusive rights to sell their ebook through the Kindle store only.
By agreeing not to sell the digital file of their book through any other retailers, authors are given access to a variety of promotional tools — the most significant of which is Kindle Unlimited — and the opportunity to earn higher royalties (in some cases, more on that later).
The KDP Select program lasts 90 days, after which authors can either choose to opt out of the program, or auto-renew for another 90-day commitment.
While digital copies of the book must only be sold through Amazon:
- A 10% sample of the book can be made available outside of the Kindle Store;
- Print (or any other non-digital) versions can be distributed elsewhere; and
- Copies of the book can be emailed to reviewers for editing purposes.
So, a higher percentage of sales and additional book marketing tools: sounds pretty good, right?
Why would an indie author not want those things? Well, the question of whether to grant Amazon exclusivity or to “go wide” is a constant talking point amongst self-publishing authors, as both options come with their own sets of pros and cons. The biggest and most important pro of enrolling in Amazon's Select program is undoubtedly the access to Kindle Unlimited. So before we get too far into discussing pros and cons, let's quickly cover exactly what Kindle Unlimited is.
What is Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is an “all-you-can-read” service that allows subscribers to read as many ebooks as they’d like for $9.99 a month (if you’re thinking “Netflix for books,” you’re on the money). When authors enroll in Amazon's Select program, their books are automatically made available to readers on KU. (For a comprehensive guide to KU, check out our post right here.)
Because of the ease with which readers can find books (KU customer receive emails suggesting books based on their reading history), and the ability to “test-drive” many books without having to pay full price for them all, KU has become an extremely popular program. In fact, it has become such a go-to for readers that for many genres, it’s basically impossible for a book to rank well on Amazon if it’s not listed in Kindle Unlimited.
With this major pro in mind, let's discuss how authors actually make money with KU, and look a little closer at the other perks authors can expect when they marry their ebook to Amazon for 90 days.
The Pros of Enrolling in KDP Select
The main benefits of enrolling include access to:
- Kindle Unlimited
- Kindle Countdown Deals
- Kindle Free Promotions
- Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
- Increased royalties for sales in select countries
The crown jewel of Select's incentives is, without a doubt, access to Kindle Unlimited (KU). It’s a topic we covered extensively in our weekly marketing newsletter (to sign up, select “book marketing”), but we’ll start by giving you the KU highlight reel here.
1. Kindle Unlimited
Here’s how authors make money on Kindle Unlimited: at the end of each month, a Kindle Direct Publishing Global Fund is announced. This fund determines how much each title available on KU has earned its authors. For instance, in January 2019, the KDP Global Fund was $24.7 million.
Amazon then determines how this money is split between authors and publishers with a per-page-read royalty — so the more pages of your books are read by KU subscribers, the more money you stand to make.
So let’s say an author has a 300-page book in Kindle Unlimited. In January 2019, the payout per page was $0.0044, so the author will have earned $1.32 for every reader who borrowed and read their title cover-to-cover. (This is regardless of the actual retail price of that book).
You can keep track of the monthly KDP Global fund and per-page-payout amount in this helpful post by Written Word Media.
Kindle Unlimited can be a truly great resource for self-publishing authors, depending on your genre. But it’s not the only incentive Amazon's Select program offers authors. Let’s take a look at some of the others.
2. Kindle Countdown Deals
For one week every 90 days, authors have the ability to discount their book by putting it on a “countdown deal.” Authors continue to earn a 70% royalty on the discounted price, even if it’s priced below $2.99. (Note that authors who run price promotions outside of Select only earn 35% royalties on books priced below $2.99).
There are a couple of eligibility requirements to take part (head here to read them all):
- The price before the countdown must be between $2.99 - $24.99 on Amazon.com or £1.99 – £15.99 on Amazon.co.uk;
- The minimum discount is $1 on Amazon.com or £1 on Amazon.co.uk;
- The title must be enrolled in KDP Select for at least 30 days; and
- You cannot run a deal if the end of your Select enrollment is 14 days away or less.
3. Kindle Free Promotions
For five days every 90 days, authors can set their book to free. (Note that it can’t be in the same 90-day period as a countdown deal). Both countdown deals and free promotions allow books to appear on the Kindle Store Deals page, promising a boost of visibility.
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4. Increased royalties for sales in select countries
KDP and KDP Select authors can earn a 35% royalty on sales both in the US and internationally if their book is priced below $2.99, and 70% royalties on books priced above $2.99 in the US and other select countries. Only with KDP Select can authors earn a 70% royalty for sales in Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and India.
Suffice it to say, Amazon offers some pretty enticing perks for enrolling in KDP Select. However, as with anything, there is another side to the coin. Let’s take a look at why self-publishing authors might want to cast a wider net.
The Cons of Enrolling in KDP Select
The primary reason for an author to go wide is so that they can list their book on as many e-retailers and library distributors as they want, in addition to selling and distributing it through their own author website.
While Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play are the main “competitors” to Amazon, there are literally hundreds more e-retailers and ebook distributors around the world. You can view them all in our complete guide to ebook distribution.
But if these other distributors and retailers only represent under 20% of the market, should you really bother going wide, if it means missing out on all the incentives Amazon's Select program offers to keep your exclusivity?
Here are some reasons why you might (or should) want to go wide:
- In some countries, Amazon isn't as dominant as it is in the US
- You can build a presence outside of Amazon (which can be fickle)
- You will have the ability to hit bestseller lists (outside of Amazon)
1. Access a larger portion of the international ebook market
With around 80% market share, Amazon undeniably wears the crown when it comes to controlling the ebook market in the US and the UK. However, this isn’t the case across the globe:
- In Canada, Kobo alone controls over 25% of the ebook market;
- In Germany, Tolino and Amazon have equal ebook market share; and
- In Australia, Apple Books controls about 30% of the ebook market.
So by not going exclusive with Amazon, you allow yourself the opportunity to tap into these markets and better reach a worldwide audience.
Also, while Amazon’s presence in the US is going to be hard to challenge, Kobo’s recent partnership with Walmart does open a new door to readers in America.
2. It’s harder to build a wide presence… but harder to lose it as well
While Amazon might get the most digital foot traffic, you’re also competing with a huge number of other authors and books. Though you might be catering to a smaller pool of customers on other retailers, you might also have better luck gaining a competitive advantage — and grabbing the attention of those readers.
Furthermore, non-Amazon stores (Apple Books, Kobo, B&N, Google Play) are curated in a different way. While Amazon is all about automated algorithms — which can change from one day to another, along with your books’ rankings — these stores are more about human curation. Top visibility spots are curated by merchandising teams (another topic we covered in our marketing newsletter). What this basically means is that, while it generally takes longer (and requires you to publish more books) to get a strong stream of sales from non-Amazon stores, it’s also a much harder position to lose — that is, if you don’t pull your books away and into KDP Select, of course.
3. The ability to hit Bestseller lists (outside of Amazon)
As Nicholas Erik mentions in his helpful post on the topic, the chances of an indie author hitting The New York Times’ Best Sellers list are razor-thin. But other lists, such as the USA Today one, are a lot more within an indie author’s grasp and can be just as much of a boon to a writer’s career.
However, many of these lists — The New York Times and USA Today both included — require that the author is not exclusive to Amazon and is selling their book on at least one other retailer.
Fundamentally, one of the first rules of investing is to not put all your eggs in one basket. If you're exclusive to Amazon, you're entirely at their mercy. If they suddenly change their algorithms and your books stop ranking, you might lose a huge portion of your income overnight.
At the end of the day, the decision to go wide or exclusive with Amazon depends on your marketing plan for your book. Which brings us to…
Making the call: should you enroll in Amazon KDP Select or not?
We recommend that you take this quick quiz to confirm your decision:
Wondering whether you should give all your ebook distribution rights to Amazon?
Answer these 5 questions to find out!
Ultimately, the decision on whether you go into KDP Select or distribute wide will be a personal decision. The main factor influencing it is whether you feel okay trusting Amazon 100% with “your babies.”
That said, it's important to also consider factors like genre and your own marketing strategy.
Luckily, the terms of enrolling in Amazon's Select program only last 90 days, so you can rest assured in the knowledge that it’s not a permanent or years-long commitment. However, whatever your decision is, you should try to stick to it as much as possible. While trying Amazon's Select program for 90 days is certainly worth it, you shouldn't be jumping in and out of Select. Going wide is a long-term game, and not only does it take years to build a presence on other stores, marketing strategies and best practices also differ between Select and wide books.
Who should consider KDP Select?
If you answer “yes” to the following questions, you should consider enrolling:
- Are you planning on selling only through the Kindle Store?
- Does your target market primarily consist of digital readers in the US and the UK?
- Does your marketing strategy consist of big promotions bolstered by big ad blasts (as opposed to more of a “slow and steady” effort)?
- Do the bestsellers in your genre include a healthy selection of Kindle Unlimited titles?
That last point is very important, and should be a major factor in your decision.
Finding out whether KU is integral to your genre is fairly simple: head to Amazon’s Best Sellers in Kindle Ebooks and narrow it down to just your categories. Go through the top 20 to 100 titles and see what percentage of those books are in KU. If the percentage is high, you might be better off enrolling in Amazon's Select program. For example, at the time of this article’s writing, the top 20 fantasy, science fiction, romance, and crime fiction books all include over 14 KU titles. (While the top 20 mystery, historical fiction, thriller, and literature and fiction books only contain 12 or fewer KU titles — and self-help, art and photography, and biographies and memoirs contain less than ten.)
Who should consider going wide?
If large parts of your target market are ebook readers outside of the US and UK, you’re publishing your first book, or you’re writing in a genre with few KU titles in its bestsellers list, going wide might be your best bet.
Going wide is good choice for patient authors who are thinking of their career in the long-term. As David Gaughan explains in his comprehensive post on the topic, it’s an option that requires long-term growth marketing strategies, such as:
- An up-to-date author website
- Growing mailing lists and tested reader magnets
- Permafree or heavily discounted books/series
- Targeted campaigns (such as Facebook ads)
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Going wide is all about building a readership — and hanging onto those readers. This requires more of a slow but steady mindset: you need to regularly communicate with your readers and invest time and energy into researching and executing email marketing strategies in order to hold their attention. Because, while KDP Select might take advantage of algorithms to help bring readers to your book, going wide is all about finding ways to connect readers to your books yourself.
What’s great about this strategy (which David coins the “drip strategy”) is that, if you do it well, it can result in smaller but steadier reader growth and sales from a number of different places — which eventually adds up to a strong stream of income.
This is not to say you can’t — or shouldn’t — put these drip strategies into effect if you’re exclusive with Amazon. But it’s tougher because you’re at the will of the Amazon algorithm, which has been known to change fairly regularly.
And seeing as your ideal distribution method boils down to your marketing strategy, here are a few final resources to help you make the most of your book launch.
With all of this in mind, remember that whether you decide to go with KDP Select or open publishing, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you use KDP Select’s Countdown Deals or Free Promotions but don’t spend any time advertising your promotions, they won’t lead to much exposure — the whole point of these tools.
If you decide to forgo the increased visibility that can come with Kindle Unlimited, make sure you spend time getting acquainted with the aggregators out there or developing various book marketing strategies — or else the benefits of going wide will end up falling flat.
To learn about the fundamentals of book marketing, check out this course:
Book Marketing 101
Learn seven tried-and-true strategies for boosting book sales.
And we can also recommend reading these posts as a next step to learn more about book marketing.
Amazon Self-Publishing: How to Publish a Book With KDP [blog post]
The Complete Guide to Ebook Distribution [blog post]
50+ Book Marketing Ideas to CRUSH Your Book Launch [blog post]
Winning Amazon's Secret Popularity Contest [webinar]
How to Launch a Bestselling Book in 7 Steps [webinar]
Book Promotion Services [directory]
Vetted Freelance Marketers for Hire [marketplace]
Submit Your Book for Reedsy Discovery on Review [service]
We hope this post has been helpful in considering the pros and cons of KDP Select vs. going wide, and that you feel more confident in leveraging the route you choose for your book’s success.
Rachelle M. N. Shaw says:
27/02/2019 – 17:18
Great article! There are certainly pros and cons to each. In my personal experience, I've found it most useful to enroll in KDP Select for one term (90 days), then opt out after that and go widespread. The initial exposure in KDP Select is much greater for marketing, and you earn higher royalties from KU reads as well. But after that, it's about building your reader base. And I can still earn the KU royalties from anybody who purchased the book through them during the enrollment period, even after I've taken the book out of KDP Select. So for me, it makes sense to start each book in KDP Select, then expand. I have a lot of readers outside the U.S. though, which does make somewhat of a difference.
Marti Kilby says:
27/02/2019 – 17:34
Great article! I am a newbie author and published my first non-fiction eBook through KDP Select on December 30th. I ran a 3-day free promotion which I advertised on Facebook, and had enough downloads to put me at the #1 spot in my category, which even if fleeting was exciting. However, this free promotion did next to nothing for sales. My book is about real estate so really only applicable in the U.S., but I would like to be able to sell it elsewhere, including my real estate website. When my KDP Select term is up on March 30, I do not plan to renew.
Emma Baird says:
27/02/2019 – 18:33
Thanks for this thoughtful and balanced overview. I've done both, and currently and have one book in Kindle Select and three 'wide'. I think an additional factor these days is advertising. Why be select when Amazon is more or less forcing you to advertise your books nowadays? Perhaps it's cutting off my nose to spite my face, but all my future books will be wide as I don't like feeling as if I'm being forced to do something.
C. A. Newsome says:
27/02/2019 – 19:01
The problem with Amazon, which is magnified time ten in KU, is their scorched earth policy of dealing with scammers, shooting first and never bothering to ask questions and refusing to respond when they pull the accounts of legit authors by mistake. KU is full of scammers, and so far Amazon has failed to put proper safeguards in place even though the program is several years old. I have friends who make 6 figures in KU, and power to them. But Amazon has been capricious in making changes and I would rather build a readership as wide as I can than cross my fingers that Amazons newest brainstorm will not destroy me.
Stephen Bentley says:
28/02/2019 – 02:38
Excellent and informative article giving the pros and cons. It's not an easy decision. After a few years of indecision, I stayed with Kindle Select. I'm content and page reads do make a difference to my earnings. That is especially the case when running AMS ads. You mention "Do the bestsellers in your genre include a healthy selection of Kindle Unlimited titles?" as being an important factor. I agree and would add this: the A-Pub imprints are all in KU. I think that answers the question for me. The other important benefit of KU is an author can price books sensibly. There is no need to make them free or sell at 0.99. I find many readers in the platforms outside of Amazon are on the lookout for free or nearly free ebooks. I don't like giving my work away for nothing.
Rachel McCollin says:
28/02/2019 – 07:59
I think this is the first article I've ever seen on this topic which is unbiased and doesn't try to persuade the reader to go one way or the other. A really useful post. Thanks!
Shirish Deshpande says:
28/02/2019 – 09:41
Very informative and unbiased article. Regardless of where we are (KDP Select/non-KDP camp), there's aways that nagging doubt, am I doing this right? I started with KDP select with my first book in Sep 2018. When I published my second book in Dec 2018, I decided to make my first book wide for few days to test the waters. In a week, I got zero sales outside Amazon, while the ranking for my book nosedived on Amazon. Then I realized that in the pursuit of "not putting all my eggs into one basket", I was putting my eggs in too many baskets! I already have two channels where I create my video courses, and one very active YouTube channel. In addition, I am writing books like crazy. I couldn't focus my marketing efforts on so many channels at the same time. So I decided to come back to KDP Select, and we have had a very happy journey together since. Did I make a mistake coming back? After all, one week is not enough time to reach conclusions whether wide distribution works or not. I don't have answer to that. Will I go wide again? I don't have answer to that either. But one thing is sure, when you think of any alternative, it's better to stick to it, and tell that nagging doubt in your head to sod off!
Barbara Mealer says:
28/02/2019 – 13:29
I loved the unbiased post. You don't get that too often these days. I decided to go wide, not wanting to put all my sales into one seller, very aware it was going to be an uphill battle. I've made sales on other platforms, all without ads. When the third full length novel comes out, I'll be doing more ads and I felt that wide was going to allow for a wider audience. Yes, I use Amazon as I have a kindle, the I do go to B&N to get books and other reading related things. Being an investor, I don't believe putting everything in one pot.
david henderson says:
06/08/2019 – 09:42
This is by far one of the best posts on the topic of KDP Select, thanks for the effort!
Ross Naheedy says:
31/10/2019 – 03:39
Thank you so much for this illuminating blog post. Being a newbie to self publishing and having faced with many options available, I have certainly gotten lost at time. This article cleanly laid out the advantages and disadvantages of drinking the Amazon Cool Aid and has managed to sway me back to my original intention of going wide.