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Where Should I Sell My Books?

by Tom Ashford

Amazon-exclusive or wide is a question many an author has asked themselves, and it’s a decision only you, the author, can make. There’s no right or wrong answer (and if there is, will somebody please tell me), just a few pros and cons to each side of the argument. Mark Dawson goes into this decision in much more detail in the 101 course (which is open for enrolment right now, for a limited time), but I thought it might be worth diving into some statistics regarding the market.

The Heavy Hitters

It should come as no surprise that Amazon is the biggest player in the U.S. and U.K. ebook markets. But by how much, exactly?

Well, in 2017, Amazon accounted for over 83% of all U.S. ebook purchases (of both traditionally published and self-published books). All other options – that includes Nook, iBooks and Kobo – amount to less than 17% in total, with nobody else holding more than a 9% share of sales. The U.S. market that year saw over 487 million books sold. With that 83% market share, Amazon saw over 400 million ebooks sold on its platform alone.

It’s a similar story in the United Kingdom, where Amazon actually has an even greater hold on the market – almost 88%. The closest any other party gets is a measly 7.5%. The market itself is smaller, of course – only 95 million ebooks sold in 2017. However, that’s still over 83 million books!

What’s more, Kindle Unlimited (which requires exclusivity with Amazon) accounts for approximately 12% of author earnings on Amazon, which means that an author can potentially make up the gap left by being exclusive through page reads.

The problem is, that only really works in the U.S. and U.K. markets where Amazon has such a hold on sales. Elsewhere in the world, there’s a far better balance of sales across platforms. For example, in Canada and Australia (which both sell about 25 million books a year), Amazon “only” accounts for 55-60% of the market. That’s quite a lot of customers to be ignoring, if you’re targeting sales in either of those countries.

Which Format Are You Selling?

It should be reiterated that these numbers are just for ebooks – this doesn’t take into account paperback or audiobook formats of your books (which, as technically different products to your ebooks, don’t necessarily need to follow the same rules of Amazon exclusivity).

As always, it’s worth taking any statistics on these matters with a pinch of salt – there’s always a caveat or two that can mean that the statistics actually indicate the opposite of what you think they might. For example, some outlets claim that ebook sales are actually on a small decline year on year, whereas print books are on the rise… but that doesn’t take into account the burgeoning indie industry (don’t take our word for it – have a listen to last week’s podcast guest, Alex Newton). Ebooks sales continue to rise. Nobody’s doubting that audiobooks are growing in popularity. Each format comes with its own questions of wide vs. exclusive, particularly when coupled with the next consideration: where you should be selling your books.

The World is a Big, Big Place

As huge as the U.S. (and to smaller extent, U.K.) markets are, they’re still a small slice of the overall global pie. Right now they might still be the best places to sell your books, but it might not stay that way forever. The two countries combined have a total of 390,000,000 citizens. That’s only a third of either China or India.

Amazon are expanding their Kindle platform in India, but China is a whole other situation entirely. China is now the world’s biggest e-commerce market, but Amazon has had trouble cracking it. More popular ebook distributors include China Mobile and China Unicom. Language barriers aside, selling books to this market could become extremely lucrative for authors in the future. Just look at Germany – a lot smaller than China, sure, but its e-reading population is growing enough that even Mark is translating his books into Deutsch to tap into a new revenue stream.

So How Do We Get Our Books Out There?

Well, it’s easy to get our books wherever there’s an Amazon store – just upload to KDP. And if you choose to go wide, then that can be easy too – if you don’t fancy uploading your book to each individual store (which can involve exporting to a lot of different formats) you can use aggregators such as Draft2Digital to upload your title to each store.

But that can leave a lot of the aforementioned untapped markets, well, untapped. That’s where solutions such as PublishDrive come in – they can get you into over four hundred stores across over seventy countries, including all the major ones such as Amazon, Nook, Kobo etc. Of course this avenue isn’t open to you if you choose to go exclusive with Amazon (well, it is, but financially it makes much more sense to upload your books there yourself), but you may not mind. Unless the Chinese market suddenly develops a voracious appetite for English-language books, you might find more success at home.

So… Exclusive or Wide?

And again, this is a decision that can only be made by you. There is no right and wrong answer (though there might be a right and wrong answer for you – experiment and see what works best). Sometimes starting off exclusive to Amazon makes the whole system easier to get to grips with for a new author. Mark’s doing well in Kindle Unlimited at the moment. Adam Croft doesn’t like to put all of his eggs in one basket. Have a think and find out what’s important to you: targeting a very specific audience and focussing on that, or making your book available to everyone around the planet (for a little extra cost). Thanks to self-publishing, the choice is entirely yours.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.