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Could you survive without KDP?

by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

A short post this week, while I’m gearing up for a big launch later this month (more on that soon – it’s going to be pretty epic). I wanted to talk a little bit about diversification in this post, and what I’m doing to lessen my reliance on the KDP platform when it comes to selling books. In short, the ebook retailer options for authors can be summed up pretty easily:

  • Amazon is awesome. Most of the time. Unless you’re published with Hachette. 
  • Kobo is the most helpful retailer, like, ever.
  • iTunes moves in mysterious ways and take forever to do anything.
  • Smashwords is a formatting nightmare and difficult to use, but I like the community over there.
  • Nook is generally just awful to work with, especially when they forget to pay me.

More importantly, at least from my point of view, Amazon accounts for anywhere between 80% – 90% of my sales. Which is kinda worrying. Forgetting the political nonsense surrounding KDP Select and the horrors of exclusivity, and forgetting all those authors who continually tell you you should be on every platform possible (even if the only market served is a tiny island principality in the arctic sea), I think the easiest way to frame the issue is this:

If Amazon’s Kindle platform went belly up tomorrow, would you still be in business as a writer?

I’m guessing the answer is probably “no” for most of you. I know it is for me. Yes, I may have books out on multiple platforms, but if Kindle dries up, I’m pretty screwed either way. That is, until I figured out I could actually make money without using an ebook retailer in the first place. Here’s a few pretty graphs that will hopefully show you what I mean:


See how that “affiliate” income is growing each month? See how Nook + iTunes + Kobo account for a pretty small percentage? This is the main concern for me – I know being in KDP Select has its advantages when it comes to ease of promotion, but I also don’t want to give up the side-earners (especially Kobo) as I do think they can be grown over time. That’s why I have some books in KDP Select and some not – it’s hopefully the best of both worlds.

But I don’t think the non-Amazon retailers are ever likely to represent enough of a revenue stream by themselves to keep me entirely free of risk. That’s why I wanted to open up a new revenue stream – one that doesn’t rely on these retailers at all (and it pays instantly!). I’ve called it “affiliate” for the sake of accounting purposes, but it’s actually very little to do with Amazon’s Associate Program.

I’m going to be talking more about this in a couple of weeks, so check back soon. I hate to leave you hanging, but I’m gonna hold off on giving you the full skinny until I’ve got some more results to share with you. But I’m pretty psyched about the whole thing – it’s gonna be good. Remember to sign up for email notifications when the next post comes out – you’re not going to want to miss this!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from anyone who’s selling on multiple platforms – what sort of sales split do you see? Those of you in KDP Select, are you happy with the exclusivity and the bonus extras that brings? Drop by and leave a comment – I want to hear from you!


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  1. atothewr says:

    I tend to agree with you. Without KDP I would be stuck. It has been the best way to get my voice out there. My sales have never been like yours, but people do see and buy my stories after a free promotion through KDP. No other site gives me that edge, so that’s why I tend to stay with Amazon and no one else. By the way, is there a secret to getting your sales so high. I don’t have money for adds or anything like that, got to do it free as I can, but I see others like you with sales this high. Just wondering if I am missing something.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Man, if there was a secret you can bet I’d be bottling it up and going on the road! KDP Select has been awesome, but I’ve also found having a few titles on other platforms is a nice way to bridge that market. As for growing sales, it took me nearly 2 years and seven books to get to this point – so I guess the only secret is patience (oh, and Bookbub) 😀

      1. atothewr says:

        I have been at this for a bit, but it hasn’t been till this year that I really started to learn how to self-publish. I guess patience really is what I need. Do you use Twitter or Facebook or any other platform to promote yourself? I use Twitter a lot, my blog, a few others. I will look into Bookbub. Thanks for the info.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          I don’t really use social media except when people want to get in touch. Looking into some more interesting stuff I can do with it though.

          1. Michael Coorlim says:

            Best use for social media I’ve found is to just be a useful and interesting person wherever you’re at. Don’t promote, but make it easy for people to find your sales page. Let them come to that choice on their own, and they’ll be more invested, and more likely to try your work.

            So just be cool all over the place.

          2. Nick_Stephenson says:

            ^ this 😀

  2. Michael Coorlim says:

    When I started out in 2012, KDP had an early lead. By September, however, nook had caught up with them, and until around March of 2013 actually exceeded my Amazon income. After that, though, my Nook sales plummeted to about half my Amazon earnings… and they’ve stayed there since.

    My kobo sales have remained more or less steady at 1/3rd of Amazon’s sales, and Apple (through Draft 2 Digital have slowly crept up to BN levels.

    Overall? Sales are down in 2014 because my Amazon sales are down. I’m selling more through Kobo and Apple, but not enough to make up the deficit.

    It’s clear I need to do something, but I’m not sure exactly what.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Nook’s taken a real dive for a lot of authors. I did well for a month off the back of a Bookbub promo on my permafree, but after that… nada. I reckon those authors will multiple series (plus permafree on each) will do really well on non-Amazon sites. For everyone else, not so much…

      Kobo have been great though, really helpful to indies. Go check out this podcast for more info on how to get sales on kobo:

  3. Another interesting post Nick, thanks! Looking forward to more info regarding the affiliate earnings. Only one’s I’d really known about was book ads via Amazon.

    In regard to my own (very small) sales, I’d say my Scribd sales run neck and neck with my Amazon sales. Was beginning to traction some with both B&N and Apple, and they’ve gone flat for the last month.

    I’ve resisted KU because of its exclusivity, but may consider a few titles that would either a) be a nightmare to reformat to distribute other than through Amazon (where the file works perfectly) or b) be too large a file size-wise to publish anywhere else than Amazon and still keep the image files the size I’d like, or c) I have audio books to go with the ebooks and bundling them via Kindle Unlimited may prove best for those titles.

    In other words I haven’t nudged myself off non-exclusive any yet 🙂

    Looking fwd to the affliate post!

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Felipe! Scribd is a very interesting model. I’ll be curious whether they’ll be able to afford continuing to pay based on list price (rather than the flat fee of Kindle Unlimited) but its all good. I’ve found Amazon is pretty much the ONLY retailer where you can build self-sustaining momentum. The other retailers seem more interested in selling co-op space on the front page than recommending books people actually want to read…

      Rant over.

      Have you tried Calibre for shrinking mobi and epub files? I used it on my non-fic release. Images keep their resolution, but the file size ended up something like 1/5th the size.

      1. Thanks Nick, I’ll have to try that with an ePub file. For mobi, Amazon’s file size max is so big (650 mb) it doesn’t matter. But to most other platforms, other than Apple, it def does.

        So if your resolution stays at say 72 dpi, your file size, and thus visual data amt, stayed the same? Your image size wasn’t shrunk?

        Yeah, def gotta try it out. I use & like Calibre a lot.

        Re Scribd, I don’t have any inside info, but several folk have pointed out it doesn’t pay on the list price until 30% is read, potentially making it (fiscally, not big pockets) more sustainable. But too soon to know yet.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          with calibre – it depends how optimised your images are to start with. I was using a ton of screenshots, which are largely uncompressed, and had a file size of around 20+MB.

          Obviously, plenty of headroom to the maximum allowed – but the delivery costs were getting pretty ridiculous. Calibre uses lossless compression (GIF or PNG-8/16) to shrink those down, and it ended up a much more manageable 5MB. You just convert the mobi file input to a mobi file output and job done.

          With tablets, it’s all about resolution. With screen sizes that small, you could probably get away with lossy compression if you wanted to go even smaller, but I was happy enough 🙂

          1. Kendra says:

            Check out also for optimization. Regardless of resolution they will take a png or jpg and make it a fraction of the size without image quality suffering.

  4. AFN Clarke says:

    Another interesting post, thanks Nick. As you know I was vascillating about leaving KDP and was about to do it when I heard so many authors having problems with no sales on Nook etc and also not knowing how to spread their advertising dollars to cover all platforms. And this was just as Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited – so I chickened out and for the moment I think I made the right decision to stay in KDP. Though I totally agree with you, being so dependent on Amazon scares the sh..t out of me.

    I AM getting more sales overall and more borrows and downloads through Kindle Unlimited – where I had only maybe 5 of these per title a month ago, my key titles now get 50 – 60 downloads as borrows or through KU so that’s significant. BUT I have to also emphasise to other readers of this blog, that I think part of the reason is that I read your book Supercharge Your Kindle Sales and took your advice and did the whole “keyword” maximisation thing. I said I would let you know my results, so here goes …… once I did everything you suggested regarding keywords and the following weekend had a 99 cent countdown special on the first book in my thriller series, then I definitely saw the boost in sales that you predicted from getting those keywords right. Both books in my series started to appear in the top 16 – 32 under certain search terms, which was fabulous. The sale was OK, not momentous, but I did get more sales each day for a week after the sale where normally I experienced the typical nose-bleed drop off 24 hours later. So you are right, the sales curve upwards sticks for longer.

    I have to admit that the sales increase has not been sustained at a high level for weeks and weeks, as yours seemed to be, but sales have increased slightly on average so that’s a positive result. Any up stat is positive. And I am getting more crossover sales. So what I would say to other authors is, if you decide to stay in KDP (and even if not of course) then at least give yourself the best possible chance at exposure by reading Nick’s book and working on those keywords and phrases. More readers will find your book, and that’s the name of the game.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      I think that’s definitely the issue – sure, you can branch out to other platforms, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be making more money. And, even if you do, you’re probably still going to be 80%+ beholden to the Great and Powerful ‘Zon anyway.

      Thanks for the book plug! I should put you on commission or something 🙂 Glad it’s working for you! Sounds like the ability to do countdown deals is making up for not being on the other retailers. Case in point – I sold 130 books yesterday on Kindle and a big fat ZERO everywhere else… go figure. Obviously what works for Amazon doesn’t necessarily work anywhere else!

  5. Patty Jansen says:

    People, don’t confuse KDP (= Amazon’s self-publishing platform) with KDP Select (= exclusive to Amazon).

    I’ve never done spectacularly well on Amazon, so when other platforms opened up, I’ve jumped on each. Well, not being American or British, I have to use Smashwords or D2D to be on B & N, and I don’t have a Mac, so I use those services for Apple, too.

    I’m direct on Kobo, Google Play and a handful of smaller sites.

    I was one of the first people on KWL. I uploaded in mid-July 2013, saw my first sales in August and have comfortably (sometimes very much so) made the payout threshold of $100 every month since then. So much so, that in 2013, Kobo was 75% of my total sales.

    Kobogate put a dent in that, but B & N has picked up, and so has Apple, and let’s not forget Google Play!

    In all, Amazon never accounts for more than 50% of my sales. Usually less, unless I manage to snatch a Bookbub spot. If I don’t promote, like when I’m in between publishing books, the Amazon percentage drops and drops and drops. I’ve had months (I think December last year?) where Amazon was only 5% of my total sales.

    I love it!

    If KDP annoyed the crap out of me for some reason, or if Google Play came along and asked me to make some books exclusive to them in return for some promo, I’d do it in a heartbeat!

    In fact, because of the silly $9.99 rule, I will not upload the omnibus of my series to Amazon at all. There are four books, about 500K, and there is no way I’m selling those for $9.99 as a regular price.

    See, for someone not in the US or in the UK, Amazon continues to be a royal pain in the you-know-where. Their ridiculous refusal to use paypal costs me $25 in bank fees every month, and Createspace still use cheques. My bank doesn’t even know what to do with those! Then their stupid insistence to treat all their stores as separate with separate payouts makes it even worse.

    I’ve been on the verge of walking out on Amazon (not Select, but Amazon altogether) several times. For the amount I sell there, they’re a lot of trouble. I stay because of the potential.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      I’ll tell you what – I loathe working with Nook and iTunes to the point where I’ll probably use D2D going forward, even though I can go direct. I really do hate those two retailers to that degree (I’m willing to spend money not to have to go anywhere near them) so you’re not missing out.

      Can D2D distribute via Amazon? If they can pay by direct deposit, that might help. I’m not sure. You’re in Oz, right? Hell, at least they’re not fisking you for $2 in whispernet surcharges any more! But yeah, it’s a nightmare. I remember getting my first royalty cheque (WTF? Who the hell uses cheques any more???) and my bank not only giving me a shitty currency conversion, but charging me £20 for the pleasure of using their account services, plus a 30 day wait. I totally feel your pain.

      1. Patty Jansen says:

        No, you can’t use anything to distribute to Amazon. Amazon makes a point of not collaborating and squashing everyone who tries. It also makes a point of, when there are three ways of doing something, it will choose the way that’s most cumbersome, time-consuming and cost their providers the most money.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          That’s a shame. Yeah, they have a habit of doing that…

          1. Actually, Lulu distributes to Amazon.

          2. Nick_Stephenson says:

            Nice tip Adam!

        2. Dan says:

          I believe BookBaby distributes to Amazon as well. And its free if you provide the epub.

  6. elizabethbarone says:

    I could. I barely make anything via Kindle. Most of my sales come from Kobo and iBooks, with an occasional bump on Kindle and Nook. I just listened to your interview on RSP and started playing with my keywords again. I’m already seeing better sales on Kindle and Kobo, so thank you for mentioning that. For some reason, the second I started thinking of it as SEO rather than marketing, my brain understood it better. Maybe it’s because deep down, I’ve still got a little web designer in me.

    There’s no escaping our “past lives.” 😉

    I noticed that Kobo does site-wide sales every so often. They also merchandize their site by hand rather than algorithms, though there is something going on because updating categories and the subtitle started moving more books for me almost instantly. Sometimes I won’t have done anything and still see a jump in sales. Enrolling my books in their site-wide sales helps. I always kick butt on Kobo in Canada, and sometimes Australia. Rarely the States.

    Of course, “kick butt” for me is bill money, not a living—yet. But I’m getting there.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      ah, we’ve all got a little web designer in us somewhere. He or she is usually the one making our fingers type things we didn’t mean…

      I’m with you on Kobo. I sell almost nothing outside of the site-wide promotions, and it’s around 80% Canadian sales, which is cool – I think I sell something like 40 books a month in so I need all the help I can get!

  7. John Ellsworth says:

    “But I don’t think the non-Amazon retailers are ever likely to represent enough of a revenue stream by themselves to keep me entirely free of risk. That’s why I wanted to open up a new revenue stream – one that doesn’t rely on these retailers at all (and it pays instantly!). I’ve called it “affiliate” for the sake of accounting purposes, but it’s actually very little to do with Amazon’s Associate Program.”

    Nick: Looking forward to reading about your next move. You’re an innovator and I am excited to see what you’re up to.


  8. John Ellsworth says:

    Nick, while I’m here I have another question for you, sort of related to your post.

    I have watched other authors in my genre make their first in a series permafree and I have seen them hover forever near the top of listings in my genre. My inclination is to give this a whirl. However, my other four books in the series have fairly respectable placement in search results and I’m wondering whether making one in the series permafree will affect the others in the series that remain behind in Select. Do you have any experience with this? Or am I worrying for no reason?

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      My experience is having the first book permafree only ever makes things better…. Case in point, when I first went permafree, even before I promoted the free funnel book, I saw a slight bump in all my paid ones. YMMV, but it’s a solid move – especially if you include a signup link in the free book to get people to sign up for your mailing list 🙂

      1. John Ellsworth says:

        Thanks Nick. You are a real inspiration to some of us and I appreciate your response.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          My pleasure! Thank you for the kind words 🙂

  9. Ina Albert says:

    I’m hearing that Kindle is out with a new device for kids that will have a 2-year warranty, a soft cover and lots of extras to intrigue the little people. Have you heard about it? What do you think.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Sounds like an awesome idea – my son (18 months) is the proud owner of our old-model Kindle Fire, and he LOVES it. He can already find stuff to watch and knows his way around some of the kids’ games, so it sounds like a winner to me!

      From a business perspective, if you can get some content on there, I think it has the potential to do quite well 🙂

  10. I don’t think the title of your article matches the content lol. Just kidding, mainly because I had some doubts after reading the article.

  11. vigorus says:

    After examine a couple of of the blog posts on your web site now, and I really like your method of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site list and can be checking back soon. Pls check out my website as well and let me know what you think.

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