May 2016: I’m a fan of KU (but whether you’re wide or in KU, I recommend going all-in. Half in and half out gives you all the negatives (reader complaints about not being able to get all your books) without any of the positives (benefits of borrowers being able to read your entire catalogue, KU visibility enhancing sales on Amazon.)
This is the way I look at it… there are three pools of readers. You can either have the pink circle (KU borrowers) or the blue circle (other retailers), but not both. The intersection of pink (KU) and red (Amazon) are readers who will potentially borrow your book instead of buy it – the overlap is small. The red-circle readers are relatively easy to find – Amazon has great discovery mechanisms. The pink and blue circles are much more difficult to get the attention of those readers – you have to advertise (5 day free runs for KU + ads; Bookbub ads and permafree for other retailers), but once you get traction in either pink or blue, it’s difficult to switch, because you have to start over getting traction again.
Having half your books in pink and half in blue is just going to piss everyone off.
However, once you’re all-in and getting traction (either KU or wide), it’s hard to switch, no matter which direction.
I usually cite 25% as the “thumbnail number” – meaning if you’re making 25% on other retailers, it’s better to stay wide. But the problem with percentages is that we don’t know if we’re talking $10 in sales or $1000 in sales, and that makes a difference too. I have a friend who makes almost 50% on other retailers, but she says it’s because her sales overall have been steadily dropping at Amazon, while the other retailers have been the same (and that’s not the way you want it to go!). So it’s important to talk total numbers as well.
If you’re making less than $100-$200 per month total sales on more than 1-2 titles, then there are other factors than KU that can probably make the difference. Cover changes, advertising, changing genres – all of those will have a much bigger impact on total sales, whether you’re KU or not. And you’ll have to work to build sales regardless of which way you go.
If you’re making $1000+ per month total sales, then my 25% thumbnail number will be a better indicator… but not always. Like my friend above with the falling sales on Zon, part of the reason is because she’s in romance and everyone in romance is in KU. That means there’s less competition on the other retailers and more competition on Zon – there are readers on those other retailers who don’t have as much choice anymore because so many people are in KU. My friend is in a tough spot, though, because even though the Kobo people are loud and hungry for books, there simply aren’t as many of them. That’s why, even with 50% of my friend’s income coming from other retailers, her total income is DOWN.
It’s a tough choice, and an increasingly difficult one. But whichever way you go, committing all your books at once to it and working the advantages of it (whether KU or Wide) is important to success. Too often, people will go into KU and judge the “success” of KU before they’ve promo’d and actually tried to get the attention of the pink circle readers. Getting borrowers doesn’t happen by “magic” unless you’re already a high seller (ie already have visibility). Likewise, people who pull out of KU and see their income immediately drop, can’t judge the “success” of Wide by that first month of sales. They have to actively promo with BB ads and permafrees to build their sales on the other retailers. That won’t happen by magic either.
My main caveat is that if sales are low (see above) look to other major changes to be the ones that will reboot things for you (with KU vs Wide only being part of that reboot).