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Does Self-Publishing on Multiple Platforms Multiply Book Sales?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Does publishing your book on multiple platforms boost overall sales?

Does publishing your book on multiple platforms boost overall sales?

Can You Self Publish on Multiple Sites

One of my regular blog readers asked if he self-published a book on one platform, such as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or IngramSpark, is it okay to publish on another one, too? An additional question on the same post from another reader asked if there were better options than Amazon KDP for self-publishing. And they’re not alone. Every few days or so, I see a similar question in a large self-published author group I’m in, though that question is usually whether to do both IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

It appears they’re not satisfied with the sales results they’re achieving, so it’s understandable that they’re exploring additional self-publishing platforms. But does self-publishing your books on multiple platforms really increase book sales?

What Do You Hope to Gain by Self-Publishing on Multiple Platforms?

Some authors explore alternative or additional platforms because they’re frustrated with their current platform’s limitations. For example, lured by the hope that their books could be in bookstores (they probably won’t), off they go to the likes of IngramSpark because it’s part of Ingram, which is a mega book distributor that serves bookstores. Unfortunately, they may experience lower profit margins and royalties through IngramSpark. And because competition for bookstore shelf space is fierce, even for traditionally published books, they’re unlikely to get their book in bookstores.

Still others have unrealistic expectations of print quality or other production issues with their current platforms, which typically stem from their inexperience with publishing and printing. Variations in print quality among the popular self-publishing platforms are minor enough to be undetectable by most readers.

Here’s the biggest issue that self-published authors don’t understand. Self-publishing on multiple platforms doesn’t multiply your sales. In fact, it can multiply your effort and cost and confuse the sales process.

Non-Amazon Platforms Can Distribute to Amazon

Even non-KDP self-publishing platforms such as IngramSpark, Lulu, and BookBaby offer you the option to make your print book available on Amazon. (Ebooks are another matter that we’ll discuss later.) So, if one of these non-Amazon platforms fulfills all your goals for your book, don’t feel like you also have to self-publish your print book on KDP to get it on Amazon.

Here’s the deal: Authors get lower Amazon print book royalties from non-KDP platforms by distributing through these non-Amazon sites. This is what drives them to self-publish on both KDP and non-KDP platforms.

Please Buy My Book From [Non-Amazon Site]!

“I just bought your book on Amazon,” I cheerfully told a self-published author. He was a bit disappointed because even though he appreciated the sale, he said he would have made more money if I had purchased it on Lulu, where he self-published it. I felt terrible, but I’m hardwired to buy all my books on Amazon.

The royalties authors make when customers buy their books on non-KDP/Amazon self-publishing sites can be lucrative. For example, as I’m writing this, the royalty for paperbacks self-published through KDP is 60% less print costs. On Lulu, it’s 80% less print costs.

However, where do most people think to buy books these days? Amazon. According to a March 2019 article, Amazon’s market share is 88.9% of all eBook unit sales, 42% of all physical book sales in all retail, and 83.6% of e-reader device sales. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School reported that Amazon commands 72% of new adult book title sales online and 49% of all new book unit sales. These stats were from the pre-COVID-19 pandemic era, so I’ll be anxious to see post-pandemic stats.

Authors must specifically steer readers to buy their books on non-Amazon sites. That is a huge marketing challenge that introduces friction into the buying process and could require more paid advertising and social media effort. The extra royalties from self-publishing and selling through a non-Amazon site could quickly get eaten up by these costs.

ISBN Issues

When you self-publish a print book that you plan to distribute through retail channels, it requires an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). In the United States, R.R. Bowker is the ISBN registrar who compiles the Books in Print database, which logs all of these ISBN numbers for reference by book retailers, schools, and libraries when they need to locate and acquire books.

That seems pretty straightforward until you decide to self-publish on more than one platform. Most self-publishing platforms offer authors a free ISBN number to attach to the print edition of their book. So, when authors use multiple platforms and decide to use the free ISBN at each, they end up with multiple entries for the same print book in Books in Print, causing confusion.

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The solution here is to purchase your own ISBN number for your print book edition and supply that number to each self-publishing platform you plan to use. Remember, too, that you need one ISBN number for each format of your book: print, ebook (providing an ISBN is optional if publishing on KDP), and audiobook.

KDP vs. Smashwords

As the earlier mentioned articles show, Amazon is the dominant player in the ebook marketplace for both Kindle ebooks and e-reader devices. That’s why Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is the first choice for many self-published authors when it comes to ebooks.

For the non-Amazon e-reading side—which would include Barnes & Noble (Nook), Walmart (Kobo), Overdrive, Apple Books, libraries, and much more—Smashwords handles a lion’s share of ebook publishing. According to Statista, with almost 72K eBook titles self-published in 2018, Smashwords tops that group, publishing more than twice the titles of its second-place, non-Amazon competitor for ebooks (Lulu).

So why not do both KDP and Smashwords? If having your self-published ebook on Amazon and other non-Amazon channels is important, you can do KDP and Smashwords. But there’s a big catch.

Here’s why I don’t do both: I can’t have my titles enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program if I choose to distribute them on Smashwords. Having your titles enrolled in KDP Select means that your ebook has to be exclusively sold through KDP and Amazon. In exchange for that exclusivity, I get to have my titles available on Kindle Unlimited, and I can do Free Kindle Book Promotions or Countdown Deals. Given the dominance of the Kindle-verse, I’m sticking with KDP Select for now.

So, if you want to do both KDP with Amazon and Smashwords, you’ll need to self-publish on KDP under their regular, non-exclusive distribution arrangement.

The Only Platform That Matters

Self-publishing on multiple platforms increases your costs and effort, with potentially little return. Choose your primary self-publishing platform carefully, going with those that can best handle the distribution of your book to your ideal reader. But remember that these services only handle distribution for you—not marketing—so the differences between them are really quite limited.

The platform you should be most concerned about building is your author platform—in other words, your fan base.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 26, 2021:

Hi Bill! Indeed, logic might suggest that more outlets equals more sales. But it doesn't. Lots of bigger businesses have learned that hard lesson, too.

I buy all my books on Amazon, too, which is why I've focused my self publishing efforts there. If you ever decide to dive into the Amazon KDP pool, keep us posted.

Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 25, 2021:

Hi Heidi. I think a younger, new author is probably thinking that the mass saturation approach will get them more sales. You clearly pointed out that this is not always the case. The duplication of effort and the additional cost may do more harm than good. We always buy books from Amazon, and given that, if I were to self-publish a book that’s the path I would take. Great info.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 25, 2021:

Thanks, Maria, for reading and commenting! Glad you found it helpful. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 25, 2021:

Peggy, once Amazon came along, my Borders bookstore days were numbered! :) Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 25, 2021:

John, sadly it's true that common sense isn't common, especially in the self publishing world. Appreciate your kind comments! Have a great day!

Maria Logan Montgomery from Coastal Alabama, UsA on August 24, 2021:

Thanks for a very helpful article.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 24, 2021:

I think that I have always purchased books online from Amazon. That proves your point of the statistics. You always share good advice about these book publishing concerns.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 24, 2021:

Thanks for sharing this info, Heidi. Everything you say just seems like good old common sense, but then nowadays…good sense doesn’t seem to be all that common.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2021:

Flourish, I'm totally befuddled, too. They truly don't understand where they're at in terms of the publishing game. So they grasp at so many things, they can't keep a hold on anything. These more complex, multi-platform strategies are for bigger operations who have pros to manage it all... in addition to writing.

The real problem is that these authors have an outdated notion of what being an author is. They still have delusions of grandeur based on images of the traditional publishing world. It's all different now, people!

Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2021:

Aw, thanks, Pamela! Agreed, Amazon is THE place people go for books. Glad you liked the video. I post videos about once a week on YouTube and then update my HP posts with them. Thanks so much for reading and watching! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 24, 2021:

Bill, it didn't surprise me either. I've seen it happen a lot of times. Although I've got to say that a lot of the younger authors I'm encountering on social seem to get the whole people-buy-on-Amazon thing. I mainly see the "buy my book on BookBaby (or wherever)" from older authors. Maybe they're stuck in the 1990s era of e-commerce? Anyway...

Thanks for chiming in, as always, and Happy Tuesday to you, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 24, 2021:

The guy who was disappointed you bought his book on Amazon instead of on Lulu needs to get a life. Just sayin' And the sad thing is, that doesn't even surprise me that he said that. People are absolutely clueless sometimes.

Sigh! I hope your Tuesday is fabulous.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 24, 2021:

I think this is a very interesting article, and it is full of valuable information about publishing a book. I buy almost all books from Amazon also.

I liked your video. You are a veery good speaker, Heidi.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 23, 2021:

It seems like some folks make things more complicated for themselves than they need to. It’s a bit befuddling and it seems like it would require so much duplicate effort.

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