Kindle Unlimited versus Publishing Wide – the LitRPG perspective

One thing new authors often wonder about is whether or not enrolling in Kindle Unlimited is the right choice for their books.

So I’m going to give you a little rundown on this from the LitRPG perspective, because this genre of ours tends to be a little different than others.

What is Kindle Unlimited, or KU?

I explain it as being like Netflix for books. From the reader’s perspective, you pay a monthly subscription, and you get to read as many Kindle Unlimited books as you want.

Sounds great right?

Yes and no.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to purchase a book and read it over and over multiple times, then you will only be able to do that for as long as your Kindle unlimited subscription is active.

But the upside is that you can try a whole bunch of books, and return the ones you don’t like. You’re not outlaying the whole cost of the book on a gamble, which is a huge benefit.

From the authors perspective, enrolling in Kindle Unlimited requires you to make your book completely exclusive with Amazon.

It also allows you to make money based on how many pages your fans read. For a 500+ page book, you’ll likely earn more for a full read on Kindle Unlimited than you would selling the book for $2.99.

What is Publishing Wide?

Publishing wide refers to the practice of putting your book in front of as many potential readers as possible. There are a number of different platforms that you can use to automatically distribute your book, such as Draft2digital, Smashwords, and others. Or, you can publish directly with some storefronts such as Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play Books.

The benefits of publishing wide are potentially capturing a wider audience than the one that exists on KU, including distribution to libraries.

It also means that you’re not caught in Amazon’s web if they suddenly decide to upend the publishing landscape that they now dominate.

What’s the difference?

Simple: Exclusivity.

Kindle Unlimited demands that your book is exclusive with Amazon for the entirety of your enrolment period, which are managed in 90 day increments.

In a perfect world, we want our books to get into the hands of every single reader who wants to read them.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and subscription services are how most people want to consume their entertainment these days.

Netflix, Kindle Unlimited, Spotify, Xbox Game Pass – one flat rate, you get access to their subscription library.

It’s easier for the consumer to manage, and anything that’s easier will always be preferenced by the time-poor and choice-paralysis-afflicted consumer.

How do you choose?

There’s no easy answer to this question.

Every writer has their own reasons for publishing, and most of us have limitations on how many books we can release while navigating day jobs, families, and all manner of other challenges that might crop up.

For me, I knew that I could only publish about a book per year while working full-time, so I couldn’t rely on constant releases to keep me relevant.

I decided to go with Kindle Unlimited because I knew that’s where most of the LitRPG readers were, and that no matter what, they could jump into my books with no barriers as long as they had a subscription. If they were reading other LitRPG books, then they’d likely already have a KU subscription.

I liked the hands-off approach, and the benefits of that outweighed the possible benefits I might get if I published wide.

Thanks to KU, I had the absolute best launch of my writing career, and that cemented my attitude towards KU when writing LitRPG. It’s highly likely that any LitRPG books I publish will be enrolled in KU, because I know that’s where my readers want them to be.

When deciding to go KU or wide, you need to decide what’s right for you, and your books, and your readers.


As with anything when it comes to Amazon, I would highly recommend doing your own research so you can see all this information for yourself. However, today (April 15th 2021) I’d like to share some data from a quick look through the search results for the term LitRPG on Amazon.

I’m probably doing it the hard way, but I manually looked at the top 250 results of the search term LitRPG, and some of what I saw was actually kind of surprising.

85% of the titles that appeared were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

6% of results were made up of preorders. KU enrolment doesn’t appear until the book is released, so those 6% may also end up in KU.

27% of those 250 results were Sponsored, which means that the authors or publishers are paying Amazon to be included in those search results for the term LitRPG.

Let me tell you, that’s not a cheap keyword to target.

The surprising result was that 66% of the sponsored results were not for LitRPG books at all! However, of those non-LitRPG books, every single one was enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

Anecdotally, most of them were for epic fantasy, space opera, and post-apocalyptic fiction. That tells me that these authors or publishers think that their books have great appeal to existing LitRPG fans, and they know that LitRPG fans will preference KU over anything else.

9% of results in the top 250 were not enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, but the majority of these non-KU books were in one of two camps:

  • The authors were big enough to not need KU to be successful
  • Books were individual instalments of serialised stories which may appear elsewhere on the internet, and as such, cannot be enrolled in KU

This tells us a number of things:

  • 85% of the titles are in KU, so it’s highly likely that readers preference it
  • 6% preorders will likely also end up in KU, which may push genre saturation on KU up to 91%
  • LitRPG is a strong enough market that other non-LitRPG genres want to capture the attention of our readers
  • It is viable to release LitRPG outside of KU if you’re willing and able to build your audience first through alternative channels

I hope that information was useful, and if you have any questions of comments, please feel free to share them down in the comments below!

Published by Matthew J. Barbeler

Matthew J. Barbeler writes dark fiction to die for.

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