Since the launch of Amazon KDP in 2007, the publishing giant-slash-mega-retailer has carved out a substantial corner in the self-publishing market. Despite Amazon’s seemingly impenetrable market share, more companies have entered the self-publishing game and are etching out their own spaces.
The good news for self-publishers is that the number of options available for getting your book into the hands of your readers continues to grow, and you are no longer bound to go with the “obvious choice.”
In this article, we’ll offer some perspective for independent authors. If you are interested in self-publishing alternatives to Amazon and how they might benefit your author career in the long run, keep reading.
Here’s what you need to know about alternatives to Amazon for self-publishers:
What are the Benefits of Considering Alternatives to Amazon?
According to WordsRated.com, Amazon KDP accounted for 91.5% of self-published books in 2018, but the landscape is changing. Although Amazon still accounts for the majority of self-published books, many self-published authors have begun to look beyond Amazon.
Since Amazon KDP began offering self-publishing services to independent authors, they’ve become arguably the top self-publishing service worldwide.
After becoming the top bookseller in the world, moving into publishing was a genius move; however, the sheer size of the company and its reservoir of resources pushed many smaller companies out of the publishing game completely or in Amazons rear view mirror trying desperately to catch-up, but that is changing.
Although Amazon has spent almost two decades establishing itself as the “go-to” service provider for all things self-publishing, the last few years has seen a rise in self-publishing support companies that have figured out a way to compete with Amazon on their teams and that is what we’ll take a look at in the rest of this article
Which 6 Alternatives to Amazon are Best and Why?
With so many companies to choose from, it’s critical for authors to have a solid understanding of what’s needed on a basic level to keep your book competitive (profit potential, professional product, etc.) and the “extras” that help position your book for success.
To make the playing field level between Amazon and its top competitors, we’ll only focus on print books (not ebooks or audiobooks) in this article and each company in this list must meet the following criteria:
- Offers quality print-on-demand services (based on customer reviews)
- Competitive per-book printing prices
- Offers world-wide-distribution (Makes your book available in online stores worldwide)
- Author has control over book pricing
- Non-exclusive selling rights
- Authors can use their own ISBN (Ensures that the book is listed in the author’s name in relevant databases like Books in Print)
- User-friendly platform
- No upfront investment to publish
Every company on the list below meets the above criteria. They’ve been selected as stand-out alternatives to Amazon because they address one or more Amazon KDP limitations including these:
Crowded Market Place
“Build it and they will come” may have been true when an author published through Amazon KDP a decade ago, but not anymore. The online platform is supersaturated with books because the barrier to entry is low and it’s free to publish on the front end.
Unless you have a large number of sales during the pre-launch and or launch phase of your book, spend lots of $$ on Amazon advertising, or opt for Amazon exclusivity with their KDP Select program, your book may get lost in the sea of book titles.
Limited Customer Service Options
If you’ve ever run into issues on Amazon KDP with launch dates, book pages, A+ Content, 3rd party distribution, or others, then you may have run into snags trying to get the issue resolved. This is not unique to Amazon KDP. Other companies have customer service issues, but with Amazon being such a large platform, any issue can feel magnified when the potential is there for so many people to see the problem
If you Google “Amazon printing errors” you’ll find a smattering of complaints about missing pages, other books mixed in, or pages out of order (I’ve been on the receiving end of that one). Amazon is pretty good about issuing refunds, but once a customer receives a messed up book (and leaves a bad review), the damage is done. This always brings into question what quality control measures Amazon has in place to ensure that books are checked before they leave the printer.
To address these issues, we’ll look at the following alternatives to Amazon: Apple Books for Authors, Draft2Digital, IngramSpark, BookBaby, and Kobo Writing Life.
Who should look outside of Amazon KDP for publishing and distribution?
Unless you are in the top 1% of authors who get lucrative deals with a traditional or nontraditional publisher, putting the success of your book into the hands of one service provider will likely leave money on the table.
So what is an author to do?
Expand your reach and look at alternatives to Amazon. In other words, keep Amazon as one of your outlets, but not your only one. Remember that as the publisher (self-publisher), it’s important to make wise business decisions (not just author decisions) that are in the best interest of your book’s growth and exposure.
When getting your book in front of readers, you have a few choices: direct-to-customer, aggregator, and retailer.
Direct-to-customer – is when you as the author, sell the book directly to the customer. This can be from your website, at a conference, book signing, etc. You have the highest profits using this method because you don’t have to share them with a middleman.
Retailer – this is when you upload your book directly to a retailer’s website for sale. Retailers charge a percentage of each book sale as a tradeoff for using their platform and gaining access to their buyers.
Aggregator – aggregators distribute to various retailers on the author’s behalf. You still incur a fee to use the retailer’s site and the aggregator also charges a percentage/ fee for using their services.
Every indie author who wants to reach as many readers as possible should weigh their options—not just Amazon KDP, but any other reputable service provider who can get your book from point A to point B. They may not all have the market pull that Amazon does, but a small piece of the market is better than none.
The only way to get around a crowded market is to not put all of your eggs in one basket. In other words, diversify by using whichever combination of distribution outlets is going to get you the best return.
Let’s take a look at some alternatives to Amazon you should know.:
1. Apple Books for Authors (retailer)
Similar to Amazon, users can upload their books to the Apple book store to reach Apple device users directly. Apple Books is a great choice for reaching a different segment of book readers (Apple product fans) who want to read their books on their preferred devices. “
Pros (from the website):
- Digital narration services
- 70% royalties on every book (price doesn’t matter)
- No file delivery fees
- No limitations on offering free books to customers
- No payments for preferential store placement
- No price matching
- No third-party ads
- The company also offers a variety of options for resolving disputes and getting publishing assistance.
Negatives – Smaller market share
2. Kobo Writing Life/KWL (retailer)
Kobo has a similar setup as Amazon, so it’s hard for them to compete with them in the US; however, if you are a fiction author or looking for distribution outside of the US, like Canada (where they are based), then Kobo could be a good fit.
- Offer a subscription service similar to KDP Select without the exclusivity
- Highly-rated customer service
- Fiction sells well on the platform.
- Easy to track book sales
- No author pages on the Kobo website
- Non-fiction doesn’t sell well
- Must earn a minimum of $50 before the monthly royalty release
3. B&N Press
Barnes and Noble was around (since 1886) long before Amazon was a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’s eye. Despite the volatile book market and the many changes that have taken place, especially over the last two decades. Barnes and Noble has remained true to its brand which is a testament to how long they’ve been in the game.
- They know the book business inside and out
- High-quality book covers
- Higher royalties
- Marketing tools
Negatives – limited formatting options and distribution
Want to know more? Read our review of Barnes and Noble Press.
4. IngramSpark (aggregator)
IngramSpark is the self-publishing arm of Ingram Book Company, the largest book wholesaler in the world. IngramSpark was formed to provide independent publishers and self-publishers access to expanded distribution, tools, and other services previously only given to traditional publishers.
As a side note, Amazon partners with Ingram Content Group to print paperback books.
- Wide distribution on the Ingram network
- Highly-quality book printing
- Books are easier for libraries and bookstores to access
Negatives – poor customer service support
5. Draft2Digital (aggregator)
For new authors who want to use an aggregator, D2D provides an easy-to-use dashboard that allows you to upload your book’s metadata, description, and author info effortlessly. It also provides a formatting tool to convert your file to EPUB automatically or you can upload your own formatted copy. They provide a wide range of distribution options (select your own stores), make pricing setup simple, and offer transparent reporting.
- Wide distribution
- Easy to use
- Set your own prices
- Transparent reporting
- Instant formatting
- Universal book link
Negatives – Limited paperback distribution and the potential to pay more (fees) in the long run if you sell a lot of books.
6. BookBaby (aggregator/retailer)
BookBaby has garnered a solid reputation as a book aggregator. Where some aggregators focus on ebooks (like Draft2Digital), BookBaby sets itself apart by offering print-on-demand books well. They’ve positioned themselves as a full-service aggregator, so you can not only upload your books for distribution, but you can also get genre-specific support, help with your manuscript, print and digital conversions, and marketing support.
- Weekly royalty payouts
- Manuscript support
- Solid customer support
Negatives – Very expensive
New on the Horizon
At the start of this article, I mentioned that the self-publishing market continues to expand which provides authors with more opportunities to get their books into the hands of their readers. For authors who’ve chosen writing as a career, having options that help you maximize profits is always a consideration. Authors have bottom lines, too.
I didn’t include Lulu as an Amazon KDP alternative because of the limitations of their pricing structure for authors: however, they recently acquired The Tilt, a popular newsletter for content creators, and are working on a publishing platform that puts the control back into the hands of writers. The new platform will offer authors direct access to customer data and help them sell directly to customers to maximize profits.
I asked Tilt founder Joe Pulizzi the following questions about what to expect in the future, and this is what he had to say:
Me: Lulu offers fiction and other types of printing. Will Tilt Publishing offer the same or just nonfiction books? (e.g. I write fiction and nonfiction. Would I be able to publish both through Tilt?)
Joe: Tilt Publishing will focus on nonfiction books only.
Me: One of the challenges of Amazon KDP is the crowded marketplace, but it’s still a ready-made audience. Will Tilt Publishing work best for authors who have an established following or will it work for any author who fits the content entrepreneur type?
Joe: Tilt Publishing works best for content creators with some kind of established fan base, so that authors can sell directly to the fans they already know. We will also work with those authors who feel having their customer data is critical to the success of their business model.
Me: Since it’s direct-to-customer sales, is there a training component (marketing, sales, building an author platform, etc.) included or is it just the platform?
Joe: Everything we do at Tilt is to help creators build their platform[s] and become full-time content entrepreneurs. So, the simple answer is yes to education. But also, most of the content creators we work with aren’t educated in the book publishing process…so we’ll take them through editing, design, layout, and set them up for distribution on their website and other platforms that make sense.
It bears mentioning that Draft2Digital acquired Smashwords in 2022 which will provide authors with expanded distribution, more marketing tools, and access to the Smashwords store.
When it comes to self-publishing and making the best decision for your business, you need to know who the players are so you can make an informed decision. Amazon has taken the lion’s share of the self-publishing market, but they are not the best decision for every author.
To get the best benefits from Amazon you have to use them exclusively which means that you may miss some key sales if you choose to limit your exposure to Amazon platforms only.
As with any other business, success comes from knowing your market, the key players, and how to best position your product to maximize profits. Most importantly, it’s knowing what your audience wants, how to find them, and how to give them a top-tier experience. Without these key elements, your book can get lost in the sea of books floating around in cyberspace.
There are several alternatives to Amazon and that number continues to grow, but ultimately, it’s about choosing the right option for you and what makes sense for your book.