I didn't think about cash streams when I started writing. My basic understanding was that I'd write something, send it out, and I'd either get paid for it or not. Of course, this was back before the Web and before the current age of self-publishing (which has been the model in the past). I wasn't thinking about cash streams or about different ways I might use the copyright on that work. I also didn't consider how long I could continue to benefit from my intellectual property.
Today writers face many different decisions around cash streams and our intellectual property.
In the United States (not necessarily in other parts of the world) Amazon is a giant. This dominant market position leads writers to put everything in Amazon's basket by going exclusively with Kindle Select. This can work very well. With the integration of print into KDP, it is also easy to offer paperback copies. It offers promotional opportunities and inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read e-book lending program. Paid by page reads, many writers find a lot of success this way by offering work that readers want.
I've also seen the reactions when Amazon changes how Kindle Unlimited works. A change to recommendations, to what gets paid, can mean that what worked before doesn't work for some writers. With everything in Amazon's basket, writers are vulnerable to such disruptions.
Another group of writers talks about the benefits of going wide to multiple stores and distributors. Whether going directly to Kobo or iTunes or using a service like Draft2Digital, these writers aim to reach as many readers as possible on an international scale. With enough success around the globe, Amazon's share of contributing to the writer's income drops. It still might make up the biggest piece of the pie but it becomes obvious that it isn't the whole pie.
This is where those other cash streams come into the picture. Say sales through Amazon makes up 60% of your income. Does it make sense to drop the other 40%? If you never had anything except Amazon sales it might not be obvious how much you're missing.
Intellectual property—copyrights you own—can provide an endless variety of income streams. The same story might sell in e-book, different print formats, audiobooks, in periodicals, anthologies, gift boxes, and other formats that you decide to produce. It can be translated into other languages. It can be adapted to other media, such as plays, films, or TV shows. It might become the basis for gaming titles across a variety of game genres. Comic books offer yet another take on your story. Merchandise is another possibility, through licensing or other avenues.
Think about a popular intellectual property, e.g., Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Ask yourself a question about those stories. Would they exist in the way they do if either George had published the story as an exclusive e-book on Amazon? (And yes, I realize that wasn't an option back then.)
What if your book is the ‘next [fill in the blank of your favorite title]'? Even if you don't think that your story has the potential to be the next whatever, there are still so many formats and opportunities available.
And yes, going exclusively with Kindle Select doesn't have to be forever. Except writers do sign exclusive deals all the time with major publishers that have far-ranging implications on how that writer makes money. Get an intellectual property attorney (not an agent) to look at any contract. Amazon is relatively benign in comparison to many publishing contracts. At least with Kindle Select, you can opt out in 90 days—with a publisher contract you might be lucky if you can opt out in 35 YEARS.
That's my strategy (though it isn't true at the moment). As I relaunch my titles and release new titles, I plan to go wide and hit as many formats as possible. I plan to have lots of titles available wherever readers can find them. Lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Some of the eggs might get broken. A basket might develop a hole in the bottom, but I'll have other income streams in place. I may even have a Kindle Select basket with targeted titles that are likely to be of interest to Kindle Unlimited readers. I want to experiment.
Do you want Amazon, a publisher, or another vendor to have all your eggs? Share in the comments!
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Writer, librarian and illustrator, Ryan M. Williams, author of more than twenty novels, writes across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, romance, paranormal, and mystery. He earned an M.A. in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University and an M.L.I.S. from San Jose University. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine.