Getting your self-published book into stores is one of the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to author- publishing, compared to how easy it is to get your print book into Amazon, Barnes&Noble or Apple. And then there are discounts, returns and commissions… not to speak of waiting times till your invoice is paid. Book distributors & wholesalers will take care of all this – for a price.
POD print and distribution
For small amounts of print books, say less than 2,000 books, an author is better off to have it “printed on demand”, done by CreateSpace or by LightningSource, who are also the distributors. The printing might be higher priced, but you can decide on discounts and there will not be any returns from book stores for unsold books, which can be costly. POD produces only after receiving orders.
Let’s assume your book sells like hot cakes and you would like to have it distributed to book stores. So, how to find a book distributor? And should you go with a big, national or a smaller distributor?
An advantage to small distributors (often specialized in certain genres) is that they often know their bookstores better than larger distributors. The orders tend to be smaller but more realistic. Returns with larger distributors to bookstore chains can be very high: 30% returns is expected, but it can be as high as 70%.
Partner With a Medium-sized Publisher
Another option is to make an arrangement with a medium-size publisher who already has a distribution deal and a sales team. For a percentage of the sale, they could include your book in their catalog, which goes out with the sales reps to book stores across the country, and their sales team will present your book. Some publishers may want all the attention for their own titles, but some may like the idea: there’s no printing cost for them, for instance. Their catalogs are produced 5-6 months in advance.
Booksellers are Reluctant to Stock POD
Most booksellers will generally not stock Print-on-Demand books because they can’t return the book if it doesn’t sell and the percentage they get is lower. Printing one book at a time is more expensive per book (usually twice as expensive) than publishing a few thousand. That’s why many self-published authors can’t get their books into the large chains. It’s all about non-returnability. Bookstores only order the blockbuster titles they know they can sell. Books-a-Million, one of the book store chains, for example states it does not allow POD books into it’s stores at all.
Many large US Book Distributors won’t take you on before you have at least five to ten books in print. They might also want you to have a sales team who will present your books to booksellers, to show that you are willing to move those books. They also prefer a contract for a certain number of years. Another issue with full service distribution is that they take a minimum of 20% commission, but it will often be closer to 30% if you’re a small publisher. Check them out before signing with any book distributor. Talk to their customers (both publishers and bookstores) to verify they would be a recommendable company for you to work with.
Selection of Book Distributors in the U.S.A.
Small Press United
Publishers Group West
Partner Publishers Group
National Book Network
Legato Publishers Group
Independent Publishers Group
Be Aware of these Book Industry Distribution Arrangements
- Discounts: Bookstores get ($8 when a $20 book sells) or in percent, a 40% discount from the distributor, big box stores often get 45%.
- Returns: Bookstores can return books back for credit against future orders, on average, about 30% of their initial sales might be returned. Paperbacks are not “stripped” so they can be shipped out again when another bookstore orders them. However, distributors may charge for warehousing of returns.
- Commission: Sales reps work on commission and only gets paid when books “sell through” (sold to the consumer). The distribution company also works on commission, which is one of the reasons they are so picky about taking on non-validated clients: if the books don’t sell through, they lose the money they have spent storing and shipping the books, their commission is usually 25-30% ($5-6 on a $20 book).
Direct Sales via Your Website
There is an even more lucrative way to sell your print book and distribute it: through your own website. You keep 100% of your revenue, and you know exactly who bought your books. Valuable data that you can use for promotion of your next book releases. The only “work” you have, is to stuff envelopes and ship your books once or twice a week – or more if you sell a lot. Setting up a PayPal account and an ordering form on your website is pretty easy. Direct selling means that you can make almost three times the amount per book than you can make, compared to a sale through traditional bookstore distributors.
Comb the Internet and regional newspapers for Book Fairs. Rent a booth or share one with other writers and have fun to meet readers in person, sign your books, maybe even meet library buyers and book store owners – and keep 100% revenue. Authors could even band together and exhibit at national and international book fairs, such as New York, Edinburgh, Leipzig, Bologna or Frankfurt. If ten or more authors for example share the cost for exhibition, travel and accommodation, it seems to be visible.
Consignment at Bookstores
Some local independent bookstores will take books on consignment. A 60% to you, 40% to them split might seem a bit unfair to the uninitiated, but it’s the standard in the book trade. If sales are really good, some bookstores will offer to buy your book or you offer it to them which saves on paperwork and hassle. In this case you might offer them 50% discount.
e-Book Distribution through Kobo
Kobo has partnered with the American, as well as and British Booksellers Association. 3,000 book stores, including 1,000 independents, in the UK and Ireland will carry Kobo’s e-readers in the future and sell e-books directly to Kobo users. Participating stores will receive a commission of every sale.
Small publishers and author-publishers with at least 3 books might be better off with LightningSource / Ingram and CreateSpace combined – until their book sale numbers are into the several thousands – also due to the print on demand possibilities that both companies offer.
Lightning Source connects you with the world’s largest distribution channel of book wholesalers and retailers. In addition to distributing books through their parent company Ingram Books, they print to order, which means, your book is printed and ready for shipment in 12 hours or less. With over 30,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries your titles will gain the maximum exposure.
Lightning Source / Ingram work with over 28,000 publishers of all sizes around the world. They deliver digital, print, wholesale and distribution services through a single source, and makes it easy for you to reach more customers in more places.
CreateSpace has slightly lower print on demand fees and set up fees per book, but it doesn’t get you into Ingram worldwide distribution. They offer something, called the Expanded Distribution Channel: “the “potential” to distribute your book to a larger audience through more outlets including: retailers, bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, wholesalers, and distributors.” Well “potential” which means actually nothing! If a bookstore is really willing to order a single book because a customers wants it, they will deliver…
Whole Sale and Book Distribution in USA
- BCH Fulfillment & Distribution – BCH is also a vendor for Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. BCH offers 24/7 telephone order taking, an on-line catalog, representation at major trade shows, and more.
- Atlas Books – Distributes online, via wholesalers, and commissioned sales reps. AtlasBooks is the distribution and marketing arm of the BookMasters Group which represents small to mid-size publishers.
- Midpoint Trade Books – works with small and medium size publishers. No catalogs, so they can take on new titles any time of the year.
- National Book Network – Distributes for 85 publishers, they offer Print on Demand, starting at 20 books
Book Whole Sale / Distribution in Canada:
- North 49 – trade book wholesaler with an inventory of over 3000 bestselling books from more than 500 publishers from Canada, UK and USA
- Librarybound – a wholesaler delivers Canadian books to libraries (fulfillment orders only, no warehousing)
Distributors and Wholesalers, compiled by IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association
Create Space Vs Lightning Source
How dealing with Lightning Source exactly works can be learned “by the book”, actually two books, written by Aaron Shepard: “Aiming at Amazon” and “POD for Profit: More on the NEW Business of Self Publishing”.
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