About Wholesale Book Distributors

Looking for wholesale book distributors? This can be a major challenge. Distribution is one of the most rapidly changing parts of self-publishing-and the publishing industry as a whole.

The types of distribution services available are widely misunderstood. Some charge fees and only give you listings in databases, while others have a legitimate sales force presenting books to buyers face-to-face.

Self-Publishing House can help you choose the best options for distribution and fulfillment at no charge. We include complimentary distribution consultations to all authors developing their books with us. We will pitch your book to our mainstream distribution partners at no charge. Knowing the sales potential for your book and how books will be sold is one of the first things we discuss.

If you are interested in learning more about book distribution services, take the time to read the rest of this article, which provides a laymanÕs explanation of the distribution process. If you are ready to get started or just want to talk, click here for a FREE 30-minute phone consultation. We love books and weÕre ready to talk whenever you are.

Traditional Distribution Defined

Traditional wholesale book distributors move books through various sales channels. The keyword is "move." If a company says it offers distribution to bookstores and then simply inputs a book title into a book wholesaler's database or just sells books online, it is not a true book distributor. Even if your title is accessible to wholesale book buyers all over the world, this company is not distributing your book.

There is a big difference between a company that claims to provide book distribution services and a company that has an active sales force ("sales reps") showing your book to actual book buyers. The confusion lies in the term "wholesale." Wholesalers such as Ingram Book Company or Baker & Taylor are not book distributors. Wholesalers provide the service of making books available to book buyers. Ingram Book Company is the largest wholesaler for retailers, and Baker & Taylor is the largest wholesaler for libraries. Unlike wholesale book distributors, wholesalers generally act as order fulfillment companies and have little to do with promotions.

Distributors secure a sale to a wholesaler when the wholesaler agrees with the publisher that there is or will be sufficient demand. Otherwise, the wholesaler will just list the titles in their database and wait for orders to come in. Wholesale book distributors also put books in front of independently owned bookstore buyers, gift store buyers, and buyers in other special sales channels (book clubs, mail order catalogs, etc). They do so by either using their own reps or what are called regional rep groups that cover various territories throughout the states and around the world.

How Traditional Distribution Works

Traditional wholesale book distributors work this way:

  • A publisher meets with a distributor's sales force usually twice a year to preview the publisher's forthcoming titles (before they are published).
  • The publisher's book covers are projected on an overhead screen and/or passed around a room to the sales reps in the form of a "one-sheet" (a single sheet containing the relevant details about each book).
  • The publisher (or a publisher's employee) stands before the sales reps and explains each book. Feedback on price point, bulking (perceived value), cover design, and so forth is provided by the sales reps throughout the meeting.
  • Each sales rep gives the publisher an estimate of the number of copies he or she thinks can be sold to the sales reps' various accounts.
  • All sales numbers are collected by the publisher; these numbers become the suggested initial print run of each book. It is up to the publisher to add or subtract from these numbers depending on several factors. These factors include the publisher's past experience with the accounts, the historical accuracy of the sales rep giving the numbers, and any additional sales the publisher believes can be made by his or her own in-house sales efforts. Most publishers print quantities that will last about 12 to 18 months.
  • The sales force then begins the pre-selling process, using the publisher's promotional plans for the author as leverage to make a sale.
  • Once the book has been printed and delivered, the sales force. monitors the initial sales made to the bookstore chains. Meanwhile, the selling continues on the regional and all other levels.

Commissions and Returns

Although distribution contract terms are negotiable, paying distributors a 25% to 35% commission is standard (slightly less if your line is really hot). This means the distributor keeps 25% to 35% of the money received from book buyers. You get the rest, usually about 90 to 120 days after the distributor has been paid. For example, if a distributor sells your $10 book to a book wholesaler at 50% off the list price, they get $5. For making the sale, your distributor earns their commission. At the average 30% commission, your distributor would earn $1.50 and you would get the remaining $3.50.

There is a "reserve for returns" clause in most distribution contracts that allows the distributor to keep about 15% to 20% of a publisher's sales for six months, as a reserve to pay back buyers for the return of the books that never sold. There will be returns. Plenty of them. A bookstore may return a book tattered, beaten, stained, and chewed on by the store dog for a 100% refund. That's why there are few publishers out there who don't cringe when they hear the word "returns."

Damaged books are destroyed or returned to the publisher. If the books are salvageable, they are re-jacketed (usually publishers provide a 10% overrun of jackets to the distributor), and restocked for a fee. If the distributor does not charge to restock or warehouse the books, they make it up in their commission.

The publisher also has the option of remaindering books (selling returned or "hurt" books to discount book dealers at pennies on the dollar). These books must be in decent condition, although scuffed and jacketless books are acceptable, especially for full-color books. You don't need distribution to do business with a remainder dealer.

Traditional wholesale book distribution is reserved for publishers who publish at least two to three books per year; otherwise it doesn't make economic sense for the distributor. The exception would be when an author can show a very high demand or excellent sales history for his or her book.

Distribution Redefined

Since traditional wholesale book distribution is not likely to happen for the self-published author, a distinction should be made between "traditional distribution" and "self-distribution." Traditional distribution, as discussed above, deals with a publisher's sales force and a seasonal publishing program. Self-distribution, on the other hand, is for self-published authors who handle the selling and database listing work themselves.

The term "distribution" is so widely misused that it has come to mean the passive process of simply listing a book in the major book wholesaler's databases. Authors often pay someone else-usually a vanity press-to perform this service. After all, for an author who knows nothing about the industry, "distribution services" sounds appealing and promising. Vanity presses and other author services, however, are essentially charging for a service that most authors can perform themselves.

There are various distribution models out there. The ones that require high commissions-plus set-up, storage, and other fees-make their bottom line on what you pay them versus commissions they earn on selling your book.

Next Step

Wholesale book distribution and technology is changing daily and it's becoming more and more difficult to know who to trust with so many services vying for your business. We help authors publish quality books prepared according to bookstore standards for distribution throughout the world. We present your book to our distribution partners for possible inclusion in a program that can include face-to-face hand-selling of your book to bookstores and other retailers. Presenting your book to our distribution partners is a FREE SERVICE to all authors who develop and/or print their book with Self-Publishing House.

We can help you understand the best distribution options for getting your self-published books out to the world without giving up your rights - and your profits. Contact us today for a FREE 30-minute phone consultation.

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