The whys and wherefores of Book Distribution

29 Apr


Oh! But first – after the longest, coldest, most miserable winter Cleveland has known for at least the last 30 years, I am entirely pleased to announce – Spring has sprung! Finally.  My tulips are almost out. The above photo was taken April 28, 2014. In 2012, by comparison, they bloomed on March 15!

Okay, sorry. Back to business.

Book publishers produce books, with the help of the companies that manufacture them. Chief among these are the printing companies, of course. But, once the books are made, how do they get to the bookstores and libraries around the country?  There are perhaps half a dozen options, and most of them carry the name of Ingram, in one of its many corporate identities.  They not only distribute most of the books published in this country by traditional (advance against royalties) publishers in this country, they also have a Print-on-Demand publishing venture, plus the capability to produce e-books.

The next largest distributor is Baker & Taylor, followed closely by Brodart Books.  The Book House primarily services libraries.  There are perhaps another handful (if you can find them) which serve specific genres.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to get major distribution without using one of these companies. Recently they have begun to acknowledge the fact of self-publishing life, but in a sort of reverse mode. The library or book store has to specifically request the self-published book, which will probably not be listed in any catalog, such as those sent out by the big publishers.

Then there is the cost factor. In 1999 or thereabouts, Ingram began to charge 55% of the cover price of any book to provide distribution of the book to its bookstore/library customers. Yes, indeed, this means that the publisher and author will split the remaining 45% of the cover price betwixt themselves! Now, it’s not that Ingram gets the entire 55% for itself, no – it gets between 10 and 20%, as the bookstore/library customer will get the book for a 30 to 40%  discount off the cover price.  To be more clear: For each one dollar of book cover price, the publisher gets 45%, the distributor will get 10 to 20%, and the bookstore/library gets a 35% discount. From the remaining 65%, the publisher gets 45% and the distributor gets 20%. These are not hard and fast numbers. A larger bookstore chain or library system might be able to negotiate a better price based on quantity.

Such a customer buying a million total copies in a month (say a large metropolitan library system) will be able to pay less for book than the small indie store down the street. On the other hand, a small publisher (small press) might have to subsist on only 25% of the cover price, as the distribution will take up the rest of it. Is it any wonder that book prices are so high? Don’t forget all the employees and sub-contractors of the publisher (everyone who worked on the book—cover artist, publicist, editors, etc.) must be paid out of that 45% earned by the big publisher.

Unfortunately, in this setup, it’s the author who gets it in the neck!  The author MAY earn between 6 and 10% of the cover price. However, the advance, if there is one, must and will be re-paid to the publisher before the author sees one penny of royalties. And then, said author will not see any money at all from royalties for perhaps two years! However, by the time returns are factored in, there may be no earned royalties at all. (Gulp.)

To be sure, self-publishing these days is extremely easy, and perhaps the only real complaint about it is the so-called lack of distribution. But this is a lack of perception, actually. [Remember, my experience with this has only been with Amazon and their CreateSpace, so I can’t speak with any authority at all about any other system.] They do offer expanded distribution, which earns less per copy, but they do make it available to other sales outlets. I know this, because I bought one of my own books a few days after last Christmas (just to see how it worked.) I placed the order at Barnes & Noble on-line, for slightly less than the cover price, and in spite of the early-January blizzard that hit our area, the book was in my hands on the sixth day after I’d ordered it! I think that is nothing short of amazing.

It’s also very comforting to know that should an egregious error have made its way into the print version, it is ever so easy to fix. You simply tell CreateSpace that you need to upload a different file, and voilà! Done. It may take another day to be sure it’s all okay this time around, but there are no books to be trashed in the process. Nice, eh? (Of course, the same principle applies to books published through Kindle.)

In addition, because of Amazon’s international store-fronts, people in nine countries are able to purchase the print book directly from their own Amazon:  the US, UK, Canada, Spain, France, India, Italy, Germany and Japan. Currently, China and Australia offer only the Kindle versions, however.  Still, it’s hard to argue with that vast network.

But to me, the clincher is this. In addition to owning my book (I’m responsible for all of it – even if I hire someone to help out with cover art or whatever) I am in charge of the entire marketing process. Well, almost. Kindle offers an amazing amount of marketing support with their best-seller lists. I had no clue, to be honest about it, until the day I happened to notice that one of my Christmas novellas was on the top 100 best-seller list! Eeegads and little fishes! From then, I paid very close attention, let me tell you! I had friends in other countries send me blurbs that Amazon had sent them which included my book. I never lifted a finger to have all this attention!

P. S. My Regency alter-ego Hetty St. James has posted part one of a two part article about Georgian/Regency fashion today. If you’re interested, you may see it here.  Thank you! 

Questions? Comments?  Please write to me:  Cheers!




2 Responses to “The whys and wherefores of Book Distribution”

  1. Angelina Lee June 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    I met you years ago, you were helping me with my book. I have just published my first book called The Butterfly King.

    • Site Admin June 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      How neat! Thank you for telling me about this. I hope I was helpful? Please tell us more? Thanks, Kelly

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