Amazon is Not a Distributor

Last week I had the death flu. As I lay in my bed for four days in a cough-raked body in a fever-induced state of mind, I began to ponder the important questions. Questions like “When will ISIS be stopped?” and “How far will the Chinese economy fall and what impact will that have on economies around the World?” Then came the question, “Why do so many self-published authors think that Amazon is a distributor?” With that my brain said, “There’s a blog post,” and I knew I was on the road to recovery.


Does Walmart buy books from Target to sell in their stores? Does Lifeway buy books from Family Christian to sell in their stores? Of course not. If one retailer bought product from another retailer, they would not make any money and would go under.

If you asked bookstore owners and managers who their biggest competitor is, many would say Amazon. That’s right. Amazon is a bookstore. It happens to be the largest bookstore in terms of sales in the United States. It is not a distributor.

Yet, so many independently-published authors seem to think that Amazon is a distributor. When I ask authors to list their distributor, many say Amazon. Why would a bookstore buy books from their largest competitor? That would simply help Amazon grow bigger and put the bookstore out of business.

Bookstores buy books from distributors, not their competition. Distributors sell books to bookstores at a discount, usually at 40 to 45 percent off the retail price. The bookstore then sells the book for the full retail price, keeping this 40 to 45 percent of retail price as their profit.

The larger distributors (and wholesalers) that bookstores buy books from are:

  • Ingram
  • Baker & Taylor
  • IPG
  • BookMasters
  • Spring Arbor (Christian bookstores)
  • STL (Christian bookstores)
  • Anchor Distributors (Christian bookstores)

There are also a myriad of smaller distributors around the country. Getting a bookstore to stock an independently published title is an uphill battle to start with. Unless your book is listed with a major distributor, you often don’t have a prayer of having bookstores stock your title.

Bookstores do not buy books from Amazon. Although, they will purchase the book directly from the publisher or author if a customer has asked the store to special order a book that is not listed in the bookstore’s distributor’s database.

So, if you are an independently published author and someone asks you who distributes your book, don’t say Amazon. That is where consumers buy books, not retailers.

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15 thoughts on “Amazon is Not a Distributor

  1. You are correct to question whether Amazon is a distributor, the only distributor for the self published author is themselves. Which can explain why so many self-published authors fail to make the money they should. I found this article via Scott Biddulp’s re-post on


  2. Peter, I disagree that the only distributor for a self published author is themselves. The author may be the only marketer and book promoter, but there are services that will distribute (i.e. make available for purchase in proper channels) self-published titles to libraries and bookstores.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are times when those of us in retail will use another retailer to make a wholesale purchase, but in this case, even if the discount was close to the standard wholesale trade 40%, I would have a hard time supporting Amazon in any way. We’re also very hesitant to carry Createspace titles, which they own, and those titles are often short-discount items on Ingram anyway.

    Your raising of this makes me wonder however if Amazon would ever consider a wholesale division; if their model of industry dominance would include this.

    Bottom line: To the many indie authors reading Steve’s blog, if we can order your books through Ingram, etc. at a fair discount we will, but if they are short-discount, don’t expect us to carry them. It’s not just having a proper distributor, but having one that offers bookstores some margin.


  4. This short but concise post is so important for indie authors to read. We reblogged this post on Two Drops if Ink because I have seen this mistake and lived it. I just finished the layout and design of a book of poetry for a gentleman in the U.K., and we had one heck of a time getting it on Ingram, Waterstone, or Ingramsparks. I decided to take the ISBN that we purchased through the small press that printed the book, and I republished the book through Amazon CreateSpace. This gives the author the ability to sell all over the world on Amazon and still sell to independent bookstores as well (although the shipping costs from the U.S. eat up his royalties). Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Everyone,

    As a Christian indie author, for the last 3 years, I have successfully and easily publish my two KJV “New Testament Word Search Fun!” and “Old Testament Word Search Fun!” book series through Amazon CreateSpace. I even have an amazon author Central page on it. I even have a Bible book sries for Catholics, too.

    Joe Wocoski, Author


  6. AMAZON is definitely a distributor! In fact, they’re the world’s largest distribution company, as they’ve been well known to be a major distributor along w/ EBAY for quite a while now. Over the years, AMAZON.COM & EBAY.COM has become the biggest marketplaces for other distributors to sell their products. That’s pretty much the whole idea & term of ecommerce. Whenever, you sell online, you’re distributing. Whenever, you sell in-store, you’re retailing. Whenever you sell in-warehouse, you’re wholesaling. W/ that being established, just remember that there are 3 different channels of sales:

    *RETAIL (physical sales)
    *DISTRIBUTION (digital sales)
    *WHOLESALE (physical & digital lot sales)

    Take this from me because I’ve been an independent distributor for over a decade now on EBAY.COM. I’m also about to grand open my first ecommerce store.


  7. Nathan: You clearly have a different definition of distributor than the book industry. In the book industry, a distributor is a business that retailers (and other resellers) purchase books at for a discount and then resell at the retail price to earn a profit. Amazon is not a distributor in this sense. Retailers and other re-sellers do not purchase books from Amazon to resell.


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