The Book Distribution Conundrum

The big news this month is that Baker & Taylor announced that they will no longer sell books to retailers as of July 15, 2019. This is industry-changing news.

For years, there have been two wholesale companies that sell books to retailers and librarians—Ingram Content Group and Baker & Taylor. Of the two, Baker & Taylor was a small publisher’s friend.

The Distribution Conundrum

Historically it has been very difficult for a small publisher to get their books stocked in Ingram (and in Spring Arbor, the Christian book division of Ingram). Publishers must have at least 10 titles and meet a set annual sales figure in order to place their books directly with Ingram for sales to retailers and librarians. If a small publisher does not meet these requirements, then they have to use a distributor who stocks their books in Ingram. Some of these book distributors include Anchor (Christian books), Independent Publishers Group (IPG), Consortium Book Sales, and Baker & Taylor Publisher Services (formerly BookMasters).

Using a distributor has benefits as well as pitfalls. A distributor is a middleman, so a distributor takes an additional 15% or more of each book sale—over and above the 55–60% discount that the wholesaler (Ingram) requires. Additionally, distributor’s vet the books they represent. So, a publisher has to pass the additional requirements of a distributor in order to be represented by said distributor.

Baker & Taylor, on the other hand, was small-publisher friendly. Small publishers could open an account with Baker & Taylor and have their books stocked directly so that retailers and librarians could place orders for these books.

With the cessation of Baker & Taylor’s sales to retail stores, only one wholesale book company is now selling books to retailers—Ingram. Some in the industry are concerned about what this will mean long-term for retailers and publishers.

 

Baker & TaylorIf you are an independently published author, Baker & Taylor’s decision to cease distribution to retailers will most likely not affect you. Sadly, it will affect a number of small publishers.

Independent authors have been able to make their books available for sale to retailers and librarians through Ingram using one of Ingram’s print-on-demand (POD) services (IngramSpark or Lightning Source) or Kindle Direct Publishing’s expanded distribution service. You may wonder why the loss of Baker & Taylor is such a big deal since small publishers can also use the POD sales route.

Here is what most independent authors do not understand: Retailers rarely order print-on-demand books to stock the shelves of their stores. Print-on-demand titles have a special code in the wholesale system that retailers can spot. As a result, if you are actively trying to get bookstores to stock your title and your book is only available print-on-demand, you have an uphill battle. If your title is listed as a Kindle Direct Published book, you have an even harder climb to get a retailer to stock your book, since retailers consider Amazon their direct competition.

Bookstore

Small publishers understand that they need to have print copies stocked (not POD copies) with wholesalers to increase their chances of book sales to retail stores. This is why the loss of a small- publisher friendly wholesale option for small publishers is a big deal.

While over 50% of books are purchased online, a good percentage of books are still purchased in stores, including bookstores. Savvy publishers know that they must have their books available in multiple locations to garner the most sales. Therefore, access to a wholesale sales option is important for these publishers.

If you are an independently published author, you can take a lesson from small publishers. Having your book available in Amazon alone is not enough. Not everyone shops on Amazon, and, for certain, libraries and retailers don’t order books from Amazon.

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Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller.

 

Awareness Is Not Enough

“I need distribution for my book right away. I am doing radio and TV shows and bookstores are wanting to order my book.”

This caller’s frantic plea for help is something that I have run into a number of times. It turns out that this author published her book via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). The only place it was for sale was on Amazon.com.

The author had hired a publicist—spending thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the publicist was doing a good job of lining up radio and television interviews. The problem: no distribution.

So, while this author was getting lots and lots of publicity for her book, her book was not positioned for that publicity.

I have seen this happen to a number of independent authors. It is not a publicist’s job to educate her client on book publishing and distribution. After all, the publicist’s specialty is publicity. As a result, many publicists fail to make sure that their clients’ books are in distribution and widely available for sale in numerous outlets before booking media interviews. Sadly, when this happens, much of the publicity achieved goes to waste.

Publicity alone does not sell books. Most book sales are determined by three factors.

1. Awareness

People have to know your book exists to be able to purchase it. This is where publicity is very helpful. The more exposure you have for your book, the more people you make aware of your book.

2. Decision

Decision comes after awareness. Only after readers know about a book can they decide to purchase the book.

3. Availability

Once a reader decides to buy a book, the book must be available in the format and place he or she wants to buy the book. If readers cannot find the book where they usually shop, the sale is easily lost. Not everyone shops on Amazon.

When it comes to selling books, awareness is not enough. Availability (think ease of purchase) is just as important a factor in the buying process. Having your books available for sale in multiple places enhances your ability to sell your book.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) offers our Members ease of access to distribution through IngramSpark and Lightning Source. Member publishers and authors of CSPA can use their CSPA membership benefit to upload titles for free with these print-on-demand services that also provide distribution through Ingram—ensuring that their books are widely available for sale.

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Photo courtesy of Pablo García Saldaña.

 

Distribution is More Important Than You Think

For years I have been saying that distribution is key to increasing sales for your book.

Distribution increases the likelihood that your book is available where someone prefers to shop, making it easy for them to purchase. We are an immediate gratification society. If we don’t find what we are looking for right away, we will take the closest substitute.

Now a new study backs up what I already knew to be true. Wilke Global discovered that there was a lack of research on what consumers do when they are unable to find a particular product in both the brick-and-mortar and online worlds. So, the company embarked on a focused study in 2016 to learn more.

A few key findings from the Wilke Global study show that distribution is fundamental in winning with consumers. These findings include:

  1. Half of consumers (48% in 2016 and 49% in 2017) reported that they would buy another brand if the product they were searching for was not available on the shelf of the grocery or drug store where they were shopping.
  2. When faced with a product they don’t find at their retailer of choice, relatively few consumers seek to complete their purchase online (7% in 2016 and 10% in 2017). Basically, if a consumer sets out to buy a product in a store, they don’t readily make the shift to purchasing that product online if they can’t find it in the store.

While well over half of all books are now purchased online, some consumers are still brick-and-mortar book purchasers. What this research confirms is that when these readers hear about your book and can’t find it in the bookstore of their choice, they will  buy another book on the same topic that is available in the store instead.

This is why distribution is so important for small publishers and independently published authors. Simply having your book available on Amazon.com is not enough to reach all readers. If you book is not available for purchase in multiple online and brick-and-mortar bookstores (even for the store to order it when a customer asks) you are losing out on sales.

The Wilke Global study also discovered that consumers who purchase online are not terribly likely to visit the brand website (only 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2017 did so). Instead people shopping online generally start with Amazon, Google, or Walmart to find the product they are looking for.

As an author, the more places your book is for sale, the more sales you will catch. Make sure your book is in established book distribution channels so you don’t lose out on sales.

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Photo courtesy of Rhys Moult.

Ingram Spark

Move over Random House. The publishing world is changing. No longer do large publishing houses have the same hold on the book industry. Now, small publishers and authors are producing books and selling them, sometimes in large quantities. In fact, small publishers now make up 20% of the publishing industry.

ingramSparkLogo

The publishing world is beginning to embrace this seismic shift. Ingram, the largest book wholesale company once only deigned to work with publishers with 10 or more titles. When print-on-demand appeared, they opened Lightning Source and allowed small publishers to use this service to gain distribution. Then, about 2 years ago, they allowed the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) to form an agreement with them in regards to IBPA member publishers. This agreement allows member publishers of IBPA to obtain distribution for a print book with Ingram (with a setup fee of $300) if they agree to participate in at least one of Ingram’s marketing programs.

Now, Ingram is going one step further to engage more small and self-publishers—all in an effort to stay in the game and to make more money. Next month, they are launching a new publishing platform called Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark will be a “Publish on Demand” platform which will incorporate both print and ebook distribution. By combining print and digital platforms, the program is supposed to simply the entire distribution process while offering Ingram’s worldwide reach.

With Ingram Spark, it will be free to open an account. However, there will be setup fees. Spark will charge a $49 fee to publish both an ebook and a print book ($25 for just an ebook). In addition, there will be a $12 fee per year to be listed in Ingram’s catalog (as with Lightning Source). Publishers will be paid a royalty when books are sold—40% for ebooks and 45% for print books (not sure if that is after printing costs or not). Publishers will have the ability to set that retail price, but Ingram will set a fixed discount for retail sales (unlike Lightning Source where the publisher can choose the discount).

This leaves me with the question of what the advantage of Ingram Spark will be over Ingram’s existing Lightning Source program. The only thing I can think of is that it will make the process of setting up both print-on-demand and ebook distribution easier for a publisher since both will be under the same account. Currently, print and ebook distribution are two separate agreements and processes with Lightning Source. Other than that, I don’t see any other advantages. Maybe you do. If so, let me know.

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It’s Not Just Price…

How do Americans’ shop for books? This question was part of a study done by Simon-Kucher & Partners. The answers they found were interesting.

Shopping trolley on button of computer keyboard

It appears that the study’s findings go against the grain of some long-held beliefs about the importance of price in selling books, especially the idea that people buy books online because they can be purchased cheaper than in a brick-and-mortar store.

The Simon-Kucher & Partners study found:

  1. Convenience is just as important as price when a reader decides to buy a book online.
  2. The more consumers buy books online, the less important price is to them.

Don’t read the findings of this study wrong. Price is still important. However 76% of the survey respondents did not list price as the number one reason they purchase books online. For these respondents, convenience and the ability to shop 24/7 were top of their list.

I have always preached that to sell well, your books must be readily available to consumers. This means that your book is for sale in more places than just your website and Amazon.com. The results of this survey also point to this fact.

Price is important to consumers, but convenience is just as important. Once a person decides to buy a certain book, easy access to purchasing that book is necessary to complete the transaction.

Whether you are selling print books, ebooks, or both, make sure that your books are available on multiple retail channels online so that consumers can:

  1. Easily find your books.
  2. Buy your books on the website they feel most comfortable using.

Remember, it’s not just price, convenience is also important.

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