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.

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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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Three Lessons from Six Years!

Six years! Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) celebrated its sixth birthday this month.

CSPA begin in January of 2004, just six years ago, with three small publishers just starting down the track of producing materials for the Christian marketplace. These three publishers came together to do what they each could not do alone; mainly afford to promote their books within the niche Christian market. By the end of 2009, CSPA had grown to over 80 publisher members, all producing materials for the Christian marketplace.

CSPA’s goal is to help small publishers market their materials in the Christian market. Through joining together, small publishers can extend their reach through cooperative marketing efforts.

As the director of CSPA, I have learned three important lessons over the last six years.

1. Distribution is crucial.

Bookstore and library sales won’t happen without distribution. I am always surprised at how many new publishers want to skip this step because they “can’t afford” it. Publishers must take into consideration the large discount distributors require when setting the price of a book. The more channels a book is available for consumers to purchase it, the more sales will occur. Publishers and authors who do not make their books available through national distribution lose out on sales.

2. Marketing should start long before a book is published.

Many publishers and self-publishers I come in contact with don’t even start to think about marketing their book until they actually have the book in hand. By this time, these individuals have lost many opportunities for marketing including reviews, endorsements, developing an audience to sell the book to, and pre-orders. Marketing should be an integral part of every piece of a book’s development including the cover design and sell text.

3. Many new publishers producing materials for the Christian marketplace lack a basic understanding of how the Christian market differs from the general book industry.

A number of great resources for learning how to publish and market books are readily available to any new publisher or author embarking on the journey of producing a book. The sad part is that most of these resources lack information about the Christian marketplace. That is why I developed Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. This book is a handbook for any new publisher or author producing Christian materials. This essential resource gives an overview of how the Christian marketplace is unique and what resources exist to market into this segment of the book industry.

CSPA’s mission is to help small publishers be successful in the Christian marketplace. It is the heartbeat of the organization. If you are a small publisher producing materials for Christians, I encourage you to consider membership with Christian Small Publishers Association.

Ecclesiastes 4:9&12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Let’s support each other on this journey.


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