First of all, when we talk about book distribution there are two different models that you need to know about:
- Full-Service Distribution
- Wholesale Distribution
Full-Service Book Distribution
Full-service distributors are companies that provide a variety of services on behalf of traditional or well-established authors and publishers with a proven sales record. These services can range from sales representation directly into stores, libraries and wholesalers, warehousing, order fulfillment and back end office functions such as paying royalties and doing collections. Examples of these companies are Ingram Publisher Services (IPS), Publishers Group West (PGW), Independent Publishing Group (IPG) and Midpoint to name just a few. Some specialize in genre-specific, academic or religious content. Typically a new indie author or publisher will not have sufficient sales to support full-service book distribution partnerships.
Wholesale Book Distribution
So let’s focus on wholesale distribution since that’s likely the model that fits most indie author/publishers. In this model, the author/publisher makes their book available to a wholesaler like Ingram who in turn makes that book available in their catalog to retailers and libraries to order. The wholesaler is not actively promoting or selling that book; the author/publisher is doing that. Since Ingram is the world’s largest book wholesaler servicing 39,000 retail and library partners, it’s a good thing to get your book listed with Ingram. It makes no difference whether the stores and libraries are built of brick or live entirely online, sell printed or eBooks—it is all called wholesale book distribution. Baker & Taylor distributes print books primarily to libraries. Ingram also distributes to Baker & Taylor. On the eBook side, publisher/authors can distribute directly to the big four, (Kindle, Apple, B&N and Kobo) but it can be cumbersome when they start uploading and revising content, and that's why a service like IngramSpark is handy as a one-stop.
With IngramSpark, print on demand (POD) is tied directly to Ingram’s global network to make for a seamless and inexpensive way to distribute your print books. With no inventory on hand, books are manufactured (POD) or distributed (eBook) as retailers place orders. The publisher is paid for the sale minus the cost of printing (POD only) so there are no up-front inventory costs other than a nominal fee to set up your title in the IngramSpark platform.
"What if the indie author/publisher wants to have her books printed by an offset printer? Will IngramSpark still distribute those books?"
IngramSpark works entirely using the POD model because we’ve found that it’s really cost-effective and works with most indie publisher’s content. However, if you already have inventory and have at least 10 titles you can submit directly to Ingram to see if they will stock your title(s).
The reason distribution is so important for indie author/publishers is that most booksellers and certainly libraries would rather not order a single title directly from the author/publisher because it’s just not manageable. It’s far more convenient and beneficial for retailers and libraries to order from a single supplier. This is exactly the role that Ingram plays in the industry—it is the central hub of the very complex publishing wheel between publishers and retailers.
When you set up your title in the IngramSpark platform, you provide the completed digital files (PDF for print and EPUB for eBooks) along with the metadata (book information). In this metadata you will also include your list price and a discount to offer to the retailers and libraries that might want to purchase your book. The discount represents the profit that both the bookseller (retailer) and Ingram make transacting the sale. The standard trade discount is 55% of the list price but you can set a range anywhere from 30-55% in IngramSpark. Applying a discount of less than 55% can possibly limit the sale of title to booksellers; however, this may be the right choice for some author/publishers depending on their sales strategies.
Make Your Book Returnable
The same holds true for choosing to make your book “returnable” or “non-returnable”. Most booksellers, including chains like Barnes and Noble, will not consider stocking your book without the returnable option. Remember you can always change your price, discount and returnable options so do what makes you feel the most comfortable. If your book isn’t selling and you are actively marketing, you might want to try adjusting your pricing, discounts or returnable option to see if that helps move the needle.
IngramSpark also encourages publishers to place orders for their own books so that they can be shipped to them or drop-shipped directly to their customers. This is known as a “publisher direct or drop-ship order”. In the case of these orders, the author/publisher only pays print and shipping fees (no discount is applied). The beauty of this service is that author/publishers don’t need to worry about inventory or have books stacked in their garage. They don’t have to invest in packing supplies or be burdened with packing orders on dining room tables. Anyone who has packed books on their dining room table as I have, knows why I smile as I type this.
Share your questions in the comments below, so we can address them in forthcoming posts.
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