UPDATE, February 2017: Books-A-Million is now outsourcing its self-publishing program through Infinity Publishing and no longer through FastPencil. Infinity does not have the same reputation as FastPencil, but like any self-publishing service company, authors must do thorough vetting before signing on. You can read more about this new arrangement in this article from The Digital Reader: http://the-digital-reader.com/2017/02/06/books-million-outsourced-self-pub-unit-iffy-services-company/
Winning space on a bookstore shelf is becoming ever more challenging. Fading are the days when you could simply drop off a copy with your local bookstore and get an order or at least placement on consignment. Some local bookstores still work that way. But in many places, you may encounter stocking fees or other potentially pricey programs to access bookstore shelves like the one Books-A-Million just announced.
First—stocking fees? That’s right. One of the authors I work with recently approached a local bookstore about shelving a copy or two of his book. He was told among other things that a $20 fee for stocking the books, which would not be bought by the store but placed on consignment, would be required. Taking into account the number of books stocked, their price and the bookstore’s discount, there was no way he could avoid losing money on the deal.
Not all bookstores are doing this, but with fewer brick and mortar outlets, such shelf space is valuable real estate, and retailers view it as a marketable—to self-publishers—commodity in itself, almost like the purchase of an ad in a newspaper.
Other new approaches to stocking in bookstores are more elaborate and involve a bigger financial investment, as witness the new program for indie authors at Books-A-Million. The program was built alongside a new partnership with the self-publishing company FastPencil, which was profiled on the Bookworks blog in July 2014.
Books-a-Million, founded in 1917 in Florence, Alabama, and now based in Birmingham, is the second-largest bookselling company (after Barnes & Noble) in the United States. Its stores can be found throughout many of the eastern and southern states. Indie authors haven’t had an easy time getting on their shelves, however, and in contrast to other large booksellers including Barnes & Noble, even getting into their online store isn’t easy. Their website says, “At this time, we only feature titles online carried by one of our distributors”—that is, wholesalers American Wholesale Book Company, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram Content Group.
Books-a-Million has reached out to self-publishers before. Last year, BAM created the BAM! Publishing DIY website, through which authors could publish eBooks and print books. The print book option was available only through the Birmingham and South Portland, Maine, stores (where Espresso Book Machines were located).
Many authors may be interested in the company’s new and more expansive program, called BAM! Publish, which comes with this offer: “Sell your book in the Books-A-Million local author section, and conduct your own in-store book signing.”*
On the web page, an asterisk is attached to that statement, with the comment, “Conditions apply. See details.”
The details really are important here.
BAM! Publish says this is the process:
“You purchase one of our Premium Services Packages or 1,000 print books"
“When you’re ready, submit a copy of your book and purchase confirmation to your Books-A-Million contact"
“Books-A-Million reviews your book for relevance and appearance"
“Upon approval, Books-A-Million specifies local and/or other stores to stock your book, the on-shelf availability time period, and quantities required for each location"
“You fund book publishing and shipping to approved locations"
“If your book sells out, BAM will re-order/additional inventory at its option"
“Unsold copies are returned to you at Books-A-Million expense after shelf-life expires"
“Books sales and royalty payments are reported in your online workspace dashboard”
Consider the Details
There are indeed a number of choices to think about.
First, the price for the 1,000 print books isn’t explicit and presumably varies by book, but the service package price is clear. The lowest-cost service plan costs $699, but that only gets you into Books-a-Million’s online store. To get on the shelf, you have to pony up $399 more. That’s about $1,100 total. (There is a free package that includes an online writing, editing, collaboration tool among other perks, while the premium packages include more hands-on help and an array of services including distribution options, marketing, and other author support.)
The top-tier package, which costs $2,799, adds among other things “customized imprint option.” That may mean you won’t be able to specify the book was published by your own publishing company on the less-expensive plans. (This is among the inquiries emailed to BAM that we're hoping to receive further clarification about.)
The section saying “Books-A-Million reviews your book for relevance and appearance. Upon approval” suggests the decision of whether to stock the book still is up to BAM. As publishing consultant, Jane Friedman said on Facebook, “there is no guarantee that BAM will stock your book in BAM stores.”
If your book passes approval, Books-A-Million decides which of their stores will stock them, and for how long. Be aware that “You fund book publishing and shipping to approved locations.”
Books still on the shelf when the stocking period is over will be sent to you.
And there are questions remaining: Do all rights to the book remain with the author? Can the cover design be ported to another version of the book, such as one printed on demand? If there’s a separate printing of the book, will it need a separate ISBN number—and if it does, will it have to be called a second edition?
We’ve asked Books-A-Million about several of these points, and we’ll update this post when/if we hear from them.
My friend who pondered his local bookstore’s proposal of a $20 investment in shelf space finally decided to accept the deal. He figured the loss of funds might be made up by his book’s visibility in the store. He could be right.
Keep in mind however, that bookstores are only one place you can sell books.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments, and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
Want great feedback from peers and experts on your work-in-progress? Click HERE to sign up for BookWorks and post 2000 words from your book to get free, constructive suggestions from fellow writers.