Friday, January 15, 2010

Distributors vs. Wholesalers: Getting Your Book on the Shelf

The Writers Beware blog has an excellent post from multi-published author Cathy Clamp about the difference between distributing your book and getting the physical edition of book on book store shelves. You can read the entire post here. Here's the first section of the post:

The distinction between a wholesaler and a distributor is an important one, especially for writers who want to get their books onto physical bookstore shelves. Too often, however, writers and startup publishers aren't aware of the difference, and don't realize that a wholesaler like Ingram is only half the distribution picture.

Let's start with major NY publishers. They have a sales force. The sales department is charged with doing nothing but selling books for the publisher. Sales reps meet regularly with the buyers for the major chains and secondary markets. You might have one salesperson who handles Borders and B&N, another who meets with Target and WalMart, a third who handles Booksamillion and Costco, etc. They take the books of the publisher directly to the buyers who handle them.

Every book needs a salesperson to get it into the store. Yes, book buyers are looking for new books--but there is only so much space in each bookstore. So they have to be selective.

But even if every book needs, and deserves, a salesperson--let's face it, a small press or self-publisher often can't afford to have a full time salesperson, much less a sales "force," to go out to meet with every book buyer for every chain. Too, it's unlikely (if not impossible) that the buyer would be willing to meet with every single small press out there. There are just too many of them.

So, a lot of small publishers hire "Distributors." A distributor takes the place of a sales force by doing the exact same thing a dedicated, salaried salesperson would do. And for the same reason. They'resalaried.

Distributors cost money. A lot of money. Plan on about a third of your retail price to pay the distributor. It's a monthly/quarterly contract for the privilege of putting your books in front of the market, selling them to the buyers at the stores and increasing orders for the books. Is it worth the money? Hard to say. If you're an indie press with thirty niche books that might struggle to interest a bookstore without a marketing pitch, then sure. Absolutely. But for a single, stand-alone novel? Doubtful. In fact, it's doubtful a distributor would have a self-pubbed author or small press. It has to be worth the distributor's while, too. Generally speaking, if a press has fewer than ten titles, a distributor won't accept it as a client.

Now, if a publisher (again, whether small press or self-pub) chooses not to spend the money for a distributor, they go with the wholesalers. To make the difference simple, look at it like this:

- A distributor is the equivalent of a pack-n-ship store.
- A wholesaler is the equivalent of your local postal office.

The rest of the post is here and be sure to read the comments. Lots of good information in those as well.