Book Distribution

What's the Difference Between a Wholesaler and Distributor

Wherever you are in the process of writing or publishing your book, you’ve probably considered at some point how you’re going to get it out to all of your adoring fans. You might ask yourself: Once I’ve published my book, how will readers find and buy it? Wholesalers and distributors are the two main channels for getting your book into retailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and indie bookstores, as well as libraries and schools, but determining how these channels differ and which one is best for your book can be confusing.

Let’s start with wholesalers. Wholesalers like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bookazine are the middlemen between you—the author or publisher—and most major book retailers. These retailers generally order books from wholesalers, which act as depots for your book. Retailers do this because it’s easier for them to order from a small number of trusted sources (wholesalers) rather than hundreds of individual authors and publishers (you). Thus, if you’re looking for national distribution to major retail channels, you generally have to be set up with a major wholesaler.

Shelf Space vs. Sell Through

When you first become a published author there is much to learn about the ins and outs of this sometimes difficult to understand industry. There are some aspects that seem just plain backwards, particularly for those entering the industry from a business background. One of the hardest elements to come to grips with is the concept that a sale is not really a sale until it goes through two or three transactions. This makes calculating expected revenue difficult, to say the least. Add to that the returns factor (discussed here) and you are left with some confusing data to sort through.

If you’re working with a distributor, your distributor is going to sell your book to wholesalers and to retailers. (Learn the difference between wholesalers and distributors here.) Wholesalers play a very big role in all of this and it’s not uncommon for the majority of your books to first be sold to the myriad of wholesalers out there, big and small. Your distributor will report this is a sale to you and you will be paid for that sale (minus returns and reserves against future returns) but in the more explicit sense of the word, it’s not quite a sale yet. At this point, your book has been stocked in a wholesaler’s warehouse with the hopes that their customers (retailers and libraries) will purchase it from them.

Returns, Returns, Returns

Ask anyone that has been in publishing for more than ninety days what they like least about the industry and you will undoubtedly get the answer, “returns!” Returns are high on the list of frustrating and hard-to-accept aspects of the book business.

When I first began working in publishing years ago, I was told early on about returns during my training with our own Tanya Hall. I remember kind of chuckling when she told me that all sales could be returned for any reason at any time. Having never heard of such a practice in my prior retail, B2B, and direct to consumer experience, I thought surely she must be joking. Well, she wasn’t, but the hundreds of authors I have worked with over the years have certainly felt like the joke’s on them when it comes to returns.

Packaging Mistakes That Will Keep Your Book Out of Bookstores: Interior Packaging

Stop the presses! Before you print your book, make sure you’re not committing a major packaging faux pas that will diminish retail buyers’ interest. We’ve all heard the statistic: 2,000 books are published every day. That means the competition for shelf space is fierce, so as an author, you have to make sure the physical presentation of your book is flawless or you don’t stand much of a chance.

We receive so many submissions that, despite having great content, have one part of the packaging off, which makes it hard for us, or any distributor, to effectively sell the title. Interior layout is one facet of packaging that can be easily overlooked but remains essential to the professional presentation and readability of a book. I spoke with managing designer Sheila Parr, who’s won numerous awards for her book designs, about common layout errors, and she offered some simple advice to anyone looking to produce a book on their own.

The Book Shipping Showdown: UPS and FedEx vs. The United States Postal Service

We know shipping (and its associated costs) can sometimes be a big pain. However, in the publishing industry, there is just no way around it. Books must get to the wholesalers and retailers in order for them to be sold to the customer, and someone has to incur the shipping costs.

There are a few options, though, when it comes to moving your books from here to there. Some are just OK; others are better. Trust me, we speak from experience (lots and lots of it!).

So, the big debate: which carrier to use? While Greenleaf Book Group typically recommends shipping with a courier such as UPS or FedEx, I will lay out the particulars of each option and let you decide which is the best option for you.

For the purposes of comparison, I’m going to lump UPS and FedEx together as couriers since they both operate in the same general way. Their primary challenger is the United States Postal Service (USPS).

What Price is Right?

A big question for many authors is how to determine the retail price of their book. In some businesses, conventional wisdom says to set the price of a product by at least doubling your cost. Since that’s the case, if it cost you $10 to print your 150-page book, you should charge $20, right? Wrong! The book industry is not conventional, and the conventional wisdom thus does not apply.

There are many different factors that impact the price of your book: genre, page count, binding (hardcover/paperback), and competition all dictate the best price for the retail market.

What to Consider When Pricing Your Print Book

We all know how hard it is to assign a value to something that took years of work and your heart and soul to create. To the author, the content is often priceless. If you want to sell books, though, the retail price you set should be carefully considered and chosen with caution.

Traditional publishers will typically arrive at their price point by taking into consideration the costs associated with producing, distributing, and marketing the book. It’s tempting to take the same approach when self-publishing but self-published authors don’t normally have the same economies of scale that make this method work.

For instance, a traditional house will be looking at print costs based on a print run in the hundreds of thousands or at least in the tens of thousands, while most self-published authors are looking at much smaller initial print runs. This affects the cost per book and hence would drive your suggested list price way up and out of the market norm.