That’s just not the case.
In fact, the options for book distribution for self publishers has exploded over the years. Authors can now self distribute, print and distribute using a POD company, use a traditional small press distributor or self-distribute their ebook. So many choices – so how does book distribution work?
Let’s break each option down quickly:
Depending on an author’s goals, self distribution is actually fairly simple these days. An author can print their books (we recommend in the hundreds, not the thousands, to start – see small run book printing for a more in depth discussion). The author warehouses their book. The warehouse needs to be a safe and dry place….like your living room or bedroom. Not, generally, like the leaky tool shed out back. The author can set up an Amazon Advantage account to list, ship, and self-distribute the book through Amazon. The author can also, should he/she choose to do so, submit the book for review to the small press department at various retailers. Self distribution also allows the author to sell direct from his/her website, put together consignment deals with local bookstores and manage the entire sell-in process for the book. Is this the best option? That completely depends on the book. Relying solely on self-distribution can be challenging if the author doesn’t have the contacts at the retailers but is super easy if the author/publisher plans to sell the book solely online.
2. Print on Demand:
At some point, this will be a blog post in and of itself. The reality is that Print on Demand (POD) is a printing method. That’s it. It’s a digital, print to order way of bringing a book to market. However, with the ease of use and cost effectiveness of programs offered by Amazon’s CreateSpace program and LightningSource, print on demand has, in some ways, become synonymous with low cost book distribution for self publishers. Why is that? Both CreateSpace and LightningSource make it incredibly easy to upload your files and make your books available, on demand, to consumers. CreateSpace, owned and operated by Amazon, ensures that your book is always on sale on Amazon. LightningSource (owned by Ingram) makes sure the book is always available to bookstores, corporations or any other bulk purchasing entity via Ingram. As of this blog post, both Lightning Source and CreateSpace have non-exclusive contracts which means we recommend uploading the same book, under the same ISBN, to both places at the same time. This ensures that Ingram has the book and Amazon has the book at all times. What does this mean for you? You can “self distribute” your book in a way that doesn’t require up front cash. You only pay for the books that you print when the book is sold. There’s no printing and/or warehousing expenses with the exception of printing marketing materials and copies.
3. Traditional Book Distribution:
Traditional distribution means working with a reputable company that warehouses, sells, and ships your books. They also handle all orders, billings and returns. They are your “back end” team. A traditional distributor will take a percentage on books shipped and a percentage on books returned. They may also charge you a warehousing fee. Some authors look at fees charged by a traditional distributor and think the percentage is too high. In reality, it comes down to the amount of work an author or publisher wants to do. A book distributor will charge for their work…and they should. Just remember, a traditional distributor warehouses 1000+ books per publisher, develop sales kits and materials, set meetings with the retailers, meets with retailers, stocks, picks, packs, ships, bills, collects, and issues payments. That’s a lot of work.
4. eBook Distribution:
We don’t think any author should pay for straight eBook distribution. That’s just our opinion – and might be an unpopular one. It is incredibly easy, and cost effective, to get your book converted in to eBook ready format(s). It’s also really easy to set up your own accounts at Amazon, B&N, Kobo and iTunes. If you do your own account setup, pay for your own conversion (cheap!) and do the upload, you’re set for the rest of the life of the book. There is no reason to pay for an eBook distributor. This is an easy one because there is no warehousing, fulfillment, billing, pick, pack, shipping, returns, etc. All that’s involved after the account setup is the retailer depositing your money directly in to your bank account.
In reality, this is likely to be the first of 4 blog posts on how book distribution works. Each of the four short points above provide a brief overview of book distribution for self publishers. Each can, and will, have it’s own post. Today, it’s just a brief overview for those that think it’s a “short” conversation!
Still curious? Check out our post – How does book distribution work? for additional information and various distribution scenarios.