How Does Book Distribution Work?

How Does Book Distribution Work?  is a question that every author should be asking. Without a full understanding of book distribution and what it means, authors and publishers can make costly mistakes bringing their book to market.


Book Distribution, loosely defined, includes the following:

  • Title Setup – Data sent to all major accounts including, but not limited to, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Hastings, Follet, Books-a-Million, Indigo and a bunch of .com sites
  •  Warehousing – A book distributor warehouses your books. If you print 1,000 copies, they will be stored in a warm, dry environment by your book distributor
  •  Fulfillment – Your book distributor will accept orders and will pick, pack and ship your books to the retailer
  •  Billing & Collections – A book distributor handles all of the billing and collections
  •  Sales – A book distribution company includes sales services. National account pitches are included in most distribution deals. Additional sales services to specialty accounts, libraries, mass merchants and/or catalogs may involve additional fees
  • Fees – A book distributor generally charges: a setup fee, a monthly warehousing fee, a percentage of each book they ship, and a percentage of each book that is returned by the account. Additional fees may apply for additional services such as: labeling, stickering, online fulfillment, etc.


It looks complicated, right? It’s really not. While the above breaks down how book distribution works in the big picture, the fulfillment and distribution options available to authors and publishers today are wide-ranging. It can also be really challenging for a small press to find a distributor they like.


While you’re planning your bring to market strategy, book distribution will be a biggie. The truth of the matter is, you may need a distributor or you may not.

how does book distribution work

So how does book distribution work?

Let’s take a look at the following scenarios and how distribution fits in:


Scenario One:

Self-Publishing with a self-publishing company, vanity press, or co-publisher: Read the fine print. It’s likely that your publishing partner is doing your book distribution. That is a standard part of most of these deals. Just be clear on what their sales responsibility is. Some companies will activity pitch your book to the buyers at the national accounts. Many won’t. If they don’t, you might be wise to invest in a sales company for this purpose.


Scenario Two:

POD through Lightning Source/Ingram Spark: In this case, it’s a mix. LSI is handling your title setup, “warehousing” (they hold the files for POD), and billing & collections.   When you work with Lightning Source and/or Ingram Spark, you fill find your book listed everywhere – including Amazon. All sales, marketing, and PR activities are your responsibility under this scenario.


Scenario Three:

POD through CreateSpace: There are two options through CreateSpace. The standard, non-exclusive, Createspace option that deals with Amazon-only. Or the CreateSpace Expanded Distribution option. If you choose #1: You are only making your book available on Amazon. You are handling all of the title setup, sales & marketing. If you choose #2: Amazon is handling the title setup/data dissemination to the accounts along with fulfillment, billing and collections. You are handling all sales & marketing. Just remember that both CreateSpace and LSI are non-exclusive (or at least they still are today). We often have clients choose Createspace only for Amazon and work with Ingram Spark or LSI at the same time under the same ISBN. That’s a whole other blog post….


Scenario Four:

You printed books and signed a distributor: Congratulations! That distributor is in charge of all of the pieces we outlined above. You should be receiving monthly reports and quarterly statements.


Scenario Five:

You printed books and can’t find a distributor or don’t want to pay the fees: Clearly you won’t be doing full distribution. In this case you may want to work with a fulfillment company – they handle the fulfillment, warehousing, billing, and collections. They’re percentage is often much smaller than a distributors. They do not do sales pitches. You are responsible for all sales and marketing.


Scenario Six:

You printed books and want to self-distribute: If you are a speaker or professional who plans to sell the bulk of your books at conferences and through your business, this might be the right model for you. You will serve as warehouse, fulfillment, billing & collections, sales, and marketing. Self-distribution through Amazon is quite simple. Set up and Amazon Advantage or Amazon Seller Central account and go forth. It can be really challenging for a small press/self-published author to get an account with any of the major accounts. You are likely not going to be listed or stocked at any retailer with the exception of bookstores you pitch and send your books. However, in a lot of cases, that doesn’t matter if publishing plan calls for direct-sales and online sales only.



Knowing the ins and outs of how book distribution works can help you plan your budget and publishing timelines. Each of the above scenarios works on a different schedule and has different costs associated model. There is no “right” way to distribute a book. But there is likely a right way to distribute YOUR book. Map out your goals and proceed accordingly.



Additional resources for authors:

  • John Kremer at has a great list of Book Distribution companies that work with Indie Authors that you can find here.
  • IBPA also has a nice list to take a look at that you can find here.


Still asking yourself: How does book distribution work?  Be sure to check out our related post: Book Distribution for Self Publishers for additional thoughts on this topic.


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One Response to “How Does Book Distribution Work?”

  1. Jane says:

    So based on scenario two – the publisher is responsible for getting book sellers to make an order and ingramspark then fill it and send it out? Is ingramspark proactive in any way getting booksellers to buy your book? Or is it entirely up to the author/publisher?

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