January, 2013

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What Are Book Store Buyers LOOKING For?


A client recently asked me.  What the %$#@! are book buyers looking for? He went on to say “My book is priced right, well-designed and exactly what older American’s are needing… what more can I do?”

I thought I would share my answer in the hopes that it might answer other questions out there.

If the book is well written, has a topic and message that will appeal to their customers, and is well designed, it has a good shot of getting a test order from a bookstore book buyer.

Keep in mind, there are more books published each year than could fit in 7 totally empty bookstores.  (And as you know, bookstores are not empty!)  Because of this, the buyers can only take a teeny fraction of what is presented to them.  Also, the buyers are judged (read: get to keep their jobs) by how many times their section “turns” a year.  The sales rate of their choices is closely monitored.  So they will pick books that they feel have the best chance to selling off the shelf several times a year.

That is where demand and platform comes in. If an author has a good platform, is reaching out to thousands, or tens of thousands of readers, is showing sales online (seen in Nielsen Bookscan reports) and has a strong PR plan with potential for a lot of media – the buyer will be far more likely to take the book in.

If the book does NOT have all of those things, then the buyer needs to see some other proof that the well-designed, beautifully-edited, fantastically-written, much-needed book won’t just sit on their shelves. There is a chance that someone will see your title on the spine on a crowded bookshelf and pick it up.  If they pick it up, there is a good chance that they might buy it. (If they need or want a book like yours). But a book buyer would much rather sweeten the chances of a “turn” by stocking books that will have browse-friendly qualities AND great press.  There are enough books out there that have great demand AND are great books to choose from.

Does your book have everything it needs PLUS good PR?  Is your book “All That” AND a bag of chips?


Math Lessons For Small Presses – Part 3



Bookstores buy books from wholesalers and distributors. The major difference is that a wholesaler is publisher’s customer (wholesalers buy books from a publisher) and a distributor is a publisher’s employee (distributors sell their services to a publisher).

A distributor handles all of the après-production elements of getting a book onto a store’s shelves. Publishers agree to funnel all of their sales, warehousing, shipping, and billing through the distributor. They do this work for a percentage of the billing generated by the sale of the publisher’s books.

Like publishers, distributors sell a book to a wholesaler or bookstore at a discount of the retail price. That discount is usually between 45 and 55 percent.

So, if bookstores get about the same terms and about the same schedule, why do they go to a distributor instead of directly to the publisher? Some bookstores (especially bookstore chains) are not interested in setting up new, small, or regional publishers in their ordering and accounting systems for just a few books. They rightly weigh the benefits of a publisher’s book against the time and trouble necessary to order it, and if the balance does not come out in the book’s favor, they skip it. How do new and small publishers avoid this terrible fate? They sign exclusive agreements with a distributor.

A distributor’s cut varies from 25 to 35 percent of the net billing of each book. Just about every distributor has additional monthly fees, and most require an initial deposit for new clients.

Before you balk, keep in mind that it is very difficult, expensive, and time consuming to handle your own warehousing, purchase shipping materials, and learn how to ship exactly how each store wishes their shipments to arrive … and everyone is different. (It’s a little joke they like to play on publishers. I am convinced that bookstore owners get together every two years to devise slightly altered yet completely incomprehensible trafficking instructions.) Then comes the billing, monthly statements, handling claims for books damaged in transit, taking in returns, and reconciling the amount due with what the bookstore believes is due.

After that, consider the money and time it takes to tell the country’s thousands of buyers about your books. The sales reps working for distributors have long-standing relationships with the book buyers in your hometown, across the country, and in the major chains. You would not be able to start a fledgling relationship on your own with these buyers. What an experienced sales rep can often do with a phone call, you could rarely accomplish with six months and a great deal of research, e-mails, flyers, catalogs, paperwork, and free samples.


Back to the math!

A book priced at retail is $16.95

A distributor sells it to a wholesaler for $7.63 (55% discount)

The distributor will charge the publisher on average $2.15 to handle that order.

Shipping and other fees will cost about $1.30 cents a book (give or take)

The publisher gets $4.18 for the book from the distributor 6 months later when the payment comes in.

After the productions costs of $3.25 are taken into consideration, the end profit is about .93 cents a book.

(AND the distributor does most of the work)


So there you have it.  Math by an English Major for Publishers. Let me know if you have any questions!


Math Lessons for Small Presses – Part 2


Lesson #2

WHOLESALERS and how they sell books:

Book wholesalers are companies that buy books from publishers at a deep discount and hold them in their warehouses so that Internet and “brick and mortar” stores can order the books from them. Bookstores like to use wholesalers for a number of reasons: namely speed, convenience, and less financial exposure.

Book Distribution is not easy!

When a bookstore orders a book from a wholesaler, they will usually get their order in twenty-four hours. Next-day service is the standard from the top wholesalers. The discount a store can usually expect to receive off the retail price of the book from a wholesaler is 40 to 45 percent. What the bookstore loses in profit margin, they often make up in convenience and risk reduction. A book ordered from a wholesaler can be combined and shipped with hundreds of other books.

Some stores hire wholesalers to stock, manage, and handle all aspects of their book departments. There are large “big-box” chains that happily hand their title selection and discount negotiations over to a wholesaler that will manage the entire department for them. The same can sometimes be true for libraries. There are many U.S. library systems dependent upon wholesalers for all their new books. People at the chain or library office work with the wholesalers and oversee the choices, but how closely that is managed depends upon each individual situation.

The difference between a wholesaler and a distributor is this: A distributor works FOR the publisher.  A publisher hires them to handle the warehousing, shipping, order processing and sales of their book.  A wholesaler does not work for a publisher, they are the publisher’s customer.  They buy books from the publisher and resell to THEIR customers.

Most wholesalers have the word “distributor” in their name. This is to identify them as companies that distribute books to bookstores and libraries, but they are not the same sort of distributor that you need when B&N sends you a letter telling you to “get a distributor”.

If you want your book to have a chance at a bookstore chain like Barnes & Noble or BooksAMillion, and if you don’t want to hire a distributor, a wholesaler is your next best bet.

The two biggest book wholesalers for the book industry right now are Ingram and Baker & Taylor. You can find their application processes on their websites. Send your books in with the proper paperwork and try to get your titles into at least one of these wholesaler’s warehouses.  Ingram and B&T do not usually take small presses, but B&T will sign up a small publisher if they have enough marketing and sales plans to support the book.

Ingram has recently partnered with IBPA and through them, a small press CAN get listed in Ingram’s system.  However, only a very small fraction of those books get ordered and stock at Ingram.  Only the books with strong demand get stocked, the rest are just listed and Ingram will order a book from the publisher when a store backorders one.  (and the kicker?  Most bookstores will not back order.)

Remember, if you get an order, you will be selling your books to the wholesaler at a discount of at least 55 percent. They will usually order only as many as they need to fulfill the demand coming in from their customers … stores and libraries. If they are overstocked or books come back from the stores, they will return those books to you for a full refund. (Having fun yet?)

So, back to the math:

A book priced at retail is $16.95

A publisher sells it to a wholesaler for $7.63 (55% discount)

The wholesaler has paid $7.63 for the book.

They then turn around and sell it to the bookstore for $9.83 (40% discount off of the retail)

The wholesaler pays for the overnight shipping and packing materials.  The profit for the wholesaler is $2.20

Many of my clients want to know why they have to give so much of the profit to distributors and wholesalers. The short answer is: they don’t.  It is possible to convince your local stores to stock your book on consignment or to sell them directly on Amazon yourself.  However, the shipping costs, time spent and number of venues that will not take your book often turn out to cost publishers FAR more than a wholesaler’s cut….