Self-Publishing and the Book Trade, Part 2: Distribution

Article excerpt

Self-publisher or not, you'll need intermediaries to help you distribute your books. Both distributors and wholesalers act as intermediaries. On the Midwest Book Review site [], Mary Westheimer explains the difference:

   WHOLESALERS work for stores
   (booksellers), fulfilling their orders.
   DISTRIBUTORS work for
   publishers, actively selling their
   titles to stores (booksellers).
   There are some hybrids, but
   those definitions seem to hold
   pretty true. Distributors often
   ask for exclusives or exclusives
   in a certain channel (say, bookstores).
   Wholesalers? The more
   the merrier.

Like almost everyone else in the industry, distributors don't like to deal with small fry. If you've only got one to a few titles, you're going to fight an uphill battle unless you go with Biblio Distribution (see the section on Ingram) or through a self-publishing company that handles distribution. If you join the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA), you might be able to get directly into Ingram.

Distributors can be national (Independent Publishers Group, National Book Network, or, formerly, Publishers Group West, which recently filed for bankruptcy due to the alleged financial incompetence of its parent company, Advanced Marketing Services). Distributors can also be regional and will actively sell your books to bookstores and wholesalers, although most titles get only the most cursory (5 seconds if you're lucky) pitch. Distributors will also include your books in their catalogs, giving your title(s) another chance to reach decision-makers. Self-publishing guru Dan Poynter, cited in my February column and author of the classic The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write,Print and Sell Your Own Book, explains that distributors are proactive, while wholesalers are reactive.

When you do business with a distributor, your relationship is exclusive. (Not so with wholesalers, who don't mind if you work with their competitors.) Independent distributors, who do business with nonbookstore retailers, deal with magazines, trade books, and mass-market paperbacks. It treats books the same as magazines, which means books are sold on the rack for just 1 month. Your national distributor may deal with independent distributors on your behalf.

There are two library distributors: Unique Books and Quality Books.

Getting into Wholesalers

There are only two national wholesalers in the United States: Baker & Taylor (B&T), which caters largely but not exclusively to the library trade, and Ingram. There are also regional wholesalers in the U.S., like Bookazine in New York and the recently reconstituted (following a bankruptcy) Koen-Levy. Some wholesalers specialize by subject or audience. Library wholesalers include Brodart and Blackwell Book Services.

You can do business with multiple wholesalers simultaneously, but not with multiple distributors. Unlike distributors, wholesalers act as warehouses for bookstores, although they don't stock all titles physically all the time.

Baker & Taylor

How do I do business with Baker & Taylor?

To do business with Baker & Taylor [], you fill out a short form that asks, among other things, whether you belong to PMA or the Small Publishers Association of North America, aka SPAN. (If you are a PMA member, the company will waive its one-time $125 set-up fee; SPAN members get a $50 discount.) If you work through a distributor that has a relationship with Baker & Taylor, you don't have to pay the fee, but you do have to notify B&T in writing. If you use a distributor, B&T strongly recommends that the distributor handle all your titles.

What information does Baker & Taylor require?

* An LCCN and/or an ISBN

* A unique EAN, Price-Point, or UPC bar code on the back of each title published, which means one for each edition, binding, and so on. …