Book publishing has come a long way since the days of cottage printing presses and hand-sewn spines. Now, traditional publishing is a huge business that has spawned many other industries, including specialized book wholesalers and distributors whose sole job it is to get books on shelves. At Self-Publishing Relief, we know self-published authors are also interested in wide distribution and would love access to some of the same resources to get more books on retail shelves. It’s possible—if you understand the system and know the crucial differences between book wholesalers and distributors.
Book Wholesalers vs. Distributors
In the traditional publishing world, there is one fundamental difference between wholesalers and distributors.
Distributors are active. Wholesalers are passive.
Wholesalers are like warehouses. They buy a publisher’s books in bulk at a discount, and that’s the end of their interaction with the publisher. Wholesalers only buy as many books as they think their clients will want—they don’t want to hold excess inventory. After warehousing the books, the wholesaler lists the titles in their catalogue at a markup. When a client orders the book from the wholesaler, the wholesaler ships the books.
Distributors, on the other hand, are full-service providers focused on the needs of the publishers. Their job is to deliver books to as many retailers as possible. Distributors take orders from bookstores, box the books, ship the packages, and handle returns, disputes, and customer service. They’re essentially the publishing houses’ official sales force, subcontracted at a hefty price. Because distributors work on quarterly contracts, they’re incentivized to do a good job—otherwise, the publisher will pull up stakes and move to another distributor.
In this traditional model, few self-published authors would have the funds to hire a distributor, or the kind of huge following that would attract a wholesaler.
Fortunately, these definitions have evolved.
Are There Distributors Focused On Self-Publishing?
Each of these businesses distributes not just to the big guys like Amazon, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play, but also to smaller streaming services, international e-book vendors, and some library services. To win the favor of self-published authors, these distributors compete to expand access to more platforms worldwide.
They’re classic distributors, except not nearly as pricey: Generally, these companies take a 10% cut of the retail price of each e-book sold. Thus, they only profit if you do.
Are There Self-Publishing Wholesalers?
Yes, there are, particularly for print-on-demand books. A hybrid wholesaler model has developed for self-published authors who work in print formats.
Ingram Book Company, called the largest book “wholesale distributor” in the world, offers full-service distribution to publishers who can afford the white glove treatment. They also, through their subsidiary IngramSpark, offer a wholesale-like option for self-published authors who’d like their print books (and e-books) included in Ingram’s expansive catalogue—a catalogue very popular among independent bookstores. Like any traditional wholesaler, IngramSpark doesn’t make an effort to sell your books to retailers, but they’ll box and ship them to any bookstore that orders them, and then send you the profit.
Having a print book listed in the Ingram catalogue means a self-published author can tell their print-loving friends, family, and fans that any bookstore can order the self-published book through the biggest distributor in the world.
Note: There are additional costs involved when working with IngramSpark, so weigh the pros and cons before you make your decision.
The Times, They Are A-Changing
Self-publishing continues to expand beyond the traditional publishing model, and new industry partners join the business every day. Savvy authors stay informed of the options available to increase sales, access, and discoverability.
Question: What distribution methods have you chosen for your e-books and print books?