Understanding Distribution

Understanding Distribution

The first and perhaps most astonishing thing to learn about book distribution is that all the books you see on the shelves at the bookstore are there on consignment.

If the bookstore doesn’t sell the books within 60 to 90 days, they get to ship the unsold books back to the publisher for a full refund (if the retailers even had to pay for them upfront to begin with).

Even more astonishing is that the publisher pays the book retailer a co-op fee to display the book. It can cost as much as $1 per book for face out in the category, $2 per book for end caps, $3 per book for front-of-store table display, and $5 per book for point of purchase and other special displays. This is a non-refundable fee that the publisher has to pay just to get favorable placement for a week, two weeks, or a month, depending on the retailer.

Still, even though the bookstore isn’t stuck with unsold books, and even though they receive a co-op fee, it’s not nearly enough to cover for the fact that an unsold book wasted shelf space and failed to make a sale.

What Publishers Do and Don't Do

In other words, both the publisher and the retailer are under the gun only to pick books that sell, and usually to limit the number of books on shelves:

  • The publisher can’t afford to waste paying the publishing and shipping costs plus the co-op fee for a book that will get returned to them.
  • The retailer can’t afford to waste shelf space on a book that won’t generate any revenue beyond the co-op fee—he has literally tens of thousands of other published-this-year titles in your category that he could have stocked in place of your book.

For this reason, both parties make decisions based on a risk-management model. The publisher would rather push too few books out to the bookstore, because if the book sells out, it can be re-stocked without penalty, and the bookstore would rather have fewer copies of an untested book on their shelf simply because they can’t afford to waste the shelf space on a non-seller.

From the perspective of the author who wants to make the bestsellers list, this can be a challenge, because you will need to sell a few thousand copies of your book through a given chain of bookstores within a given week, and if there aren’t at least that many books stocked, you’ll be out of luck.

So, then, how do new authors get enough of their books stocked, let alone displayed face-out on the shelf, when they don’t have the sales to justify it?

Pre-Judging Your Book for Shelf Space

When the bookstore buyers make a decision to stock and shelve a certain book, they decide on the number of copies and the amount of shelf space fairly carefully, and with an eye towards risk management.

That means they “grade” books based upon:

  • An author’s past book sales with the retailer
  • The publisher’s average sales for that category with the retailer
  • The retailer’s current sales for that category

Nowhere on the list is how important, insightful, well written or nice looking the book is. It’s simply not part of the calculation. Also, for a new author, the publisher’s sales performance for that category matters more than ever, simply because the author’s sales performance is an unknown.

The Risk-Reduction Power of Guaranteed Pre-Sales

When Promote A Book works with retail bookstore buyers for a Major List Bestseller Campaign client, our long-standing reputation and success record with them allows us to provide the buyer with a guaranteed sales number for the book. Once the buyer has that guarantee, they can confidently stock, shelve, and display our clients’ books.

Likewise, when a publisher has guaranteed sales, they are emboldened to pay the co-op fee to have sufficient numbers of those books stocked and displayed.

The combined effect of these two things results in more of your books ending up on the shelf, and much better placement or merchandising for those books. And once your book makes the bestseller lists, retailers reorder more books and place them in the front of the store typically in the “bestsellers” section.

This is how new authors with bestseller status ambition can overcome the challenge of retail book distribution.

What Clients Are Saying

"Michael Drew helped me build a marketing campaign, so I sold 22,000 books in the first two weeks. We stayed on the bestseller lists–New York Times, plus Wall Street Journal, Business Week, USA Today, Amazon. Michael stuck to everything he said he would do, from his writers, who are fantastic, to his great project management team who excelled in terms of clarity and keeping things moving. They over-delivered, and it was worth every penny."

"How do you make the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon.com best-seller lists without advertising, national bookstore distribution, a major publishing house, radio interviews, television interviews, or print interviews? Listen to Mike Drew. We’re thrilled we did."