Under the Covers: Distribution

The Post-Print Problem

Good job! You have successfully worked through the endless revisions, design hang-ups, and communication breakdowns of the production process. Now you have a beautiful book rolling off the presses. Only one question left: what are you going to do with it? Getting the books is only half the battle. Now you have get them to readers. That requires warehousing, distribution, and fulfillment.

Storing and Shipping

When the books finish printing, they’ll need to be shipped somewhere. Sure, you can store them in your garage, but that leaves only you to handle fulfillment, shipping the books to fill individual orders. (And of course, you’d have to get rid of all the junk that’s already taking up the space your car can only dream about.)

While this is certainly the most inexpensive method, it is also the most annoying. You have to take time every day to check everywhere the book is listed, see if there are orders, confirm that payment has been received, pack the orders, and take them to the Post Office (Media Mail is the most affordable service, and it’s difficult to purchase online).

Another option is finding a private warehouse space. This option certainly makes receiving deliveries easier (imagine an eighteen-wheeler pulling into your driveway), but it still leaves you with having to fulfill orders—and at a less convenient location.

Okay, how about combining a warehousing and fulfillment service? Good idea. But which one? Some printers offer this service, so maybe you could simply add it onto the print cost. Of course, there are less expensive companies. But why are they less expensive? Does that mean they’ll be slow in fulfilling orders, or that they’ll take worse care of your precious books? And how are buyers going to find your books, anyway? Maybe you should look at distribution before making any warehousing decisions.

Reaching the World

Distribution is another can of worms. If you’re working entirely on your own, you will soon find that (aside from a few local bookstores with sympathetic owners) Amazon is the extent of your distribution network. Let’s give them some credit: Amazon is a fantastic setup for authors wanting to make their books available. PublishNext CEO Randy Kuckuck makes that case in an informative series of blog posts. However, making the book available is a far cry from making it noticeable. Amazon’s online empire is so cluttered with ads and products that no customers will see your book unless they are searching for it (very) specifically. To make it more noticeable, you’ll have to give Amazon more of your revenue.

By yourself, you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere outside of Amazon. But if you could manage to get your book listed with a distributor, you could make it available at all online retailers and maybe even on some shelves. The problem is, most distributors will take books only from a publisher, not from an author. To get that status, you’ll need to do quite a bit more work.

Is There a Simpler Way?

By now, you’re probably wishing that you had gone with a simple Print-on-Demand (POD) service. Lightning Source is a POD service run by the wholesaler Ingram. The biggest advantage of printing there is that every book they print is automatically available to all of Ingram’s customers (i.e., all retailers and libraries). Plus, since books are printed and shipped as they’re ordered, there are no additional warehousing or fulfillment costs. On the other hand, as we mentioned last month, POD books do take a very high printing cost out of your revenue on each sale and have a stigma, if you ask most bookstore buyers. Disadvantages might even nullify advantages, but you’ll have to weigh the options and decide for yourself.

Well, friend, it looks like you have quite a few questions to answer. If only you knew someone in the publishing business who could help you figure out the best answers for your book. Wait, come to think of it, maybe you do.

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