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Is Distribution for POD an Oxymoron?

Recently a question was posed to me about distribution for POD books. While I believe that is really an oxymoron, it does cause considerable confusion, even among authors that do traditional off-set book printing.  Distribution in the traditional sense, implies book stocking at some level - either at a warehouse or in a retail location. With the advent of print on demand, the idea is to eliminate warehousing and provide just-in-time delivery to the consumer. So how can you have both? Or should you want to? Here is my reader’s question:

In your opinion, if trade distribution doesn’t work well for the POD publisher, what do you think is best to get your books sold and distributed? I’m a little confused by the statement that stores ’seldom stock’ books from LSI. Do they order from them or not?

Here is my answer:

You have to understand the difference between “available nationwide” and “in store stocking”. In a BN (or other large store) there are approximately 80,000 titles at any one time – out of several million books, that isn’t many. And those titles have approximately 6-8 weeks to prove themselves, or they are out of there! 

What LSI gets you (through Ingram) is availability – BN has access to it in their system via the Ingram database as “available” for order if someone comes in and asks for it. If they get enough requests, they may actually put it in the BN system, vs having to look it up on Ingram’s system and their stock.  If BN (for example) decides to “stock it” or “carry it”, the first level of doing that is to have it available in their (BN) warehouse vs through Ingram’s warehouse. If that goes well, they may try store stocking in a few stores where the demand is coming from. If that does well, then they may try it in other similar stores, etc.

 To get regular store stocking, you have to have one of two things. A distributor that has enough confidence in your ability to promote your book regionally or nationwide as apprpriate (and therefore be “worthy” of store stocking) or enough people coming in and asking for it because of publicity that you have done to generate the buzz and demand for your book (see above).

 So when I say “seldom stock” I mean that the only way a POD book will be stocked is via the first method above. To have a trade distributor, you must have stock in the distributor’s warehouse (usually hundreds, if not thousands of books or it isn’t worth the distributor’s time) and that model does not fit a POD model. If you are going to print thousands of books for a distributor to sell, then you must have an off-set run to make it viable financially – and then you have to be confident in YOUR ability to “pull through” the consumers to buy the books, or you will end up with those books back in the distributor’s warehouse and eventually back to you because the didn’t sell through.  Something no one wants to see happen. You have to plot your marketing strategy very carefully to know what will work for your book.

 That is why my first question to a prospective client is always “what are your goals for your book and how will you reach those goals?” A goal of a few hundred books in a local or nationwide market has a much different marketing and distribution plan than a client who wants to sell 50,000 this holiday season. I’ve had both clients this year.

 So to answer your question, it depends upon what your sales goals are for your book and do you have the time, money, know how and other resources to make it happen.

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