Ingram Blog

Demystifying Book Distribution for Self-Publishers

By Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark

When we talk about book distribution there are two different models that you need to know about:

  • Full Service Distribution
  • Wholesale Distribution

Full-Service Distribution

Full-service distributors are companies that provide a variety of services on behalf of traditional or well-established authors and publishers with a proven sales record. These services can range from sales representation directly into stores, libraries, wholesalers, warehousing, order fulfillment, and back end office functions, such as paying royalties and doing collections. Examples of these companies are Ingram Publisher Services (IPS), Publishers Group West (PGW), Independent Publishing Group (IPG), and Midpoint to name just a few. Some specialize in genre specific, academic, or religious content. Typically, a new indie author or publisher will not have sufficient sales to support full service distribution partnerships.

Wholesale Distribution

So let’s focus on wholesale distribution since that’s likely the model that fits most indie authors/publishers. In this model, the author/publisher makes their book available to a wholesaler like Ingram, who in turn, makes that book available in their catalog for retailers and libraries to order. The wholesaler is not actively promoting or selling that book; the author/publisher is doing that. Since Ingram is the world’s largest book wholesaler, servicing 39,000 retail and library partners, it’s a good thing to get your book listed with them. It makes no difference whether the stores and libraries are built of brick or live entirely online, or selling printed or eBooks–it is all called wholesale distribution. Baker & Taylor distributes print books primarily to libraries. Ingram also distributes to Baker & Taylor. On the eBook side, publishers/authors can distribute directly to the big four (Kindle, Apple, B&N, and Kobo), but it can be cumbersome when they start uploading and revising content. That's why a service like IngramSpark is handy as a one-stop shop.

With IngramSpark, print on demand (POD) is tied directly to IngramSpark’s global network to make for a seamless and inexpensive way to distribute your print books. With no inventory on hand, books are manufactured (POD) or distributed (eBook) as retailers' place orders. The publisher is paid for the sale minus the cost of printing (POD only), so there’s no up-front inventory costs other than a nominal fee to setup your title in the IngramSpark platform.

Will IngramSpark distribute books printed by an offset printer?

IngramSpark works entirely using the POD model because we’ve found that it’s really cost effective and works with most indie publisher’s content. However, if you already have inventory and have at least 10 titles you can submit directly to IngramSpark to see if they will stock your title(s).

Why You Need a Distributor

The reason distribution is so important for indie authors/publishers is that most booksellers, and certainly libraries, would rather not order a single title directly from the author/publisher because it’s not manageable. It’s far more convenient and beneficial for retailers and libraries to order from a single supplier. This is exactly the role that IngramSpark plays in the industry—it is the central hub of the very complex publishing wheel between publishers and retailers.

When you set up your title in the IngramSpark platform, you provide the completed digital files (PDF for print and EPUB for eBooks) along with the metadata (book information). In this metadata, you will also include your list price and a discount to offer to retailers and libraries that may want to purchase your book. The discount represents the profit that both the bookseller (retailer) and IngramSpark make transacting the sale. The standard trade discount is 55% of the list price, but you can set a range anywhere from 30-55% with IngramSpark. Applying a discount of less than 55% can possibly limit the sale of your title to booksellers; however, this may be the right choice for some authors/publishers depending on their sales strategies.

The same holds true for choosing to make your book “returnable” or “non-returnable.” Most booksellers, including chains like Barnes and Noble, will not consider stocking your book without the returnable option. Remember, you can always change your price, discount, and returnable options, so do what makes you feel the most comfortable. If your book isn’t selling and you are actively marketing, you might want to try adjusting your pricing, discounts, or returnable option to see if that helps move the needle.

IngramSpark also encourages publishers to place orders for their own books, so that they can be shipped to them or drop-shipped directly to their customer. This is known as a “publisher direct" or "drop ship order.” In the case of these orders the author/publisher only pays print and shipping fees (no discount is applied). The beauty of this service is that author/publishers don’t need to worry about inventory or have books stacked in their garage. They don’t have to invest in packing supplies or be burdened with packing orders on dining room tables. Anyone who has packed books on their dining room table as I have, understands why I smile as I type this.