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Reputable Distributors

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herdon

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One thing that comes up time and time again on these threads is the question of distribution, especially with small presses. Obviously, most small publishers are going to be unable to provide the type of distribution required to get books into brick and mortar stores and will need to partner with companies specializing in this.

I thought it would be handy to know who the distributors were and which ones were good, which ones were fair, etc.

Obviously, one of the things we look for is if they are using Ingrams as a "distributor" (which they aren't) -- but it would be nice if they said "we use ____" to know if ____ was a good distributor.

About the only one I have heard mentioned in regards to small press is Independent Publishers Group, but I have no idea if a small press that uses IPG is a good thing as in good chances to get in the stores, or is just barely better than using Ingrams, etc.

Anyone in the know on this subject?
 

triceretops

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This is a very relevant post. I would also like to know the names of the large or small brand-name distributors out there.

Is it true that publishing houses have to qualify for distribution in certain areas? And if so, what are these qualifications? Are they all the same, or do they differ from one distributor to another.

Tri
 

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About the only one I have heard mentioned in regards to small press is Independent Publishers Group, but I have no idea if a small press that uses IPG is a good thing as in good chances to get in the stores, or is just barely better than using Ingrams, etc.
IPG is a very good distributor - one of the best. I have several friends whose books are distributed by IPG. But they aren't the only game in town. There are a number of very good, smaller distributors out there who are getting the job done very nicely.

Factors that publishers need to look at with distributors is their reputation and their sales teams. Do they have good relationships with the genre buyers? What are their sales like for their clients? Are we talking a couple hundred or a few thousand units? What's the percentage they pay out and what is their payment schedule? How do they handle returns?

A big thing to consider is how they negotiate orders. I know of a couple distributors who go for the highest order numbers. At first blush, this seems like a cool thing - yeah! we got B&N to order 10,000 units! Break out the champagne. Problem is, 5,000 of those books might be returned because the sales team/distributor oversold the book. In the meantime, the publisher had to fork over thousands for the print run. How or why they oversold the title can be a couple of factors. One may be that they're simply idiots. Yes, I've seen this - not with my distributor, but with others. Two, they may not have had an honest PR plan from the publisher, in which case the publisher should be flogged and shot out of a canon. In short, a publisher needs to be with a distributor who isn't afraid to be conservative. If the book sells out, the buyers will most definitely order more.

There's also the "buy in" money. Some companies can charge a huge amount to join their ranks, hello IPG. Regardless of the amount, that buy in creates a partnership where the distributor invariably sets the rules. Everything is negotiable, but no one's under any illusion as to who is calling the shots. And those shots encompass to whom they'll pitch, advertising, marketing, and signing authors.

Can the publisher get their rep on the phone easily? There have been many times when I needed to get in touch with my distributor because we had a late breaking event and needed the books shot out to the store. Or we may have gotten a great PW review and we wanted it in the sales people's hands before they had their meetings with the buyers in NY.

Do they have yearly sales meetings (usually held in NY in Dec.) where they meet the head sales teams and pitch their upcoming lineup? I've been told many times by the head sales guys that they were oftentimes swayed by the way in which I presented a title vs. their simply reading the tip sheet. They've fought harder for some of our titles based on my presentation.s and sales reflected it.

Some distributors insist on having final say as to whether an author will be signed or not. They have to be a part of the party because they have to believe they can sell it. I've had any number of authors I wanted to sign only to have my distributor come back and tell me they can't sell the story. I have to listen to them since they're the ones out there in the trenches talking to the buyers, and they know the market sometimes far better than we do. I have a friend who signed an author against their distributor's advice, and the payback was that the distributor refused to include that title in their catalogue. It was a costly game of chicken on my friend's part.

This was a long way of saying that a good distributor is paramount for small presses if they have any designs on staying in business. Ingram is nothing more than a centralized warehouse distributor for bookstores to place their orders. They don't have a sales force who goes out and pitches titles to the genre buyers.

I’ve known people who were distributed by some very big companies and their books sold very modestly. I’ve known others who were with smaller distributors who sold tens of thousands of units. For the author, none of this is germane. What they need to know is that their prospective publisher has a distributor with sales teams who cover the entire US and that their books on store shelves. Most publishers list their distributor on their website, either in the ordering info section or/and the contact info. Lastly, look for longevity. If a publisher has been around for a while, they’re doing something right to remain in business. And that something right is that they’re selling books to the stores – not the authors.
 
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priceless1

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I would like to know if an individual can sign up with a distributor to have their books listed, regardless of the status of their publisher. Is that even an option?
Sheryl, the short answer is no. The long reason is that your publisher retains all the rights. For example, if your distributor received a PO for 5,000 units to be delivered to B&N's warehouse in three months, the distributor needs to have your book already in their warehouse so they can fulfill the order. Those books come from the publisher. If more books need to be printed, only the publisher can order up a print run. If the publisher doesn't want to spend the money on a 5,000 unit print run, they can simply refuse to honor the PO. Remember, just because there's an order doesn't guarantee that those books will sell. That means your publisher would have returns. Your distributor would be pissed because their sales teams wasted time trying to sell a book for you.

Only if you've self-pubbed your book could you personally sign with a distributor.
 

Lauri B

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Hi all,
I found a web site that lists a lot of independent book distributors: www.bookmarket.com/distributors. I can't vouch for all the information on there, but they do list IPG and NBN and the site is accurate as far as those two distributors go. I think Lynn explains the distribution process pretty well. And while there are a lot of costs to a publisher to have a good distributor, those costs are worth it if the books sell.
 

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This was a long way of saying that a good distributor is paramount for small presses if they have any designs on staying in business. Ingram is nothing more than a centralized warehouse distributor for bookstores to place their orders. They don't have a sales force who goes out and pitches titles to the genre buyers.

Now what if a publisher doesn't have the bare bones Ingram? What does that mean? Does that mean the publisher did not qualify in some way? Or is it a matter of simply signing up with Ingram and paying a fee of some sort.

Question: If your publisher is listed with Ingrams, does that mean that you can go to most chain stores and be found in the database? If your title cannot be located in a chain store computer, or any store for that matter, does that mean that that publisher is not repped by Ingram?

Tri
 

Lauri B

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If your book isn't in the Ingram catalog database, then you are really hurting, because even though Ingram isn't out there repping your books to accounts (unless you sign up for their distribution program, which they do have--or did, last time I checked), they will have your book's information and can make it available to an account. Bookstores, museums, etc. can't buy your book if it isn't available anywhere.
 

Sheryl Nantus

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I've been told that it could, however, take months for the Ingrams database (which is used by Borders, for example) to update fully.

for example my book was released September 29th of this year and while it is up on Amazon.com and Borders.com and B&N.com it is *not* in the bookstore database. Thus anyone walking in to special-order it cannot. They must go to the website and do so.

:(

this has already impacted my ability to sell my book. A Borders manager had two booksignings set up for me at the start of the month that had to be cancelled - and now I don't know when or if I'll be able to reschedule.

to say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement.
 
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jgold

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This is my first post, although I've been reading a lot of the recent threads. I found it a little strange not to see any mention of Books-in-Print on this thread, so I figured that I could chime in since it's kind of related to distribution. I'm also a manager at Borders, so maybe I can clarify some things on the bookstore front as well.

Whenever anyone comes into the store and requests a title that doesn't appear in Borders inventory, the next database that gets checked is Books-in-Print. Publishers need to pay a fee in order to get added to Books-in-Print, but the upside is that at least bookstores can find publisher/distributor information from the database if you're looking for a specific title. Most booksellers don't consult the Ingram or B&T databases at all in searching for titles. When you special order a book, our database has a direct link to check if either warehouse has the title, but the sellers aren't able to research titles carried by them.

Ingram and B&T are the largest distributors for books carried by Borders, although we also sometimes contact IPG, National Book Network, Publishers Group West, and even direct publishers in order to fulfill orders that were requested by customers on the individual store level. As far as getting carried nationwide, that's something that gets decided by the buyers up in Ann Arbor. The better your publisher or distributor markets your book, the more likely that your book will appear on the shelves in a variety of markets.

As far as getting a title added into the Borders inventory database, either the publisher or the author (if self-published) needs to contact the corporate offices and request an inventory number.

In setting up author signings, it's not uncommon for a manager to call the publisher directly (since that's where we usually get the better discount) in order to get the books. Although I can't speak for the manager listed in the above comments, I would personally contact the author directly if I couldn't find a listing in any of the usual databases to find out where I could order the book. In some cases, I've purchased books directly from the author too.

Hopefully, all of that made sense and was marginally helpful.
 

Christine N.

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Come to think of it, I recall having the same issues with one bookstore when my first book came out. It was there, she just couldn't find it. For some reason it came up with my name but not when she put in the ISBN.

Jgold, if a book has an ISBN, it's in Books-in-print, isn't it? Isn't BIP part of Bowkers?

And Samhain also uses IPS - which is part of Ingrams. I don't know why I couldn't remember it.

And I've had stores order directly from the publisher. Some will, some won't. Depends on the store and the edicts of the regional manager.
 

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I found it a little strange not to see any mention of Books-in-Print on this thread, so I figured that I could chime in since it's kind of related to distribution. I'm also a manager at Borders, so maybe I can clarify some things on the bookstore front as well.
jgold, you sound like some of the dream managers we and our distributor have dealt with over the years. You're conscientious about your job and I love you. There are many, many store employees who won't go the extra mile to find and order a book, so I'm certain that Santa is bringing you lots of goodies. Even though an author who isn't self-published should never be put in the position of selling their own books, that you take the time to do so is commendable. This is not the norm.

Like Christine said, BIP is part of Bowkers, which is the company primarily used to log a title's ISBN #. Once the publisher fills in all the info with Bowker, the data automatically feeds into BIP. We've had stores contact us or our distributor all the time to order books because, as you say, we and other commercial presses offer better discounts than Ingram or B&T. And we're happy to do it. Establishing a relationship with store managers is great fun and good business for publishers.
 

Cathy C

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I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the terrific database at Publishers Marketing Association. PMA is one of the largest member organizations of book distributors and wholesales, so there's a decent list of potential candidates, with email addys and links to websites where applicable. Looking over their websites is going to give you a good idea of what SORT of books they distribute, and to where, because that's a key point to hiring a distributor. A company that primarily distributes non-fiction coffee table picture books, for example, isn't going to have much luck with your science fiction novel, and vice versa.

Hope that helps, and good luck!
 

Puma

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Book Distributors

I think this question belongs best in this forum. Some small publishers say their distribution is through X distributor (Baker and Taylor, Borders, etc.). Who all are considered book distributors and which ones are the most desirable?

Second question: how does Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble fit into this equation?

Thanks for any responses. Puma
 

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Gillhoughly

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Ingrams is one of the biggest, and I believe they don't take small publishers who have a low number of titles released each year.

You have to put out x number of titles before they will take you on. I think it's supposed to keep out the fly-by-night one-title wonders. (This can happen when a self-pub writer opens his own "small press" to distribute one or two books.)

I've been talking to a long-time writer friend who's started a new small press. He bought a graphics company, printer and all, and has the resume to make it work.

He's got distribution with Amazon, B&T, and deals with Books-a-Million and Hastings and has personally phoned every indy book store in our state. (He's done signings in nearly all of them, so the owners know him personally. That's a huge advantage for regional sales.)

As business grows he'll get up there with Ingrams, it's just a matter of time.

A legit small press will be striving for as many distributors as possible, since that only helps their business grow.

I once talked to a dude who was trying to get me signed on to his small press. When I asked who was doing his distribution he said "What's that?"

Bet yer sweet a** I ran away far and fast! :D
 

Sheryl Nantus

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Ingram is nothing more than a centralized warehouse distributor for bookstores to place their orders. They don't have a sales force who goes out and pitches titles to the genre buyers.

just for the sake of keeping it current.
 

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