Navigating the modern business of book publishing

The Forgotten Sales Channel Part 2: Australia’s Top 3 Book Distribution options for Self-Publishers

[Originally posted on digireado.com.au: In Part 1 of our discussion of book distribution options in Australia we examined why self-published  authors should not limit their sales channels to a small number of online retailers at the expense of brick & mortar bookshops. Today we are going to dig deeper into the book distribution options in Australia and take a look at three of the leading book distributors that are worth partnering with.]

How much does professional book distribution cost?

Book distributors use the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) as set by the publisher as the basis for payment and the standard terms are between 65-70% off the retail price for each book sold. This means publishers will receive 30-40% margin on each book sold, or an average of about $7 on a book with an RRP of $19.95. If 65-70% seems high, remember that the distributor will need to give away around 40-45% discount to the bookseller on every sale and so they typically only receive around 20-25% of the RRP on each sale to cover all their costs.

It’s extremely important to be aware of these numbers if you are considering distribution into bookstores and to factor them into your publishing plan before producing your book so that you can calculate your costs and margins effectively. Don’t forget that, while the distributor will cover freight to and from booksellers, the publisher will need to pay to send their books to the distributor in the first place, so this also needs to be accounted for in the cost of each book.

What else do I need to consider when looking for a Book Distributor?

Each distributor works slightly differently, with its own strengths and weaknesses and preferred trading terms. Below is a list of the major points you should consider and be prepared for:

  • Trading Terms: Most will require a minimum 65% discount on Consignment terms. Consignment means that they hold stock but do not pay the publisher until they have made a sale.
  • Exclusivity: The distributor will expect exclusive rights to sell your book within Australia, but it’s important to determine whether this is limited to certain sales channels, countries and book formats (i.e. print or eBook).
  • Genres and Specialisations: Distributors generally focus on certain subjects and it’s always best to select one that specialises in your genre.
  • Warehousing: Due to space constraints distributors will typically only stock enough copies of your book to cover an estimated 3 months worth of sales and will not warehouse entire print runs of your book so be sure to ask about their stock management policies.
  • Print on Demand (POD): If you plan to use a POD printer, make sure to check that the distributor is set up to place orders and take deliveries with your chosen printer.
  • eBooks: While distributors traditionally deal with print books, they are all developing new options and terms surrounding eBook versions of your book, including conversion, distribution and retail services.
  • Sales material and resources: Do your research and familiarise yourself with the distributor’s sales material, including their website and monthly sales catalogues to give you an indication of the quality of their list and their presentation standards (after all, these are the guys that are going to represent your book to the market).

Submitting your book to a distributor

Like publishing, book distribution is a commercial enterprise and distributors will asses new book submissions and potential publisher partnership based on their sales potential. While experienced distributors may seem to make these decisions intuitively, in reality there are some key factors that they are looking for when considering new proposals:

  1. Content: Is the quality of writing and illustrations at a high standard and is the book’s subject or plot engaging and marketable? Are there any issues with the content, such as age-inappropriate language or controversial or legally sensitive material that could damage the distributor’s reputation?
  2. Production Values:  Has the book been produced to a commercially acceptable standard, including printing, binding, editing, formatting and cover image? Consider how your book will appear in bookshop shelves and, if in doubt, make contact with your chosen distributor before publishing to seek their advice.
  3. Pricing: The RRP should be market appropriate but also leave you enough margin to make a profit after taking out the 65% distribution discount and your other books production costs. You should also always end your price in the standard .95 or .99 as anything else marks you as a self-published author.
  4. Publicity and Marketing Potential: Put simply, it is the distributor’s job to get your book into bookshops, but it is the publisher’s job to drive readers into book stores asking for the book. You must demonstrate that you have a strong author platform and a publicity and marketing plan to create awareness and interest in the book. Open communication and coordination with the distributor is essential, especially in the all-important three month window after launch.
  5. Professionalism – this is a business partnership with a commercial goal and so you must demonstrate not only that your book is marketable but that you as the author and/or publisher are worthwhile going into business with. First impressions are always important and submissions should be concise, well presented and include the following:
  • An information page about your book including essential data such as Title, Author, Publisher, ISBN , RRP, Publication Date, Synopsis, Print Format, Size, Page Count and Cover Image
  • Introduction to your book that establishes the central premise and provides a brief summary of the content and structure (one page maximum)
  • Short blurb about the author and details of existing Author Platform (online following, media exposure, professional networks, etc.)
  • Market analysis, including target audience and competing books.
  • Marketing & publicity plan.
  • Other relevant information, such as previous sales history and any existing sales channels, eBook and POD arrangements.
  • A finished copy of your book (if already printed) or a book outline and sample chapters.

Securing a distribution agreement is no guarantee of sales— there’s no shortcut to selling books, whether you’re an indie author or a traditional publisher, whether you’re selling in bookshops or online, or whether you’re producing print books or eBooks. By partnering with a distributor you are broadening your sales channels and increasing your potential market but success will ultimately come down to your ability as a writer and publisher to create a worthwhile product and build an audience. That said, a good distributor will provide publishers with additional support and advice on book production, printing, promotion and publicity that can make all the difference.

“By partnering with a distributor you are broadening your sales channels and increasing your potential market but success will ultimately come down to your ability as a writer and publisher to create a worthwhile product and build an audience.”

Below are the top three Australian book distributors that I recommend to self-published authors, based on their sales performance, reputation and value they provide to publishers (they are listed in alphabetical order):

Brumby Sunstate

Formed from the merger of Brumby Books and Sunstate Books in July this year, Brumby Sunstate provides excellent sales coverage, high quality sales material and very good metadata feed and trade website. Brumby Sunstate does not currently deal directly with eBooks, although they do have plans for this in the future. They are able to work with POD printers such as Lightning Source.

Prior to the merger Brumby Books was the largest Mind/Body/Spirit book distributor in the country, with a strong reputation in other genres such as Gardening, Food, Design and Environment. Sunstate focused heavily on children’s books, Gift Books and Stationery. The combined Brumby Sunstate continues to sell all of these Lifestyle Non-fiction genres.

The real strength of Brumby Sunstate is the size and range of its customer-base, covering not only a comprehensive range of bookshops, libraries and wholesalers, but also a huge number of gift shops and speciality stores such as MBS and religious groups, health food stores, furniture and homeware stores, gardening centres, toyshops, museums and so on. This access into the growing gift market is something that simply cannot be achieved through the current digital self-publishing channels.

Dennis Jones & Associates

Dennis Jones is a generalist, selling most genres except poetry. It is a great option for authors of fiction and general non-fiction, with very broad coverage of the book trade, from independent bookshops, to chain stores, mass market, newsagents, libraries and major online retailers. Like the other distributors, they also have access to broader sales channels such as business accounts, gift stores and other specialist retailers.

With strong ties to Lightning Source, , Dennis Jones is an excellent option if you’d like to use POD printing. They have also developed a very strong eBook programme through their new Port Campbell Press division, providing digital publishing, conversion and distribution to all the major eBook aggregators. They provide very good metadata feeds to the industry and strong sales material that provides a lot of information and room for each title.

Dennis Jones himself is extremely experienced in the book trade and offers a lot of extra value through the advice and networks he provides, such as helping to connect authors and publishers with publicists and printers or giving guidance on book covers, formats and other production questions.

Woodslane

Woodslane is both a publisher and a distributor, which enhances its reputation in the marketplace. They focus predominantly on adult non-fiction, especially Travel & Outdoor, Business, Computing, Health and History/Military. They have a comprehensive sales presence in Australia, and have an especially strong special sales team operating in the business and computing markets, travel and outdoor adventure centres and clothing stores, as well as academic institutions and libraries.

Woodslane is able to work with POD suppliers but does not currently sell eBooks directly, although it can help publishers with conversion and upload to major eBook aggregators and online retailers. They provide high quality metadata feeds and work closely with their authors and publishers to provide as much enriched info as possible.

Woodslane not only enjoys a good reputation as a publisher in its own right, it also represents some strong niche publishers, such as O’Reilly Media (technology) and Footprint Travel Guides, which opens doors to a large range of specialist retailers and business accounts and, by association, helps lift the value of other titles in its list.

Digireado: What I’ve learnt from Richard Bilkey about book distribution for your self-published book:

  • A book distributor will get your book into Australian bookshops. This gives you a chance to get bookshop sales and the potential that the bookseller will suggest your book to potential purchasers.
  • Book distributors will manage the logistics of delivery, distribution and returns.
  • You need to be well aware the costings of book distributors and retailers before you print your book. Make sure you don’t spend so much that you’ve costed yourself out of the market. Speak to your distributor about this well in advance.
  • Your book will need to match the production standards of other books being sold in the bookshop. You’re competing with books from professional publishers, so ensure your book presents well in the marketplace.  Do your homework in advance to make sure it does.
  • These days digitally printed books are of the same quality as those printed offset. However, what can scream ‘self-published’ is when books are poorly laid out and produced. You need to deal with a reputable digital printer and ensure you book is laid out correctly. Your printer may well need you to supply print-ready-pdf’s but should be able to either offer a guide or direct you to someone who can work with you.
  • Books don’t sell themselves. Ensure you have a marketing plan to support your retail sales.
  • Don’t forget a great cover for your book and legible spine.
  • And lastly – without great content none of the above will matter!

What did you learn from Part One and Part Two of Richard’s posts on book Distribution?

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1 Response »

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About Richard

Richard Bilkey has been selling, marketing and distributing books for over ten years, managing independent bookshops, a major online retailer and, most recently, one of Australia's largest Independent Book Distributors, Brumby Books.

Contact Richard directly at richard@fictionetal.com.au
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