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February 2011

Understanding Bookstores: Wholesalers (Part 4)

In this fourth installment in our understanding the industry side of publishing series, speaker/author Angela Breidenbach and Eric Grimm of the Christian Booksellers Association, explore the necessity of listing books with wholesalers to sell through distributors and on into bookstores. Authors are often unaware their publishers reach depends on this link in the distribution chain. Knowing crucial information about the network gives a well-rounded understanding of the publishing business and how to work within the established channels.

Angela: What is the wholesaler’s and the distributor’s relationship?

Eric: Sometimes the wholesaler and distributor can be the same company, such as Ingram Book Group and Ingram Distribution Services, but they provide different levels of service. One is an extension with publishers as clients. The other is a service to retailer customers.

Angela: Does the distributor have a personal relationship with bookstores or is there any other business in between the bookstore and the distributor?

Eric GrimmEric: Retailers may buy directly from publishers, only from wholesalers, or both. And they may have relationships with each. New release titles supported by extensive publisher marketing will usually see high-volume direct-from-publisher purchases by bookstores through a sales rep or telemarketer.

However, if demand for a title is not known, retailers may purchase a minimal amount from a wholesaler to avoid high minimums of buying direct. (See the previous article for more information on a retailer’s higher costs of purchasing direct from the publisher or author.) Retailers may depend on a telemarketer or rep recommendation for these types of purchases.

Angela: In other words, a retailer can buy at deeper discounts (like 55-65 percent) through large wholesalers. When a smaller publisher or independent author tries to sell books to the retailer, the higher cost makes the retailer pay closer attention to the profit margin. If they can’t sell the book at a higher profit then the book is taking up precious shelf space. The caution isn’t personal. It’s due to covering the overhead in most cases.

So, what do Baker and Taylor and Ingram have to do with getting a book on the shelves of bookstores?

Wholesalers … are critical links in a supply chain that extends from printers and their suppliers to retailers to consumers with listed books.

Eric: As wholesalers, these companies are critical links in a supply chain that extends from printers and their suppliers to retailers to consumers with listed books. These companies provide valuable services in helping distribute books through the retail network out to customers. Even online sales go through these companies or others like them to provide the most efficient delivery of physical products to end-users.

Telemarketers or sales reps may recommend titles for retailers to carry. Retailers select which wholesaler they use usually based on service criteria: pricing, customer service, fulfillment speed, product availability, etc. Wholesalers compete against each other in these areas, or sometimes in specialized product (business, travel, religious, etc.)

Angela: Why does a book need to be listed?

Eric: Having a book listed with a wholesaler is the first step. For readers to know about your book, connecting with retailers in the sales process begins the cycle. However, building demand is the bigger challenge. Retailers are increasingly important in “discovery.” The problem with being online among millions and millions of titles or endless rows of retailer bookshelves is reaching an interested reader. The ACFW Fiction Finders website is a useful tool as are recommendations from friends and bookseller sales associates. Being listed with a wholesaler gets your title information in front of retail buyers.

Angela: What other places does a book need to be listed to have a chance at being in the distribution channels?

Eric: Titles should have an ISBN, assigned by a publisher or a self-publishing partner. The ISBN becomes part of book databases used in the Christian and general-market networks. ISBNs are critical to be on any lists that sell to retail.

Angela: How can an author enter the distribution chain?

Eric: Retailers are always trying to find new appeal for their customer base. Authors might want to connect with one of the Christian-store marketing groups (The Parable Group, Munce Marketing, The Covenant Group, Logos Bookstores). These co-ops work hard to identify and purchase products to differentiate member stores with their core customers. This might be a way for authors to help raise awareness and market their books.

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