Bookstore distribution has always been a primary determinant of success for traditional print authors. The more bookstores around the world stocking, promoting and selling a print book, the more books an author would sell.
Indie ebooks enable instant, worldwide distribution. Why then do some authors succumb to the temptation of limiting distribution to a single retailer?
Before I address the drawbacks of such exclusivity, let’s delve deeper into the distribution received by traditionally published authors.
Brick and mortar bookstore distribution is one of the most important benefits of a traditional book publishing contract, because nothing sells books like physical shelf presence.
A good traditional publisher has the ability to land your book in hundreds or thousands of stores on launch day.
Despite access to physical retail stores, most traditionally-published print authors still suffer from limited or inadequate distribution to bookstores.
Why is this the case? The answer lies in the structural makeup of the print book supply chain (a supply chain is how a product travels from its point of origin to its customer, or, in the case of a book, how it travels from a publisher to a distributor to a retailer).
Factors contributing to poor or under-distribution of traditionally-published print books:
1. The Ticking Death Clock: The moment a traditionally published print author’s book hits the shelf, a death clock starts ticking. Books are often given only a few weeks to jump off the shelves before retailers pack up the book and ship it back to the publisher for a full refund. The returned books are either pulped (destroyed) or sold off to remainderers (intermediaries who sell books by the pallet-load at deep discounts). When a book is remaindered, it means the publisher printed more books than retailers could sell.
Why do retailers ship the books back? The book retailing business is essentially a consignment business. Although retailers purchase books they intend to sell, the books are returnable within a certain period of time. Retailers, even the large format retailers such as Barnes & Noble, have limited floor space and shelf space, and that space costs them money in rent and staff time to stock, manage and sell the books. A common metric used by retailers to measure their sales performance is to look at the total sales per square foot per month. Titles that sell well will maintain shelf space, and titles that don’t sell are boxed up and returned to make room for new titles.