Book Distribution: A Q&A
Who are the biggest distributors?
Baker & Taylor and Ingram are both distributors and wholesalers. but they're really called book wholesalers. These are the middlemen between the publisher and the brick and mortar bookstores. Of course as bookstores become less and less a viable option for self-publishers, these companies become less and less important to us.
B&T is the world's largest distributor of physical and digital content. (Blio, the maker of the digital 3D book reading device, has partnered with B&T. Do you want your book on Blio? Not unless you're totally geeking out.)
In the Ingram Book Group family of companies are Ingram Publisher Services (distributor to publishers of all sizes), Ingram Digital (package and delivery of digital content), and Lightning Source (print on demand).
Lighting Source used to be really important for self-publishers, but now they're not because Amazon CreateSpace can get you in to the bookstores too with their Extended Distribution Program, and they're a lot easier to deal with. So forget Lightning Source unless you like to deal with company reps, FTP, outputting error-free PDFs, and paying $75 signup fees and $45 change fees.
How do I get distribution by these giants, even though I know they’re not interested in self or small publishers?
Really? Okay... use Amazon's CreateSpace service with the Extended Distribution Program.
Or partner with a distributor. Use one of the resources listed on Ingram's Emerging Publishers and Distributors pages. Except for Lightning Source, you will need to go through a stringent acceptance process. The best of these distributors require a serious marketing plan, quality book (pro editing and design), a track record (social media), and take under 5% of submissions.
Join SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America) or IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association), or both. They both have stellar resources and community.
What are my other distribution options?
When you're talking print, there are few. For ebooks you've got Smashwords, BookBaby, Book Tango, and Amazon KDP.
What % do distributors take?
They require a 55% discount, which means you get 45%, after shipping. If bookstores return your book then they will return the book to the distributor. Your distributor will either resell it or, if it's damanged, destroy it; you determine this in your contract. (For example, it may be less expensive to destroy the book than to have it shipped back.)
Doesn't sound like I really want a distributor...
Smart. Just DIY at first. See what happens.