How PMA Members Reach Readers
More than 100 PMA members reported on the sales channels they use when we asked for information via email. As you’ll see, options abound and opinions differ. More reports on how various sales channels work will appear in upcoming issues.
Conclusions from Decades of Experience
I’ve owned and operated Bright Ring Publishing, Inc., for 22 years and have used all the traditional sales channels. Impact has been especially strong through:
Articles in magazines that reach parents and educators, such as Parenting, Family Fun, and Early Childhood News. I write short articles about creativity and art that run with mentions of various books I publish. These articles are better than advertising and cost nothing; in fact, I’m paid well to do them. Although I don’t know exactly how many sales the articles generate, I do know that I am more recognized by name and book titles than in the past.
Presentations, keynotes, and workshops. I’ve always had a busy presentation schedule at workshops that reach hundreds of people, but now I’m doing more live video conferences that reach thousands. Participants receive handouts with all book and ordering information, as well as sample activities from the featured book, which then sells several thousand copies. At small conferences of several hundred where I am the featured speaker, hundreds of copies of my books are sold. There is always a spike in bookstore sales after these conferences. Attendees receive order forms at the conference.
My two major distributors (we’re not talking wholesalers here; I hope everyone has that straight by now!), IPG and Gryphon House, are magnificent, professional, responsible, trustworthy good people who care about my books and about me as a person, and I care about them in return. We are a team. I do what I can for them as needed and beyond, and they more than do the job for me. They have made my business thrive through their sales, catalogs, and connections beyond bookstores.
Other sales channels:
Independent bookstores. I’m happy to be out of dealing with their orders and returns. When they buy 12, return 6 just before paying, and reorder 12 . . . hmm, something not quite comfy there. When it comes to the whole buy-and-return scenario, I’m a bit of a radical. I think bookstores should sell damaged or worn copies at a discount and not return them to the publisher or distributor, and I’d like to see all books sold on a nonreturnable basis, but I know I’m only dreaming.
Teacher supply stores. Teacher stores and school-supply stores usually display books face-out, and they know their titles inside and out. For my books, they are the sugar sprinkles on a chocolate frosted cupcake.
Educational catalog companies. Two of my favorite school-supply catalog companies have begun to do some pretty savvy marketing. For example, one has produced a “MaryAnn Kohl Art Kit” that bundles a fabulous selection of art supplies offered at a bright discount, and includes a few of my books. In its catalog, which goes out to thousands of stores and a variety of purchasers and educators, I’m featured alongside the kit. Another company has produced a “Preschool Art Kit” for its catalog and is having me do a workshop based on the kit at an annual early childhood three-day conference that serves well over 25,000 teachers. The nice part is that all of us are enjoying ourselves as we market. We’re all smiling!
Bright Ring Publishing, Inc.
Online Does It All
We generate 98 percent of our sales through our Web site and 2 percent through Amazon, because we have a very targeted market of attorneys and paralegals who believe they get their books faster and receive better customer service by ordering directly from us.
Beyond Book-Trade Outlets
Budding Family sells primarily to children’s and maternity boutiques, gift stores, and parenting resource centers. Our titles are high-end keepsake books, perfect for the gift industry and for places that pride themselves on unique specialty items.
We sell through showroom and road reps, as well as our Web site. Internally, we handle niche markets like the military and real estate/relocation professionals, both a great match for our topics of sibling preparation and moving with children.
We pay our reps the going rate, 15 percent commission, on all sales in their respective territories. The gift trade honors no-returns and buys at 50 percent off retail.
Additionally, we sell through the small publishers program on Amazon.com, which basically covers our expensive storage fees.
Renee Raab Whitcombe
Budding Family Publishing
Profits Built on Special Sales
Futurepast took advantage of the construction and opening of a resort
community near Roslyn, WA, to reprint Coal Towns in the Cascades, a centennial history first published in 1986, which sold its initial printing of 2,500 copies within five years. In 2006 we brought the title back with a printing of 1,400, having presold 1,000 to the resort developer to use for promotional purposes. Getting that special sale took two years of gentle marketing and coaxing, and a specially designed dust jacket, but finally a firm order and a cash-in-advance check made reprinting the volume economically feasible and risk free. Half the rest of the run sold immediately to the local historical museum, which had long lamented the book’s being out of print, and we drop-shipped 1,200 copies directly to the developer and the museum to reduce our handling costs.
Sales of this title to the trade are not spectacular, but every book sold represents profit, thanks to the special sales that made republication worthwhile.
John C. Shideler
Goodbye Trade Distributor, Hello Lightning Source
Allergy Adapt has been publishing books about food allergies for 13 years, and we have learned many lessons in the school of hard knocks. I can say a lot about where we do not sell books anymore and why.
We began with two distributors, Pacific Pipeline for the book trade and NutriBooks for health food stores. When Pacific Pipeline went bankrupt, we lost several thousand dollars the firm owed us, and our inventory in its warehouse was sold to pay its debts. Because we didn’t see a way to get our books into Ingram or Baker & Taylor at that time, we found another distributor. At first, things went well. The company got our books into Barnes & Noble, Borders, and other large bookstores and paid us in full and on time. Our association with it seemed worth the large discount we gave it. Over the next few years, the company promoted our books less and less until it seemed to be doing no promotion at all. In 2002, it did not get our new book into Barnes & Noble distribution or the Borders database, and it didn’t put the cover art up on Amazon, in spite of our repeated requests.
About five years ago we received a monthly statement stamped, “Partial payment has been withheld pending expected returns. For more information call . . . ” The accompanying check was for about half what we were owed. I called and was told that the business was not going well, and that the company was “withholding for returns” even though it did not really expect high returns, in order to buy time to catch up financially. It seemed like a better alternative than having the company go bankrupt; we needed a distributor, and the economy and book trade were truly not in good shape, so we decided to ride it out.
The situation continued to worsen. The checks became smaller, and there were months when we received no payment at all. The company began deducting other charges, such as for warehousing books. In January 2006 we got a check for about 15 percent of what the distributor owed us, and then we got no checks for the next five months. In June I called and asked if the firm thought it might be able to start paying us again. The answer was no, so we mutually and amicably agreed that we would terminate our contract with the company on the anniversary date in late October and be paid six months later as our contract stated. We received a check for what we were owed eight months later and were glad to have escaped another potential distributor bankruptcy without loss.
Because we needed to be able to sell our books to Ingram and Baker & Taylor but did not want to deal with another distributor, we revised the books and converted them to Print-On-Demand publishing through Lightning Source. This is the best thing we have ever done for many reasons, not the least of which is that we now have enough regular business income to advertise in the PMA library mailings, PMA special catalogs, and the NutriBooks catalog. We had our Web site completely revised in January and updated in August, and we have another update planned. We can also afford to publish new books.
Today, we sell books using many sales channels. The largest is Lightning Source, which is wonderful for selling through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon. It gets our books up on Amazon (with cover art!) a month after they are submitted for printing, and we are paid every month in full and on time. We have chosen to allow returns but have had less than a 1 percent return rate. Lightning Source is very easy to work with; recently when some books were damaged in transit, it treated us very well.
We still sell books to NutriBooks for distribution to health food stores. Because it takes a 65 percent discount, and the unit cost of POD is higher than for offset printing, our profit margin is less than 10 percent of the list price of the book. But since health food stores are where people with food allergies shop, we want the books to be available to them there. NutriBooks pays in full within a month of receiving books. There are no returns.
We also sell to library distributors. Quality Books currently carries five of our books. We have had them displayed in the Quality Books booth at library trade shows. We sell some of our older (non-POD) books directly to Baker & Taylor. And we fill a few orders from other library distributors such as Brodart and Emery-Pratt.
Occasionally, we receive purchase orders directly from retailers, usually to fill special customer orders, and sometimes a store will like the books enough to order more copies directly from us.
Another good-sized sales channel is to doctors’ offices and clinics that specialize in the treatment of allergies.
Finally, we sell directly to consumers. This is the most rewarding part of our business because we are able to talk (by phone or email) to people in need, help them with their food-allergy problems, and give them hope. Most of these orders come through our Web site. A few come through Amazon Marketplace or flyers placed in doctors’ offices. About once a week a new customer calls after hearing about our books from a friend. We enjoy this personal contact very much.
Here is where we sell our books by percentage of dollars and units:
Percentage ofPercentage of
Baker & Taylor3%4%
All other library distributors1%1%
Direct to retailers1%1%
Doctors’ offices and clinics7%8%
Direct to consumers9%9%
Allergy Adapt, Inc.
Tackling Two Target Markets
Since our main title is a children’s book about a Bernese Mountain Dog who lived at a lighthouse, we have had good success with dog-breed clubs throughout the country. We sell to them at a discount so they can resell the book as a fundraiser, and that has proved to be a winning idea for all involved.
We have had less success marketing to lighthouse visitor centers and gift stores, but interest is beginning to pick up in that area. Because business at most of those outlets is seasonal, we plan a big marketing push to them as they begin to plan for their tourist season.
Bookstores have been a crapshoot. Some understand small, independent publishers; most do not and seem very willing to very rudely tell you as much.
Patricia Turner Custard
Black Plume Books
Direct Sales Do Well
As a quilt designer and lecturer, I teach workshops and present lectures across the country, each attended by 50 to 200 quilters. These programs generate more than 50 percent of my sales—at full retail price. I also do workshops and lectures at schools and book groups on haiku poetry—another wonderful opportunity for direct sales, and it works because I’m the writer and publisher.
The more challenging part will be when I start accepting manuscripts from other writers, which is the plan for five years from now. But I intend to stay in the gift/quilt/poetry book market. As an artist, I want FPI Publishing to be known for making beautiful books, keepers.
Gyleen X. Fitzgerald
Aiming for Many Audiences
Since we publish Christian-themed graphic novels, we have multiple streams of distribution. Our Eye Witness series crosses over many format and genre boundaries, and we have the ability to attract a mixed bag of interested readers and retailers.
In wholesaling, we focus on the book trade, the Christian book trade, and the direct comic-book trade. Distribution to the book and Christian book trades is facilitated through our distributor STL/Faithworks, and it accounts for about 45 percent of our annual sales. Known as a master distributor, STL makes our books available to virtually all the major book wholesalers in North America (including Baker & Taylor and Ingram/Spring Arbor), which in turn make them available to almost all book retailers. Marketing and sales to the direct comic-bookstore market (approximately 3,000 stores nationwide) is through Diamond Comic distributors, basically the only game in town for distribution into that market; it accounts for about 38 percent of our annual sales.
We do offer direct wholesale purchasing to retailers, churches, and ministries that may not be connected to any book wholesalers or distributors, but we have only a handful of accounts with them.
Working with major distributors not only shines a light of legitimacy on our books in the retailing community, but, more important, makes the books available to virtually anyone who is in the business of selling books and/or graphic novels in North America.
Since these distributors offer their services to hundreds (if not thousands) of publishers who are just as excited about and committed to their books as we are, we quickly learned that there are limits to the time their sales forces can and will spend trying to market our titles. This means that the major marketing push must come from our efforts to get the attention of the retailer and consumer.
“If you build it, they will come” worked in the movie Field of Dreams. I feel a lot of small publishers get caught up in this analogy when they’ve secured a relationship with a distributor or wholesaler and their books are widely available to retailers. The assumption is, “If it’s available, it will be stocked.” The realty is that this is just the first step in a lengthy process, and publishers must market their books aggressively.
We also sell our books directly to the public through many Web sites, including our own, Amazon.com, and a host of online communities (Shoutlife.com, MySpace, MyChurch, ComicSpace.com, etc.). Other direct sales come through author appearances at book signings, trade shows, pop-culture conventions, churches, and art shows. Direct sales through these appearances and the Web account for about 15 percent of annual sales.
Head Press Publishing
Make Ours Mainstream
Now in our fourth year, we are one of the world’s largest independent gay and lesbian publishers, with 40 to 50 new titles per year. Since the beginning, we have employed mainstream distribution avenues internationally, including Bella Distribution in Tallahassee, FL, and Client Distribution Services in Jackson, TN. Our books are also carried by major wholesalers and retailers—Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Bookazine, Bulldog Books in Australia, United Kingdom Publishers Group in the U.K., Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and dozens of independent bookstores. And we sell our titles direct to customers through BellaBooks.com.
While we enjoy brisk direct online sales, most of our sales come through conventional channels serviced by major distributors. Having tried other distribution and sales models over the last nine years (primarily via online sites and Amazon), I can state unequivocally that the best way to maximize sales is to work with a major distributor. This requires substantial print runs in most cases, but we have found that the increased sales are well worth the upfront investment.
Bold Strokes Books, Inc
A Novel with a Niche
I am a one-book publisher. Saving Miss Oliver’s, a novel, is set in an all-girls’ boarding school, and therefore its natural market comprises professionals—teachers and administrators who work for the approximately 1,300 members of the National Association of Independent Schools and for members of regional associations, such as the California Association of Independent Schools, that are closely affiliated with NAIS.
When the novel came out in early 2006, the only way to purchase was through a Web site link to Pathway Book Service in Gilsum, NH, which does a fine job with fulfillment. I sent postcards announcing the book to every school head, librarian, and board chair in every school in NAIS, and also to the executive directors of all the regional associations. That direct mailing, plus good word of mouth, generated enough interest so that people who either didn’t know about the site or preferred Amazon or bookstores started asking for it. Then, through Pathway, I started selling via Amazon and Ingram. Now sales through them outnumber sales via the Web site by a large margin.
I’m pretty small potatoes. The first printing was 1,500. I sold about 1,300, and the response has been so good that I took a chance and printed another 1,500. We’ll see what happens. I get such an enthusiastic response from the people I do reach that I think I could vastly increase the audience if I had the marketing resources and know-how. Maybe mine is the kind of novel that sells slowly but steadily.
The Trunk-of-the-Car Technique Pays Off
Most sales of A Day in God’s Country have been generated off the beaten path at places such as restaurants, markets, souvenir shops, gift shops, surf shops, drugstores, antique shops, and even a few decorating shops. Thanks to local booksellers, Virginia Beach Farm Fresh locations, and many other retailers who believed in the book, I sold around 2,500 copies within four months of publication, using the trunk-of-the-car approach. I have an order for 48 books next week and another for 240 books in January. Several book-signing events and a high school appearance are scheduled. Chain bookstore and online purchases through wholesalers are over 400 books, with more anticipated for holiday book signings.
The best advice I can give is to always tweak your promotion as you learn about your market and how to talk about your book. It’s an evolution. I find myself getting bolder as I sell books and receive positive feedback. Also, it takes more than a book cover to capture the interest of a retailer and, ultimately, a shopper. Promotional materials such as flyers, posters, wallet-sized cards, buttons, A-frame signs, a Web site, and acrylic book holders will separate your product from the tens of thousands out there. And never sit at a book signing or promotional event. Stand up and make yourself known. Sometimes a simple “Hello!” is all it takes.
George Kotarides, Jr.
Warehouse One, LLC
Praise for Major Intermediaries
We sell books online via our Web site, other Web sites, and Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and we also sell via major and independent bookstores, Baker & Taylor, Book CH, and Lushena Books. We are truly pleased with the service we receive from Baker & Taylor as well as from our newest distributor, Lushena Books, and we’ve seen a disadvantage of doing business with retail bookstores—their payment schedule, approximately six months for us, sometimes longer.
Here’s a breakdown of annual revenue: retail, 15 percent; distributors and wholesalers, 61.8 percent; online customers, 12 percent; book signings, 8.5 percent; book fairs and conferences, 2.7 percent. We are truly thankful to PMA for helping us expand our market base.
Different Titles, Different Tactics
I sell a “Skeletons” calendar, a DVD, and two books—In the Same Breath and One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century—directly from my site, through Amazon.com, Calendars.com, and bookstores (using Baker & Taylor and New Leaf), and at appropriate conferences and conventions. The DVD is based on the One Spirit book.
New Leaf is fantastic—a targeted market, good promotional products, timely reports, prompt payment, and no returns because stuff hasn’t sold as soon as hoped. The people are friendly, knowledgeable, and quick to return emails and phone calls.
I also use direct mail for my calendars. It works really well since chiropractors, a large part of the market, are easy to target. I give them options: buy from me by phone or online, from Amazon or Calendars.com, or from bricks-and-mortar stores. I market to the stores with a catalog and calls.
Jean Latz Griffin
Cold Calls Were the Beginning
I find it’s critical to analyze your niche, roll up your sleeves, and find out where your customers go. For example, I publish books on Lyme disease, so I went to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, learned which states had the highest incidence of Lyme disease, and targeted health food stores in those states. Since my books were refused by the primary health-food-store book distributor (NutriBooks), I was at first discouraged, but I decided to call the health food stores myself. Scary? Yes! Successful? Yes!
I spent about 20 hours per week for three months cold-calling every health food store on the East Coast. It was grueling, awful, terrible work, but it was work that sold books. I offered excellent terms to the stores (since I cut out the distributor, I had more flexibility). They could not resist 40 percent off the list price with free shipping and a minimum order of only three books. For the stores that were skeptical, I offered to send a sample copy. I kept detailed records of all the calls I made, and I was sure to follow up with flyers and phone calls.
The result? I’ve sold almost 1,000 books to health food stores now after only four months, and the stores keep reordering. The nice thing about retail stores, unlike individual customers, is that they make money on your products, so they keep buying them as long as they keep selling. I have 150 health food store accounts on the East Coast because of this effort.
Even better, because my Web site address is printed on the back of my books, many of my new readers visit my site and find that I sell a couple dozen related books, videos, and DVDs. So, a lone book sale from a health food store (or any other sales channel) may turn into a sale of five to ten, or more, products. By the way, I highly recommend selling other authors’ and other publishers’ books on subjects related to yours.
Recently I went out on a limb and spent the time and money to have cardboard countertop display cases designed and produced. I called each of my health food store accounts and offered the case for free. About a dozen stores accepted the offer. After utilizing the case, sales increased to these stores, and some of them now order by the case. Why does it work? The first and most obvious reason is that, when books are showcased in a display case, customers are more likely to see them. But the second, and less well-known, reason is that the display case itself serves as an order reminder for health food store managers. Normally, when the book sells out, the health food store may forget to reorder. But an empty display case says two things loudly: “Time to order more!” and “Yes, those books you weren’t sure about actually did sell.”
BioMed Publishing Group