Military Markets Demystified
by Linda Carlson
The U.S. military spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and its payroll for military and civilian employees makes for a more stable economy in communities across this country and abroad. Those are just two of the reasons for publishers to be interested in serving markets such as military exchanges and commissaries, base libraries, schools and child care centers, and agencies and organizations related to the military.
But selling to the armed forces, just like selling to any other large government entity, requires persistence in tracking down the right contacts, especially because they may change frequently as people are reassigned. You’ll need to focus steadily on details to get your company on the appropriate bidder lists and to determine the most marketable products and best price points.
Sound daunting? Then look at the upside. Once you make a deal, reorders may be large and automatic, even for backlist titles. Returns may be nonexistent. And the government’s checks don’t bounce.
This article is the first in a two-part series that provides an overview of opportunities and marketing options for sales to the military. It covers wholesale book purchases by exchanges (military base “general” stores) and book purchases by end users and by libraries, schools, child care programs, family support centers, chaplains, and others who provide recreational, educational, and support services.
As noted below, other potential customers on bases and affiliated with the military include service organizations such as the USO and Blue Star Families, which handles Books on Bases; schools described as “federally impacted” because they serve so many dependents of troops; public libraries near installations; and social service and educational nonprofits such as the Military Child Education Coalition. Retailers with locations on or near bases may also be potential customers for your publications.
The second article in this series will cover options for publicizing and advertising your books to the military market.
First Steps Toward Sales
Working from general to specific, your first stop should be FedBizOpps.Gov, Federal Business Opportunities, at fbo.gov. At “Vendor/Citizen Registration,” you’ll find information that you’ll need about a DUNS number and Central Contractor Registration. You’ll also find similar information at bpn.gov/ccr/default.aspx.
To get an idea of government purchases—including purchases by military academies and bases—select the Advanced Search option for searching postings: fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&tab=search&mode=list. With this, you can search a given time period. For example, you can select just the most recent 14 days of postings if you check every two weeks.
What’s even more valuable is that you can select by industry and type codes, thus bypassing all the postings for construction, lawn service, uniforms, and magazine and database subscriptions. For the NAICS code, enter 51130 (“book publishing”) and for Classification code, enter “76” (“books, maps and other publications”).
If your experience is like mine, you won’t see much that applies to you. When I recently checked three months of postings, I found requests for booklets on domestic violence, book leasing for a base library, language arts textbooks for Department of Defense (DOD) ninth- and tenth-grade courses, and a K–12 drug abuse and violence prevention curriculum for DOD schools, plus requests for some books and workbooks specified by name and ISBN, including a book on emergency medical care and books on coaching and conflict management.
By carefully reading the postings, you can see which publishers have gotten their books specified, or—even better—which publishers have been approved as the sole source for certain large purchases. And you can use the Interested Vendors tab on many pages to see which wholesalers and distributors are already doing business with federal agencies. One, for example, is Unique Books, a library wholesaler that many IBPA members work with. Another is Supreme Books, which describes itself as a wholesaler to libraries and emphasizes its government sales.
Working with Retailers
Given how limited the opportunities for us can be on fbo.gov, you may want to pursue wholesaling to the military’s retail operations. Commissaries (the military base grocery stores) don’t carry books, but exchanges do—usually paperbacks. Remember that exchanges are open not only to active duty troops but also to family members, retirees, and members of National Guard and reserve units.
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) operates almost 200 major exchanges. To get your books on their shelves, start by contacting the distributors or wholesalers that are authorized to sell to bases you target. You’ll find a list at shopmyexchange.com/vendors/retail.htm#book. Some firms handle only one base or just a few, and the News Group and Source Interlink handle most distribution.
According to its Web site, the News Group does not buy direct from self-publishers or those with fewer than five books in print, and it does not buy print-on-demand titles. It also expects a discount of 55 percent on books, free freight, and 100 percent returnability, with mass market titles strip cover (the cover is all you get back) or affidavit return. The required terms also include net 120 days for “everyday” products and 150 days for seasonal books. Publishers with five or more titles who are interested in military sales are advised to send information to USAMilitaryAcctInfo@thenewsgroup.com or call 210/662-3315.
For Source Interlink (which also publishes such magazines as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Snowboarder, Stereophile, Surfer, and Soap Opera Digest), use the regional contacts on shopmyexchange.com or the general contact form at sourceinterlink.com/contact.
Most naval bases and ships are served by the Navy Exchange System, or NEX (see mynavyexchange.com). There are more than 100 of these stores, but some are small, with annual sales volume as low as $70,000 (especially those aboard ships, which sell only necessities). There is also an online NEX. Almost all buying is done by the Navy Exchange Service Command in Virginia Beach, VA. To get phone and fax numbers (no email), go to mynavyexchange.com/command/contractor_vendor/merch/pdf/cv-linked_m_phoneinfo.pdf. The site indicates that the first step is sending a description of your products and complete contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on the Marine Corps exchanges, start at usmc-mccs.org/shopping/abouthome.cfm. This links to contact information for the heads of retail at each of several exchanges and also to a list of buyers—by merchandise type—at the exchange headquarters. Some buying is done at the exchange level, and some is centralized through Marine Corps Community Services headquarters. The Coast Guard Exchange information is linked to cg-exchange.com. You can click on Locations and then on a state name for contact information (no buyers’ names) for each exchange.
Bestsellers fill most of the racks at exchanges, and some buyers also select Westerns, mysteries, and children’s books. Books are typically sold at a 15 percent discount from retail.
Aimed at End Users
Military agencies that buy for their own personnel’s use constitute another important market for some publishers. According to FedMarket.com, a private firm that offers consulting and sales services, “Federal end users [including the military], such as human resource program managers, engineers, or facility managers, make most purchasing decisions.” This comment is reiterated by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, whose Web site notes, “The vast majority of DOD contracts are awarded by DOD field organizations, or specific mission-oriented agencies within an organization.”
That’s been the experience of the Seattle-based Incredible Years, a child guidance program that has sold books and other products around the world to civilian and military customers.
“The purchases by the military, both American and British, have come about because of a psychologist or similar professional who is either in the military or in a nearby community learning of the programs and wanting to deliver them to military families,” says Lisa St. George, administrative director, who explains that the company has sent materials and a trainer to a British base in Germany and an American base in Japan. “These customers followed the same procedures as our other customers: They accessed our price information and processed a purchase order.”
Durbin’s staff recommends that businesses seeking government purchases check with their state’s Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, which offer information and counseling. The Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers provides a directory of these centers at aptac-us.org/new.
Yet another possible customer is the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), which describes itself as the largest central resource for DOD and government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information. Its Web site—dtic.mil/dtic—offers some information on becoming a vendor. You can also contact email@example.com, 703/767-8267.
Depending on your titles, you may want to use contact information for human resources offices, some of which buy books on mentoring, evaluations, and similar topics applying to military or civilian employees.
The Navy’s district HR offices for its nearly 200,000 civil service civilian employees are listed at donhr.navy.mil. To contact the HR personnel who handle an additional 16,000 NEX civilian employees, see mynavyexchange.com/command/employment/Human%20Resources%20District%20Addresses.pdf.
The Army employs more than 250,000 civilians. You’ll find basic information, but no list of HR offices, at cpol.army.mil.
The Air Force, which has more than 180,000 civil service positions, has a similar site with no regional HR offices listed.
Many bases are larger than some towns and are virtually self-contained in terms of their facilities and programs. Almost all have chaplains, family support centers, libraries, fitness centers, child and youth programs, child care centers, and student liaison officers who help families get the services they need from nearby public schools. Some bases, especially those overseas, have their own DOD schools.
Facilities such as the family support centers, child care centers, kids’ programs, parenting workshops, and libraries are usually associated with Morale, Well-being and Recreation (MWR) and are funded in part from base exchange profits and user fees. You’ll find contact information for many of these on each base’s Web site and in directories such as the Base Installation Handbook, available as a free 211-page PDF from Military Handbooks (militaryhandbooks.com). This for-profit company has compiled whatever information bases provided, so there are no contacts for specific buyers in the handbook. But it serves as a good introduction to military operations, especially if you want to sell by state, because the listings are geographic rather than by military branch.
Contact information for 674 base child care centers (not always including email) is available at a DOD site: Military Installations, Your Official DoD Source for Installations and State Resources Available to Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Service and Family Members (militaryinstallations.dod.mil). These centers welcome catalogs from publishers and can buy without posting RFPs, according to a staff member at the child care facility that serves the Naval Postgraduate School and other Navy personnel in Monterey, CA.
Often books are purchased via Lakeshore Learning Materials and similar vendors, through a time-consuming process that requires three approvals of a purchase order in Monterey and then more approvals in the San Diego regional operations before the purchase order can go to the procurement staff. An important note if you’re doing more than printed books: be aware that the child care centers typically cannot buy software.
Reaching the Military Library Market
The military also operates hundreds of libraries, most listed at dod.mil/other_info/libraries.html. For naval base libraries, you’ll also want to see the Consortium of Navy Libraries Web site, library.nrl.navy.mil/index.cfm?s=2&i=3152&sf=159&mTog=1. From library.usmc-mccs.org/cgi-bin/main.pl, you can find addresses and phone numbers of the 17 Marine Corps base libraries.
The Special Librarians Association, which has a Military Libraries Division, also lists libraries by military branch, at sladmil.cimes.fsu.edu/index.cfm?fuseaction=resources.main. The division hosts a Military Libraries Workshop each year, with tabletop exhibits, and refreshment breaks and meals sponsored by large publishers and wholesalers. The event is open to the public and will take place this year in Norfolk, VA, in December. For additional information, see slamilitarylibraries.org/wpcms.
In the Education Arena
Many publishers may find buyers at the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) elementary, middle, and high schools. There are approximately 200 of them, located in seven states, Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and 13 foreign countries. The U.S. schools are described at DoDEA School, District, and Area Contact Information, dodea.edu/datacenter/schools.cfm. Brief presentations by administrators are at Making Connections for Continuous Improvement, dodea.edu/curriculum/walls/Wall_Curriculum/index2.html, where topics include gifted education, special education, early childhood education, and school libraries. For FAQs on selling to this market, see dodea.edu/offices/procurement/faqs.cfm?sid=7.
Affiliated nonprofit groups that buy books include organizations such as the Military Education Coordination Council (dtic.mil/doctrine/edu_mecc.htm) and Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces, a program created by Blue Star Families in conjunction with Kids in Distressed Situations (KIDS). The Blue Star Families site, BlueStarFam.org, describes the goal of Books on Bases as “positively impacting the lives of military children through the power of reading.” The groups donate books to military children, base libraries, Department of Defense schools, and military-impacted public schools.
Other opportunities exist with the schools, libraries, and social service agencies in communities near bases. For a directory of schools that receive federal impact funds because of the number of military dependents enrolled, see the Military Impacted Schools Association site, militaryimpactedschoolsassociation.org/89/members.
Linda Carlson, who writes from Seattle, shopped at a NEX-like outlet, the Mid Store, when her son attended the U.S. Naval Academy.