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Which Sales Channels Work Best

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Most PMA members who responded
to this question reported selling through what are still known as special sales
or nontraditional channels, despite the fact that they are increasingly normal
for publishers of all sizes. And many respondents noted that they favor a mix
of sales channels that includes the one major wholesalers provide. As you?ll
see, other trade channels are often part of the mix too, and nontrade channels
vary widely as savvy publishers match conduits to customers.



Cash Comes from Catalog


Catalogs are our most profitable
sales channel (I shipped 24,000 units to one last week), although school and
office book-event companies are big-volume customers too, and we do well with
premium sales (one major manufacturer ordered 15,000 cookbooks).


I learned very quickly that I
couldn?t run a profitable company selling books that might come back, so I
concentrated on the nonreturnable gift market. Catalogs order large quantities
year after year and pay on time. Because their orders are large, my unit costs
for printing go way down, and I can use the overage for better margin on
regular sales. And really big orders from catalog companies can ship directly
from the printer.






History via Hospitals


I sell my local history books in
hospital gift shops. Because I have been doing volunteer work at a local
hospital for several years, I have an in, and fortunately the hospital has three
separate gift shops in the city.


About two thirds of my gross book
income comes from this source, which pays in 30 days with no returns, ever.



Publishing Co.


In Tune with Teachers


We have been most successful with
teachers? conferences and schools. We designed and printed a free teacher?s
guide to accompany our book Grisha: The Story of Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and have
given copies of the book and guide to high school music and history teachers.
Author presentations at book clubs and schools have also been well received. We
had success selling one of our books to a Public Radio station that had done an
interview with the author. The station used the books as a premium in their
fund-raising campaign.



Otis Mountain



Relying on Major Trade


Barnes & Noble is our
number-one sales channel. It required us to have a wholesaler (easy to get with
its initial order in hand), and it has sold more than 20,000 copies of my first
edition of Rental
Houses for the Successful Small Investor
. I made a mistake with
my second book, Make
Money Self-Publishing: Learn How from Fourteen Successful Small Publishers
Although it was reviewed in Publishers Weekly and selected by the Writer?s Digest
Book Club, B&N decided not to stock it. The company already had a number of
how-to-self-publish books in inventory, and it thought the price was too high.
(I shouldn?t have priced it without consulting with the B&N Small Press
Department; live and learn.) Without exposure in the national chain?s stores,
this title has sold fewer than 2,000 copies.


Amazon.com has been the
second-best channel for selling my two books. In seven years, it has sold more
than 13,000 copies and generated gross revenues after discount of just over
$112,000. Here a good book garners good reviews and sells. The key is to ask
for those reviews after book signings, when buyers send kind comments to the
publisher or author, or whenever the opportunity appears. I cannot believe how
many books lack a decent number of reviews. Ask, ask, ask! Author appearances
can be financially worthwhile just for the chance to ask readers to post
reviews on Amazon.com.


Library sales are important to me
too. I send direct-mail pieces to libraries in small, cooperative mailings
(only four flyers per envelope, and our flyers do best when they emphasize
major reviews), and I submit new titles and new editions to Quality Books,
Inc., and Baker & Taylor. The cost of advertising the books to libraries is
generally covered by resulting sales, and I believe (based on customer
feedback) that many people discover our books in libraries, and then purchase


P. Thomas

House Publishing



Indies and Others


I find that independent bookstores
are the most responsive. When I waltz into most small stores with my books, I
almost always walk out with an order. I sweeten the pot by autographing the


Depending on the book,
nonbookstores work well too. Two of my own books that deal with travel (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Finding Florida?s Phantoms

and Georgia?s Ghostly
) sell wonderfully in museums and gift shops that cater
to travelers. The National Park Service regularly orders the book with a
chapter about the history and legends of Andersonville for sale at the
Andersonville National Monument.


And I sell several Civil War
books—some by me, some by another author—at reenactments, fairs,
and educational events. She and I go together, dress in period clothes, have a
blast, and sell a lot of copies.



Authors Publications



Varied Area Opportunities


A regional nonbook sales rep who
sells mostly maps, calendars, and other tourist-type products is active in the
mid-to-upper Delaware Valley region I?m targeting, and he uses my title as a
loss leader to get his higher-margin items into stores. He bought nearly three
quarters of my first printing and helped me be able to order a second printing
within 45 days. Sales to him are nonreturnable, and we?re both happy with the


But direct sales are far more
profitable. My book is about a historic flood 50 years ago in my region, and it
is attractive to local historical societies and watershed associations as a
renewal premium. I give these nonprofit groups wholesale discount COD, and some
of them also sell the book at meetings and fundraisers.


I promote my title by calling,
faxing, and doing tightly targeted direct mail to libraries, historical
societies, civic groups, and schools, where I give a one-hour PowerPoint
digital slide presentation with Q&A afterward.


Although we also sell via the
Internet and to trade wholesalers and bookstores, the direct-to-consumer sales
I make after the slide presentation and at local fairs and other events account
for about 75 percent of my revenue. Since my book retails at $19.95, I offer it
at $20 just to save the hassle of making change. Customers find it easy to part
with a $20 bill and often buy three to five copies at a clip, I net $18.87 per
copy after tax, and everyone?s happy.



Forge Books



Double-Barreled Distribution


Yaoi Press Ltd. publishes graphic
novels, and our best sales channel involves Diamond Book Distributors, which,
fortunately for us, is also Diamond Comics Distributors. It sells through
Ingram and Baker & Taylor and deals directly with Amazon.com, major book
chains, and comic book stores. Diamond handles 95 percent of our distribution,
and half of our sales are to comic-book stores, which must buy nonreturnable.


We?ve learned that no matter what
distributor you use, you have to take the initiative on promotion. You can?t
expect the distributor to do your marketing for you.



Press Ltd.



Keeping Cash Flow Healthy


We sell primarily direct to
consumers at full retail price and mainly via our Web site; we sell to martial
arts and other nonbook wholesalers and retailers with discounts, and we sell
via our exclusive book-trade distributor.


Direct sales to consumers are
three times more profitable than sales through distributors, and they are our
fastest-growing sales channel. Right now, they account for 22 percent of


Special sales are twice as
profitable as sales through distributors and currently account for 36 percent
of revenue.


Sales through our distributor,
which now account for 42 percent of revenue, are also profitable.


Sometimes one sales channel is
characterized by a serious decline while others meet or exceed predetermined
goals. Using multiple sales channels is a way of diversifying your business and
insulating it against major cash-flow problems.



Publication Center



Game Plan


We sell 5,000 copies of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Blue Ribbon College
Basketball Yearbook
through our Web site alone. We?ve found it?s
better to sell direct than to ask customers to wait until our books get into


The Web can make the world a very
small place by stretching tentacles through sites and links off those sites.
We?ve struck up relationships with bloggers? sites and other Web sites,
including ESPN.com, that have something to do with college football and
basketball. It?s a neat network where all the DIY folks try to help us because
they respect our DIY, maverick spirit.



Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook



Bulk Sales Buyers


We sell 80 to 90 percent of our
books to individuals, institutions, and companies; and we move hundreds by
selling copies in advance to conference coordinators.


Important note: Our titles include?Where?s My Shoes??
My Father?s Walk Through Alzheimer?s
and other books about
dementia and caregiving. As part of our mission to support groups and
organizations that help people with dementia, we provide case orders at or near
cost so organizations can sell at a profit and benefit from the proceeds.



Star Books



Impulse Buying at Events


Direct sales account for well over
50 percent of my profits on my fiction about bicycling. Signings at bicycle
events are effective; the profit margins are high, and returns are nonexistent.
Most purchasers are impulse buyers who like the idea of a signed book
commemorating an event they are enjoying, but an increasing number of buyers
tell me they attended the event hoping to find me.


Although I find returns
frustrating, I am committed to keeping my books available through traditional
channels. Sales volume there remains significant, and I believe that bookstores
will become my most important sales channel once I get better media
opportunities. Meanwhile, direct sales generate the cash necessary to keep my
business viable.






B-to-B on the WWW


Because we sell business books, we
sell primarily business-to-business, directly to the customer via our Web site.
Although we also sell through the Amazon.com Advantage program and have
distribution through several associations, our site is by far our most
profitable channel. We sell about 75 percent of our books there. Its costs are
low, and it works well with our primary methods of marketing: email blasts,
magazine advertising, banner ads on Web sites and in e-newsletters, and direct


We get the most bang for our buck
with email marketing, but we have learned through trial and error when, how
often, and what types of messages to send. Our customers can click on the Buy
Now link on our site with no more than three clicks and often only one.


M. Paton




These for This Book, Those for


I?m coming from several directions
with my responses. I?m the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and
Writers Network); I work with authors on production and marketing of their
books; and I have my own self-published and traditionally published books on a
variety of subjects (24 titles in all).


I believe that you must go where
your audience is, and my audience for the writing/publishing books attends book
festivals, writers? conferences, and so forth. They also visit writing-related
Web sites and read writing-related magazines/newsletters. Accordingly, I sell
through conferences, workshops, book festivals, speaking engagements, and my
Web site, plus Internet sites including Amazon.com. About 40 percent of the
sales of these books come through the Internet, and 45 percent come through my
personal appearances.


For books on other subjects, I use
all trade channels and nonbook retail channels, including museum gift shops,
the local Board of Realtors office, hotel gift shops, and a few tourist shops
for my local history books.


I try to make each book available
to the right audience in the right place. A book on how to present a Hawaiian
luau on the mainland sold well in the South, where they do a lot of hog
barbecues, and also sold through barbecue magazines and newsletters, cooking
magazines and newsletters, articles in a variety of magazines, barbecue stores,
and barbecue Web sites, as well as to tourists in Hawaii.






The Best Re: Behind the Wheel


Nonbookstore channels—auto
clubs, camping clubs, AAA, and our own Web site—are most profitable for
us. With a road trip– or RV-related book, these are the big sales
outlets. It has taken me two years to get into a retailer?s camping equipment
outlets (we were tested in its online store for a year before it committed to a
national rollout to the stores).


But you have to use all the
available opportunities to sell your book. Most of our sales come via
distributors (Midpoint Trade and Quality Books), and we also sell on the
Internet and in connection with presentations, because different consumers look
for products in different locations and have different buying habits. You have
to be everywhere that your potential customers might look for your book.






Live and in Person


About 90 percent of my sales come
from four sources: library buyers through a wholesaler; author readings at
bookstores, cafes, galleries, and used-book stores; local and regional book
fairs; and co-workers and friends of mine and of authors I publish. This last
is my most profitable sales channel, accounting for approximately half of Rose
Alley Press sales.


When selling directly to
co-workers and friends, the publisher can keep all the money from the sale.
Typically, there are no shipping and handling costs, and little or no marketing
is required. As long as one abides by workplace rules, sales with no pressure
on co-workers and friends entail appreciative sharing.


Personal contact—the
personal touch—provides the best hope for many small publishers. Mistrust
glib talk about sales in the thousands through this or that 1-2-3 marketing
method. Selling small-press books is hard work that requires relentless effort
and innovation.


D. Horowitz

Alley Press



Doing Well with Deep Discounts


Business books are my bread and
butter, and my largest and most profitable sales channel goes directly to
companies and their employees—no returns, and a higher sales price even
when I discount by 30 to 40 percent off the cover price, which I often do,
according to volume. I?ll even go to 50 percent for orders of more than 100
copies at one time.


I chose selling direct because in
the beginning I had a hard time getting distribution, and now I?m glad I did.
My Web site and my 800 number for my business books bring in about 50 percent
of my business.






Starting Outside the Trade


I think I represent a growing
number of successful authors who have opted to self-publish. I write
craft/hobby titles, and concentrate on special sales, working with my
special-sales manager, who formerly worked for the publisher I left.


Without her connections and
understanding of the needs of various wholesalers and retail outlets, I could
not have moved the nearly 4,000 books that we sold within three months of April
pub date. As we head back to press this month, I look forward to new sales
coming through a distribution agreement with Monarch Books in Canada. In
future, as my book line expands, I may look seriously at bookstore
distribution, but as a small start-up company, I am more comfortable focusing
on nonbookstore sales. It just seems like a safer place to do business these






Trade Accounts Order Again and


Bick Publishing House maintains
and advertises our backlist of two dozen books as well as our frontlist of two
titles a year, and we tend to get reorders year after year from Quality,
Follett, B&T, Ingram, Brodart, Borders, B&N, Amazon.com and bn.com, and
independents (via our distributor, Bookworld). The same is true of the dozen
countries we sell to through foreign-rights contracts.



Publishing House



Routes to the School Market


As an educational publisher
selling to public and private schools, we mail catalogs direct to our schools a
few times each year and attend numerous trade shows across the country so our
customers can see and feel our books. The school market provides confirmed
orders with no returns and no problems collecting as long as our paperwork is
in order.


We also maintain an active Web
site where customers may place orders, and we work with a few distributors that
are also educational publishers or educational catalogers.


We do not believe in letting large
stores, be they bookstores or mass merchandisers, balance their inventory at
our expense, and we do not promote our books through online bookstores,
although some used copies show up there. However, we continue to test this part
of the market.


We know from experience that we
can increase sales if we can find additional ways to get our titles to market.
We have also learned that we can increase sales by carrying selected titles
from other publishers.






Better Action with Big


Cowley Publications targets
multiple sales channels and markets (doesn?t everyone?). Recently, some difficult
sales channels have begun to open a bit more, and I must admit that Amazon.com
is now one of my favorites. I take advantage of its marketing tools, which are
easier to work with than they were a year or so ago.


After we signed on with NBN, we
saw significant sales increases across the board. For the first time, hundreds
of copies are headed to the large chain stores, and Target is buying our books






Readers Paying Retail


I write and publish historical
fiction, which has a wide audience and thus is a challenge to sell. The best
novelists in the world, current and dead, compete with me. Hence word of mouth
is my best sales tool. I use everything available to get the word out. I regard
book signings and sales at bookstores as a form of advertising—a small
amount of income comes from bookstores. Better outlets for me include museums,
grocery stores, and Air Force–base PXs.


About 70 percent of my income is
direct sales to readers at full retail price. This keeps me in business,
provides money to pay my accomplished assistant, and allows me to save toward
my retirement and to publish books by others (if well written and appropriate
for our catalog). Direct-sales events fill my weekend calendars—booths at
well-advertised events paid for by event organizers. I also speak to groups and
sell books afterward, and I lead tours of the settings of my historical novels,
charging admission and selling books to attendees.


Although I have ongoing Internet
sales and admire publishers who know how to manipulate Internet marketing, I
don?t have time to keep up with all of that. I am too busy with other kinds of



the Historical West



Book Clubs Create Profits


Licensing to Doubleday?s
Children?s Book of the Month Club has been my biggest profit maker so far. The
book club pays an advance and quarterly royalties and, when it needs more
inventory in a hurry, it buys actual books. This year, I expect to get 75 percent
of my profit from this channel.


After I attended a seminar to
learn about nonreturnable, large-volume sales, I began approaching a variety of
companies and organizations. I will continue to pursue them enthusiastically,
and I am also actively pursuing foreign markets through an agent.


Diversification is the key to
success in this business. What I have learned in the past 18 months is that I
must have my own unique and evolving business model that I constantly tweak as
new opportunities arise. We learn from our mistakes, it?s true, but we also
learn from our successes, and many little successes can teach us how to have
bigger successes the next time around.



Dog Books



Cracking the California Schools


Half my sales are direct to
schools; sales to Learning Shops, Learning Express Stores, and independent
booksellers account for 25 percent; sales to Amazon.com and B&N combined
account for another 20 percent; and the balance comes from the Web.


I submitted <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Let?s Get Ready for
and <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Let?s Get Ready for First Grade!
to the
State of California?s Educational Social Compliance Review, which approved
both. They are now available for supplemental purchase by all California public
schools. The costs of applying: postage for a simple two-page application with
both my titles for review. After approval: $35 per title as a processing fee.
Potential sales: priceless.



Valley Publishing



The Right Site


Our Web site generates 25 percent
of sales and 38 percent of revenue. Sales to a trade association generate 43
percent of sales and 47 percent of revenue.


With a narrow niche market (we do
business books that relate supply-chain management processes), we wasted a lot
of time and energy trying to get into bookstores; it wasn?t worth the effort
for the one- or two-book orders, the invoicing, and then the collections. The
Internet is the way to go, and names with email addresses are gold.


A good Web site pays for itself
over and over. I must emphasize ?good,? meaning with a secure shopping cart,
linkage to our email campaign, and accessible designers, and also easy for
users to navigate and easy for us to change. It took us three iterations and
three designers, which I understand is quite common. We learned with each
design and designer what we really needed.



T. F.
Wallace & Co.




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