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 Companies
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.
Thomastown 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 Press
Relying on Major Trade Retailers
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 them.
Suzanne P. Thomas
Gemstone 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 books.
Depending on the book, nonbookstores work well too. Two of my own books that deal with travel (Finding Florida?s Phantoms and Georgia?s Ghostly
Getaways) 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.
Global 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 arrangement.
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.
Word Forge Books
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.
Yaoi 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 revenue.
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.
YMAA Publication Center
We sell 5,000 copies of 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 stores.
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.
Blue 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.
North 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 mail.
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.
Scott M. Paton
These for This Book, Those for That
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.
David D. Horowitz
Rose 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 days.
Trade Accounts Order Again and Again
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.
Bick Publishing House