Obtaining Distribution

One of the early challenges you'll face with your fledgling publishing company, is how to get your books out to customers. It's one thing to make customers aware (and desirous) of your products, it's another thing entirely for those customers to be able to get their hands on them.

As a publisher, you generally can't be aware of all of the thousands of retail outlets around the nation/world. Distributors have these relationships, and you can benefit by gaining access to them. Distributors and wholesalers will typically buy products in bulk from publishers, and then sell them on to retailers directly. This results in a smaller cut for you as the publisher, but it also results in sales you wouldn't otherwise have at all. 

Obtaining distribution for your products is not always guaranteed. Once you've found a distributor (see below) who could handle your products, you've got to convince them it's worth their while. Each distributor will have slightly different criteria for that of course, but much of it boils down to two questions:

  1. How many titles do you have?
  2. How much product do you expect to move?

With every part of the publishing/retail business having fairly thin margins, distributors have to be fairly judicious about which publishers they handle product for. It's an important part of the puzzle though, because many retailers will only deal with a small handful of distributors (or just one!), and in general, retailers will not want to deal directly with you as publisher. For the same reasons of profit margin, they want to order as much as possible from a single vendor to save on shipping and hopefully gain access to preferential pricing.

So, where to start? The Christian distribution business is fairly small. Your major players are as follows:

David C. Cook is also a publisher of books, but distribution is a big part of their business. Spring Arbor / Ingram also receive product from most of the other distributors, so getting your product into Anchor or Send The Light can make it available to Ingram as well, which is great, because Ingram is the 400lb gorilla in the distribution world.

There are two other gorillas: Amazon, and ChristianBook.com. Both of these are huge, and both of them are composite distributor/retailers. Because of their huge direct-to-customer businesses, they drive the hardest pricing and can be a pain to deal with. But if your books aren't available there (especially on Amazon), your books don't exist.

With most of the distributors listed above, each of them can be contacted and will offer you various options for distribution, assuming you meet their basic criteria. You can negotiate on all the terms they offer (like Amazon sub-distribution, etc.), and work out a deal that fits your needs and your finances.  Distributors will usually attempt to lock in exclusive rights, and this may be OK with you. Just read the contracts carefully.

Obtaining distribution through Ingram is usually not an option for people directly, unless your volumes are enormous (regularly moving 10,000+ units). The way in to Ingram is usually through another distributor, as I mentioned, like Anchor or Send The Light. You will see this option on your contracts with those distributors. 

Amazon have a number of different programs that you can participate in, depending on the experience you want shoppers on Amazon to have. You can set up an Amazon Marketplace account (Seller Central) to sell your products much like an eBay store, and the customer pays a basic shipping rate to Amazon who pass this on to you along with a percentage of the sale price. This is the simplest option, but is a less positive experience for Amazon shoppers (they lose access to free shipping deals, combined orders, etc.) and it can make your operation look small. Amazon Advantage is another option, it works as a consignment program where Amazon lists your products within it's normal inventory (allowing all Amazon sales incentives), but you retain the product at your facility until orders arrive. Amazon aggregates the orders to some degree, and you ship the product to Amazon when orders come in. Amazon handles the shipping back out to customers. This provides the nicest experience to customers at Amazon, and makes you look like a legit operation, but you're stuck handling the cost of shipping product to Amazon's fulfillment centres. Amazon pays out 45% of the retail price, unless you're a non-profit/educational publisher, in which case you can negotiate to 55%.

Yet another option offered by Amazon is Vendor Central, whereby you are a pure-play distributor/vendor to Amazon. This program is by invitation only, and Amazon will only care to do this when they've decided your product is one worthwhile for them to carry. You'll be assigned a buyer, and will negotiate with them directly. More on that program here

As for ChristianBook.com, it is my understanding that they are extremely judicial about the products they carry, and they will not respond to your requests to supply them. Once you've reached a certain level of recognition (sales volume for your titles across the industry) then they'll contact you and be looking to buy direct. Some distributors (like Send The Light) can also distribute to ChristianBook.com, but I'm not familar with how this works or how decent the margins are. Based on the deep discounts they usually offer customers, it's my guess that ChristianBook is working with a handful of publishers directly and pushing aggressive pricing.

Another option to consider is how you implement Print on Demand. The two major POD vendors are part of the distribution chain: LightningSource is owned by Ingram, and CreateSpace is owned by Amazon. Setting up your titles for Print on Demand, whether or not you plan to actually produce the bulk of your materials that way, lists the titles automatically with Ingram and Amazon, and saves you the hassle of having to ship product. As with everything POD, the margins are less, but so are the risks. 

All Catch The Fire Books product is available through Ingram / Spring Arbor, Anchor, and Joining The Dots. Our products are also available from our own distribution business, Catch The Fire Distribution.

Jumping in with both feet

We've just taken on our first publishing intern. A lovely sweet girl thing from Cardiff that we call Jess. Because that's her name. She'll be blogging here regularly, and following is her first post. Welcome Jess!

What does jumping in with both feet look like? I have been encouraged with this cliché a few times upon arriving to an internship in the publishing department of Catch the Fire books and after a week of interning I am still uncertain of what it looks like but I’m starting to think it’s necessary.

I was aware that embarking on this internship would be an adventure but wasn’t quite sure what God had in mind or even what Jonathan Puddle (boss man) had in mind but I am aware that there is still a lot to learn, rendering me not yet fully qualified. There’s new software to navigate my way around, there are piles of books to get my head stuck in so that I might recommend them and there’s an industry in which I have had no experience that I need to understand and function in aptly.

I think one of the hardest things about new challenges whether it be a new job, a new relationship or any new responsibility is not allowing yourself to get overwhelmed or bogged down with the amount of things you don’t yet know. When being bombarded with new information every day there is possibility for insecurity and self-doubt to sneak up on you as you can’t help feel helpless and naïve; I have honestly found myself asking the question ‘Why am I here?’ a few times this week already.

 But that’s what makes this whole experience so exciting and I think perhaps that’s what jumping in with both feet looks like, understanding that you don’t know everything (and maybe never will) but embracing the unfolding unknown, remaining positive and keeping a sponge-like mentality, ready to soak up all the things you will inevitably learn and flourish in.

I was reminded of what the internship might look like on the first day and it was sold to me with the words ‘you will basically see the life of a book.’  I’m involved in the beginnings of a book, the rough and raw manuscript filled with spelling mistakes and nervous hope and yet I am also involved in the selling of books.  I’m the smile behind the counter that says ‘that’s $10 please’ once the gruelling process of re-writing, re-fining and re-working has been complete and the shiny book is bought by an unsuspecting customer who’s been enticed by the pretty colours on the cover or the glowing endorsements from the affluent personality.

Onto the horrifying trade secret I have learnt this week about endorsements, they’re not always written by the person who's name is attached. It’s like when you’ve suddenly become aware of all the junk in the food you eat every day and you become awfully stringent in checking the label for the bad stuff; in the same way I have become sceptical of every endorsement on my favourite books and have taken it upon myself to read them all and make assumptions as to whether they're ghostwritten or not. However, after the initial shock of my endorsement enigma I feel privileged to be let in on the secret and hopefully will become trusted enough to learn the rest of them in due time, although having shared it with you maybe not.

The process of a book being published is incredibly interesting and to work in an environment where this isn’t sniggered at but ostensibly relished is an exciting prospect for an avid reader. Every element of a book is thought of, from the design on the front cover, to the editor employed; every decision has been mindfully considered by the publisher and creative team of a book, albeit subconsciously appreciated by the reader. For example the font of the title for both of Steve Long’s books ‘My Healing Belongs to me’ and On the Run’ looks almost handwritten which alludes to the personal character of Steve Long and this was an element which I had never acknowledged before joining the team in the publishing department of Catch the Fire books.

The beginnings of an idea that is God given whether that be in the form of a vision or dream and seeing it evolve into a tangible book that can be borrowed and shared, re-read and re-discovered is, in the words of Jonathan Puddle, indeed ‘rather profound’ and to be involved in this growing and ever-changing industry is daunting and yet overwhelmingly exciting, and so I do not hesitate to make a splash and ‘jump in with both feet.’