The term “book distribution” refers to the process of physically transporting a book from the printer or storage to the buyer. This process usually involves making the book part of the inventory in a store where the author’s target audience is likely to discover it.
Authors who work with traditional publishing companies do not need to make decisions about which distribution options to use, so the following information is designed for self-publishers who want the best distribution options that will make their book available across the US using affordable POD-or Print-on-Demand-technology.
It’s important to understand that distributor simply makes your book available to various retailers. This means that being listed with a distributor does not guarantee that each retailer in the distribution network will keep your book in their inventory.
Even when retailers purchase your book to add it to their inventory, there is a possibility that the book will be returned to the distributor. If the books do not sell, the retailer will return the book to your distributor in exchange for a refund. This practice is much more common with offline retailers than online retailers because online retailers will often take advantage of the POD option by advertising your book and only ordering when their customer makes a purchase. This will affect how much you earn from each sale.
It is up to you and your marketing team to create the demand for your product and drive the customers into the retail outlets to buy . Once retailers notice a demand, they will buy your books from your distributor to keep them in stock.
The following list of distribution companies ranks the options in order of accessibility for first-time authors. This means that the first distribution company is the easiest for first-time authors to use and the third provides the least amount of support for first-time authors.
This Amazon-owned POD company caters to first-time authors by offering free tips, tools, guides and access to a customer service staff that will help them publish their book on the world’s largest retailer. CreateSpace books not only appear on Amazon.com, but also on Amazon’s websites for other countries. Unlike other distribution options, CreateSpace guarantees that your book is available for purchase on Amazon’s websites.
Buyers go online to order your book, CreateSpace prints the book and ships to the buyer, and you collect monthly payments from your sales.
CreateSpace also gives you access to their Kindle Direct Publishing platform to publish your e-book to Amazon’s Kindle e-reader for free.
Although CreateSpace offers a free expanded distribution option, this option waters down the profits you receive from other outlets-because Amazon will take their cut in addition to what the retailer keeps- and it can take longer to receive your funds. If you want to make your book available to traditional offline bookstores, you will have trouble selling books that the retailers cannot return. For this reason, authors who are serious about promoting their title to physical bookstores will use distribution option #2 below in addition to using CreateSpace. This option is also limited to paperback copy books-they do not distribute hardcover books.
Learn more about CreateSpace and whether it is the best distribution option for you and which settings you should avoid by reading the post, “Publish Your Book On Your Own with Createspace.”
2. Ingram Spark
Ingram is the number one distribution company in the world, and Ingram Spark is their POD service provider for small publishers. Unlike CreateSpace, they do not cater to first-time authors by offering support services, but they do have an informative website that guides authors step-by-step through the process of registering with their company.
Ingram Spark offers many more trim size options than CreateSpace. They also distribute books through Ingram’s 38,000 online retailers, offline retailers and library partners worldwide. This includes Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Barnes and Noble brick-and-mortar bookstores, academic institutions, and many more. Ingram Spark also offers e-book distribution.
Ingram Spark allows you to set up an account for free, but they charge up to $49 to set up your new book title and charge $12/year for continued distribution.
Many self-published authors prefer to publish their print books with both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark-they keep more of the money from the Amazon sales if they publish directly with CreateSpace. Although IngramSpark allows authors to publish e-books, many authors prefer to publish their e-books directly to each sale platform they want to sell through so that they can earn more money from each sale and collect their earnings quicker.
This option allows you to distribute paperback and hardcover versions. This option also presents a lot more trim size options, paper types, better black and white versus color page options, and more binding options than CreateSpace. If you use this option, you may need to take a little more time to research the variety of options they present, but chances are that they can print any version you can imagine for less than $100 to set up.
Learn more about how to set-up distribution through Ingram Spark by clicking here.
3. Lightning Source
Lightning Source is another Ingram company that has been around much longer than the new Ingram Spark. This company offers the same trim sizes and distribution network as Ingram Spark, but specializes in working with medium to large-sized publishers that release more than five books per year. Lightning Source offers the least amount of customer support out of the three distribution options highlighted in this post. This is why their service is best for large established publishing companies that can manage the process independently.
If an independent publisher, especially a first-time author, tries to apply to Lightning Source, they will be politely redirected towards Ingram Spark.
However, if you partner with an experienced small distributor like New Shelves, you can get the benefit of a Lightening Source-powered distribution network with the individual attention you need. New Shelves will distribute your book via Lightning Source’s robust network while they focus on promoting your book to national bookstore chains and even bookstores in your local community.
New Shelves does offer free e-book conversion and distribution when you register your print book for their POD distribution service, but don’t forget my earlier comments about how e-book authors make more money by managing distribution on their own. For print books, it’s best that self-published authors partner with a POD company so they can focus on book marketing.
Learn more about New Shelves services and their fees by clicking on one of the orange links in the previous paragraph.
Question: What criteria would you use for choosing a book distributor?