Forgot to do the entire Place section before I started doing examples. That was a mistake.
Place or distribution as it may be is the question of how you’re going to get your product to your target market. The methods and the locations, not in what form. So we have dealt with questions like whether to make audiobooks or print mass market paperbacks already, now, you’re asking the question on how best to make sure it arrives in locations where your audience is.
And that’s the critical part of the marketing strategy for distribution. Making sure the distribution choices you make fit those of your audience.
A great example of great distribution strategy is Scholastic. Their promotion and distribution through schools and direct to kids ensures that they have a stranglehold of the market. Sure, they could distribute their books at new stands or mass market retailers, but the best way? Via schoolrooms where the kids are able to see their friends get things and they themselves can order what they want direct.
Distribution is based off your target market
As mentioned, when looking at distribution strategy, one of the things you have to consider is where your target market is located. This goes back to understanding your target market, and understanding how they shop and their preferences in shopping.
The other consideration, and this comes into play with the SWOT & PEST analysis you’ve done, is where your competitors are already doing business. At times, this can be a great indicator of locations that you should target because that’s where the audience is congregating.
At other times, this could indicate locations you might want to avoid because you want to tap into untouched markets with your books. A great example of this could be in my own genre (LitRPG) where the vast majority of the market is in Kindle Unlimited. There’s an argument then that instead of joining the throngs fighting for market share there, you should focus on the wide market to gain sales.
Now, I’m going to split the distribution considerations into basically three major options, just to simplify matters. These are:
– Exclusive (often Amazon exclusive)
– Wide (that is, distribute as widely as possible via as many retailers)
– Direct sales
Now, there are other options and tactical level details on this, but I wanted to back off for a second and point out that the vast, vast majority of independent publishers make the majority of their income from digital sales. Some might make anywhere from a third to half via audiobooks and the other two thirds via ebook (or ebook equivalent) sales. But print is very, very rarely more than 1 or 2%.
For the vast majority of individuals, due to capital, expertise and time limitations, it’s electronic distribution that is important and what we’ll focus upon in the above three distribution options.
Print Distribution (in brief)
There are two major forms of print creation – print-on-demand or offset printing (mass printing).
Print-on-demand is what the vast, vast majority of independent publishers use – if they even bother to create paperback copies of their work. Remember, print is often only 1% of the total sales revenue of most indie publishers (sometimes as low as 0.01%!).
Now, print distribution can be done directly on Amazon or via PoD companies like Ingram Spark or Lulu.
Print distribution via PoD is often ‘wide’ and allows you access to independent book retailers and libraries. With a company like Ingram Spark, you can even offer substantial discount and returns as an option for your print distribution, making it more likely that independent bookstores will stock and keep your books on their shelves as they can return the books for 0 cost (to them). You, however, will be charged the cost of production and shipping cost of the books returned. This can result in a negative balance if your books do not sell.
While it is often a low revenue stream of income for most indie publishers, having PoD books do mean that you open up new distribution, promotion and sales options (like signed copies and giveaways) that are unavailable to those who do not have paperbacks.
In general, if you do decide to create a PoD paperback, you should go as wide as possible, using Amazon and print distribution companies who have printing facilities in countries outside of North America.
Offset printing (mass printing)
This is an area I am less directly knowledgeable about. It is possible to hire and pay for offset printing of your work, directly. In most cases, offset printing will require an order of hundreds if not thousands of books. With offset printing, the greater the number of copies printed in a single print run, the lower the per unit cost. This is why mass market paperbacks by traditional publishers can be sold at $7-8 a book, due to the cost of printing being significantly lower as they are producing tens of thousands of such books.
The most common method I know of to do offset printing on a mass volume method is to do a Kickstarter, generating sales beforehand for a portion of the printed copies. Then, the remainder printed copies are sent to a storage location.
From there, the author has two options for mass distribution – directly contacting and selling books to retailers (indie bookstores and the like), or contacting a book distribution company which specialises in promoting and selling paperback books to indie retailers.
This is a very risky distribution / product method due to the high capital cost involved, and is, as mentioned, rarely done by indie authors. The few that I know who do this are highly sophisticated marketers who have built a strong brand name. Independent retailers and mass market retail chains rarely touch indie books (partly due to cost and lack of ability to do returns, and partly due to low sell-through); so you have to be willing to market and push sales.
It’s worth remember that bookstores at the end of day care about sell-through more than anything else. If you can stock your book in a store and it sells through constantly, they will stock your work. However, to get that consistent sell-through, your book needs to attract their customer base (i.e. walk-in customers); or you have to be able to send your regular customers to them.
Again, this is a risky strategy and one I personally have no experience with. Still, it’s something to do more research into if you have a significant author brand and capital.
Last note, I wrote the above with the eye of one going in as an indie publisher. If you do decide to sign with a traditional publisher with deep ties into the retail side of the industry, concerns about capital cost of print production, the distribution and storage of your books and (to some extent) the marketing of said books will be reduced significantly. Of course, you might also not see much in terms of royalties, but that’s part of the usual deal with trad publishing.
Like the business blog post? Want to support me writing more of them? Want to read ahead (2 weeks) of others? Become a Patron and choose the $2-tier to be able to read the business posts only and ask questions about the business side of writing.