If your book were a delicious pie, distributors would be the ones who put it in the hands of the supermarkets.
It's a very simple analogy, but it rings true. Distribution is the supply link between our printers and the bookstores, and without it, our books would simply never reach our readers' hands. That's a painful vision. And to me, so is keeping a veritable mountain of books in your garage, shipping one at a time, staring at the big hole in your bank account.
No, thank you, I want a different road.
With the advent of the digital revolution came Print on Demand, and with it came distribution relationships. Now, POD companies have forged relationships with the wholesaler distributors to allow us indies access to the channels normally reserved for the traditional houses. The very same channels from which bookstores purchase. Once again, it seems that the revolution has delivered us a sparkling set of tools!
I use Lightning Source for my printing and distribution. The reason I chose them, among others, was because they had the widest reach of any company I had come across. This is mainly due to the fact they are owned by Ingram, the world’s largest book wholesale distributor in the world. You also don’t have to pay for bolt-on distribution packages as you do with some companies.
Included in the registration and setup fees, which are less than £50, your books are distributed to:
- Baker & Taylor
- Barnes & Noble
- Espresso Book Machine
- Book Depository
- Mallory International
- Paperback Shop
- Eden Interactive Ltd
- I.B.S – STL UK
Source: Lightning Source
This is the crux of distribution. The more distributors your have, the wider your reach. The bigger your distributor, the bigger the booksellers you can access. So, the wider your reach and the bigger the bookseller, the higher your revenue can go! It's all about creating revenue streams and maximising exposure. There's no good printing with a company that only distributes to one bookstore on the outskirts of Nowhereville. Instead, aim high.
Via Lightning Source, Gardners (and therefore Waterstones, which uses Gardners), I have been able to hold book signings and get permanent spots on shelves. All my books are printed to order by Lightning Source, so I never see them; they go straight to the customer. I don't have to pay for warehousing or keep them in my garage—nor do I have to shell out for large volumes or handle any shipping. The wonders of the digital age!
The big question of course is how much do the books cost me. Distribution and revenue streams are all well and good, as long as you've got margins that allow you to make money. More good news here. The print costs for my books allow me to pass on a reasonable discount to the end of the chain—booksellers, and meanwhile make a living for myself. That's the only catch with distribution, adding another link in the chain means another slice of the pie. Here’s a breakdown of the costs for firstly setting up an account, and then printing a book with LSI:
Digital File Example (GBP):
21.00 per cover
+21.00 per text file
Total title set-up cost £42.00
Example 1 (Small paperback – 210x148mm):
70p per unit 70p (standard cost for the size)
+ 300 pages @ 1p £3.00
Total price per unit £3.70
Example 2 (Small hardback – 280x216mm):
400p per unit £4.00
+ 300 pages @ 1.4p £4.50
Total price per unit £8.50
Method of upload? It’s a PDF upload via a very simple author dashboard that handles all the ordering and title information. Or, if you want to go old-school, you can send off a file via the mail. Be warned though, they do charge a fee for that.
Of course, if you do like fulfilling orders yourself, and want to keep hold of that slice of the revenue, LS do facilitate this for you by printing direct to bookshops or direct to you, and with bulk discounts too. So they cater for every type of author and bookseller. Here are the discounts they offer:
Titles printed: Discount:
50 – 99 Units 5%
100 – 249 Units 10%
250 – 499 Units 20%
500+ Units 25%
This is all well and good, but what are my personal experiences of LSI? I have to say, I'm really happy with them. Beyond their distribution abilities, they are just a smooth-running machine that have been invaluable in making my physical books a reality. Here are some specific points about my experience:
So that's my distribution story. Simple as, well, pie!