Robin Cutler

RobinCutler013112-square-bwThe Print Book Business Plan

Format: Video

What does it take to make a print book profitable and distributed through multiple bookstores? Basically, what do we have to do to make a print book profitable, if distributed through Ingram, Bertrams etc? What is the difference between US and UK, Canada, Australia etc in terms of distribution models?


Robin is committed to helping independent publishers easily get their content into the hands of readers around the globe. To help make this happen, Robin Cutler led the development of IngramSpark and continues to support and refine the platform to better serve independent publishers around the world.

Robin began her career in publishing over 30 years ago at a university press when she designed her first book typeset in linotype and printed in letterpress. After years of university publishing in South Carolina and Wisconsin, she started a trade imprint, SummerHouse Press, and served as its CEO. Robin most recently worked for Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Robin has broad knowledge of indie, academic and trade publishing and is an expert in content creation and distribution, on-demand models, marketing and author strategies. Robin is a leader in the independent publishing space, and when not developing new programs and services for IngramSpark, she can often be found sharing her expertise at industry events around the world.

She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of South Carolina.

Robin is an avid reader and enjoys writing, cooking and collecting art from her travels.


IngramSpark is over the moon to be involved and supporting the 2016 Indie Author Fringe events.  The first of the three, totally free, educational conference focuses on the first part of the author’s journey:  writing, editorial, design and formatting, and finally production and distribution.  This would be a great time to clarify and answer many distribution questions be get from indie publishers.

First of all, when we talk about book distribution there are two different models that you need to know about:

  • Full Service Distribution
  • Wholesale Distribution

Full Service Distribution

Full service distributors are companies that provide a variety of services on behalf of traditional or well established publishers with a proven sales record. These services can range from sales representation directly into stores, libraries and wholesalers, warehousing, order fulfillment and back end office functions such as paying royalties and doing collections.  Examples of these companies are Ingram Publisher Services (IPS), Publishers Group West (PGW), Independent Publishing Group (IPG) and Midpoint to name just a few. Some specialize in genre specific, academic or religious content. Typically a new publisher will not have the sales to support full service distribution partnerships.

Wholesale Distribution

So let’s focus on wholesale distribution since that’s likely the model that fits most indie publishers. In this model, the publisher makes their book available to a wholesaler like Ingram who in turn makes that book available in their catalog to retailers and libraries to order. The wholesaler is not actively promoting or selling that book; the publisher is doing that. Since Ingram is the world’s largest book wholesaler servicing 39,000 retail and library partners, it’s a good thing to get your book listed with Ingram. It makes no difference if stores and libraries are built of brick or live entirely online, sell printed or e-books, it is wholesale distribution.

With IngramSpark, print on demand (POD) is tied directly to Ingram’s global network to make for a seamless and inexpensive way to distribute your books. With no inventory on hand, books are manufactured (POD) or distributed (e-book) as retailers place orders. The publisher is paid for the sale minus the cost of printing (POD only) so there’s no up-front inventory costs other than a nominal fee to setup your title in the IngramSpark platform.

The reason distribution is so important for indie publishers is that most booksellers and certainly libraries would rather not order a single title directly from the publisher because it’s just not manageable.  It’s far more convenient and beneficial for retailers and libraries to order from a single supplier. This is exactly the role that Ingram plays in the industry—being the center hub of the very complex publishing wheel between publishers and retailers.

IngramSpark Platform

When you setup your title in the IngramSpark platform, you provide the completed digital files (PDF for print and EPUB for e-books) along with the metadata (book information). In this metadata you will also include a list price and a discount to offer retailers/libraries who might want to purchase your book. The discount represents the profit that both the bookseller and Ingram make transacting the sale. The standard trade discount is 55% of the list price but you can set a range anywhere from 30-55% in IngramSpark. Applying a discount less than 55% can possibly limit the sale of title to booksellers; however this may be the right choice for many publishers depending on their sales strategies.

Returnable vs. Non-Returnable

The same holds true for choosing to make your book “returnable” or “non-returnable”. Most booksellers, including chains like Barnes and Noble and Waterstones will not consider stocking your book without the returnable option. Remember you can always change your price, discount and returnable options so do what makes you feel the most comfortable. If your book isn’t selling and you are actively marketing, you might want to try adjusting your pricing, discounts or returnable option to see if that helps move the needle.  In the UK and throughout Europe we also connect with local wholesalers.  These include Gardners, Bertrams and Libri to name but a few.

Drop-ship Orders

IngramSpark also encourages publishers to place orders for their own books that can be shipped to them or drop shipped directly to their customer. This is known as a “publisher direct or drop-ship order”. In the case of these orders the publisher only pays print and shipping fees (no discount is applied). The beauty of this service is that publishers don’t need to worry about inventory or have books stacked in their garage. They don’t have to invest in packing supplies or be burdened with packing orders on dining room tables. For anyone who has packed books like I have on my dining room table know why I smile as I type this.

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