Publishing FAQs | How Does a Distributor Work?

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Frequently asked questions. Every industry has them and publishing is no different. Ambassador International has the pleasure of working with many new and upcoming authors as well as already-established authors who still need our assistance. Many of these authors come to us with lots of questions. Publishing your first book (or your 10th!) is exciting! There are many details to work out and decisions to make. This Publishing FAQ series covers questions Ambassador International receives regularly. Previously covered questions are:

 

publishing FAQsHow Does a Distributor Work?

For many authors the behind the scenes logistics of a book are an unknown, at times the process seems unusual or it is wondered why books cannot simply be shipped to a store direct. The logistics behind a book are huge, there are many moving parts and numerous hands that touch your product to take it from an idea or a manuscript to a book on store shelves. You can break the logistics into four main categories:

 

  • Publishers
  • Printers
  • Distributors
  • Retailers

Within each of these categories there are many departments that are involved in making your book happen.

 

A Distributor’s Role

A distributor is the key middle man between a publisher and a retailer. Distributors receive higher discounts from the publisher giving them the margin to sell to retailers at their needed price.

Retailers typically favor buying from distributors as they can consolidate titles from many publishers and have it shipped as a single order, they also have pre-established discounts and terms. Distributors also allow for easy returns which is sadly a major part of doing business in the book industry. If a title is not returnable retailers are less likely to pick it up.

A traditional publisher with good distribution is not to be undervalued. When it comes to self publishing distribution is a weak point — distribution is typically at its best when working with a traditional publisher with the right partners in place.

 

Making it Easy for Retailers

When a title is first set up the title metadata goes to distributors and retailers allowing them to populate their systems. As a title comes out it ships into the publisher and distributor. When a retailer searches the title they’ll see that it is with the distributor, how many units they have on hand and what warehouses it is available from.

We have seen stock shipped from our South Carolina warehouse to a distribution base in Tennessee only to see it shipped back to a store here in the Carolinas. It seems a little backwards but the ease of ordering through a distributor and the logistics make this a much simpler process for retailers.

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