The Forgotten Sales Channel Part 2: Australia’s Top 3 Book Distribution options for Self-Publishers

This is the second post about book distribution and the book retailing business in Australia, kindly written as a guest post by Richard Bilkey. You can read Part One here. Those writers who intend to self-publish and have printed books as well as ebooks will find these two posts indispensable reading. This is not information easy to come by and it’s a pleasure to have Richard’s knowledge to add to the resources on the blog.

RICHARD BILKEY IS THE FORMER PRODUCT MANAGER FOR BRUMBY BOOKS, ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S LARGEST INDEPENDENT BOOK DISTRIBUTORS. HE IS NOW A FREELANCE PUBLISHING CONSULTANT AND BOOK COACH BASED IN SYDNEY. YOU CAN FIND HIM AT FICTION ET AL AND READ HIS BRILLIANT BLOG.

 

In Part 1 of our discussion of book distribution options in Australia we examined why self-published  authors should not limit their sales channels to a small number of online retailers at the expense of brick & mortar bookshops. Today we are going to dig deeper into the book distribution options in Australia and take a look at three of the leading book distributors that are worth partnering with.

How much does professional book distribution cost?

Book distributors use the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) as set by the publisher as the basis for payment and the standard terms are between 65-70% off the retail price for each book sold. This means publishers will receive 30-40% margin on each book sold, or an average of about $7 on a book with an RRP of $19.95. If 65-70% seems high, remember that the distributor will need to give away around 40-45% discount to the bookseller on every sale and so they typically only receive around 20-25% of the RRP on each sale to cover all their costs.

It’s extremely important to be aware of these numbers if you are considering distribution into bookstores and to factor them into your publishing plan before producing your book so that you can calculate your costs and margins effectively. Don’t forget that, while the distributor will cover freight to and from booksellers, the publisher will need to pay to send their books to the distributor in the first place, so this also needs to be accounted for in the cost of each book.

What else do I need to consider when looking for a Book Distributor?

Each distributor works slightly differently, with its own strengths and weaknesses and preferred trading terms. Below is a list of the major points you should consider and be prepared for:

  • Trading Terms: Most will require a minimum 65% discount on Consignment terms. Consignment means that they hold stock but do not pay the publisher until they have made a sale.
  • Exclusivity: The distributor will expect exclusive rights to sell your book within Australia, but it’s important to determine whether this is limited to certain sales channels, countries and book formats (i.e. print or eBook).
  • Genres and Specialisations: Distributors generally focus on certain subjects and it’s always best to select one that specialises in your genre.
  • Warehousing: Due to space constraints distributors will typically only stock enough copies of your book to cover an estimated 3 months worth of sales and will not warehouse entire print runs of your book so be sure to ask about their stock management policies.
  • Print on Demand (POD): If you plan to use a POD printer, make sure to check that the distributor is set up to place orders and take deliveries with your chosen printer.
  • eBooks: While distributors traditionally deal with print books, they are all developing new options and terms surrounding eBook versions of your book, including conversion, distribution and retail services.
  • Sales material and resources: Do your research and familiarise yourself with the distributor’s sales material, including their website and monthly sales catalogues to give you an indication of the quality of their list and their presentation standards (after all, these are the guys that are going to represent your book to the market).

Submitting your book to a distributor

Like publishing, book distribution is a commercial enterprise and distributors will asses new book submissions and potential publisher partnership based on their sales potential. While experienced distributors may seem to make these decisions intuitively, in reality there are some key factors that they are looking for when considering new proposals:

  1. Content: Is the quality of writing and illustrations at a high standard and is the book’s subject or plot engaging and marketable? Are there any issues with the content, such as age-inappropriate language or controversial or legally sensitive material that could damage the distributor’s reputation?
  2. Production Values:  Has the book been produced to a commercially acceptable standard, including printing, binding, editing, formatting and cover image? Consider how your book will appear in bookshop shelves and, if in doubt, make contact with your chosen distributor before publishing to seek their advice.
  3. Pricing: The RRP should be market appropriate but also leave you enough margin to make a profit after taking out the 65% distribution discount and your other books production costs. You should also always end your price in the standard .95 or .99 as anything else marks you as a self-published author.
  4. Publicity and Marketing Potential: Put simply, it is the distributor’s job to get your book into bookshops, but it is the publisher’s job to drive readers into book stores asking for the book. You must demonstrate that you have a strong author platform and a publicity and marketing plan to create awareness and interest in the book. Open communication and coordination with the distributor is essential, especially in the all-important three month window after launch.
  5. Professionalism – this is a business partnership with a commercial goal and so you must demonstrate not only that your book is marketable but that you as the author and/or publisher are worthwhile going into business with. First impressions are always important and submissions should be concise, well presented and include the following:
    • An information page about your book including essential data such as Title, Author, Publisher, ISBN , RRP, Publication Date, Synopsis, Print Format, Size, Page Count and Cover Image
    • Introduction to your book that establishes the central premise and provides a brief summary of the content and structure (one page maximum)
    • Short blurb about the author and details of existing Author Platform (online following, media exposure, professional networks, etc.)
    • Market analysis, including target audience and competing books.
    • Marketing & publicity plan.
    • Other relevant information, such as previous sales history and any existing sales channels, eBook and POD arrangements.
    • A finished copy of your book (if already printed) or a book outline and sample chapters.

Securing a distribution agreement is no guarantee of sales— there’s no shortcut to selling books, whether you’re an indie author or a traditional publisher, whether you’re selling in bookshops or online, or whether you’re producing print books or eBooks. By partnering with a distributor you are broadening your sales channels and increasing your potential market but success will ultimately come down to your ability as a writer and publisher to create a worthwhile product and build an audience. That said, a good distributor will provide publishers with additional support and advice on book production, printing, promotion and publicity that can make all the difference.

“By partnering with a distributor you are broadening your sales channels and increasing your potential market but success will ultimately come down to your ability as a writer and publisher to create a worthwhile product and build an audience.”

Below are the top three Australian book distributors that I recommend to self-published authors, based on their sales performance, reputation and value they provide to publishers (they are listed in alphabetical order):

Brumby Sunstate

Formed from the merger of Brumby Books and Sunstate Books in July this year, Brumby Sunstate provides excellent sales coverage, high quality sales material and very good metadata feed and trade website. Brumby Sunstate does not currently deal directly with eBooks, although they do have plans for this in the future. They are able to work with POD printers such as Lightning Source.

Prior to the merger Brumby Books was the largest Mind/Body/Spirit book distributor in the country, with a strong reputation in other genres such as Gardening, Food, Design and Environment. Sunstate focused heavily on children’s books, Gift Books and Stationery. The combined Brumby Sunstate continues to sell all of these Lifestyle Non-fiction genres.

The real strength of Brumby Sunstate is the size and range of its customer-base, covering not only a comprehensive range of bookshops, libraries and wholesalers, but also a huge number of gift shops and speciality stores such as MBS and religious groups, health food stores, furniture and homeware stores, gardening centres, toyshops, museums and so on. This access into the growing gift market is something that simply cannot be achieved through the current digital self-publishing channels.

Dennis Jones & Associates

Dennis Jones is a generalist, selling most genres except poetry. It is a great option for authors of fiction and general non-fiction, with very broad coverage of the book trade, from independent bookshops, to chain stores, mass market, newsagents, libraries and major online retailers. Like the other distributors, they also have access to broader sales channels such as business accounts, gift stores and other specialist retailers.

With strong ties to Lightning Source, , Dennis Jones is an excellent option if you’d like to use POD printing. They have also developed a very strong eBook programme through their new Port Campbell Press division, providing digital publishing, conversion and distribution to all the major eBook aggregators. They provide very good metadata feeds to the industry and strong sales material that provides a lot of information and room for each title.

Dennis Jones himself is extremely experienced in the book trade and offers a lot of extra value through the advice and networks he provides, such as helping to connect authors and publishers with publicists and printers or giving guidance on book covers, formats and other production questions.

Woodslane

Woodslane is both a publisher and a distributor, which enhances its reputation in the marketplace. They focus predominantly on adult non-fiction, especially Travel & Outdoor, Business, Computing, Health and History/Military. They have a comprehensive sales presence in Australia, and have an especially strong special sales team operating in the business and computing markets, travel and outdoor adventure centres and clothing stores, as well as academic institutions and libraries.

Woodslane is able to work with POD suppliers but does not currently sell eBooks directly, although it can help publishers with conversion and upload to major eBook aggregators and online retailers. They provide high quality metadata feeds and work closely with their authors and publishers to provide as much enriched info as possible.

Woodslane not only enjoys a good reputation as a publisher in its own right, it also represents some strong niche publishers, such as O’Reilly Media (technology) and Footprint Travel Guides, which opens doors to a large range of specialist retailers and business accounts and, by association, helps lift the value of other titles in its list.

Author: Richard Bilkey, Fiction et al, November 2012

Thanks Richard! You can follow Richard on Twitter or sign up to receive his posts on the publishing and self-publishing industries.

Digireado: What I’ve learnt from Richard Bilkey about book distribution for your self-published book:

  • A book distributor will get your book into Australian bookshops. This gives you a chance to get bookshop sales and the potential that the bookseller will suggest your book to potential purchasers.
  • Book distributors will manage the logistics of delivery, distribution and returns.
  • You need to be well aware the costings of book distributors and retailers before you print your book. Make sure you don’t spend so much that you’ve costed yourself out of the market. Speak to your distributor about this well in advance.
  • Your book will need to match the production standards of other books being sold in the bookshop. You’re competing with books from professional publishers, so ensure your book presents well in the marketplace.  Do your homework in advance to make sure it does.
  • These days digitally printed books are of the same quality as those printed offset. However, what can scream ‘self-published’ is when books are poorly laid out and produced. You need to deal with a reputable digital printer and ensure you book is laid out correctly. Your printer may well need you to supply print-ready-pdf’s but should be able to either offer a guide or direct you to someone who can work with you.
  • Books don’t sell themselves. Ensure you have a marketing plan to support your retail sales.
  • Don’t forget a great cover for your book and legible spine.
  • And lastly – without great content none of the above will matter!

What did you learn from Part One and Part Two of Richard’s posts on book Distribution?

Is there another aspect of self-publishing you would like me to cover on Digireado? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best! 

 

19 thoughts on “The Forgotten Sales Channel Part 2: Australia’s Top 3 Book Distribution options for Self-Publishers

    • Hello Ben, thanks for your comment.

      Absolutely, Lightning Source offer distribution options for self-publishers, and in fact their parent company Ingrams are one of the largest book distributors.

      However, this post came about from a conversation Richard and I had about what local distributors were available to get distribution in Australian bookshops. I think there can be a benefit to get into our indie booksellers, as well as chains. For those more focussed on the international market then Ingrams offers great distribution (as outlined on this page)

      This list of distributors is not meant to cover all options, but the ones that Richard recommends AND that deal with self-publishers/indie authors.

      Anna

      • Thanks. Understood.
        I am interested in the possibility of utilising a distributor for a title but the author cut on a POD title is already razor thin so adding another layer would need to be assessed carefully (as you point out).

        Here is a bit of an example: the book I’ve printed and distributed via Lightning Source (it is currently only distributed to one local online retailer – TheNile) is 566 pages on white, perfect bound. This equates to about $12 per book printing costs for a POD buy. Now we set a RRP at $24.95. LightningSource requires a wholesale discount from 20% of list price to about 55%. They recommend 55% for widest possible distribution. Initially we set a 40% wholesale discount. This was an error, because at 40% wholesale discount (around $10) and printing costs at around $12 the author/publisher gets a $1 and a bit per sale. What’s the point! The Nile retailed the book under this scenario at about $36. Now we changed the wholesale rate to just 20% of the RRP so on every POD sale the publisher/author gets about $7. That is ok. Trouble is, the retailer bumped the retail price up to $46. Now who in there right mind would pay $46 for a novel. No one.

        So maybe I’ve got it all wrong and there is a better strategy when it comes to POD sales/pricing. Any advice gratefully accepted.

        cheers
        Ben

        So….

    • Hi Ben, glad you find the information useful and thanks for bringing up Lightning Source as I wanted to discuss them in more detail but already had so many words Anna had to split my post it two!

      Lightning Source is a Print on Demand service and it is true that they offer delivery of the books to various channel partners. In the USA this includes major retailers such as Amazon (who sell to the public) and wholesalers such as Ingram (who sell to bookshops). Lightning Source also now have a base in Melbourne and are building up their channel partners in Australia, including distributors (like Dennis Jones), Library Suppliers, and online retailers. They play a pivotal role in the digital publishing revolution by making print on demand books available cheaply and quickly and, as such, I recommend all self published authors and indie publishers to have their books listed with Lightning Source.

      However, as I mentioned in Part 1 of these two posts, the automated metadata feeds and delivery from POD suppliers may make books available more available, but this is different from actively selling and promoting individual titles into bookshops. In fact, bookshops cannot order books directly from Lightning Source and have to go through a distributor like Dennis Jones. This is why book distributors such as Brumby Sunstate, Dennis Jones and Woodslane remain the best way for publishers to reach booksellers and ensure their books find their way onto brick and mortar bookstore shelves.

      The purpose of these two posts was to point out to new self-published authors and indie publishers that, while services such as Lightning Source do provide a useful distribution solution, it largely excludes the largest book sales channel – brick and mortar bookshops. By finding a book distributor who can work with Lightning Source (or other POD suppliers) publishers can cover all their bases.

      • Thanks Richard,

        Perhaps when you get a moment you could illustrate a pricing scenario for a 566 page book that could be distributed locally lets say with DA and the author/publisher would get a worthwhile cut. Is my workings below about right?

        Let’s say the 566 page book can be printed for $5 per book (so perhaps you do a print run of 2,000 books?) and RRP is 29.95. You mention distributor would require a 65% wholesale discount – $19.50. So the author/publisher cut is $29.95-$19.50 – $5.
        So about $5 to the author/publisher. Is this about right?

        So what price would the retailer put on top of that?
        Ben

        • Hi Ben, yes your working out there is correct, and yes the margins are pretty tight once you start to bring retailers and distributors into the mix. This is exactly why you need to understand all of your costs all the way through from production to retail before you commit to print runs. Each print and distribution option has its trade offs and each book will be different.

          Let’s see if I can break it down a little though.

          – POD costs are dependent on format, size, paper stock and colour and are composed of a per unit fee plus a per page rate. POD is still very expensive in Australia (especially for colour printing, non-standard sizes and hardcover) and it is extremely hard to price a book competitively when giving a retail discount. In fact, many large publishers make no money on their POD books – they are playing a longer game, using POD to keep back list titles in print and waiting for the prices to come down (which they will).

          – POD costs in the USA are a lot more affordable due to economy of scale and a huge range of other overheads. This is why self-publishing has been able to take off and compete with the large publishers and why many Australian authors and Publishers may have better success publishing and selling online in the USA for the time being.

          – The only way to make your book more competitive in the Australian market is to reduce your print costs – $12 per book is simply too high for a book that has a market retail value of $29.95, unless you are making all of the sales direct to your consumers. There are a few ways to reduce costs:

          + Physically, with cheaper paper stock, smaller format or black and white printing
          + Move to short run printing of 100+ (need to manage storage)
          + Move to full print runs of 1000+ (even bigger storage issues)

          As you point out in your comment above, a print run of 2000 copies brings the cost down from $12 to $5 for your 566 page C-format book, which makes it possible to sell at $29.95 – although the profit margins are slim either way.

          All this is basic arithmetic though – the real questions you need to be asking are what benefits do I get from each sales channel and what should my overall strategy be? The benefits may not all be purely revenue based. Sales through bookshops may net you a lower margin per unit, but having your book in stock in bookshops will increase its exposure and help drive word of mouth, with a positive effect on sales in other higher margin channels.

          Similarly, even though you may commit to a 2000 copy print run for the major part of your distribution, having your book also available POD through Lightning Source will ensure that your book is present in other hard to reach channels and markets. It also provides a useful back up option when you need stock quickly.

          You also raised the issue of Lightning Source wholesale discounts and the fact that the Nile (the first online retail channel partner for Lightning Source Australia) simply changed the selling price to ensure they received their standard discount. By selling through a distributor and into bookshops a publisher has much more control on pricing as the RRP is more firmly set. This has a flow on effect and can ensure online retailers do not inflate their prices to protect their margins at the expense of your sales.

          I’m not sure that that answered your questions directly, but the fact is that no matter which option you take, price pressures in the Australian book market are extremely high and margins are tight in every channel. The best advice I can give is to find every way you can to reach your market and grow your audience early on and then direct sales to your higher margin sales channels as demand grows. Remember that you are playing a long game!

  1. Thanks for your detailed response Richard. I wasn’t so much seeking answers as confirmation that I hadn’t missed some essential element about the pricing structure of the book supply chain.

    Do you mind if I throw out another related subject of interest perhaps for another post – Australian eBook distribution. So if you have written an eBook that is targeted or of greatest interest to an Australian audience, then what is the best strategy to deliver that eBook to them with the greatest potential royalty return. Clearly Amazon is the biggest player in the field but the author only getting 35% of the sale price if an Australian buys from the Amazon.com store, it is not ideal. Certainly, you can try and sell from your own website, and mine social media strategies etc, but what is the best strategy for an eBook self publisher to distribute their eBook to Australian eBook readers? Or is it a simple answer…just go to bookbaby or smashwords and have it available in the Apple store, B&N, Kobo etc. But what about Australian retail eBook stores?

    cheers
    Ben

    • Hi Ben,

      Again, it’s about having your book across as many platforms as possible. Companies like Smashwords and BookBaby are great but they only get you into the US Market, so the issue you have selling to Australian customers remains. The Australian market is still very small but it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the same sort of tipping point the US did last year – and you certainly want to be on board when that happens.

      There are a growing number of Australian eBooks vendors, such as Booki.sh and Read Cloud, while many US vendors are beginning to set up locally – Copia is set to launch here early in the New Year while Kobo has been working with local publishers for a few years now. Unfortunately many of them are still not open to self-published authors and it can be difficult getting your books onto these platforms.

      So once again it’s worth talking to someone like Dennis Jones who has existing relationships with all of the major Australian eBook aggregators and vendors and can provide a way through.

      • What I’d add to Richard’s comments is to remind you that Kobo Writing Life launched in July, so it’s a way to get your way onto their platform. Depending on who you ask they have somewhere around 16% of the Australian ebook market – more or less on par with Apple iBookstore. ReadCloud, Booki.sh, Ebooks.com and Overdrive combined have around 1-3% of the market in Australia – again this depends on who you ask!

        I have a comprehensive write-up of Kobo Writing Life on Digireado, highlighting the fact that you can get 70% royalties for Australian sales (unlike Amazon Kindle Direct which does not offer higher royalties to Australian sales). Don’t forget though that Amazon does have around 60% share of the Australian ebook market – again, depending on who you ask.

        I know this isn’t an answer, but really it IS ‘watch this space’. Seeing the traditional publishers see the money to be made out of offering self-publishing services to authors (at high prices) I think it’s clear that this sector in terms of options will be due for expansion, or perhaps we should say explosion!

        I would also talk to the Small Press Network as they have a digital distribution service for small and independent publishers. I know they talked about opening up to authors directly, but don’t know where their thoughts are with that currently.

        Hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for directing me here Ben and thanks Richard, all the info I’ve been searching for right here. Regarding print runs of 2000. I found a Chinese printer who quoted me (I’ll check to confirm exact price) under $2 for 320 pages deliverd bulk. I haven’t used them yet so won’t recomend them publicly but they do provide proofs. If you want to check them out email me and I’ll give you the info. They also do posters etc.
    Thanks again guys.

    • Hello and thanks for taking the time to comment. If you do use the printer and find them useful let me know. You will always get cheaper prices offshore, but quality is the final test.
      Anna

    • Really helpful information… these are some great leads to printers… Van Derek who is the printer you sourced in China – would appreciate your help on this. Also what is the best way to find a publicist???

      Many thanks

      • Hi Anjelo, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure who the printer Van Derek used but some that I know are good are:
        1010 Printing
        Tien Wah Press
        Toppan

        I’m sure you can find their details. These are of course for colour printing which is often cheaper to do offshore. If you want mono (b/w) printing then there are numerous printers onshore who can help you. The numbers you print will determine if you should print offset or short run digital.

        Hope this is helpful! Anna

        • Thanks so much for your response Anna… i am publishing a self-help book for people in pain as a pain sufferer myself but also as a physiotherapist who has worked in the area for 8yrs now. Cut a long story short, i was living in london when i was hit with a Molotov cocktail in a case of mistaken identity. I then used my knowledge and experience and developed a rehab program to achieve my childhood dream: reach Mr Everest Base Camp – which i did in 2010. I am looking at mono and about 1000 copies to start with (off set), and also ebook. If you can give me some direction with respect to printers, i would be grateful.

          Also can i bother you and ask if you can guide me in the right direction regarding getting a publicist on board? I have tried to google and a few names come up but not sure. Thanks again for your reply and assistance.

          Have a great week
          Anjelo

  3. I just managed to stumble onto this site and the quality of information is outstanding. Congratulations to
    Richard and the other contributors. Off the top of your head Richard – Brumby Sunstate and Woodslane seem to be geared toward non fiction titles. Do they exclude fiction totally?

  4. I wrote a book entitled “Maybe I’ll Write more Later…Maybe” which was released in December 2015 – published by Austin Macauley of London – it cost me $5000.
    I don’t believe they (Austin Macauley) are doing anything to get my book to distributors. It is available on-line through Amazon – but not in any bookshops.
    How can I get my book to be taken on by distributors. Can you give me any help or advice?

  5. Richard,

    Great article!

    I have just had a look at one of the contracts that a distributor has sent me. They want 70% + extra costs ($350 setup, 2% damage and loss, shipping to them, free copies, storage, financing for retention, etc, etc, etc). They have said that they expect to sell 200 copies. At the pricing that they have given and even at a buy price of between $5 and $10 it is not possible to make it worthwhile through a distributor.

    Is there normally any negotiation on the standard contracts that are sent out?
    Is it normal for the distributors to charge for loss and damage?
    What is 3 months worth of sales in terms of storage costs?

    Thanks again for your great article.

    • Thanks for your very specific response to the article Bruce. Sorry, but Richard has moved countries and jobs now.
      I may need to get access to a standard contract and use my contacts to find out all the answers. Anna

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