What is Book Distribution & How Is It Done?

Ahhhhh…Where do I start?

It is easy for those of you that have secured that illusive Big Traditional Publishing contract. Those publishers have decades old systems that release press releases to newspapers and trade mags, publicity departments that will (for the big name authors) send out copies to book stores on a sell and pay option with posters for the store windows. The store will get a box of the books without spending a penny until they are sold. They will distribute through the online retails sites as well.

So how does the rest of us get that distribution without those contacts and systems in place? (or the bankroll to fund it?)

Self publishers or small independent publishers have access to online publishing platforms. Some of the major ones are Createspace, Ingram (Lightening Source or Spark), Smashwords, iBooks,  Nook Press, Google Books, Kobo and Amazon.

Each of these has their advantages, depending on your skill level as an self publisher and what formats you want your book offered for purchasing. It also depends on how much you want to pay for the specific options they offer. Each will take a cut of your royalties. Some will distribute to some of the others for you. There are print edition and ebook edition options. Let’s get a bit more specific.

Print distributors: Createspace, Ingram, Nook Press. Nook has two divisions, and is specific to Barnes and Noble. They do not distribute to other retailers. Both Createspace and Ingram have distribution programs that make your print book AVAILABLE to bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, and online resellers. Your book MAY be included in a catalog that is sent to stores or buyers. At the least they should be available or purchase through bookstores or libraries in their respective online catalogs IF they get a customer request to purchase or find your book among the many millions available. Ingram platforms are more expensive to use than Createspace but they do offer some options that Createspace does not, including bookstore discounts and a return policy.

eBook distributors: Smashwords. Smashwords will place your book for sale in a variety of online ebook retail sites as part of their publishing platform. You choose which ones and if your ebook meets the requirements of each, it will be distributed to them. Createspace has an option to convert your print book to an ebook on Amazon. Ingram gives you ACCESS, note that word, to a host of online ebook retailers. Beware the special note if you have previously published to the Kindle store (Amazon) or Apple iBooks. Ingram wants exclusive ebook distribution rights. It doesn’t restrict you to a particular store like the Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp) option of enrolling in KDP Select which restricts publication of an ebook to ONLY Amazon. However, you cannot publish directly to KDP or iBooks when using Ingram’s ebook platform for publishing.

All distribution schemes come at a cost. Royalties. Each time your book passes through another set of hands or through a set of hands that gets a discount, your royalty decreases. For example: You publish your print book through the Createspace platform. If a reader buys it at Createspace, you receive the highest royalty. If a reader purchases your book through Amazon, you get a reduced royalty because Amazon takes a cut.  If it is purchased by someone on Barnes and Noble’s online store or it is purchased by a bookstore for a client, an online reseller who has their own affiliate store, linking to some online retailer’s sale page or it is purchased by a library or academic institution, your royalty will be even further decreased either by another person getting a cut of the royalties or a discount on the purchase price.

There are numerous marketing and distribution plans offered by author service businesses online. But if you read the details, they are the same outlets that are listed by the main distributors. It is unlikely in most cases that these author service businesses have direct access to putting books on the shelves in Barnes and Noble. It is unlikely they have direct access to any of the distribution outlets. It is much more likely that they are using one of the major publishing platforms and simply listing the distribution outlets provided by that specific platform.

Another thing to note is that many of the online retail outlets are simply affiliates of the major outlets like Amazon. They have a large website or Amazon store that links each book back to their affiliate connection with Amazon who then fills the order. The author then gets less royalty.

So, in conclusion, as a publisher or self publisher you want to place your books on sale directly with as many retail sites as possible. You can do this with Nook (Barnes and Noble) for print and ebooks, Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) for ebooks and Kobo through their publishing platform. Createspace is a Print on Demand print book platform. Each other site you choose to distribute to from there costs you royalties. Smashwords is an ebook only distributor although they do have their own store as well.

Is it really necessary to have your books in every single online retail outlet that exists? Most readers choose an ereading platform and buy books at that outlet. All the small resellers and obsure outlets will generally not get you many sales.

The biggest catch of all in this self publishing saga is that many publishing platforms are at this time restricted to U.S. Citizens or foreign individuals that have complied with the IRS by filing the proper out of country tax forms for identification. On top of that is that many of these publishing options will only make direct payment (EFT) to U.S. banks. Other payments are made by check and are only made when your royalties reach a specified amount (often $100). Then you are burdened with conversion fees and international deposit fees from your bank when you deposit. Add on top of that paying U.S. Taxes. They can be deducted from your royalties before payment and can be up to 30%.

This is by no means meant to discourage you in your quest to become a published author. You need to know the steps, the stumbles and the small print. You need to know the realities that authors on the whole do not get rich from a book. Most self publishers never recover the money spent getting published until years later if ever. This will not stop the dedicated. But hopefully it will help minimize every author’s chance of being swindled by some unscrupulous business or fast talking salesperson playing on your author ego. It will inform you so you know what to look for in a proposal and what questions you can ask. Authors wanting to be published find a way.


“Informing the uninformed is much easier than enlightening the ignorant.”

Robin-WoolysWagon ePublishing

If you love following blogs about books and bookish finds, check out www.bitcheslovebooks.com