Book Distribution – Ten Rules for Dealing with Wholesalers and Distributors

First we need to define the difference. While there are some blends, basically a wholesaler, like Ingram or B&T is an order taking warehouse and fulfillment operation. They do no sales. They get around 55% discount and pass 40% to their retail customers. A distributor is a different animal. You can make the analogy that your distributor takes the place of your in-house sales operation. Most book distributors require an exclusive right to sell your product. They have sales reps, catalogs, and their mission is to go out and hawk your book. They also warehouse your books and fulfill your orders. Most take around 67% and pass 40% to the stores.

1. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the different discounts. Wholesalers and distributors can be flexible on their terms. They don’t WANT to be, but if they want your product line, they will make a few concessions here and there. The exception is Ingram. It is either their way or the highway. However with IPG, Midpoint, and others if you speak up you might not leave as much money on the table as those who don’t.

2. Keep after your distributor to find “new” ways to sell your product. The sales staff of most distributors are hard working, but are lacking in much imagination. This is because they have a zillion books to hawk and it is hard to have good ideas on how to hawk all of them. Fax or e-mail your distributor contact every two weeks with an idea that their sales staff can take to the field.

3. You still must be your own best salesperson. This is doubly true if you only have a wholesaler. Remember, wholesalers don’t do squat to move your product. That’s your job. If you have a distributor, they have lots of publishers that they rep and are not going to give you as much effort as they originally promised or as you might want.

4. If your distributor (or potential distributor) has suggestions about what to price your book at, sit up and take notice. Most often they are close to the mark. If you produce a little 4×4 book on inspirational sayings and you want to sell it for $13.95 but are told by a distributor to price it at $8.95 do what they say. These people have a good track record on how to price books. Not always-but most often.

5. Don’t be afraid to question the reports you get. Many distributors have terrible computer systems and poor data entry accuracy. Make sure you reconcile the number of books you have sent against those that have sold against those still in inventory. If they don’t “tick and tie” (and sometimes they won’t) speak up and get an adjustment. You should have a good back-office software product yourself to keep track of sales and inventory both at your location and at your distributor/wholesaler(s). I can think of a really good one that only costs $14.95 a month and does it all.  :-)

6. Don’t screw your distributor. If a store places an order with you, do the right thing and send it on to the distributor. If they hear that you filled it yourself they will be pissed and the last thing you need is a pissed off distributor.

7. If Ingram orders a quantity of books over 20, only send them 75% of what they order. This will save you the shipping cost when Ingram returns the overstock (which they will re-order a week or two later.)

8. When you get one or two books returned by Ingram, call your rep and tell them how upset you are. If it happens again, and you are a PMA member, contact the PMA and demand that they look into it.

9. If you expect some big publicity event to generate orders, call your wholesaler and distributor and let them know that they should order some more product. They will, and they will be glad you told them.

10. If Ingram is your only wholesaler AND you depend on the retail channel for 80% or more of your business, never, never, never piss them off. If they drop your account, you are out of business.

The real secret of this business is to find a way to by-pass the middle channel and sell direct. Get a web site. Make Amazon and B& your best friends. That is where your future is. It is not with Ingram, IPG, or with brick/mortar stores.

Copyright Alan N. Canton. If you are in the publishing business, you must see JAYA123, the newest and most affordable back-office web-based system available. You can find it on