Selling Books to Supermarkets and Drug Stores

There are tens of thousands of supermarkets and drug stores of all sizes around the country. Many of these sell books, booklets and videos. Some of the larger supermarket chain stores – such as Kroger — actually have a bookstore, rather than a book section. The means of marketing to these two segments is similar, so they will be discussed together.

In the past, most of the sales through these outlets were mass-market paperbacks, but today’s super stores carry a wide variety of books, cards and magazines. That is why the middlemen distributing to this market usually stock the shelves with both books and magazines.

“This is one area in which fiction outsells non-fiction,” says John Styron of Anderson News, a sister company to Anderson Merchandisers and one of the wholesalers reaching this niche. Other titles that sell well are those by local and regional authors and those about local and regional topics. There is less opportunity for hardcover titles, particularly in supermarkets.

Randy Yarbrough believes that sales to this segment “are very likely” for independent publishers. “We sell their titles all the time,” he notes. Steve Linville of The News Group holds an opposing view, saying, “There is not a lot of shelf space dedicated to the category.” He continues with, “It can be frustrating for a small publisher to break into the market, given the returns, discounts and dating required.”

Steve recounts the tale of one author who showed many retailers his book and asked how many they might purchase. Their responses added up to over 30,000 copies, so that is how many he printed. Unfortunately, when it came time to actually place the orders the numbers were significantly lower.

Randy and Steve agree that “supermarkets discount the list price up to 25%, so your pricing must allow for that to occur profitably.” The list price on books sold in drugstores should be $15.95 or lower, with a price below $10 the norm in supermarkets. However, the price could go up to $20.00 or more for a hardcover book sold in a supermarket. They also concur “that cookbooks, travel books and regional titles do well in supermarkets, but health-related topics move better in drugstores, particularly in the form of booklets.” Steve adds, “Children’s titles also seem to do well in supermarkets. Fiction remains he mainstay in these outlets.”

Authors may conduct booksignings at supermarkets and drugstores in which their books are being sold. “One of our authors recently sold 500 copies of her book during a recent booksigning at a Ralph’s supermarket in California,” says Mr. Yarbrough. Steve Linville cautions, “Cross-merchandising is not as easy as it may seem, because several different buyers may be involved.”

Author and consultant Eric Gelb has sold successfully to supermarkets. Eric said, “Some years back, I sold several hundred copies of my book, the Personal Budget Planner to a nearby supermarket chain. The company managed the bookracks in the supermarket. The sale was final and the exposure was valuable. Several months ago, our local Mail Boxes, Etc. store took copies of our Mastering Communication Through Technology on consignment. While small, this effort was profitable, and the store marketed no other books at that time. Once, we located a consumer buying service who purchased a quantity of our personal finance books to give away as a new member bonus.”

The competition in this segment is stiff, due to the limited shelf-space granted to books. The hot button for these stores is “profit per square foot.” If you can demonstrate that your promotional activities will help bring in new customers and profits, you will get their attention. You may submit your book and marketing package directly to the major supermarket chains, but they normally direct you to their wholesalers. Three major supermarket chains are:

Kroger Co, 1014 Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202-1100; Tel: (513) 762-4000

Safeway Inc., Judy Russell – Book Buyer, 5918 Stoneridge Mall Rd., Pleasanton, California, 94588-3229; Tel: (925) 520-8000 (877) 723-3929 Fax: FX – USA (925) 467-3321

Stop and Shop Companies Inc., 1385 Hancock St., Quincy, Massachusetts, 02169-5510; Book Buyer: (617) 770-8743

Distributors to supermarkets include:

Anderson News Co. (Knoxville, TN), 6016 Brookvale Lane, Ste. 151, Knoxville, TN 37919; Tel: (865) 584-9765 Fax: (865) 584-9400 Magazines, books, videos and music to supermarkets, drugstores, airport stores and military exchanges.

Hudson News Co., 1 Meadowlands Piz. Ste. 902, East Rutherford, New Jersey, 07073; Tel: (201) 939-5050 (800) 326-7711 Fax: (201)939-6652 Willard Goldberger – Vice President, Merchandising

The News Group West services major retail chains in the West, with a dominant share of the Washington, Oregon and Alaska markets; 3400 D Industry Drive East, Fife, Washington, 98424; 253.922.8011 Fax: 253.896.5027

When you submit a title to these distributors, include a color sell sheet with all the pertinent information on your title. Include the price, author, case quantities, and a photo of any floor displays you could provide.

It is interesting to note that these buyers do not always wait for publishers to contact them. If they, or their sales people note your title in a local news story, in Publishers Weekly or at a trade show, they may seek it out according to its applicability. Again, it behooves you to seek as much exposure as possible for your titles.

Brian Jud is the author of Beyond the Bookstore (a Publishers Weekly book) and The Marketing Planning CD. He also wrote the series of booklets, Proven Tips for Publishing Success. Contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001; (800) 562-4357; or visit