Wholesalers—who they are and how they differ from distributors

Posted By on April 27, 2013

Although the terms “wholesaler” and “distributor” are frequently used interchangeably (more about this here), there is a difference. Wholesalers have no sales reps; they simply fill your book orders and actually buy your book outright. Distributors work on a consignment basis, paying you for sales ninety days after they have been made.

Baker & Taylor is the country’s oldest and largest library wholesaler. B&T has over the last several years dramatically increased its sales to bookstores, as well. Corporate headquarters is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and there are branches around the country as well as in in the UK. The wholesaler’s file system lists more than a million titles, CDs, and DVDs.

To get on its database, B&T requires a $125 fee to establish new vendors, and it aggressively courts small publishers. It’s the same treatment again as with distributors—stay in front of your contact. Keep sharing good reviews, letters, important media appearances, and so forth. Be aware, however, that B&T is “order driven.” That means it won’t start ordering from you on a stocking basis until it sees a swell of orders from libraries and bookstores.

There is another form of leverage you can use to encourage B&T to stock your book. The different centers will automatically trickle in mail orders for one, two, three books. These special orders are in response to requests from their customers. Audit these orders. When a center begins to place frequent tiny orders, you have marvelous ammunition to suggest that B&T regularly stock your book. The initial order will be from zero to one hundred copies—but bigger things may be just around the corner.

Just as KFC’s success attracted Boston Market and other contenders, there are more large book wholesalers. Headquartered outside of Nashville, Tennessee, Ingram is another huge wholesaler. Its forte is fast delivery of popular books to bookstores. As of BookExpo America 2001, however, Ingram announced it is no longer dealing directly with publishers of less than ten titles. The reason for this new business model in Ingram’s words is “to offer more accessible, economical, and effective options for their [small presses] publishing and distribution.” Many tiny independent presses have been negligent in doing publicity and creating consumer demand for their titles, thus suffering huge returns at Ingram’s hands.

For small presses with fewer than ten titles in print, Ingram recommends establishing a direct relationship with several companies listed on its website. For instance, Lightning Source, which provides a comprehensive package of print-on-demand and distribution services, is included. Also listed is  AtlasBooks Distribution, which markets and sells books to wholesalers, chains, independents, online retailers, and other retail markets.

Portions of this post were excerpted from The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. Published by Writer’s Digest Books, 2010.

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