Distribution in the Digital Age
The Marketing Component
For publisher and distributor alike, marketing through multiple channels—from traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores and public libraries to social-networking Web sites—is important to engage consumers where and how they get their content.
Simonds focuses on marketing as a key (and often overlooked) component of a successful distribution strategy.
“When you send books out, you should have a strategy to [prevent them from being returned], and that means driving people into bookstores and into the library,” she says. “One of the biggest hurdles is marketing. A small publisher simply does not have the money to put out there to buy the kind of eyes that [for example] Penguin gets, and because of that, there is a lot less interest [from] the bookselling chains,” Simonds adds.
“When you are small, you have to be thoughtful about what you send out. For a small press, a bookstore [is] kind of a zero-sum game,” she says. “They do not buy books; they rent books on the off chance that they can sell them, but that is ruinous for a small press because we need the cash.”
“It’s a headache in the beginning,” Simonds adds, noting that many of her clients are dealing with the vagaries of book distribution for the first time. “You try, as a distributor, to prepare people for [the inevitable returns], because no one thinks it’s going to happen. We have strategies for dealing with [returns such as selling them on the] Amazon Marketplace [where third parties can sell items through Amazon for a commission fee], or putting [them] back on the shelves and repackaging [them]. Some books are too scuffed up to put back in the system, so another option is to put them on our Web site and sell them as signed copies.”
Opportunities for Small Publishers
Programs do exist, such as Barnes & Noble’s Small Press Department, that help smaller publishers get national distribution.