To make matters worse, there are five major distributors with salespeople who actively sell into bookstores. "And to show you just how tight the market is, each [distributor] deals with a maximum of 300 publishers," says Nathan. "Literally, 1,500 publishers are being taken care of out of about 30,000 in the United States."
With the odds set against independents, getting books on the shelves takes some creativity.
"We are the guerrilla market. We look for places where books have not been sold before, like Victoria's Secret, The Home Depot or specialty shops . . . places that don't usually have books or [have] just a small amount of them," explains Nathan. Online catalogs and mail order companies are other avenues, she adds.
Tad Crawford, publisher of New York-based Allworth Press—which publishes books for the creative professional—adds to the sentiment of distribution woes, stressing that the environment for independents is demanding.
"To top it off, publishing is capital-intensive because it is the publisher that has to maintain inventory and handle all fulfillment," he says.
Too Many Hats
This fulfillment issue leads to another challenge for independents: the requisite to wear multiple hats to handle production, fulfillment and the technology that goes with it. This is difficult for many independents who are, in essence, writers, not computer wizards, marketers, nor, well … publishers.
At Energy Institute Press, Wulfinghoff says, "We produced the largest energy-efficiency manual on the market. Our book is 1,536 pages, weighs 81⁄2 pounds and costs $200 per book. The challenge in producing that book [was] that we were creating it in the late '90s with PageMaker," he recalls. "That was the era in which electronic publishing was still sorting itself out. Thank God digital has had a tremendous boon. For our next book, we handed the printer a CD-ROM and said, 'Here it is.' We had no horror stories because of luck and because we are meticulous, but other independent publishers do [still] have horror stories."