[Self Publishing Guide] Self Publishing Your Book – Step 4: Distribution

This post is an excerpt from our Self Publishing Guide for Indian Market. If you have not, you may want to read the following post in this series before starting on this one

Distribution should not be confused with marketing. Marketing creates awareness and entices the reader to read the book. However, the book has to move from the printing press to the book store for the reader to buy it. Distribution is the process by which the book is made available to the reader.

In a typical chain, the book travels from the publisher to the distributors. These are comparatively bigger stockists who usually look after a region or state. From the distributor, the book goes to the retailer (your nearby book shop is a retailer) where it is purchased by the individual reader.

Typical margins* (known as ‘discounts’ in the industry) are 40-60% of MRP to retailer and 10-20% of MRP to the distributor/wholesaler. This implies that for a book with a printed price of  Rs 100, Rs 40–60 is pocketed by the retailer as profit and Rs 10-20 is pocketed by the distributor. The books are also generally distributed on a “fully returnable if not sold within a specific period (e.g. three months)” basis. This means upfront payment from the distributor is rare and they take no financial risk whatsoever. These numbers often surprise first timers, but these are the realities of the publishing industry. Online as well as offline retailers work with similar margins.

Without contacts, getting a distributor is difficult for a self publisher. Distributors are picky about the books since they have to store the copies and sell it to the retailers. Even when you find a distributor, often they don’t really do a good job of getting your book to the retailer, i.e. the bookstore.

The above information is not meant to discourage, but to give a realistic picture to the independent author/publisher.

Options for Self Publishers

  • Offline Distribution:
    • The best bet is to start with your local bookshops. Give away the book even for free at this stage. If it picks up, try and get to a distributor through the bookshop.
    • Sell it yourself, through your family and friends. Don’t give in to relatives asking for free copies!
    • Ask people around to explore the possibility of institutional selling (for example, company/school libraries). Works better for non-fiction books on specialised topics.
  • Online Distribution:
    • Make your own website and sell the book through it. You can accept payment through PayPal (in dollars) or through cheque, demand drafts and electronic transfers.
    • There are self publishing companies (like Pothi.com) which operate online book stores specifically for self publishing authors.
    • Get a distributor in a similar way for offline distribution. Check with them if they can get you listed on online book shops.

As mentioned earlier, the distribution option you go for would also decide which printing technology is better for you. If you can get into traditional distribution, to get the prices right (refer to the margins above), you are better off going with bulk printing through offset technology. If you are selling yourself or through self-publishing company’s website, Print on Demand is a better option to avoid inventory and logistic hassles.

* For English Language publishing