Mistake #7: I Don’t Need Distribution, I’ve Got Amazon!
Okay, I just said that ‘you alone are responsible for your success.’ I get that. I started in this business as an author. Now I’m a publisher: I know better than most, the limits of ‘distribution.’ First, let’s define exactly what distribution is: let’s say, for the sake of our discussion here, ‘distribution’ is every avenue for reaching the buying public outside of Amazon and direct sales (off of your website or out of your trunk). And Amazon, in case you don’t know, is ‘distribution’; except they do everything themselves so we don’t think of it that way.
Here’s a fact: Amazon has 27% of the book market. That’s impressive! Do not ignore Amazon! So why worry about the more traditional forms of ‘distribution’ (like to bookstores)?
Here’s another fact: Unless you personally control the other 73% of the book market, someone else is selling books. Do not ignore distribution! Sure, they’re a pain in the rear, and yeah maybe they’re getting a little obsolete, but someone else is selling the other 73%!
When I was young in the publishing business I learned an important lesson: “Be everywhere!” It doesn’t matter if one avenue to my reading audience is more efficient than another. It doesn’t matter if I can make more money selling direct than through distributors. It doesn’t matter if Amazon is the biggest, most hassle-free distributor/retailer in the universe. It doesn’t matter that most distribution channels are a royal pain in the posterior. Once I’ve got my direct to reader and Amazon sales channels set up, I need distribution. Sorry, it’s a fact … if you want to sell more books.
Here’s another fact that may cause even more pain: Self-published authors do not have access to the ‘distribution system.’ Distributors do not carry ‘self-published’ books … sorry. There are too many self-published books in the world and, as we discussed earlier, distributors are in the business of moving books to retailers, and retailers only stock books that they know have already been ‘sold’ to readers. Their business plan doesn’t include your book. But there is, as the computer industry says, a ‘workaround.’ In the book business, the ‘workaround’ for distribution is called a ‘subsidy-publisher.’
Nowadays, just about every ‘real’ publisher has a subsidy division. Here’s a short history. There is a cost involved in publishing books. Traditional (‘real’) publishers could only publish books they knew would sell enough copies to cover publishing cost and make a profit – they’re in business, remember. There are a lot more authors than profitable authors. Before the idea of subsidy publishing came up, unproven authors were simply just rejected by ‘real’ publishers. Well, the ‘real’ publishers were rejecting a lot more authors than they were accepting. Authors could always go to a ‘vanity press’ but that had an ‘icky’ sound and an even ‘ickier’ reputation.
‘Real’ publishers realized that they were losing a lot of business just because, the authors and book submissions they were getting, but rejecting, weren’t ‘guaranteed.’ They figured out that, if the authors were willing to pay the publishing cost of their own books, their risk would go way down, and, a happy coincidence emerged – publishers could make money by charging authors to publish their books! Subsidy publishing was born!
I don’t want to get into the weeds with this (it’s the subject of a whole ‘nother book) but the bottom line is this: publishers may be worth their cost just for access into the distribution system.
What do you think about this self-publishing mistake? Any ideas? We’d love to hear from you, please comment.
I’m a self-published author. My first self-published book, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil sold about 20,000 copies … okay, I guess. Since then, between the self-publishing companies I started and bought, we’ve sold close to one million books.
Let me tell you, in the beginning, I didn’t know much about writing a book, and knew nothing about publishing, printing, marketing and selling books! If I had known anything, I might have walked away, overwhelmed with the whole process. Successfully self-publishing can, at times, seem hopeless. But I stuck to it, learned a lot about publishing, even more about marketing and selling, and, through lots of practice, sharpened my writing skills.
Even so, there are countless, land mines, booby-traps, dead-ends and just plain mistakes a self-published author can make. This is the seventh of ten weekly blog posts. They come from my e-book: The Ten Biggest Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make. This little book captures ten of the most common, most detrimental mistakes you can make as a self-published author and, hopefully, how to avoid them. I wanted to put these mistakes out on a blog format so you can comment, ask questions and we can discuss ways to make your book as successful as it can possibly be. Please, feel free to comment and ask questions.