bookstore-blurrI spoke with a self-published author last week. A friend in the industry recommended us because he was frustrated by some of the natural limits of self-publishing.

Being self-published, the author lacked “trade distribution.” His perception was that having a relationship with a “distributor” with access to bookstores would explode his book sales. Once in distribution, he believed, bookstores would stock and sell his books and life would be grand.

He opened an account with a well-known book distributor, sent his books to the distributor’s warehouse and … nothing. No bookstore orders came. He figured it was the fault of the distributor so now he was talking to me, so we could get his books in bookstores, so they would sell, so life would be grand.

I hate bursting other people’s bubbles.

I had to tell him that, although we had trade distribution and access to bookstores, we were a publisher, not a distributor. We only distribute the books we publish. More importantly, I had to tell him that thinking bookstores will stock and sell his books just because they are in a distributor’s warehouse, is a popular but false assumption.

Bookstores don’t buy books because distributors stock them.

They sell books because people walk into their stores and ask for them. That’s the problem. Fewer and fewer people each year buy books from bookstores (the brick and mortar kind). More and more people each year know which book they want to buy before they walk into a bookstore.

That means:

  1. Most readers know which book they want before they purchase.
  2. Very few of those readers will walk into a bookstore to purchase a book.

Bookstores aren’t necessarily a bad place to sell books, but if bookstores are your strategy for reaching the world with your books, you’d better pack up and go home now.

Bookstores don’t buy books. Readers buy books.

Some (not many) of those readers will choose to purchase the book they want from a bookstore. If they do, the bookstore will be happy to order the book from the distributor and sell it to the reader. If a lot of readers walk into the bookstore and ask for your book, the bookstore will be happy to stock your book in hopes of readers coming in to buy them. If the readers don’t show, the bookstores will promptly return your books to the distributor. No sale. Bookstores don’t buy books. Readers buy books.

Popular Indian author, Ravi Subramanian gave a TED talk titled “Book Marketing Myths.” He shares a few facts for those authors who believe bookstores  are the place and the way to sell books:

  • Only 2% of books make it to bookstore shelves.
  • 20% of bookstore space is books; 80% is something else (t-shirts, music CD’s, gewgaws for your home or aunt Bessie, etc.)
  • Bookstores only stock bestsellers (if you’re not in the top 2%, don’t believe bookstores will stock your book)
  • Most books are bought from Amazon (according to 2012 numbers it was 50% of all books sold; some say it’s now more like 75%)

Here are a few statistics from a 2014 Forbes article:

  • Independent bookstores down 50% over 20 years (it may be more like 75%; they’re dying)
  • 10% of books sold through independent stores
  • 3% of books sold through Christian stores

 Pretty bleak, I know. So what’s my answer?

  • Sell your readers every day; they’re the ones really buying your books.
  • Don’t count on bookstores to sell your books.
  • Don’t ignore bookstores. Once you’ve reached and nurtured your audience to the point they want to read your book, some of them will buy it directly from you if you’re set up for it, a lot will buy from Amazon, and a few will walk into a bookstore and ask for it. When they do, make sure it’s available.

If you’re ready to share your message with the world with a book, I can help walk you through the step. Just complete the form below and we can set up a free, no-obligation, manuscript consultation.