[Author’s note: I wrote this article right before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. I’ve sat on the article since the outbreak but I’ve decided to go ahead and run it now if only as an historical piece. Time will tell what the “new” current state of the bookseller will be, especially for indie bookstores.]
For those of us writing a book, the act of filling a few hundred pages with quality text is challenge number one. Yet equally time consuming and difficult is getting our book in front of potential readers, who predominately turn to large, trusted bookstores to find their next good read.
And that, my friends, is where the landscape is rapidly changing.
With so much writing to do and personal responsibilities to take care of, it’s easy to overlook industry trends and avoid book marketing. Yet these actions are key to our success as authors.
Unless you don’t care to make a profit from your writing, you need to understand the bookselling world.
Over the past year alone, 3 massive shifts have occurred within the bookstore industry
LifeWay has closed all of their brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores across the country.
However, the company itself isn’t going anywhere. LifeWay will continue to sell books online so Christian authors aren’t left completely alone in trying to reach their target audience. Readers will also be able to purchase select LifeWay books in major retail stores such as Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart.
Amazon Books allows you to discover curated books in 23 locations nationwide.
Amazon 4-Star stores feature “customer favorites” (which may or may not be books) and are currently operating in 21 locations. As the name suggests, every product in these stores has earned a 4-star or higher rating on Amazon.com and is a top-selling item.
Amazon Go offers convenience food — without a checkout line. Although it has nothing to do with books, I deem it interesting enough to include here.
And finally, Amazon Pop Up stores offer monthly themed products where shopping mall patrons can tangibly touch and try out products before they buy. For example, as of this writing, Amazon Pop Up is currently featuring “Everything Sleep. From A to Zzz.”
Barnes & Noble was acquired last year by the hedge fund, Elliott Advisors. Rather than closing the massive B&N enterprise, the fund has interestingly decided to revitalize the brick and mortar stores. James Daunt, the CEO responsible for revitalizing Britain’s book retail giant Waterstones, is expected to similarly transform B&N’s cookie-cutter store design into geographically customized spaces that replicate an independent bookstore vibe.
Fate of the indies
So how exactly are the independent bookstores faring during all of this major retail overhaul?
Indies were initially hit hard when major book retailers such as Waldenbooks and B. Dalton began popping up in almost every American mall between the 1970s-1990s. But the clincher came when Amazon appeared on the scene in 1995, causing — at least according to one statistic — 40% of indies to go out of business in the following five years.
Yet some held on. And new ones have since opened.
But as an industry, is there hope for an independent bookstore recovery?
It appears that there is.
Various insiders have been reporting about the resurgence of independent booksellers. For example, this radio interview from WBUR in Boston titled, “Indie Bookstores, Once On The Verge Of Disappearing, Are Making A Comeback” and the Christian Science Monitor article, “Comeback Story: A new chapter for indie bookstores” share some of the many reasons why independent bookstores are experiencing renewed success.
What it all boils down to is their uniqueness (no two independent bookstores are alike) and ties to the community.
My personal observations are that indie bookstore owners offer unique curations, provide personalized assistance (bookstore owners tend to know their inventory inside and out and get to know their regular visitors almost as well), and enable local authors to interact with local readers.
Often, however, book sales alone don’t bring in enough profit, forcing bookstore owners to become creative and develop multiple income streams to help offset expenses. In recognition of this fact, the brand-new online retailer Bookshop aims to support independent booksellers.
According to a recent Forbes.com article, indies who sign up with Bookshop obtain a percentage of the profits from books sold through the site. The company is quick to point out that they’re not trying to outdo Amazon; they simply want to offer an alternative platform to authors and help indie bookstores in the process.
Why does all of this matter to authors?
The changing landscape actually provides new opportunities. Armed with the current bookseller information, you can better prepare your marketing plan and show your support of the retailers’ new operating practices.
You can begin to reach out to bookstore managers to build relationships that will help you not only get your book in their stores, but also facilitate book signings and readings.
And for online stores like LifeWay and Bookshop, you can discover a wider target audience while equally supporting the retailers’ respective missions.
How to get your self-published book inside the bookstores
It’s important to note that if you want to sell your book in major retail stores such as B&N, Books-a-Million, Waterstones and more, establishing a relationship with the manager isn’t enough; you also have to list your title through Ingram, the global book distributor through whom most retailers and libraries purchase their books.
Be aware, however, that when you select global distribution, you are required to offer a wholesaler discount (some require as much as 55%, but you can opt for 36% if you don’t feel the need to reach every retail store).
Be sure to take this into account when pricing your book; you need to price it high enough make a small profit on each book after the print cost and retail percentage are subtracted while simultaneously keeping it within an acceptable range for the average consumer.
Equally critical to note is that if you publish your book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program (formerly known as CreateSpace), you aren’t able to list your book with Ingram — you can only sell through Amazon.
If, however, you self-publish through other companies such as Blurb, BookBaby, Lulu or IngramSpark, you are able to select Global Distribution which includes both Ingram and Amazon. (For a detailed report on the differences between the two, be sure to read Jane Friedman’s comparison post.)
In short, if you want to get your book inside a store like B&N, don’t self-publish through Amazon alone.
Another option is to publish your book through both Amazon and IngramSpark, but be aware that this will result in two separate ISBN numbers for your title, which may become a thorny challenge when trying to maintain good bookkeeping for tax purposes (yes, being an author is a business; I might make this topic a future article of its own).
This option really isn’t necessary for most authors, but if you’re a speaker who has event organizers purchasing volume orders or if you sell directly to large organizations (not bookstores), publishing through both gives individual buyers the best price on Amazon and organizations the best volume prices through Ingram.
Begin your marketing strategy now
It’s never too early to start outlining your marketing strategy. Keep apprised of industry trends and begin to form relationships with bookstore owners and managers while still writing your book.
Equally important is to determine which publishing option will best meet your goals and needs and adjust as necessary. Don’t just follow the masses — be willing to invest the time and research necessary to discover the best publishing path for your unique book. And remember to do it for each book you write; what worked for one genre or topic won’t necessarily work as well for a different one.
Finally, don’t let fear of mistakes keep you from taking action and putting your book out there for individuals and retailers to find. Mistakes are inevitable and they only help us learn and grow. But the more you’re prepared, the better your chances of success will be.
So go and give it a try. Get your book out there and share your message with the world!
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