Ask The Experts – Distribution

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Topics Discussed Below Include:

Negotiating a Distribution Contract
Terminating an Agreement with Baker & Taylor
Pricing and Distribution Help
How Ingram Functions as the Distributor of CreateSpace
Understanding Distribution and Wholesale Discounts
Recommendations for Book Distributors
Distribution and Fulfillment for Ebooks
Reseller Relationships and Seeking Other Outlets in Foreign Countries
The Distribution Timetable


I was offered a distribution contract with SBC Distribution and am wondering if I can get help negotiating better terms? The current contract seems to favor the distributor heavily and in a worst-case scenario, I could end up owing them money. I am not sure what is negotiable, and what is just standard for the industry?

I can forward the contract with my concerns highlighted upon request.

Answer (12/2013):

While it may seem like distribution contracts favor the distributor, the fact is that distribution is a middle (and often invisible) layer of business, and as such depends on very narrow margin for the distributor. Often charges have to passed through from distributor to publisher or customer because they simply don’t have the overhead to absorb it all themselves. Because a distributor typically consolidates small presses into one sizable, marketable list in order to compete with big vendors like the New York publishing houses, they also have to grant comparable/competitive terms to retailers and wholesalers, which is the largest piece of the pie. In other words, the retail/wholesale side often takes 50% with the rest getting split between publisher and distributor.

This split can vary from agreement to agreement, but in the long run most balance out to the same, once other compensating fees are factored in. The best thing to look for is overall clarity in terms of costs. You want low upfront fees and minimal regular monthly charges that aren’t dependent on sales. If a distributor makes its money by charging you regardless of whether your book is selling, then there’s no incentive there to do a good job. But since at the end of the day most distributors are competitive with one another, the best thing to do is consult with other clients of each to find out how actively they pitch your titles to accounts, how well known they are, how effective their customer service is, and whether or not they offer marketing perks, sales knowhow, or even IBPA memberships!

Contracts are not always negotiable and if you have a small list they most certainly won’t be.

Richard T. Williams has managed the SPU program at IPG since its inception in 2009. Prior to that, he played a key role in the development of IPG’s special sales department and was the operations manager of a local Chicago independent publishing company.


We wish to terminate our agreement with Baker & Taylor, to no longer have our books available through B&T. How can we terminate our relationship with Baker & Taylor. When we do, will our books still be available to libraries though our other distributors? (We will continue to sell books through Partners.)

Answer (10/2013):

You should have signed a contract with B&T when you first started with them. Do you still have a copy? If not, you should be able to request one from B&T. It will outline the process for terminating your agreement. There is normally a notice period you will need to observe, and there will likely be some money held for a period of time for future returns.

You should check with Partners about how they make your books available to libraries. Partners acts as both a wholesaler and a distributor (different programs within Partners Publishers Group). You may consider having Partners supply Baker & Taylor and other major wholesalers, like Ingram, with your books.

Terry Nathan is the Chief Operations Officer of the Independent Book Publishers Association.


Hi, folks. I am very confused.

I have a book that is to be used as a resource to trauma survivors as well as an education tool for therapist, educators, the medical and legal profession on this topic.

I have priced it under what it should be to be more affordable to more people. I have priced it at $24.95. With the 55% discount and printing costs, it leaves me with 81 cents.

I am considering procuring a 2nd ISBN, setting the price to $29.95, leaving me then with approximately $3.02 per book. I would keep the 1st ISBN and lower price for book readings and for direct sales off my website and thru my own Amazon account. I would sell the higher priced book to educators and therapists, etc. who could easily afford it.

Alternately, I could go with a distributor like New Leaf which, from what I hear, takes only 40% but then will I be stuck with the New Age classification for my book? My book is listed under both Body, Mind, Spirit and under Psychology.

I have several questions.

1. If I went with New Leaf, would this categorization potentially hurt book sales?

2. Does the idea of a 2nd ISBN sound viable in this circumstance?

3. Alternatively, is it acceptable to go with a 50% discount rather than 55%?

4. Right now I am with LSI and would do POD thru them and use their distribution system if not New Leaf. Are there any comments about LSI versus New Leaf?

Answer (10/2013):

1. Working with New Leaf can add to sales by reaching an audience not necessarily served by Ingram/LSI. New Leaf offers its customers a selection of titles over a broad number of categories, so the title is not necessarily labeled new age. The author’s book can be available at both Ingram and New Leaf, as I don’t believe LSI requires an exclusive arrangement.

2. Without a significant difference in the binding or the text of the book, there is no real advantage in assigning the title a second ISBN. If the $24.95 price leaves the author with a profit of 81 cents, the author could consider pricing the book at $29.95, and then discounting it for book readings or sales on Amazon; keeping the $29.95 price for sales to professionals. Or the author could offer a professional discount off the $29.95 price to the educator/therapist market, but not as much as to the regular bookstores or individual customers who wish to order via Amazon. However, once the title is available on Amazon at a certain price, it’s hard to sell a book at a different price through a different channel, as customers who shop online match prices before they order. That said, how would the author fulfill the $29.95 orders separately? Would she do that fulfillment herself, or set up a separate account at LSI to handle that?

3. The author can choose to set up the relationship at Ingram/LSI at a 50% discount rather than the 55%.

4. LSI offers a wider reach into the traditional bookstore/library market, while New Leaf has a presence in stores that know it offers titles not necessarily available in the mainstream bookstores.

I hope these answers are helpful.

Marcella Smith is an industry professional with over four decades of experience in publishing and bookselling. Currently, she provides services to authors as a literary agent, and works with publishers facing distribution challenges. Before starting her own firm, she was the Director Small Press/ Vendor Relations at Barnes & Noble, Inc. –


My book was printed by CreateSpace & available on & E-Books (Kindle). My book title appears to be popular. Barnes & Noble is listed as the appropriate Book Store from which one can purchase, but has not been available. Do you know how Ingram functions as the distributor from CreateSpace?

I’m new at this! Thanks

Answer (09/2013):

We had a very similar question recently to the ATE program and this is the answer we received from Ingram:

Ingram and Lightning Source send and confirm title data feeds and availability status to our customers, and we make titles immediately available to all of our retail channel partners in the same manner. Each retail channel partner that we work with makes the decision on how to display the availability of a title. We are pleased that most retailers, like Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Indigo, Books-A-Million, and hundreds of others, reflect an “In Stock / Available” status for your print-on-demand titles, which is a true representation of their immediate availability through Ingram’s Lightning Source POD.

Amazon uses their own methods to list and determine the availability of your titles. Although we cannot speak to these methods, we will continue to work with Amazon on improving any availability strategies. We strive to provide them with accurate information so they have the potential to show Lightning Source titles as available to their customers. We do recommend that you refer your readers to the retailers we mentioned if they are looking for immediate availability.

Certainly keep us informed about any availability issues you experience or data issues you uncover. We will look into each issue and address it promptly.

~ Lisa Krebs is Assistant Director of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Hired by Jan Nathan and Publishers Marketing Association (now IBPA) in 1998, Lisa has been a sounding board and advocate for independent publishers for the past 15 years. She was previously contracted for West Coast publicity by Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books and Disney/Hyperion.


I am an author-publisher trying hard to understand how distribution and wholesale discounts work. The terminology is confusing and at times I feel completely overwhelmed and out of my depth.

I have a title listed with Lightning Source. If I set the RRP at 11.99 with a discount of 40%, (not returnable) what price does a bookstore actually buy it for? I’m sure I saw somewhere that the distributor takes 15% but now I can’t find where I read that. Does the bookshop pay 1.99 less 40% = 7.20? A particular reseller has asked me what the wholesale price to them is, and I honestly don’t know!

Answer (09/2013):

This has been puzzling new publishers since the world began, and has only become more complex with time.

I have to assume you’re participating in Lightning Source’s (LSI) Small Publisher Print to Order program, as described here: . LSI’s compensation comes from the profits built into its printing services – it does not directly charge for “distribution” per se.

Your discount of 40% determines the price LSI will charge wholesalers, regardless of what the booksellers will then be charged by the wholesaler. That’s the nature of the publisher/wholesaler/retailer relationship – the wholesaler buys the books outright, which gives the wholesaler the right to set the price when they sell it to the bookseller (that will be a percentage of the suggested retail price). Publishers are not told what percentage discount a particular bookseller gets (or how many copies they buy), as that’s a confidential matter between wholesaler and retailer.

As you can imagine, larger customers are in a position to get better volume discounting from the wholesaler.

So, you can’t tell that reseller exactly what he’ll pay. Either the reseller will already have an agreement with a wholesaler that stipulates these things, or they have to open a new account with a wholesaler and will learn the available terms.

Now we hit the distinction between “wholesaler” and “distributor,” (which are business relationships) and the word “distribution,” a verb with somewhat different meaning.

In your case, LSI is functioning as a conduit between the publisher and the wholesalers – a printer whose price includes fulfillment services and collections.

Though LSI’s web pages refer to “distribution,” it’s not a description of the business relationship – it’s the broader process of getting merchandise into the hands of the resellers.

As I described earlier, wholesalers purchase books from publishers outright, and then re-sell them to retailers. A “master distributor” (PGW, NBN, Consortium…) has a different relationship with the publisher. You don’t have a distribution agreement, so the 15% distributor’s cut you mentioned does not apply to you.

The master distributor and publisher typically enter into an exclusive sales agency relationship – at a minimum, they’re your exclusive agent for all sales made to the retail book trade, and it may extend into library, catalogs, gift shops, and other areas as well. The distributor is an active marketer of the books – a sales rep/marketing partner that also provides warehousing, fulfillment, and collections. The publisher retains ownership of the books until they are purchased by the retailers and wholesalers, all of whom must buy your books through your distributor. Since the distributor is your sales agent, they provide reports of how much the wholesalers and retailers paid. You’ll also know the standard discounts and terms offered to the trade.

A master distributor takes a percentage of whatever price the various retailers and wholesalers paid. The distributor may charge the publisher separately for administrative, warehousing, and fulfillment services, or they’ll charge a single percentage that includes those services. They generally offer optional marketing/promotion programs over and above their basic marketing services, which are paid for separately.

~ Dave Marx is the Publisher at PassPorter Travel Press, and co-author of several of the company’s guidebooks. PassPorter guidebooks have received over a dozen awards, including IBPA’s Bill Fisher Award. He’s spent 35 years in the media—print, broadcast, music, and online. Dave also served on the IBPA Board of Directors.


At what point do we get a distributor? We are funding the book project through a Kickstarter in September and are in the process of choosing a printer so that we can have appropriate budgeting – some of the printers are asking about distribution.

Also, do you recommend Ingram for distribution? We plan to print 1500 copies of the book. Is it possible to set up an account with them without a completed book?

Answer (07/2013):

If you have all the specs for your title, I would assume you could get started with Lightning Source (LSI).

Here is the new client page:

And, here is the small publisher information page:

IBPA members have a discount with LSI:

Here are two recent, helpful Independent articles about book distribution:

~ Lisa Krebs is Assistant Director of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Hired by Jan Nathan and Publishers Marketing Association (now IBPA) in 1998, Lisa has been a sounding board and advocate for independent publishers for the past 15 years. She was previously contracted for West Coast publicity by Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books and Disney/Hyperion.


As a returning (coming back in to the business after a long hiatus) publisher, we are about to release a paperback book (mass market narrative non-fiction) in litho print and EBook. Our current thinking with regard to physical distribution and sales of printed paperback is to use Fulfillment by Amazon for online consumer sales and Ingram to distribute to all other outlets. Secondly, we are trying to figure out the best strategy (highest margin and best reach for author and us) for the distribution of EBooks and are confounded by all the choices. Do we just stick with Amazon and Ingram for fulfillment of eBooks or should we hire a specialized company like or to help us with reaching in to other distributors like Apple’s platform, etc.?

Answer (04/2013):

The digital distribution question is always influx and there doesn’t seem to be a “right” answer from one day to the next. I think that ultimately the question is one of timing. How quickly do you want to go to market with your eBooks? In the next 2 months, in 6, or 12? Amazon is a fine choice for eBook fulfillment, as long as you don’t get locked in to some long-term contract and have flexibility to leave them later on down the road. I say that because right now, Amazon makes up such a large portion of the business that you’ll probably see 60-75% of your sales through their platform alone. So in that regard, it really doesn’t make much sense to try to build an eBook ecosystem in-house for the last 25% if you don’t want to go that route long-term.

One thing I would not do is piecemeal the system together. Don’t try to bring together 2,3,4 different distributors to reach different partners, because it becomes a nightmare to manage, both in terms of reporting and metadata. Have you given any thought to going with someone like Constellation or Ingram just for the digital distribution? They have the reach into all the accounts and usually their fees aren’t too expensive. I would either go direct to Amazon or go with one of the bigger players, but that could be my bias against more specialized distributors who tend to get hamstrung because they are too small.

~ Adam Salomone is the Associate Publisher of the Harvard Common Press, overseeing all aspects of the digital and social media strategy at the company. He’s also involved with acquisitions, marketing, eBook conversion/distribution, and more. Feel free to contact him at or visit Harvard Common Press online at


I publish books for a small market niche. I sell them wholesale from my website and through to retail customers.

I have an online reseller in another country who buys my books wholesale and then resells them in her country. My niche market in that country is fairly large. I have a very good relationship with this reseller, she sends me advice, etc, but the amount of books she buys from me every year isn’t very large.

My question is: should I be actively contacting other resellers in that country in order to find more outlets for my books? My concern is that I might jeopardize my relationship with this reseller, or cause a decrease in her sales, two things I would not want to happen.

Answer (02/2013):

You should seek more distribution partners in this foreign market. To protect your current reseller you want to find out what markets she serves. For example, if she is servicing gift stores, but not bookstores then you should seek a reseller that services the bookstores. We have a yoga book that sells well in the UK. We have two resellers, one that services yoga studios and another that services the book retail market. My suggestion is to discover what markets your current reseller is servicing and then find resellers that sell into new markets. This should allow you to expand your market without undercutting your current customer.

~ Tom Doherty has worked in publishing for more than 30 years with 20 of those involved in distribution at both large and small companies. Since 2000 he has served as president of Cardinal Publishers Group, a full service national book distributor, and since 2004 also as publisher of Blue River Press.


What is the timeline from the day I sign a contract with a distributor, e.g., Greenleaf, for how long it takes to be available via Ingram to say, Barnes & Noble.

Maybe a less confusing way to present my question is, forget for the moment, the distributor aspect.

Suppose I just sign with a wholesaler, e.g. NewLeaf (although I know they do distribution as well). How long would it take NewLeaf to make my title available in the Ingram system, for a buyer to walk into a local Barnes & Noble and ask for them to order the title, which typically takes 3-5 business days?

Answer #1 (12/2011):

Yes, that seems reasonable. It can be done faster if the book is time sensitive, like a Super Bowl Championship book, or a huge public relations piece it going to hit soon. Otherwise, B&N requires that the title file information be submitted at 30 days before you sell it to the buyer. Then the retailer wants you to present the book six months before it ships, but the distributor can present the book with just three months notice before it ships without aggravating the buyer too much. But, if you try to set the book up and sell it all within a few weeks of shipping it you need to have a really good reason or the buyer won’t look favorably at your proposal.

The publisher also needs to keep in mind that the distributor might be sending it first to a wholesalers’ DC or the retailers’ DC before it gets to the store. So it will go through two receiving and shipping transactions and the transit time between them and it can take three weeks from the time the distributor ships the book and the books arrive on store shelves.

~ Tom Doherty has worked in publishing for more than 30 years with 20 of those involved in distribution at both large and small companies. Since 2000 he has served as president of Cardinal Publishers Group, a full service national book distributor, and since 2004 also as publisher of Blue River Press

Answer #2 (12/2011):

Thanks for your call today! I chatted with our distribution manager and she said that set up with Barnes & Noble typically takes four months from the time we have a contract signed together. Including a review and contract time of about two weeks, it would take about 4.5 months for a customer to walk into B&N and be able to order your book. I hope this information is helpful!

~ From: GreenLeaf Book Group (

We hope you will find this program useful, but as with any advice, we recommend that you make sure it fits your specific business needs. IBPA does not specifically endorse or support any particular group or service.

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