Every publisher wants to increase book sales through bookstores. However, sales through other retail outlets can also increase the volume and velocity of your revenue. These include discount stores, airport stores, supermarkets, gift shops, specialty stores, pharmacies and many others. Each of these segments has a pre-ordained distribution network, and you must work within that structure to get your book on the stores’ shelves.
Finding the proper distributor is not difficult, although you will have to work with different companies in various segments. But once you have distribution in place, will you be just another one of their clients, or will you make your titles stand out and be sold? Getting its representatives to actively sell your books instead of others requires special effort. Perform properly in four areas and you can increase the number and speed of your books moving through the pipeline.
1) Choose the best distribution partners
A successful distribution partnership is a two-way street. They must choose books that fit with their product line, competitive titles and retail customers. You must provide quality content, priced properly and supported by targeted and frequent promotion.
Also, submit a package including a functional marketing plan describing your target buyers, current market trends and how your content is different from and better than competitive titles. Describe your research among the stores and how your book could be displayed on the shelves or counters.
2) Utilize their expertise
Once you make the mutual decision to join forces, create a relationship. Ask their opinions about the cover design, page layout, pricing and your promotion plans. Listen to them and adapt your marketing strategies to reflect their experience. Do not be “just another supplier,” but collaborate to prepare a stratrgic plan.
The channel members know retail distribution better than you do. But you know your content, unique buyers and competitors better than they do. Help them become more successful by educating them on what you know best.
Describe your target audience. Define your prospective readers in objective terms such as age, income and education. It is not necessary to describe them as between the ages of 25 – 45 with income of $50,000 or more. While that is helpful, it may be more useful to define them in general terms. The buyers for your book about retirement planning may be skewed toward the higher age and income brackets. This information is sufficient to direct attention to specialty stores and avoid selling it through discount stores. And a knowing that your audience is highly educated can dictate the vocabulary you use in your promotional material.
Describe your content. Consumers do not buy 320 perfect-bound pages of words. They purchase what the content of those pages does for them. For example, they do not buy recipes in a cookbook, but pleasure that they feel when presenting an unusual, well-prepared meal to the ooohs and aaahs of guests. Describe your book in terms of what it does, not what it is. The distribution sales people can use that information to distinguish your book from similar titles when presenting it to retail buyers.
Describe your competition. Some authors maintain the unlikely perception that they have no competition. Conduct a search on Amazon to find your top competitive titles and discover your book’s unique point of difference. And there is always competition for your distributor’s attention, as well as for shelf space, airtime and the consumer’s wallet.
4) Target your promotion to each rung of the distribution ladder
The unique value you bring to the supply chain is defined and promoted differently at each level. Distributors want quality books that are supported with a creative and well-implemented marketing plan. Retailers want a product that will increase store traffic and move off the shelf quickly and profitably. Consumers want information that will help them in some way. Your job is to make each level aware of your book’s unique value and how it will help them.
Understand the sales function of distributors and wholesalers. They call on retail buyers to get more of their books on the stores’ shelves. Increase the chances of them selling your book by supporting their efforts (a push marketing strategy).
At what tradeshows do your distributors exhibit? Ask if you could display your book at their booth. At what shows are you exhibiting and how might you partner there, too? Tell them about your other promotion plans. Could you conduct a contest or sweepstakes among the distributors’ sales representatives? Ask if you may attend and speak at their sales meeting. Provide them sales literature and quality reproductions of your cover.
Once your books are on the retail shelves, your distribution partner’s role is to fill the pipeline after your promotion gets people to buy them. Consumer promotion (called pull marketing strategy) is your responsibility. Customize your promotional activities to each segment. Generate media exposure that aligns your message with seasonal sales peaks and customer demographics.
Where and when will your promotional efforts take place? Tell your distributors so they can alert retailers in those areas to add more of your books on their shelves in anticipation of increased demand. Keep them informed of your promotion activities by regularly sending a summary of your upcoming promotion activities. Make it easy for them to sell your books they will do so.
Providing value does not require a huge investment. It is simply a matter of knowing what your distribution partners want and showing them how you can provide it. Provide your channel members with current, practical solutions to their problems, and that will elevate you from the mass of average suppliers to the level of trusted partner. Then watch your sales increase.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org– formerly SPAN). He is also the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and now offers commission-based sales to buyers in special markets. For more information contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001-0715; (860) 675-1344; firstname.lastname@example.org or www.premiumbookcompany.com twitter.com/bookmarketing