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How to Become a Book Distributor

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Getting books into readers' hands requires a distributor, who serves as the point person between authors, publishing houses and retail outlets. The type of business you run depends on your approach. A distributor may focus on discounting new titles from publishers, or selling a mixture of damaged, overstocked and out-of-print items. The growing popularity of online books also allows independent authors to function as their own distributor, if they desire.

Assess Your Business Model

Before you start, talk with other distributors and booksellers to see what sells. For example, some distributors only deal with specialized outlets such as educational and military titles. You also can research catalogs that cater to specific demographics, geographic areas and interests. For example, you probably would focus on selling health and diet books to beauty shops, fitness centers and medical offices, the Book Marketing Works website suggests.

Build Your Catalog

Once you decide where to channel your efforts, contact publishers to build your stock up quickly. For example, white sales offer 25 percent discounts on older titles that publishers are keeping in print and still trying to sell, "Publishing Perspectives" stated in May 2010. You also can obtain 85 to 95 percent discounts for returned copies that didn't sell or remaindered books that never reached customers. These methods keep your costs down, while allowing you to lure customers with deep discounts, which boosts profit margins.

Evaluate Your Overhead

Watch operating costs carefully, since the average wholesale distributor needs two to five years before he becomes profitable, "Entrepreneur" magazine states. Figure out how much you'll pay for necessities such as Internet connection fees, fax machines, phones and personal computers. Also, unless you only work from home, you'll need an office or warehouse to store your products, which means researching spaces and leasing fee agreements. Similarly, you'll need to establish working relations with one or more shippers, since mailing costs will be another big part of your business.

Finalize Your Strategy

Expect to use various options if you distribute your own books, but research them to make sure they're appropriate. Instead of going through a traditional distributor, you may be better off selling books directly from your website or in-store appearances, says publishing and social media strategist Carla King in a June 2010 PBS column. Other options include offering e-books in multiple formats, or striking consignment deals with bookstores that carry your genre. However, don't forget that marketing and promotion remains your responsibility, no matter what method you use.

Other Considerations

Study profit margins closely to reduce your likelihood of getting caught off guard by changing market conditions. Since the 1990s, the rise of chain bookstores, e-books and online commerce sales all have chipped away at the independent book market. One sign is the American Booksellers Association's membership -- which has shrunk from 4,000 to 5,000 to just over 1,700 members, "Publishing Perspectives" reports. In short, all your activities -- including purchasing, shipping and storage -- must help your business support itself.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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