Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why Bookstores Don't Stock Indie Books

Brick and mortar bookstores rarely stock indie books, even if they want to. It's not personal. It's smart business. They have a bottom line and it's to turn a profit. Indie books are a risk for a number of reasons, and maybe not the ones you think. The good news is that the biggest booksellers in the world have online stores and they are happy to stock indie paperbacks. Still, I wanted to look into the real reasons behind the closed doors.

What Book Buyers Look For When Stocking Their Shelves
  • At least a 40% profit margin on the sale
  • 90 day grace period before payment is required
  • The right to return all books that aren't sold
  • Competitive retail pricing
  • Professional products 
The above terms are considered industry standard. Books from traditional publishers come with these terms. There is little or no risk to the bookstore when they order from the publisher. They have a large profit margin, they don't have to pay for the books for 90 days and they can ship back any books they don't sell. Bookstores are never stuck with unsold inventory--unless they stock indie books.

Why Indie Books Can't Compete
  • Variable profit margins set by the distributor/printer (Createspace, Lulu--terms vary)
  • Payment is due upon placement of the order
  • No easy return agreement
  • Expensive retail pricing
  • Product may or may not be professional 
A lot of indie authors only make ebooks, but I do both. There is nothing like holding my book in my hands. Maybe it's my age (41), but I still love paper books. It's important to me to be in both markets. Aside from that, most of my young readers don't own kindles.

I was disappointed to learn that bookstores probably won't carry The Pet Washer. Now that I know why, it makes sense. If they can't sell my unknown and "overpriced" book, they will get stuck with it. Why would they order it when there are thousands of books for sale that offer industry standard terms?

The Pet Washer is priced at $10.99. I remember how disappointed I was when I couldn't price it at $5.99. Createspace left me little choice in my pricing. The good news is that Amazon and Barnes & Noble discounted the book online to $7.91. This price is competitive and I feel good about the product itself. The paper and binding quality are much higher than that of mass produced paperbacks.

But I didn't get where I am today by taking no for an answer. There is a way to break into local bookstores, consignment. Once my book is released with the updated cover, I will be taking it to independent bookstores and offering my terms.

My deal: they pay me $5.00 per book and they can sell it for whatever they want. If they sell it for $8.00, they will make a 38% profit. I will supply the product, I will collect payment in 90 days and they can return any books they don't sell. It's the same deal the publishers offer.

After removing all possible negatives, the only basis left for them to reject my book is they just don't want it. This could be because of shelf space, subject matter or unwillingness to sell an indie book and there is nothing I can do about that. 

To Do: Approach local bookstores for a consignment deal. It's good exposure. If they say no, ask if they'll host a signing event. If they say yes, definitely ask for a signing event. If you've had success getting into bookstores, please let us know how you did it!

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
author of The Pet Washer
a novel for children 8 and up