You have published your book, time to distribute
Many independent authors are faced with the same question: How do I distribute my book once it has been published? There are many ways to distribute a book, but not all of them work for every author. In this article, we will be covering the various distribution options out there, for both print books and ebooks. It is important to note that the distribution of ebooks is much easier than print books and, therefore, many authors choose to publish ebooks only. However, according to a recent article, ‘self-published e-books have yet to see the kind of success in the South African market that authors in other countries have experienced’ (Malibongwe Tyilo, 2020).
Let us start by looking at the various distribution options for print books.
Print book distribution
When looking at print distribution, the first thing that springs to mind is bookstores. The dream for most authors is to see their book in the window of their local bookstore. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done for independent authors. Traditional bookstores, like Exclusive Books and Bargain Books, work with book distributors and not directly with authors. Traditional bookstores prefer to have a catalogue of books from which they can choose titles. If you want to distribute to traditional bookstores, you will most likely need to work with a book distributor.
How does this work?
Your book will be added to the distributor’s catalogue and bookstores will order your book. The distributor takes care of the administration, warehousing, order fulfilment and shipping. For every book sold, you will receive an amount after fees and this will be paid to you by the distributor. However, the fees charged by the distributor can be high and bookstores also require a discount on the recommended retail price. The fees differ from distributor to distributor and each bookstore has its own discount. We advise that you go over the distribution agreement carefully and work out how much you will receive from your books’ sales. This will help you determine whether or not this is a viable distribution option. It may turn out that the money is not worth the trouble. If you do choose this route, it might be necessary to increase your recommended retail price for bookstores, in order for you to make enough to justify this distribution channel.
Book ordering and backorders
It is important to note how book ordering works. In book publishing, we refer to backorders. This means that the book is marketed to bookstores before publication to generate sales. If you use a distributor, they will use an advanced information sheet to sell your book to the various bookstores. The advanced information will have the following basic information:
- Book specifications, such as size, page extent, ISBN, price, etc.
- A summary of what the book is about
- An author biography
- An image of the book cover
The backorders will then be fulfilled once the book has been published.
These stores are more willing to work with independent authors and do not work exclusively with distributors. However, if you are already working with a distributor, independent bookstores will order from them as well. These stores also tend to ask for lower discounts than traditional bookstores. It is important to note that some independent stores might only take books on consignment, which means they will only pay you once some of the books have been sold. Independent bookstores are also good spaces to arrange to hold book launches. Below is a list of some of the most well-known independent bookstores in South Africa:
- The Book Lounge (Cape Town) https://booklounge.co.za/
- Love Books (Johannesburg) http://www.lovebooks.co.za/
- Bridge Books (Johannesburg) https://bridgebooks.co.za/
- Books & Books (Durban) https://booksandbooks.co.za/new/
- Clarke’s Bookshop (Cape Town) http://www.clarkesbooks.co.za/
For a full list of bookstores in South Africa, you can have a look at the SA Booksellers Association’s website: https://www.sabooksellers.com/bookshops/. We do not know how regularly this list is updated, but it can serve as a starting point for your own research.
Book distribution companies for indie authors
As an independent author, it can be difficult to manage the distribution of your book on your own. The management of this is time-consuming and your time could be better spent on marketing and promoting your book (or writing your next book). Therefore, a worthwhile option for any indie author is to use the services of a book distributor. They will manage the warehousing, order fulfilment, shipping and payment of royalties on your behalf. What are the costs involved? Every distributor has different terms and charges for their service, but they will usually take a percentage of the profit made from each book sale. For example, a 35/65 split, where you (the author) get 65% of the profit from book sales and the distributor gets 35%. Below is a list of a few book distributors in South Africa:
● Blue Weaver (Cape Town) https://blueweaver.co.za/
● BookSite Africa (Cape Town) http://www.booksite.co.za/services/
● Xavier Nagel (Cape Town) http://xaviernagelagencies.co.za/home/
● I-go-book (KwaZulu-Natal) https://igobooks.co.za/about/
Print on demand distribution
This is an important consideration if you are on a tight budget or do not want to print hundreds of copies right away. With print on demand, there is no need to warehouse stock, and orders are fulfilled as they come in.
Print on Demand – POD and distribution service
Print on Demand offers indie authors a locally based print on demand and distribution service. You can print one copy of your book and this is linked to their distribution network, which includes the listing of titles on:
- Takealot locally – providing you with the largest digital reach for your titles in SA
- Ingram globally – making your title available in every Amazon store, Barnes & Nobel and Betrems around the world
The benefit of this is that your title is stored in a digital library ready to be printed in the location of the buyer and delivered to their door within three days. Your title is always available, always in stock and is available on demand. Website: https://www.printondemand.co.za/
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Print on demand)
Through the Amazon platform, you can upload and sell both ebooks and print books. For print books, you can use the KDP print-on-demand services which allows the author to self-publish their book as a paperback and sell it on Amazon websites. You do not have to pay any costs upfront or carry any stock, as your book is printed when the reader purchases it. Website: https://kdp.amazon.com/
This is an easy-to-use print-on-demand platform that provides access to Ingram’s global distribution network for print books and ebooks. You can visit the IngramSpark website to view the full list of their distribution points. Website: https://www.ingramspark.com/
There are many options available locally and internationally in terms of ebook distribution and there are many ebook retailers out there that can help you distribute your ebook. Platforms mentioned above such as Amazon KDP and IngramSpark distribute ebooks as well; however, there are many other services out there that distribute ebooks. When choosing a platform, you need to consider the following aspects: royalty percentage taken, pricing, file formats (epub 2 or 3, mobi for Amazon) accepted and exclusivity. The list of ebook platforms is quite extensive, so we have listed the most popular platforms below with their web address. You will need to do your own research on each platform to figure out which will work best for your needs:
Uploading procedure for Amazon and other e-retailers
Although each retailer’s platform works differently, it is important to know the basics of uploading your ebook to an online retailer. You will need to create an account and select a payment method that is possible in South Africa; for example, not all payment methods on Kindle Direct Publishing are available here. It is also important to note what the payment cycle is for your royalties as some retailers may only pay out after a certain number of books have been sold, not every month.
For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at Amazon as this is the preferred platform for many authors. Once you have set up your account and payment method, you are ready to upload your files. After setting up your account, you will need to fill in your book’s details, such as title, subtitle, author, contributors (editor, illustrator, etc.), ISBN and book description. Thereafter you will have to select keywords (words or phrases that describe your book) and select the right category for your book. You then move on to your content and you will need to upload your text and cover. Please note that for print on demand you may need to make minor adjustments to your text and cover to fit Amazon’s specifications. Amazon allows you to review the content you have uploaded, and will pick up on and notify you of any errors. If your content is error free, you can start setting up your pricing. You will then approve your book for publishing, and after Amazon has done a final review, your book will go live on the platform. For more detailed steps and explanations, you can visit the Kindle Direct Publishing website: https://kdp.amazon.com/.
This is a route that many indie authors choose to take. Often the cost of using a distributor is too high and indie authors have therefore started selling their books themselves through their own website. A relatively simple website can be set up with an online store through which readers can place an order for either the print book or ebook. WordPress, Wix and Weebly are common website builders that are used by authors; and e-commerce platforms, such as Woocommerce, is a WordPress plugin which is relatively easy to install and work from. A courier can be used to distribute print books to readers and the costs and delivery time will vary depending on where the reader lives. This can be time-consuming but works better when you are not printing thousands of copies. If you have only printed a few hundred books, it might be more profitable to distribute print books this way.
SA Booksellers Association courses
If you are interested in learning more about the book retail trade in South Africa, the South African Booksellers Association recently launched a series of short courses covering various aspects of the book retail trade. These courses are intended for people looking to enter the book trade, but the knowledge in some of these courses could be valuable for you as an author.
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