The Sales and Distribution of Mass Market Books by Cheryl Bolen

Your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher, editing has been completed, you have approved the cover design and the book has gone to press. But the next steps are just as important, how will your newly-published novel be sold and distributed? In today’s article, Cheryl Bolen shares details on how and where your book will be sold and the percentages of sales typically achieved in the various venues. She also reveals the methods employed by most publishers’ sales reps to get your book into the hands of your readers.

The Sales and Distribution
of Mass Market Books

By Cheryl Bolen

"You put out more [books] than you need to to get those buys," said Mark Landau, vice president of distribution and sales for Harper Collins Publishing.

Landau and Rhonda Rose, national account manager for Harper Collins, spoke at PASIC’s spring conference, giving the more than 50 attendees insight into the distribution and sales side of the business.

Some of the channels where authors spend a lot of their promotional efforts — independent stores, libraries, and online sellers — account for only a very small piece of the total pie. On-line booksellers claim just 3 percent of the market, while libraries and independents garner only 2 percent each. Not surprisingly, the national chains like Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks sell 31 percent of all mass market books sold. Wholesalers like Levy Home Entertainment, Anderson Merchandisers and News, the News Group, and Hudson News are responsible for 23 percent of mass market sales.

Supermarkets and airports sell 15 percent of all mass market books. The key national supermarket chains are Kroger, with over 3,400 stores; Albertson’s, with over 2,500 stores; and Safeway, with over 1,800 stores. The primary airport bookstores are operated by Hudson Retail, which has more than 400 stores in 55 airports; Paradies, operating 350 stores in 61 airports; and HMS Host, with 200 stores in 21 airports.

Other outlets are export sales, 10 percent; wholesale clubs, 5 percent; regional chains, 4 percent; special markets, 1 percent; and all others, 2 percent.

Landau said the key national retailers are Wal-Mark, with over 3,700 stores; K-Mart, with over 1,500 stores; and Target, with over 1,350 stores.

Sell-throughs are still the most important number. B & N has good sell-throughs, as do Wal-Marts. Target follows with strong sell-throughs. With retailers like Wal-Mart, "We’re going to take less margin, but we’ll sell more units," Rose said.

Armed with sales kits, the publisher’s sales force meets with buyers five months before the book’s publication date a sales kit for that month which is being sold. The sales kit includes book covers and information about the author’s sales.

Actual orders are placed two months in advance.

After that, the publisher’s sales force is usually finished with the sales for a particular month’s books. Replenishment books, instead of coming from the publisher, come from channels like Ingram’s and Baker and Taylor.

The Harper reps admitted that book sales are flat, which is causing publishers to try to make their money by publishing books in a size other than mass market. "Mass market is not going to go away," Landau said. He pointed to the huge outlay for purchasing oversized racks for trade size books.

Starting in the summer of 2005, the oversized mass market was introduced, and one of the biggest retailers [unnamed] refused to carry them.

Obviously, some months are better than others for book sales. The summer is an excellent time for mass market sales, and while December used to be slow, the sales of Christmas books are outstanding.

It takes about six months for a book’s sales to bottom out, after which returns come in. "Drug stores and grocery stores’ returns trickle in for years," Landau said.

© 2006 – 2011 Cheryl Bolen
This article first appeared in the Winter, 2006, edition of PASIC Basics.
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

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