Direct Sales for Children's Books
Lots of people are talking about direct sales these days. There are courses to set up a Shopify store, discussions of the types of direct sales, and the problem with a slim catalog. In fact, children’s book authors are experts at selling direct through school visits. We charge to speak and then sell books. This is one time when we have the advantage of a captive audience! But what else is available to indie publishers of children’s books?
Why Sell Directly to the Reader?
First let’s look at how the industry has developed from POD (print-on-demand) printing/publishing to our current state of enthusiasm for direct sales. Indie authors are tired of putting our success into the hands of others. When POD first began, it changed the industry. No longer did you have to order thousands of books from an offset printer and store them in your garage. Suddenly, the Order-First-Then-Print model became a way to attain independence. The upfront investment is low enough that you can afford to take risks, publish multiple books, and build an audience. That’s been our path to success for twenty years now.
But with the POD model came problems. The companies who print-on-demand gained so much control because they also acted as distributors. Ingram (Ingram Spark or Lightning Source for author/publishers with larger catalogs) works because their sister company is Ingram Wholesale, which is the largest book distributor in the U.S. When you POD with Ingram, your books are automatically listed in Ingram Wholesale, which makes them available to the industry (depending on how you set your discounts and returns). When you POD with KDP/Amazon, your books are automatically listed on Amazon.com and its international sites. Read more about POD printers here and a 2023 update here.
That access to the wholesale distribution and Amazon.com have meant the difference between success and failure as small, independent publishers. But it comes at the price of control: Ingram now requires all books to offer a 40% discount, minimum. (Industry standard is still 55%.) Some publishers had set a “short discount” of 25% or 30%, which meant a larger profit margin per book. (For example, you might earn $5 profit instead of $3 profit per book.)
The point here is that Ingram has changed their requirements to put your book into their wholesale catalog. Before, a short discount was fine; now, you must use a 40% discount. They can and will make changes whenever they want. They have control of that huge distribution channel, so you have no choice. All of Amazon’s rules about Kindle Unlimited mean they own the channel and control the sales platform.
But what if your business pivoted to a new model, one that allowed for direct sales to your readers?
That’s the lure of direct sales. Cutting out the middleman (Ingram & Amazon & other distributors) means far more profit. The downside, of course, is that it often means more work for the author/publisher.
In her article about direct sales opportunities, Monica Leonelle quoted Michael Evans saying, “Direct sales is not about direct sales. Direct sales is about building your own network.”
So, let’s think about what children’s authors and publishers can do that will encourage direct sales. You’re already expert in some of these—Really !—and some you will probably never do. But let’s talk: how do we reach our readers with direct sales? How do we build our own networks?
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