Marketing Monday: What’s the best Paperback Distribution option for indie authors?

It’s not Monday yet where I am, but it is in Australia*! And I’ve always liked the “Marketing Monday” excuse for a good blog post…

On Saturday, I presented a workshop at the inaugural York Writers Conference in Newmarket, ON, and there were a lot of questions about print distribution for indie authors. I figure, if people were asking these questions in person, I bet some of my writer friends online might be wondering about this as well!

So let’s break it down. As an author who has the rights to distribute your own paperback books, what are your best options? The short list is:

  • Amazon KDP
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Press
  • IngramSpark
  • a local printer

I do not include on this list any vanity presses, including those that insist they Are Not Vanity Presses, but still charge you a few thousand dollars to set up your print book and make you order any minimum copies. That is, frankly, bullshit. But I do know some people who use Lulu for spiral bound books (and I just ordered one of those myself the other day, direct from the Lulu website), and there will probably be someone out there who sings the praises of a full-service option. It won’t be me.

Amazon KDP

If you distribute your ebook through Amazon KDP, it’s pretty easy to add a paperback option after creating the ebook. This is a great option for most countries, but notably and unfortunately excludes Australia. (BookDepository, which is a worldwide online bookstore, does pull from the KDP catalogue, I believe, so that’s a workaround for Aussie readers, but it doesn’t help Aussie authors wanting to order print copies at wholesale prices.)

Barnes & Noble Nook Press

It’s an option. I haven’t used it because I don’t publish directly to Nook Press (they weren’t open to Canadians a bajillion years ago when I started publishing, and now I’m old and tired and not interested in trying new things unless I’m forced to). My understanding is that you can also do hardcovers through Nook Press, and there’s no set up fee.

Ingram Spark

The biggest drawback to distributing to Ingram Spark is that they require a self-registered ISBN, which is optional at KDP, and they ostensibly charge a set-up fee. I say this with a lot of affection for IS distribution, but the set-up fee is bullshit, because there are OFTEN free codes, and they give out secret codes at conferences, so the fee is primarily charged to people who aren’t tapped into author loops–new writers who can afford it the least.

But if you can get your hands on a free code, Ingram Spark gets your books into the widest paperback distribution catalogue. Libraries order from them. Bookstores that refuse to order from the KDP catalogue order from them. Once you start to have readers request your books from libraries and indie bookstores, Ingram Spark becomes a really good idea. It’s a down-the-road really good idea for authors who are actively building a catalogue and readership. And if you are an Australian author, this is the best option for you to get your mitts on your own book!

Another advantage Ingrams offers is that–without an ISBN!–you can print copies of non-distributing books at wholesale cost. This is handy for Advance Review Copies in print, if you’re doing a specific marketing push that might require it, or if you have the rights to print personal anthology copies to sell at signings. (I do the latter with copies of the Love in Transit anthology, which I wrote in as Ainsley Booth. It’s retired, but we still print signing-exclusive copies to hand sell as a fan reward.)

Local printer

This is the option I don’t think I properly addressed at the conference on the weekend, because my default reaction is, “just do KDP and, if you can afford the ISBN block**, Ingram Spark covers the rest of your bases.” But the truth is, sometimes a local printer can get you a better per-book price on a print run, and there might be reasons to do that. But before you commit to that investment, check what it would cost to order the books you want from KDP. And don’t think that a local print run replaces getting your books up on the online retailers and into library catalogues. It can only satisfy hand-selling requirements and that’s a tough author path to trod.

* Australian authors, did you catch the nod to you in the middle of this blog post? Doing a book signing in Melbourne was the kick in my butt that I needed to get my books on Ingram Spark!

** Canadian authors: we are lucky bunnies, and our ISBNs are FREE. Let’s not flaunt that too much for the rest of the world, because they’re rather pricey elsewhere. But anyone with a maple-leaf tattoo can register for an ISBN here.

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