Marketing to Indie Bookstores

The following are some considerations when developing a marketing plan for independent bookstores. The primary questions are surprising: “Do you really want to?” and. “If so, how should I do it?”

Do You Really Want To?

The most important question is, “If I sell books to independent bookstores, will I get paid?” The answer is probably, but very slowly. Why? Indy bookstores are fighting for survival against the big box stores and the online retailers. Cashflow and dependable suppliers are very important. When it comes time to pay the bills, many stores will prioritize where their bill-paying money goes. Usually they will pay their primary suppliers first: Ingram and Baker and Taylor Distributors and perhaps a regional distributor. These book sources are their lifeblood. They must make sure they keep them happy, especially because these sources are very hard-nosed about keeping current and have the collection resources to back it up. Lower on the priority list are the major publishers and then finally small/self-publishers. 
Understanding this reality necessarily should drive your policies of doing business with the bookselling community. Yes, you should seek their business, but understanding the above realities will help you to develop these. 
  • First, it is imperative that you get accepted by the major distributors so Indy bookstores can easily order your books in whatever quantity they need without having to pay heavy shipping and handling charges. Ordering convenience is paramount to them. One stop shopping is also important—only one bill at the end of the month to keep track of and pay. You can expect to give these distributors a 55 to 65% discount. They, in turn, will sell your books to the bookstores at a 38 to 42% discount.
  • If a bookseller orders from you directly, make it easy, fair, and smart. Some small publishers have sell-defeating discount policies. They may have a structure such as this: 1 book= no discount, 2 to 9 books= 20% discount, 10 or more= 40% discount. This is absolutely insane. You may think this will urge booksellers to order more books from you. It really has the opposite effect. Bookstores must be very careful about their inventory. Their display space is limited and valuable. They would rather depend on just in time inventory replenishment than on carrying unnecessary multiple copies. Regardless of how many books an Indy orders, give it the standard 40% discount. Make the process as easy and fair as you can.
  • Understanding bookstores’ bill paying priorities makes it imperative that you urge on the spot credit card payments. This makes much more sense than trying to urge multiple copy buying with an unrealistic and restrictive discount schedule. If you want to extend billing privileges after they have gone through a credit application process, you can take your chances with their payment priorities. You also are going to have to establish a collection process. Will it be worth it?
  • Offer an additional 5% discount for non-returnable purchases. This makes far more sense than a complex copy vs. discount plateaus such as above. Again, make it easy for the bookseller while protecting your cashflow.
  • Match your marketing campaign to the above realities. First priority is to the distributors in terms of announcing new titles and any marketing aids that will make their job easier and more effective to their bookseller community. If you want to conduct a postcard or email campaign to booksellers, stress your books are available through the distributors.

Some effective marketing strategies you might want to consider: 

  • Direct mail to booksellers with postcards
  • Emails to booksellers
  • ABA (American Booksellers Association) white box program (monthly package sent to 1,200 Indy bookstores with sample books and marketing materials) guaranteed to get you in front of the book buyers.
  • Indy regional booksellers marketing email blasts. See my blog post Getting the Attention of IndieBookstores by Bob Spear 
Pot Sweeteners
Here are a few marketing aids you might consider using:
  • Bookmarks
  • Sell sheets
  • Some bookstores have reading groups or support local reading and education groups. Provide a downloadable reading guide or a teacher’s guide for children’s books.
  • Indy bookstores are always looking for excuses to have events as a way of standing out from the big box stores and making their store a destination. Provide an event kit upon request, if that is appropriate. That will be more likely for children’s books, but maybe it will work for specialty niches. If you have a touching story about a pet, for instance, maybe you can think of some fun activities that would involve customers bringing in the their pets of at least having a pet themed party about similar pets. If you have a book about dating, provide a speed dating event kit. Your imagination is your only limitation.
In summary, use your head. Make doing business with you as convenient and fair as possible. Support your channels. Provide marketing materials that make sense and set you apart as someone with marketing expertise.

This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear‘s Book Trends blog.