{Dear d0t} Please Explain Distribution to Me

Dear d0t:

My god, you’ve been super-quiet. So can you explain what “distribution” means in publishing? Does that mean a publisher got acquired?


Schmane Schmanficcer

Dear Schmane:

My email has been a RIOT this week, I can tell you what.

Let’s explain:

Setting up a publishing company isn’t as easy as getting yourself an LLC and then putting up a website and publishing your friends’ books. I mean, sure you can do that, but here’s the real deal: You might as well be self-publishing if you’re going that route.

Any “new” publisher has the same outlets for distribution you do: places like Smashwords and Lulu and Amazon and B&N and iTunes, etc.

What delineates the big guns from the little guns in small publishing is distribution. Sure, you get availability with the little guys, but that means if your grandma goes into Barnes & Noble in her neighborhood in Boca, she can order your book. Same as she could online.

DISTRIBUTION is what gets your book on shelves in places like B&N and your local bookstore and your Walmart. And the only distributors they work with are big publishers… not Amazon’s hook-up.

So most of these bigger “little” publishers sell their first-born children to a big publisher to become a distributor for their books. LOTS of smaller pubs do this to get their books into bookstores. Entangled Publishing, for example, has a current agreement with Macmillan for distribution, which is why you can often find their titles in bookstores. U.K. publisher Quercus has an agreement with Random House for their distribution. Note that this doesn’t make either one of these companies part of the company that’s doing distribution. Think of it like Walmart agreeing to carry Shake Weights. Sure, they can sell a lot on TV, but they bet they can sell more if you can walk into any Walmart in Amurkah and pick up a set along with your $1 bandanna and your instant cheese grits.

What it means overall? There’s money to be made by both parties so they form an alliance.

What it all boils down to? If the author is getting paid on net instead of on percentage of sale price? They’re probably going to make less money per book, but the publisher hopes to make that up via a wider distribution possibility. They’re betting they can sell more copies for their authors if they can get their books into every Walmart in Amurkah.

But shelf space is limited. Even the big pubs can’t get all their books into stores. So just watch with a raised brow and see how it goes.


As d0t is of the disagreeable sort, Dear d0t will be posted when the spirit moves her, as in when she has a less than negative number of fucks to give. Be sure to check out d0t’s other articles.

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