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Print-On-Demand and Chain Bookstores

A couple years ago there was a lot of talk about a major shift in book distribution on the traditional side of the publishing industry. That shift is being caused by something rather unprecedented. What is being called “long-tailed distribution” is a recent occurrence, where a variety of books are being distributed to a number of smaller niche markets, rather than a large mainstream market. Gone are the days when everyone is clamoring for the same book just because their friend’s friend is reading it. New book trends are cropping up almost on a weekly basis, and a lot of this is due in large part to the demand created by book clubs, specialty groups, and individuals seeking a particular niche title for purposes known only to them, especially as concerns non-fiction.

Smaller publishers are churning out titles to fill the demand, and the Internet, more than anything else, is being used to push these titles to the public, since there is limited shelf space in the chain stores nowadays. Self-published authors and micropresses employing POD technology would do well to focus on the Internet in their attempts to market and sell books. Seeking to have your book stocked in chain bookstores requires one very important thing: distribution. Chain bookstores mainly deal with large distributors, having forged relationships with many of them that are not unlike the long-established relationships between literary agents and major publishers. But even with a good distributor (many of whom often require that you have at least 10 books in print that are already selling fairly well) chain bookstores will be hard-pressed to stock a new title from a small publisher, which would require the unthinkable measure of pushing aside or removing proven bestsellers to make room for the untested titles. 

My advice is to stick to the Internet. Getting into Barnes & Noble or Borders won’t guarantee you sales anyway, especially when they’re not going to put your title up front in a nice table display, or in the store window itself. Even if several stores across the country decided to order a few of your books, they would only jam two copies, tops, in between similar books on a shelf somewhere, and if those two books don’t sell within a given period of time, well, off they go, to make room for something more promising.

It has even been said that the book industry is going the way of the movie industry, where a book, much like a new movie release, has a limited amount of days to perform before the curtain falls. In this case, we’re talking five weeks. If there is a large amount of turnovers during this period—meaning a lot of book returns—or if the book just doesn’t sell at all, it is pretty much over for that title. With a 50-percent return rate on most books, traditional publishers both large and small are turning to niche markets to offload titles, seeing these markets are creating a demand for books that cover subjects that are specifically tailored to them; this equals definite sales. Print-on-demand should be no different. A niche market is key in the publishing industry nowadays. But even with a quality book that directly fits a niche where demand for that book is strong, going the chain bookstore route may not be wise, and it won’t solve your marketing issues. You’ll still have to work hard to get your title noticed by the niche market it caters to. That will take money, time, and lots of effort on the part of the writer or publisher (or both).

Getting into a chain bookstore doesn’t solve everything; if anything, it only creates a new uphill battle.

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