Tracking Our Books’ Distributors

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by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

When I first started self-publishing, I decided that I wanted to upload each of my books to each individual retail outlet myself. I liked this idea for a couple of different reasons: for one, I liked having the control over pricing (maybe I wanted to run a sale at Kobo and not at Apple, for example). For another, I liked not having a percentage of my earnings go to a distributor.

It wasn’t hard to upload to the different channels.  Well, except for Apple. Apple was a pain.

Fast forward 6 years down the road and I’m using aggregators to distribute to most retailers (aside from Amazon). Because what I learned that I didn’t like was tax time. I didn’t like the fact that I had to figure my earnings from so many different places (with 24 titles, this gets tedious).  I also admired the way that these distribution platforms could get my book free at Barnes and Noble or put them in libraries, or list them for sale at foreign retailers, or put them with subscription services. I liked being able to use a single dashboard when I wanted to run promotions.  Individual pricing is nice, but it was hard, frankly, for me to keep up with…even when I’d put reminders on my calendar to check in with a particular retail outlet for a particular title.

But I was careless. Or at least I wasn’t careful. I relied on my memory to remind me who was distributing what. This caused me to start making mistakes.  I’m sharing my cautionary tale.

Without reviewing my distributors, I expanded my distribution by using StreetLib and PublishDrive.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that I had duplicate listings of titles on a few different channels. My books were showing up more than one time at a retailer.

I also received an email from one distributor saying that they couldn’t distribute a title for me because it was already published on that channel by a different distributor.

At this point I realized I needed to take the time to go through and list who was distributing what.  I realized what a mess it all was.  I had a single title directly at iBooks (no more, since Apple had been such a challenge to work with), a single title at Kobo, and overlapping distribution for a couple of books.

The first thing I did was to delist the stragglers and distribute them through an aggregator. There can be disadvantages to doing this: you may lose your accumulated reviews and rankings on the title. It’s worth emailing the retailer beforehand to see if there is a way to bypass that. I simply decided I’d start over again in those two instances…it was that worth it to me. But for Barnes and Noble, I’m leaving it as-is–I do have 7 titles directly set up with them and they’ve been there for long enough to have plenty of reviews.

Next I made a list of every aggregator and which channel I was allowing them to deliver to. When I saw duplicates,  I made adjustments.  I deal with these distributors:  PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.

This is something I’ll have to continue keeping on top of as distributors add more outlets.

Ideally, you wouldn’t handle things the way I did. You’d have your list or spreadsheet or whatever first. You’d have a master plan for going direct to a retailer or using an aggregator.

You’d ask yourself questions like:

Which distributor/retailer offers better payment terms  (financial and tax considerations may be important for non-US authors)?

Do I have time to monitor a variety of different sales dashboards? If so,  how many?

How many books am I distributing to retailers (sometimes it gets a little more complex when dealing with many titles)?

Which aggregator dashboard gives me more sales data (which could prove the deciding factor if several distributors could distribute to the same retailer)?

Do you know who’s sending your books where? Have you got any duplicates/overlapping?

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12 thoughts on “Tracking Our Books’ Distributors

  1. Hi Elizabeth – cautionary tale indeed … and a great reminder that we need to take notes/lists at all times … keeping up with what’s happening … thanks – I’m certain this prove invaluable to your readers and other authors. Cheers Hilary

  2. I so feel your pain! I have 11 titles out now and 3 different boxed sets comprised of 8 of those. I started off listing to Kobo and B&N directly while I tried to use Smashwords for everything else. Smashwords formatting is a pain though and, though they distribute to Overdrive, they aren’t on the same playing service with it that Streetlib is, is my understanding.

    I started using D2D to take advantage of their formatting capabilities. I distribute to all the outlets they offer and then using the ePub they produce, I submit to Smashwords. It always bypasses the meat grinder and passes ePub check. Once it’s all approved at Smashwords, I upload my Word Document to get all the other formats and I distribute to everyone there that D2D doesn’t do but OverDrive. I use Streetlib for GooglePlay, OverDrive and all the European (mostly Italian) distributors they offer. I very recently added PublishDrive to take advantage of the different distributors they offer besides all of the big ones above. They have a lot of Eastern European Countries and some Asian reach (especially China) that none of the others have.

    Will my books sell in Hungary and China? Who knows but, they can’t if they’re not listed there! Using distributors gives me the same advantages as having an agent for the foreign rights would give me and at the same or less cost to me. Aside from the tax and recordkeeping advantages, that’s worth the price of using them too.

    1. Anne–It’s a pain, isn’t it? And you bring up another point for writers to consider: what does each distributor bring to the table in terms of placement with retailers? Your example of Overdrive is a good one. In Smashword’s catalog to Overdrive, indie authors are presented as self-publishing authors to libraries. Although I’m proud of being indie, I’m very cognizant that it’s a hard sell to libraries. StreetLib and PublishDrive list us alongside trade books.

      I’m with you on D2D! I use their formatting now, too (including their PDF creator for Ingram and CreateSpace).

      Great point–our books can’t sell in foreign markets if they’re not listed there! So important to go wide (especially in light of the recent issues writers have had with Select).

    1. Alex–It really is. And those are just for ebooks! I’ve also got Ingram and CreateSpace for print and ACX for audio. My accountant keeps getting updates from me like: “Oops! One more 1099…”

  3. Yow. Yeah, that would drive me batty. I’m glad you’ve got it streamlined now so you’ve got less of a headache.

    I started out Amazon only because I wanted to get the hang of self-publishing before I went wide. When I did go wide (through D2D only), I wasn’t seeing enough sales from other outlets to make up for the loss I was taking by not being in the KU program, so I pulled everything back to just Amazon. I might go wide again here and there to test the waters, but for the immediate future, it’s Amazon only.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I just found out about StreetLib a few weeks ago, and had to go through all my other links to make sure I wasn’t duplicating. Now why didn’t I think of making a spreadsheet then?? :D

    1. Stephanie–You’re probably just like me and think that you can easily remember who’s distributing what. :) And I *can* remember…just not 3 or 4 months later, when I have another launching book to distribute!

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