If I Worked for a Book Distributor…
In the comment section of my last beat, Adam asked the following:
When I started to answer his comment, my reply just kept growing and growing so I decided to dedicate this beat to not only answering what I would do first, but also what I would do after that first thing.
Before I even attempted to disrupt the standard distribution model, the very first thing I would do is to change what I would call the distributor mindset at least in regards to publishers. What I mean by this is to change how the distributor as an organization views their mission in relation to the publishers that use their services. So instead of approaching their mission as emphasizing the selling of books or getting books out in the world on behalf of the publisher, rather I would highlight and sell the actual publishers in addition to their books to my customer base of bookstores, libraries and the general public.
I would go about doing this by culling the number of publishers that SPD represents to a more manageable number. If they have over 400 right now (according to their website), I would at least halve that, probably even less than that. I think a distributor should go in the opposite direction as Amazon and not try to just get bigger and constantly add publishers. I think they need to push out to the world the quality of their publishers. One way of doing that is to get a bunch of like minded publishers together, or publishers that are similar in some ways other than just that they are “small press.” So I guess basically that would lead to a redefining of their mission statement.
After I had my group of publishers together, I would try things. New things. Things like:
- Make publisher profiles (online would do) to highlight what the publisher does and stands for. Then I would send these publisher profiles to all the customers/libraries/bookstores that order books from us. These profiles would help create a sense of community other than just “small press.” These profiles would help potential readers to get a sense of the “localness” of the publishers publishing these books. To better show that the mindset of many of these independent small press publishers is in alignment with other independent organizations in other fields such as micro craft brewers or indie music.
- Implement a payment gateway that pays publishers weekly or monthly at least, because the quarterly system is old school and always behind. Part of the blame for publishers not being able to stay afloat has to do with being always one quarter behind (at least) and not being able to get the current revenue in a timely manner. A few years ago when Mud Luscious Press closed, JA Tyler specifically referenced that point in an interview with HTML Giant.
- Encourage the publishers to directly ship their books to bookstores/libraries that wanted them (foregoing the need for as big of a warehouse). This may or may not work. Like anything, some publishers would probably be better at shipping out the books on time, etc… but at least this is something to try. If it didn’t work, the next step would be to try and find some funds for publishers specifically to counteract the the cost of shipping their books to the distributor.
- Create more events like the SPD Bee in order to engage the local Bay Area community more. I would start with something like the AprilFestival up in Seattle and call it the “Bay Area Book Bash” or something stupid like that.
- Invite booksellers from indie bookstores or librarians that are already our customers to recommend books on our website and call it “Your Indie Bookseller/Librarian Recommends” or something stupid like that. Make it a regularly featured part of the website, blog, or whatever. Even maybe having a type of online review system (similar to Amazon’s) where anyone can post book reviews would be a step forward.
- Create a “behind the scenes of a distributor” type of thing, so maybe one day a week you would show something that a distributor does. For example, you could make a short video about the journey of a book from when it is received in the warehouse to when it arrives in a bookseller or librarian or customer’s hands. This is PR stuff but that is an important part of a distributor’s job, to act as a publicist of sorts for your publishers and the books that they publish.
Those are just some of the things I would try initially. I guess the point is to start thinking of new or improved ways to not just distribute books, but also to engage the potential community surrounding these books: the sellers of these books (bookstores), the renters of these books (libraries) and the readers of these books (everyone). Let’s hear your ideas. What would you do?