A New Indie Distribution Model

An interesting development out of Boulder, Colorado that is both a good and bad sign.  Self-published writers can now pay for being stocked on the shelves or more:

The store charges its consignment authors according to a tiered fee structure: $25 simply to stock a book (five copies at a time, replenished as needed by the author for no additional fee); $75 to feature a book for at least two weeks in the “Recommended” section; and $125 to, in addition to everything else, mention the book in the store’s email newsletter, feature it on the Local Favorites page of the store’s website for at least 60 days, and enable people to buy it online for the time it’s stocked in the store.

And for $255 — essentially, the platinum package — the store will throw in an in-store reading and book-signing event.

In a sense, this is nothing new.  Chain stores have been paid by the big six publishers to stock titles at the front of the store – for a price that is likely out of range for anyone on the independent level:

Buyers take several things into consideration when deciding whether to add a title to their stores’ stock: Has the author published before? What kind of sales did their previous titles have? How have similar books sold at their stores? Are they already overstocked on books with a similar theme? Books by previous bestselling authors and celebrity authors go to the front of the line. Does the store already have 49 different titles about gardening? They probably don’t need a 50th. Also, some publishers pay for product placement in certain stores. This real estate, usually somewhere in the front of the store, is usually reserved for bestselling authors and is very expensive.

This scenario is much different – because the Boulder Book Store is an indie.  At many indie bookstores (or record stores) you’ll find a staff favorite section.  To have this section taken over by paying authors is a little unscrupulous. These books haven’t been recommended at all – they’ve been paid for.

On this site, we’ve covered the controversy about paid reviews.  Most are opposed to a writer paying for a review because it will lead to bias by the reviewer.  I argue that if a reviewer is still able to be completely honest about a book’s faults, there’s no problem with getting paid for it.  This system is entirely different, however – the book is essentially given a good review by calling it “Recommended.”

That said, this scenario could work – so long as the bookstore takes the word “Recommended” off the section.  Note: I haven’t actually seen this in action – I’m going purely by this article – so maybe it doesn’t say “Recommended” in flashing lights.  But having a book  listed as part of “Local Favorites” in the newsletter does suggest there’s no mention that this has been paid for.

I have no problem with authors paying to have their books available at the front of the store.  Scratch that – it’s annoying that the big publishers are able to pay bookstores for better placement.  But at least if that’s the system, it’s good news if self-published authors have the same opportunity.  $25 – the lowest package – is hardly taking an independent publisher for a ride.  What it does, though, is take a customer for a ride with a fair degree of false advertising by calling the books “recommended.”

On balance, this is good news for independent authors, even if the execution isn’t perfect.  As the article points out, it’s been a successful program:

And the books are selling. Not flying off the shelves…but sauntering off, steadily. In the first week in March, Kashkashian told me, the store sold 75 consignment books — which, given the store’s 40-percent cut of those sales, and the authors’ fees, accounted for 3 percent of the store’s total revenues for the week. Part of that number, Kashkashian believes, is attributable to the authors’ efforts at self-promotion, which amplify the store’s own marketing strategy. “Some are blogging, some are on Twitter, some just trying to get out there by word of mouth,” he notes. “They’re working their networks, whether it’s online or offline. They’re kind of learning how to do it.”

Don’t be surprised if you see this coming to your local independent bookstore – though probably not the chains.

  • $75 to feature a book for at least two weeks in the “Recommended” section

    That’s bullshit.

  • Interesting article. Ethics aside, I wonder if it’s cost effective for the author. At $75 for a 2 week recommendation, presumably the books would have to more than saunter off the shelves to break even on that outlay?

  • You’re right, $75 for two weeks is totally out of bounds. The likelihood of selling, say, 10 books on a rack of other books isn’t high without some local promotion.

    The $25 isn’t terrible though. Preferable maybe than having to beg a store to Please, take my book. This isn’t really feasible nationwide, however, and would mostly work for local indies.

  • Our local “indie” store here in STL is a joke. I tried to speak to them at a book festival once and was told that if my name wasn’t Hillary Clinton, then they didn’t have time to talk to authors right now. (Hillary was doing a signing at the end of the month which they were promoting heavily at the time.) I politely said, “That’s fine. If your name isn’t Amazon.com, then I guess I don’t have time to shop here right now.”

    I honestly don’t have a problem with this consignment scenario if it’s working. If I owned a bookstore, I’d probably do it myself. We all know how shelf space is important to booksellers, and if a book isn’t selling or is non-returnable, then most stores (especially the chains) aren’t buying. Why not rent the space?