Last year at a writers’ conference, a small press publisher was giving a talk and mentioned that her press doesn’t sell their books at Chapters (or Borders or Barnes and Noble). You could see the audience of writers collectively twitch. What did she mean? How could her press afford NOT to have books at any of the major chains?
The issue is, that they cannot afford TO sell them there.
Borders has over 500 stores. Lets say that they require you to send 5 books per store. That’s 2,500 books. And lets say only 2 books sell per store and they return the rest (to make room for new titles). Guess who pays for the shipping BOTH ways. The indie publisher. Not only that, the returned books are very often damaged. If this indie publisher only comes out with 3-4 titles per year it will most likely LOSE money by selling at major chains… unless they garner a major hit. And garnering a major hit is difficult for an indie publisher that can’t afford to have a separate marketing department. There might be only 2 people doing all the work.
Most people know there is a huge discrepancy between indie music and film production and the big budget music and film producers. The same holds true for the book industry as well. The internet has leveled the playing field for the indie music scene (you can create a grassroots movement online through MySpace) and technology has made it much easier to make a film for under $1 million dollars. However, it’s still extremely difficult to get your indie film into major theaters because all the space is taken up by big budget films that have major marketing campaigns. Let’s face it, indie filmmakers usually blow their wads making the actual film and can’t compete with the $20 million advertising budget of a large studio. Heck – it costs $500 just to get one bus shelter ad in Vancouver.
Internet distribution models and Print on Demand publishing have leveled the playing field somewhat for indie publishers. Especially since so many people buy books on line (it’s not like shopping for clothes, you want a book, you buy it)… but still, the discrepancies are there and because of the economy, many larger publishers aren’t taking risks on new writers.
Indie publishers are a wonderful service to up-and-coming writers. And Indie Bookstores are a service to the indie publisher and indie author, often supporting local and regional writers in ways that Borders or Chapters don’t. I remember the irony of being a featured reader at an event set up at Borders Books. I couldn’t get my books into that store. I asked them why not? I was doing a reading there, after all. I was told they didn’t deal with small presses.
I’m writing this today to remind folks that writers and publishers have to start somewhere. They have to be able to find homes other than just on line. They need places to read and interact with the public and stores that will support their work. Not everyone can get the publicity of Stephanie Meyers or Stephen King. Indie bookstores can also supply material for niche markets… like Banyan Books (spiritual/personal growth books) or KidsBooks.
I’m not saying don’t ever step into a Borders or Chapters ever again. Just think about exploring your local indie booksellers so that you might discover something new. Indie bookstores means more choice, more diversity, not just buying what the big pub houses want us to. They also put money back into the local community. I read somewhere that 20% more of your money stays local when you shop at an indie bookstore.
A great place to look for indie bookstores is INDIE BOUND, an online community of indie booksellers and other indie businesses. It’s also a great resource if you’re an indie author planning a book tour, because you can pick up the phone and talk directly to the person who can help you set up a reading. And they will even carry your books on their shelves… possibly as a featured author.