Another Reason to Sell Your Book Direct to Readers

A thread on the Self-Publishing mailing list a couple weeks ago impressed even more strongly on me how backwards the book industry is for minor authors, including self-published authors, and that we really should be doing things the opposite of how the big publishers do.

Case in point: Here’s how most book publishers sell their books. Something like…

A. To wholesalers: 55%-60% discount, credit with 90 days to pay, 100% return credit, and you usually destroy the returned books.

B. To book stores: 25%-40% discount, sliding scale, credit with 30-90 days to pay, but don’t expect to get a check before 120 days and until you call to badger them at least once, 100% return credit, and don’t expect to offer a better discount for non-returnable books, because the store will take the discount and then return the books anyhow, through their normal distributor.

C. To readers: No discount, but you pay a small percentage for credit card processing, returnable within 30 days, but only because you have to do that if you accept payment by credit card, and the money is deposited into your account within 45 days (and as quickly as 3 days with some payment systems).

Now, you tell me, which of the above (A, B, or C) gives you the best deal? The answer is obvious.

If I were selling tens or hundreds of thousands of copies of each title for hundreds (or thousands) of titles, then, yes, A would be the best choice, because I wouldn’t want to deal with all those readers directly. I’d rather ship a smaller number of large crates of books to a few wholesalers and let them break it down further. That’s mass-market selling.

But I’m not selling hundreds of thousands of copies. I’m selling single-digit thousands, maybe, if I’m lucky. And as a self-publisher, I have maybe dozens of titles, if I’m lucky. Therefore, I should be selling directly to readers whenever possible. In fact, I should treat my readers better than I treat my wholesalers. (… a pause, for the collective gasp to subside…)

I propose an alternative discount schedule:

X. To wholesalers and book stores: 20%-30% discount, depending on how many copies you buy, credit with 90-day payment terms, standard returns.

Y. To customers and some niche book stores: 30%-50% discount, depending on how many copies you buy, payment up-front, 90-day (or longer) money-back guarantee.

Z. For premium titles: 0%-20% discount, payment up-front, 90-day (or longer) money-back guarantee.

You’ll note that wholesalers and most book stores will not be touching Z. So how do you sell your premium titles? Those are the titles you sell to your premium customers. Those titles you must sell direct to readers. And for that, you need a customer list, a list of readers and organizations who have bought your books before. You need to send sales letters directly to them to let them know about your premium content.

You might think this is crazy. But consider this: How many TV commercials do you see where the product is “not available in stores”? Do you know why it’s not available in stores? (Hint, hint.) Do you further know how much those TV commercials and infomercials cost? (Another hint: They’re not cheap.) How much money do you think those companies are making to be able to afford to do business like that?

It’s actually not so crazy a sales model, and similar models have been successfully used by numerous very prolific, very wealthy authors, including Ted Nicholas (of How To Form Your Own Corporation Without a Lawyer for Under $75 fame) and Dan Kennedy.