There is a giant elephant in the room every time you talk books with an Indie bookstore. Amazon. The big gorilla. But there is another one, too. One that has been talked about, but only deep in book circles. There are things happening that neither authors nor bookstores understand, someone is keeping a fair amount of money, and authors and bookstores alike are losing money as a result. 

It’s Ingram. Ingram and Baker and Taylor. So let me explain what I mean, the issues at hand, and what I think a solution might be.

The Price is Right

So this hit my eyeballs first as a self-publisher and then again as I formed a publishing house. Let’s look at some actual data. 

In the background of Ingramspark, publishers get to choose the discount they offer to bookstores and retailers. You can choose anything from 0% to the recommended 55%. I’ve found, and so have other authors, that if you discount your print books around 40% the elephant in the room, Amazon, will still order them. (although there is a second option, one we and a lot of self-publishers use to get books on the ‘zon). This also keeps our books profitable without setting ridiculous prices.

It looks like this: 

Graphical user interface

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However, what a bookstore sees when they go order in their catalog if you have set a 40% discount is actually a 20% discount off retail. There’s 20% missing. That makes it difficult for the bookstore to maintain their profit levels and we, the self-pubbed authors or publishers, are not getting that 20%. Where does it go? Who does get it? And why can’t we have it back?

Even if you set your prices with the 55% discount off of retail for booksellers and others, they see a 40% discount on their dashboards. Oddly, at least reportedly, Amazon and other larger bookstores get something closer to the actual discount you set. It’s only the Indie stores who get this odd charge, or at least so it appears from the data we can find.

The Hidden Middle Man

There’s a hidden middle man: Ingram Book Company. They sit in the middle of US distribution (probably others too) and they take 10-15% before they offer the title to bookstores. At least according to Ingram. 

But one author discounted their book 40% in their Ingram dashboard, went and talked to her local bookseller, who told her the discount they were offered was only 5%. 

5%. 

Someone is keeping a lot of money—money that belongs in the pockets of authors and small presses and indie bookstores. Worse, it makes these small press books less appealing to those indie bookstores, and so they order the big-name books from big publishers, who likely have a different deal with Ingram than we small fish can negotiate. This information, while technically public, is not shared widely, so many bookstores don’t know it’s happening, at least when we ask them about it. 

So it looks like the little, greedy small press is only discounting their books by a small amount. The bookstore, therefore, and understandably, does not order their books. 

The Potential Solution

As publishers, we love Indie Bookstores. We really do. So we want to sell them books at a reasonable price, ensure those books are returnable (a common need of bookstores), and yet still be profitable. Of course, we want to offer books through the usual channels: Ingram, Baker and Taylor, and of course, Amazon. Not because we love the big yellow giant, but because we have to. 

And we know it is easier for indie bookstores to order books from Ingram. One-stop invoicing for several titles makes sense and makes things simple for them. Until a publisher has a pretty extensive catalog, it makes little sense for them to order direct from the publisher. 

Except that we like to shop small, shop indie so that Amazon does not get all the pie out there. We want to send people to local booksellers over the big guys: and we do whenever possible. 

So how can bookstores shop small, and return the favor? The answer is to order books direct from small presses whenever possible. Let the small press help you save money, beat the Ingram stranglehold so similar to what Amazon has, so we can direct customers your way.

It’s not just Mooney and Lambert. It’s every small press out there. We really do want to help you, but quite frankly we need your help, too. Shop small press and send a message to Ingram and the big players that the playing field needs to be level, and transparency is essential for them to build trust with indie bookstores and publishers. 

It’s time to change the face of publishing and make a difference. That change starts with each of us and the choices we make every day. 

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