Self-Pub Research Checklist: Distribution

In my blog series condensing the various research I’ve done on my self-publishing journey, today’s topic might be the trickiest…


What do you mean by distribution?

Essentially, distribution is the path you want to take to get your books in the hands of readers. You can print your books via an on-demand printing service and sell them in person at conventions and the like, but today I’ll be discussing distribution through a third party.

In the United States, the two most common distributors are Amazon and IngramSpark. Although there are other options (such as Lulu’s self-publishing program), my research overwhelmingly pointed to those two distributors as the most effective.

Today I’ll go over the difference between the two, how well they (don’t really) play together, and why I chose a double-pronged approach for my book.

First off, the simplest option…

Limited distribution through Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Amazon is king in ebook sales, and you’re likely going to want a piece of that market.

The good news is that selling your book on Amazon is fairly simple. There are no setup costs through Amazon itself, and the interface is fairly user-friendly. The biggest hiccups you might run into are file setup and compatibility, which are going to be a bit fiddly no matter which service(s) you use.

If you’re going ebook-only, they allow you to upload various file types and convert them to ebook format, though it’s ideal to get a decent EPUB file first, if you can manage it. (More on that in the upcoming formatting article).

Print books aren’t much trickier, and really only involve uploading a PDF of the interior and a cover file. (Bookow will even generate a cover template for you for free, though they’re donation-supported so a small contribution would be nice).

Amazon also has the optional Kindle Unlimited program, which allows your ebook to be checked out by KU subscribers and pays the author based on the number of pages read by the subscriber. This can get your book in the hands of more readers, but it is an Amazon-exclusive contract. Which means you’ll be swapping the Kindle Unlimited payday for the option to distribute outside Amazon. Both have advantages, and you’ll have to decide which one is best for you.

Another Amazon-exclusive feature: If you don’t own your own ISBN (read more on that in this blog post), Amazon will even assign you one of their ISBNs for free. This limits you to distribution through only Amazon channels though, which might not be ideal for you. Just as with Kindle Unlimited, this means your book will not be available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple iBooks, and other retailers.

Never fear! If you want your book available everywhere, you can have your cake and eat it too. All those other retailers I mentioned a moment ago? They order from Ingram, and you can set up your book on both Amazon and IngramSpark to score both distribution channels. This is called…

Wide distribution.

In the United States at least, IngramSpark is the juggernaut for self-publishing with a large network, and will distribute your book globally as well. This list shows a sampling of the retailers that order from Ingram. (You’ll note that Amazon is on that list, and you might be asking “why not just set up at Ingram and let them distribute to Amazon?” I’ll get to that in a bit, I promise).

By setting your book up through IngramSpark, it’ll filter into the system for many retailers. This is why my book is available in Barnes & Noble’s, along with Kobo and others. Ingram also allows libraries to order your book, and it’s available to brick-and-mortar stores–yes, even large ones like Barnes & Noble–if you’re willing to take some financial risks and make some pricing concessions. (I wasn’t, but we’ll dig into those specifics in the compensation and pricing article).

One con: IngramSpark is not free. They offer a print-and-ebook setup for a one-time fee of $49, with an additional $49 for more print book editions. So I paid $49 for the paperback/ebook combo package, and an additional $49 for the hardcover format. You may choose not to offer hardcover for your book since it’s not the biggest seller, but I wanted that option to be available.

You can make alterations to your files later, but there is a $25 fee to replace files, so double-check everything before submitting.

Ingram’s interface is not quite as user-friendly as Amazon’s, but it is more robust, and learning my way around their site was worth getting my book into that sweet distribution network. You’ll just need to opt out of Amazon as a distributor when you set up your book on IngramSpark, and set up your Amazon distribution separately.

But that leads to the question…

Why did I opt out of Amazon’s exclusive offerings and set up Ingram separately?

Long story short; Ingram and Amazon are technically competitors. They have agreed to work together, but anecdotal evidence points to “Out of Stock” delays for print books if you’ve chosen IngramSpark for your sole distributor. Books submitted through Amazon will show up as “in stock” instead.

Part of this is just due to the way Amazon defines what’s “in stock” and “out of stock”, but it can be the difference between a reader clicking that “buy” button or getting something else that’s “in stock”.

I have no personal experience with the “Out of Stock” message, but even with that aside, setting up your book separately on Amazon allows you all the power over your Amazon account, like setting periodic sales and the option to offer ebooks at a discount (or as a free incentive) to buyers of the print book. It gives you more control, and isn’t control at least a teensy part of the reason you’re going indie?

Long story short, I chose wide distribution because that put my book in the most storefronts possible. IngramSpark’s fees may not leave that a possibility for all authors, in which case exploring the Kindle Unlimited program might be the best option for you.

That’s all for today! In the next article, we’ll get into the dreaded number-crunching section of the program… PRICING. I’ll explain why I set the price points I did, and how I used the compensation calculators at both Amazon and IngramSpark to come to that decision.

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