You know, unless you are going to go the “traditional” publishing route with Hollywood Accounting which could bury 90+% of your royalties so it can line the pockets of upper management and their families . . . it’s the worst dream anyone can have. Here is a bit of math from self publishing side that does its own print runs.
Let us take a mythical book selling chain or super market with exactly 1000 retail locations to make math easy. According to this link BN has 700 stores and 600 college book stores. There is also Kroger, Target, etc. but they are a different beast and 1000 makes this easy to calculate and people with this “dream” aren’t talking about a “chain” with 5 locations world wide.
Back in my early days of dealing with a publisher and that Amazon lapdog IBPA there was a formula, industry standard or urban legend which went as follows:
New Release display shelf required 7 copies. 1-N would be stacked face out and the rest would be spine out beside the face out stack.
That is 7000 copies you have to pay for, print and ship with a 6 month lead time before any payment is due from the chain (traditional book chain terms from the day so I was told).
You know all of those coffee and food places in book stores these days? Well, people are allowed to eat and read getting blue berry stains on the pages when they aren’t spilling coffee because the book store doesn’t pay for any damaged copies. That comes back to you as a return, which is why “stocking” a title requires returns for most resellers. They have no interest in letting bad management and bad habits cut into their bottom line.
So, in order to “stock” 7K copies in a chain book store you need to print 20K copies.
Why 20K? Simple. Chain bookstores back in the day were notorious for “sliding the calendar,” no idea if the few remaining feel compelled to do that now or if the ones which did it are just foot notes in history. Just before payment would become due for the initial order they order 7+K which you ship. They take the + part out to send to stores for restocking but RETURN THE 7K AGAINST THE ORIGINAL ORDER. When you read the fine print in the contract, that stuff in a 2 point font, you’ll see they can do this up to 3 times to let them squeak through 2 holiday seasons without having to pay you. Technically, they never have to pay you. Most chain book stores operate on consignment. They only have to pay you for copies which are never returned and never is a long time.
So, every yutz with ears is busy dumping coffee and getting brownie smudges on inventory which will not only be returned to you, but will be returned freight/postage collect. This inventory you cannot sell unless you pawn it off as damaged via Alibris or some auction site for pennies so you have to store it until you have enough weight, that’s right, weight, to interest a pulper which will pay you pennies per copy while making you eat the truck freight. That’s right, truck freight because they only purchase full pallet quantities, well, the last pallet in a purchase can be partial, but there has to be multiple full pallets in the deal.
This damaged inventory issue is the primary reason big printers use distributors. Thousands of copies across multiple publishers get returned each day. Workers wrap/band them onto pallets and pulpers haul them away. In the mean time you paid for a 20K print run and are paying storage on at least 6K of it this entire time.
Storage costs me nothing. Back when I was working massive hours on a consulting project I built a 60+- x 40+- shed with 18′ nose to tail clearance (sadly gravel floor still.) I also own a fork lift which can run on packed gravel (WWII issue Towmotor with the sawed off mast for loading 4 bomb magazines into B-52s) and I live on a farm so most things can be used for other tasks. Once the pallets arrive and are unloaded I may have a few copies die from humidity if I don’t get the shrink wrapped, but other than that, I can store any sized print run I can pay for.
Not bragging with that last part. Just setting the stage so you understand when I tell you that even I do not wish to be “store stocked” in this day and age. On their Web site is fine. If they want to stock some copies in a central warehouse for the Web, that is fine too. If you are talking about a one-off niche book store, fine. A dozen copies for a single location isn’t a big gamble.
You see, I went down this road before. I had a distributor and, despite my advising them against it, they did massive amounts of business with Borders. You may realize Borders isn’t around any more. I managed to get back whatever inventory the distributor had in their possession, but everything else I had to kiss that good bye.
No, I do not wish to be store stocked in a chain book store.
That said, store stocked in a merchandising chain like Target or such would be something worth wishing for. I looked into that some years back. Those merchandise stores with a big isle or two of books are a completely different sales model. A third party company stocks those shelves. That third party company, at least then, bought non-returnable lots and actually paid. It’s a self-published author’s dream . . . sort of.
You have to be on one of those “Best Seller” lists to be considered. Not one of those rinky-dink Amazon lists, a real Best Seller list. You have to be willing to sell at a massive discount. By massive I mean a good bit more than that 60% off list going through a distributor. Most self-published authors weren’t smart enough with their pricing and print run size to get their per-unit cost down to were selling at 80% off list still makes money.
Even if you did all of that right, you are still talking thousands of copies which must be printed and financed until you get paid. Something like 10-100K depending which of those companies you hook up with. Those companies stock the shelves at multiple merchandising locations so, while you have never heard of them, they have more locations than any book selling chain. That’s a big chunk of change to tie up. You definitely don’t want to be financing that at 20% via your credit card.