Independent book publishers often find it difficult to get cost-effective distribution services. Publishing one book through a self-publishing service may make sense, but when you become a real publisher with multiple titles, that service is not a good fit. At the same time, such a publisher may find that traditional book distributors—which plug into the traditional cycle of seasonal publishing, with sales reps and long publication and release schedules—are not a good fit either. Itasca Books, which is owned by the same company as Bookmobile, offers a Goldilocks fit for these publishers, providing distribution and fulfillment services cost-effectively and with no nickel-and-diming warehouse fees. Also, Itasca offers some pretty unique print-and-distribute packages, as well as eBook distribution.
Itasca offers both book distribution services and book fulfillment. Here’s the distinction:
Book Distribution: In the distribution services model, Itasca warehouses the publisher’s books and sells them to book resellers, including wholesalers and bookstores. Wholesalers include Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who purchase books from Itasca and resell them to libraries and retailers, many of whom prefer to buy from a wholesaler rather than directly from a publisher or distributor. Itasca sells to booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and select independents. Itasca invoices and collects payment from the resellers, and then pays the publisher after deducting its distribution fees.
Itasca is different than most distributors in that it does not have sales reps, instead offering a lower distribution fee; this means that dollars can be put toward promoting the books and creating the consumer demand that actually sells books, instead of stuffing sales channels with books that can be returned at any time and in any condition from the reseller for credit from the publisher. We believe that such promotion is the key part of making books actually sell. Itasca opens the channels at Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble and Amazon: if the publisher can generate consumer demand for the books orders will flow, at much less risk of returns. In addition, Itasca makes drop shipping easy, so the publisher can make high-margin direct sales part of the normal course of business.
We hear from clients who have tried Print-on-Demand (POD) services—including Excelsior College Press and others—that distributing through Itasca this way is much more effective than using the POD services, where sales are constricted by the reluctance of booksellers to order POD titles, which are available only on a nonreturnable basis.
Book Fulfillment: As opposed to distribution, fulfillment means that Itasca stores the publisher’s books and fulfills orders that the publisher generates themselves via their website, selling as a merchant in online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and selling at events or to organizations. In this sales model, the publisher collects payment for the sales, and Itasca fulfills the orders and invoices the publisher for services provided. While these fulfillment services are always included in a distribution package, some publishers elect to use only our fulfillment services, focusing on higher-margin direct sales rather than the lower-margin and riskier (because of returns) sales to the book trade. One such client is OR Books, whose Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) business model was described in my last post. Orders flow automatically into our system both from OR Books’ own website and from Amazon, where OR Books sells as an Amazon merchant. Any publisher’s e-commerce website can be programmed to feed electronic orders to the Itasca system.
In addition to selling to wholesalers and retailers, every title that Itasca distributes is also sold on our own bookselling website, www.itascabooks.com. We take care of processing credit cards, fulfilling the orders, customer service, and PCI compliance. The sales proceeds show up on the publisher’s monthly statement. Because www.itascabooks.com charges shipping and handling to the purchase of the book, shipping is essentially paid by the consumer, allowing an even higher margin for the publisher.
While we are more than happy to store and distribute books printed elsewhere, many publishers find it advantageous to use Bookmobile’s digital printing services in combination with Itasca distribution or fulfillment services. These publishers save on freight, because the books are delivered from Bookmobile’s bindery directly to Itasca’s warehouse through a common door: no shipping delays and no shipping charges. Also, books printed at Bookmobile qualify for discounted distribution fees, making these packages even more cost-effective. And because Bookmobile can reprint paperbacks in less than a week, the Itasca-Bookmobile package enables publishers to run very lean on inventory, minimizing the risk of printing too many books.
If a publisher has enough titles and a minimal number of sales per year per title (100+ copies), they can use our Automated Replenishment Program (ARP). With ARP, we set up the publisher’s titles and print an initial run for the Itasca warehouse. Orders come in and Itasca fulfills them. Itasca then sends weekly statements, billing for the printing only of the books actually shipped, as well as freight and fulfillment charges. The publisher therefore only pays for printing when the books actually ship out of our warehouse to a customer. We review inventory levels on a weekly basis. When stock runs low for a particular ARP title in the Itasca warehouse, we reprint at our expense to make sure we have stock on hand for fulfilling orders—again only billing for the printing when the books ship out of our warehouse.
In partnership with Bookmobile, Itasca also offers distribution to all the major eBook retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc.—and can fulfill eBooks sold on the publisher’s website utilizing industry-standard Adobe Content Server technology.
While Itasca is not for everybody, it definitely fits the needs of independent publishers. If you’d like more details, please feel free to contact Mark Jung, who manages Itasca Books. For more information about ARP programs, contact Nicole Baxter.