Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughts on Distribution

RIMG0463My daughter got it into her head last week that she wanted an easel and a beret for Christmas. She sat on Santa’s lap and told him on Saturday.

Actually, she told anyone who would listen to her.

On Wednesday, a flyer from a large national toy store arrived with our paper. It was advertising the type of easel she was asking for at 50% off.

So I was off to the toy store. :)

Unfortunately, when I got there, I discovered that there were no more easels in the store. In fact, they’d been out of those easels for weeks.

The clerk got on the store’s computer. “Atlanta has 78 of them at the main store. Want to go to Atlanta?” We burst out laughing. (Southern joke here—Atlanta scares us all to death to drive in….most folks there drive 100 mph and weave in and out of traffic. Plus the fact, of course, that there are five million people in the Atlanta metro area.)

The clerk kept on looking. There were 100 easels in Orlando (not exactly a quick drive from Charlotte...more like 8 hours.) And they couldn’t ship from another store without charging me for shipping…even if I picked it up at the store.

So I was a little irked. The clerk looked sympathetically at me. It would have been a guaranteed sale.

With books, distribution has always played a key role in a book’s success. If it’s available in a lot of stores, its chances of being bought are increased.

I’ve found that Penguin, in particular, has amazing distribution…and that it gets amazing placement on shelves. I’ve found my book on endcaps, on new release tables, and on special displays. That has little to do with me and a lot to do with them and their clout with bookstores.

Distribution has also always been a reason why self-published books have faced such huge odds. Unless the writer went through a company that distributed through Ingram or Baker and Taylor, then the book couldn’t even get to the bookstores, unless the author went to each store with a load of books in his trunk. And then the author had the bookstore manager to make his case to.

Now, however, I feel like ebooks are starting to really impact the publishing landscape.

I think visibility is still going to be an issue—maybe getting your book on the landing page of Amazon or Barnes and Noble—but distribution will be as easy as a download.

To some degree, I think this is going to level the playing field a little bit. I’m sure that publishers are feeling ambivalent about it.

To me, though, it’s all about the books. I just want people to continue reading…despite all the modern-day electronic distractions that compete with their attention and time.

I love the idea that, if we want to read a book, we have the capability of reading it immediately—without even having to hunt it down in a store. I love the ease of distribution.

But I’ll miss my bookstores.

What are your thoughts on the ebook revolution? Mixed, like mine? Are you seeing the advantages more than you used to? Advantages like accessibility of books—and lack of physical distribution?