Think inside “The Box” and sell more books to discount stores and warehouse clubs
By Brian Jud
Where is the best place to sell your books? It is where people go to buy them. When you think about the buying process from your prospect’s point of view, you could sell your books in places such as discount stores (Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us) and warehouse clubs (Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s Clubs. This tactic could lead you to a market segment that sells billions of dollars worth of books, tapes and CDs every year. At the beginning of 2004, mss merchandisers were responsible for 13 percent (over $4 billion) of all book sales.
Although enticing, sales to the mass merchandisers may not always be in your best interests. There are five factors to consider before deciding whether or not sell books to discount stores and warehouse clubs: the title, the author/publisher, the stores’ buyers, industry practices and your financial resources.
1) The topic itself may dictate your decision. These stores and clubs carry fiction and nonfiction titles of interest to large, varied audiences. Romance, mystery, juvenile and cooking titles do well in most Wal-Mart locations, as do Bibles. On the other hand, Target focuses on a more upscale market than Wal-Mart’s, with titles of interest to women with families. Roughly 65% of Best Buy’s book sales are fiction and non-fiction bestsellers, and the remainder comprises juvenile, craft and reference titles. The products sold through Best Buy stores typically attract more males than females.
2) The skills and desires of the author or publisher. Small publishers may not have the time, proficiency or inclination to contact buyers and negotiate contracts. Nor might the authors want to bask in the spotlight as is necessary to successfully promote their titles.
3) The stores’ buying habits. The hot buttons with these buyers are price and inventory turns. Like other retailers, they will want to know that your promotional activities will increase store traffic. Buyers at Target stores are more book friendly than those in most comparable stores because of a corporate commitment to reading and learning.
4) The purchasing practices of the industry. Although publishers are encouraged to contact local stores about regional titles, buyers at discount stores and warehouse clubs prefer to purchase from wholesalers, not directly from publishers. This network is much like to marketing to bookstores. You sell through a distribution partner, the distributors’ discounts may reach 70%, returns are common, and payment terms may exceed 90 days.
5) Your financial resources. The large stores may require the publisher to create an escrow account equal to the amount of potential returns. This is a figure in addition to the printing cost. Also, sales in Wal-Mart stores are discounted heavily for low-income consumers. In addition, soft-cover and board books in Toys “R” Us stores should be priced at less than $9. Your financial reserves and cost structure must profitably support these policies.
Where should you start?
If you have a local or regional title, you might contact the buyers at nearby stores directly. If they agree to test an item, your financial commitment is lower during the trial period than it would be for a larger purchase. As the title demonstrates its salability you are in a better position to negotiate a national buy. Contact these buyers (listed alphabetically) to locate the nearest stores, or to present your case for an immediate nationwide rollout:
Best Buy has more than 475 stores, with a goal of 550
by the end of 2004. Contact the book buyer at
an East Coast wholesale club. Request product submission guidelines at http://www.bjs.com/ or by writing
typically leads the top warehouse clubs in sales of books, tapes and CDs. The
company also sells books online at http://www.costco.com/.
Contact the book buyer at
operates warehouse-style stores in offshore island communities. Contact the
book buyer at
is a volume-driven, membership merchandise and services provider serving
Club is the nation's largest members-only warehouse, with 46 million members
and 591 stores. Contact the book buyer at
& Final has 235 non-membership warehouse grocery stores in four states:
Corp. has more than 1400 stores in 47 states, with 22 distribution centers.
Contact the book buyer at 777 Nicollet Mall,
"R" Us Inc. has approximately 1580 stores in the
Stores Inc., the largest retailer in the
First, call to find out the name of the buyer who deals with your topic. In most cases a voice-mail message will give you this information along with submission guidelines, which you may also find on the company’s website. Usually, you will be asked to send a cover letter with a sample of your book, your terms, a press kit, a fact sheet and a one-page marketing plan. Your summary marketing plan should provide information on media appearances and other publicity you expect to generate.
In most cases, when limited-line publishers call the buyers at the mass-merchandisers they are given the names of the appropriate wholesaler to contact. So, it may behoove you to team up with a distribution company right from the start. There are established companies and relatively standard distribution discounts and agreements that can make life easier for independent publishers. The top intermediaries include:
Ms. Debra McKirdy; Book Purchasing Department, Anderson Merchandisers, 421 East 34th Street, Amarillo, TX 79103 (buys for Wal-Mart); (806) 376-6251, x4489. Or email Lori Schuler email@example.com to get guidelines for submitting titles.
Book Buyer, Advanced Marketing Services (AMS), 5880 Oberlin Drive, #400, San Diego, CA 92122-9653; (858) 457-2500, Fax (858) 452-2167 http://www.advmkt.com/
Ray Carroll at at Levy Home Entertainment (buys for
Walmart, Kmart, Meijjer). If you would like to have your company or book
considered for distribution here, contact Mr. Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send
either a sample of your book or catalog to: Levy Home Entertainment LLC, Attn. Marketing Department - New Title
Approach these companies the same way you would contact a distributor that serves conventional bookstores. Demonstrate how you plan to support their sales representatives with sales-promotion tools. Convince them that you will communicate with them regularly and give them advance notice of your promotions, appearances and marketing programs.
Is This Market Right for You?
Discount stores and warehouse clubs have very limited space for books. They generally focus on the bestsellers and on books that target at least 75% of their customers. And although mass merchandisers order in large quantities, they often return products in large quantities. If you have a title or titles you believe they could sell, think your marketing plans through carefully and decide whether you can afford the initial printings and cope with enormous returns if necessary. If you can take the risks, the rewards may be huge.
Brian Jud is the author of Beyond the
Bookstore (a Publishers Weekly book) and the series of e-booklets,
Proven Tips for Publishing Success. Contact Brian at