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 P.O. Box 9312, Minneapolis, MN, 55440-9312; Tel: 612-291-1000, but Best Buy buys books primarily from Charles Levy.


BJ’s, is an East Coast wholesale club. Request product submission guidelines at or by writing P.O. Box 9601, Natick, MA 01760.


Costco typically leads the top warehouse clubs in sales of books, tapes and CDs. The company also sells books online at Contact the book buyer at 999 Lake Drive, Issaquah, WA 98027.


Cost-U-Less operates warehouse-style stores in offshore island communities. Contact the book buyer at 8160 304th Ave S.E., Building 3, Suite A, Preston, WA.  98050; (425) 222-5022, fax: 425-222-0044; website is


PriceSmart is a volume-driven, membership merchandise and services provider serving Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. It operates 31 warehouse clubs in 12 countries and two U.S. territories. Contact Thomas D. Martin, Executive Vice President, Merchandising, 4649 Morena Blvd. San Diego, CA 92117; (858) 581-4530; and their website is


Sam's Club is the nation's largest members-only warehouse, with 46 million members and 591 stores. Contact the book buyer at 608 Southwest 8th Street, Bentonville, AR 72716;


Smart & Final has 235 non-membership warehouse grocery stores in four states: Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada. Contact Randall, Oliver 600 Citadel Drive, Commerce, California 90040; (323) 869-7607 FAX  (323) 869-7865;


Target Corp. has more than 1400 stores in 47 states, with 22 distribution centers. Contact the book buyer at 777 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402; Tel:  (612) 304-6073


Toys "R" Us Inc. has approximately 1580 stores in the U.S., an another 491 elsewhere. The sell-through rate of 75%- 85% is relatively high, so returns are generally lower than returns from competitors. Contact James Feldt, Executive Vice President, Merchandising 225 Summit Ave., Montvale, New Jersey, 07645; Tel: (201) 262-7800, URL  Buyers purchase from publishers as well as from Charles Levy.


Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest retailer in the U.S., has 1736 stores and 888 Super Centers. You can contact Wal-Mart buyers at 702 SW Eighth St., Bentonville, Arkansas 72716; Tel:  (501) 273-4000 Fax: (501) 273-1917, email to but the company purchases through Charles Levy (for 550 stores) and through Anderson Merchandisers (or the rest of its stores); contact information for them appears below.


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 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


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 Or, send either a sample of your book or catalog to: Levy Home Entertainment LLC, Attn. Marketing Department - New Title Solicitation, 4201 Raymond  Dr., Hillside, IL  60162-1786, 708-547-4400.!.html.


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 P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT  06001; (800) 562-4357; or visit