Cart 0

Self-DISTRIBUTION is more important than self-PUBLISHING

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright by John T. Reed

I have been a “published author.” My first book was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

And I have been a self-publisher of 105 books. As a self-publisher, I was distributed to book stores by Publishers Group West (PGW) and Ingram. And I was distributed by Amazon.

And I have been a self-publish-distributor where I distributed all my own books direct to retail customers.

If I may paraphrase Sophie Tucker,

I been distributed and I been self-distributed and believe me, honey, self-distribution is better.


The royalty of an author is about 10% of the retail sale price of the book and they calculate it with “Hollywood accounting” which means you get screwed out of even that.

Publisher profit

The profit of a publisher is about 20% of the retail sale price of the book and the Hollywood accounting is, if anything, worse than for the author.

Distributors laughing at you all the way to the bank

So who gets most of the financial benefit of the author’s work? The distributors get about 70% of the retail sale price of the book. Distributors include both wholesale distributors like Ingram and PGW and retail sellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Leigh Robinson is a self-publisher. He publishes the books Landlording, The Eviction Book for California, and What’s a Landlord To Do? He met me at a cocktail party thrown by another real estate self-publisher in the 1980. At the time, I was just writing newsletter articles for HBJ Press and Leigh was a subscriber to my newsletter. He asked me if I ever considered writing books. I said, “Yeah but I understand there’s no money in it.” “There is if you self-publish” he said.

I then asked how much and when I learned it was six figures, I instantly decided to become a self-publisher of books—my current main activity. Did I, too, make six figures from self-publishing?


But in 2001, my distributor, Publisher Group West, which was also Leigh’s distributor, fired me, apparently for complaining too much about their lousy treatment of me. So I was forced to become my own distributor.

In one year, my net income jumped 257%!

In 2006, Publisher Group West went bankrupt. It could’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

My book How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book explains all this in much greater detail.

Any how-to or reference-book author who is still letting others publish and/or distribute his books needs a guardian appointed to take care of his financial affairs. He or she is leaving $100,000 or more a year on the table if it is a reasonably successful book!

I thought when I revealed this to the world, the number of self-publisher-distributors would skyrocket. It is increasing, but I have been astonished to encounter enormous resistance. Why?

As far as I can tell, the authors who still go with publishers and distributors lack self-esteem—big time. They are so interested in the cachet among ignorant laymen of “being published” and “being in book stores” that they will give up $100,000 or more a year to get that status.

How psychiatrically sick are these authors? How sick would you have to be to walk away from $100,000 or more a year?

In effect, they are willing to pay that much to be a “celebrity,” i.e., “being published” and/or “being in book stores.”

This is spite of the harm done by abandoning that money to their family, themselves, their retirement, their health that would be enhanced by their having more money and therefore more time for exercise and other good habits.

Sick! Sick! Sick!

9/15/07 Wall Street Journal story

The Wall Street Journal said about the same thing as I’m saying in an article on 9/15/07. Their article was broader than books, but it applies to books. Their headline and subtitle were

The Distribution Trap
It’s every manufacturer’s dream to get on the shelves of Wal-Mart and other mega-retailers. Too often, it turns into a nightmare.

I warned against distributing through such retailers in both my Succeeding and How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book.

The Journal goes on to warn that retailers use their power to demand price cuts and other concessions like packaging and even changes to the design of products from manufacturers. A self-publisher is a manufacturer. Book stores are retailers.

The Journal also says

And in the end, many companies discover that all the blood, sweat, tears and money they’ve poured into their products has been wasted: Their hard won creations have been turned into commodities with razor-thin profit margins.

They say this is particularly true of innovative products. A book is one of the most innovative products there is. Not the paper and binding, but the content. Copyrighted books are, by definition, unique and unprecedented. That is the opposite of a commodity. Commodities, like a bushel of corn or a pound of titanium, are all identical to each other. Commodity producers can only compete in one dimension: price. If you let others sell your books, you create competitors who also sell identical copies of your formerly unique book. When you do that, the price of it becomes the only way the various sellers, including you, can compete with each other. That, in turn, means the price of it goes down, down and so do your profits.

Don’t be a freaking idiot! Don’t go down that dopey path.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.