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Distributor Screening Questions

By Shari Faden Donahue

Distributors are likely to charge a percentage of net or retail book sales plus substantial administrative, storage, marketing, distribution, and/or fulfillment fees. Though there is no distribution industry standard, publishers typically earn 35% of retail sales—with no guarantee of books sold. Payments to publishers could take more than 270 days depending on projected returns. It is common for distributors to be forced out of business—due to insufficient funding—only to be replaced by new ones.

I urge you to research your distributor options for your protection. Contact each of the general Ingram-approved distributors listed on Ingram’s Web site ( Comparing distributors is a challenging endeavor. Services vary greatly from distributor to distributor. Create a chart that summarizes distribution services, fee structure (including any extraneous fees), and title submission guidelines—based on the following screening questions.

Do you distribute children’s picture books?
Do you partner with self-publishers? (If yes, continue the interview process.)
Do you offer a fee-based publisher program—or are earnings based on the percentage of net or retail sales?
What is the publisher/distributor earnings ratio?
Do you have mandatory set-up or marketing fees for publishers?
Who are your primary customers ... independents, chains, libraries, specialty sales?
What type of distribution services do you offer?
Do you require exclusivity?
How long have you been in operation?
Do you have feet-on-the-street sales reps?
How many?
Do you have inside telemarketing reps? How many?
Do you actively market/advertise titles?
Do you promote titles through catalogs?
Do you offer a customer toll-free phone number for ordering purposes?
Do you warehouse books? What is the storage fee? Is there a pallet price reduction?
Who pays for shipping from publisher to the distributor—and vice versa ... and from distributor to the customer—and vice versa?
How do you ship books to customers? Do you accept credit card payments?
Do you offer publishers a Web presence? What is the fee?
Can book orders be driven through your Web site?
Can book orders be driven from my Web site to yours?
How do you handle returns?
Is there a fee per returned book?
What is your publisher payment schedule?
Are publisher earnings withheld as a result of projected future book returns?
Do you require a signed publisher contract?
What is the duration of the contract?
Can the contract be terminated immediately upon request?
What is the contract termination procedure … if termination is requested by the publisher … if termination is requested by the distributor?