Künstlersozialkasse for authors - How to protect yourself properly
My book is not available in bookstores or only with long delivery times. What is the reason for this?

Plan book production with advance orders

A book publisher plans its publications about two years in advance. Most bundle the new releases into a spring and a fall program for simplicity. Nine to six months before a book title goes on sale, publishers inform booksellers about it. From this point on, the book title is then "available for pre-order." Until the actual sales launch, publishers market the book title and try to ensure that as many book buyers as possible pre-order the title from their preferred bookseller.

About a month before the launch, publishers evaluate the number of pre-orders for that book title and make the decision on how to print a title. This decision includes whether to print a print run and, if so, how large.

If a pleasing number of pre-orders have been received, publishers print a run that covers the number of pre-orders and expected future sales. If pre-orders have fallen short of expectations, publishers usually do not print a run, but produce for the pre-orders and future demand in print-on-demand.

Demand determines the delivery time

Book publishers inform the important book wholesalers (the so-called bar assortments) about new book titles. These book wholesalers in the German-speaking book market are Libri, Zeitfracht, Umbreit, Mohr Morawa and the Swiss Book Center. Book retailers order their books from these book wholesalers. Book retailers are the booksellers who sell to end customers. These book retailers are Thalia, Hugendubel, Osiander, Amazon and around 6,000 other online and stationary booksellers.

The book retailers display the book titles available through the wholesalers in their web stores. To do this, they use the wholesalers' catalogs and display exactly the information from the wholesalers' catalogs on their websites.

From the moment a book title is listed in the wholesalers' catalog, book retailers can order it. Retailers order most books from wholesalers and only rarely directly from the publisher.

When the sales launch of a book title is in the future, the wholesalers' catalogs show it as "available for pre-order". Until the actual sales launch, all retailers serve to collect pre-orders from book buyers. Pre-orders are possible not only in online stores, but also at any local stationary bookstore.

All pre-orders are passed on by retailers directly to their wholesalers. If a reasonable number of pre-orders are received before the start of sales, it is in the wholesalers' interest to always have a sufficient quantity of copies of this book title "in stock". Retailers don't just order from one wholesaler, but from the one who can deliver the fastest. For a book title that has had a good number of pre-orders, it can be assumed that it will continue to sell well after it goes on sale. Therefore, the wholesaler will "stock" this book title so that copies can be shipped to retailers on the same day the order is placed.

When wholesalers have a book "In Stock," all book retailers display it that way.

However, if the number of pre-orders was low or there was no pre-order period, the wholesaler will not make this a stock item, but will carry it in the catalog as a "supply item." The wholesaler will not "procure" such a book from the publisher until an order for it has been received from the retailer. This procurement route takes considerably longer than if a title is in the wholesaler's warehouse.

As already explained, a publisher will also not print a run for a title where demand is low in order to minimize the financial risk. Instead, he produces in print-on-demand. So the supply route goes:

To ensure that the book buyer's expectations are not deceived, all parties involved make every effort to provide a realistic delivery time. It is not difficult to see that this route simply takes much longer than when this is "In stock" at the wholesaler.

How does a self-publishing title get "In Stock"?

Ideally, just like a title from a book publisher. When there is good demand for a self-publishing title from book buyers, wholesalers will "stock" it to supply retailers as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, too few self-publishers take advantage of advance notice. They often start selling in bookstores immediately after the book is finished. I understand the desire to start selling quickly after a lot of work on the book. However, a chicken-and-egg problem then arises. When sales of a self-published title usually start without a significant period for pre-orders, wholesalers present it as a supply item. The delivery times are then displayed to book buyers in this way:

For a hardcover book, the binding must dry two days longer. Therefore, the delivery time is longer than the soft cover.

Printers directly affiliated with a wholesaler have a narrow, standardized range of paper and materials and are significantly higher in printing costs than external printers.

With such long delivery times, self-publishers fear that book buyers will refrain from buying because they need the book faster. So the chicken-and-egg problem is: long delivery time means few copies bought. If few copies are purchased, book titles are not put "in stock".

We therefore recommend that all self-publishers plan the sales launch of a title with a sufficient pre-order phase.

This has three advantages:

  1. A title is then quickly available as a stock item if there are sufficient advance orders.
  2. Book buyers are never shown the longer delivery times for order items.Pre-announcements for a sales launch then look like this at Thalia, for example:

... or on Amazon looks like this:

  1. A title with pre-orders rises higher in the rankings because all pre-orders are assigned to the first day of sale. The likelihood of a title entering high in the genre bestseller lists at booksellers increases with the number of pre-orders. If a title enters high in the rankings due to pre-orders, it automatically has more book sales, because book buyers not infrequently search the rankings. This is also the reason why a book title can rank #1 directly after sales in well-known bestseller lists.

There are only a few book titles "In stock".

The technological changes brought about by print-on-demand reduce the cost of offering a book for sale through booksellers. This ensured that the number of book publications - especially in self-publishing - grew strongly.

New publications per year for English-language self-publishing titles grew by 400% from 2013 to 2018. So in 2018, nearly 1.7 million new book titles were added to the already many millions of available titles just from the self-publishing publication channel. Publishing titles are not included in this figure. In 2023, the number of new publications will reach almost 3 million!

In the German-speaking market, growth is behaving in the same way.

However, demand - i.e. the number of books purchased - remains almost the same. Book readers consume a fairly constant number of books per year. Since they need time for this and the time available for this is not growing significantly, no changes are to be expected here.

As a result, constant book sales are spread over significantly more available book titles. This means that the more books available on the market, the lower the number of copies sold per book title.

With the low number of units sold per deliverable book title, wholesalers put only a few "in stock". The wholesalers in German-speaking countries have less than 10% of the available book titles "in stock".

Why is a book "currently out of stock"?

It can happen that retailers show a self-publishing title as "currently not available", although it is available with the delivery times shown above. These retailers do this because they generally do not offer book titles that have such long delivery times, but only offer those that are available at short notice.

If a book title is displayed as "not available" at a bookseller, you can first check whether your book is also "not available" at all other bookshops known to you. This will not be the case, but it is then a representation error of the online store, because our titles are available. Fortunately, this happens very rarely and then almost only at Amazon. I can only speculate about the reasons.

My book is already published. What can I do about long delivery times?

I had already explained that retailers only display whether a book is "In Stock" at the wholesalers. If a book title is not "In Stock" at the major wholesalers, books are displayed as supply items with longer delivery times. So the goal is to increase the number of book purchases for your book title in a short period of time.

That only works with marketing. I have written many articles on self-marketing*. This is where the supposed chicken-and-egg problem comes in again. Most new book titles are classified as order items by book retailers and wholesalers, especially directly after the sales launch. The delivery times quoted are correspondingly longer. One fear that self-publishers then have is that their book will be unattractive to book buyers because of the long delivery times. This problem is overstated, however, because delivery times are fortunately not a decision criterion for book buyers:

The more unique a book is, the more alternative it is. If I receive a friend's recommendation for a certain crime book, I buy exactly that book and not - because the delivery time is longer - any other crime book.

If instead of the long delivery time a future sales start (e.g. available from a date three weeks from today) were shown, hardly any interested book buyer recruited by you would refrain from buying. So why should really interested book buyers refrain from buying a unique book with a delivery time of 1-3 weeks?

In the "Factors Influencing Book Purchases," it is noteworthy that only 21% indicate the recommendation of a bookseller. Online booksellers only provide bestseller lists. No consultation takes place here. Therefore, the influencing factor is very low in online book retailing. In brick-and-mortar bookstores, advice takes place. However, bookstore employees cannot have a serious overview of approximately 120,000 new book titles per year (more than 300 new releases per day) on the German-language market alone. In the end, they recommend what they know because it is bought a lot or is at the top of the bestseller lists.

A bookseller wants to sell ONE book. He doesn't care if it's YOUR book!

By the way, here's a conflicting goal that I go into more depth about in the Self-Marketing Hub*. A bookseller wants to sell ONE book. But he doesn't care if it's YOUR book. For this reason and the very small influence factor that the recommendation of the bookseller has on the purchase decision for a book, self-publishers themselves must directly win over the book buyer.

Not every bookseller must be able to deliver every book

I had described that some booksellers may show book titles with a long delivery time as "currently out of stock". That is a problem. But not for you as a self-publisher, but for the bookseller. Again, I make the comparison to the pre-announcement phase: if the sales launch of a book is not for a few weeks, no really interested book buyer bothers to wait for it. By the same token, if a book title is already on sale, those really interested book buyers will find a bookseller who can deliver it. A comparison from another industry helps: if I want to buy a pair of jeans online, I first look at a fashion retailer I like. Now, if my size of the selected jeans is not available, I search "Levis 501 size M gray" in a search engine. Then I buy from another retailer that has them available better or at all. After all, I want the pants. If my favorite fashion retailer does not have them right now, then I am not lost yet, but know how to help myself. Even if my favorite soda is out at my most frequented supermarket around the corner, I buy it at a supermarket down the street. After all, if I really cared about taste, I wouldn't buy another brand or juice instead. It all sounds normal, doesn't it? Self-publishers worry that if their book isn't immediately available at all 6,000 booksellers in all book types (softcover, hardcover, e-book, large print), it will hurt their book success. I can take away that concern. Let's stay with my jeans. Why exactly did I want this "Levis 501 size M gray"? Because the manufacturer Levis made good advertisement and that's why I want to buy these pants. It bothers me a little bit that my favorite fashion retailer doesn't have them available in my size or color, but if Levis still makes them, I have many alternatives at the fashion retailers. Levis did their homework and got me to buy them as a pants buyer. So Levis doesn't care if my preferred fashion retailer couldn't deliver right now. They sold the pants to me anyway. Levis doesn't care about the sales channel. Only my first fashion retailer did not sell anything - only he has a problem. In this example, it is obvious that the self-publisher is "Levis" and I am the book buyer. If self-publishers promote their book title well to the book buyer and can convince him of the added value of the book, every book buyer will find the way to buy the book title - even if the preferred bookseller has it "currently not available". Another bookseller - and fortunately there are many thousands of them online and in stores - has the title available.

We live from the sale of books

I can imagine that these insights into the book market motivate and make you think at the same time. They motivate because every new and also already published book title has the chance to become a bestseller. They may make you think because I have changed some ideas: not every book title is available everywhere, without marketing little goes (even in book publishing), booksellers want to sell ONE but not necessarily YOUR book, and much more. Self-publishing a book with tredition is free of charge. We only earn something when a book is sold. So it is in our greatest interest that every book can be found and bought by book buyers in the best possible way. Only then do we earn something from a book! At tredition, we work on all the technical prerequisites for this every day. But we can't communicate the benefit that potential book buyers get when they read YOUR book the way you can. If you want to learn more, join our Self-Marketing Hub*.

*Follows shortly.


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