The Sales and
of Mass Market Books
By Cheryl Bolen
"You put out more [books] than you need to to get those
buys," said Mark Landau, vice president of distribution and sales
for Harper Collins Publishing.
Landau and Rhonda Rose, national account manager for Harper
Collins, spoke at PASIC's spring conference, giving the more than 50
attendees insight into the distribution and sales side of the business.
Some of the channels where authors spend a lot of their
promotional efforts--independent stores, libraries, and online
sellers--account for only a very small piece of the total pie. On-line
booksellers claim just 3 percent of the market, while libraries and
independents garner only 2 percent each. Not surprisingly, the national
chains like Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks sell 31 percent of all
mass market books sold. Wholesalers like Levy Home Entertainment,
Anderson Merchandisers and News, the News Group, and Hudson News are
responsible for 23 percent of mass market sales.
Supermarkets and airports sell 15 percent of all mass market
books. The key national supermarket chains are Kroger, with over 3,400
stores; Albertson's, with over 2,500 stores; and Safeway, with over
1,800 stores. The primary airport bookstores are operated by Hudson
Retail, which has more than 400 stores in 55 airports; Paradies,
operating 350 stores in 61 airports; and HMS Host, with 200 stores in 21
Other outlets are export sales, 10 percent; wholesale clubs, 5
percent; regional chains, 4 percent; special markets, 1 percent; and all
others, 2 percent.
Landau said the key national retailers are Wal-Mark, with over
3,700 stores; K-Mart, with over 1,500 stores; and Target, with over
Sell-throughs are still the most important number. B&N has
good sell-throughs, as do Wal-Marts. Target follows with strong sell-throughs.
With retailers like Wal-Mart, "We're going to take less margin, but
we'll sell more units," Rose said.
Armed with sales kits, the publisher's sales force meets with
buyers five months before the book's publication date a sales kit for
that month which is being sold. The sales kit includes book covers and
information about the author's sales.
Actual orders are placed two months in advance.
After that, the publisher's sales force is usually finished with
the sales for a particular month's books. Replenishment books, instead
of coming from the publisher, come from channels like Ingram's and Baker
The Harper reps admitted that book sales are flat, which is
causing publishers to try to make their money by publishing books in a
size other than mass market. "Mass market is not going to go
away," Landau said. He pointed to the huge outlay for purchasing
oversized racks for trade size books.
Starting in the summer of 2005, the oversized mass market was
introduced, and one of the biggest retailers [unnamed] refused to carry
Obviously, some months are better than others for book sales. The
summer is an excellent time for mass market sales, and while December
used to be slow, the sales of Christmas books are outstanding.
It takes about six months for a book's sales to bottom out, after
which returns come in. "Drug stores and grocery stores' returns
trickle in for years," Landau said.
This article first appeared in the Winter, 2006, edition of PASIC