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The PMA Trade Distribution Program
Preceding the Publishers Marketing Association board meeting the Trade Distribution
selection process was conducted. I learned so much by hearing what was working and what
wasn't that I thought it might be helpful to share that information with the PMA and Bookmarket
First, a little background. The Trade Distribution Program is a PMA project that helps
publishers with a small number of titles get distributor representation so as to get a foot into the
bookstore side of book selling. It is currently in its ninth (or eighth?) year.
There were representatives from Borders, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Baker &
Taylor, IPG (the distributor who handles the program) and an independent rep as well as several
members from the PMA board and staff.
About 120 books were submitted and about 40 selected, a percentage that both Borders and
Barnes & Noble report matches their selection process. This has also been consistent
throughout the years, although all participants agreed that the overall quality of the books has
Here are some invaluable glimpses into why books did or didn't make it into the
- COVERS -- Good cover design is critical. The design must be high quality, but also must
clearly convey the purpose of the book and appeal to the audience. Some books had covers that
were professional but not appropriate for the audience. Spines are important as most books are
shelved spine out.
- PRICE -- This seemed like a tripping point for a surprising number of books. Prices were just
too high for the market.
- MARKET SATURATION -- Some good books don't make it because there are already too
many good books out there on the subject and there wasn't a compelling case for why a candidate
should be carried instead.
- INTERNAL DESIGN -- Although covers have improved immensely, some publishers are not
spending enough time on internal design, minimizing margins and line spacing, using inappropriate
typefaces, etc. Bad clip art or amateurish illustrations brought down the potential of many
- EDITORIAL QUALITY -- Some content was not well-organized or edited.
- TITLE -- Surprisingly often, books' titles were too cryptic or didn't clearly convey the value
or purpose. People need to be able to look at the cover and know what the book is about and who
it is for.
- FORMAT & BINDING -- Some books were published in hardcover apparently
unnecessarily (libraries no longer require hardcover bindings), which drove up their prices. Others
were odd sizes and occasionally odd bindings that didn't seem to serve the book's purpose or
- APPROPRIATENESS FOR BOOKSTORES/NATIONAL DISTRIBUTION -- Some books
are great for "back of the room" seminar sales but not necessarily going to do well in
bookstores. Other titles are good regional books, but probably won't benefit from national
- MARKETING AND PROMOTION -- A strong book can be seriously weakened if the
publisher has not developed a marketing plan and/or is not promoting the book. Marketing is not
an option (bookstore availability means nothing unless people know about and want the
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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