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The Classroom Library: Where Do Teachers Buy Books?

Featured Blog Post on the The Carnival of the Indies

The Book Designer

If you think about buying a book, where do you go to make your purchase? Probably it’s local bookstores or your favorite online bookstore. The market for the general public encompasses those bookstores and we call that the trade market.

Indie authors promote widely through creating their own mailing lists, using email list services such as BookBub, or ads on Facebook or other places. They pay attention to the subtleties of marketing on Amazon by paying attention to categories, keywords, excellent book descriptions and so on. If you market to the trade market, Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited are appealing because they reach more readers. One of the Holy Grails of indie publishing is to place your book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. For the trade market, those marketing strategies are appropriate.

Increase Sales by 25% by selling to the Education Market

But let’s go back to the question of where do you buy books. Children’s books are bought by parents and teacher through the trade market, and you can treat your book just like adult books for those audiences. However, school librarians, and classroom teachers purchase books with funds from their school or school district. State Department of Educations across the U.S. might buy books to distribute across the state for special programs. Other education related agencies, companies or organizations buy books. This audience is called the education market. It’s vast. And even in these days of tight budgets, teachers must have books with which to teach.

For indie kids authors, it’s smart to target the education market; for me, the education market is about 25% of my sales, and growing. Taking your books to the education market means some mind-shifts. You’ll need to think differently about everything, which over time, we’ll talk about in depth on this blog. One thing concerns authors when we first talk about this shift: can you sell and market in both the trade and education market? Absolutely. Some books will do better in one or the other market, but you can target both.

Your first question should be where does the education market buy books? It’s a simple answer when you think about it, from education book distributors. That simple answer brings a huge shift in perspective.

I realized that if I wanted to sell my Indie Books to teachers, I'd better find out where they like to buy books for their classroom library! | IndieKidsBooks.com

To see the complexity of the education market for ebooks in particular, some recent articles in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly are helpful (listed chronologically).

You’ll see that there are many players, but also that the door is open to self-published or indie books.

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: Print

One of my goals for Mims House‘s first year was to establish the widest distribution possible. I discovered that education distributors prefer both hardcover and paperback. They are not as price sensitive as the trade market, because if a school needs certain content or literature for a classroom, they will pay for it. Certainly, they are price-conscious, but librarians also realize that some specialty information books may be a small or niche market that pushes up prices. This means that the print-on-demand hardcover that is too expensive in the trade market can be successful in the education market.

Often, an education distributor will accept your metadata directly to list books, but will order through a wholesaler such as Ingram. If you prefer, some will set up a direct sales relationship. I prefer that they order through Ingram, but I want to provide the information directly and maintain a relationship. For large special orders, that allows me to offer a discount.

Here are some of the major education distributors.

  • Follett. The largest distributor of books to schools and libraries.
  • Mackin. Energetic and smart company distributing to schools and libraries.
  • Permabound. A major rebinder, a company that puts library-tough binding on books.
  • Others. One market strategy that has helped me is to create a seasonal catalog. Twice a year, Mims House puts out a new catalog, and it includes an order form. That allows us to accept purchase orders from any educational distributors, libraries, schools, etc.

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: eBooks

For a current list of major ebook distributors for the education market see 2016 School Library Journal Ebook Market Directory.

Here are some ebook distributors to take notice of because they accept indie books:

  • Follett. “Sixty-seven percent of PreS–12 schools using ebooks purchase from Follett, according to a recent Library Journal survey.”
  • MackinVIA. “MackinVIA offers nearly 200,000 nonfiction, fiction, popular fiction, and interactive ebook and database titles.”
  • Permabound: While known as a rebinder of print books, Permabound also has a robust ebook market.
  • Overdrive. “OverDrive is the largest provider of ebooks for libraries.” Their international market is surprisingly robust, too.
  • Your Own Website. You could also choose to sell books from your website. Jane Friedman discusses options for adapting WordPress for ecommerce; or, you could try one of the sites that provide a sales platform such as Shopify.com.

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: AudioBooks

  • ACX. Amazon’s platform for ebooks works to match up authors and audio narrators/producers. They distribute to iTunes, Amazon.com, and Audible. However, they require a seven year exclusive contract. If you sign that contract, you can’t take advantage of other options.
  • Findaway. Because of the different formats/specs for audiobooks, many of the education distributors choose to acquire audio from other companies. Findaway distributes to many of the education markets including MackinVIA, Follett, and the trade markets through Baker and Taylor.
  • Overdrive. Overdrive also distributes audiobooks to schools and libraies.

More Distributors, More Work

One downside of working with a variety of distributors is the inevitable reformatting of a book. Some will accept a validated ePub and others accept a pdf that they transform to their proprietary format. All require a master Excel sheet of your books; unfortunately each company requires something slightly different.

Master Metadata Excel Sheet. I regularly update my Master Metadata file to make sure it has the current pricing, book descriptions, etc. Each company wants the data displayed in a different order, but it’s relatively easy to cut and paste columns and create a file for that company.

Master files. I also make it a practice to put the most-up-to-date master files of each book, ebook or audiobook into a certain folder for ease in locating them. This is one place where attention to detail pays off. I like to label the files with long descriptions to make sure I know what is there. For example, if it’s a pdf file, I want to know if it’s high resolution or low resolution.

FTP. Transferring the files to each distributor’s site is usually done through an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program. I use FileZilla and find it simple to log into an account on a publisher’s site and transfer the files.

My company, Mims House, is distributed widely online and in the education market. Some of our partners for print books include Ingram, Mackin Educational, Follett School Solutions, Children’s Plus, Inc., Permabound, Smithsonian Museum Stores (for selected titles), Amazon, and B&N. Our ebooks are distributed by Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, Follett eBooks, MackinVIA, Overdrive, and direct sales on the MimsHouse.com website. Audiobooks are distributed by Audible, iTunes,
Amazon, Overdrive, Findaway (which distributes to Follett, Mackin, and Baker&Taylor).

You’ll want to decide on your strategy for distribution based on your publishing goals. I want my books available to both the trade and education markets, so I’ve concentrated on the widest reach possible. Some sales channels are stronger than others, but I believe this strategy works best for Mims House books.

Submitting to Education Distributors: Contact Information

When you submit to a distributor, you should have information sheets for each title that lists the title, ISBN, size, pages, any reviews or awards, etc. Some distributors, such as Overdrive, prefer to work with publishers with over twenty titles in their catalog. Others will accept just a couple books. Education distributors do care about reviews and awards, both of which increase your chances of being accepted.

When you sign up for the Indie Kids Books Newsletter, you’ll receive a free 2-page Indie Kids Books Resource sheet that includes contact information for five of the education distributors discussed here.

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