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How E-Book Distribution Works

by Ian on May 18, 2011

And why we can't carry ______.

The Catholic industry is currently about two years, and quickly approaching three, behind the rest of the e-book revolution. During that time an e-book conversion and distribution industry has grown up that favors huge companies and leaves individual stores unable to carry e-book products.

Here's how the industry works.

  1. A publisher signs up with a conversion company to convert their entire book list.
  2. The conversion company is also a distribution company that has two clauses in the contract: 1) The publisher has to let the conversion company handle distribution. 2) The publisher can sell the e-books on its own site but can't let anyone else not approved by the distributor to carry them.
  3. The distribution company charges tens of thousands of dollars to setup an e-book store for a company with annual renewals and probably a per-download fee as well. If your store is a massive, sell-everything company like Barnes and Noble which uses one of these services, this is great. You get access to over a million titles  and because of the scale of your offering can easily make a profit.

Unfortunately, niche book sellers are left out in the cold because they only need 1% or less of the e-book inventory and could never make a profit selling just that bit. This solidifies the mega-stores as the go-to place for e-books and puts the independent or topical store at an even greater disadvantage than they were before.

So as an independent Catholic company that would only use .01% of one of these distributor's inventory, we are unable to carry Scott Hahn's books because they are published by Random House. We are also unable to carry books by the Daughters' of St. Paul because they have also signed on with one of these distributors. Most other Catholic publishers are still sitting in meetings trying to decide what they are going to do about this whole digital thing which is why the number of available Catholic titles for your Kindle or Nook is miniscule compared to what is available in the general Christian market.

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