How Self Publishing Distribution Works

One of the most common misconceptions about print-on-demand companies is that their only value is printing books one at a time.  While it is true that just-in-time printing is an advantage of publishing with a POD publishing service company, there are many greater advantages than just printing. Allowing a company to handle all the “heavy lifting” like accounting, taxes (foreign taxes are particularly intensive), and fulfillment are all equally good reasons to publish through an established self-publishing company.

Perhaps the best reason of all, however, is not the printing of the books, but the distribution of the books after publication. Let’s use Outskirts Press and their distribution-on-demand network as an example. The distribution and availability offered by each company may differ, so be sure to check.  The Outskirts Press distribution-on-demand network is visualized below and comes included with the Diamond, Ruby, and Pearl publishing packages.

As any independently published author doing everything entirely on their own will tell you, printing a book is actually the easy (albeit expensive) part. It is what happens AFTER the book has been made available that dictates success.  The largest US Wholesaler is Ingram Book Company. Some publishers, like those offered by Amazon, for example, do not even distribute their own books through the largest US wholesaler Ingram.  The graphic above indicates the crippling effect that could have on your book’s availability.  

 Even though Ingram is so important to a book’s availability, many independently published authors are unable to secure representation with Ingram because Ingram typically requires that an author or publisher have at least 7 active titles in order to be interested.  No wonder more and more authors are seeking out print-on-demand publishers with extensive distribution networks like the one shown above.

Contributing to an author’s confusion about how self-publishing distribution works is a mind set that originated with old fashioned publishers — that a book must physically exist in printed form in order to sell it.  Makes sense, right? Counter-intuitively, that is no longer the case.   In fact, the very power of the distribution-on-demand network is that a physical copy of the book no longer needs to be printed before it is sold.  Sometimes, the book is printed only after the book is sold, the money is collected, and the author’s royalty is earned.   This is the explanation for how POD books can be available at thousands upon thousands of locations, and 25,000 bookstores and sales channels worldwide, even though that number of copies have not been printed or sold yet.

Understandably, some authors find this new concept in book distribution somewhat difficult.  So let’s walk through the distribution network shown above, step by step, and you will see how amazingly easy it is to make your book available with the help of a full service publisher like Outskirts Press:

1. The Outskirts Press logo represents publication with Outskirts Press. At the time of publication, the book’s bibliographic information and metadata are provided to Bowker’s Books-in-Print database.  The book is also made available through Outskirts Press Direct wholesaling at for those sales channels that have access to neither Ingram nor Baker & Taylor.

2. The book’s information is accepted and catalogued by Ingram Book Company and becomes available to order wholesale through Ingram. An EDI (electronic data interchange) feed distributes that book’s metadata information to all the sales channels that receive the feed (shown above, and there are many others).  Each sales channel has specific requirements for displaying the book’s information on their website. If the book’s specifications meet the retailers requirements, the book is displayed for sale.

3. Ingram also passes the book’s information to another large US wholesaler, Baker & Taylor, who provides wholesaling for some bookstores and also primarily offers availability to the US library system.

4. Nearly every retail bookstore (chain and independent) has a wholesale relationship with either Ingram and the same EDI feed that populates all the common book websites also provides direct access and availability to all those brick and mortar bookstores.

5. Now the book is available for order just about everywhere. Let’s use an order that originates on to see what happens next.  An Amazon customer finds the book on Amazon, adds it to her shopping cart, and completes her purchase with a credit card.  Amazon electronically sends that order to Ingram.

6. If Ingram possess the book in stock in one of its warehouses (rare), it uses a book from its inventory. Otherwise, the Outskirts Press book is printed POD within 24 hours from the time of order receipt.  Once the physical book exists, two things happen.  A) Ingram records the sale of that book (Amazon is the customer, not the end reader) and Ingram reports that sale on a monthly basis (3 months after the fact) to Outskirts Press.  B) The book is drop-shipped directly from Ingram to the Amazon customer.

7.  The Outskirts Press author did not have to order copies of this book in order to sell it. In fact, once it was published by Outskirts Press, the entire order, fulfillment, and accounting of the transaction occurred without the author’s involvement.   Presumably, the Outskirts Press author was involved in the marketing of the book, which is how the reader ordered it from Amazon in the first place.  But once that order is placed, there is no heavy-lifting by the author at all.  Compare that with the stories from independently published authors who will tell you that processing orders can involve the heaviest lifting of all.

And that is how self publishing distribution and automatic book fulfillment works — and why self publishing through a service company like Outskirts Press is becoming more popular for authors who would rather write and market their books, and not haul copies in their car back and forth to the post office.

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