Selling Books By The Truckload!
Has anyone told you that you can sell books by the truckload? There are
some books that have such mass appeal. Selling books in big quantities has
put more than one publisher on the map. One company that buys books by the
truckload was called Reading's Fun when it was first formed in 1990 and
shortly after their name was changed to Books Are Fun. Reader's Digest
acquired the company on October 1, 1999.
Books Are Fun (BAF) has eight different programs that combined generate over
$250 million dollars in revenue each year. The two most established
programs are their School Program and their Corporate Book Fair Program
where they sell books directly to the public at 40% to 80% discount. Here
is a little insight to these two programs.
Corporate Book Fair Program - 1 to 3 day events held at large corporations,
high-rise office buildings and hospitals once or twice a year, offering a
selection of hundreds of different titles to employees and visitors.
School Program - Displays of 25 - 30 different books and gifts are placed in
the faculty lounges and media centers of schools every six weeks. Teachers
and staff members can order the books for their own personal use and
enjoyment. Orders are generally filled the following week.
Seven years ago, I went to work for Reading's Fun as a corporate Book Fair
rep in Arizona. I was going through a truckload of books (up to 15,000
books) every 3 to 4 weeks. I had the same two challenges that the company
had: keeping the books that sold well in stock and finding new books to
sell. I sold over 500,000 books in 3 years and learned a lot about their
process of purchasing books from publishers and even more about what books
the customer wanted to buy.
Through that process I found books from small to medium size publishers and
tested the books. If the books did well I sent them to the home office and
provided them with my results and feedback. About half of the books that I
forwarded to them ended up being tested. About half of the books they
tested ended up being production titles or were "rolled out".
To this day, I continue to function as a scout for books for Books Are Fun.
I currently work as a broker for several small to medium size publishers
representing their books to BAF and other special markets. Over the last
seven years I have helped numerous publishers through the process of
presenting books and the negotiation process for orders between 25,000 and
What kind of books do they buy?
They look for hardcover books with a $20 or more retail price with hardcover
illustrated children's books ($15 and up) being the exception. They will
occasionally buy paperback books if they are part of a set. They look for
general interest, self help, adult gifts, how-to, reference, sports, coffee
table books, some best sellers, lots of cookbooks and their largest area of
specialty is children's books (interactive, educational and storybooks).
A few of the books that have done well for them are:
From Medium to Large Publishers
|| From Small To Medium Publishers|
| Guess How Much I Love You || Love You Forever
|Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus ||How To Behave So Your Children
|The Christmas Box||
|Don't Sweat The Small Stuff ||Conversations With God
|BH & G New Dieters Cookbook ||Moments With Angels
|Mrs. Fields 200 Best Cookie Recipes ||Where's Mom Now That I Need Her
|Disney's Treasury of Children's Classics || God's Little Devotional Book
|Chicken Soup For the Women's Soul ||The Twelve Gifts Of Birth
|Snow Falling On Cedars ||With Love From My Kitchen
|The Partner (Grisham) ||All About Me
|8 Weeks To Optimum Health || Moments For Sisters
| Kraft Best-Ever Grilling Recipe Collection|| Secrets Of Fat Free Living
|The Complete Photo|| Guide to Home Repair by Black & Decker
How does the buying process work?
If BAF is interested in your title for a national test, they will place a
test order for between 400 to 600 books at an 80% discount. They then run
concurrent tests across the country in a number of locations. It can take
up to 90 days to get solid test results in. Based on the overall success of
the test, they can do a rollout order of 10,000 to 250,000 books for either
their fall or spring season.
They generally work at least one season ahead and more often two. They may
test a seasonal Christmas title in October of this year and rollout a
production run that dictates that they need stock in their warehouse by the
end of August. Another title may be tested early in the spring and can
often get test results quickly enough for a rollout the following Fall
Regional Books are less common, but BAF does sometimes have success with
them. The test for a regional title is usually done with 200 to 300 test
books. If a rollout is done the quantity is generally between 3,000 and
The discount on a rollout varies and is based on the test results. Titles
are to find the optimal pricing for the BAF customer. When the test is
completed and they have their data they decide if they want to purchase film
rights or do (or join on with a publisher on) an actual print run.
If they purchase film rights, they can pay a royalty based on numerous
factors including the quantity they forecast for the book. The royalty is
comparable to those paid by Bookspan (Book of The Month Club, Doubleday,
etc.) or Scholastic Bookclubs.
If they do a print run or join on with a publishers print run, they look for
discounts of at least 80% and in some situations closer to 90%. The books
are not returnable, net 90 days from delivery to them and they pay the
freight from your location to their warehouse. You can count on the invoice
being paid within 90 days. They have always gone out of their way to pay on
The discount they look for is based on what it will take to make the title
work in their system, not on how low they think the publisher will go.
Sometimes it happens that due to royalties and print cost, the publishers
end up going back to their author and working with them on the royalty to
get it to where it will make the transaction work.
"I Will Lose Money On The Test."
Most publishers do. The big publishers know the value of the test and the
potential of the rollout and jump on the chance to have a book tested. It
may be a surprise to most authors and publishers that even the big
publishers do smaller print runs for the most part to keep more of a "just
in time" type of product flow. Most of the larger publishers end up losing
money on a test, but they know that a rollout can help put a book on the map
I recently presented an offer to a small publisher that could have generated
a sale of between 50,000 and 75,000 books and they turned it down. They
felt that they could not take such a big discount. With decision-making
like this, it is no surprise that 70% of all one-book publishers are out of
business in 24 months. The sad thing is that the publisher is sitting on
the stock now and probably will still be sitting on the same amount of books
if not more in six months, after the normal return cycle.
"Why Should I Take A Loss To Sell Them Test Books?"
Most small publishers have a harder time understanding the benefits. The
vice president of BAF has always told me that if the publishers gave the
test books to them for free they would still lose money on the test.
Testing 500 books takes a lot more time, effort and shipping expense per
book than to rollout with a production run of 100,000. Smart smaller
publishers lucky enough to get a test order jump to fulfill it!
You can create a lot of demand in the market and bookstores by doing
transactions like these. The reps from BAF generally are in and out in a
day or two at a location. When the books start circulating around the
office or with friends and family they tend to create interest (buzz). If
someone wants to buy the book at that point, they are driven to the
bookstore, Amazon.com, the publisher, or the publishers website.
The BAF customer is not the typical customer that goes to a bookstore to buy
a book and therefore selling to them does not compete with the bookstore
sales. In fact, it creates sales at the store level. More often, their
customer is at work and they see the book at a discount and just can't pass
it up. Their typical customer would probably not have bought the book if it
were not for the fact that it was basically delivered to them at a discount.
I can remember when the original Chicken Soup for the Soul first came out.
BAF tested the book and ordered 60,000 copies. They sold out of the initial
order very quickly and ordered another 60,000 copies. Before the second
order was sold out, the book hit the New York Times Bestseller list and
stayed there for a long, long time. BAF has sold more than one million
copies in the Chicken Soup series.
How They Find Books.
The company is always searching for new books. The buyers are inundated
with over 20,000 new books each year to find the 400 to 500 titles that will
generate sales of each title between 10,000 and 250,000 copies. The average
is 65,000 copies per title.
For the most part, each member of BAF's team of 13 buyers is assigned to
specific publishers. They deal with every major publisher in the country,
and every time the new publisher comes out with a new catalogue the buyer
and the publishers rep go through the catalogue to see which books BAF might
want to test. Books Are Fun's impressive vendor list include: Random House,
Publications International, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Meredith,
Penguin-Putnam, Time Life, Blue Mountain Arts, DK, Quail Ridge Publishing,
Simon & Schuster, and many more.
BAF also works with hundreds of small and medium sized publishers. Most
have a special markets representative that either works for the publisher or
they use independent rep/brokers that present their books to the BAF buyer.
Many distributors have relationships with a buyer and present books to BAF
and the books are seen that way. Smaller distributors often use
independent commissioned sales reps or brokers that present their books to
the BAF buyer.
How Do I Approach Books Are Fun If I Don't Have A Buyer?
For smaller companies that publish less than 30 titles a year,
BAF often prefers to work with brokers, or commissioned sales reps that reps
books to BAF for a commission paid by the publisher.
This can be much more efficient representation. With the volume of books
that BAF receives, books can get lost in the cycle. It is just like an
unknown author submitting a manuscript to a large New York publisher.
Working with a broker can work to your advantage. I will use a recent trip
that I made to visit with the vice president at BAF. We have known each
other for over seven years now and I have a good idea of what he is looking
for. Between July 1st and September 15th, I evaluated more than 300 books
from 100 different publishers. Out of those books, I picked 50 books that I
thought would have the potential to be tested by BAF. I then made the trip
to BAF headquarters in Fairfield, IA. I only passed two buggies on the way.
One was two horsepower and the other was one horsepower.
Fifteen of the 50 potential titles qualified for and are being tested today.
Everybody wins in this situation. BAF does not have to receive 300 books
that they have to catalogue, evaluate, assign to a buyer and then start the
explanation process to the publisher while at the same time the publisher is
being represented by someone that has extensive experience in the process.
What a great savings of time and resources for the publisher and BAF.
Generally I ask that if a person feels that their book is a fit for BAF (if
you still are not sure you can see some of the books that they carry at
www.Booksarefun.com) that they send two copies of the book to Tim McCormick,
P. O. Box 27672, Tempe, Arizona 85285-7672. You should include a one-page
summary or sell sheet on the book. Other facts that are help are number of
books in print, first print run quantity, date, most recent print run,
quantity, date, and the cost from the printer from each, how many books you
have in stock, any special sales in quantities of over 200 you have for the
title. I welcome calls from authors and publishers, at 480-838-4309 Arizona
time, if I have a copy of the book in my hands to look at before they call.
It is best to allow about 7-10 days for me to look at the book before making
any follow up calls. Please do not send me a URL and ask me to go look at
In addition to being the publisher of Greentree Publishing
-- whose first book was the New York Times bestseller How to Behave so Your Children Will, Too! --
Tim McCormick continues to function as a scout for Books Are Fun. Over the last seven years he has worked
as a broker for several hundred small to medium-size publishers negotiating orders between 25,000 and
250,000 copies to BAF and other special markets.