Getting books into the marketplace and into a reader's hands is a complex process.
It begins when the publisher adds a new title to Bowker Books-in-Print and registers the ISBN.
Small publishers often use distributors to get their books into the distribution channels, so the books first go to the distributor from the publisher.
The distributor then sells the books to the wholesalers, such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor.
Book stores usually order through the wholesalers. In larger chains, the books go first to the retailer's warehouse or distribution center.
Then the books go into the stores, where readers buy them.
Small and mid-size publishers will often have their books stocked at the wholesalers' warehouses so when a special order is placed for a book, the retailer often just has to order it from the wholesaler. Larger publishers have the clout to have their books stocked in the retail stores.
If a book stays on the retailer's shelf for six months without being sold, the retailer can send it back to the wholesaler. (More on this next week.) The wholesaler will often send unsold books back to the distributor, and the distributor eventually sends it back to the publisher. If the publisher can resell the book, it goes right back out the door. If not, it shows up as a "return" and a negative number on the author's royalty statement.
The publishing industry is changing rapidly, however.
Ingram now reports that they are carrying virtual inventories - which means the books are not stocked in their warehouse, but they are in their database. When an order is placed by the retailer, the wholesaler places the order with the distributor or direct with the publisher (if the publisher is large enough).
Publishers are also moving toward more virtual inventories. The old business model was to stock warehouses with all their published titles. The new model allows the publisher to print some titles on demand, reducing the overhead of inventory space. It also eliminates the guesswork and complex mathematical equations used to determine print runs and how often to reprint books.
Drake Valley Press uses a hybrid model - both traditional print runs augmented by print-on-demand, which reduces the guesswork and allows books to remain in print longer.