Breaking into Special Sales Markets

There is a term used in publishing (one that makes an appearance in contracts) that refers to “special sale markets”. But what are they? Special sales markets include retailers that don’t specialize in books as a core selection or outlets purchasing books in large quantities for a specific purpose or a one-time event, like a corporation fundraiser, professional association, or a school. These markets are particularly lucrative and enticing to publishers, and most large publishing houses have at least one dedicated staff position whose job it is to liaison with potential sales markets and seek opportunities to promote, place, and sell their books through these channels. The quantity of books purchased (usually single title) is often much larger than the traditional bookstore orders, the books are non-returnable, and must be prepaid. Conventional book retailers function more like consignment shops than other retail merchants.

Anywhere you’ve been surprised to see a book for sale is a “special sales market”. Have you seen books for sale at a coffee shop or a hardware store? At a convention center or at an amusement park? You’ve found a special sales market. Think of having seen gardening titles in nurseries, baby board books at children’s boutique stores, or quirky humour titles that fit a particular store’s brand. Anthropologie, a chain of North American clothing stores, purchased large quantities of Rupi Kaur poetry books because they identified their core customer as someone who would love to buy it for themselves or as a gift for a loved one and already have a passing familiarity with the author’s social media brand.

Fiction titles are enjoying a huge boost from subscription boxes like Book of the Month club, virtual book clubs, and event subscription companies like BooknBrunch. Beach reads can often be found at pharmacies, and according to Penguin Random House Canada, during the pandemic, Shoppers Drugmart became a “significant” sales channel for featured titles when traditional bookstores were closed and online retailers were prioritizing “essential goods”.

Non-fiction titles are big business for special sale markets—anything that can tie to a conference, hobby, industry, or academic field. Small inspirational gift books are a huge graduation market. Same goes for seasonal offerings like gift editions and humour titles that make great stocking stuffers. The opportunities to place these in non-traditional outlets are nearly endless. Some companies buy books as a gift with purchase if a title particularly fits with their needs. Good to Great by Jim Collins famously sold hundreds of thousands of copies through special sales channels as companies like General Motors bought the book in bulk to distribute to their employees. Published in 2001, with more than 5 million copies in sales, it remains a bible for companies looking to make the organizational leap from—you guessed it!—good to great

Books in stores are sitting there on what is basically a rental arrangement and they must sell a preset number of copies in a short window of time or that space will be occupied by another title. It sounds cutthroat in theory and is in practice, as many titles that don’t meet sales targets will quickly disappear from store shelves. Looking for new places to sell books is a necessity for publishing success and helping your publisher find and secure these channels is something every author should be thinking about, including the self-published author, who is even more dependent on this model for distribution and potential-reader reach.

Looking to identify your own special markets and need a strategy for distribution? Book a consultation with us. We are always happy to help you find that breakout success.

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