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Distribution Hierarchy Doesn’t Exist

I don’t for a moment think that everybody believes this, but there are some who might think that retailers are the bottom feeders of the larger distribution hierarchy. I’m not sure where this began but it belies the Biblical concept of co-labourers expressed in verses like I Cor 3:9

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

and II Cor 6:1

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

There was a time when distributors held all the information, but in an internet age, most retailers are well aware of upcoming releases and tie-in products. There was a time when distributors held all the power, stores would be terrorized by the idea of being put on credit hold and being cut off from what was their only source for particular products, whereas today most product items have multiple sources. (True story: Word Canada once put me on a punitive credit hold for two months because I had refused to pay a contested $4.60 invoice.) There was a time when distributors had all the glamour because they were one degree of separation closer to the actual authors and artists than you were, but again, in the internet age, you can obtain an author’s email, be friends on Facebook, or send a direct message on Twitter.

So when spring sales events occur like the two coming in April from the two dominant Canadian distributors, I always picture the two women I met at one such events who were complete neophytes and were in total awe of the distribution mystique, completely forgetting that the system only works if they actually purchase product.

There aren’t 400 stores in our industry anymore in Canada. Distributors need each and every retailer to be their partners; what the above verses describe as co-workers; what the KJV describes as fellow workmen. 

The retailers in turn don’t need to be herded like cattle through a warehouse as though they’ve just been granted access to an inner sanctum. They need to be given a seat at the table in the board room, and on more than just an annual occasion. Their wisdom needs to be tapped. Their customers’ requests need to be noted and relayed back to publishers and product creators.

The relationship needs to be collegial. Don’t tell me how to do displays or force me to listen to a C-list author talk about a book I’ll never sell. Let’s play book trivia, or share stories. Basically, let’s laugh together; we could all use some of that. Or if people want some author contact, let’s Skype about ten of them for seven minutes each, and take questions and comments from the dealers themselves.

Or better yet, how about arranging for the publishers themselves to have their doors open to Canadian dealers on a drop-in basis from the U.S. Memorial Day to Labour Day.  That’s a Stateside summer vacation road trip I’d love to take even if the tour was cursory and the only freebie was an autographed chapter excerpt. That’s a show I’d drive to see, and you wouldn’t even have to pay my hotel costs or buy me a meal. (True story: After 35 years in the biz, I got as far as the lobby at Zondervan in Grand Rapids, but they don’t do drop-ins for “security” reasons. Word Music in Nashville was equally aloof, but the staff at Upper Room Books rolled out the red carpet and kept us engaged for nearly two hours.)

Dealers and distributors are playing on the same team, but if the dealers don’t buy product, the whole system breaks down. For retailers to buy in, they need to feel the product passion from the inside, they need to feel the relationship is somehow intimate. That’s why I’ll take following and interacting with top authors’ blogs and on Twitter over a warehouse tour every time.

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