Getting a bit of help from a bigger publishing house with the unexciting matters of sales and distribution is almost certainly a good idea for the small independent publishing house.

Here, from Jane Friedman’s blog is an extract from A People’s Guide to Publishing by Joe Biel. I’m not sure you have to take the numbers Mr Biel gives as universally applicable, but there’s no question that outsourcing your sales and warehousing is going to cost you a significant amount. But of course, so will running these operations yourself. The cost of using a distribution partner may tend to look large, possibly because the publisher, seeing many charges from their distributor appearing as as separate invoices, might tend to see them as rather large. But for smaller publishers farming out sales and distribution is almost certainly not going to cost more than doing it for themselves: the full costs of doing these functions independently are hard to visualize — until you get down to budgeting seriously. As soon as a publishing house grows beyond being able to fulfill orders out of the garage, they should consider outsourcing.

Mr Biel locates the origins of distribution subcontracting to 1971, but it has been going on much longer than that. When I started work we had two or three “distribution clients”. Cambridge University Press itself had had its books distributed in the USA by Macmillan since 1890, until, in 1949, they established their own offices in New York and took over warehousing, distribution and sales for themselves.

The good news is that there are now so many publishers and publishing services companies (including Ingram, the book wholesaler) offering these services that setting up a publishing company is easier than ever.