What distributors do
Distributors targeting larger publishers typically offer customized services and reach many niche and country-specific outlets as well as the major global ebooksellers.
They often link distribution to high-end services such as digital production workflow and customized e-commerce facilities, and several are active in specialist markets such as library, educational distribution and print-on-demand (POD).
For smaller publishers, services tend to focus just on distribution, with publishers’ works supplied in collections that are aggregated from multiple publishers.
The technology services provided to meet these needs fall into two areas:
- Digital asset management (DAM)
- Digital asset distribution (DAD)
Digital asset management (DAM)
‘Digital assets‘ is a generic term which can refer to both the source files and the finished works that are part of the digital production process. The term covers a range of digital content: ebooks, articles, web pages, XML documents, images, video and audio files, print-ready PDF files, and marketing materials such as samplers.
If you’re operating on a small scale, you can manage your digital assets on the hard disk of your computer or office network. But as the size of your list grows, and the number of people needing access increases, you’ll have to start looking for a DAM system.
There are many DAM systems, with most aimed at general use by large companies to manage their documents and other digital assets. Some examples are EMC Documentum (emc.com/domains/documentum/) and MediaBank (wavecorp.com/products/mediabank).
A number of DAM systems have emerged with features that make them especially suited to managing digital publishing assets. These systems manage storage and access to files (including remote access by staff and contractors around the world) and usually provide HTML/XML or ebook authoring tools, editing, production and conversion tools, version control and re-purposing, metadata management, and multi-format publishing. They usually link to internal production systems such as page layout and mark up systems.
Companies offering distribution services often provide them as an add-on to a DAM service. These integrated DAM/DAD systems help publishers move from the creation to the delivery of ebooks and other digital content.
One of the areas that differentiate the various players in this field is the extent to which their services emphasize the production (DAM) or the distribution (DAD) aspects of a publisher’s needs.
Digital asset distribution (DAD)
Digital asset distribution systems store and send the finished digital files and associated metadata to ebooksellers, libraries or other channels. Most of the larger service providers offer two approaches to distribution which we’ll refer to as ‘full service’ and ‘unbundled’.
- ‘Full service‘ distribution. The distributor sends publishers’ ebook files and metadata to a range of ebooksellers with whom it has distribution agreements. In this case, the publisher’s contract is with the distributor rather than the individual ebooksellers and its ebooks are sold as part of an aggregated collection. Examples of this approach are OverDrive’s Content Reserve, Ingram CoreSource and — for print-on-demand files — Ingram’s LightningSource.
- ‘Unbundled‘ distribution. The service provider only provides the technology to store and deliver the digital files. Publishers negotiate digital distribution contracts directly with ebooksellers and take a more active role in managing the relationship. This is aimed at larger publishers and specialized publishers who need to deal with channels outside of the mainstream.
Distributors aiming at larger publishers differ from those pitching their services to small presses and self-publishers in a number of ways, for instance:
- Coverage. While distributors serving the small end typically distribute to just a handful of major ebooksellers, some larger distributors reach many more channels, including country-specific booksellers and specialized outlets.
- File and metadata management. Their systems are typically built to manage large lists rather than individual titles.
- Multiple currencies. Some services allow country-specific pricing in local currencies.
Who provides these services to publishers
Among this group are long-established players who distribute for some of the largest publishers in the business:
Other companies offering DAM/DAD services to both mid-tier and larger publishers are:
- InfoGrid Pacific (IGP) (infogridpacific.com).
- North Plains (northplains.com)
- Code Mantra (codemantra.com)
- Firebrand Content Services (firebrandtech.com)
Several new players have emerged who focus largely or exclusively on distribution services (DAD), usually targeting the mid-tier independent-publisher market. Among them are:
- Faber Factory (faberfactory.co.uk), a joint venture of UK publisher Faber and US distributor Perseus Group
- Constellation (constellationdigital.com), the digital arm of Perseus Group
- ePubDirect (epubdirect.com), an Irish-based global ebook distributor
- INscribe Digital (inscribedigital.com), the ebook distribution arm of music distributor Isolation Network (INgrooves)
White label service providers
Setting up and operating an ebookstore is an expensive and complex business. This has led to the development of so-called white label services in which the service providers set up and operate branded ebookstores on behalf of retailers or, in some cases, publishers who want a retail presence.
Among the white label distributors are:
- OverDrive (overdrive.com)
- Kobo (kobobooks.com)
- Copia (thecopia.com)
- Ingram (ingramcontent.com)
- Libre Digital (libredigital.com)
For instance, the ebookstore of WH Smith in the UK is powered by Kobo, and the ebookstore of romance publisher Harlequin is powered by OverDrive. White label stores can be tightly integrated into the retail websites so that the white label distributor is invisible to customers.
When you provide ebooks to these distributors, they’re also typically made available to their white label partners. Some of these companies also target specialized markets such as e-textbooks and libraries.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.