From Here to There: Book Distribution 101

Distribution is an often-invisible part of book publishing. It is intuitive that authors write, editors acquire, production designs, marketing promotes, booksellers sell, and readers enjoy. It is easy to overlook the logistics between the finished book, retailers, and ultimately consumers.


Distribution is that final step that takes freshly printed books and makes them accessible to readers. We are the people authors call to make sure books arrive for events and who advise students on what shipping method to use to receive the book before term starts. We ship review copies and contributor copies. We talk to stores and wholesalers electronically all day long, receiving and sending order data. We sell books on our own website, We send book data to retail and wholesale accounts. We provide invoice copies to stores and process sales made at events and exhibits. We send download links for ebooks and codes for electronic access. We are often responsible for the core data customers see on an Amazon detail page, including the availability and ship times. We process the sales that will result in royalties for authors.


Hopkins Fulfillment Services (HFS) offers book distribution services to JHUP and 12 other university presses and non-profits. Our clients include University of Pennsylvania Press, Georgetown University Press, University of Washington Press, The University Press of Kentucky, Catholic University of America Press, University of Massachusetts Press, Baylor University Press, University of New Orleans Press, Maryland Historical Society, and the JHU Center for Talented Youth. The customer service center is based in Baltimore, where we have 14 full-time staff members handling customer service and credit and collections, with additional support from the JHUP IT department. The fulfillment warehouse is located in Pennsylvania, along the east coast corridor of book wholesale and retail warehouses.


In this monthly column, I will attempt to lift the veil on book distribution – from basics about the workflow to the print-on-demand (POD) process to the anatomy of an Amazon book detail page. While distribution isn’t an exciting part of the book industry, we are all part of the process of bringing books to readers and advancing scholarship.


Davida G. Breier, Manager of HFS, worked at two book distributors prior to joining JHUP in 2010. She also sits on the board of No Voice Unheard, a non-profit publisher, and was a contributing writer and photographer for the book Ninety-Five: Meeting America’s Farmed Animals.