Friday, March 27, 2015

Can DartFrog find—and sell—the best of the best?

One challenge for self-published authors is independent bookstore distribution. (Forget about Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other chains.) Indeed, the Huffington Post recently ran a piece by Brooke Warner, "5 Reasons Why Your Book Isn't Being Carried in Bookstores." These are:

1. You're up against too much competition.
2. Your publicity and marketing is looking a little lackluster, or you're not communicating what you're doing.
3. You're self-published.
4. You don't have any reviews.
5. You're not pounding the pavement.

Read Warner's full essay to see what exactly she's talking about. She explains why independent bookstores do not carry most books—and especially self-published books. Which means DartFrog may have a business opportunity.

As the company's website states, "There are many tremendous self-published authors out there, who most people will never have an opportunity to read. Why? Because no one knows who they are. Part of DartFrog's mission is to find and publicize the independently published gems, marketing them to local bookstores across the United States."

So how does it work? "We review each self-published book we receive, and choose to distribute the best of the best. In this way, we relieve bookstores of the need to sift through submissions from self-published authors, while simultaneously providing a professionally reviewed index of the best of the self-published books. This benefits bookstores, who will now have a central source by which to assess a self-published book's worthiness and order it for their store. It also benefits self-published authors, who gain credibility and visibility." Also—and this should appeal to bookstores—DartFrog will not distribute a book that appears on Amazon. (It's not clear if this also includes books published on Amazon's CreateSpace.)

This is an interesting idea—DartFrog acting as the gatekeeper. I could find nothing on the site about the financial arrangement. If your book costs you, say, $3.75 to manufacture and you put a list price on it of $13.95 and the bookstore actually sells it for that, how much does the bookstore keep (typically 40%), how much does Dart Frog keep, and how much goes to the author? Are the books returnable by the bookstores? Who pays for shipping?

Dart Frog's appeal to self-published authors seems to be something like, "You're not getting the kind of sales on Amazon you want but if you were in independent bookstores you'd sell many more." Few self-published authors, I suspect, believe their books are attracting the readers they deserve. (I certainly feel that way.)

The appeal to bookstores is, "We're a source of excellent books that are not available on Amazon." All this assumes that:

(a) There are enough excellent self-published books to build a viable business;

(b) The DartFrog staff can recognize what self-published books are in fact the best of the best and will sell and also convince bookstore buyers their judgement is reliable and worth acting on (we're back to Warner's point #1);

(c) The system can generate enough sales and revenue to keep everyone—booksellers, authors, DartFrog—on board.

Because the company only set up shop in the middle of February 2015, I think it's much too soon to know. I think also any self-published author should ask many more questions before signing up.

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