Finding a good distributor can be a life saver when it comes to establishing a presence in export markets. Here is some advice from publishing experts Javier Celaya and René López-Villamar on choosing the right Mexican distributor from Selling Canadian Books in Mexico.
To establish a relationship with a Mexican distribution company, a publisher should begin by visiting Mexico City to set up meetings in person. If this is not possible, a face-to-face meeting at one of the international book fairs is a good alternative. Many Mexican publishers attend BookExpo America, the London Book Fair, and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The Guadalajara International Book Fair, in Jalisco, is the main industry event in Mexico and should be attended by anyone interested in doing extended business with Mexican publishers.
1. Become familiar with the distributor’s profile
In Mexico, the relationship between publishers and distributors is directly affected by book market segments. Many distributors serve only a specific part of the market and work under strict standards. Consequently, they tend to focus their efforts on targeting specific markets and genres. The most widely sold genres in Mexico are, in order: children’s and young adult books, literature, self-help, science, technology, medicine, elementary education, languages, philosophy, psychology, and religion. These genres are likely to be of the most interest for a distributor.
In order to choose the right distributor, it is essential to know which other publishers or imprints they distribute, how they distribute their books, the retail outlets they work with, and, naturally, the marketing materials they require. Once you have found a suitable contact, most distributors will require a formal distribution agreement.
2. Establishing direct contact
Distributors in Mexico evaluate publishers and their catalogues before establishing any kind of agreement. In order to present your list, it is necessary to arrange meetings with any distributor you might be interested in approaching or to make contacts at international book fairs to establish personal agreements according to the needs of both companies. In the Mexican business culture, it is essential to be able to rely on the support of an advisor or counsel as a link to Mexican distributors in order to facilitate initial meetings.
3. Get to know your distribution channels
Distribution companies usually manage various publishers by prioritizing the scope of their distribution activities. Ideally, it is advisable not to grant exclusive national distribution of a book to a single distributor, but rather to limit their distribution territory by area, depending on the desired scope and the readers you hope to target. However, this is not always possible, and the success of this approach will ultimately depend on the genres and specialization of your list. In cases where you cannot limit distribution agreements by territory, the best option is to try to obtain references from other publishers on the particular strengths and limitations of the various distributors you are considering.
4. Compare prices and business margins
There is no universal rule when considering or negotiating the discounts offered to Mexican bookstores, since they vary greatly depending on volume of sales and the portfolio of bookstores channels of any given product. The print run, marketing budget, business viability of the publisher and authors, and shelf life span of the title are all elements that must be taken into consideration, among other factors. Customary discounts to bookstores tend to fall somewhere between 30% and 40% of the final retail sale price for most trade books. This margin is reduced by a further 20–30% for textbooks or pocket books. Moreover, discounts to distributors tend to be calculated at around 65% of the retail price (this number includes the above-mentioned discounts to bookstores). It would be rather strange to find a distributor requesting less than a 60% discount—although ultimately this will depend on each company’s distribution power or whether the distributor works with a certain publisher on an exclusive basis.
5. Familiarize yourself with the return policy
In the event that a distributor is unable to sell their stock of any given title, there is no set return policy that applies universally across the Mexican industry. It will be up to each publisher to negotiate the terms for returns in their agreement with the distributor. In certain cases, it may be a matter of setting a lower retail price for some books in the hope of generating more sales, since the return process can be rather costly. In other cases, the cost of the returns will be deducted from future payments due to the publisher. Overall, it is very important to establish a specific protocol regarding returns before signing any distribution agreement.