Have you ever walked into a Barnes & Noble or any other large bookstore and seen those table of books in the very front of the store? It’s so easy to gravitate to that section and peruse all the bestselling titles, promising new authors, and colorful book covers.

Wanna know how that happens?

This post will be dedicated to uncovering what that positioning process looks like on the back-end, from financial investments to negotiations and more.

How It Works

These types of placements are typically reserved for large, traditional presses, like the “Big 5”. If you don’t know who they are, they are among the five largest presses in the US and world that all reside in New York City:

Now, the short answer for how books make it to front-of-store placements is through something called a “co-op” (short for “co-operative advertising”). This is essentially where bookstores and publishers share the costs of advertising and promotions for certain books and their authors. Each publisher is going to have their own co-op policy, but it typically ranges anywhere between 2-4% of last year’s net sales.

Let me explain: If Simon & Schuster decide they want to put your book on one of the front tables at B&N, this will be negotiated between your sales rep/account manager and the retailer/buyer. S&S’s terms are 4% of your book’s sales from 2022 (last year). B&N sold $100,000-worth of those books. That means they would be entitled to $4,000-worth of support (100,000 x .04 = 4,000).

What’s interesting is that in the late 90s/early 2000s, the total amount spent on co-ops grew so much that by 2010, it made up at least 50% of these publisher’s total marketing budget for that particular account. Crazy, right?

What It Looks Like

Another thing worth noting is that these placements are not entirely within the publisher’s control because, ultimately, it’s an investment and a negotiation. It’s a massive financial risk.

With that being said, there are 3 major steps that happen in order to get a book into the highly-desired “front-of-table” space.

  1. The sales rep/account manager will present some titles to a collection of retail chains, like B&N. This is where they’ll also share their expectations and details for certain key books (i.e. how big of a deal the books are, the number of copies they’d like them to take, etc.).
  2. If a retailer like B&N is interested, they decide which titles and the number of copies they want to buy based on:
  3. Their own assessment of the book
    1. The sales histories of the author’s previous books
    2. The book cover and various other factors (ex: blurbs, reviews, endorsements…)
    3. The negotiated co-op money (how much $ the publisher is willing to spend on the placement to support the cost)
  4. The sales/account managers and B&N would then negotiate what kind of in-store promotion would be appropriate and for how long, which can be measured in weeks:
    1. Placement on a front-of-store table (2 weeks = ~$10,000 in total for participating stores)
    2. A middle-of-store section (less expensive than the front)
    3. Back table section ($3,500)
    4. An endcap or a stepladder (~$25,000/week)

These rates can vary depending on not only the type of placement, but also the type of book (i.e. material), the quantity, the number of stores, the number of weeks, and the time of year (i.e. holiday season).

Final Thoughts

As you can infer, it’s crucial that these books (including yours, if it’s selected) perform well as it’s a VERY expensive investment for the publisher. A lot of close monitoring tends to happen within the first few days and weeks, especially after a book’s publication.

Major trade publishers, like the “Big 5”, often get daily sales feeds from B&N and other retailers, which allow them to track sales and promotional efforts in real time. If any books aren’t performing within the first few weeks, they are expected to be pulled out in order to save on costs.

This all goes to show that even publishers can’t predict how well a new book is going to do. Publishing is so subjective to begin with, as far as acquisitions go, but it also depends on consumer’s interests, trends, and so many other fluctuating factors.

SOURCE: Book Wars by John B. Thompson (pages 176-178)


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