What should small start-ups and self-published authors know about discoverability and the supply chain?

BookNet Canada supports the Canadian publishing supply chain.  Another way to put that is BookNet tries to help businesses work together for mutual good by sharing information, better communication and providing tools they can use.

A sister document on doing ONIX metadata makes the point that small companies don't have to participate in the overall publishing supply chain – you might choose to work with a single company like Amazon who can bring your book to a large audience (document is here).  While that simplifies the process of metadata, if you've been doing that you may have discovered that, while it's true virtually anyone in the world could find your book, no one you haven't told about the book is actually looking for it.  It's a long slow process developing contacts, word-of-mouth, finding reviewers and so on to build readership.

Working in the publishing supply chain is like that.  Businesses develop reputations for the quality and saleability (or lack thereof) of their products.  They build, over time, the contacts, word of mouth and base to sell from. If a book is selling in sufficient volume everyone will work with you – regardless of the size of the source – but most individual books do not sell in enough quantities to be a self-supporting economically viable product. Publishers circumvent that problem by developing enough book titles to be economically viable through overall volume, enough to support working with other businesses. 

It's a sad truth that a company with 5 or 10 books is a hard fit for the supply chain.  BookNet Canada is not immune to these realities.

Our e-catalogue service BNC CataList is used by Indigo and other retail book buyers and librarians rely on it. BookNet works with both to improve it as an ordering tool and supports services like Loanstars that promote it's use and enhance discoverability within the library community.  BNC CataList is priced very economically for businesses and provides an excellent service, but it is starting price is high for small publishers with limited lists.

BNC BiblioShare is a free service and genuinely improves any book's discoverability. One of our clients, The 49th Shelf, lists any book in BiblioShare authored by a Canadian (appropriately marked in the metadata) and they provide an excellent service to those authors and the publishers of their books regardless of size. BNC CataList gets its information from BiblioShare.  Many wholesalers are among its clients and include several services promoting books to libraries. Our data underpins AllLitUp a sales site run by the Literary Press Group, But BiblioShare has limits in what it can offer small publishers – the same as a product page on Amazon: Is anyone looking for a specific book?  We don't charge to list book data but we also don't offer a "push" service. There isn't a public facing website. We support other businesses, and some support websites defined by their needs. Having data in BiblioShare doesn't force anyone to come look for it, it only makes it easier when they do.  You should be aware that retailers accept data based on their accounts – who they've agreed to sell.  No one will sell your book based solely on it's existence in BiblioShare.

Is there no escape?

BookNet supports the Canadian publishing supply chain and it's made up of a loose conglomerate of businesses and associations. Associations are the escape route, and while most associations have the same sorts of criteria described here they can be a way for small businesses to scale up.  BookNet does work with associations and when we can we offer special pricing that reflects the volume they represent to us.  So, look to join associations.  Most provinces have at least one publisher group and the Association of Canadian Publishers is their umbrella organization.

Work with other businesses if you can.  Distributors should be able to offer you access to retailers for your print products – and may provide additional services like metadata. eBOUND Canada works with digital publishers and provides access to Coresource, a DAM (digital assets management) service that distribute files to e-tailers.  There are various commercial services as well.

It's a pollyanna answer, but there are limits to going it alone.  Find friends.