[Marketing] sell-in vs sell through

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I'm really bad about forgetting what publishing jargon is either known or not known among my wider circle of acquaintances.  While on vacation visiting my parents last week, they asked for clarification on a pair of terms so it seemed like a good thing to post about today.

There are two phases in the life of a book in terms of marketing and publicity: sell-in, and sell-through.  I sometimes see them bandied about on publishing blogs or dropped into conversation without much by way of explanation or distinction, so here we go.


The ultimate goal is to sell through the available stock in the marketplace with enough reorders to warrant a reprint. But if you've been doing your research into the publishing industry, you should know already that this ultimate goal is the Cinderella story and not the norm for a lot of books. Most books do not achieve this velocity of sale and a lot of stock comes back in the form of returns.

Sell-through is all the marketing, advertising, or publicity begins near the pub date.  It is anything that aims to bring the consumer into a store or to an online retailer in order to the book or e-book.  This is any book or blog tour beginning on or closely linked to the on-sale date.  This is all advertising that runs at around that same time that's been designed and written as a call-to-action encouraging the consumer to purchase the book.  The advertising may also highlight a specific uniqueness about the product or the marketing campaign.

Now obviously the more digitized publishing becomes the less appropriate the term sell-through is.  With an e-book there is no stock to sell through so the word probably ought to be phased out.


Sell-in occurs prior to publication.  The ultimate goal here is to sell in as much stock as possible to retailers be they traditional bookstores such as Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Amazon, Books-A-Million, the independents etc. etc. or secondary sellers such as Walmart, Target, grocery chains and so forth.

At sell-through the title, specs, and covers of the books are already known. At sell-in this may not be the case.  A cover may still be under-development or a title or release date may need to change.  You've all seen the complaint that books these days get almost no marketing for them, but in addition to  a place in the catalog, Advanced Readers Copies or galleys, and several other things that are already the subject of many other blog posts around the web, all books get support from the marketing department at sell-in. At sell-in a publisher's marketing department is talking with the sales reps and getting their feedback on what they think is best for the book in matters such as positioning.  Sales materials such as the catalog are being developed along with any other special sales pieces that might be necessary to pitch special projects to accounts.  And there are meetings, lots and lots of meetings, but that seems to be true of many industries.

There may be advertising, but it'll be targeting booksellers and retailers rather than the consumer since sell-in occurs so long before publication.

The near and post publication plans are being made and presented to sales which can positively affect the buy.  So just a little something to keep in your head: if you are already planning some big, unique marketing campaign on your own for the publication of your book then it would be a good idea to make it known to your publisher in a brief e-mail well in advance so that they can include it in these materials.


Alleged Author said...

Thanks for the explanation! I had no clue what these terms mean. :)

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