We didn’t plan on running an online bookstore, it just sort of happened. Publishing had been on our minds for quite a few years; Debbie and I thought we could put together useful homeschooling materials of a sort that wasn’t readily available. Shortly after I left corporate life and was looking for another line of work, the chance came along to publish a book, and so we became publishers.
Once we had set ourselves up to sell those books online, it wasn’t long before someone asked us if we would be selling books from other publishers. We didn’t know how to do that, so we called some publishers and found out that all we needed to do was open an account with them. One publisher was very particular, wanting physical proof (e.g. photos) that we were a real store. A couple of publishers wanted us to send a copy of our business license. But most only wanted a state tax id and a shipping address. Almost every account application asked for a lot of financial information, assuming that the applicant would be buying books on credit, but usually the publisher would waive that when we told them we would be paying cash in advance. Occasionally we were able to get books without opening an account at all, just paying for our order by credit card.
We operated this way for a couple of years, and for some books we still deal directly with the publisher (or author/self-publisher). But there are a lot of publishers out there, and it became a headache. So we were glad when our sales volume reached the point where we could do what almost every real bookstore does, namely open an account with Ingram Books.
If these guys aren’t the only book wholesaler in the U.S. they are at least the 800-pound gorilla of wholesalers. And once you open an account with them you can easily order just about any book or CD in print, at discounts more or less equivalent to what you’ll get directly from the publisher. Even better, they are very fast to ship; if you are near one of their main warehouses you can have the books in hand the day after you order them. To maintain your account you need to order at least $10,000 in products (retail price) each year. They take payment for the books directly from your business checking account, and there is a dollar limit on how much you can order on a given day (this has been a minor headache for us; our limit is relatively low, and we’ve only been able to get it raised in small increments).
Every publisher has a slightly different discount schedule, as does Ingram, but generally the discount begins at 40% off retail price, increasing to 45% in quantity and often to 50% if you are willing to buy a case, i.e. an unopened box as they were delivered to the publisher by the printer.