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Returnable Books

Awhile back I read a most persuasive article written by an owner of a prominent POD (print on demand) publishing company. The author delivered a scathing report on the state of the book publishing industry and recommended that, to repair this damaged industry, all publishers should decree their books as “non-returnable.”

Sounded great.

In fact, the particular company this person owns does indeed practice what they preach. Bookstores are unable to return any book they order from this company.

So, as part owner of Filbert Publishing, and partly because the article was so danged persuasive, I figured I’d see where their advice would lead.

I began by calling our Baker and Taylor representative to find out what would happen if we made our books non-returnable.

Well… turns out that non-returnable books would pretty much cripple book sales.

Here’s what our rep told me:

1. Wholesalers will not stock any non-returnable books. Period. First thing that would happen is that Baker and Taylor would return every Filbert Publishing book they currently have in stock.

2. Bookstores wouldn’t carry any Filbert Publishing book that was non-returnable. Period. Ever. If any of our authors wanted one of their books stocked in a bookstore… forget it. They won’t stock it. Bookstores are quite leery of ordering unproven stock.

3. Bookstores wouldn’t special-order any books from Filbert Publishing. They type in the book title and if it’s not “in stock” at the warehouse, they’ll simply say “It’s unavailable.”

This didn’t sound great to me, so I decided to test what rep said. I found a few titles from that particular publishing house and trekked to the local bookstore. I asked them if they stocked any of those titles. They didn’t.

I then asked if they’d ever consider stocking any of those titles. They wouldn’t.

I asked if I could special order them. After a l-o-n-g spate of typing, the clerk told me the book “wasn’t in stock” so they couldn’t order it.

At another bookstore, a big red flag flashed on the screen every time the clerk entered one of the titles on my list. Didn’t look good at all.

My opinion on non-returnable books?

Well, we’re in the business to sell our titles. In my opinion, any publisher that implements a non-returnable book policy creates an environment that instantly puts their authors at a disadvantage.

But we’re just a small company that carefully chooses that projects we take on. With the deep niche we’re involved in, returns really aren’t a big deal.

Rambling thought of the day,


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