Sunday, June 15, 2008

Book Returns

I just listened to a National Public Broadcast report on book returns. It addressed a subject I’ve been concerned about since my first book was published last year—the unique aspect of book publishing where retail outlets can return any book to a publisher for credit. Coming out of the computer data storage industry where I worked for thirty-nine years, this is a very strange concept to me. Apparently, it started in the depression era when book publishers instigated the policy to encourage books retailers to keep ordering books. I’ve seen examples of this when I order books from my publisher. On several occasions I’ve received a signed copy of my book that was returned from a book store. The NPR report said that 25% of books are returned. When you look at the transportation expense that will only increase as oil prices escalate, this policy has a significant cost to the whole book selling infrastructure. As a relatively new author the positive benefit is that bookstores order my book. The downside is that’s it’s impossible to get a good reading on how many books have been sold, and the royalty statements and checks are delayed and reduced to account for returns. As the economics of print run size versus transportation costs change, I expect to see more small print runs and print-on-demand processes to address a just-in-time inventory approach as exists in other industries.

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