Monday, March 14, 2011

A Woeful Truth About Publishing

Let me tell you a story about one of the nasty little things in the publishing world that can threaten to put a publisher into bankruptcy rather quickly.

Once, a long, long time ago (okay more like 8 months ago), a pretty little author contacted her much wiser publisher with a request and a plan.
"Oh please, Madam Publisher, if my book could only go into print, I absolutely know I've got a large order waiting for it at Double Magic Stores, Inc. And they know me really well, so it's a guaranteed sale with no returns. Ever."

Madam Publisher, with her compassionate heart and desire to see her author succeed, worked really hard to get the requested book available to the distributors so that the Double Magic Stores, Inc. could order the precious tome. But all things didn't go as planned, because Double Magic Stores, Inc. decided they'd rather order direct from the publisher. Seems they didn't like the distributor's terms.

Madam Publisher wasn't crazy about the idea, since she wasn't fond of sending her product, unpaid for, to a foreign country (and company that she had never dealt with before). She didn't want to turn the order down, since the author had worked hard on procuring it, so in her infinite wisdom (and on the advice of her accountant), she only sent a third of the order. And waited for payment on that third. And waited. And waited.

And waited some more.

I wish I could say that Double Magic Stores, Inc. paid the bill and everyone lived happily ever after, but that isn't the case. As many independent publishers have discovered over the years, there is something seriously flawed in the way that booksellers do business. Seriously, how many of us can order a product, and then pay whenever we damn well feel like it? Returns started in the depression, to help keep bookstores in business as they wouldn't have to worry about paying out all the money and being stuck with a lot of stock that wouldn't sell. They could simply return what didn't sell and request new books to line their shelves. The depression ended, but this practice never did, but in fact, only got worse.

As of this writing, after a demand for payment letter was sent threatening collection action, we have received half of our monies owed. The remainder was held 'for anticipated returns'. No notification of when the final payment will be made.

Needless to say, this kind of behaviour has made this company think long and hard about its print program. We have no desire to go the way of the dinosaur, slinking away into bankruptcy because of companies such as the one described above, therefore, we have had to abandon the program, still in its infancy stage. Oh sure, we'll continue to offer printed books to our readers, but they'll be available on our website only, and any company wanting larger orders are going to have to pay in advance.

A tough lesson learned, but one in which we will gracefully concede. Leave the print publishing for those with pockets deep enough to withstand numerous unpaid accounts. Instead, I raise a glass to Champagne Books, as we continue onward, pursuing excellence in fiction in an electronic medium.

And then they lived happily ever after.


  1. Hear hear. I don't know how often I've had an author ask me to take her/his book off 'no return' at Ingrams. I even had one author request 'no returns' because Borders wanted to order her book for ALL their stores and she had it in writing. Over 500 bookstores and perhaps 4 books each store? Said author promised she'd pay for returns, forgetting that she'd have to pay for shipping and customs/duty, two ways, because first the books would be returned to me, in Canada. No, no, no, because I'm not willing to lose my company due to mega returns resulting in loss of revenue. I know of several bookstores that did indeed go bankrupt because they allowed returns. The whole purpose of Print on Demand with no returns is so that less books are destroyed. Honestly, if a bookstore puts in an order, the books are printed within 24 hours. So what is their issue with Print on Demand?
    I've been pro ebooks for many years, 'go green' and it's still my motto. With all the ereaders that are sold now, ebooks are starting to outsell print. The 'now' and the 'future' is digital all the way!!

  2. Wow, I thought if bookstores ordered directly from the publisher payment was made immediately with said order, just as one pays for anything else ordered online. I thought returns were only arranged with distributors such as Ingraham. Shows you how much I have to learn.

    I don't see why any bookstore should have a problem with POD publishing. Less waste, no returns, and you only buy what your customers request. What so difficult about that? Isn't that how Dorchester Publishing restructured their operations last year - ebook release and then POD for print? Sounds to me like they copied Champagne's SOP.

  3. No, most of the time they're invoiced, but the smaller stores tend to pay in a much more timely fashion. Whenever I've dealt with larger chains, it always takes forever to collect. This is the first time I've had to threaten with action though. And I don't like it.

    I agree, it doesn't have to be difficult at all, but that's the way they've done things for 70 years now, and they don't want to change. It works for them, right?

  4. I get very sad when I read things like this because people always jump to the conclusion that the reason they can't find a book in a bookstore is because of th publisher but there is always something behind the story. Good for you that you are requesting payment up front, I happen to think the idea of "returns" is just crazy, people should know what's going to sell in their stores and do a better job of ordering items.

  5. Amen, sister. One of my publishers almost went belly-up trying to satisfy the demand from authors instead of preaching the eGospel and getting sales of eBooks. Thanks for the cautionary tale, and I'll raise a glass to Champagne and all the other independent publishers who are fostering eBooks.
    Betty K.

  6. The problem with avoiding the returns feature, is then the book stores will never carry things from small publishers. They'll only want to carry from "the big 6". It's a strange situation, that's for sure. Nothing works for the author, but no matter what, the book stores will still do fine - until, that is, more ebooks sell than print worldwide.

  7. That's just it Teresa, I don't mind the returns. Well, I do... but my issue is that the company is withholding funds 'just in case'.
    I was taught that you pay, or you return what you don't want to pay for. Why should this be any different?

    And seriously, the only reason you should return a book is if it's got a manufacturing problem. You shouldn't be able to return a book to the store simply because you didn't like it. That's why we put blurbs on the back cover, and excerpts up front; so that the reader can decide if they want to read it.

    The whole practice of allowing bookstores to return books in droves is idiotic. You order what you need to provide a reasonable selection to your customer. If a store can't figure out what kind of stock it needs, within its budget, then maybe said store shouldn't be in business. Heck, if I can't manage my funds, I can't remain in business.

  8. This whole concept of "selling books on consignment" is very old, and used to apply only the the NY Big Houses, but it appears to have become widespread. As I see it, any author who wants her/his books in print and on shelves, should buy them from the company at the nicely reduced rate Champagne offers, then put them in bookstores themselves--maybe pay a bit of a shelf-space fee to the bookstore, then invoice the store for those books of theirs that have sold. As a former bookseller, I found that worked well, especially for self-pubbed books. Of course, that was long before the day of e-publishers who put some of their books into print. Small, independent publishing house of whatever nature, should never be be treated like the deep-pockets major houses. IM (seldom) HOP, the store holding back the payment "against returns" should have its ass sued off.

  9. I did a signing at a major book store. Sold about 15 to 20 books in a half hour in a city that wasn't my home town but I did have a few people stopping by to purchase books. I left the store after about two hours because the store was about to close. I told the person in charge of the romance section that I had three more friends stopping by, please keep my six books out front. The next day my three friends stopped by. They had already boxed up the books for return and had to unbox them. Had the bookstore worker actually kept the books out they would have sold. But they didn't want to actually sell books because I wasn't with a major publisher. The bookseller came by four times telling us it was okay to leave and hinting that she wanted us gone. I sold loads of books and was selling them to customers even as she was telling me to leave. Rather sad how booksellers do business now. They only want big name authors with huge publishing houses even if the people with big name house sell less books during a signing.

  10. There is a true insanity within the book store universe. That insanity, however, is being threatened by e-books with POD options.

    As for signings, a half a dozen years ago, we could just manage to snare some at even the bigger chains, but now, just like sara said, they only want the big names.

    As for publishers, y'all don't have it easy. We're grateful we have a very wise leader at Champagne Books.

  11. You're wise leader is about to blow a gasket.
    I just received another email, reiterating what I already know.

    How hard is it to tell me when the rest of the funds will be released? There must be SOME sort of protocol for this kind of thing. How on God's green earth can they think it's okay to keep both the product and the payment owing 'just in case'?


  12. And victory is mine! They're sending out the remainder of what they owe tomorrow.

    Guess they didn't like my email bombardment today. (grins)


  13. Very well said Ellen.
    And congratulations on finally getting them to take action and send your payment!

  14. And don't forget the big publishers withhold the author's royalties against returns as well. I remember how disappointed I was with my very first royalty check. I got about a fourth of what I thought I'd get, based on the reported sales. But the publisher 'withheld' the rest because the covers might be returned. I eventually got my royalties but it took a period of five years - and the book was only on the shelf for one month.

    That's only one of the reasons I'm a little 'enthusiastic' about the e-market. I was astonished when I learned print publishers and bookstores do business this way. With research, I learned it goes way back to the 1800's when novels first became accessible to the middle class, so it's an ancient practice that should go the same way as the buggy whip. Thank the lord there is the e-market and forward thinking publishers like Champagne Books.

  15. Sadly, it seems the bigger the store, the less urgency/morals about simple things like paying for stuff.

    I wonder how they'd feel if their customers started asking to take books home to read first, only paying for the ones they enjoyed reading and (eventually) returning the ones they didn't.

  16. I was wondering the very same thing!

  17. Just curious...I wonder if the Double Magic Stores would have provided their full payment for this initial order, if they had received it in its entirety? Since only one third was delivered, often payment will be withheld until the pre-agreed shipment is made. Was the buyer at Double Magic Stores told "before" one third of their shipment was made that they would be receiving a partial delivery and payment would be due on a specific date in order to receive the balance? I've worked in retail a long time and have discovered that communication is often your greatest enemy.