January 2009


I’ve been reading a couple of different things about sales and returns and discounting recently.  We’re all familiar with the 3 for 2 tables in Waterstones, but do any of us ever stop to think about what that actually costs the publisher and the author?

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the actual figures and percentages of it, but I understand the general gist.  When a publisher sells a bookseller a load of books, it is on a sale-or-return basis; if the bookseller is unable to sell those books to the general public, the publisher has to buy them back, thus loosing the profit they made from selling them in the first place.  The principle of this is to prevent the booksellers from having unmanageable piles of unsellable stock, but it is not ideal for the publisher.  It makes it much harder for them to predict their profit margins and therefore to plan for the future, especially in smaller publishers where returns could end up wiping out their whole years profit and destroying them.

This is all tied in with the complicated issue of discounts.  Publishers apparently sell their books to booksellers at incredibly high discounts (compared to the cost of production) which obviously, again, eats into their profit.  This seems to be the only way booksellers are able to make it worth their while buying in bulk.  Without the safety net of being able to return unsold stock, they won’t want to buy books from a publisher unless they are even more heavily discounted.  So there seems to be no way out of the vicious circle: Publishers can’t sell books at even more heavily discounted rates on a no-return basis because then there will be very little profit left.

Drastic new ways of thinking are clearly needed, so HarperStudio’s new innovative deal with Border’s to sell them books on a heavily discounted, non-returnable basis, splitting the profit 50-50 between the author and publisher rather than paying the author on a percentage-royalty, seems extremely interesting to me; hopefully it will work out and more publishers will be able to follow suit!

Here are all the places I’ve been reading about this, with more detail in most cases!

e-Reads blog: Borders to try non-returnable – possibility world will not end.

e-Reads blog: Is there a better way to compensate authors?

e-Reads blog: HarperStudio President responds to Author Compensation post

Newsstand Forum: No Returns? Economics, Digital Media spurring new Book Publishing models

Snowblog: Returns

Galleycat: Indie Publisher Suing Borders for $1million for excessive returns

(ie it has been claimed that Borders overordered with the intention of returning most of the books in order to recoup cash, or something along those lines…)

Bookseller: Border’s Inc to defend Law Suit

Sowblog: Crimbophobia – the impact of promotional discounts on independent publishers

Oh dear, I didn’t mean to go silent for so long again, there were lots of things I wanted to write about back at the end of last term – the SYP Annual Conference, for one thing, which I will come back to however belatedly – but life gets in the way as always!

So I’ll start the New Year with a resolution to be more regular writing here, and for my first entry of the year, here’s a list of some of the books on my shelf I plan to read this term, with short blurbs included!  Apart from my current book, these are either books I was given for Christmas or that I bought the other day with Christmas book tokens, so they’re all brand spanking new!

Happenstance: The Husband’s Story and The Wife’s Story, Carol Shields:   This is what I’m currently reading.  It’s actually two parallel novellas printed back to back and upside down.  As the subtitles suggests, the two narrative voices are a husband and wife, each of whom tells the story of the same five days of their lives when, unusually for them, they are apart.  The style is therefore very much detailed, blow-by-blow insight into a character’s experiences and mind, much in the manner of Anne Tyler.  I wasn’t sure which to read first, or whether to read both a chapter at a time and alternate, but I went for the Husband first and really enjoyed it – bittersweet, insightful and heartwarming.

Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card:  Very excited about this one.  Card’s Ender’s Game series and the parallel Ender’s Shadow series are fantastic, though I don’t recommend much of his other work. Best described perhaps as political, social and philosophical sci-fi, they are absolute must-reads.  This new one is a direct chronological sequel to the first book, Ender’s Game, telling what happens in the ‘lost’ years before book 2 in the series, Speaker for the Dead.

Company of Liars, Karen Maitland:  I picked this up mainly because I liked the cover and it was on special offer, only £5 and it’s a pretty big book, but the plot looks good too.  Set in 1348 during the Plague, a group of travellers trying to survive amidst the chaos discover more sinister things are happening than simply the Black Death…

Affinity Bridge, George Mann:  This and the next one are both published by Independent Publishers Snowbooks, whose blog I read and who seem pretty impressive to me!  This seems to be a sort of historical-sci-fi-fantasy, set in a Victorian London with not only airships and robots but also ghosts and living cadavers.  Throw in some murders and mystery and you’ve got a very interesting looking plot that will probably please Dr Who fans!

The Needle in the Blood, Sarah Bower: Historical fiction based around the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry.  Bishop Odo of Bayeux falls in love with one of the embroideress’s of the tapestry he has commissioned, though she is a Saxon and served his enemies before the Conquest, turning both their worlds upside down.

The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas: This is on loan from a friend, and is another one with a funky cover – and black-edged pages!  The main character, Ariel, finds a rare book, The End of Mr. Y, rumoured to be cursed, in a second-hand bookshop and, intruiged rather than scared, picks it up.  I’ve been told not to read it alone late at night…!

An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame:  This was a christmas gift from my grandmother.  It is an autobiography of one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed writers, so hopefully I will be inspired to try some of her fiction.  Misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia when young, Janet Frame narrowly escaped undergoing a lobotomy when the doctors discovered she had won a national literary prize.  It sounds intruiging and very moving.