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How long before reality hits?

Let’s face it. Most anyone with the slightest understanding of supply and demand, and even economics in general, can see the problems inherent in traditional publishing. These problems are legion and go well beyond the issue of editors choosing books they think we should read instead of those we want to read. After weeks and months of bookstores being closed and the supply chain being restricted (at the very least), we will probably be seeing some changes in the industry sooner, rather than later.

Don’t get fooled by all those reports that came out a month or so ago about how much more business publishers were getting during the shutdown. Sure, they saw an increase in online orders. That was to be expected when bookstores were closed. But what the publishers so carefully avoided discussing at the time was that pesky little thing called “returns”. Not just the returns by readers because the book they got didn’t meet their satisfaction. No, we’re talking about bookstore returns, a handy contract term that allows stores to return books that didn’t sale, putting the financial burden on the publisher rather than the stores that ordered those books.

Over at The Passive Voice, PG linked to an article warning about this very think with regard to Canadian publishers. For those who aren’t familiar with “returns” as it applies to bookstores, the article gives a great definition:

The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.

In other words, bookstores don’t have to worry about inventory control because they can return books that aren’t bought and not be penalized for it. Publishers, on the others hand, factor this in. What that means is they increase the price of books and keep payments to authors down to cover this roll of the dice. (Did you really think they can’t afford to pay authors more than the pittance they get as royalties?)

Now, add to the sudden influx of returns that will be winding their way back to publishers this month and next (and the impact that will have on the projected bottom line) and you will start to see things snowball. How many authors will find their options not being picked up because their book didn’t sell as well as expected? And don’t say the publishers will show a heart and take into account the current situation. They didn’t at 9/11 or any other crisis. so don’t expect them to now.

On top of that, publishers have backed themselves into a dead end alley with regard to the supply chain. Most publishers use Simon & Schuster as their distributor. Guess what? S&S is for sale. First, there is no guarantee a purchaser will come forward with terms Viacom is willing to accept. Second, even if that happens, there is no guarantee they will manage to keep the company solvent. While I can see this being a good thing–there is no reason in this digital age why publishers can’t print orders as they come in using POD technology and why they can’t have an accurate count of books shipped, books sold, books returned instead of having a third party involved in the process–publishing has proven it is one of the slowest businesses to adapt to change. If S&S goes under, you can guarantee we will see other publishers following suit.

As authors, the time is here when we must look out for our own best interests. Take a look at why you want to be traditionally published. Then take a look at what you get with that publishing contract and what you give up. Once you have, do your due diligence and see what you get by going with a small press or even going indie.

The world is changing. Tech is changing. Reader expectations and demands are changing. It is up to us to adapt and learn. That is something too many in traditional publishing have forgotten–along with forgetting they are supposed to publish books readers want to buy and read and not books they want us to read for whatever reason.

Supply and demand. Or, perhaps more accurately, supply to the demand.

On another note, there’s going to be a change coming to MGC later today (assuming the migraine doesn’t return and lay me low again). We’re going to add a new tab at the top of the page where our bloggers can snippet their works, do promos, contests, whatever. Those will be linked here on the blog’s home page as well. So keep an eye out for these special announcements.

Until later. Everyone have a great week!

Featured Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

15 Comments
  1. The regional B&N reconfigured their floor space. For one thing, Sci-fi/fantasy is no longer strictly alphabetical, but seems also to be lumped a bit by sun-genre (urban fantasy together, tie-ins still together, high fantasy together). Also, no new hardbacks. I’m getting a sense that print runs are lagging, possibly due to distribution problems, possibly because of the paper problem I’ve been hearing rumored.

    May 26, 2020
    • Or all of the above. It will be interesting, and very possibly in the proverbial sense, to see how this all falls out.

      May 26, 2020
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        Yeah.

        If I buy an ebook from tradpub, I risk losing it should the company go bankrupt and lose access to the license.

        Paper is the safer option, but has some local issues.

        I’ve been pretty unhappy with tradpub, and rooting for injuries, now I’m a bit worried now it looks like what I’ve been asking for will be delivered.

        May 26, 2020
        • If Amazon would actually delete the files from people’s Kindles and Kindle apps, simply because the publisher went belly-up, we need to all make sure that we have local backups of our e-books, preferably offline and on non-rewritable media.

          Suddenly cloud storage doesn’t seem so much like the perfect backup.

          May 26, 2020
        • RCPete #

          If memory serves, Baen doesn’t use DRM, and I think all my non-indy Kindle books are Baen or other small press. Still, I finally persuaded Kindle for PC to work on my Linux system.

          (Password issues; typing in the box didn’t work, cut and paste did. The Win7 workaround (wine) said it was missing some packages, but it worked well enough. More tuning to do later.)

          All the books are downloaded, using Kindle for PC v1.17, which is supposed to let me convert the books to pdf. They’ll go to the backup drives in a bit, and those aren’t accessible to Amazon.

          May 27, 2020
    • That’s not a bad idea, honestly– a sort of auto recommendation by interest.

      The hardbacks thing, though…..

      *runs off to see if the “local” B&N is open yet*

      Wow. I’ve never seen the Jordan Creek place less than busy, and they are only going to open up at the end of this month:

      ….I guess I’m doing my shopping on Friday this week, barring a dumb mask requirement. (So far, no indication.)

      May 26, 2020
      • Mary #

        I’ve been ordering from B&N because it’s A LOT quicker than Amazon. But I will visit my local as soon as I can.

        May 26, 2020
  2. The Canadian publishing industry is an arm (or maybe a tentacle) of the federal and provincial governments. The favorite friends of the Liberal Party will not be allowed to go out of business, some circumlocution will be found to forgive loans or perhaps a round of arts grants will happen.

    A Canadian dead-tree publisher will not even look at an author unless that individual has a Canada Council grant. https://canadacouncil.ca/funding/grants Or some similar grant from a provincial government arts program.

    The reason for this is two-fold.

    First, the print run is going to be in the thousands, not the tens of thousands, for most Canadian published books. (Canada is small.) They ship to Chapters and a few similar chains, they get premium placement and push because of various government arts programs, and they sell many dozens of copies. If the author of the oh-so-avant-garde poetry book about cats expects to live off royalties, they are dreaming in Technicolour. The only pay they are ever going to see is that grant. This is convenient for publishers, because they can throw the starving artist a few pence and be done with it.

    Second and perhaps more important, the grant means that the author has been government approved. They were vetted, their work was appraised and found to hit all the correct check boxes, and they are subversive in all the correct and approved ways.

    This is why there are no Native Indian authors selling conservative-viewpoint SF stories about aliens landing on their reservation. I’m sure there are kids out there writing stuff like that, but it will never-EVER be seen in a Canadian publisher’s catalogue. Or in a Canadian bookstores shelves, because no arts grant and no push and no government grease on the skids.

    Well, Mr. Phantom Smarty Pants, aren’t the grants given out by an impartial board of assessors?

    [Long pause for raucous laughter.]

    Yes, of -course- the grant assessment board is composed of noted professional authors and noted academics from Canadian universities. Which means that if the noted authors and academics recognize your name because you were in their creative writing course and you went to all their ivory tower parties, that couldn’t possibly count in your favor at all. Particularly not if you were young, female, attractive, and didn’t beat their face in with a handy lamp when they attempted a drunken fumble under the mistletoe at the faculty Holiday Season fete. Very impartial, you know.

    This is how one political faction can capture and hold the entire national publishing industry of a G8 nation for 60 years. Long live Amazon.

    May 26, 2020
  3. The “return of unsold copies” has hazards of its’ own to small publishers and indy authors. A good few years ago a chain bookstore ordered thirty copies each of about eight or nine of my own books … and only sold one or two of each. I had the “return” option in place, as usually, I could still sell the returned copies through my own channels, no problem. The print and return fees from LSI usually didn’t count too much, since it had been previously a matter of one or two copies, not two or three dozen. But the print and return fees for those books damn near emptied out the Tiny Publishing Bidness’s operating funds for two years in a row.
    After that, I opted for the “destroy unsold” option.

    May 26, 2020
    • Uncle Lar #

      An author I used to work with got bit in a similar fashion. Had a new indie series out, up on Amazon and Apple as e-books and POD through Ingram Spark.
      She was featured at a local con and a certain chain bookstore agreed to staff a table with a general selection, but focusing on those authors in attendance. Sounded kewl at first blush, but turned into a nightmare. See, part of the deal was since they would carry the authors’ works you could not sell any of those books on your own. Little secret, markup on books you sell direct is much better than those sold through a bookstore.
      But still and all, nice little con, good sales, all well received.
      And Ingram Sparks has a 90 day lag in their statements.
      So three months after the con, or a bit longer, it was a few years back, the IS statement showed a negative balance. Seems that book seller returned all the unsold copies immediately after the con. We could have paid production cost and shipping and taken delivery for what were essentially used books, but instead chose to just pay production and have them trash the copies.

      May 26, 2020
      • Oh, the profit margin is much, much better, selling direct, than when you have to give up %55 to Ingram, so that they in turn can offer %40 discount to the bookstores.
        The returns didn’t matter so much when it was only a matter of two or three copies sent back. Eh, fold them back into your stock and sell, especially if they had never been taken out of the box and were essentially new and undamaged books. But when it’s two or three dozen copies of eight different titles …

        May 26, 2020
        • As a retired trad publisher, I know enough about discounts, returns etc. to simply turn my back on B/M bookstores. At last count, ~95% of my revenues came from ebooks. I print POD copies to wave around at cons and local events. Amazon sells a couple PODs here and there. The retail channel is too much bother to bother with.

          May 27, 2020
          • Indeed – it’s gotten to be more trouble than it’s worth, dealing in print to traditional bookstores. I also make 90% of my sales now in ebook versions. About the only time I have big print sales is at the end of the year when everyone is Christmas shopping or there has been a link on a well-read website to one of my books on Amazon.

            May 28, 2020
  4. Christopher M. Chupik #

    At least it’s not the North Korean publishing industry: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/inside-north-korea-s-literary-fiction-factory?utm_source=pocket-newtab

    May 26, 2020
  5. Fingers crossed that the shakeup of the industry causes a lot of people to find niches to build up their own product and line.

    May 26, 2020

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