Returns – The Publisher’s Responsibility

April 1999
by Michael Taylor

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“Gone today, here tomorrow.”
Alfred A. Knopf on the phenomenon of returns in the book industryShould Returns Be Eliminated?We all know the high cost of returns for publishers and retailers alike. We often wonder if the book publishing industry would be better off without returns and if returns could somehow be reduced to zero. The answer to both of these questions is no.It’s only because books are returnable that so many books make it to the shelves of retail stores. In many ways, bookstores serve as automatic distribution for publishers. While not every book finds distribution, far more books are distributed than can be effectively displayed and marketed. This sets up a system of winners and losers, just like the lottery. If a publisher produces a book with high sales potential, it becomes a winner, gains more distribution, and gets reordered. If a publisher puts out a book that does not sell, it is returned. If books were nonreturnable, very few books would ever be put into stores. This would really be the end of book publishing as it is today — a business that allows entry to many who have a good idea. Another consideration is that book retailers cannot afford to mark down books that don’t sell. This is because book retail is a low-margin, high-labor business with a very low average unit sale. So, for many reasons, returns are here to stay in the book industry. It’s my view that returns should be considered a marketing cost. That is, the cost of getting distributio…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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