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Mandatory Returns & Kindle

Back in November 2008, we had a great book signing (one of our first ever) at the Borders in Collin Creek Mall (Plano, TX). We sold 13 books! Whereas most authors sell an average of 1-5 books, 13 is pretty great!

Over the holidays last month, I found myself back at Collin Creek Mall for some shopping with my mother, so we thought we’d stop by and see how the sales were going! The woman, who was so friendly and helpful the day of our signing, was rude and short with us. “They’re in the back, set to be returned,” she said, frowning.

I asked her if any others had sold since we left.

“A few,” she replied vaguely.

“Then why are they being returned,” I asked, puzzled. As my understanding was that books were returned only if they weren’t selling.

“They’re on a mandatory return list.”

HUH?!?!?! What on earth is a mandatory return list? I couldn’t get anything else out of the woman. My mother assured me her rudeness was due to her embarrassment of having to face the author with this bizarre news, but STILL! Mandatory Return List?!!!

I haven’t been able to find out much about a Mandatory Return List, but I do know that books of all kinds are returned on a regular basis, even best selling phenomenons like Twilight and Harry Potter. It seems that bookstores basically sell books on consignment. They order A LOT from the wholesaler, who in turn gets their books from the distributor, who gets them from the publisher, who is responsible for printing the books. The bookstore gets a refund from the wholesalers. The wholesaler gets a refund from the distributor. The distributor gets a refund from the publisher, and the publisher eats the cost of the printing.

This is why so many independent publishers have such a rough time. Even the big boys in New York are feeling it. According to Richard Curtis, “the consignment system of selling books is bleeding the publishing industry to death.”

Check out Curtis’s full article:

Behind Publishing’s Wednesday of the Long Knives

Those returned books ultimately go into the trash… yes, the trash – probably not even the recycling bin. As a long standing environmentalist, all I can see are all those dead trees. And for what? Bookstores over-order because they know they can return them. The bookstores don’t lose. Publishers do. Ultimately, authors (and the trees) do.

Although “on-demand-publishing” is still synonymous with “self-publishing,” which still has a stigma attached to it, Curtis believes that is the way of the future. That and digital eBooks, like those one can read on Kindle. Kindle, like the Sony Reader and others, is a digital eBook reader. According to Amazon, the screen reads like the pages of a book rather than a computer screen, so it’s easier on the eyes. Amazon sold out of this amazing Kindle weeks before Christmas. It was touted as the #1 Christmas gift. Ebay and other such places were price gouging, asking as much as $1,000 for a normally-priced $360 Kindle.

<post first published Jan 2009>


Now the Kindle is well below $200…and Borders is bankrupt.
What do you think of the mandatory return policy bookstores have?

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