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?

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Very interesting blogpost. I’ve been wanting a kindle, but so far it hasn’t been in our budget. Seems like the wave of the future to me.
    Collin Creek Mall – Hmm…you are just down the way from me. I live NE of the DFW Metroplex.

  2. Boy, do I know about those returns! I’ve ordered books from my publisher, only to get copies that have Borders or Barnes & Noble “signed by author” stickers on them and my signature inside, obviously returns from a prior signing.

  3. This Kindle device sounds like just what I need! I was a little worried that it would be a strain on the eyes, but if it’s true it’s like reading the pages of a book, I’ll gladly invest in one someday!

  4. I’m a huge ebook fan. I stopped buying tree books awhile ago. Great article. Thanks!

    Joan De La Haye

  5. I can’t believe the returned books go in the trash. The literal trash can! What a waste of resources! Wow…still trying to wipe the shock off my face.

  6. christinerose says:

    It’s just disgusting. I really like the Print On Demand and eBook systems, for environmental if for no other reason. Hopefully there will be fewer books in the trash and with the changes in the industry (on the publishing side & bookseller sides), this ridiculous return system will follow the fate of Borders.

  7. Great post! I’m going to spread the word. 😉

    This sums up what some of the major problems are in publishing. I’ve had the same problem with returns for a book published through MOON, an imprint of Perseus group. But now it’s even worse at Barnes and Noble because they used to allow signings for small press releases, too. Not any more–policy change, as I was informed when I inquired recently. (Our local independent Bradley’s Books out of the Pittsburgh area isn’t keen on the idea either). And forget trying to do a signing with anything self-pubbed any more, even if I promise to buy back any books they haven’t sold, the answer is a firm NO.

    The freedom (both financially and creatively) that I have enjoyed with e-publishing on Amazon has surprised me. I put my first book up on Amazon and Smashwords as an experiment, but since then I’ve gone straight to self-pubbing there with all my subsequent books. I realized whether I went with a big publisher, a small press, or self-published, I was still the one doing most of the work (writing, marketing, etc.). Now I’m also the one getting most of the pay, and I can’t believe how good that feels. But I digress….

    There’s the big discussion going on right now about whether or not Amazon is playing fair and putting Barnes and Noble out of business. But from the perspective of a writer who now only goes to B ‘n N for coffee, there’s nothing that store could ever do for me. Amazon might not be run by saints, but as long as they give me a way to make money off my creativity, I’m not going to complain.

    As an aside, I’ve bought and read more books since purchasing my Kindle than I have in years! I still read paperbacks, too, but the Kindle is just so convenient.

    Sorry to take up so much of your comment space, Christine. I was just inspired when I came across your post this morning.

    🙂 Heidi

    1. christinerose says:

      Take as much space space as you’d like!! You’re feeling about Amazon/B&N are similar to mine. As for Amz putting them out of business, no one kept B&N from keeping up with technology & consumer preferences.

      Also, they aren’t bad when it comes to indie authors with the PubIt, etc…but the stores aren’t friendly, as you well know.

      We support the corporation that supports us.

  8. David says:

    Well don’t that just suck. That’s also how Wal*Mart buys things too. But when you have a monopoly what are you going to do?

    That’s why the digital revolution of publishing books is going into overdrive. Also, the big boys better wake up or the small indies will take a big enough slice of the pie to cut into their business permanently.

    This started in the 90s with comics and now they’ve all gone digital as well. The problem with comics and book publishers is that they don’t understand the business and how the digital revolution can help them, if they’d just price the ebooks lower than their paperbacks. NOT HIGHER as is the case a lot of times.

    I’ve seen books like Twilight go for 13-14 dollars on the Kindle. That’s what the paperback price was too.

    1. christinerose says:

      Exactly!! I say the same thing in my book.

      Although that works with a huge title like TWILIGHT or names like Steven King, it doesn’t work with new authors or even mid-list.

      They still haven’t learned.

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