The Point of No Returns
Discounting, in this viewpoint, would not solve the problem of the imbalance between what it costs to produce a book and what publishers are ultimately able to earn from it. And releasing many books a year on a limited promotional timeline compounds the problem.
“Certain pressures have forced the larger publishers to do their version of Charlie Chaplin’s accelerating assembly line in the movie ‘Modern Times,’” Kampmann says. “Publishing more titles increases the possibility of more best-sellers. So more titles are pushed into the marketplace and within a few weeks the next bunch must be attended to. The marketing people have only so much manpower to deal with the glut, so they move on to the next big thing and then the next big thing.”
An Imperative for Change
“It’s referred to as a consignment system, and that’s really what it is,” Shanley says of the returns structure. “[It’s the result of] of evolution over time—which might have seemed like a good idea back in the day (though it’s hard to imagine when that day was), but which [is] now coming back to haunt us.
“If you [were] paying shipping, you would be that much more eager to come up with an alternative,” she says of retailers. She notes that retailers do have some incentive to change due to the significant cost of unpacking, packing and managing shipments. For this reason, booksellers are, at least to some degree, on board with the reform efforts.
Without going into details, Borders has commented publicly on its own interest in streamlining the supply chain system as it now stands, and has held itself open to ideas of fundamental reform, notes Anne Roman of Borders corporate affairs.
“We have talked about our own initiative to improve inventory productivity, and this remains one of our key priorities,” Roman says. “Further, we have commented publicly that we believe returns are not productive for the industry as a whole, and looking at a wide range of alternatives to returns is something we support.”