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Working Toward the Point of No Returns: Chelsea Green Publisher and President Margo Baldwin on the company's Green Partners program.

December 19, 2008 By Peter Beisser
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Margo Baldwin, publisher and president of independent publishing company Chelsea Green, has worked for a quarter of a century not only to publish books about sustainable living, but also to run her business with the same strong environmental focus. An example of this environmentally focused mission, the company's Green Partners program offers discounts and other perks to retailers that purchase books on a no-returns basis. According to Baldwin, the response has been extremely positive, and she hopes the program will continue to grow as more book-sellers sign up in the coming year. Here, Baldwin discusses details behind the program with Book Business Extra:

Book Business Extra: How did the idea for the Green Partners program develop?
Baldwin: … The idea came out of our desire to start to solve the returns problem and make the environmental consequences of returns more visible [to] retailers as well as other publishers. We were involved in the [nonprofit advocacy organization] Green Press Initiative, but felt that we needed to go further than the use of recycled paper. …

We launched [the program] at [BookExpo America] in 2007, with our in-house sales team leading the outreach, [and] I reached out to the trade media to publicize it ….

Extra: How do retailers benefit from the program?
Baldwin: … [Program participants] get a 50-percent discount and free freight. Or, you could get 52 percent off and not get free freight. …You get a special mailing. You [are] first in line to get your shipments. You really do get treated well. You also get first dibs on author events.

… I don’t think [retailers] would do it [without the incentives]. … I do think there’s a strong commitment from the book-sellers, but they wouldn’t do it without the discounts. You have to marry the two things together. They’re having a hard time surviving, too. … It takes time, energy and money to send books back. If the industry ever looked at that, they’d see the economic benefits [of a no-returns policy].

Extra: How have book-sellers responded to the program so far?
Baldwin: … I think we’re up to 42 retailers that we’re doing it with currently. I think everyone considers it a success. Certainly, we feel it has been. … We just like anything that reduces [returns]. In these hard economic times, the industry needs to look at those returns to see if it’s [a practice] that needs to survive.  …

… Our business with our Green Partners is up something like 80 percent over the business that we were doing before. I would say that's definitely a win-win situation.

Extra: Do you hope to do away completely with returns?
Baldwin: … Would we like to see our direct retail go nonreturnable? Sure. … The biggest thing is how you would be able to do business with a national chain. Amazon is already nonreturnable. Most of the key independents are nonreturnable. You're really talking about the last remaining segment of the retail sector—the national chain.

Extra: What other environmentally friendly actions have you taken as a publisher that you're particularly proud of?
Baldwin: Mainly publishing important and inspirational books about the environment like, "The Man Who Planted Trees," "Limits to Growth," "An Unreasonable Woman" and "Not One Drop." Our long-term commitment to using recycled paper, starting in 1985 with the publication of "The Man Who Planted Trees," with a portion of the royalties [going] to Global ReLeaf to plant trees. ...

Check out the January/February issue of Book Business magazine for an in-depth interview with Margo Baldwin, including a discussion of her decision to sell “Obama's Challenge” exclusively through Amazon.com for the first few weeks of its release and the subsequent backlash from other book-sellers.


 

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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Shel Horowitz - Ethical Marketing Expert - Posted on December 22, 2008
As usual, Chelsea Green is in the front of the pack. They consistently push the envelope on thought leadership and I'm not surprised to see them leading the industry on the troubling issue of returns.

Full disclosure: Chelsea published by Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, back in 2000.
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Archived Comments:
Shel Horowitz - Ethical Marketing Expert - Posted on December 22, 2008
As usual, Chelsea Green is in the front of the pack. They consistently push the envelope on thought leadership and I'm not surprised to see them leading the industry on the troubling issue of returns.

Full disclosure: Chelsea published by Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, back in 2000.