The Point of No Returns
“That said, we’re offering aggressive, non-returnable discounts that I believe will make more money for those booksellers willing to try going this way. And I think that once booksellers realize they are more profitable going non-returnable, the practice will increase,” he says.
“If we’re lucky enough to find solutions to some industry problems, perhaps others will follow. But first we have to solve the problems,” Miller continues.
Everything on the Table
“Everybody is watching HarperStudio to see if they have any success,” says Lorraine Shanley, a book industry consultant with Market Partners International.
Shanley notes that other publishers have already benefited from lower-profile innovations, such as Workman Publishing and Running Press, which maintain a number of nontraditional accounts at gift shops, and cookware and specialty stores (Restoration Hardware being one example) that do not follow the book industry returns model.
“Most other retailers do not do things the way publishers and book retailers do in that they may not do 100-percent returnables, but they might have some kind of credit system going on,” she says. “It is a better system than the system we have with book retailers.
“The best thing is to have a more fluid relationship with book retailers in how returns are accounted for,” Shanley says, such as being open to tailoring policies based on the type of book or offering varying terms that work for the publisher and retailers. “Increasingly, with a much greater reliance on just-in-time printing and short-run printing, publishers will be able to cut the numbers significantly.”
One area of debate has to do with the notion of discounting, which seems, on the surface, a good way to monetize excess stock without incurring added expenses for the publisher.
“There is a certain amount of discounting in place, and maybe that will become a bigger option,” Shanley says. “There are a lot of ways business has been done traditionally; … you can look at the fashion industry and the increasing amount of discounting they do as an obvious example. This may not be a viable option long-term, [however], because now nobody pays retail for anything.