Borders and HarperStudio have made a bold move to eliminate returns. I'll be curious to see how this plays out in the coming months, but I'm also curious to know what people in the book business think. Is this move good or bad?

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Comment by John Dishon on December 19, 2008 at 8:54am
Yes, Amazon is great. It's already a great replacement for bookstores as far as I am concerned. Where else can I find books that have been out of print for decades for a penny? And no matter what I buy, even with the free shipping option, 99% of the time I get it in three days or less. Amazon is cheaper than B&N even if you include the B&N member discount and Amazon's shipping charge (which you don't even have to pay if you choose free shipping). You can read reviews from others who have the product already, which is like having dozens of store clerks give recommendations.
Comment by I. J. Parker on December 19, 2008 at 8:03am
Well, I don't promote. I tried this and that, and it didn't work. I still try to get reviewed (my entire gratitude goes to the reviewers), and (as you see) I enjoy chatting on web sites. I hate the chains, and have had little support from the independents. Amazon I do like. We should all be grateful to Amazon. After our books disappear from bookstore shelves, fans can at least get them at Amazon. And Amazon does a good job recommending and promoting via reader reactions, listings on other author sites, listing of major reviews, etc. They are also proactive. My next book isn't out until July 2009, but Amazon already lists it and already records a few sales.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on December 19, 2008 at 3:16am
Add in that returns can happen at any time - two years after bringing in stock, if for some reason the bookstore desired to carry it that long. Returns are expensive, they cost the publisher in the form of triple shipping (since they incur those costs for returns and then send the books out again most of the time, as remainders), accounting, potentially shipping costs (physical handling, boxes if damaged when transported) and the accounting flows through to things like author royalties. The extra layers of man hours that have to be factored in are astounding.

Author grips about amazon are commonplace, yet amazon doesn't return books, and kindle is also a form of sales that doesn't involve returns.

One thing about the booksellers: when there's a back door on something, people are likely to take the easy way out. Consider the cost of end cap displays. In general, booksellers don't take a lot of risks. They don't stand behind a product. Maybe it applies more to chains to suggest that they basically do what they get paid to do. That's why we tend to find enthusiastic readers working in independents, people who are more passionate about the product. Stores like Murder By The Book will hand sell dozens and hundreds of copies of books they believe in, but you don't see that happening at the chains - they sell dozens of copies of books a publisher bought a display window for.

That's part of the problem. If nobody really cares about the product, how does that transfer through to the consumers? Imagine walking into B&N and actually finding a staff in each section of the store, one who was knowledgeable and passionate about the genre? You could connect readers with the books their seeking, and books of a similar style, much faster. I used to talk books with a woman in an Indigo store in Calgary (until it closed) and she was an avid reader and was always recommending books to me, and I would recommend titles to her. I loved having a staff person who actually knew the books. I've also been there for those painful conversations, when someone asks about a title or type of book and the staff was on their way by mystery and doesn't know much about it and leads the person away to fiction to look at Margaret Atwood. Nothing wrong with Margaret Atwood, but when someone asks for an apple you shouldn't try to sell them mango.

Why is it some days I feel like the only people who've been left with the job of actually trying to sell books are the authors?
Comment by I. J. Parker on December 19, 2008 at 2:02am
Well, the risk is now with the bookstores. Surely we can imagine what their reaction is. They'll complain and order only sure bestsellers.
Mind you, I've never liked the generous return policy. Authors, especially midlist and new authors, are not well served by stores ordering large numbers and returning them within 30 days. It means that the books are not available to readers for the rest of the year and that the publisher will not sign for another book by the author. I think a better plan would be that publishers insist that no book be returned until six months after delivery. You have to make sure that the book gets a fighting chance.

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