BR Stateham has posted an interesting blog entry, wondering how much agents should be held accountable for the current plight of the publishing industry, because of their insistence on high advances. Here's a question to discuss the flip side of his hypothesis.

What about an agent who the author thinks is shooting too high? An agent who only approaches big New York houses--even in the face of a full round of rejections--and is not interested in looking at smaller publishers where the author might have a better chance of getting a toehold and building some readership.

True, the agent can't make any money on 15% of what a smaller house will pay. At what point do the agent's interests diverge from the author's, if building a career is the goal?

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I'm not sure what the magic number is anymore. It definitely takes a handful... however many that is. ;)

I agree about a restriction on returns. I'd even say 60 days is early, but setting that aside, such return practices only confirm why bigger names succeed while newer authors struggle - they don't even get a chance to make much of an impression, to catch on and build a readership through word of mouth if bookstores are quickly returning unsold stock.

As for the reason behind ordering the stock, it may have to do with balances owed to distributors already. Say Borders gets a bill for $400,000 they owe. If they've stopped ordering stock from the distributor, the distributor is going to be pushing hard for them to pay the bill. If they're still ordering stock and it appears it's business as usual (or something close to it) the distributors will be more inclined to work out a payment schedule. That's also where returns come in - bring in new stock and then return a bunch of old stock and you no longer owe, or at least, not as much. And because the stock volume is in constant flux it's hard to pin them down and actually figure out how much they owe. They'll press for a revised statement, which takes time... It can be a way of avoiding heavy action on getting them to pay all their bills and at least defer it.
Yes, that makes sense about Borders. As for readership: series authors also depend on having all titles available to the customers. This builds confidence for the first-time buyer and allows the returning fan to keep going before he forgets all about you.
Bookstores order at a discount and return books at full cover price. They can actually make a bit of money that way, but once folks catch on to it if they're working the system to make money out of it that way, it becomes much harder for them to do it.

Or, as Sandra pointed out, the extra can be used to help lower what they owe. Distributors pull that on publishers, holding stock until the publisher presents a bill, and then sending the stock back. The publisher can even end up owing the distributor. It's a screwy system. I don't know how publishers manage to stay afloat with it.
I believe this is dead-on correct, John. Conglomerates are really just fancy investors, and if they can't earn the expected return (close to 10%, after taxes), they should begin to move on to greener pastures. Let's hope.
I have 15,000 different authors stocked in the store I just checked. Over 50% of my book revenue comes from the sales of the top 100 authors. Without the King, Koontz, Child, etc. I would not be in business. The blockbuster books keep my doors open. That gives me the revenue required to stock the other 14,900 authors.

The capital required to keep 100,000 books in stock is staggering. Consider a Borders store has to pay rent, salaries and interest on over one million dollars of standing inventory per store. They have 1,100 stores. Last year they had 3.8 billion dolars in revenues. Thats's Borders.

A 3 million dollar contract with King is a drop in the bucket in the book industry. The biggest draw on getting published is shelf space and inventory carrying costs. I would love to stock all the authors but I do not have the shelf space or capital to stock millions of dollars of books that don't even cover the carrying cost.

I get your point, Bob. I also get the publisher's point. My complaint has always been the uneven promotion. At the moment I have to believe that my publisher has invested in me for future income. In other words, Penguin believes that my turn will come, and when it does, they'll make money out of the whole series. It means that they have to keep a number of authors going because other best sellers are possible (consider Alexander McCall Smith) and because current best sellers may not always be there. The same should be true for bookstores. You need to stock what you believe in.
Several years ago, I was looking for a new author to read. I've told the story many times - after a number of disappointments from books on tables and in those cardboard display cases at the front of the store I went straight to the mystery section. My second rule was what I called the six inch rule - if an author didn't have enough titles to fill that much space on the shelf I wasn't even looking at them. I wanted to find an author I liked who'd have more books I could go back to.

I understand the economics for booksellers, but part of the problem is that, at least in the chains where I used to live, you wouldn't find staff who actually read. Or concerned themselves with taste, so when I was looking for an author about a year ago - and at that point I certainly knew my genre - and asked a sales person about whether it was in stock, she tried selling me some Margaret Atwood. I certainly know Ms. Atwood's work - most of us Canadians have read her in high school - but it was nowhere remotely near what I was looking for. And that's one of the things that really drives me nuts, because I believe if there were more knowledgeable sales people in stores, they would move more of all their stock.

Which is not to say you, Bob, are not knowledgeable - you certainly know your trade. But as John McFetridge always says, if someone sees a great movie they want to go see another great movie, and if someone sees a horrible movie they want to go bowling. It's the same with books. Too many duds and you end up with people who look for a different form of entertainment. Hell, even I get that way. After giving up on my most recent read, I have yet to pick up another book, and the shelves are overflowing with unread titles. But I'm dreading it because I hope the next book doesn't disappoint. It's human nature.
The six inch rule? How depressing! How would new authors ever get a reading? And even established authors often don't have that many books in stock, because of the space and shelving problems Bob mentions. As for the many and varied off-color comments I could make about the six inches, forget it! But it does remind me of a great movie musical - "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." It didn't make the cut in last night's Oscars musical production number, but I did like Hugh Jackman better without the Wolverine makeup!
Two loud laughs! First John M.'s analysis of what a disappointed movie goer does, and then the six-inch comment. I may have to get up, line up my 5-6 tradepaperbacks and measure. This is easier to achieve in hardcover. And God knows a lot of those suck. (Sorry).
I know, I know. But really, I extended out thumb and pinky to the max and looked for someone with paperbacks to fill the space.

And as a newer author I know exactly how hard I was making it on new authors - but I will say this was years ago, and I wasn't even trying to write back then, knew nothing about the industry at all. I was just looking at it from a purely selfish perspective as someone who wanted books to read and was tired of being jilted by unsatisfying authors.

I bear it in mind now because I think that the lack of knowledge on the part of a lot of sales staff and inability to stock more is working against book stores. I'm still at odds with ordering online because of shipping fees, and another thing about Chapters/Indigo that frustrated me as a consumer was that I would try to order books to the stores - and they did charge considerable shipping fees - and they wouldn't let me. They had two separate systems, or so I was told, and if a book I wanted was only available online I couldn't even pay ahead and bring it to the store. Thing is, at that point, if I wanted it bad enough I wouldn't order online through them, I'd use amazon. And that's the real dilemma moving forward because we all want to support physical bookstores, which is why I want to do my ordering there, and if I've driven 35 minutes to the nearest store to place an order I'm a bit choked that they won't even bring in the books for me when I'm paying upfront. It felt to me like they were pushing business away.
I don't want to support physical book stores. They're expensive, they never have what I'm looking for. Amazon is better in every way and they have free shipping on all orders over $25. As a reader, I just want the books I want as fast and easy and as efficient as possible. If a bookstore can't do it, then screw 'em. Let them get their act together and compete, and if they can't then let them disappear. If there is a consumer need, some business will step up and fill it.
As to Chapters/Indigo, Jack gave his wife the financing for Indigo and bought Chapters at a bargain basement price to give his wife a hobby. The organization could be run better.

John, if the trend to e-commerce (Amazon) continues, Brick and Mortar Bookstores will vanish. Amazon is pushing e-books which will make paper books disappear. With the 99 cent and free downloads for e-books there will little or no revenue for publishers and authors. The net result... no publishers, no editors, no good quality books, no income for authors, fewer and fewer authors, with a final result of no more books. What a wonderful future to embrace.


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