Return Policies Affect Publishing

Both for Fiction and Nonfiction Books

More about bookstores returning books to publishers for refunds and how it affects the trade book industry, authors and new writers.Return policies are nothing new

In our article, Wal Mart, Friend to Authors, we mentioned that the prolific chain store had liberal return policies requiring publishers to accept returns and give a full refund.

Actually, this policy is not limited to Wal-Mart. It has been the traditional bookstore business model for quite a long time.

Sometimes booksellers will agree to a non-returnable order for a deeper discount from the publisher, but most of the time, trade books are returnable.

Problems for publishers

Having returns policies in place affects the entire publishing landscape in many ways. We have mentioned the financial uncertainty, the accounting difficulties, and the resulting delays in getting payments to authors.

Problems for authors

Even bestselling authors books, which are printed in large quantities, run the risk of being returned.

But perhaps the greatest risk is to the unknown writer, whose first book has just come out. If the bookstore decides that the title hasn’t been generating enough sales quickly, they’ll return it to the publisher for a title that hopefully will.  Even with a small first print run, if the return rate is too high, the book won’t be profitable. This makes the publisher less willing to accept the author’s next book. Thus, that author’s career could be ended before it had a chance to begin.

Reasons for returns policies

We have posted an article that tells what returns are, how the book return policy works, and how it affects bookstores, publishers, and authors. In the article, we list the benefits to bookstores resulting from the traditional return policy.

What we didn’t say is this: most bookstores, especially the independents, would have a hard time remaining in business without a return policy.

This system was started many years ago to encourage book stores to stock their shelves with more titles.  Today, bookstores are threatened on many fronts, and the number of chain and non-chain bookstores is dwindling.

It is in the publisher’s and author’s interests to do what we can to keep bookstores in business at the same time making a profit for everyone.

Copyright 2007 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

Discuss This Article

Security Code: