Thursday, May 31, 2012

PublishAmerica CEO calls all bookstore clerks liars

May 29, 2012
Good morning!
It's mythbusting day!
Myth: bookstores don't want books if they're not returnable.
Bust: I'm looking at yesterday's bookstore sales report... ah, let me see, one moment... it's from Ingram, the nation's number one book wholesaler, reporting on PublishAmerica books sold to bookstores. Hold on one second, I want to add up how many of these are returnable.
Ah, none are returnable.
Now, how many PublishAmerica books did Ingram yesterday say were bought by bookstores?
More after this book review, Qiosha by Diane Damerau (

Tommy and Linda convince their older sister Joan to take an exit off of the highway that they've never taken before. Turns out it's a road that miraculously leads to the planet Qiosha. In Qiosha, water is a precious commodity that only comes from the sky. The children are given wands, which they can control with their minds. Tommy, Linda, and Joan utilize energy to teleport objects, transform rocks into food, and create drinkable water out of water vapor in the air. They also give the villagers of Qiosha a temporary gift—a swimming pool. Their combined energy brings joy and hope to a planet that barely held on after a meteorite had destroyed most of it.


The brave and adventurous trio discover that it is possible to transport back to Earth, and home they go. In their classes that school year, Tommy, Linda, and Joan discover a method for keeping the planet of Qiosha healthy and populated. They travel back once more to pass on their knowledge. A friendship develops, and the fate of a planet in peril is decided by three young children.


Find Qiosha here:



Here's an iron law in economics: a vendor will stock a product if they are confident that it will sell. If they're not confident, they won't stock it. Keeping an inventory is expensive, and bookstores have (very!) limited shelf space. I added the "(very!)" because most publishers don't even have access to a store's front tables and most prominent shelf corners. The big publishers pay big bucks to reserve those spots. And for the sake of simplicity I'm ignoring the 4 miles of extra shelf space that a bookstore would need to somehow add every year, just to keep up with all newly released books. Not happening.
It requires labor and time to move inventory, and eventually overstocks must be removed, at administrative and shipping expenses. To make this picture worse, bookstores must pay restocking fees to the wholesaler.
Therefore bookstores are reluctant, as in: very reluctant, to stock books that they think won't sell. Whether they can or cannot return unsold books to a wholesaler makes little to no difference. Discarding unsold inventory costs money, period. And money is tight.
So what does that number 651 tell us? That bookstores nationwide believed 651 times that a PublishAmerica book will sell. So they bought it from us, through the wholesaler. It's a done deal. No returns. And that's just yesterday.
Now, I can already see those emails coming from some of you. They will tell me that their local Barnes and Noble store refused to stock their book, and that the reason the clerk gave them was that the book is non-returnable. My response: the clerk made it up. He or she gave you an easy excuse. Maybe they even showed you an internal email that a superior gave them to use as a prop in such situations. But that's all it is, a prop, a pacifier. Their real reason: rightly or wrongly they don't believe that your book will sell in their store. Returnability is not their real reason. No bookstore manager ever thinks, I can't sell this book because it's non-returnable.
Why am I so confident that I'm right? Because I'm looking at the numbers, as I have been doing for many years now. Last week's numbers report that Barnes and Noble stores ordered our books 64 times. In each case the store was confident that the book would sell. And when I look a little closer, it appears that in at least seven instances books were ordered for an in-store book signing. Each time, the Barnes and Noble store clerk or manager made that iron-law decision: they believed the book would sell, so they ordered and paid for it. Actually, Barnes and Noble stores did this 255 times, this month alone. None of these books are returnable.
Here's a nice little caveat for you to ponder. When we say that a book is non-returnable, it only indicates that a bookseller cannot return it to Ingram or another wholesaler. But we always tell them that if they order the book directly from us, they receive not only a better discount, but also they actually may return unsold copies to us. Books that bookstores order directly from PublishAmerica are returnable.
How often has a bookstore returned unsold books to us this year so far? Once.
So let's put this "book returnability is good for sales" fairy tale to bed. It's meaningless. Bookstore managers are not stupid, least of all in this economy. Oftentimes they see a PublishAmerica book, or a PublishAmerica author, they quickly weigh pros and cons, and they make a decision. It is what you do too, any time you're shopping. You see a product, and you weigh: is obtaining this thing benefiting me or not? If it does, you buy it. If it doesn't, you don't. The bookstore manager follows the same logic.
Some booksellers tell you the truth about it. Others are not so good at breaking bad news. So they hide behind the returnability excuse.
And that is all it is: an excuse.
Next time: Book returns, part 2.
 I invite you to talk back to me. I don't guarantee a response, but I do guarantee that we listen. You can reach me by email at In the subject line write Attn. Willem.
Have a wonderful day!
--Willem Meiners
If you want to rent space on Willem's future Letters-from-the-CEO, go to Have your book reviewed for tens of thousands of people to see, or talk into the open mic!
All previous letters are here:

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