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If I May Beg to Differ: A Response on the Returns Issue

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The article, “Returns – The Publisher’s Responsibility,” in the April 1999 PMA Newsletter made us sit up and take notice. That treatise conflicted with a philosophy that has been successful for our publishing activities as well as for others, so it was read carefully. When we got to the “snapshot of the profitability of each channel,” it was amazing.
Dealing with major and lesser distributors, discounts from 40-60% are frankly required. Occasional direct transactions with bookstores have been with a 25% discount being found acceptable. These discount disbursements-coupled with the consignment provision for books, and/or delayed payment-place an unacceptable burden on our small press, so we refuse to play such games. Nevertheless, the experienced conditions imposed differ greatly from the “look at who makes what percentage of the money in book publishing” set out in Michael Taylor’s article.
If a 40-60% discount is gained by distributors, the 2-3% for Wholesalers/Distributors quoted will not bear realistic examination. And I also question the 5-7% shown for Retail Bookstores. Where would such misleading statistics come from, we have to wonder?
Having been involved in Toys & Games, Bread/Bakery Goods, as well as Small Press Publishing (with a 63-title catalog built up since 1977) in my varied successful career, I know from experience that “here are just a few of the many other industries that permit returns” is a generalization that should be researched better. Such investigation will reveal, I feel sure, that victimization of requiring returns is negotiable to the extent of the freedom to refuse said terms, and hardly a common practice for leaders in the fields of endeavor.
McLelland & Stewart, Canada’s largest publisher, made waves a while back by publishing a book and offering terms of an early payment discount and of no returns in order to move the printed supply out and know where they stood financially from the production. It raised some eyebrows in the industry, but provided a profit for the publisher. No great publicity about the step was afforded, perhaps out of fear the sound practice might just take hold for repetition by other publishers? Avie Bennett, Chairman and President of M&S, thanked me for the congratulatory comments sent, ending with: “I too hope that this will be a step towards an improved balance sheet.”
Does wrongful market discrimination perceived in book market practices that have been countenanced for too long have to continue? Is it sensible to justify error by citing examples of similar practice in other fields? Not as this Drugstore Cowboy views it! Are there any out there who agree? If so, please speak up!
If you have ideas on the returns issue that you’d like to share, write to the PMA office at 627 Aviation Way, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266. J. Alvin Speers of Aardvark Enterprises can be reached by mail at 204 Millbank Drive S.W., Calgary Alberta, Canada T2Y 2H9.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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