I created Eiffel Press to
publish my dog Genevieve’s first book (she barktates and I translate), <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Memoirs of a Papillon: The
Canine Guide to Living with Humans Without Going Mad, which came
out in 2000. I sent it to Ingram and was accepted as a vendor. This was back
when Ingram would work directly with publishers whose annual revenues were less
than $10 billion.
Through a lot of hard work and an
aggressive touring and signing schedule, the book started getting modeled in
the chain stores around the country. Ingram made it hard for us from the very
beginning, constantly running out of stock in advance of tours and radio and TV
appearances. Trying to get the company to keep a minimally adequate stock in
its warehouses was almost impossible. Phone messages and emails to the buyer(s)
Moreover, our buyer seemed to
change every few months, and we were never informed when that happened. We had
to engage in forensics to find these things out.
Occasionally, new books sent to
Ingram’s warehouse were returned to us (at our expense, of course) because they
were “damaged,” although the books were in pristine condition. When I managed
to dredge up a live person at Ingram to question about this, I was told there
was nothing that could be done: the judgment of the warehouse people was final.
In spite of Ingram, our first book
did very well—20,000 copies sold to date and still selling nicely. Ingram
also handled our second book, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>A Tongue in the Sink: The Harrowing Adventures of a
Baby Boomer Childhood, which came out in 2004. (I wrote that book
myself, to show Genevieve that I could do it.) At that time we began to get
periodic “publisher’s overstock” returns back from an Ingram warehouse, while
at the same time we’d receive a purchase order for the same title to be sent to
This seemed senseless. But wait.
Let’s take a hypothetical example. Ingram orders 100 books from me. I send
them, and then it has three months to pay. A month later it returns 50 of these
books to me as publisher’s overstock. I owe Ingram for these books now. And on
its statement it uses this credit to pay off older invoices. In other words,
I’m loaning money to Ingram for a couple of months to help pay off some of its
debts (to me). With no interest for me. And no consent from me.
And no recourse, not if I want to
continue to have the honor of vending to Ingram, without which, we’re all told,
it’s almost impossible to get your books into the retail bookstores.
So with a bitten lip, a frosted
ass, and a ton of swallowed pride, I “stayed the course.”
My Mad Dog Rebellion
Then, late in 2005, we published
Genevieve’s long-awaited sequel, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>More Memoirs of a Papillon: Diary of a Mad Dog.
Ingram ordered 200. Two months later they returned 130 of them as publisher’s
overstock. Sixty-four of them were in the original box I had shipped them in,
which had never been opened. At the same time, Ingram sent us two purchase
orders for a total of 43 copies of <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Diary of a Mad Dog.
That was it for me. I fired
Ingram. I did this even though I had recently received a letter from Borders
corporate indicating that it was going to model the new book in its stores, and
that it would get the books from Ingram. I have no idea now if the book will
ever get into Borders stores. (Just for the record, I know there are other
wholesalers and distributors out there, but I choose not to deal with them.)
I’ve sent letters to the corporate
offices of Borders and Barnes & Noble explaining my decision, and offering
them essentially the same wholesale discount that Ingram received from us if
they order from us directly. If they choose to do this, they will make more on
our books, and we will make more on our books. The technical term for this sort
of arrangement is “win–win.”
This may never happen. I know all
the reasons why stores don’t want to deal directly with small publishers. Or
even large ones. But I have a theory. If the customers want our books, they
will find a way to get them. Perhaps they’ll find them in the stores. Perhaps
they’ll ask the stores to special-order them. Perhaps they’ll order them from
our Web site, www.eiffelpress.net,
or any one of the other online booksellers. The stores have the opportunity to
provide customer service and take their cut as intermediaries, or they can opt
out. It’s up to them. The supply will meet the demand one way or the other.
I think most of us realize the
current publishing paradigm stinks. Like the weather, everyone complains about
it, but nobody does anything about it. Well, I just did something about it,
microscopic though it might be. I decided to stop playing the game that we all
assume we have to play in order to be players.
Oddly enough, this was not a
business decision. It was an ethical decision. Ingram’s treatment of us just
got to the point where my own sense of decency and humanity no longer allowed
me to deal with it. I did the right thing, although it might cost me. I’ll
never regret it.
Perhaps at some later date I’ll be
able to report to you here about the aftermath. If there is any math after to
Dennis Fried is president
of Eiffel Press, and translates Genevieve’s books from Doggerel into English.
Also, he reports, he types Genevieve’s manuscripts, since she is afraid of
getting carpal paw syndrome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or