On-sale Dates: Best Practices for Today’s Marketplace
by Tom Clarkson
In the not-so-distant past, sales of a brand-new book to readers in New Jersey on Tuesday usually had little impact on the book’s sales in Oregon when it was introduced there on Thursday. But now that Internet booksellers can offer a title to consumers all over the country all at once, retailers that get a book later can be significantly disadvantaged.
Concerned that that compliance with on-sale dates was not adequate for the instant visibility in today’s marketplace, several members of the Book Industry Study Group asked BISG to research the effects of variations in compliance and to develop best practices to remedy problems. In response, BISG convened a task force consisting of representatives of publishers, wholesalers, distributors, chain retailers, independent retailers, and consultants.
The task force identified several undesirable effects of noncompliance with on-sale dates. For example, a bookseller that offers to deliver a new release before its on-sale date diverts a sale from a complying bookseller, violating the level playing field of competition. The diversion can occur whether the bookseller is online or a brick-and-mortar store, and the side effects can occur whether the book is a potential bestseller or a niche title. In fact, a purchaser who finds a long-tail title through a retailer that is not observing on-sale dates may order other books along with it, again diverting sales from retailers that respect on-sale dates.
The BISG task force worked collaboratively to develop Recommended Best Practices for On Sale Date Compliance. The recommendations are summarized below, and the complete document is available at bisg.org. All BISG best practice recommendations provide voluntary guidelines intended to improve efficiency by promoting standard methods of conducting business.
Accepting advance orders or prepublication reservations is a normal part of retail bookselling in stores, online, and for libraries. BISG’s recommendations note that, in all cases, on-sale dates must be observed in delivering titles to readers, and that it is especially important for online retailers to clearly show consumers that a new release will ship only in compliance with its on-sale date.
Wording such as the following is recommended for online title description pages:
Title may be preordered now.
It will be available on [on-sale date].
Although many participants in the book industry have business needs to take delivery of new releases in advance of their on-sale dates, booksellers and librarians are expected to comply with specified on-sale dates, even when titles are received early and whether or not agreements specifying compliance are in place. And online retailers are expected to schedule shipments so that titles arrive at consumer addresses on or immediately after their on-sale dates.
What are the publisher’s best practices? In brief, they include:
Assign on-sale dates for all new releases. As mentioned above, establishing on-sale dates is important even for low-demand titles in the era of online bookselling.
Use only “on-sale date.” Historically, confusion has sometimes arisen between the on-sale date and the publication date of a title. Because we have no precise definition or consistent format for “publication date,” using the term “on-sale date” exclusively is recommended for managing the availability of new releases. The terms “street date” and “laydown date,” generally taken to have the same meaning as “on-sale date,” should be avoided to minimize confusion.
Make on-sale dates Tuesdays. Designating on-sale dates that fall on Tuesday responds to established practice in many retail channels that promote new releases in ads during the previous weekend.
Designation of on-sale dates that fall on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday is specifically not recommended. However, an on-sale date that has significance for a particular title is acceptable regardless of the day of the week it falls on.
Separate new releases. Packing new releases in cartons separate from backlist titles facilitates quick identification and processing of the titles at stock receiving. Doing this with small quantities may have freight cost ramifications, of course, but the benefits warrant attention when it is feasible.
Indicate new releases on packing lists. When new releases are shipped (whether separated or mixed with backlist), their on-sale dates should be indicated prominently on the packing list.
Display the on-sale date on the BISG product label. The BISG Guidelines for Shipping Container Labeling (available via bisg.org) provide for printing the on-sale date as optional data in Zone 1 of the product label. The date should always be included when it is known and when availability to retailers by the date is reasonably certain.
Use “New Release” labels to draw attention. An additional label indicating that a carton (or pallet) contains new releases can attract valuable attention at stock receiving. Labels with a bright background color are especially effective.
BISG will present a webinar describing the best practices on February 24. Check bisg.org for more information on the webinar as well as for the complete Recommended Best Practices for On-sale Date Compliance and BISG Guidelines for Shipping Container Labeling, both available as downloads.
Tom Clarkson runs Cumberland Systems Review Group and chairs the Book Industry Study Group’s Machine Readable Coding Committee. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.