One of my friends asked me
recently if I ever read for fun. What a strange question that was! Why would I
be in this business if I didn’t find reading fun and I didn’t read for fun?
Some things are more pleasurable to read than others, but whether I’m reading
for fun or information, I always end up wanting to go deeper into a subject.
Such was the case this past
January with articles in the various trade magazines about the importance of holiday
book sales for most retail outlets. Interestingly, the dollar volume reported
by the larger chains covered only titles sold and not gift cards, which
definitely are part of holiday sales but will be counted later when the cards
are exchanged for books.
Sales were good for most retail
book outlets this year, it seemed, but I began to wonder whether the holiday
season—or any other type of season—affects the typical PMA
publisher member. So I posed some questions in PMA’s new e-letter, <span
· Does the holiday season affect
your sales curve?
· Do your titles seem to have a
sales season of their own, not related to the holiday season? If so, when is
that seasonality for your book and why?
· Is there a time of the year when
you see an increase in orders as well as an increase in returns? If so, please
tell us when and why you think these occur.
PMA Members on Sales
Holidays increase sales for a few
of our imprints through Amazon.com and Lightning Source (digital versions),
mostly books for writers and publishers, but our niche books for dentists,
doctors, and school superintendents/principals take a nosedive in December.
It’s a great time to get caught up on the “other” stuff that bedevils small
publishers. As much as we’d like to create (or imagine) a “buy Burgett” season,
we haven’t found the magic pill or process. We’re hoping this article will give
us the needed insights
While we do see an upsurge in
orders, it usually dies off during the first week in December. By then, all the
bookstores have placed all the orders they will. Attempts to market further for
the year are rather fruitless.
For our travel line, the hot
season is spring, when the traveler’s heart starts to ponder wandering. That
hot season runs throughout the early summer and peters out toward August.
Our pirate adventure novels always
have a sales spike in the summer—not surprisingly; they are a great beach
read. On Memorial Day and Labor Day the numbers spike.
I haven’t seen a particular trend
with business or self-help titles. You’d think that self-help would spike in
January, but it hasn’t.
In general, September through
November is our biggest shipping time. This is probably so for most people.
This year, we saw an upsurge in returns
in September (of books that were promptly reordered). Probably B&T and
Ingram making room for new incoming inventory. Of course, January through late
February is dreadful. We call the UPS driver the “many unhappy returns man.”
Bay Books (NV)
I have found that indeed the
holiday season affects sales at Bear State Books. Better yet, sizable orders
from wholesalers and retailers have always come in during the post-holiday
season. I tell my authors and retailers that sales in January will probably
exceed those of the Christmas season. Of course, we publish only California and
regional history. I think the after-Christmas season comes as a relief for many
who buy books. They feel more free to make their book purchases after the
Our new books sell best in spring,
late fall, and the holiday season. (The sales that are up in January are sales
of our general in-print and backlist books.) Spring yields pretty good orders
from our distributors for Costco, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc. Fall orders
are pretty good too, but summer is the pits.
State Books (CA)
As a business-book publisher, I
usually sell fewer books in December. And I do little or no book promotion at
Most of my sales are direct, and
not through bookstores. When I promote actively, I tend to get a sales blip,
but I also have a steady flow of Web-site traffic all year, and a certain
percentage will convert. Much of this is self-sustaining, and I no longer have
to do much to stoke traffic. It’s related to such factors as whether my
consumer-oriented book has been featured on MSN’s home page again, or whether I
have done enough speaking of late.
Unlimited Publishing LLC is happy
to report that December 2005 was the best single sales month in the company’s
Here is a marketing approach that
might be helpful to other publishers that would like to increase their sales
during the holiday season, without relying on bookstores.
We are mainly a professional
publisher, but we have a few titles that make good business gifts. We send a
self-mailer to a select part of our mailing list in early November that shows
these books as gifts in a professional setting. For a small additional fee, we
offer to print bookplates and affix them to the inside front cover with the
company name, logo, and their message. The bookplates are inexpensive,
purchased from a library supplier, and printed on a laser printer in black ink.
We also offer a special discount on multiple copies of the same title.
If direct mail is too expensive
for you, you could put this offer on your Web site and/or send it to an email
list. We have sold as many as 3,500 books in the month before Christmas from
this single promotion alone.
Land Institute (DC)
For us, the start of a new school
year brings increased sales for some of our books, and sales rise for most
titles when they are new or receiving publicity. We had our highest sales ever
this fall, but most of them came in August and September. We did see some
increased business from Amazon (.com and .ca) but nothing to shout about. The
majority of our sales are coming from wholesalers, which tend to order big
chunks right off the bat, and then reorder in smaller spurts.
Without a doubt, the sales of each
title peak upon release. For some, an award nomination (such as we had in
November for three of our titles, thanks to the Ontario Library Association)
will cause a spike later. We also saw a regional jump for one of our titles in
December after an author whose book came out in October appeared on the local
We had next to no returns in
December. I have to assume this is because buyers were too busy to bother.
However, we traditionally get hit with large returns in January and February,
and then again in April and May. Buyers must be looking to clear space on their
shelves for new titles, and also to get credit with us, so they can order our
new titles—and pay with credit. One disappointing thing I’ve noticed is
that books are coming back within three to six months of publication in some
cases, mostly from the independents. It’s sad to see new books getting such a
short window of opportunity on the shelves. This isn’t a large trend, just
something that popped up on my radar recently.
Our sales curve depends on an
effective public relations effort. An email blast offering a Holiday
Collector’s Package (hardcover <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>A Treasure’s Trove and the new <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Official Solution Book to A
Treasure’s Trove) was very effective. And because the email
linked to www.atreasurestrove.com,
sales picked up for other products too.
The holiday marketing program
included public relations support, highlighted by a December 2 <span
Our books are “reality
books”—i.e., clues to real treasure hunts are hidden in the stories and
illustrations. Thus, their “seasonaility” is linked to (a) the books’ launches,
and (b) when a “treasure” is found. Peak sales are generally in early December
I think the real message is that
the holiday season in itself does not sell books; publishers have to be
proactive—and creative—in their marketing. Granted, we’re new to
the game, so we have to work harder to stand out from the crowd. But so far, so
Trove, Inc. (CT)
As a leading publisher of gift
books and calendars, we find that the holiday season has a positive impact on
our sales. This year we had numerous book and calendar products that landed as
top picks on Holiday Gift Guides, which boosted sales. Notably, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Complete Calvin and
Hobbes, the largest and most expensive “New York Times”
bestseller ever, was a holiday “must have” for 2005. Obviously calendar sales
peak during the holiday season as well.
We time the releases of our gift
books and kits to capitalize on relevant events: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day,
Father’s Day, graduation, etc. Our trade titles tend not to be seasonal.
McMeel Publishing (MO)
The holiday season definitely
results in an uptick in our orders and sales, especially when, as this year, we
get our newest title out in October and have time to do publicity and marketing
in advance of the big buying time.
Our second season is summer. Here
in the north country, gift and book shops see an increase in tourism from June
to September, and our books about the beauty, history, and humor of the north
country sell well to tourists.
We do not see seasonality in
returns. We have been fortunate to have returns at a manageable level (despite
the inherent craziness of having a store buy a product and then be able to
return it, damaged, up to a year later, to a distributor).
We notice an upturn in orders when
we do our twice-a-year postcard reminder mailing to all our bookstore and gift
shop customers (and those who might become customers). Those go out in April
and October, referencing the upcoming tourist and holiday seasons,
respectively. We don’t see any direct reaction from the resellers, but there’s
always an increase in orders from the distributors, which means the resellers
are placing orders with them.
Our low time is after the holiday
season until the summer season, which can be a relief after intense
order-taking, shipping, and marketing. We still get individual orders via phone
or mail and some low level of reseller orders, but that is our “winter” time
both in the weather and in the publishing business.
Country Publishing (MI)
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>The last quarter usually accounts for 35-plus percent
of annual sales. Traditionally, the first quarter has had the highest return
levels. I am hoping that this will flatten out now that we are with IPG; since
our selling techniques were much more aggressive than theirs, we have less product
on the shelves to return.
The holiday season is one of the
worst times of the year for us. We sell primarily to teachers and schools, and
buying books is not a priority for them then. Another contributing factor is
that schools and school districts close down entirely in the last part of
December. In fact, we’ve had schools that owe us money say, “Oh, we don’t pay
bills in December.” I wish we could tell our suppliers the same thing!
Our titles have a season of their
own, not related to the holiday season. Our best time of year is June through
September. Teachers are out of school and take time to look at titles and order
for the next year. School purchase orders for the next year also come in at
We have no time when returns
increase. We have very, very few returns at any time of year.
Press, Inc. (CO)
Because we sell many of our titles
to nontraditional marketplaces, we have a reasonable stability in our monthly
sales. The only exceptions: With our college textbooks, we have a large
increase in August (for the fall semester) and a small increase in December
(for the spring semester). For our trade sales, we see a sizable increase
throughout October and November, with a dropoff after the first week of
December. April and May seem to be our slowest months.
We traditionally see an increase
in returns over the first quarter of the year. College bookstores usually
return the unsold texts they have been holding since the fall (and then spring)
semester. And for trade, we see a return on unsold holiday orders.
One Publishing (NY)
Sales increase over the holiday
season for our book on spices. Cookbooks sell better during the colder or
winter months, when people cook more. Plus the cookbook makes a good Xmas gift,
which is reflected in the increased orders from Amazon and our catalog
Our other book is a regional book
on Colorado, and it does better in the summer, when there are more tourists and
when the museums and gift shops stock up.
Chain bookstores order our books
occasionally. We don’t allow returns; these stores have to pay by credit card
at full price if they are just ordering one book. The independent bookstores
pay by invoice within 30 days and usually order more than one book.
My company specializes in real
estate titles. As might be predicted, our sales curve matches the curve for
home sales. Sales start to pick up in January, continue to rise into the summer
to peak in August, and then collapse as we head into the winter holidays. This
has been a very consistent pattern over the seven years we’ve been selling
Returns happen at the end of
December. We believe this has more to do with bookstores and Amazon.com sending
books back before the end of their fiscal year than it has to do with the sales
House Publishing (CO)
Sales spiked for us in November
instead of December. Odd. But we ran a virtual book signing in November, so
that might be the reason.
Children’s titles follow the
author-day season for schools—September/October and April/May. Romance
novels shine in the summer. Business book sales are even year-round, spiking
only when authors speak at conferences.
Orders/sales follow the patterns
above, except when books come in from the printer and the author/illustrator
sends out emails to friends and families to order the book directly from us
prior to the pub date— which is a wonderful thing!
Returns spike when wholesalers
decide the three- or six-month trial time is up. Whatever didn’t sell is
returned. Bookstores return the day after a book signing, not even giving a
book a chance in their store.
Yes, the holiday season affects
· January–March: 25 percent
(post-holiday spending, new year spending).
· April–June: 20 percent
(April, May, June new-book releases).
· July–September: 20 percent
(slow summer sales, September new-book releases).
· October–December: 35 percent
(October new-book releases, October trade holiday stock orders,
November/December consumer holiday shopping).
· Orders increase in the fourth
· Returns increase in the first
quarter, mainly because of fourth-quarter overstocks.
Publication Center (MA)
In our area we’re exploring venues
other than bookstores to increase sales. We’re in the Appalachian Mountains
less than five miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Boone is a ski resort in the
winter, a leaf resort in the fall, and a college town and a getaway the rest of
We’ve discovered a fertile market
at craft fairs. Our sales are quite healthy, sometime startlingly so. About
half our books are regional, and those are the best sellers, especially if the
author is present to sign books. We discount just a bit (maybe 20 percent).
We theorize that people often go
to craft fairs in pairs or groups. Not everyone there is interested in the
crafts. Also, we often get our best sales at the end of the day when people are
overstimulated with stained glass and pottery and just want a nice cuddly book
to go back to their room with and read.
Publishing Group (NC)
Since most of our orders come from
schools, the holidays have absolutely no impact, except this is the season we
get the fewest orders. Our best months are May through July.
Glory Press (CA)
Sales of books about
fishing—gifts from wives, sisters, etc.—pop up in late fall,
disappear thereafter. Winter is my time of best sales—people reading when
they cannot fish.
I get a little bump from targeted
advertising and some effect from what little buzz there is. Word of mouth is
working for me; I have become a known quantity in a niche market. I have never
had a return.
Esox Publications (NY)
A Message from the
For some, the holidays definitely
seem to boost sales; for others there’s a seasonality based on school and
library schedules and other holidays. Some publishers get returns; others have
a tight hold on their markets and few or no returns.
When I was reading through all the
responses from our members, I found that one theme seemed dominant in many:
“When I market, publicize, and advertise my titles, I can see an upward spike.
When I stop pushing my product, I experience a slump.” There’s a message here.
Thanks to all who participated.