Our publishing evolved from a need to fill a void in the sporting field. We publish three to four signed limited-edition books each year on big-game hunting, plus Africa and Central Asia travel and exploration. Only 1,000 copies are printed; these are numbered and signed by the authors, most of whom are noted professional hunters or well-known and recognized international sport hunters. The signed limited editions are the ONLY ones available–no reprints and no trade editions.
Many people collect our books year after year. Sales are direct to specialty shops and direct through mail order. We have only one distributor, a company that publishes five magazines and distributes them as well as specialty books. They get a 55% discount with NO returns. We find that it’s better to accept smaller quantity orders and have them firm than to send off larger numbers of books and get returns.
Real vs. Hypothetical Business
Dealers get a 40% discount, payment with order, no billing. Amazon gets 20% for the single-title order plan, credit card with order, and the same goes for B&N, Borders, etc. This has been our policy since 1982! If someone says they could sell more for a better deal, we tell them to start selling and we’ll apply greater
discounts on those “larger” orders that never seem to be forthcoming.
In additional to publishing, we sell out-of-print books in our field.
The majority of our authors live outside the USA, mainly in Africa. However, within their field, they are well known here. We have also published a biography of Robert Ruark, the well-known author of the 1950s and 1960s who wrote aboutthe big-game hunters, among other things. Our limited edition of this book was released in 1992 and sold out in eight months. So last year we issued a 10th anniversary high-end combination limited/trade edition of the book.
An interesting note… all the traditional trade channels that had said they could use 50-100 books, if we ever issued the trade edition, ordered FIVE copies only (or single-title order plan) when we finally did have the book available. So much for estimating!
Full Price Forever
We have found that staying within our profitable niche and sticking to our
own full-price policy helps. In 35 years in business, we have never sold our publications below full retail price. We never have a summer, or any other seasonal sale. We don’t even offer a postage bargain for orders of more than one, two, or three books. The person who bought the first copy off the shelf should never see later copies sell for less. That philosophy has helped us and given our retail customers confidence that the list price is just that.
We have had two “losers” though, and those books–shredded–are somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. One other title that is not going well now will also be disposed of so as not to disturb our buying public.
Our policy is that the buyer who pays full price for a book shouldn’t see it discounted because we want to get rid of the last 200, 300, or even 400
copies. In addition, we believe that the dealer who might be sitting with books left to sell at retail should not see that we undercut their price.
That policy also helps us in terms of Amazon, B&N, and Borders too, because they all sell our books at the same price as the price that we and smaller specialty stores use. It hurt in the beginning, but the smaller shops, the ones like us who pay pronto and never return etc., really like the fact that we never undercut them.
On the wholesale scene, we get dealers telling us how much they sell, how much discount they get from someone else, etc. Our reply is always: “Why should we give you a big discount because you’re spending money with our competition? Start buying from us and let’s see how much in excess of the standard discount you quality for.” We’d be happy to make a larger discount retroactive after someone has sold lots of books. It has never happened.
The fact that we publish only a few books each year makes us very picky as
to content and quality. It also helps us produce only really good books. We don’t have a big staff and most work is farmed out; that way, if nothing great comes in, we’re not paying people to sit around.
In other words, small and profitable, and we’re still here after all those years.
Ellen Enzler Herring, who majored in finance and minored in English at NYU, founded Trophy Room Books in 1971 as a dealer in out-of-print books. In the late 1980s, her husband, Jim, took a golden handshake retirement from Hughes Aircraft and joined the company, providing an extra labor resource and knowledge of computer usage for expanding into the publication of original material. More info is available at www.trophyroombooks.com.