Industry statistics reveal that book returns can be 30% or more of sales. If you reduce or eliminate returns, then you could increase your net sales and revenue by as much as that same amount and your profits by even more.
But, you say, you have no control over returns since Ingram and the bookstores return books at will. On the contrary, there are many things that we as publishers can do to eliminate returns without creating the problems that would come with an official across-the-board “no returns” policy.
Make Sure Your Books Stay Sold
Start by focusing on the fact that bookstores do not sell books–they display them. Any marketing they do involves promoting major titles or special events to entice people into their stores. They rely on authors and publishers to create awareness of their specific titles. Similarly, commissioned sales representatives for distributors spend their time selling the books that get them the best income (i.e., those that will not be returned because they are promoted by publishers and authors).
But marketing books is not simply a function of promotion. It also entails producing a saleable, properly priced product that is distributed to the right people at the right time. In other words, promotion is a multi-faceted marketing technique that is more complex than a campaign of book-signings, media appearances, and press releases. You need the proper and timely balance
of publicity, advertising, sales promotion, and personal selling.
When books are marketed properly, they remain sold. To be properly marketed, a book must have a unique point of difference. That means it must be demonstrably different from competitive titles in a way that is important to the market. Furthermore, it must be adequately researched and about a topic that meets an identifiable market need. And it must be published with a good title, in the right size, with the most desirable binding and in the highest quality possible.
Of course, it must also be competitively priced. Too often publishers base
a book’s price on its cost. They multiply their printing cost by eight and round it off the next highest “$ .95.” Readers, however, do not care what a publisher’s costs are. They are looking for information or entertainment and may choose the lowest priced option (which might not be a book) that meets their needs. To become functionally nonreturnable, a book should be priced according to its value to the reader.
Three Major No-Returns Markets
Appropriate distribution will reduce returns too. Perhaps the most significant point to consider here is that books distributed to buyers outside the traditional bookstore markets are typically sold on a nonreturnable basis. By marketing to these segments, you can expend the same amount of effort to develop, price, and promote a title but perhaps avoid the debilitating effect of returns.
What are these nontraditional, or special sales, markets? There are three major
categories. The first is Special Distribution, which entails selling to discount stores, catalogs, and book clubs–not only the major clubs but also those dedicated to selling books in your genre. John Palmatary marketed his book It’s About Time to the club at http://www.christianbookclub.co.uk; Victoria Kinnear sold her children’s learning books to the club at http://www.kidsonlinebookclub.com.
A second category is Commercial Sales, which involves selling books to corporations and associations for use as premiums, gifts, or incentives. For example, Rita Ippoliti approached parachute equipment manufacturers about using her book Falling Into Place as a premium. Mark L. James (www.barronpublishing.com) is currently marketing his book Estate Planning Success™ for Pennsylvania Residents to the National Association of Financial and Estate Planners for resale in their bookstore.
The third category is Niche Markets, or significant groups of people with a common interest in your title. Greg Drambour demonstrated this technique by contacting spiritual centers and approaching targeted magazines and newsletters to review his book The Woodstock Bridge.
A common proverb says, If it’s to be, it’s up to me, and this is especially true in book marketing. Authors and publishers cannot rely on anyone but themselves to market their books. If we do this properly, fewer books will come back and our profits should increase accordingly.
Brian Jud is an author and creator of the Book Market Map™ directories
for special sales. Contact Brian at P.O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001; 800/562-4357; firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit