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Standing-Order Plans: The Structures and the Payoffs

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Standing-Order Plans: The Structures and the Payoffs

by Linda Carlson

How do publishers turn browsers into buyers? One strategy is to eliminate the browsing.

That’s how standing-order plans work. You don’t have to overcome the natural inertia of prospective buyers, because you make one sale and it pays off time and again. Sometimes called book clubs when oriented to retail customers, these plans cater both to institutions such as libraries and to individuals. “Sign up now and you’ll never miss a new issue,” publishers promise, or, “You’ll be the first to have the latest information.”

Standing-order plans, which sometimes include a discount and an enrollment bonus, can pay off for publishers in at least five ways:

guaranteed early sales for new titles, which can help create buzz

early income from new titles

prices at or near retail

minimal fulfillment time, with purchase-order and bank-card numbers already on file

limited returns, especially from individuals (perhaps thanks to inertia)

Here are a few examples of standing-order plans for libraries and readers:

Nolo Press (nolo.com), the Bay Area publisher of frequently updated legal and other guides for laypeople, offers libraries several different plans that include 30 percent discounts both on books on standing order and on all other books ordered direct from the publisher. For instance, its Deluxe Plan is advertised as including all current and new Nolo titles except those that are state-specific to other states. Libraries can also exclude certain titles.

New York City’sPractising Law Institute (pli.edu) makes a similar offer. Subscribers to its Treatise Standing Order Plan can save as much as 25 percent on titles published after they enroll—and they receive the same discount on materials published in the calendar year prior to their enrollment.

At Martingale & Co. (martingale-pub.com), the publisher known since 1976 for That Patchwork Place quilt books has offered a book club for individuals for at least 20 years. It’s simple: each month participants receive the Seattle-area company’s choice of a new book (the “featured selection”) unless they ask for something different by a given date. Payment is automatic by credit-card billing. Returns can be made within 30 days for a full refund of the book price. The only requirement is that participants buy six books each year.

Although Martingale doesn’t offer discounts to club members, new enrollees receive a free book, currently a hardback priced at $29.95. Participants pay shipping and handling charges on the monthly selection, but no extra shipping charges for additional books ordered at the same time.

Book club members who continue to purchase six books annually—from Martingale’s four dozen new titles each year or from backlist—can select a free book on their membership anniversary dates. Those who order 18 books annually get a three-book bonus.

Dozens and dozens of standing order plans—for institutions and bookstores as well as individuals—are available from the Maine-based Thorndike Press (gale.cengage.com/thorndike), since 1999 a unit of Thomson Gale. Besides publishing its own large-print books, Thorndike distributes large-print titles from HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Time Warner, Harlequin, and Silhouette. This means customers can select titles that are cozy mysteries, Westerns, crime stories, and Christian romances, and titles in many other genres too, fiction and nonfiction.

Will It Work for You?

Should you be creating a standing-order plan? If the idea appeals, confront some questions, such as:

Do you issue at least one book a year? If you don’t, customers who enroll in your standing-order program may have forgotten that they did by the time they receive your newest book.

How will you keep credit-card numbers secure in your files—and updated? Especially if you issue new books infrequently, some credit-card numbers may expire before you publish your next title.

Do you have repeat customers? If your direct sales and sales through retailers indicate that most of your customers are one-time buyers, you may not have a market for a standing-order plan.

Do your customers need frequently updated information? Then, like Nolo Press, you probably have many buyers who’d appreciate automatically getting the latest editions of your books.

How will you handle returns? Many plans offer a full refund within 30 days. Some frequent mail-order and Internet customers, accustomed to return labels and/or mailers from other retailers, may expect you to provide these materials and possibly even pay for return postage.

Markets and Marketing

What is your best market for standing-order plans? Those repeat customers, of course, as well as libraries and businesses that use your materials. Educators are often another good target market.

Standing-order plans are frequently promoted with such pitches as:

“This option is highly recommended for busy librarians who like to keep abreast of our new titles.”

“Librarians have always struggled with maintaining a complete collection of titles in a series. How do they know when the newest edition of a reference title will be available? Will they be aware of its existence before it goes out of print? Our Standing Order Program solves these problems.”

“You’ll receive our latest books before bookstores do, and you’re guaranteed priority service from our staff.”

“Our editors take the guesswork out of title selection. Using the same collection development criteria that librarians use, they choose well-reviewed and award-winning titles for Standing Order Plans.”

Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle.

The Package Possibility

Publishers with several titles in print can use another strategy to increase revenue—and profit—per sale: the package deal.

Usually called a library, a package may include all a company’s titles, or it may include a selection created by the publisher—by genre, by topic, by level. The price of the library is usually lower than the sum of the retail prices of the books it includes.


Free Spirit Publishing advertises three libraries, each sold at a 15 percent discount. Its Early Childhood library, for instance, includes 16 books and a leader’s guide and is priced at $158.95. The Minneapolis publisher of books that address kids’ social and emotional needs also offers some series, such as the eight Laugh and Learn self-help books, at a 10 percent discount when purchased as a $63 package.

Parenting Press offers its Comprehensive Library of 66 titles for $515, which represents a 20 percent discount. More specialized libraries, such as its Spanish translations of popular backlist titles, may have as few as nine titles.

Fieldstone Alliance, the St. Paul-based publishing and consulting unit of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, offers four libraries of four or five books each, all focused on improving the performance of nonprofit managers. At a 30 percent discount, package prices range from $81 to $149.

For publishers, packages offer several advantages. They significantly increase the dollar value of a sale, and the fact that you invoice and pack once reduces the sale’s labor cost. Packages also allow publishers to increase sales volume for slower-selling titles. Customers can’t cherry-pick titles; even with packages sold as returnable, the package discount requires taking all the books.

Perhaps the greatest financial incentive is higher profits. Because packages are sold direct, not through wholesalers or retailers, profits may double, despite the discounts.

Selling a package also has marketing value. When a customer buys a collection, you sharply increase your visibility with that individual or organization. You have the opportunity to get many or all of your publications—whether well reviewed or not—into readers’ hands.



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