Today I received a check for over $3,000 from Baker & Taylor. Normally that would be good news for a small press like ours. B&T is one of our best customers. But it is also the most problematic. After many years, I think I have cracked much of the code that governs the way its accounts payable department operates.
Please note that I have found the accounting staff attentive and that they have tried, as best they could, to be fair and see that we are paid properly. The problem stems from numerous changes of ownership over the years and the fact that, with the last change of ownership, the company shrank its already busy accounts staff and moved the department to another state. It is difficult these days to talk to our contact since she has so many publishers to deal with. Indeed, when I last called, voicemail said to fax a letter.
Allegedly Short Shipments
When a shipment arrives at the B&T docks, minimum-wage workers have to process it quickly. Often, when we send what was ordered, we get a chargeback for “missing titles.” I check the weight of the shipment and know that the books aren’t missing; they just weren’t received properly.
For example, when B&T orders 50 copies of a title but the receiver scans the bar code once, bingo, the company says we shorted them 49 copies of the book. I don’t learn about the short until I get a payment three months later. When I call accounts receivable, I’m asked for a POD (Proof of Delivery). On receipt of the POD, B&T issues us a “payback” for the 49 books, but the payment arrives with B&T’s reference number, not our invoice number. Since this is many months later, the challenge is to connect the current payment with the previous short payment. It isn’t unusual to have to deal with several instances of this problem at the same time.
The pattern is similar when B&T decides to do a return. It issues its own credit memo, which may or may not be correct. Sometimes all the books on the credit memo aren’t actually returned, but you have to go to quite a bit of trouble to set this straight, When, in time, B&T issues what they call a “payback” (PB), the reference number will be the original PO number, not your invoice or credit number. Again, you have to connect the current payment with the previous short payment.
Sometimes a receiving clerk decides that books are damaged, even though they aren’t, and returns them with a chargeback that includes a charge for return postage, but you may or may not be told the amount of return postage before B&T deducts the chargeback from a payment. In other words, the credit B&T takes will be larger than the credit you issue because they add return fees. The trick here is to keep a log of B&T purchase order numbers so you can track the original return for which a credit was issued. You will then have to find the credit and add the return postage charge to get the credit total to match the B&T chargeback.
Keep On Trackin’
We keep careful records of everything B&T does. Despite our best efforts, there are still problems. Interpreting the current check leaves us with three unidentified chargebacks. They could be alleged shorts from six months ago and/or returns. This means that I will enter the check into the computer, but show incomplete payment, causing further problems since B&T will say our invoices were paid when they weren’t.
Minor points: The PO number is the key to keeping track of payments, short payments, and credits, but B&T provides them in different ways. The number on a return may have dashes while the original PO has none. This can be a problem when using the computer to search for a PO number. Also B&T sometimes calculates a percentage differently than you would, with the result that a payment may be off by, say, 2 cents, forcing you to make an adjustment on the invoice at your end.
One final obvious piece of advice: Stay on top of the past dues and notes about incorrect returns. B&T may ask for proof of delivery 12 months or more after a delivery took place, at which point your shipper may or may not still have the POD in its computer. Without the POD, you won’t be paid.
Again, I think the staff at Baker & Taylor is doing their best, but your problem can easily be lost with all the other problems they have to deal with. Friendly persistence is needed.
Bob Adjemian is general manager at Vedanta Press and has been a member of PMA since the beginning of recorded time.