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 that same amount and your profits by even more.
But, you say, you have no control over returns since Ingram and the bookstores return them at will without selling them. On the contrary, there are many things that we as authors and publishers can do to eliminate returns.
The first thing to realize is 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. It is up to the authors to create awareness of their specific titles. Similarly, most distributors utilize commissioned sales representatives whose income depends on selling books that are not returned, i.e., those promoted more heavily. They understandably spend their time selling those titles.
Furthermore, marketing books is not simply a function of promotion. An integrated marketing mix also entails producing a saleable, properly priced product that is distributed to the right people at the right time.
Promotion is a multi-faceted marketing technique that is more complex than conducting a campaign of bookstore events, media appearances and press releases. It involves finding and implementing the proper and timely balance of publicity, advertising, sales promotion and personal selling. When books are marketed properly, they remain sold.
A non-returnable book is one that has a unique point of difference. That means it is demonstrably different from competitive titles in a way that is important to the marketplace. It is an adequately researched topic that meets an identifiable market need and is published with a good title, in the right size, with the most desirable binding and in the highest quality possible.
Of course, it must be competitively priced. Too often publishers base their book’s price on its cost. However, readers do not care what your costs are. They are looking for information or entertainment and will choose the lowest priced option (that may or may not be a book) that meets their needs. A non-returnable book is priced according to its value to the reader.
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 non-returnable 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 non-traditional markets? There are two major special-sales categories. The first is non-bookstore retailers which entails selling to airport stores, supermarkets, discount stores, specialty stores and more. Also consider selling through book clubs and catalogs; not only the major clubs but also those dedicated to selling books in your genre.
A second segment is non-retail. Marketing to this segment involves selling books to corporations to use as premiums, gifts or incentives. For example, Rita Ippoliti approached parachute equipment manufacturers to use her book Falling Into Place as a premium. You might also consider selling your title to associations. Mark James marketed his book Estate Planning Success for Pennsylvania Residents to the National Association of Financial and Estate Planners to resell in their website bookstore.
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, we can reduce returns and at the same time increase our revenues and profits significantly.
Brian Jud is a book-marketing consultant, Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org) and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore. Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.premiumbookcompany.com.