As publishers struggle to adapt to the changing economy and the changing technological landscapes, distribution becomes more and more of a challenge. With large bookstore chains failing and consumers turning to the Internet to buy books, the sales agreements with traditional bookstores are starting to make less sense. Sheila Bounford, deputy managing director of NBN International, described the distribution problem in a recent blog post:
It is well known that when it comes to returns, bricks and mortar booksellers feel that they deserve equal discounts to those enjoyed by the online retailers whilst also maintaining that in order to offer range, they must have the right to return. What this ignores is that although the online retailers theoretically have the right to return, they almost never exercise it. Returns from online resellers run at less than 1% of invoice value. From the high street it is usually well in excess of 10% and often very very much higher. Returns are a drain on publishers’ resources. Not just in terms of the cost of the book which is often unsaleable — but in terms of the cost of administration.
Some publishers are addressing distribution and point-of-sale issues with creativity. A recent New York Times piece looked at how publishers are selling books through non-traditional, non-bookstore retailers. These niche outlets expand sales reach, allowing publishers access to consumers who might never step foot in a bookstore. Another plus noted in the Times article: books sold through these channels are generally non-returnable.
One publisher tapping these non-traditional markets is Chronicle Books, which sells titles through Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, Toys R Us, and Paper Source. In an e-mail interview, Kim Anderson, executive director of sales at Chronicle Books, said this model has worked very well:
Chronicle has long relied on non-traditional book retailers as an important part of our business model and long-term growth. The change in the book retail landscape over the last couple of years has only further highlighted the importance of this channel to our overall success.