Sunday, May 24, 2015

Should self-published authors provide returnability to physical bookstores?

Recently, I have been contacted about the possibility of purchasing a returnability program for my books.  Self-publishing companies offer a variety of programs to authors that cost between $750 to $1400 a year.  Generally, after purchasing the service, Ingram will show the book as having up to 100 virtual copies available, and bricks and mortar stores will have more incentive to order, because they know that unsold books can be returned to Ingram for refund.  It is that refund that the author is indemnifying by purchasing the program, which is a kind of “insurance” against low sales.
It appears that the author normally needs to take the initiative to encourage the large bookseller chains (like Barnes and Noble) to purchase books in quantity for local stores.   In “Current Affairs”, which is where my three books would fit, typically a large chain retailer would show 3-5 copies of a new hardcover or larger softcover books.  But “Current Affairs”, other than books my major politicians and journalists, are relatively small as a part of books that consumers actually buy when visiting stores.  “Current affairs” tends to do better online, relative to physical stores, because it tends to be less “popular” and appeal to the sort of audience that looks for material online.  Or, consumers may be more likely to view such books on Kindle or Nook, which is usually cheaper.  Similar, the same consumers are more likely to purchase mp3 files online from iTunes or Amazon than buy CD’s of music.  It’s a similar issue.
Visiting local independent stores may help where I know the people, but generally it’s not as important in non-fiction current affairs of a “global nature”. 
There is also a question of how trademark works, if an author has a series.  Typically, only the most recent book gets stocked, unless the series is very popular and sold in packages or boxes (like Harry Potter).  I covered that May 19 on the Trademark blog. It appears that a series may already have an automatic trademark (as applies to a book or media series only), but if the author wants to apply to USPTO to reinforce the mark, he or she needs to be in the active business of retailing the books with a separate operation.  But I will check further into this.
I have been criticized for not spending more time on “sales” of an existing product, especially the physical, old-world (non digital) items.  Instead, I’m moving on to finish other media projects (fiction, screenplay, documentary, music) and networking with specific individuals and entities on these – “you know who you are” – like in social media and by phone discussions).  Also, I could be seen as “competing with myself” by allowing it the books to be viewed free online in HTML or PDF.  Recently, I uploaded the final story (“The Ocelot the Way He Is”) to my site. I could call this the “It’s Free” problem.  But how many people really would read an entire book on PDF’s on a smart phone?  If they were inclined to, they might buy Nook or Kindle.  But right, they probably won’t buy the book in a store.  But keeping something scarce and expensive is not a way to be known.

I remember this problem, in parallel, back in the 1990s, when putting out a newsletter for Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty.  Some people asked, why a physical paper when you can just have an email listserver and do everything digitally with no capital? 

There's also a good question, what can make a "me" popular enough to showcase in a bookstore.  I could say "It's hard out here for a pimp" or for a nerd.  By take on "gay rights" is not easily made into a commodity.  My "overcoming" my own "setback" early in life doesn't make me a hero in an easily understood sense.  My message is ambiguous, and for the intellectually curious, not so much for just the faithful.  I can not make "you" all right.  If you catch a problem early, youstill  need the social supports to deal with it. 
The four major general purpose book chains (besides Amazon, which swallowed Borders), for which  I have links,  seem to be Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Half Price, and Powells.  I wouldn’t have links in the smaller specialized chains like Christian book chains.


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