Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

March 3, 2011

Returns Season

It’s returns season at the bookstore.  It comes for all bookstores: it means our year-end is coming and we need to get as much unsold stock out of the store as is reasonable.  I know some big book chains who shall not be mentioned have had, in the past, a reputation for abusing returns privileges with distributors, but for us the right to return is a necessity of survival.

We stick to the rules – we never return more than 10% of our orders to the publishers – and I like to think it benefits everyone.  We gain the flexibility to gamble on unknown publishers or authors without fear of getting “stuck” with the book.  We can order quantities of books for university and high school courses that might otherwise be foolish (after all, when a prof tells you “I have a cap of 200 students” this sometimes means “… but only 44 signed up”, and nobody would ever tell us.  Not to mention the sometimes enormous numbers of students who choose to buy their books elsewhere, use the library, or flat out not read the book.  Anyone who thinks university business means guaranteed money is kidding themselves.)

We also have a private policy of not sending books back to certain distributors unless we really have to.  We will keep lots of things well past the return deadline because we really ought to have it on the shelf (nevermind that something like Roland Barthes’ Mythologies might only sell once every three years – we should still have it.)  We keep small Canadian independent publishers almost indefinitely because we feel bad sending the books back to them.  But on the whole, we need to be able to send back a lot of the stock every year to balance the books, clear out some space and cut old losses.

This is a dangerous time of year for yours truly. I can’t send a book back that I’ve had my eye on all year.  I have to “intercept” a lot of titles now as I feel it’s my last chance to get them before they go back.  And then there’s the sale books – oh yes.  Anything that’s past the returns deadline and considered no longer good for stock we cut to 50% or 75% off.  You better believe I get first crack at those!

As of this morning, the damage looks like this:

And this is why I’ll never own a house…

8 thoughts on “Returns Season”

  1. David says:

    Another interesting post and great insight to the other side of books. What are the Davies books (a bit tough to read the spines) and how much are they going for?

    1. Charlotte says:

      Thanks David! The Davieses are Selected Plays, Selected Works on the Art of Writing and Selected Works on the Pleasures of Reading. My Davies collection is prolific enough these days that all that remains to be collected and read are straggling, rarely-collected essays. 😉

  2. Nathalie says:

    I’ve had my eye on _Marginalia_ for a long time, too! Is it discounted??

    1. Charlotte says:

      It is! I pulled it from the 50% off shelf. I haven’t actually bought it yet, so if you want it I’d be happy to hold it for you. 😉

      1. Nathalie says:

        Yikes! Yes!! And NO!! No. No, better not. I’ll come in after April 1 and go crazy. I’ve pledged not to buy new books until then, and I’m already sliding (in the whole it’s for you, but it’s really for me department). And this is one of those books that I would not read right away, which is what my hold on book shopping was meant to mend. Thanks so much, though, for even offering not to take it home yourself. Give it a good home! I’ll come along in a month and give homes to some others 🙂 BTW, my Folio books arrived yesterday, and they are GORGEOUS. I am so glad that you put that post up and that I followed your lead. Keep us all updated on what you buy next! (I have so many flagged, but for sure the nursery rhymes.)

  3. Steph says:

    The only thing we discount that steeply are calendars and Christmas stuff after the season. I’m very jealous!

    We’re pulling too right now. What are you doing with Fenn?

    1. Charlotte says:

      Ugh, Fenn. Luckily, we don’t have a huge amount of Fenn stock. For now we’re just hoping the publishers find new distributors before our year-end, and that the new distributor will take returns of that publisher from us.

      But most of our Fenn stuff was Key Porter anyway, so we had sort of reconciled ourselves to letting it sit in stock forever anyway. It’s almost exclusively Lester, Orpen & Dennys stuff which is pretty timeless literary backstock anyway. We can live with having a bunch of Amis, Calvino and Škvorecký in stock hanging around on the shelves forever. 🙂

  4. Steph says:

    PS. The Long Ships has been catching my eye for months…it’s pretty much across from the cash. I keep wondering about it. I think I’ll like it.

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