March 3, 2011
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…