Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shall I return?

OK... here's a question for those of you in the publishing and book trade: How do you deal with returns? Meaning, if you are a publisher, do you allow returns? And if you do allow them, is it across the board or are you selective? Do you set any limits?

And if you are a bookseller/storefront, will you order books that are non-returnable? More to the point, will you shelve books that are non-returnable?

I ask these questions because I'm trying to formulate my own returns policy, and I'm getting a lot of mixed messages, both from other publishers and from booksellers. For example, one bookseller has said she simply will NOT order books to shelve, if they are not returnable. Another said that they want the books returnable, but will pay the return postage. And another has said that they want returnable, but will only order books that are both returnable AND returnable at no expense to them.

One thing I have discovered in my investigations is that Baker & Taylor, at least, seem to have the best of all possible worlds when it comes to returns. If a bookstore returns a book they have purchased through Baker and Taylor, the bookstore must pay the postage to return the book. If I ALLOW returns through Baker and Taylor, I am charged $2 per book for the privilege, plus I must pay for the shipping to get the book back to me, else it is destroyed. And of course along with this, there is no guarantee that the books will be in a resalable condition. As one publisher acquaintance of mine has said, "If I want to sell damaged books, I don't have to send them to [bookstore name here] first. I can do the damage at home and save a lot of transaction costs!"

Understand that I'm not griping about the situation. The situation is what it is. I'm just trying to come up with a policy that is fair to both sides of the equation. Problematically, if I allow returns through my primary North American distributors (Amazon, Ingram, Baker & Taylor), I have no way of setting any limits. I can't say, "This bookseller can return books but this one cannot," or "I'll accept returns of no more than XX% of the bookseller's order." It's flat, across the board returns. For a small press, one or two bad orders under those sort of conditions could spell disaster.

So... what do you think?