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Great Moments in Contemporary Publishing

15 February 2013

From Lawrence Block’s Blog:

An independent bookseller I know landed a major bestselling author for a rare in-store signing. He got the word out, took advance phone and interent orders for signed copies, and called his sales rep at the publisher to make sure the books would reach him in plenty of time.

“You’ve ordered 450 copies,” the rep told him. “I’m afraid we can only ship you 200.”

Why, fort God’s sake? Hadn’t they printed enough?

“No, it’s policy,” he was told. “Two hundred books is our maximum order. We can’t take the chance of huge returns, or credit problems.”

“But the copies are sold,” the store owner said. “I’ve got prepaid orders for them, andI’ll pay in advance myself, and take them from you on a non-returnable basis. There’s no risk, and there won’t be any returns, and that’s 450 copies of a $30 book at the usual 40% off, which makes it an $8100 cash order. So what’s the problem?”

He got nowhere.

Link to the rest at LB’s Blog and thanks to Jaye for the tip.

Big Publishing, Bookstores

15 Comments to “Great Moments in Contemporary Publishing”

  1. Somebody test their DNA!
    Homo bureaucratus has to be a distinct species; I refuse to accept any degree of kinship with a breed that stupid.

  2. Oh, that’s hilarious. What I liked best was this part:

    “[The Bookseller] got in his car and drove four blocks to Target, where the manager had no problem selling him 300 copies of the book, and gave them to him at a 45% discount, and still made a profit on the sale.

    Unbelievable.

  3. …For some reason, I am incredibly unsurprised by this tale. O.O

    • Nor, according to LB, was one of his friends. Quote: “How odd, and yet, how unsurprising.”

      • Quote: “How odd, and yet, how unsurprising.”

        Exactly! Stories like this are becoming mundane instead of appalling. (Can one have PTSD from all the publishing horror stories?)

        • No PTSD needed; we’re just all growing jaded with publishing SNAFUs. (And I didn’t intend to use so many abbreviations.)

  4. Publishers publish books, not sell them. I mean, where would they actually be if they actually SOLD books? Oh, right, employed.

  5. Ok.

    So you make three separate orders – two for 200 and one for 50.

    Problem solved.

    • Ah, but that would require customer _service_, as opposed to blindly doing the same ol’ same ol’.

  6. Target had 300 copies on hand. At a better discount than the bookstore could get.
    Given enough time, he could’ve done even better going with amazon.
    Says a lot about publishers’ love of bookstores.

  7. And publishers wonder why Amazon is eating their lunch? *facepalm*

  8. .
    Having lived the life of an employee inside a couple of very large corporations and worked at and with top to bottom levels, this type of thing happens everywhere. The organization has well trained its people not to make mistakes – they more fear a mistake than the possible upside even if the risk appears to be zero.
    .
    The store owner should have asked to speak with the next layer supervisor up the chain of command until he found someone willing to say “yes”. Or just called the CEO who would push down through the organization to make it happen – and changed the rules in the process. Humorous but it’s often easier from the outside to call the CEO than anyone else in the organization.
    .
    Since the event is (likely) over, have the book seller write up how many signed copies the store sold and how much of an increase in other sales happened that day from the extra customers and marketing. Send copies of that data to the CEO and EVP of marketing/sales. If the store owner emails the letter and details it will quicken the pace of change as everyone in the company will get it in minutes after it arrives.
    .
    .

    • @ J.Gordon – really good point. This is par for the course in any bureaucracy, not just Publishers. But still. It’s funny.

      I like your suggestion of calling the CEO. That never occured to me. I may call the CEO for other reasons – to suggest they treat the author better, for one thing. I wonder if anyone has done that?

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