THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!
You’re a new author or a self-publisher and you’ve always thought accepting book returns would greatly increase your bookstore sales. (That actually rarely happens with unknown authors.)
After your book goes live, you notice a few sales. But, a few weeks later, you start getting returns. You have agreed to pay the distributor to send the books back to you. Yes, at your expense. Some of the books are dusty, dirty, bent or otherwise unsellable. You’re even being billed for the printing costs of those books.
Pretty soon, you’re receiving so many returns that you’re losing money on your book. You not only didn’t make any money from the bookstore sale (since they returned it and YOU paid to have it printed) but you’re also paying to have those returned books shipped to you. You could ask the distributor to just discard them but then you’d not only have no sale (remember – YOU had to pay for the printing!) but also no physical book.
So, you do some research online, and figure out that accepting returns for a book by a new, unknown author wasn’t such a great idea after all. You email the distributor, and ask them to switch your account to no returns.
But, guess what? THERE’S A SIX MONTH WAITING PERIOD!!! So, you are forced either continue to accept returns (at your expense), or you can terminate your book to stop the insanity (but you’ll still owe for those returned books for the next six months).
What if the author is the victim of an orchestrated effort to bankrupt them through false orders and returns? This could be devastating to authors and small self-publishers.
Here’s an email exchange I had with an author who wishes to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons) –
New Author writes:
Thank you so much for (publishing an update to the book returns debacle). If (that source) was right, if there is an average 35%-40% return rate, then on average, selling returnable books through IngramSpark will net zero dollars for self/indie pubs, as I see it.
Your article helped expand my understanding.
I sent Ingram some questions. See the responses I got below.
EXCERPT FROM INGRAMSPARK’S EMAIL EXCHANGE WITH “NEW AUTHOR”
New Author asks:
What controls are in place to minimize financial risks and limit how many of my books your customers can purchase and return?
There are no controls in place to minimize the amount of returns made by bookstores or retailers if the publisher marks a title as returnable.
New Author asks:
If I change the returnable status from “returnable” to “non-returnable,” does this affect all orders immediately? If not, how long does it take to go into full effect?
After making a title non-returnable from returnable, bookstores and retailers will have the ability to return books for 6 months after the effective date.
New Author asks:
After a customer buys a book from you, for how many days are they allowed to return it? If a customer returns a book to you in an unsellable condition, am I still responsible for the printing cost of the book?
Bookstores and retailers are able to return books for as long as the title is selected as returnable and 6 months after the title is marked non-returnable. They have the ability to return books regardless of the condition the books are in.
Remember, authors, that IngramSpark makes money whether your books gets returned or not. This is NOT due to any wrongdoing on their part because you had the opportunity to choose non-returnable status for your book in the first place. If you didn’t know about the six-month delay, that’s because you didn’t read their contract. It states:
“IF PUBLISHER CHANGES THE STATUS FROM RETURNABLE TO NON-RETURNABLE, PUBLISHER
WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY RETURNS FOR A PERIOD OF 180 DAYS FROM THE CHANGE DATE.”
If a bookstore orders your book and does not return it, IngramSpark gets the printing costs plus their portion of the discount.
If a bookstore orders your book, and DOES return it, and if you want that returned book, IngramSpark still gets the printing fees (which you pay, not the bookstore), plus handling fees.
If a bookstore orders your book and DOES return it, and if you do NOT want that returned book, IngramSpark still gets the printing fees.
Remember, for most new/unknown authors, making your book returnable isn’t going to sell many more (if any) books than if your book was non-returnable. More than a million books are published each year. Combine those books with ones that are already on the market and you’ll see there simply isn’t enough shelf space in a bookstore for all the books on the market today. Even if you convince one store to stock your book, it isn’t likely to be on the front table. Publishers pay a premium for that space. Your one or two copies will be crammed in with others in the same genre, aren’t likely to sell, and may be dirty and damaged when they’re returned.
Even if your book is non-returnable, somebody can walk into their local bookstore and ask them to order a copy. The bookstore will be happy to do so, despite the fact that your book is non-returnable.
If you have agreed to accept returns, you’ll have to accept returns from everyone who orders your book through Ingram, not just individual stores of your choosing.
Tempted to pay a few hundred dollars to your POD publisher to make your book returnable? Yes, POD publishers have found a way to profit from returns, too!
At BookLocker.com, we don’t, nor have we ever accepted returns. We also do not try to scalp authors out of a few hundred bucks by offering a “returns” service because we know the authors will likely never earn back that money in resulting book sales.
Angela Hoy lives on a mountain in North Georgia. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the President and CEO of BookLocker.com and AbuzzPress, and the author of 24 books.
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