Saturday, August 07, 2010

Publishing 1

Norman Spinrad has done a couple of posts on publishing recently. One was interesting, in that it told me things I didn't know. According to him, bookstores "buy to net," which leads to "the death spiral of publishing."

Suppose Barnes & Noble orders 10,000 copies of a book, and 80% sell. This is pretty good, especially considering they can return the unsold copies for credit, unlike every other kind of retailer. When a new book by the author comes out, the buyer at B&N looks at the records and says, "This author sold 8,000 copies last time. We will order 8,000 this time." Now it isn't likely that every single copy of a book will sell. Maybe some copies are left in the back room or displayed in the wrong place or end behind another book. So this time 90% of the copies sell, which is very good. So when book number three comes out, B&N orders 7,200 copies. And so it goes...

I don't know if B&N reorders. I was told years ago that B. Dalton did not. If a book sold out in a store, that was it. This makes sense, if ordering is done chain-wide. Doing well locally or in a few stores would not make an impact.

(Lyda Morehouse says she was told the problem is space. The chains have lots of books and limited space. It doesn't make sense to restock an old book, rather than bringing in a new book.)

Anyway, all of that was interesting.


Jim C. Hines said...

Data point: B&N ordered more copies of my latest book, Red Hood's Revenge, than they did of the previous book.

In addition, the first two books in my series were set up in the computer so that many (most?) B&N stores now maintain a copy on the shelves, meaning when that copy gets purchased, the store automatically reorders.

Not saying the death spiral isn't real, but it's certainly not inevitable.

Eleanor said...

I guess the question here is, how do the chains decide how many books to buy? If they do re-order, then an initial order for a new book could be based on total sales. Or the publisher's sales person could convince the buyer that this author is moving up and will sell more. There has to be a feed-back mechanism that allows them to catch an author who begins to do well. There is lovely neatness to the death spiral, which makes it appealing. But it suggests there is no way to go but down, which means the Harry Potter didn't happen. So I guess I move the death spiral to the not true or unproven pile.

Kelly McCullough said...

My understanding is that the death spiral thing (also called ordering to net) happened, but only for a relatively brief window in the late 80s right after the introduction of computerized book tracking and ordering systems and that it killed a number of careers then, but that it's been mostly dealt with since.

On reordering, it depends on how many copies are selling across the chain and how fast they're selling. WebMage has an automatic reorder at both B&N and Borders since it sold very fast initially and then sold pretty steadily thereafter, as does (I believe) MythOS. But neither Cybermancy or Codespell seems to, though both are restocked at some individual stores.

Jim C. Hines said...

I think the death spiral is one option, but certainly not the only one.

B&N wasn't that interested in my goblin books, but when the princess stuff came out, their orders increased. So a new series might get more interest from the buyers.

With the current series, I don't know exactly why they've increased orders. Maybe the DAW/Penguin sales force convinced them the books were going to do better. Maybe they liked the covers. Maybe they had enough people coming in and ordering it to increase their orders the next time.

But in the end, the bookstores want to make money. You're right that shelf space is an issue, but also that they have to be able to key into an author who's doing well -- Harry Potter & Twilight being two of the obvious examples.