Saturday, December 08, 2007

The hidden cost of a Christmas best seller

One of the biggest problems I have found with print on demand is the fact that because the ISBN is registered to the publisher or POD provider, in my case Authors OnLine Ltd, rather than you as the author, as in traditional lithographic short print run self publishing, it means that you have no way of accessing your own sales data. As it stands, the best I can hope for is to try and keep tabs on how many books Gardners are ordering, and then go to their home page, type in my ISBN and see how many copies they have in stock. This is far from reliable though, since for one thing the system is not necessarily updated on a regular basis, and for another, it does not tell me where the books are going when they are shipped out. Many book shops have told me that they will order copies but without any means of accessing this data, I have absolutely no idea whether they have done this or not.

It has become apparent though from the number of shops that have told me they will be ordering, the total numbers that friendly book sellers have told me have sold through the tills, and the total numbers in circulation across Waterstones stores that the figures do not add up. There out to be more books in circulation than there are. The reason for this can only be one of two possibilities - either some stores who told me they would order have not done so, or for some reason they are failing to replenish their stock when the books do sell. It seems to me that it is far more likely to be the latter, and I am not sure what I can do about this.

I know for a fact that there are at least 2 local branches of Waterstones where this has happened - and the reason I know this is because I have been to the shops in question and spoken to book sellers, who have told me that they have indeed sold copies of my book, and yet further copies have not been ordered. I am at a loss as to know why this is, since I was given to understand that once stocks had been exhausted in a particular branch, another copy was automatically re-ordered. I suspect that like the system in Borders, what actually happens is that a list of books that have been sold and gone out of stock is generated on a weekly basis, and the department or store manager makes a decision as to whether they should re-order. For some reason, best known to them they have decided not to in my case.

I am at a loss to as why this should be when copies have in the past been sold in these stores, and sold quickly as well, in both cases within a matter of weeks of the books going on sale, but it does concern me, since it makes me wonder how prevalent this practise is, and how many other stores are doing this. It pees me off big time, since they are not giving the book or myself as the author a fair chance, and at this time of year especially I need to maximise every single opportunity I can get. It is not as if they do not make money on this book, in fact they make very good money at £6 profit per book as opposed to my paltry £1.39. This is the other thing that pees me off, how certain stores like to bang on about how they do not order from wholesalers since they do not get a high enough margin, and they consider it too much of a risk. Exactly who is taking the risk here - me or them, and more to the point, who spent five years of their lives writing this thing for such little return!

The story from The Times (entitled The hidden cost of a Christmas best seller) about how Waterstones charge obscene amounts of money for front line promotion and display is once again doing the rounds, and it does make one feel, as a self published author very despondent indeed, as if one is battling against almost insurmountable odds. I know I am doing much better than almost every POD author that I know (and I know quite a lot of them now), but that is not the point - this book could and should be doing so much better, if only it were given a fair chance, and by failing to re-order it when it has sold, these 2 stores, and possibly others too are just not doing this.

It is waste of time trying to get through to them now on the phone to query this so close to Christmas, but I did send an email out to all stores who ordered in August and September as a precaution and urging them to re-order if they have not already done so. Whether it will or has done any good I will only be able to tell when I ask the next friendly book seller in the New Year. In the meantime though, I will add all those stores who are stocking me to the list for not only Christmas e-cards, but also a phone call in the New Year to check exactly what has been sold and ordered! Thank goodness for those unlimited calls phone packages that's all I can say !

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