The practice of allowing booksellers to return unsold books back to the publisher may be nearing an end. Reported in an NPR story on Morning Edition, a new imprint at HarperCollins will not allow stores to return unsold copies.
On average, one out of every four books is returned to the publisher, a statistic I found astoundingly high. These truckloads of returned books are stored in vast warehouses the size of football fields. Many books that are damaged en route see their demise as pulp. Because there is little financial risk to booksellers, many books will be shipped back to the publisher, only to be reordered again at a future date. According to Jed Lyons, President and CEO of Rowman & Littlefield and President of the National Book Network,
Sometimes I think the only people making money in the book business these days are the truckers.
While some predicted the dominance of the electronic book, e-book sales today represent less than one-tenth of one percent of sales. The most radical idea to deal with decreasing profits and increasing returns may be to simply publish fewer books, something that many readers of this blog may find disheartening.