Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cheap, But Not Easy

by Marcus Sakey

So Amazon is having a sale on my second novel, AT THE CITY'S EDGE--they're selling it for $1.72 per hardcover copy. Considering that's about $22 off, it's a pretty good deal.

When I discovered that this morning, I promptly went on Facebook and Twitter and announced it to the world. Which prompted, among other things, a question from a fellow novelist:

"Why are you promoting this? Aren't you a little, well, embarrassed?"

The reason my friend asks, of course, is that the fact that they can sell it at that rate tells you that the hardcover has been remaindered, and that Amazon was left with a larger quantity than they might have hoped.

Remaindering, in case you don't know, is what happens to the hardcovers that don't get sold. You see, publishers have no clear way of knowing how many copies they'll be able to move in advance. They have to estimate, and because of the nature of costs in printing, as well as a lot of other factors I don't want to get into, they not infrequently print more than they end up selling. (Incidentally, those estimates become a part of the promotional process--announcing you are printing a large quantity is a message to booksellers that you expect a book to do well.)

The end result is that after a book has come out in paperback, and a respectful time has passed, the remaining books are sold to clearinghouses which resell them. You know those bargain books in the entryway of your local Borders or Barnes & Noble? The hardcovers going for $5? Those were remaindered.

Many authors are made bitter by remaindering. We don't make money on those sales, and of course the books are sold so cheap that it feels like a personal sting somehow.

Me, I disagree.

See, as a novelist, there are so many things you don't have control over. It's not up to you how many copies are printed, or what the cover looks like, or whether Dan Brown has a new book out that month. You can't control the decision to go hardcover or trade or mass market, or how big an order a store makes, or whether the economy is in the toilet.

The only thing you can control is the book itself.

Luckily, that's great. Because the best advertisement for an author's next book is the one you're already reading.

So I say, go for it! Buy a copy. Buy a handful. Get your holiday shopping done early! If you buy 15, shipping is free. You can stuff stockings. You can leave them on the bus. You can trade them with your friends. Hell, I don't care.

Because a book out in the world--instead of in a warehouse--is a book that might be read. And in the end, that's the game. We're not marketers or sales reps or promotional speakers. We're novelists.

As a novelist, the job is simply to write your damn heart out. Let somebody else worry about the cover price. My only concern is making a reader happy.

Hopefully, so happy that they pay full price for the next one.

20 comments:

Pete said...

What a refreshing perspective on remaindering! As an unpublished writer, I hope to be remaindered someday, for just the reasons you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Most retailers also have a bargain buyer in their employ who actively seek out remainders or hurts to resell. I imagine that's what happened here. I'd bet Amazon didn't over buy but sought out the discounted editions from a remainder house. Incidentally, the biggest remainder fair - Cirobi - in the U.S. used to (and maybe still is) held in Chicago.

Libby Hellmann said...

Amen, brother!

Dana King said...

I haven't publicly exposed my ignorance lately; this is as good a place as any.

I always thought when a bookseller bought too many copies of a book, the publisher took them back, even eating the shipping expenses. (Returns.) So this "remaindered" thin means the books get sent out yet again, this time at what are essentially salvage prices, and the author doesn't get paid?

I'm inclined to agree with Marcus that the victory here is eyeballs on the pages, but this seems like yet another way for publishers to squeeze a few bucks out of a book without having to share it with the creator.

Am I missing something?

Marcus Sakey said...

Hey Dana,you're correct--bookstores can return unsold copies. I'm not sure if Amazon has the exact same policy, nor Costco and the other club stores.

That said, I don't really think of it as the author getting screwed, or the publisher taking advantage--after all, they make money not on copies printed but on copies sold. And the clearinghouses that buy these things do it at what I assume are very discounted rates (authors are offered the chance to buy first, and the price is usually around $2 / per for us.)

Anonymous, that's an interesting point, and one that would actually make me even happier. While I'd rather people paid retail price, I really do believe the main point is just to get them in front of folks, so if a bargain buyer sees mine as good picks for that program, it's a win-win.

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