Book returns are like a dirty secret. Authors and publishers dread them. Readers have no idea of the extent. However, book returns have been with us for over eighty years.
The ability of bookstores to return books began during the Depression. Desperate for book orders, publishers started promising stores that they could return books that didn’t sell. Bookstores struggling to survive no longer had to worry about being stuck with unsold merchandise and took advantage of the offer.
The Depression ended. Unfortunately, the return policy continued.
Most publishers have a 90-day window for returns. This means the store has to return books that didn’t sell within those three months or pay for them. To avoid this, stores will return books just before the 90-day grace period ends, and regardless of the condition of said books, the publisher or wholesaler/distributor has to give the store credit. Ironically, when a store does this, they will immediately place an order for the very same books since they no longer have any in stock. Now they have another 90 days to keep the merchandise on their shelves without making payment.
In 2004, the Association of American Publishers estimated returns for hard covers to be 31%. Paperbacks were at 18%. When one out of three hard backs and one of five paperbacks are returned, you can understand why publishers hate returns! Authors hate them, too. A returned book is credited against their royalties. And with those kinds of numbers, it’s stunning any publisher makes money.
The primary source of returns comes from physical bookstores and the wholesalers/distributors that deal with these stores. On occasion, library distributors return books as well. However, book clubs, retail sites, direct library sales, and other outlets don’t return books.
As bookstores have dwindled, so has the problem of returns. However, there is now a new source of returns.
E-book returns are not an issue for most. The majority of E-book sellers allow no returns, such as Apple’s iTunes store. Once you’ve downloaded it, the book is yours. A few have the fifteen-minute ‘buyer’s remorse,’ but that’s it.
Amazon allows digital returns up to seven days later. Even though a buyer could easily read a book in less than a week and return it, Amazon still gives that person a refund. Who returns a book that was only $3? Who knows?
But, that’s certainly an improvement over print returns.
Have you ever returned a book or had yours returned?
Professional Speaker & Author
Known as “Spunk On A Stick,” Wolfe is a member of the National Speakers Association and the author of numerous books. Her latest title, “How to Publish and Promote Your Book Now,” covers her publishing seminars in depth and provides an overview of the entire process from idea to market. “Overcoming Obstacles With SPUNK! The Keys to Leadership & Goal-Setting”, ties her goal-setting and leadership seminars together into one complete, enthusiastic package. Her YA series, The Circle of Friends, features morally grounded, positive stories. Wolfe travels extensively for media interviews and speaking engagements, maintains a dozen websites & blogs, and assists writers through her author services.
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Yikes! I had no idea so many books were returned - and I didn't know you could return an e-book at all! No wonder authors hate them!!
How about you, is this news to you? How have returns affected you?