Laurence Orbach ‘Depth Charge’ article in today’s Bookseller is interesting in the questions it raises.
We all know that the industry publishes too much and coupled with a growing back list, the consumer is now faced with a formidable choice of reading matter. As a result, the bookstores in their quest to present the depth and range, stock an inventory that is often only manageable on a sale or return basis.
So Laurence now questions whether bookstores should stop, ‘selling backlist, aside from a few staples and p.o.d., and became like apparel stores, selling mainly frontlist? There would be more space for big promotions; inventory turn would improve; and publishers and retailers would sharpen up their marketing and selling skills…Maybe publishers could sell to retailers on a firm sale, guaranteed gross margin basis, allowing markdowns in place, doing away with the expense and nuisance of returns, and their demoralising impact.’
Firstly, lets look at the basic principle that of front and back list. Does the consumer care or even aware of what is front and backlist? Is the publisher a rights owner and manger and are they only interested in those rights for the short or the long term? The analogy with apparel is interesting as if may give some insight into some views about the length of ‘seasonal’ interest a book has to some.
Secondly, the shift to a firm sale market would be interesting as this could significantly impact the front list best sellers, which some would suggest are often dumped into stores on the back of sale or return. Shifting the risk and responsibility onto the bookstores is understandable, but what will the publisher do who can’t get the visibility in-store and what impact will this have on the current RRP pricing?
Finally, the interesting point the article raises is with respect to the changing and challenging value perceptions that the consumer has of the market. So are we suggesting that the High Street will only stock the top ten bestsellers whilst the Internet will sell anything and everything?
I think booksellers should be in the businesses of selling titles they are passionate about (just as book publishers should be in the business of publishing books that they are passionate about.
While I do hold onto a few favorite wardrobe staples, I really don't think that most people shop for books they way they shop for clothes. And, I think readers are becoming even more selective about what kind of books they are buying these days -- rather than just taking the word of major print reviews (which there aren't a whole lot of anyway), they're getting advice from all kinds of online sources, as well as word-of-mouth and even their friendly neighborhood bookseller.
Please dear bookstores, do not rid your shelves of backlist. Just buy and stock the books you love and let your customers know all about these books.
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