Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Barnes & Noblise Oblige

We received another comment from Sarah Honenberger for our post "Ignoble White Lies." According to Sally,
"Barnes & Noble confirms they can and will order WHITE LIES for any reader who asks at any B & N store. It's in their warehouse (they're actually on their second order from publisher's distributor), but they won't stock it right now. They will have it in Charlottesville store for the February 21 author's talk and reading."
Of course any additional distribution is always good news (especially for smaller publishers), but I'd like to take a closer look -- and not to knock Barnes & Noble (although creating the headlines has been fun). It can, though, show the difficulties of a large retailer trying to match swift changes in the market.

First off, the book was released on November 30. On the second of January I get word through Sally's post that B&N is finally "officially" carrying it. Well, there goes the holiday buying season.

Secondly, B&N says they'll order the book for any reader who comes in and asks for it. So.... you can't find it on the shelves, but if you know the title and author, you can order it at the help desk. Well, if you know title and author, why not order it online? I suspect most already have.

Thirdly, the Charlottesville store will have copies in for the author's reading on February 21. But apparently not one second sooner than they have to (at least that's the way I read it).

B&N seems to be doing the absolute bare minimum they can with this book. And that's the point. Even with their whole-hearted support, "White Lies" probably won't do the numbers of "Hannibal Rising" for B&N. The big retailers can only put their support behind the big titles -- which is why the Internet is good news for authors and readers alike. B&N isn't the bad guy here. They're just too big to react quickly or appropriately.

The Charlottesville Barnes & Noble won't have Sally's book in stock for another full month -- at which time Amazon will have enjoyed three months of healthy sales. And that's what this post is really about.

- Ralph

BTW: Ken brought up an interesting point. I haven't had a chance to check local bookstores. If any reader goes to the New Dominion Bookstore or the University Bookstore in Charlottesville, please let us know in a post if "White Lies" was in stock.


  1. "Barnes & Noble confirms they can and will order WHITE LIES for any reader who asks at any B & N store.

    I think it's called: stocked as 'Print On Demand'. Or similar to that. Which means nothing on the shelves in the store, stocked only for each guaranteed sale (customer request).

    And your initial response on not finding the book on store shelves is pretty typical of most potential buyers.

    It can, though, show the difficulties of a large retailer trying to match swift changes in the market.

    I don't think that is the case. If there is any fault to be found it is as much with the publisher's marketing department as it is with the retailer.

    Small presses and first time authors usually get shafted when it comes to getting floor/shelf space in a bookstore, especially with giants like B&N. Unless there is a strong marketing campaign behind the book.

    The first print run is usually the best opportunity to generate the bulk sales numbers, and the release date probably should have been timed to happen at the same time as or just after any press or media attention for the book. Any orders after the first run are usually smaller.

    Now if it gets made into a film, or the author's next book hits like Da Vinci Code, or Oprah chooses it for her book club, then there's another chance to generate sales.

    It's both sad and irritating that a lot of quality material doesn't get the attention it deserves. Fortunately there's still word of mouth and Amazon.

  2. I used to be product manager for a small classical record label, and the sales patterns were the same (as was our treatment from the major chains).

    The intitial release generated the most orders, and therefore timing was critical. Reorders never equalled the quantity of the intial buy-ins.

    It's unlikely Cedar Creek Press has the deep pockets to buy endcaps at B&N, or do any of the other things the big publishing houses can do to get a book before the public (and even the majors devote the bulk of their promotional budget to only a fraction of their releases).

    Which brings me back to my original point, and your conclusion. Thank goodness for word of mouth and Amazon. At the record label we had to fight (in those pre-Internet days) to get at least one copy of every release into every store in the chain to have even a hope of getting the right exposure.

    Most copies went unsold, and soon came back like the tide -- copies we had to pay to press up in the first place. And for some of the chains, the boxes returned *unopened* from their distribution centers. The product never made it into the stores.

    If we could have sold directly to the public over the Internet, we could have sold more copies with lower print runs. We would not have had to absorb the expense of shipping out cartons of product that would eventually be returned, nor the expense of refurbishing returned product for resale.

    The label might not have gone out of business. We had a loyal customer base, thanks to word of mouth. If only there'd been an Amazon.com in 1997...

    - Ralph