The Problem With Book Returns and How to Solve it

26 Feb



Bookstores rarely host signings by self-published authors — maybe if the author is local and offers books in consignment.  “Why not?” I asked a bookseller.  “We can’t return them.  When we order books from self-publishing press, such as CreateSpace, the books are non-returnable. If the store can’t sell them, then they’re stuck with them, and lose money.
Archaic practices in the publishing industry allow bookstores to return unsold books, often just weeks after their debut – for full purchase price.  No risk for book sellers, but lots of frustration and loss for authors.
Trade publishers ship books on a refundable basis – pretty much a novum in retail –  so if a book store orders 30 copies and only sells 20, they can return the 10 unsold copies and will receive a refund, meaning no risk on the site of booksellers. 


Booksellers Don’t Stock POD
Most booksellers will generally not stock POD books because they can’t return the book if it doesn’t sell and the percentage they get is lower. Printing one book at a time is more expensive per book (usually twice as expensive) than publishing a few thousand.
“That’s why many self-published authors can’t get their books into the large chains,” he explained. “It’s all about non-returnability. We only order the blockbuster titles they know they can sell. Books-a-Million, one of the book store chains, for example states it does not allow POD books into it’s stores at all.”

Solution for Authors
However, author-publishers don’t need to be stuck with the current system of bookstore returns:
He pulled up several examples for me on his computer of self-published authors who use Lightning Source and offer both “Regular discount” (i.e 40%) and return-ability. He orders these books through Ingram/LightningSource, just like books from traditionally published authors. So it’s possible with Lightning Source, at least. The easier authors make it for independent booksellers and the big book chains, the more likely they will be treated like mainstream authors – if their books are well edited and have an attractive cover.

Offer Both: CreateSpace & LSI / Ingram Distribution
If you don’t plan to sell many books, CreateSpace works fine. But if you DO plan to sell lots of books, you will earn a lot more from LSI (LightningSource Inc.) with a 20% discount than you will from CS with a 40% to 60% discount. Those setup fees everyone complains about at LSI are meaningless, compared to the difference in per-unit margin.  You will make up the difference in set-up fees within the first 100 books you sell.
in order for bookstores to order them you have to make your books returnable. In average, bookstores return about thirty-five per cent of the hardcovers they buy, according to the NEWYORKER and publishers (or author-publishers, that’s you!) write off the cost of producing those books. Don’t forget to deduct these returns from your tax.

Benefit: Book Signings
You will be able to have book signings at Barnes & Noble and other stores, taking part in store events if you distribute for example through LSI / Ingram. Bestseller Author Stephanie Chandler wrote a great article how to sell to bookstores and also offers a free Consignment Agreement form for you to download and modify if you want to make an arrangement with a bookstore to carry your books as a consignment. Her statement: “It certainly can’t hurt to place your books at a few stores, but it probably won’t lead to fame and fortune!”  – It might work with an author who has a strong local following.  Last but not least: there is even some shifting in booksellers attitude towards the author-published books, read more about it in these blogs:




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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Book Sales


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3 responses to “The Problem With Book Returns and How to Solve it

  1. jorobinson176

    February 26, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Are you allowed to publish with LightningSource as well as Createspace at the same time?

    • ebooksinternational

      February 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Certainly Jo,
      as you DON’t publish – they are not publishers, they are just service providers, like any other printer / distributor in the world. You don’t make a publishing contract with them.
      I know, it’s very confusing, how liberally the word publishing is used.
      Have a look at the blogs that I placed at the end of the article, just click their links. All three are valuable blogs.

      Cheers, Doris

  2. Harliqueen

    February 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Great advice on this, not even thought about it.


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