Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Markets Are Our Specialty

As I've mentioned before, one of the many reasons the publishing industry is—well, unique, let's say—is because its product is more or less 100% returnable. If a publisher sends 10,000 copies of a book to Joe's Box o' Books and Joe can only sell off 7,000, 3,000 go back to the publisher to be remaindered or pulped.

As with all things, however, there are exceptions, and one of the major exceptions to the returns game in the publishing industry is in the realm of special markets.

Special markets are retailers that sell a fair number of—but do not specialize in—books (e.g. cooking stores, museum gift shops). Non-returnable (a.k.a. "firm") sales to these customers mean that no matter how poorly the title(s) in question do(es), that customer cannot send the books back to the publisher for credit. Just as with their other merchandise, they keep the product on the shelves until it sells or until they get rid of it at their own expense.

Because the risk is borne by the retailer and not the vendor, sales numbers for special markets are usually smaller and less flexible than they are for most book retailers. They depend to a much higher degree on price point and format, as certain retailers only do well with certain types of books, and most titles will only fit a very few niche special markets. All this to say: there is no universal "special markets book," meaning no title is immune to the spectre of returns.

As you can imagine, most titles sold in to special markets are nonfiction (arts & crafts, cooking, history, science, pop culture, and so on), so your novel is unlikely to be sold on a non-returnable basis in any significant way. However, various author events, shows, conferences, &c will require additional orders, and while these aren't "special markets" in the conventional sense, they very often entail non-returnable sales. There will be some capacities in which your books are safe from returns.

Speaking of returns, tomorrow: the return of... returns!


  1. Well then, I'm curious, when these are returned is that amount deducted from the authors pay or charged to the author down the line, or does the publishing house eat the loss?

  2. Thanks! I didn't know what was meant when pubs referred to "special markets". Now I do!

  3. Would one particular type of special market be local discount stores (i.e. Big Lots or Ocean State Job Lots here in CT) that carry deeply discounted hardcovers/softcovers of all kinds of genres?

  4. There are distributors that handle special markets.

  5. In my crazy wait for first-round edits on my historical mid-grade, I compiled a list of 700 or so Plains museums that focused on the pioneer/frontier experience or were historical and Plains-ish in some way.

    I'm not sure how I'll use them -- postcards? A very, very modest marketing campaign?

  6. In the sales rankings, are the figures net of returns? If so, a certain number of sales into the special markets can be a 'good' thing, in that the gross unit and net unit sales are the same. No guessing. Unfortunately, if too many end up discounted in these channels then it damages the author's brand. There may be a place for special markets for genre writers.