Some Observations From a Book Tour

Since I only work in promotions part time (I am a psychologist by trade, and an author, book promoter, and online poker player all tied for second) I get only snapshots of the ever changing book market. There are many new trends since I last managed a book tour in 2002. First and foremost is the internet, but I will save that for another post. I will also save my thoughts on the Kindle, and on the chaos in the publishing industry.

But I wanted to ask if anyone else has noticed a couple of trends in the chains, especially Waldenbooks, but to a lesser extent other chains like Borders and Books-A-Million. The big things I notice are:
1. The centralization of power away from the bookstores.
2. A Just-in-time inventory management approach.

The first issue, centralization has been happening for a while. There was a time when a book seller with some clout, such as Kathy Baker (who has won bookseller of the year and other such awards), could get her store to stock what she wanted to push. It seems now that most if not all of the say has moved up to at least the district manager level, and of course these people already have plenty of clout because they do the hiring and firing. If much of the ordering and inventory control lies now at the district level, (what does not fall squarely to the computers and bean counters) one of the main reasons for touring is now subsiding. Namely, if you develop a good relationship with the local store owner they will push your books, and of course that helps with everything from sell through to making a list. But if they can’t get your book in, it doesnt really matter so much how much they love it.

Of course centralization will not be an issue with the typical small to medium size independent book store. If I manage another tour soon, however, I for one may be inclined to do fewer of the Waldenstores and such and quite a few more independent stores. That would be a philosophical preference of mine anyhow that was always trumped by the practical consequences; but realistic considerations now seem to be pointing away from the chains.

The other issue is the inventory management. It seems that more and more they are ordering only a small number of each book when they first come out, keeping the inventory low. This makes financial sense to them, but can have severe impact on how you promote. I have tended to have much of the promotion I do front loaded, which in the  good old days was great for bumping you up the list and assuring that your initial sell through looked good. But if you spend a lot of money or creative genius targetted at the first few weeks, and instead of ordering 48 they order 12 and then reorder as they sell, you will only sell about 12 initially, then need to wait for reorder and shipping. It speaks for the need to spread your efforts flat like the inventory over the first 8 or so weeks.

Any body else notice this?


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Funny, I’ve noticed the opposite at some Borders Express stores. After meeting one of the employees of a store about 30 miles away, they ordered 40 copies of my novels (3 titles), stocked them in several places in the store and even contacted other stores to suggest that they arrange book events for me.

    Maybe this is the exception, but it was certainly a nice surprise.


  2. I think that most book stores can order exhibition copies for a signing although I wouldnt be surprised if that isnt being curtailed as well, and I did not see any problems at Borders (no experience with Borders Express). What I am talking about in the post was the store’s typical ordering processes. So say if you have a good releationship established with a book store, will it be able to pay off (for them and you) if you are not signing, or after the signing. Many owners want to keep a higher number of local or favorite authors than the headquarters wants.

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