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Fiction Publishers Have No Respect For Their Customers

I’ve previously ranted here about the situation where the publishing industry came up with an excellent solution to maintaining book series and keeping non-catalog titles available, namely print-on-demand; and then utterly and completely abdicated that solution in favor of the ease and convenience of eBooks.

Yesterday once again I had to disappoint a customer who was collecting a particular author only to discover she had books 2, 3 and 4 but book 1 was not going to be available anywhere other than yard sales and thrift stores.  I know this person, she’s a loyal customer and she deserves better. Should she have verified availability of the whole series first? She has no idea how the business works. If anything, she trusted us not to be selling something that would cause her frustration.

This time the culprit was Barbour Publishing. Barbour, I really hate this. I hate the utter disdain for the very people who keep you in business. I hate the management ethics that create these situations. I hate the refusal to go public — you and every other publisher — to answer basic questions about why eBooks trumped print-on-demand; questions as to why services like Lightning Print and Expresso were deemed unworthy of support.

But that’s just today. The week before it was Tyndale House. And the book was only three years old. The week before that it was Baker/Bethany. It’s often Baker/Bethany. They don’t answer e-mails. They don’t return phone calls.

It’s no wonder that many well-established authors are now producing their own books in-house. We’re preparing an article on this subject and collecting anecdotal evidence of some writers even parting company with their publisher mid-series. Did they jump or were they pushed? To the consumer it doesn’t matter. They made a time and money investment in the author’s series and now they want to see it through to completion.

I would love to sit in the board rooms of the publishers where these dumb, dumb, dumb decisions are made. I’ve worked in this industry at the wholesale level — five times for three different companies — and I know how easy it is to forget about the very real people who have to buy the books for the system not to collapse.

So publishers, listen to me: Not everybody is going to buy an eReader to complete a series. That market is as saturated as it is ever going to get. All you’re doing is turning customers off the reading they enjoy and driving them to other leisure time pursuits.

Furthermore, if you have 6,000 each of books 2, 3 and 4 floating around your warehouse and through remainder vendors, you might want to bring book one back to press even if the series didn’t meet expectations. That’s your name on the spine and on the title page and you want people to experience customer satisfaction with your brand. 

Authors, please hear this: Not everyone is going to order books online. I have customers who won’t use a credit card in-store, much less online. Whatever your issues were with the major publisher you were with, if you’re going to go it alone, make sure the books exist with distributors at full trade discount to stores.

And let’s not, for one minute, think that this situation does not apply equally to non-fiction. When you factor in all the development and set-up costs, print-on-demand costs you relatively nothing and offers you gigantic public relations gains. 

I personally believe that five years into the future, your love affair with eBooks is going to end and you’ll wish you had honored your print consumers a little better, especially when the easy fix was always camped outside the door.


  1. July 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Amen to that!

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