Rethinking Book Depot: When Bargain Books Cease to be a Bargain
Whether it’s a specialty market bookstore like yours or a general market bookstore, you may not realize that you are defined as being part of the trade bookstore market. If you’ve ever tried to get your son or daughter a science textbook for college, you may have realized that the trade market is only part of a wider arena of what goes on in book publishing
- Trade books market – that’s us
- Textbook market – elementary and high school boards, homeschoolers, colleges and universities
- Gift market books – similar to trade books but offered only at gift shows or to stores like Hallmark
- Premium market – books offered as a gift with donations
- Remainder market – the book equivalent of CD deletes, authors do not receive royalties
- Overstock market – books released into the market at lower prices with reduced author royalties; or liquidating due to superseded cover information
- Magazine paradigm market – things like Harlequin books are sold this way; timed display period, strip cover returns
- Antiquarian market – older highly collectable books, usually used but sometimes never-sold first editions
- Used book market – this bypasses any supplier network and includes thrift shops but also some trade retailers who keep a used selection in the back or in the basement
That list is missing a few things but it will suffice. As I mentioned, most of us don’t get access to textbooks in a way that would help our children at university, and when we buy things like Steeple Hill (the Christian division of Harlequin) we usually buy them for keeps and don’t play the 90-day sales window game. Some of us still sell Christian magazines — Relevant alone has kept that department energized — and others of us will dabble in the Harvest House gift market titles which can be ordered through FDI.
But the area most common to Christian bookstores — besides trade titles — is remainders and overstock titles. The advantages are many
- higher margin
- popularity of low-priced items with frugal customers
- opportunity to create your own in-house sales
- store looks full with a lower inventory investment
A few years ago we counted and we had twelve different sources for remainder books that we had used in the previous 24 months including suppliers in the U.S. and Canada. Some involved buying skids of 25 cartons, two others allowed us to pick and choose titles in a retail-type environment with no minimums.
However, the downside of remainder books is that some customers think you’re selling used books. As someone who advertises his store proudly as an outlet store, trust me, this happens all the time. In the customers’ minds there are four qualities of merchandise in this category:
- Publisher overstock – we tell our customers these are often books that have been replaced by one with a new cover, or a study guide that’s now included, or there are price/barcode issues
- Remainders – the book is now out of catalogue
- Hurt books – what our customers understand better when marked AS IS – though we explain that we don’t seek these out, but that (until recently) about 10% of our remainders fall into this category
- Used books – we explain that we don’t sell used books at all; if it was previously owned and we can see that, we don’t carry it. (This also makes it easier for us to be a collection point for Christian Salvage Mission.)
The problem we’re currently facing is this: An increasing number of books from Book Depot are falling into the hurt category and we are now encountering strong evidence of books that belong in a used category. As you can see in the Bible below, verses on both sides of the page have been underlined:
In the picture below, you see how a page is torn — something we easily spotted looking at the side of the Bible when removing black marks from about a dozen products on the same order — which we highlighted with a sheet underneath. It’s also lying on top of the Bible in the picture above so they would be clear these were two different copies of the same title that were damaged.
In the same shipment we also had a NKJV Adventure Bible in which all four cover corners (top right, bottom right on both front and back covers) were worn out. The damage you see in the picture doesn’t happen if the Bible is simply dropped. That would leave a dent. No, that type of separation from in the paper-over-board cover happens through a lot of wear and tear (or water damage).
Those were the three items I chose to focus on in my last (truly last, I believe) ticket I created with Book Depot. I did not mention the various hardcover children’s Bibles that were so badly scratched it looked like a dog or cat had done a number on them. I did not mention my fear that other books may turn up with underlining or highlighting. I did not mention the various things we’ve had to endure in previous orders which only get discovered many months later.
The point is, any dealer reading this can switch their HarperCollins account over to non-returnable and get these same Bibles for a net price that’s only slightly higher than the discount being offered. Plus you can buy one-at-a-time and not two-at-a-time.
We felt as a store that this hurt merchandise was forming an increasingly higher percentage of our shipments and that not only were the books damaged, but they were doing damage to our reputation as a seller of quality goods.
As someone who would always try to be near a computer at 8:45 PM — mostly to beat the larger stores who tended to take everything when a good title rolled around — I’m learning to change my routine. We tried to make this work; even recently trying the newly promoted consolidated shipping, only to find that two shipments which might have been one full box and one small box ended up shipping as two full boxes and two small boxes. Relative to other orders, we saved nothing. (We’re also requesting, in addition to credit for these three items, a proportional shipping credit. I told them, “We’re not paying freight costs to be shipped garbage.”
Bargain books, from that supplier anyway, have ceased to be a bargain.