Monday, 9 April 2012

How The ‘Meddle’ Man Nearly Ruined Our Business

There are elements of publishing which are needed and play a great art in the fulfilment and logistical chain. These elements such as Gardners or Bertrams can add benefit to large publishers who have a massive churn of books costing them little more than pennies per copy. You know these books they line the shelves of bookshelves of stores and supermarkets and often are sold for anything from a £1 to £5. However smaller publishers are often operating at much higher costs per unit on books and cannot afford to sell titles at prices which are not realistic or at a loss. Third party distributors or middlemen who add nothing to the equation except cost, carbon footprint, excessive handling and most importantly delay add very little in terms of quality to small publishers or even to the retailer who experiences a severe cut in their margins.

I am not for a moment saying that Gardners or Bertrams do not carry out an important role in publishing, they do, but not for every publisher. Many retailers are tied into contracts with these third party distributors and they have not seriously looked at options for cutting out unnecessary waste in the supply chain. There are instances where Gardners and Bertrams can be easily cut out of the supply chain to increase efficiency and profit.

In the past week I have received emails from more than one Waterstones store telling me that book events were in jeopardy because of delays incurred through ordering direct through Gardners. I know for a fact that I can order books from our printers (Lightning Source/Ingram) and have them delivered anywhere in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and Europe within a week. Waterstones orders through Gardners and suddenly it takes 3 to 4 weeks at the earliest.  What is happening to the books in the intervening weeks? They are sitting in a warehouse being ignored.

The answer that will stop my business from going out of business through delays in the supply chain from meddle men is for Waterstones to deal direct with Lightning Source/Ingram. Waterstones get the full wholesale discount, they receive the books direct from the printer and on time and everybody is happy.

Retail is in crisis, publishing is in crisis, yet here we are locked into antiquated systems which add NOTHING to the equation. This is the fourth instance in as many weeks where I have been contacted to let me know that a book signing will have to be cancelled because Gardners cannot get their act together. I guess Gardners are too busy counting the 21% rake off for destroying my business to care. Fortunately Waterstones do appear to care and hopefully taking steps to redress this situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said. I am a small publisher and cannot understand why I am effectively forced into a loss making business arrangement with the wholesalers. I cannot build a business at all through wholesale sales - only local store signings where I supply the books and invoice direct. A 9% discount required by the store allows me to build profit and build a viable business, but the 60% discount demanded by the wholesalers is killing my business, in fact has not allowed it to even get off the ground at the moment. It's an expensive hobby, unless we do a store signing...
The carbon footprint annoys me too. Just recently I had a large order for one of the wholesalers. I paid £16 for the courier to have the books sent 300 miles away, only for me to find they have come all the way back again and are on the shelf of a local store! I could have put them in a trolley case, hopped on an hour's bus journey for £1.90 and taken them in myself! And made more 91% on the sales as opposed to an exploitative 40%.
There has to come a point where we small and new publishers have to raise our voices and find ways to bypass the wholesalers altogether. It's not a case of us wanting to make more profit, it's a case of being able to make any profit. I'm making a loss every time I sell to them - I can't even break even!
Yes the timescale is another thing - I can get the book to a customer overnight, but for some reason it takes 10 days to reach them through wholesalers. Customers and my authors think I am not sending the books when in reality the wholesalers are not sending them quickly enough.
It has to change, it really does. Please for goodness sake Waterstones, help independent up and coming publishers get off the ground by allowing us to supply you direct if we can. Or we'll die off altogether, and the only ones surviving will be those who can print literally tens of thousands of books. Or those who established themselves under the old direct supply system.
Our collective symbol of action should be a trolley case lol! x