Printer's Responsibility to Reduce Returns
What responsibility does a book printer have to help publishers with book returns? Surprisingly enough, a great deal. Book printers have some control over minimizing returns to a publisher.
The idea of book returns is a practice that dates back to the Great Depression. At that time, bookstores could not sell books, so publishers put books into bookstores on consignment—only requiring payment when the books sold. If the books were damaged in shipping or did not sell after a period of time, the bookstore could return them to the publisher for a full refund. After the country emerged from the Great Depression, bookstores found an advantage by not changing the practice of returns, so it remains an advantage to the bookseller and an albatross to the publisher today.
If the book is not selling well, there is little a book printer can do to minimize the returns of that title. Marketing and promoting the book are the responsibilities of the publisher and the author.
If, on the other hand, the book is returned because of damage, then the book printer may play a bigger role in reducing returns. Most damage happens when the books are shipped. In today’s distribution model, a book may be shipped as many as four times before it arrives at the bookstore; once to the publisher, once to the distributor; once to the wholesaler and once to the bookstore. Proper packing of the books into the shipping cartons helps reduce the damage in transit.
Proper packing begins with using the correct shipping carton—one that is designed to ship books. What’s more, there are specific cartons for specific sized books. Select the carton that is appropriate for the size book to be shipped. There are cartons that are ideally suited for a 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 sized book that are inappropriate for an 8.5 x 11 sized book and vice versa. Furthermore, if the book seems likely to be damaged in shipping, then it may be wise to shrink-wrap the books in packages of one, two or five books. The number of books in a shrink-wrapped package depends, in part, on the requirements of the distributor or wholesaler receiving the books, too.
We produced one book, “Rise, the Tao of the Diva” with an embossed cover. It was a high value book and we knew that the embossed cover stood a strong chance to be damaged in shipping, so we shrink-wrapped the book into packages of five books. For identifying the potential shipping damage issue, thereby reducing returned books because of damage, we were rewarded by charging for the shrink-wrapping.
There are other sources of potential damage. The next most likely source of damage is poor binding—either perfect binding or case binding. I receive e-mails from publishers complaining of a large number of returns. They claim that bookstores or book reviewers comment on poor binding as being the cause of the returns.
A quick and easy quality control step to check the quality of the binding is to examine several books at random. Perform a stress test on the sample books by grabbing an interior page and jerking the book to see if the page rips out. This tests the strength of the bind. If the book is perfect bound, check the top and bottom at the bind for excess glue oozing out or an uneven glue line. Both symptoms are signs of poor quality binding. If the book is case bound, check the headbands. Also check the stitching, if the book is Smythe sewn to make sure it is not too visible when the book is opened. Check the gluing if the book is glued into the case binding.
Attend to these few quality control checks to help publishers minimize returns. Consult with the publisher, as early as possible, to discuss packaging and shipping requirements. Suggest shrink-wrapping the books, if necessary. In this way, you will make yourself more valuable to that publisher and capture more work.