The HarperStudio cavalry is on the march.
Via the (indispensable) HarperStudio blog and the WSJ comes news that HarperStudio and Borders have reached an agreement on a framework for ending returns. In exchange for a discount ranging from 58-63%, Borders will buy HarperStudio books on a nonreturnable basis.
On the HarperStudio blog, Bob Miller writes that they had originally hoped to have a more expansive non-return program, but after six months of discussions they decided they needed to have a mix of returns and non-returns because some accounts can’t or won’t go the nonreturnable route.
The returns model has long been a problem for publishers, who often end up having to print (and pulp) twice as many copies as actually sell, an economic and environmental mess. While it allows bookstores to be flexible with ordering and theoretically allows them to take chances on unknown commodities without being stuck with the bill if they don’t sell, some have called the process, well, sloppy and inefficient. It’s a system that few people have any affection for, and now Borders is signaling a willingness to tweak the model (of course, at a steeper discount). (For more background on returns, please see this essential Richard Curtis post, via Moonrat).
Questions remain. Will booksellers grow more cautious in taking on new titles when they know they can’t return them? Will they stock fewer titles? Will it be harder for first timers to break out because of cautious print runs? Or will the system make booksellers put more care into the titles they buy and make sure they sell?
It’s going to be interesting to see how this shakes out, particularly if it is adopted in a more widespread fashion. But BRAVO for experimentation in a time when we desperately need to see some new ideas in action.