Bruce Batchelor – Stop Book Returns or Be Damned!

I have previously written about the challenges facing the publishing industry in an article entitled ‘Publishing Industry – Change or Be Damned?’ and highlighted the ludicrous returns policy operating between publishers and retailers.

“For the past two decades, publishers have allowed wholesalers, distributors and retailers to dictate the terms of their own industry, from pricing agreements, wholesale discounts of 50% and a ludicrous returns policy that should only exist in the industry of fresh food manufacturing and supply. At heart, from top to bottom, the industry needs to learn how to properly and fairly regulate itself and think beyond its own imposed confines.”

Only in the music industry do retailers expect full consignment returns on new product. As a template, the music industry shares much of the ‘business of decline’ with the book publishing industry. Both are threatened with the emerging pressures of digital formatting and download, diversification of global distribution streams and sales outlets, digital copyright issues; and worse still, they are shackled with an outdated mode of business. And for the shape of things to come we need only look to where the music industry is right now.
I came across Andrew Kent’s recent blog posting at Backword Books about the issue of book returns, which in turn pointed me in the direction of publishing innovator Bruce T. Batchelor’s website, Batchelor is publisher and editor at Agio Publishing in Canada and has campaigned there for the abolition of consignment returns to retailers claiming that not only is it potentially going to be the ruin of book publishing, but it is leaving a size twenty carbon boot print on the global environment. He uses the Canadian publishing industry as an example but you can apply a tenfold increase when you look at the USA and UK.

“What began as a temporary sales gimmick by a desperate New York publisher back in the 1930s to ‘guarantee your sales’ — i.e., ‘you can return unsold books for an exchange or refund’ — spread like an infection, handicapping an entire industry for the next seven decades in an unfortunate practice that has wasted literally billions of dollars worldwide.”

Bruce T. Batchelor.

Here is Batchelor speaking and explaining what he believes are the affects of full returnability in publishing and what needs to be done. You can excuse the birdies hell-bent on serenading him in an orchestra of early morning chirping!

I have long had the same argument with traditionally published authors who see the shipment of 2000 – 5000 of their new book shipped out to stores and brim with confidence at the prospect of shelf space and a healthy royalty check hitting the doormat six months later. The reality is that for most print runs on consignment returns from publishers—50% or more will find their way back to source unsold, and at best, remaindered to discount stores, or worse, depending on an author’s ego, pulped! The only true sound of a royalty for an author—like all products in a commercial world—is the ringing of a till. This is the critical benefit of print on demand produced books have the upper hand and where ebooks will equally eat into the market share in the coming years. The knack for publishers embracing new technologies available to them is to get the balance right between print commitment and sales reach. As Bruce Batchelor points out; the solutions are already in place for savings and cost effectiveness. It is simply a question for publishers of now…or later, and certainly not never.

Bruce T. Batchelor is editor and publisher for Agio Publishing House in Victoria, a new model collaborative publishing company. He also provides management consulting services to government, non-profit and publishing industry clients. Fourteen years ago, back in 1995, Batchelor created the world’s first print-on-demand based publishing service, Trafford Publishing, which was recently acquired by US competitor Author Solutions Inc. Last year in North America, more titles were published using the print-on-demand publishing approach than by the “conventional” method.

Batchelor is an occasional guest lecturer at Simon Fraser University’s Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. He is a mentor to UVic business students and a Quantum Shift Fellow at University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business. He was a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. He is also a bestselling author and former magazine editor. He blogs occasionally at

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