In a move that amazed the writing/publishing industry, Barnes & Noble has announced that it will offer self-publishers with Nook e-books the chance to get their work into the chain’s bookshelves and to hold signings in their stores. But is this opportunity all that it seems to be?
Traditional publishers and professional writers understand B&N’s hesitation to consider such an action in the past. There have been too many self-published books lacking proper structure and editing uploaded onto Amazon and other platforms. In addition, the number of titles from reputable publishers overflowed their shelves, so B&N didn’t need to spend time reviewing self-published books to find the gems that were essentially needles in a haystack.
Anyone who has visited one of their stores lately, however, will notice that the reading inventory is drastically down. In the past, books were always spine out to allow the maximum to be crowded onto each shelf. Now, many are face out to take up the empty space. In addition, much of the store is filled with other merchandise, such as toys, games, puzzles, and music.
Why has the book inventory dropped? Because most people are buying their reading material—both e-book and print book—from Amazon and other discount online bookstores. Trying to win back a share of the market is the motivation for B&N’s new program, and most writers and readers don’t want to see them go out of business.
There are some additional qualifications for Nook self-publishers for B&N’s new program.
1. The bookshelf plan is available only for those print-book authors who have published e-book versions for the Nook and whose sales of a single e-book title have totaled 1000 units in the past year.
2. The in-store events are for those print-book authors whose sales of a single e-book title have totaled 500 units in the past year.
While this is definitely a step in the right direction, Nook indie authors shouldn’t get overexcited. While small-press publishers have been able to get their books into B&N’s catalog by sending them to the Small Press Department for review, there is no guarantee that any book will be accepted. This is also true with the new program. Books must be submitted to this same department for review, and submission does not promise a positive result.
In a story in Book Business Insight, Thad McIlroy raised the following questions: How many copies will be ordered? How long will they stay on the shelves? Where will they be displayed? What about returns? In his view, these unanswered questions are cause for concern.
He has a valid point. Most books from major publishers are on the shelves for only 90 days before being returned. This’s why most wholesalers and bookstores pay after 90 days. This allows them the time to return the books without having laid out any money. The financial burden is on the publisher. The exceptions to the 90-day practice are bestsellers and longtime sellers. Major publishers and many small presses have warehouses in which returns can be stored. Self-publishers usually don’t.
Self-publishers have to keep their eyes wide open if they get a deal with any major retailer, whether bookstore or box store. Consider the following scenario: Let’s say B&N—or any other retailer, for that matter—orders 1,000 copies for stores around the country. The author, no doubt thrilled, puts up the money to print that many copies and gleefully ships them off, no doubt at his or her own expense.
But what if only 50 copies sell? What will happen to the other 950? The store will want to return them. What will the author do then? The money for printing has been spent and no money has been received from the buyer. The author is faced with storing those copies in his/her garage. And who pays the return shipping?
How will the books be sold now? This is equivalent to vanity publishing before Print on Demand, when the copies ended up in the garage and stayed there, since most self-publishers had no knowledge of how to market their work. The same is true today. Authors without this knowledge will end up paying a fortune to have someone else do it.
When an opportunity arises that seems really good, do your homework before taking action. A sale like this can be dangerous for the author’s financial stability. Research the more traditional ways of independent publishing, such as Print on Demand. Wait and see how the B&N program works out before jumping in.
As stated, this could very well be a step in the right direction by B&N, but caveat emptor. What might sound like a good opportunity for self-publishers may not be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, after all.