How Publishers Handle Domestic and International Sales

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At the tiny Big and Tall (not a clothing store), a superhip bookshop in Los Angeles that is open on weekends until 4 a.m., you can sip cappuccino while browsing through a book on the philosophy of Nietzsche. Among Manhattan's Upper West Side attractions is a block- long Barnes & Noble superstore that offers a choice of 225,000 books and an espresso bar. These are just two of the nation's seventeen thousand retail bookstores that account for more than $8 billion in annual sales.

While bookstores are the primary retail outlet for book sales, other outlets contribute to this market. Books are sold at college stores, department stores, grocery stores, airport terminals, chain drug stores, museums, toy and hobby shops, and at houses of worship.

How are domestic book sales handled? At a large or medium-sized publisher, its own sales staff sells the chain bookstores and the larger independent stores. Publishers also often engage jobbers, who serve as middlemen between the publisher and smaller bookstores or libraries. Sales to mass-market paperback outlets are serviced by a network of distributors and wholesalers.

When a publisher sells to a bookstore directly, the store receives a 40 to 45 percent discount from the retail price, depending upon volume, return privileges, and other factors. Until recently bookstores were able to purchase trade books from publishers on a full consignment basis, provided that they returned the books in pristine condition. Today, publishers have tightened the practice of returns.

Most publishers issue two or more catalogs a year, which are mailed directly to chains and other bookstores. The catalogs announce the current season's offerings, as well as the publisher's backlist. The purpose of these catalogs is to generate retail sales.

Some large publishers perform sales services for smaller publishers on an agreed commission basis. Simon & Schuster's catalog lists seven smaller publishers for whom it fulfills this service. In chapter 18, "Small Presses," we noted that Publishers Group West provides sales representation for a number of small presses.

International Sales

About 5 percent of U.S. trade book sales, and between 10 and 20 percent of its textbooks and professional books, are exported around the world. Although a few very large publishers maintain sales offices and warehouses abroad, most use foreign sales representative organizations to achieve these objectives. These organizations offer sales and warehousing services for many U.S. publishers in foreign countries, for which they receive an agreed commission.

Of course, as we have mentioned in an article titled, "The Fascinating World of Subsidiary Rights," foreign publishers often purchase translation rights to U.S. and other English-language works, rather than sell the indigenous editions.

International book salespeople are often multilingual, and are thus better able to cope with the exigencies of this demanding area of publishing.
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