Why Printing Fewer, Non-Returnable Books May Not Save the World

By Neal Comment


In response to Emily’s post yesterday about the environmental consequences of our no-returns business model, which raised the possibility that “people don’t buy more books because they see big luxuriant stacks of books on offer,” Wiley marketer Andrew Wheeler offered a mild rebuke:

“If there are three books on a shelf, and two customers come looking for it, two sales will result. If there is one book on a shelf, and two customers come, one of them is out of luck—and so is the bookseller. You end up with returns because it’s impossible to always have precisely one book for every purchaser in the right place at the right time.”

Wheeler describes bookselling as a Scylla and Charybdis setup, where retailers try to steer a path between the “false negative” of being out of stock when customers come calling and the “false positive” of having lots of books nobody’s looking for. “You can manage a business to minimize one of those, but doing that, either way, is dangerous,” Wheeler cautions. “The smart way is to keep an eye on both measures, and balance them out across a publishing line.”

(I’ll leave the fine points of that argument for those of you with better business sense to tease out, but I just want to make one small correction to Wheeler’s argument, which begins, “GalleyCat doesn’t have comments…” We do, we really do!)