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In Print and other categories

In Print, and other less happy categories Part 1

Since sartorias and yhlee continue to talk about the intricacies of process and questions that arise from struggling with it day to day, I'll go back to rambling a bit about things that are less fun, but not, in the continuum that sees writing merge with business, less relevant, I hope <wry g>.

Every shipment of books that arrives in the store will, in theory, come with an invoice. Unless it's the new Simon & Schuster Canadian distribution, in which case it will come with a packing list, no discount listed, and some of the prices wrong. But I'm not bitter. No wait, I'm digressing.

The invoice will list the books in a variety of ways, usually by title. The books that come in, we price and shelve. The books that don't come in usually have a code associated with them to tell us why they're not there.

ITO means Import To Order. This isn't relevant for the US bookstores or the UK bookstores; it means that the Canadian distributors don't think the title sells enough that it's worth keeping in their warehouse, but the book is in print, and they'll order it specifically for you, non-returnable, should you order it from them. It also takes longer because they order it after they receive your order for it.

TOS means Temporarily Out of Stock. This is also just plain OS on some invoices. This means the distributor is, well, temporarily out of stock. Unless we've specified no back orders, we can expect to see the book in the future. Some time. Most companies will have a finite length at which they'll keep a title in their orders database, so if the book fails to arrive in the warehouse by that date, the backorder will be cancelled, and we'll be notified.

RP means that the book is Out of Stock but being reprinted. Which means it's backordered, and etc.

Reprint Under Consideration means the book is out of stock, there are no backorders, but the company is considering a reprint of the title, so we might see it in the future. In that case, we just keep on ordering it until one of two things happens: We get the book, we get notice that it's being reprinted, or we get word that it's either Out of Print or OSI. Okay, so I can't count.

OSI means Out of Stock Indefinitely. I consider this the weasel clause of the invoice. It means that book is essentially Out of Print, but for a variety of reasons, instead of being listed as Out of Print, it's listed as OSI. Most standard book contracts have some term in which the book can be Out of Print before the rights to that book revert to the author, and it's my suspicion -- although I could be entirely wrong about this -- that OSI is a way of extending the term artificially. Boilerplate is usually 7 years. In the old days, many major companies could be negotiated down to 1 year, although certainly not all of them.

The exceptions to this can be series, like, say, the David Gerrold series whose name I can't spell and am too lazy to look up; it's not finished, and the books are not in print. Should the next volume be written and turned in, if the publisher has held on to the rights the previous volumes, it's likely they'd reprint them at that point, so the desire to hold on to the rights makes sense.

OP means Out of Print. In this case, the orders are cancelled.

Out of Print means pretty much what it implies: the book is no longer being printed by the publisher; there is none of it left in stock in any of the publisher warehouses, and it isn't going to be reprinted. I've heard hundreds of people ask why something is Out of Print, especially when the book in question is by a highly respected author, or the book is part one/two/three of a series for which the other books are available. The short answer is that the publisher didn't feel the sales it was generating were worth the cost of doing the reprint.

There are many things that factor into a book's value to a publisher. The larger the publisher, the more titles it has, and the more warehouse space it needs to devote to a backlist. If Norah Roberts is one of your authors, and she's published 4 times a year, there is no question that the volume cost per space is better spent on Norah Roberts than on you or I. Her books move quickly. There used to be, back when Classics was still a chain in Canada, an incentive based on volume sales in the store, and it was calculated fairly simply: Your total monthly sales divided by your total square footage. The more money you earned per square foot, the higher your store category in terms of books ordered for your store. The incentive was based on the percentage you'd increased that number since the last time the numbers were looked at.

My guess is that publisher/distributor warehouses work the same way. You can also figure this on a per title basis. Ideally, you want the warehouse inventory to turn over quickly, which means you want the books to sit for as little time possible in your warehouse. The only thing that accomplishes this is orders; the books are ordered, they leave your warehouse. For a larger company, this means that you're up against their big bestsellers, and their backlist. Their backlist can often move more than many front-list titles, which doesn't bode well for the frontlist book's chance of becoming backlist.

Smaller print runs cost more than larger print runs (this is known as economies of scale). If, in order to keep your book in print, the publisher has to do a small run of the title (because it's not going to be selling 10K that year), it's more expensive. Back to Norah. Or Danielle Steele, or Tom Clancy, etc. Backlist for those books can be counted on to sell in a larger number, so it's actually cheaper to produce them, per book. Backlist titles aren't returned in the same quantities as frontlist titles are (as I mentioned elsewhere), although returns can be a factor. If, for instance, a bunch of big box stores are consolidating, some closing down, etc., the publishers can be hit with unexpected and huge backlist returns they weren't expecting, and fewer orders as the bookstores re-organize.

There's not a lot that can be done by authors to change this.

The print runs were established by the orders received from sales reps; the reprints will be established by reorders.

Funny story: An author of my acquaintance had a title go out of print, but was told the title would be reprinted with her next book (which was late). When the book was sold, the out of print title was solicited by reps as part of the frontlist sale -- but when the invoice came in, the book was listed as OP, and the order was cancelled.

The author was a tad upset, but as it turned out, the publisher had reprinted the book; it was sitting in boxes in the warehouse. The warehouse had failed to change the computer designation for the book; they still had it listed, in the database, as OP. Since the frontlist drives the backlist, that reprint didn't get a lot of orders, because the ones it did get were cancelled. Why did this happen? It's my guess that books aren't often reprinted once they go OP, and someone just … forgot. Human error occurs across the board. It occurs in the store when we fail to notice a price change and put the book out at the wrong price. It occurs when a rep fails to offer a title because it's a YA (the first Pratchett YA wasn't carried by the secondary distributor on account of it being YA; this caused pain. It didn't happen the second time, though).

My other funny story: I think of myself as a person who understands the industry fairly well. Silly me. There are always new things I'm learning, and that's in part because the industry isn't static; it changes. My first four books are OP. When someone phoned to ask if they could reprint them, I said YES! (being no dummy).

My agent said, "Good. Do you have the reversion paperwork?"

"The what?"

"The reversion paperwork."

"Ummm. Do I need that? I told my previous agent to revert the rights, and the editor of those books said it wasn't a problem at all."

"But did you get the paperwork?"

Big fat no. So… I had to write a letter requesting reversion, because, in fact, the reversion hadn't been done, had slipped through the paperwork cracks, and had not been followed up on. It honestly hadn't occurred to me to do any follow up because, well, if the books weren't in print, and I'd asked for the rights back, why would there be a problem?

Random House was very nice and reverted the rights without comment or lengthy waiting time, and we could then go ahead with the deal. And it's not something I'll forget anytime soon.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 11th, 2004 07:54 pm (UTC)
The Sundered reprints
BenBella Books is going to reprint them; the tentative schedule is:

September 2005 - INTO THE DARK LANDS
September 2006 - LADY OF MERCY

They'll be in trade paperback, though, not mass market, so they'll be more expensive than they were when they first came out. I'm not sure what the price will be; I'm hoping to catch up with Glenn Yeffeth, the publisher, at Noreascon, though <g>.
Aug. 12th, 2004 12:29 am (UTC)
Re: The Sundered reprints
Personally, I hate trades, but I'll buy these anyway.

Was there ever a discussion of reprinting them as an omnibus?
Aug. 12th, 2004 06:42 am (UTC)
Re: The Sundered reprints
Was there ever a discussion of reprinting them as an omnibus?

There was a brief discussion about reprinting them as two volumes (book 1 & 2 being the first, book 3 & 4 being the second), but given the great pressure to keep books -at- the length of the Sundered books individually (the 4th was long for the market), I would guess that four separate books worked better (the contract specified that the books could be published in single volumes or in omnibuses, so that decision was made relatively recently).
Aug. 11th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
BTW, if you're not familiar with Thor Power Tool Company v. Commisioner of IRS and its effects on publishers' backlists, the SFWA Article on the subject is required reading.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 13th, 2004 10:40 am (UTC)
The words "the SFWA article" are actually linked to the article. I didn't notice when I posted that this journal's style makes links in comments essentially invisible if your browser isn't set to underline all links :) I'm not an SFWA member myself, but they have a number of general interest articles publically available. Anyways, the URL is http://www.sfwa.org/bulletin/articles/thor.htm.
Aug. 12th, 2004 02:04 am (UTC)
Tom Whitmore from Other Change of Hobbit here:

Agreed about OSI being an attempt to get around reversion clauses. We've been asked by authors to let them know when we hear about books being either OSI or OP from our distributors, so they can start the clock on reversion.

Andycat is totally right about Thor Power Tool being critically important for stores in the US: a decision by a bureaucrat, not appealable unless one has a great deal of money, and absolutely devastating to both booksellers and publishers.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )