Today I was chatting to a bookstore owner (no not from Love Books) and I asked them if they'd be willing to carry my books in their store. They were lovely to talk to, don't get me wrong, but they explained to me (something which I've heard over and over again) that they can't. That it isn't economically viable for them.
Now I knew this (to some extent) already.
But let me explain why...
In Australia (and no, I can't speak for any other country in the world) bookstore buyers have to try to keep the prices down. Oh, I hear you shout, but they don't! Let me explain why books in Australia are so expensive.
Did you know that only a percentage of all books released are made available in Australia? That is because there is a much smaller readership. (when I say smaller, I do mean that!!)
I read somewhere once, that something like only 10 - 15% of all books available worldwide are able to be bought in Australia. Just think... That's a whopping 85 - 90% YOU CAN'T BUY. That's a huge number!!
In Australia the copyright laws currently prevent Australian bookshops from importing overseas editions of a book provided its Australian publisher has published an Australian edition within 30 days of its publication elsewhere in the world.
As it stands, most books released in Australia are Australian Printed and Australian Sourced, because to move outside these rules is to Parallel Import.
This makes no sense! Surely if there was more CHOICE in the marketplace, the stories written would have a better chance of getting a wide readership. But this also affects the prices we pay in store. Why? Because you can only purchase these titles from shops that have agreements with certain distributors.
The majority of Australian bookstores use the Australian distributors which requires minimum spending of (in some cases an agreement to purchase a whopping $1K a month.) For a lot of small bookstores, this is a lot of money. (On the average $12.99 book that is (76.982 books) but theses importers are tied to certain imprints such as Hachette, Penguin etc., (In no way am I saying Hachette and Penguin etc are evil or wrong. In fact, I think exactly the opposite!) So imagine in order to stop themselves being tied to only one round of publishers, they must have a range of agreements with distributors. (I should add that the $1000 is BEFORE the shipping costs are added!!)
If a bookstore wants to order something out of the ordinary, they need other suppliers. There are 2 big US ones (but i won't name them)
Because the Australian market place is difficult (and we all know every dollar has to count) many buyers will look at a book and consider the price tag. That's understandable, sure, but as a result, many of the purchases that were previously made in the local bookstore are now being sent overseas/online. I'm sure you can guess the big company names. There are 2 (and they are both owned by the same company.)
So your local bookstore wishes to import a title. Oops hang fire, importation means shipping costs. We all know mail is expensive (even more so in Australia, but I won't get into that!!) So our little bookstore goes looking for a title. They hunt and pick and in order to stock something a little different they have to take a punt. Sure the cover price says $5.99 (oh and that's likely US) but then they have to pay shipping on top. So, by the time they order the book, pay the shipping and then get it on the shelves the prices for these titles is much more than you would expect.
Purchasing books is downright expensive! We all know that - but don't go hanging it all on the bookstores!
Right, now because these titles take around 10 days to arrive, sometimes they will miss the release day. Now you have a book that ISN'T available for release date (traditionally when most books sell) that the bookstore might start to feel anxious. What if it doesn't sell? Bookstores can't afford to carry books that don't sell, because that's dead money.
Quite often these bookstores have a returns agreement with their distributors. They pay MORE at wholesale but are given a % off should they return the books after, say 90 days, if the title doesn't sell. Well, that makes sense right? But hang on!
This is where it gets tricky.
With the range of new publishing houses around the world, NOT all have agreements in place to distribute with these 2 companies.
If a title is POD (Print On Demand) then these books are not eligible to return to the warehouse. (Because they are only printed when there is an order.)
The average bookstore needs to be able to return them otherwise they have to pay $$$ (with little or no discount up front) and then is stuck with titles they don't sell. This is inefficient.
So... In a very long and round about fashion, because not all publishers have these agreements, these lesser known authors cannot get their titles into the bookstores. Readers don't learn about them. The author makes less sales and the cycle continues.
If you've discovered a "New To You" Author but you can't find their book in the store near you, take a moment to ask yourself, if you were to purchase the book locally, (and yes maybe pay a few extra dollars) would that help an author to get a presence in Australia? I'd be willing to be that would be right.
But remember, until YOU the reader stands up and screams that there is so little choice, NOTHING will change. The future of bookstores is in your hands.
What decision will you make?