| |The returnability of books is a cancer that has been consuming the publishing industry for decades.
Publisher after publisher has succumbed to its relentless arithmetic. Yet, book people cling to the belief that they are not vulnerable to the forces that destroyed their predecessors.
In all the commentary about the merger of Random House and Penguin I have seen nothing written about the consignment model of bookselling that has doomed countless publishers over the past fifty years.
The merger offers the captains of those great companies an opportunity to change that model. If they are sincere about leveling the playing field against Amazon, the abandonment of a returns-driven business model may be the only way to do so. I have no illusions that that will happen, but I feel it incumbent on me to remind my industry colleagues of why the field is tilted against them.
The essay you are about to read was written in January, 1992. It was drawn from a guest editorial I wrote for Publishers Weekly. With few exceptions (some improvement in royalty reporting) it could have been composed today.
Read the essay at DBW