Elizabeth Bond is Custom Publishing Director at Little, Brown and Orion.
I have been following the recent blog posts and articles about Special Sales and would like to explain why Publishers recommend special sales to authors and how these sales work.
We follow very clear principles for Special Sales at Little, Brown & Orion. Primarily we strive to do the best possible deal for authors so they will benefit from the additional sale. It is in all of our interests to reduce unearned advances or add to royalty payments even in a small way and we offer the highest rate possible within the margins allowed. Our contracts have transparent special sales clauses and on the occasions where we are working with old agreements we will always contact the author if permission is not clearly granted. I would never complete a sale against an author’s wishes and often spend time discussing the merits with authors and agents – it is always a very stimulating discussion and gives us the opportunity to hear authors’ views and in turn update them on current trends, sales and customer feedback.
We are very clear with Special Sales customers that they may only sell books in their stated markets (retail, door to door or website) and not to a third party. Promotional wholesale customers also have very strict controls imposed on territories and supply – so much has changed in the twenty-five years that I have been selling books and special sales are now very closely monitored, controlled and accounted for. To do this we work very closely with our Publishers and Editors and discuss every sale with them and the UK Sales Directors before recommending them to authors and agents. It doesn’t make business sense to sell cheaper books which could damage higher price sales, not just for immediate profits but even more importantly for the longevity and success of our authors’ front and backlist titles. If this is a possibility we don’t recommend the deal to the Publisher or the author.
It is an industry wide observation that order quantities are falling across all special sales customers, only a very tiny number of books are supplied in large quantities and they are almost all bestselling titles or one-off hits in this sales channel. Again thanks to greater transparency and communication we are all much more aware of these sales and, while quantities have fallen, customers are taking a wider range of books and giving more opportunities to authors and independent publishers. Supplying these customers directly, following an agreed strategy, rather than leaving it to remainder dealers, gives us all much more control over these sales channels as well as useful feedback on formats, prices and genres which we can all share and learn from.
Recently the Works have been mentioned frequently so I hope it is helpful to explain their paperback sales in a bit more detail. They buy small firm sale quantities of fiction and non-fiction each month to replenish their permanent multi-buy promotions. This features a very wide range of fiction genres and is well presented on bookshelves, face out, giving the customer the opportunity to browse. Each shop will only have a few copies of a title on sale, books are not piled high, damaged or put in big cardboard bins and stock is sold through in four weeks. The internet is not always an easy place for readers to discover new authors or just browse and The Works offers a carefully selected range of titles which appeal to the casual purchaser as well as those keen to try new authors – they know their own customers extremely well! In turn we select authors who would really benefit from new readers discovering them and backlist titles that can be reissued and reprinted or are not easily accessible to fans or newer readers. We wait to deliver newer titles until a few months after publication date when supermarket and trade sales have slowed and don’t offer backlist around new publication dates. The only exceptions to this are seasonal titles - Christmas themed non-fiction books at Christmas!
Many consumers are used to seeing successful brands and products sold everywhere and seeing authors in The Works confirms to them that these books are both good and popular enough to be alongside many other bestselling authors. Our aim is always to encourage them to try a new name or genre, love it and then, knowing what they want, buy the new hardback or dive into the backlist. The Works also stock a wide range of stationary, craft products and toys as well as books and for many of their customers the book purchase is additional and often on impulse. These customers tend not to shop online or at other bookshops where prices are usually higher and backlist is displayed alphabetically.
The Book People have even greater reach through their door to door sales, which again are very carefully selected to appeal to office, hospital, school and factory staff - often on lower incomes, they buy books as gifts or ‘good value’ impulse purchases. They aim to offer the best books on subjects which they know their customers enjoy or relate to and they are especially supportive of Children’s and non-fiction authors, organising their agents to ‘hand sell’ these titles in the workplace.
Last autumn we commissioned some consumer insight into Special Sales customers and found that recognition for The Works and The Book People was notably higher in lower income brackets. These consumers are often keen readers but cite lack of money as the main reason they don’t buy more books. This is currently our best way to reach them as they are unlikely to purchase books at a higher prices or discover new authors in other ways.
School book fairs are also special sales customers and as a governor of a South East London primary school with a very diverse pupil role, I can see the value and reach of these customers too. They visit termly and it is an eagerly anticipated and exciting event which always draws a big crowd of pupils, parents and careers. Older pupils volunteer to help set up and the children are encouraged to pick up and browse as well as buy from a good range of fiction and non-fiction, black and white and colour titles. They give access to families who are keen on books but may not have the income to purchase regularly as well as introducing the children to authors and encouraging them to try something new. The competition for selection is very tough and when chosen we are keen to put our authors’ books into the hands of thousands of children who may never visit a bookshop or otherwise be given books. The fairs also donate free books to the school which can be given to more disadvantaged children, to those with additional needs or to restock the school library.
I am always happy to discuss these additional sales and our other special sales customers with authors. We can also share feedback and pictures of books ‘on sale’ and introduce authors to the very experienced and passionate buyers who can tell them more about their customers.