Elizabeth Bond - Response: Fair Trade for Authors

07 February 2017 Elizabeth

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.


James 04/08/2017 12:14:06
" Those authors that dont want special sales should simply say 'No' - This way at least us small time authors will get a chance to get our books on the shelves on the works and the book people"
Ted Dewan 25/02/2017 20:16:36
" To be fair to my publishers, nearly all of them have offered me large numbers of my own remaindered books at a great discount, sometimes even for free. It takes away some of the sadness of a book being remaindered, but it's filled my house up with books I need to shift one way or another."
Ted Dewan 25/02/2017 20:12:36
" If publishers are happy to sell authors copies of their own books for the prices they let them go to the likes of The Works and The Book People, instead of 50% of cover price, and then allowed the authors to sell them at school events and suchlike, perhaps this "special sales" practice would make a little more sense than it does. However, the standard practice is to charge the author what I imagine is the very highest wholesale price and then, technically, forbid them to sell them on for full price. That's something that authors could address in their contracts in future, although I haven't instructed my agent to address that out of my own forgetfulness (I shall do so from here on in). I recommend that all authors insist on the standard terms of author discounts on their own books to be ignored and instead, negotiate contracts which specify author discounts and permission to sell that are in line with the special sales terms. That way, at least there's a level playing field when it comes to the most special sale of them all: an author selling their own book personally to their readers."
Diana Kimpton 24/02/2017 13:06:13
" I have insisted on a bit in some of my contracts saying no special sales within 18 months of publication. That's helped a bit."
Nicola morgan 20/02/2017 19:01:26
" And, Elizabeth, as I say, I'm delighted that Hachette do include authors and agents in that discussion. My irritation is painfully directed at The Works at the moment, because they have undermined and damaged me and I feel powerless. What I really want to do (and I've invited them to do this) is to explain to them what their practices mean for us as authors and to find ways that they can do business and we can do business. If they don't want to have that conversation, that says more than anything."
Nicola morgan 20/02/2017 17:17:25
" Well said, Shoo. Succinctly nailed. It just is no longer the case that the Works and the suchlike performs this service. The wealthy and middle classes love a bargain as much as anyone and are very good indeed at finding one.

I have now taken to asking schools I visit to make sure the books they are selling aren't sourced from discount stores. Yes, I have heard of this happening. After all, why wouldn't they if they don't know?

Sometimes special sales make sense. but we need to be part of the conversation about when and when not."
Shoo Rayner 20/02/2017 17:10:31
" Wait a minute, I thought it was the job of libraries to bring books to those in lower income brackets? Why would publishers subsidise a profit-making outlet and allow libraries to go to the wall?
Come to think of it, I haven't heard a clamour of protest from publishers on the subject of library closures.
Perhaps Elizabeth could check her agreements with The Book People and The Works. I would imagine that Amazon is not their agreed retail channel. If it is then these are not special sales.
The Book People and The Works also sell through Amazon, competing on the Amazon Platform, against Amazon, with current titles and - get this - The Works also claim to be the author of the books they sell - riding roughshod over moral rights as well as reducing author's royalties to a point of laughability.
The Works clearly see books as product to be got rid of as quickly as possible. Once, they performed a service, selling remaindered books, Now they are parasites.
Authors have gone from 10% of retail price - which everyone could understand - to 7.5% of price received - which can mean anything - to high discounts for special sales - which seem now to be the norm.
It seems to me that all this deflating of price and value has been at the author's expense.
Any idiot salesman can sell at high discount - it's called giving it away while reducing the perceived value of the product."
Despina Katsirea 17/02/2017 16:38:01
" Any special sales should be discussed in detail with the author, and agent provided that they are to the benefit of the book and it's creator. However, I do agree with Joyce that as continuously the writers income becomes more and more reduced, I don't see why the percentage of earnings of the publisher and the author from the special sales cannot be divided more fairly.
This is one of the reason that transparency in contracts is so important."
Joyce Dunbar 17/02/2017 13:37:20
" Whatever the arguments in favour of special sales, the fact is that most authors - me included - are now in 'the lower income group'. In 37 years of publishing, my income has dropped to one quarter of what it was, despite a steady rate of production and good foreign sales. This is because of the collapse of the Net Book Agreement. It is almost impossible for new authors to earn a living. I feel lucky to have worked from 1980 to the present day - but I do fear for future authors. Ironically, some of my books end up on amazon for £1000 - £2,000. Does anyone actually pay that?!!!"
Nicola Morgan 17/02/2017 13:25:12
" This is interesting, Elizabeth. Thank you for your time.

I am currently extremely worried about the Works because they also put their books on Amazon. (I don't know if this applies to all or some.) So, recently I found one of my books - successful, still selling very well and likely to increase its sales year on year (it's trade non-fiction and this is what my similar title has done) - on Amazon listed twice, contiguously. One is the Amazon listing, at £7.99, and one is The Works listing, at £3.00. So, no one is likely to buy the Amazon one. What is worse, The Works lists itself as the author! There is no link to my author page or the rest of my titles. My reviews don't appear. I might as well not exist. And I'm never going to earn out my advance at that rate.

And this is the issue: we need to do more than earn out our advances, especially for a book which has taken substantial time and expertise to write and promote. Otherwise it's unclear how most of us can continue. We can only write a tiny number of books a year, depending on the type of book, so each one matters a tremendous amount to us, not just emotionally but in simple income terms.

Which brings me to the crux: I strongly feel that the author/agent ought to be involved in any decision for a special high discount sale. This sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't, it seems. It would be good to know that Hachette *would* always consult and that if the author and agent strongly felt, and could give reasons, that a particular sale really would not be beneficial, that it would not go ahead. What do you think?

When it clearly is in the interests of the book, I am sure authors and agents would usually be happy for a special sale to go ahead. When I've been asked, I have pretty much always said yes. We do understand the value of such things in some circumstances. But I think we should be part of the decision-making process."
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