Here is the strangest business model I have ever heard of. It goes like this:
A company creates billions of units of a product.
They send them to retailers all over the world.
The manufacturer then spends millions of dollars in marketing the product.
If the retailers don't sell the product they can send the item back -- no questions asked.
The Manufacturer, as a way of compensating for returns, raises the price of the item which, of course, makes it less attractive to consumers.
Kinda surreal, huh?
Welcome to the world of publishing where this is exactly how things are done.
Most publisher have two warehouses: the "happy" warehouse filled books to be distributed to stores and the"sad" warehouse which contains returned books.
The best case for returned books is that they will be resold at cut-rate prices. The worst case is that they will have their spines sliced off and then be dumped into a "recycling" machine to be chewed up and spit out as bales of paper.
What makes this especially insane is that most publishers in an effort to create a blockbuster hits, ship an ever-increasing number of books to stores, hoping to hit the jackpot. This means that stores are sending an ever-increasing number back to publishers.
The most current verifiable statistics are for 2005 and they show that
- Unit books sales were 1.5 Billion
- 31% of all books were returned to the publisher
In other words 465,000,000 books were returned to publishers for sale as remainders or for destruction.
That is a LOT of paper!! And it is a whole of of $4.00 per gallon fuel to truck all those books around the country -- twice. How in this day and age of shrinking resources (paper, water, fuel) and global warming this can possibly continue?
Short answer, it can't!
So you can imagine my amusement when I look at the New York Times Best Sellers. This week there are two best sellers touting the wonders of going green: Gorgeously Green by Sophie Uliano with a forward by Julia Roberts and Growing Up Green by Diedre Imus. They are, of course, in wide paper distribution. At least 1/3 of them will be returned to the publisher.
I think I am going to sit down and write a letter to Sophia, Julia and Diedre explaining that if they are serious about going green they should be pushing their publishers to promote digital books. After all eBooks are not only less expensive for the publisher they are truly earth friendly, green publishing.