Have you ever gone to a bookstore and asked one of the employees if you could order a book and been told it was out of print? Chances are this happened to you in a major chain store rather than a smaller independent book seller.
It used to be, a publisher would order a print run from the printer and when those copies sold or didn’t sell it was up to the publisher to place another order. If they did not order another print run, the book was out of print. Today with electronic files, the only way a book can go out of print is if the author or publisher asks the printer to remove the file so the book can no longer be purchased by the public.
“That’s a few thousand out of many millions.”
If you go to Barnes & Noble and order a book, which you know for a fact is still in print because you can order it on Amazon.com, and the employee tells you it’s out of print, here’s why:
There are hundreds of book distributors who have catalogues containing anywhere from a few hundred to a few million titles. Ingram, one of the largest distributors has a catalogue of 2.6 million titles. Any book seller can order from any of these distributors and receive the book in a matter of days or sometimes hours. But, a book store only has so much shelf space. So, the store Buyer will put together a company catalogue of a few thousand books which have been pre-approved to be placed on a store shelf. That’s a few thousand out of many millions.
“Many times, the employee doesn’t know any other catalogues exist.”
Why does Amazon.com have millions of books available for sale and big chain stores only have a few thousand? Amazon uses Ingram’s catalogue along with several others as their catalogue. Many independent book stores do the same. The Barnes & Noble website does this but not the stores. If Ingram does not have any physical copies ready to ship, they will list their inventory as having 2 in stock. This means the printer who is holding the file can print a copy and ship it in 24 to 48 hours.
So when you ask that store employee if they can order a book for you, the first catalogue they will pick up is the company catalogue with only a few thousand titles. If they don’t see it there, they will tell you the book is out of print. Many times, the employee doesn’t know any other catalogues exist. Even if it’s available on the stores website, the employee will think it’s only available online.
“Every time a bookstore employee tells a customer, “it’s out of print,” it’s a lost sale for the store.”
This lack of employee training hurts more than you and the author. It means you will walk out of the store without buying the title you wanted. Every time a bookstore employee tells a customer, “it’s out of print,” it’s a lost sale for the store. If you don’t think these few lost sales don’t add up, Borders closed stores across the country due to drops in store sales.
So, if you are told a book is out of print, ask them to look in the distributor’s catalogue. If they tell you their catalogue has all the books in print, go to the nearest computer or pull out your smart phone and show them Amazon.com has the book available. If you’re in Barnes & Noble show them their website has at least 2 in stock.