The Problem with On-Sale Dates

Josie Leavitt -- March 13th, 2013

In the book business we live by several dates: publication date, the date a book is coming out, and the on-sale date, the date we can actually sell the book. The problem arises when the publication date and the on-sale date don’t match. Or, more often is the case that we receive a carton of books from a publisher and are told, via the bright orange sticker on the box, what books we can put out the shelf and what books need to wait for their special day. The issue for smaller stores is for the most part we get these books at least two weeks ahead of when we can actually put them on the shelves. So, now they’re just taking up space and not earning their keep.

I can understand why it’s important that we all adhere to the strict on-sale date for big books. These are the books where selling them early would give a store a distinct advantage in the marketplace, like selling the last Harry Potter book three days earlier than everyone else. These titles are embargoed and have strict on-sale dates. This terminology implies the other on-sale dates are suggestions. This is not the case. We take these dates seriously and I think the publishers take them even more seriously.

Here’s what seems to be happening. Everyone thinks their books need that special Tuesday release. But why? Is it really necessary for a middle grade novel, a picture book about some ducks, or a realistic YA mid-list hardcover to languish on the back counter for a week rather than be on the shelf? Why do so many books now have on-sale dates? Why can’t we just put them out when we get them?

I know this might not be a burning question for most people, but for the people who receive and shelve books every day, it is.