Embracing the On-Sale Date

Josie Leavitt -- May 20th, 2014

The on-sale date in the publishing world is a big deal. Every Tuesday morning we begin our day with shelving. The stacks of books we’ve received the day before, or more likely the week before, can now find their rightful home on the shelves. Sometimes the stacks of books are huge, and sometimes not, but we respect the on-sale date, even if it’s for a board book.

I understand the reason behind the on-sale date is to make sure no book gets sold early and thereby giving an unfair advantage to certain stores. But I do think sometimes that the on-sale date is getting a little out of hand. Boxes of books arrive daily that we cannot shelve, even though they are books that people want. I’m not talking about embargoed titles like Harry Potter, but paperback early readers or nonfiction titles about insects. These are books no one is lining up for or having a midnight party to celebrate. Why can’t I shelve them and free up much needed space on my counter? Because I can’t, that’s why.


I know this because I saw a note that my staffer, Laura, put on a stack of books yesterday. The note itself is actually quite funny. The “It’s the law!” part really tells me she’s fully embraced the on-sale date issue. The truly funny part of this is she’s the only one who does the shelving on Tuesday mornings.

Publishers out there: why does the on-sale date apply to so many books, not just the hot ones?

One thought on “Embracing the On-Sale Date

  1. Lara Starr

    I think a part of the problem is the myriad terms and what they mean, and what they mean to whom. We chose an “On Sate Date” for every book – so that the book is available from all outlets, online and off, at the same time, so that there’ s an easy answer for the question ” When does the book come out?” So we can plan our internal resources to around book launches, to have a date to work back from for shipping and operations and to plan around for pre-and post-publication media.

    These dates are some what gentleman’s agreements, and it can happen that a book may appear before the on sale date at a store or two, or a special event, or some other scenario.

    A Harry Potter-style embargoed “Strick On Sale Date” is the LAW! Seriously, these scenarios are few and far between (or should be) and are really should only be employed in Harry Potter/Primary Colors-level books are in play. There are extra levels of operations, agreements with distributors, etc. when this type of campaign is employed.

    There’s also the “Pub Date” – which can stand for Publicity Date or Publication date depending on who you ask, and may or may not be the same as the on sale date.

    In the before times, we had a “Ship Date” (the date the book was scheduled to leave from the warehouse) and the “Pub Date” the date by which the book was reasonably expected to be on the shelves at every store. These were often months (Put Date: March 1998) rather than dates. Amazon changed a lot of that. They show a specific date on which the book will ship to their customers, and the playing field is now (more) level when all of the outlets can do the same.

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