Yes, I Think About These Things

Josie Leavitt - June 8, 2009

It seems once a week or so, I like to voice an opinion about the publishing world. Today, my thoughts alight on invoices. I’ve been in this business now for thirteen years and I’ve come to know the different publishers’ invoices all too well. It’s minutia, but it’s my world.

Let me walk you through a shipment. We order the books, the books arrive in at least one box, often times several boxes, and then the fun begins. Where oh where is the invoice or packing slip that allows us the receive the books? Some publishers, most in fact, will indicate on the box which one has the needed papers. Although I’ve yet to discern the magic behind which box the distributors put the invoice in. But then, where in the box is the elusive slip? You’ve got to root around the box to find the paper. Some publishers leave it on top. More often than not, it’s crumpled at the very bottom of the box and there’s no way to Houdini it out there, like whipping a tablecloth out from under a china setting, without taking out all the books.

I’ve noticed a trend with shipments these days: duplicate information in the guise of a packing slip and an invoice. In Simon & Schuster’s case they are identical, as far as I can tell, and they’re stapled together.  If they’re stapled together, do I really need a packing slip? Why not just the invoice, which is the piece of paper that I keep? Ingram and Baker & Taylor have packing lists in every box, which is fine, I guess, but then you still to have cross-check everything against the invoice. One thing I love that Ingram does and wish more publishers would take up, is a packing list taped on the outside of every box. This way, when eager customers come in, I can scan the boxes quickly and efficiently, thus impressing the impatient shopper when I can find his book quickly among the six boxes I’ve gotten in that day.

Oh, this is a total pipe dream, and slightly off topic, but wouldn’t it be great if the our boxes could get packed so our special orders were all together in one box and we didn’t have to rip open all the boxes to organize all the special orders. Wouldn’t that revolutionize the holidays?

Once we’ve found the invoice and now must check off what’s come in. There are no uniform-sized invoices in publishing. Penguin seems to have the smallest, although they have this weird habit of having a page of invoice info and then a "This page intentionally left blank," followed by more book info, and another page "intentionally left blank." So, what should be a two-page invoice turns out to be four pages with half the pages blank. Surely, the printers at Penguin can just keep printing an invoice rather then skipping every other page.

If I get a big shipment in, we generally tear the invoice apart, rebuild it and staple it, so it’s easier to manage.  Random House invoices are very wide, with about eight columns of information: the UPC code, the ISBN 10, the ISBN 13, the number of books per carton, then what you ordered and the price. I really only need three of these columns, but must wade through all of these to get what I need. Oh, and is it just my aging eyes, or does Random House seriously need to get some toner? The print is so faded I can barely read the numbers. These invoices can only be processed by our younger staff. These two publishers have only black print on white paper with very little space between the lines. This can make it difficult to see.

MPS invoices are just enormous. There’s the book info which is large, easy to read and nicely organized with contrasting blue and white paper and black ink. Then there’s the whole bottom part, about three to four inches long, that’s blank. It’s perforated and must be torn off from the main invoice. Again, I wonder, why can’t the paper and the printer work together to eliminate waste and bookseller irritation? However, given the choices, I’d much rather have an invoice I can easily read, so if I must tear off paper, then so be it.

I know this is totally mundane, but, in a perfect world here’s the invoice I’d have: large enough to easily read, with every other line of the paper a different color, only the ISBN 13 number (although secretly, I haven’t switched to it yet, so I just type the 10 digit number), the quantity I ordered, the price and my discount, and it would include the shipping charges, thus saving me the inevitable phone call to find out what they were.  The paper would be of a normal size with no waste, intentional or not. 

Oh, and all the discounts would be a little bit higher.

5 thoughts on “Yes, I Think About These Things

  1. Vicki

    I hear you! I worked in receiving and returns in a University of California bookstore about 20 years ago, and it always was a nightmare! Keep the faith…

  2. Peter Glassman, Books of Wonder

    The only thing more irritating than the invoice and packing lists are the returns credit memos that don’t list the total quantity of books received or list the books in ISBN order, instead of alphabetically. Why hasn’t ABA put together a committee to communicate to publishers what it is that booksellers need on the paperwork we’re sent and what we don’t want? Isn’t this what a trade association is for? None of us by ourselves is going to get publishers to redesign their paperwork, but for 2000 booksellers speaking with one voice, they just might!

  3. Carin Siegfried

    When I did S&R, I opened all my boxes from the bottom. That way, the invoice will be on top! A little annoying to flip them all, but it gets to be a habit pretty quickly. Hope it helps!

  4. Sandy

    Thanks for this, Josie – I found a lot of my own pet peeves here. Another is the PGW/Perseus packing slip, which lists the titles in some unknown order (not alphabetical, that’s for sure) just to make it that much harder to check the box contents against the list.


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