Credit Squeeze, Or Isn’t Paying the Bill On Time Enough?

Josie Leavitt -- March 26th, 2012

I know times are tough for all the publishing companies, with Borders closing and leaving them hanging for payments for a long time. Every store that closes affects publishers’ bottom lines in profound ways. But I’ve had it with publishers basically threatening me to pay before the bill is due or not applying my credits.

I received an email from a publisher (which I will not name, as no one from the company has gotten back to me on my short time frame) that essentially said, pay what’s due for March 31st now, or we will not ship your books.

Here is the email: Payment has been received to clear the invoices due 2/29/12 but not the 3/30/12 due.  Please provide payment details for the current due invoices as soon as possible.  Shipments remain suspended until the account is fully up to date.

I received this email on March 22, more than a full week before the payment of $877 was actually due. So, to summarize, my account is fully up to date, I owe nothing, and yet this publisher is not shipping any orders and is treating me like I’m late to pay my bill.

I hate this kind of business tactic. I want to say to this publisher: how about the benefit of the doubt? I’m not even late and yet, you’re acting like I’m 90 days late and I’m seldom late more than a day or two. But if the check isn’t in the lock box by the last of the month, this company puts any bookstore on credit hold and refuses to ship my books. What kills me is I get these nasty little emails every month, although this one was overt in saying no books will ship until they get payment details. Usually, the emails just serve as reminders that the payments are expected. In February, I even got one reminding me that it was a short month and I should adjust my check accordingly.

I know these credit reps are just doing as they’re told, but this utter lack of faith is destroying my relationship with certain publishers. I tire of being considered a deadbeat when I’ve done nothing wrong. I am weary of wondering if the books I’ve ordered will ship if the check is 24 hours late.

Oh, and don’t get me started about the publishers who won’t apply credits without monthly written approval from me. So, monthly, I write emails (some, though, need to be faxed) saying please apply my credits to my outstanding balance. Why do I need to do this? Shouldn’t it be obvious I want the credits applied, especially since the credits are based on returns that I sent in?

Why are publishers making it harder and harder to do business? Every meeting with reps has them asking, pleading in some cases, to order more backlist, but why am I going to subject myself to being treated like a deadbeat on a monthly basis for payments that aren’t even late? Ironically, the smaller publishing companies are the most relaxed about payments, even though they’re the ones who can least afford it.

It’s a tough market for all of involved with bookselling. Publishers are out thousands, millions of dollars in some cases, and bookstores are struggling with tighter margins and a shrinking customer base. Without sounding trite I can’t help but think: Why can’t we all get along?

 

15 thoughts on “Credit Squeeze, Or Isn’t Paying the Bill On Time Enough?

  1. Marilynne Smith

    Why do you do business with these people? I once had a hospital bill me for having a baby – which baby was not due for another few months. I wrote back and told them I owed them nothing and when I did I would pay the bill. I’ll bet that one went around the room and back.

  2. Shawn

    And isn’t it ironic that the publishers demanding that THEY be paid even before the due date, are consistently & contemptuously late in paying their authors. The hypocrisy is appalling.

    1. Marilynne Smith

      I think it’s a case of holding the money for a while and drawing interest on it. In addition, they may need that money to pay their bills. That means to me that it’s risky to order from them.

  3. Becky Hatley

    It is somewhat reassuring that other booksellers are having the same experience that we are. As I read your post I knew exactly which publisher you were talking about, we got the same email last week. It is frustrating to open up your daily email and feel as if the people you are doing business with (and let’s face it, for) are attacking you when you have been playing by their rules all along. A little rephrasing in their emails would go a long way to a better partnership with stores carrying their product.

  4. Theresa M. Moore

    There are publishers who must pay up front for your inventory before they ship it to you. I can understand the frustration with the accounting office not being in sync with the day to day operations of your store, but owners of bookstores need to realize that the cost is borne by the publisher for everything you sell. If you had bothered to check, you guys have had a free ride for years and only now is the selling model changing. When you start ordering only what you think will sell and stop returning the excess then maybe they will cut you some slack.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      If you know the business, then you know it’s the giants who over-order by the pallet-load and pay months late, not the small indies. Our returns are tiny, peanuts, and well under the limits set by publishers themselves. It is a little silly to be blaming the folks who comply with the terms the publishers establish. We also bear the cost of everything we sell. Most books do not leave the store in the 30-day window we have before we have paid for the book.

      1. Paul Riddell

        Hear hear, Elizabeth. I’m seeing that recreation of the parable of the Wicked Servant (Matt 18:23-35) in other businesses, too. Considering the number of publishers who are in such terrible straits because they gleefully extended credit over and over to Borders, in return being told “We’ll pay our bills if and when we feel like it,” you’d think that they’d try not to aggravate and alienate the folks who, you know, actually pay their bills on time.

        1. Stephanie Griffin

          Theresa M. Moore is the owner of Antellus, a “private independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction books on a variety of subjects with emphasis on science fiction, fantasy, vampire fiction, mythology…” Looks like she’s never been a bookstore owner based on her narrow views. Ms. Moore, I guarantee that nobody is getting a “free ride” in the indie bookstore business!

    2. Mark Z

      I view independent bookstores and publishers as a partnership. Nobody gets a free ride and the selling modeling has not changed–the industry standard is still net 30. Bookstores bare the cost of getting the books into their stores (a buyer, receiver, freight if we don’t meet the minimums) and housing it as well (shelving, marketing, not to mention a “store” to protect the books from the elements). We also bear the cost of the books that DON’T sell. By the way, if you had bothered to check, Indie bookstores have the lowest returns in the industry–10% average as opposed to 30% as the big chains and box stores do. The more we view the relationship of bookstores and publishers as a partnership, the better it is for both of us. –mz

  5. Kathleen

    For the company that sends the balance due email, honestly, I’d send them an email that said something to the effect that since you don’t appreciate my business that I’m taking it to someone does. We will be evaluating our customer needs to determine if we should continue to carry your titles and if we decide to do so then they will be purchased through a distributor.

    As you can probably guess, I really dislike this type of business technique and feel that there are enough book options out there that I really don’t have to put up with it. The credit issue while annoying doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I also don’t mind a nicely worded reminder email of a balance due but anything threatening shouldn’t be tolerated.

  6. Randi

    If it makes you feel better, my cable company is using the same tactic. They want their money earlier and earlier. It’s the economy; it has everyone running scared and asking for money upfront.

  7. Donna Paz Kaufman

    In an era where publishers and booksellers need to be in partnership to keep books and reading on Main Street, this is appalling. What publishers forget is that there are many books from which to choose when stocking a bookstore.

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