A Plea to Publishers and Distributors

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 14th, 2012

Dear Publishers and Distributors,

We know you’re logging crazy hours like we are this time of year. We know your warehouses are bulging and your fulfillment tasks are beyond imagining. We understand that you’re probably understaffed and overworked, and that you may have needed to call in extra seasonal help that isn’t as experienced and well-trained as your regular employees. We empathize with you about the ridiculous amount of stress the last few weeks of the year bring all retailers and wholesalers. And understanding all of that, we still need for you to take greater, not less, care with your shipments right now. At the moment we can least afford it, we are getting the highest number of damages.

This time of year, it’s safe to assume most orders from bookstores are full of titles intended to be given as gifts. Customers come in and special order expensive coffee table books, beautiful hardcover versions of classics, and sleekĀ  new editions of fiction and nonfiction titles. They expect pristine copies, suitable for gift giving. So when shipments arrive with damaged books at holiday time, we booksellers are, to put it lightly, hosed. We can’t afford to order two or three copies of a $65 book to have “backup” in case one comes with smushed corners or a creased jacket or an unerasable smudge of who-knows-what across the cover art. A bent edge that might pass muster with a customer in May will not be purchased in December. So we are stuck with duds we have to return and replace, which costs time and money for both us and you.

Every day now, heaps of cartons of books are delivered, and in every shipment, there are damages. It takes precious staff time to replace these books; calling about damages leaches long minutes from your businesses and ours in a season where time is precious, not to mention the phone calls we must make to inform customers that the book they expected, say, to mail to Aunt Veronica on Thursday now won’t be in before next week, and may not make it to her by Christmas after all.

These book damages damage us, most notably our reputation for speedy, reliable service.

So please, dear colleagues in this detail-laden business of ours, please remind your warehouse folks to pick only undamaged books, and to pack them with extra care. That will be a holiday gift with benefits for all.

Thank you, and may your sales be brisk, voluminous, and final. Cheers!

7 thoughts on “A Plea to Publishers and Distributors

  1. Ken Eisenstein

    Thanks for bringing this up. I’m sure that damaged books is a huge time suck on both sides of the business, however, bookstores are held particularly accountable for these mishaps– especially small indie bookstores.

  2. Spellbound

    You make very good points about the challenges the people in the warehouses face right now, as well as the fact that these damages end up being costly to the supplier. I wonder if any of them might offer some sort of bonus or other incentive to both regular and seasonal staff to meet a zero damages goal for the month of December…

  3. kat Goddard

    We get deliveries from publishers and wholesalers totaling over 20 shipments each week. I keep track of the damaged shipments so that I can be sure to get credit or a re-ship so I know exactly how many shipments come with damaged items. There is a damaged item in a staggering 1/5 of all shipments!

    I spend far too much time dealing with damages and due to Murphy’s Law, many of the damaged items are special orders so that I also disappoint a patient customer.

    Thanks, Elizabeth for bringing this up again.

  4. Nic

    I agree. It costs everyone time, money and is a ding to their reputation. It already takes so much effort to be more than just a showroom for the “other guy”. It is never a good thing to have to say, “We’ll have to reorder” and then wait hoping the replacement doesn’t have any bumped corners, creased book jackets or damaged pages too.

  5. Pat Fowler

    I now take pictures of the damaged books (easy to do with an IPad) and send them to my sales reps. I get a better response for call tags and replacements- they send them on to customer service. But it does not stop it from happening again… Very frustrating to get boxes of books tossed about in shipping because of poor packaging. Or ones obviously damaged when someone pulled them off the shelf and damaged the spine and then tossed them into a box to ship to us.

  6. Monica

    Amen. Just last month, our library received from our main distributor a copy of a book that was clearly labelled for another library. They couldn’t take it back since it was processed (Um, you can’t take it and send it to where it belongs?) and I have to admit, I don’t want the owning library to see how filthy it is. Smudges all over the edge of the pages! Yuck!

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