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!