Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Selling And The Sales Force

Publishers employ a small army of sales people who spend their days making contact with book shop owners. They may call in to say hello, to tout the upcoming catalogue, or to commiserate about the poor economy and the competition from other types of entertainment. What they do is add the personal touch that builds relationships so that books that are not heavily marketed can get into a shop and get a chance to reach the eyeballs of the reading public.

It is an expensive venture, and not something that the average small press can afford. Sales people need back office support, to say nothing of their commissions and overhead costs. When a publisher sells but a few books, or has a rather small selection, the costs can be prohibitive.
From Plus To Minus

For a long time, Faber provided cover for the little guys who published important works of literary fiction or niche titles that were popular enough for the publisher but would not have drawn the interest of the Big Five. Through their Faber Factory Plus division, they acted as a clearinghouse for a number of small houses that could not afford their own sales team, but could manage the cost of sharing a team with their colleagues.

Little places like The Liffey Press or  Liberties Press, a couple of independent Irish publishers, partnered with Faber to get their titles into bookshops beyond their small reach. It meant that authors who were not about writing blockbusters could sign with a publisher who could market their works effectively. Authors might be about the art of literature, but they like to get a royalty check every now and again.

The concept worked for the likes of Daunt Books, who signed on and noticed that sales rose because they had someone pushing their product to the places where readers still go to find new books. They had a small reach with their own string of shops, but books published by Daunt have a greater audience than London, England. It required a sales force to get them there, and Faber's solution worked.

Just when things were looking up, Faber announced the end of the Factory.

At Faber's end, the outlook was not so grand. The publisher was losing money on the deal. Book sales are down overall, and having more different titles to sell did not result in more titles selling. Book vendors saw no point in stocking their shelves with items likely to sit, gathering dust, for extended periods of time because the money to buy books is not there anymore.

Faber could have increased prices, but there is a limit to what a small publisher can pay for sales representation. At some point, the cost of paying Faber Factory to push paper would be more than the profit from the sales, and what's the point of selling at a loss? You don't stay in business long unless you have a backer looking for a tax credit and a money-losing venture.

The publishers represented by the Faber sales force will lose that representation in the coming year, and their only option is to try to find a similar scheme elsewhere. Can they find a partner with a large enough reach into the book selling world? Can they afford it?

Without books in shops, it is much more difficult to be discovered by readers. No one browses an online listing like they do the stacks of a shop, examining spines or asking the employees for recommendations. Without Faber Factory Plus, the small publishers know that their days could be numbered if they cannot find someone else to get their titles into the brick and mortar shops.

There is nothing easy about selling art to a sceptical public, especially when the public doesn't have the spare change available to gamble on an unknown, un-hyped author. Small publishing is very much a labor of love, but you can't pay the rent with love. Authors may be losing yet another avenue to get their stories out there, and that is a sad day indeed.

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