Some might think this question is silly and antiquated since we know that 100% of all books are sold by Amazon and that no one buys physical books any more, and least of all in physical bookstores. Why? Because there aren’t any more bookstores! They have all closed.
Oh wait. That myth is what appears in press releases written by Amazon. (I’m making a joke in case you are wondering.) But even if a publisher attributes 50% of their total sales to Amazon we cannot ignore the other 50%!
But why bother to ask the question? Why should an author care? Aren’t brick and mortar stores dead, dying, and doomed?
While there may be fewer stores than before, the institution is far from dead. For example, in 2014, the Barnes & Noble chain operated 658 bookstores in all 50 states with $4.3 billion in sales…billion, with a ‘b’. In addition their B&N College division operated another 714 college stores nationwide (that college division did $1.75 billion in sales). Over 500 Independent general-market booksellers gathered at a recent event talking about how they are thriving in today’s marketplace. And according to their web site, the Lifeway Christian Stores chain runs 180 stores across the country.
But I’m not trying to debate the future of brick and mortar bookstores. Instead let’s go back to the original question in the title of this post.
Where is My Book?
Part of the answer to your question comes from understanding the supply chain. If you have a new book with a major publisher and you run into your local store you may not find the book. That store may have just placed their order last week.
The order may be coming direct from the publisher warehouse or from one of dozens of book distributors. The order must be picked and packed at the source. Most publishers and distributors are incredibly efficient (Watch this video of the behind the scenes at Penguin Random House.) The speed of delivery depends on the speed of UPS, FedEx Ground, or the post office and its proximity to the store, and the time of year.
Then the books have to be received in the back room by each store and checked against the purchase order and invoice. Then they get put on a cart and wheeled out into the store and shelved, hopefully in the right location. Depending on the efficiency of the back room this can be done quickly…or not.
Each step in the above process has a human being involved. Not robots. Which means there can be various delays from the time the order is placed to the time it actually shows up on the store shelf.
Therefore it can take 1-2 weeks before stock shows up in the store.
And THEN if you walk into the store two minutes after someone else bought the one copy of the book that had been ordered…it won’t be on the shelf.
The store’s computer will then reorder the book during their next “replenish” cycle and the process begins again. That “cycle” is different from store to store based on sales velocity of a title or a pre-set time to reorder from a specific publisher. If you don’t see your book? Ask the clerk. Or even special order it. This can generate sales velocity which feeds a re-order algorithm that creates more orders.
On top of all this…What if your book is pre-ordered by a large chain but only for their top 100 stores. Your local store may not be large enough to warrant the inventory. Don’t be mad at the store or at your publisher. It is a matter of pure economics and cost of inventory. Don’t send your Aunt Mabel into her local store and expect to find your book because the above scenario might apply in her case as well.
It may be that you need to talk to the store manager and explain that you are a local author. Often they like to support local talent. If you have a copy of your book with you it can show the great cover and the great publisher you have.
And people think bookselling is simple.
Please remember, if you comment, that this post is not about the viability of physical stores versus online purchasing. It is about the nature of the supply chain and why you may or may not find your book in your local store.