Indies and Shelf Space

Recently an acquaintance of ours posted an open letter regarding the role “Independent Booksellers” play, or in some/many cases refuse to play, in the publishing ecosystem.

It’s an interesting piece. Check it out.

As much as I hate dealing with Amazon, its problem seems as much corporate incompetence as anything. It has infinite shelf-space. Indie bookstores face similar issues as comic shops [“why aren’t they stocking an entire run of ____ manga?!”] when it comes to independently published fic. Shelf space is limited, and they carry only what’s moving AND what they can make money on.

People don’t go to bookstores to buy indie titles because bookstores don’t have indie titles because people don’t buy indie titles from bookstores.

I have traded in a few indie books I’ve gotten over the years for cred [which has long since expired] at a local store I’m friendly with. I’m sure I could still find them on the shelves all these years later.

We’ve talked with the owner some in the past about consignment, and I think both he and we are in a place where something might be workable, but store owners know their clients and will try to stock towards their wants.

I’m extremely fortunate that this guy is open to vintage science fiction, because I’ve gotten a number of great titles from him over the years, but he’s confided that his bread & butter are old paperback romance novels. You might not know this, because when you step into the shop, the first thing you see is a wall of Appendix N and adjacent fiction in excellent shape and fairly priced.

Indie bookstores that focus on new works and new stock are going to be tightly constrained by top-of-stock market forces. Ones that focus on older and used work are more of an “I know a guy…” kinda situation. Indie authors may find themselves better served by the latter.

I’ve been asked if it’s a similar situation with comics and indies. The short answer is “yes and no.” But with most things, there are distinctions which complicate matters.

Generally comic shops will order what their customers are subscribed to and order extra based on those numbers extrapolating additional demand. If there’s no [known] demand for a title, they will not order it.

Stories of large piles of unsold comics usually happen because a catastrophic shift in demand for a title occurs after an order is placed to meet subscriber demands.

A great example of this would be Batman 51, where even with stores drawing down orders drastically, Batman 50 had caused such a crash in the demand, stores were left with large supplies of unsold 51 cuz they had still not drawn down enough. Piles of unsold Batman 51-53 were Batmanspreading into Batgirl’s shelf space.

With indie books, it’s much worse than with indie comics. First of all, there are astronomically more indie books available through distribution than there are indie comics available through distribution. A comic shop could theoretically buy 1 of every distributed indie comic each month and not lose their shirts too badly if they could make up for it across other titles. Michael’s store typically would carry at least 1 of every indie comic distributed through Diamond. But that meant only a dozen or so a month.

For books, there are hundreds of thousands “available through distribution” either via Amazon’s expanded distribution or Ingram Content’s catalog. Stocking one of each would be impossible both financially and spatially.

Bookstores take on a risk for each title they take, both in the space that it takes and the cost they sink. With a virtually infinite number of titles and no incentive to stock any particular one, they will tend to play it extremely conservatively. Unless you can establish a personal rapport with a bookseller, there’s little chance or even point in getting your book in a store.

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