July 11, 2011

Indigo announces it plans to sell fewer books, and make bigger demands on publishers


How much longer will this logo include the word "books"?

While US and UK chain booksellers have been not-so-slowly diminishing how many books they stock and replacing them with, well, stuff they can make a bigger margin on — Godiva chocolates, tarot cards, reading lights — and thereby signaling their days as serious booksellers are rather clearly numbered, the biggest bookstore chain in Canada has taken the trend to a whole new level of indifference.

As a Quill & Quire report details,”Indigo has made clear it intends to transition to a new product mix that includes more giftware, toys, and lifestyle products, with less shelf space reserved for books. At a vendor-relations meeting last week, the chain also informed suppliers that it is evaluating returns on a shorter timeframe, meaning some books are likely to spend less time in stores.”

While the first sentence was no surprise — Indigo has been increasing the amount of crapola in its stores for a while — the second sentence is the one sparking real industry worry. As the Q&Q report continues, “According to sources familiar with the matter, Indigo now says it intends to evaluate a book’s sales after 45 days, with returns for underperforming titles potentially following soon after.”

That’s about half the time usually given to a book to be in stores, and the dramatic change is sparking a chaotic response. Some publishers tell Q&Q that “it’s not fair to the authors” because it simply takes time for word of mouth to spread, let alone to get media attention for a book. Others say it’s the end of backlist sales. Still others fear quicker turnaround times will enter new inefficiencies in the distribution stream.

And others note it plays havoc with publishers’ productions schedules: “… many houses plan their fall seasons assuming that titles published in September will still be in stores during the run-up to the holidays. Publishers may be forced to push back pub dates, and rethink the timing of their publicity efforts and author tours, to ensure their books are still available when customers are in stores.”

And Q&Q notes that Indigo’s growing disinterest in selling books has led to more and more bullyish behavior:

The changes come after Indigo overhauled its co-op program earlier this year, effectively cutting publishers out of the equation when it comes to selecting what titles receive prime in-store placement. ACP [Association of Canadian Publishers] executive director Carolyn Wood worries that this policy, in conjunction with the shortened display periods, will become a “self-fulfilling cycle” that points to “a future of blockbusters and little else at Indigo.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives