|Posted on Sunday, January 16, 2005 - 07:35 pm: |
In an astounding turn of events, B&T hasn't paid its bill in a good long while. Couple of months since we've seen any real money (not that I wish to poo-poo the $60 check they sent me, but it's not quite the $20k I was expecting). This is a shock, especially coming from an outfit like Baker & Taylor, who has such a good record. Like that time they paid on time back in October 2002. Or the time before that, back in... er, I guess October 2002 was the only time.
Added to this bit of hilarity, Ingram has discovered a new Accounts Payable procedure, in which 3 days before your check is to be cut, they return everything in their warehouse. After your check has been cut (by about 75% if our last half dozen checks are anything to go by), then they reorder all the shit they returned to avoid paying for it.
Amazon is far simpler. Computer error prevents us from getting a check. Oddly enough, the computer error seems to happen about every other month.
So, since it's ridiculous to expect companies with millions of dollars in revenue to be able to cut a four-digit check in the same year it was due, we're kicking off our bimonthly "Guess it's time to start selling shit on ebay again" party. This time around it's a batch of dvds, most of my reference library, and a whole batch of sexy and rare books (look for some stupidly rare and expensive Hodgson books to show up soon).
Bid early and bid often! Or don't. I've had to do this so many times I'm finding it increasingly hard to give a shit one way or the other.
If you can't attend this party, look for the next extravaganza, wherein your intrepid publishers sell off Jeremy's entire book collection to cover for a bunch of deadbeat fuckwits who don't bother to pay for what they fucking ordered, but yet we can't live without because somehow it's better to sell books to people who won't pay for them than it is to go into business making something people actually fucking want, like toilet seats. That sale should be happening in the next couple of weeks, and continuing until it's all gone. Lots of good stuff, most of it cheap.
But I'm not bitter.
|Posted on Sunday, January 16, 2005 - 07:53 pm: |
Jason, I feel your pain...
|Posted on Sunday, January 16, 2005 - 08:07 pm: |
Going on seven years, and nothing ever changes.
|Posted on Monday, January 17, 2005 - 09:01 am: |
That Ingram trick is one of the worst things I've ever heard in my LIFE.
Geez, Jason - sorry to hear about these goings on.
I'm starting to think the way to survive in publishing is to be in distribution - that way we could CONTRACTUALLY not pay people, as opposed to just not paying because companies haven't paid US.
Hang in there, man.
|Posted on Monday, January 17, 2005 - 09:54 pm: |
Has someone already tried putting up a public list of who pays on time, or doesn't? I know that I've run online lists noting which magazines respond to subs, and in how many days, along with some way to add your own experience to the (call it a) database. If lots of presses added the info, the naming & shaming part might even have some effect -- and if not, at least it'd be an entertaining way to blow off steam.
|Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 02:41 pm: |
"Has someone already tried putting up a public list of who pays on time, or doesn't? I know that I've run online lists noting which magazines respond to subs, and in how many days, along with some way to add your own experience to the (call it a) database. If lots of presses added the info, the naming & shaming part might even have some effect -- and if not, at least it'd be an entertaining way to blow off steam."
Regretfully, unless your name is Bertlesman or somesuch, all of us small presses are up a creek without a paddle.
|Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2005 - 09:14 pm: |
We may be too hasty in condemning Baker and Taylor and Ingram. Easy enough to say they lack ethics and behave like pirates, but is that inconsistent with success in business? As long as small publishers pursue a steady pattern of self-victimization, the distributors come across as being pretty smart and the small publishers who refuse to alter their model of operations simply look like saps. When my friend gets run over in the street by a truck, I feel terrible for him. But when he keeps showing up in that street, regular as clockwork, ready to be run over again and again, I'm tempted to start rooting for the truck. Did anyone think of launching an intensive sales campaign to eliminate the position of the distributors?
|Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2005 - 11:31 pm: |
If you want to play baseball, you have to buy a glove. Its just the nature of the game. If you want your books available in bookstores across the country, you have them available through Baker and Taylor, and Ingram.
There is an easy fix, and that is going through an exclusive distributor like PGW... PGW then sells to Ingram and b&T, and is responsible for collecting from the wholesalers. Since PGW is a big, aggregate account, they probably get paid on time.
Pursuing exclusive distributors like this adds on certain costs... 20-30% right off the top goes to PGW. And you still have to have your own warehouse/storage costs, as exclusive distributors rarely warehouse a publishers entire inventory. And, it puts all your eggs in one basket… if your exclusive distributor goes bankrupt, you stand almost zero chance of collecting your money, or your inventory. Nothing comes without risk.
If you add another 25% costs onto the net sales, that means you have to sell 25% more copies to make the same amount of money. This means smaller, less commercial titles are even less feasible to do... Instead of 1000 copies being barely profitable, suddenly, you have to sell 1,250 copies to be barely profitable. For a lot of titles, this is significant.
Its a tough business. Night Shade constantly re-evaluates the business choices it makes. As long as we are committed to doing books that are less commercial (first novels, collections, etc.) in nature, we have to find ways to do that profitably. One way is to cut out a middle man, and fight for our paycheck a month at a time.
Another way would be to exclusively do limited editions, with high cover prices, and encourage people to buy direct from us. We haven't taken that route yet. If anybody wants to start rooting for a truck, feel free.
If anybody wants to question our business judgments, I say "score board". We've got almost 50 books under our belt, and 6+ years experience that says we’re doing something right. Its been a street fight to get here, but we ARE still around. And we will still be around next year, and the year after that. And we'll continue to do the books that we think need to be done.
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 12:20 am: |
I find it amusing that Gavin will lambast us at a moment's notice for running a sale once in a while, and that we're out to screw the "little man" yet is willing to side with the wholesalers over not paying bills they have more than enough money to pay.
Hey Gavin, if we actually got paid by people once in a while, we wouldn't have to run the sales.
"Did anyone think of launching an intensive sales campaign to eliminate the position of the distributors?"
You know, that actually had occurred to us, from time to time. How is it you think that booksellers acquire books? Bookstores don't have the time or energy to manage 90 publishers worth of accounts. They want to order from one consolidated place and not worry about it. So we can run sales campaigns all day long, but if we don't provide a way for the bookstores to get the books without a hassle, then they aren't going to order them. They'll go order some other books that will sell just as well.
I know it amuses you to come pick fights and then beg "oh, I was just joking" when we step on you for it, but it's not particularly amusing to me. Quit it.
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 12:30 am: |
As to Claude's idea of publicly posting a list, it's a fine idea but somewhat moot. Everybody in the business knows who pays and who doesn't. B&T fucks us over on a regular basis, but that's nothing new. They've been doing it for years.
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 02:39 am: |
Hey, I figured you guys needed some sense spelled out, and go ahead and fire away. I am your friend, and it has nothing to do with begging. You guys are so quick to pull this sad sack crap and then everybody chimes in with the boo-hoo, it gets sickening. Then when I start adding up what you actually put out in your complaint, you think I have my own axe to grind. Not so. I want to see you prosper, that's why I'm in business with you in my small way. Prosperity is evidently beyond me, but I certainly wish you the best. But from what I hear, you guys can't keep from giving away the farm. I carefully read everything you had to tell me, both of you, and I still can't see why you don't just sell direct to the sellers. You have your books in a warehouse. When I want books, I send you money. But somehow B&T and Ingram can get them just for a sweet tale of future payment. You just can't be as bad at this as you make out, so something is wrong in what you're saying, you are exagerating or something. If you want to have a sale, that's your look-out. Thanks for remembering my remarks from so long ago, but I really didn't intend to revisit that train of thought. I am not picking a fight, I'm just having trouble believing that serious businessmen like you and Jeremy can be as foolish as you represent. Even George W. Bush has heard the old saw, "Fool me twice,...we can't get fooled again." Well, we know what he meant, but do you? It takes time to sell books, more than just the time to print them. Maybe you are relying too heavily on the distributors, more heavily than they can support. Maybe your release schedule is too optimistic, and based on unrealistic projections of revenue. And why did you rush those books out of your own warehouse and into theirs? Should B&T and Ingram borrow money just to keep you current? Damn it, I can take an adversary position and still be in your corner. Indeed, I feel like I am the only one saying anything constructive here. I'm just one guy sitting in my own little hovel, but I have apparently argued so well that you feel mighty well cornered, or else you wouldn't be fighting back so hard. And telling me to quit it is just silly, this is your message board and all you have to do is ignore me, hell, pull down my posting if you don't like it. But I can say something, too. It's only an opinion. You are the ones who keep repeating this scenario where your expectations aren't being met. All I am suggesting is to alter your expectations in some way. You would know better than I what way that might be. Is that not reasonable?
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 05:00 am: |
"I still can't see why you don't just sell direct to the sellers"
Because there simply aren't enough booksellers willing to order direct. On any given title we publish, less than 100 copies of the trade edition will go to the booksellers. Anywhere from 900-2000 copies will go to the wholesalers. So without the wholesalers, we are out of business. It's really as simple as that. No B&T, no Ingram, no Amazon... no Night Shade. And frankly, I'd like to reach a larger market than just the specialty book dealers.
And why exactly would B&T or Ingram have to borrow money to pay me? These are companies that do hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Not only do they make me pay the freight, but they also require net 90 terms, which usually turn into net 120 to net 180 terms. I am unable to figure out why I should show any sympathy.
B&T orders books that they have orders for. They aren't ordering books that are sitting on the shelves. When they ordered 1000 copies of Banquet of the Lords of Night, it was because they had customers asking for the book. They sold the book, to the booksellers, on net 30 terms. So B&T ordered books from me, which I shipped in good faith. They were paid for those books 2-3 months ago. I have yet to be paid for those invoices. I have yet to be paid for invoices going back to last August. They're not holding out on me because they don't have the money, they're holding out on me because they simply can't be bothered.
As to Ingram? I sell them books. Those books go to the warehouse. Booksellers order them (I know this, because I check my sales reports on a regular basis a the Ingram web site). Explain why Ingram would order 200 copies of a book, sell 150 of them, return the other 50 two days before I'm to be paid, and then turn around and reorder those books immediately after the check was cut.
Amazon orders books. They order books when they have orders from the website. I ship them the books. They sell them. They get paid for them. So why is it a hardship on them to pay me for the damn things?
In December, I was due to receive a total of $30,000 between Ingram, B&T and Amazon. I received a $60 check from B&T and nothing else. As of January, I've received my December check from Amazon (not the January check mind you) and tiny check from Ingram (along with a note that they have extended the payment terms even further, so I won't receive another check until February) and NOTHING from B&T (who is currently overdue on about $20,000). Hell, B&T still owes me money that was due in November.
Please explain, in detail, why it's perfectly ok for my customers to not pay their bills, while I get lit up like a christmas tree when I don't pay mine. Because near as I can tell, you've just called Jer and I idiots for expecting to be paid for product we shipped.
As for sad sack crap, it's my board and I'm allowed to pull all the sad sack crap that I care to.
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 05:01 am: |
Gavin, what's your expertise in this area?
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 09:15 am: |
Jason and Jeremy,
I’m not a writer, although I dabble;
I’m not a historian, although I have a degree in history;
What I currently am, is a Financial Services expert with over 15 years experience in banking; ranging from direct customer planning models to Money Market to audit.
These are my credentials.
I’m also a lifelong fan of science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction, whatever you want to call it (I just dump it all into the category ‘fiction’, since by definition anything that is not ‘fact’ is ‘fiction’, no?), with a personal collection of well over 2,000 volumes and I buy at least 50-75 new books a year.
I’m also becoming more interested in ‘small press’ publishing, especially Night Shade, simply because the ‘small press’ is currently publishing more of what I want: high quality editions of something different.
…Aside…You might as well call Night Shade a not-for-profit publisher. I would suggest that both of you have marketable skills that would personally bring them in far more funds than the current vow-of-poverty existence that seems to be Night Shade. Therefore, the problem becomes how to make Night Shade profitable enough so that they can eke out a reasonable existence while continuing to publish what they want?
In following this thread, unfortunately, Night Shade seems to be in same bind as all other types of Small Business I’ve worked with; whether they be retail, small scale manufacturing, or intellectual products – unless you have a product unique to yourselves (such as a Stephen King bestseller) that people will buy, you are in competition with every other business who produces a similar product and at the mercy of market forces (i.e. your distributors, whose actions as you have related, are unpleasant, but not far different from other examples I have seen). I’ll bet that this is not particularly earth-shaking news to you and actually pretty much self-evident. So the question becomes; How to differentiate yourselves from the competition? Other ‘small press’ concerns are doing this by diversification. For example:
• PS Publishing, Subterreanean, Wheatland and others are experimenting with some type of magazine production; while
• PS, Golden Griffen, and Night Shade have experimented with offering different types of editions (Limited, Hardcover, Paperback, Book Club, chapbook etc.).
I would suggest that these efforts, while worthwhile, either complicate the core business or, in the case of magazine production, move completely outside the core business, which leads to a new set of problems. I would further suggest that a more creative solution is to attempt to replicate what Elastic Press seems to be doing: producing themed anthologies which are quite different than those currently being marketed (e.g. ‘Best of’ collections or ‘Chicks in Chainmail’ vs. The Alsiso Project and The Elastic Book of Numbers). Allow me to point out the advantages of this:
1) This type of themed anthologies are by definition producing something unique and therefore interesting to a wide market, and
2) These anthologies are showcasing Elastic’s ‘stable’ of writers.
Although these anthologies seem to be selling well, they fundamentally act as a loss-leader, introducing readers to other works published by Elastic.
Although by no means am I expert (or even widely knowledgeable about publishing), I would suggest the same strategy for Night Shade.
• Produce the most commercially-viable anthologies for your target audience (i.e. a high-quality trade paperback original), intended from the start as an introduction to other Night Shade offerings;
• Be upfront – Tell people what you are doing and why (i.e. it’s a benefit book!). It seems to me that the SF community is highly supportive of such efforts;
• Market the hell out of it (such as JeffV’s efforts for Chapman’s Troika);
• Use creative means to partner with bigger concerns (e.g. such as offer the SFBC the exclusive hardback edition); and
• Make damn sure Night Shade’s website is highlighted front and centre.
Your greatest strength is the goodwill your publishing efforts have generated and you have free access to some of the most creative minds around.
Maybe try running a contest to pick out a theme that will have stories written by pre-selected authors? My own suggestion would be a series of stories themed around magic books, magic book stores, and magic book production (I’m thinking of Leiber’s Fahfed and the Grey Mouser tale Bazaar of the Bizarre or Ellison’s ‘The Cheese Stands Alone’). Tell me a story of JeffV’s Borges Bookstore, Zoran Zivkovic’s The Library, Kage Barker’s The Company’s efforts to preserve contents of the Library in Alexandria, Nick Mamatas’s Jack Kerouac MUG character writing a story of Lovecraftian horror or in a similar vein, Charles Stross’ Bob Howard trying to suppress an occult publisher intent on flooding the market with summoning books.
You decide, but anything has got to be better than having to flog your own treasures on ebay! With best wishes, and hoping that this sparks something creative in smarter minds than mine,
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 09:32 am: |
For Nicholas Liu, who asks about my expertise in the book trade: I am a small online bookseller who seldom deals with distributors, as I buy direct from sources, like Borders and Barnes and Noble cannot. I suppose all my orders added together from Night Shade total less than $2,000 net. But I was posting from curiosity, which Jason's explanation satisfies to my satisfaction. This is a topic that I've seen before and wondered about, as the ways of publishers and distributors are rather mysterious to me. It is clearly naive to suggest that a publisher try to avoid distributors, but how then to protect against their cut-throat accounting practices? The more I learn about the problem of getting paid by them, the more I appreciate the frustration Jason and Jeremy feel. It's just that this happens regularly, as the guys say, and my instinct was to question why some buffer couldn't be set up to protect against these slow-pay tactics, because it sounds like it is a real hardship, every time it happens, according to reports. It seems that as we talk, we are using a lot of examples and analogies to try and illustrate how it works, and that may be a problem, because nothing else is quite like this business scenario. But before we conclude that the distributors who use tactics in their own interest and counter to those of publishers are being unethical, it might be well to recall that they are more answerable to their own stockholders than they are to the needs of their suppliers. I don't know that I have any good suggestions, but I do think I now have a better understanding of the problem than I did before our exchange, so that's a bit of progress for me. As for getting chewed out for my trouble, that was my pleasure, small price to pay. As I try to learn how to manage my own money (such as there is of it), I try to avoid credit, as I hate owing, almost as much as I hate being owed. Economics is a mystery to me, as the Federal Reserve seems to have more in common with Harry Potter than with rationality. Somehow, the ability to issue bonds and create debt takes the place of backing money with money, currency being the equivalent of checks, essentially. But if everyone avoided borrowing money, which increases when repaid, this would restrain the growth that we have come to rely upon. But somehow, we must all attempt to live within our means, and to count only the hatchlings, because you can't pay your bills with eggs, mostly. When one's income comes in seasonal spurts, or has highs and lows built into the rate of payment, this can be very awkward unless steps are taken to protect against the rise and fall of fortune.
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 10:29 am: |
P.S. Further thoughts:
• Any such anthology being done should have Night Shade in its title. The obvious title for the above would be ‘The Night Shade Book of Books’;
• If successful, the public loves sequels (The Night Shade Book of Books Vol II);
• A ‘name’ author would help! E.g. China Mieville ‘On the Origins of the Runagate Rampant’ or maybe even Terry Prachett ‘How the Librarian Got His Fur or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spell’;
• Introductions to each story mercilessly flogging each author’s titles from Night Shade. And how about a general Introduction from Harlan Ellison (HE wrote a beaut ages ago from ‘Fantasy Newsletter’ #47 – ‘Hard Truths for would-be Writers’, that I don’t think has ever been reprinted; and finally
• If such were done, ‘twere best such would need to be done quickly, ‘cause such an idea, if a success would be copied endlessly (e.g. Live-Aid, Band-Aid, Farmer’s-Aid etc).
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 12:07 pm: |
I can't speak for NS, of course, but I think they'll probably tell you anthologies are a bad idea. In general, they don't sell as well as novels. And, of course, it seems to be public knowledge now that NS has acquired a doozy of a novel to help generate revenue--the US rights to the new Banks.
The real debate might be over the pros and cons of the Small Beer Press model of publishing 2 or 3 books a year with print runs over 5,000 and good chain bookstore penetration or publishing 15 to 25 books a year with print runs under 5,000 and middlin' chain bookstore penetration. If there needs to be a debate.
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 12:24 pm: |
Nope, no debate needed on this end; just trying to be helpful and creative, mon ami, and throw some ideas into the mix.
Jonathan (who's feels like Scrooge on this topic: I don't know anything, but at least I know I don't know anything!)
p.s. Would still love to read about the history of the Borges Bookstore!
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 12:39 pm: |
Just one tiny little point here: You included me (Wheatland) in the list of small presses who are dabbling in magazines. That is emphatically not the case. All my books are books. Trade paperbacks to be precise. Anthologies, collections and (to date) one novel.
I wouldn't touch magazine production with a ten-foot pole.
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 01:02 pm: |
Jeff does bring up a very good point about differing business models... He mentions Small Beer, and points out the differences between us and them.
Subterranean/Cemetery Dance are also examples of business models that are different from Night Shades -- models to which I alluded to in my initial response to Gavin.
Night Shade is trying to make a go of its model, and that model is under constant refinement – For example, every three months or so, a serious look is taken at an exclusive distribution relationship. The day that our own fulfillment, warehousing and shipping costs = 25% of our net sales is the day that PGW is a better business choice for Night Shade. We are CONSTANTLY running these numbers, and tracking these types of costs. Because that’s what you have to do to stay in business.
As Jeff mentioned, the Banks book should help down the road... Publishing books that people actually want to buy is a new strategy that we are pursuing here at Night Shade. We were actually clued into this strategy via Jeff and Mark’s Disease Guide.
But for the next 9 months, the Banks project is just another black hole that sucks up cash flow – a LOT of cash flow, in this case. Talk to me in January of 2006, when we start seeing the first revenue for the Banks project, and I'll let you know how it worked out.
Of course, if people suddenly started pre-ordering books, and pre-ordering limiteds, I might see some of that money up front. But in general, the marketplace is moving away from the pre-order/pre-pay model, in part because of the small press industry’s track record for accepting payment in advance, and then not putting out the product for a half decade or so.
But thanks everyone for the feedback and suggestions. Part of staying is business is throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks.
-jl (covered in shit, but still standing)
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 04:16 pm: |
Apologies, Deborah. I've only poked-about, your quite excellent site, a couple of times; through references clicked on, hither and yone.
No doubt, when post-Christmas-poverty no longer becomes an issue, I'll actually be able to buy something!
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 04:23 pm: |
You're talking about sales and profitability, which isn't really our problem. The books we're publishing are profitable, some of them very much so. I can think of maybe four books out of the last 30 that didn't make a profit, and those generally broke even or close to.
The problem we're having is cash flow. Being paid for the books we've sold.
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 08:23 am: |
As I was checking out the items on the Ebay, I noticed a few items called Spectrum Fantasy from the British Ferret Fantasy. I am quite unfamiliar with the bulk of Ferret's activities, although I believe I have Mountains of Murkiness by Arthur C. Clarke from them. Are these Spectrums fiction anthologies, or reference books on collecting?
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 09:55 am: |
Jason and Jeremy:
Perhaps it is time for unorthodox collection methods. I recall a British collections outfit of a few years ago called Smelly Tramps that was apparently quite effective. After all, these companies are all headed by individuals, and the individuals all have offices and homes.
How about sending a polite reminder to the sidewalk outside the home of B&T's CEO? We have a successful protest group in my part of the world called The Raging Grannies. They are a passle of sweet natured old ladies who show up at protest events to sing songs whose lyrics they have adapted to the circumstances. I would think four nicely dressed old ladies singing "Richard Willis is a cheapskate who will not pay his bills" (I'm thinking it would fit the tune to the old Nick Adams tv western series, Johnny Yuma) outside his home or country club would draw cops and tv cameras and make a nasty public relations black eye for the corporation. Make sure the ladies have a tightly written handout to give to the media.
Of course, you'll want to be very careful not to allow any hint of a connection between Night Shade and the little old ladies. But I'm sure there are hundreds of small presses getting exactly the same treatment, so they won't know whom to vicitimize.
BTW, disregard my e-mail inquiring about the first payment on the advance for my story collection. I understand completely.
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 11:03 am: |
B&T's main offices are almost walking distance from where I live. I can head over with some guys with baseball bats.... (I know Minz is home this week)
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 05:06 pm: |
hmm... Smelly tramps and grannies... It could work. Weather we go with the tramps & grannies, or with Klima and Minz, we will eventually get money out of them.
In the mean time, auctions are going well. There will be no need to disregard your E-mail concerning your first payment... We pays it now, or we pays it later. Not going further into debt, and not falling further behind is the key here. But thanks.
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 06:10 pm: |
Spectrum of Fantasy is basically a three-volume set documenting George Locke's collection, with extensive notes on each volume.
Your Friendly Helper
|Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 06:12 pm: |
The accepted short-hand for "tramps and grannies" is "trannies".
Night Shade Books
|Posted on Monday, January 31, 2005 - 06:55 am: |
Round two is posted, wherein we begin to purge Jeremy of some bad habits: