The upcoming holiday season is the most important selling season in the year, but it also presents special challenges for independent book retailers. Just when it is most important to have lots of staff on the selling floor, helping customers and recommending gifts, it also becomes crucial to keep key titles in stock, which demands time in the back office, tracking consumer demand and sourcing inventory.
Despite the rise of digital reading, independent bookstores still play a vital role for driving discovery and word-of-mouth for many books. In some categories—for example, hardcover literary fiction and narrative nonfiction—early buzz at the independents can create the kind of sales momentum that translates into long-term reading-group bestsellers. Statistics have also shown that for some fiction favorites, indies can provide as much as one-third of through-the-register sales in the all-important first eight weeks of a book’s life. Investing in solutions to keep the shelves full of great reads at our independent accounts continues to be a high priority for Random House.
Some of our most effective recent initiatives to support independent bookstores take place behind the scenes. They are mostly geared towards making the process of ordering our titles easier and faster for booksellers. Faster turn-around times mean fewer lost sales due to lack of stock at a store, or guaranteeing there will be enough copies on hand for front-of-store displays or author events.
To speed up the order processing cycle, we’ve made a significant capital investment in our warehouse infrastructure in the last few years: We acquired a big sorter—a piece of equipment in our warehouse in Maryland that allows us to pick orders for independent accounts within twenty-four hours and thus achieve one of the fastest replenishment cycles in the industry. Our warehouse operation is an integral part of our publishing process, but it is usually not very visible. In the video above, you will get a glimpse of what this part of our company is all about.
The other big investment we made last year, and are repeating this year, is a two-day shipping program with our independent retailers. We are footing the bill to get books shipped out to bookstores in less than two days from November through March, to support our booksellers through the most crucial time of the year.