A few years ago, I ran across a book called the Tightwad Gazette. It’s a compilation of articles from a newsletter of the same name. Basically, it is chock full of tips that take the concepts of reuse and recycle to a bit of an extreme in an effort to lower your expenses.
I love this idea, since I’m one of those people that actually washes out Ziploc baggies, hangs them to dry, and reuses them. Before we moved here we lived fairly near a Price Club (now Costco) warehouse store. We bought a gigantic bag of Ziplocs, moved them up to Idaho with us, and recycled them for at least five or six years. It was a sad day when we finally had to buy baggies at the grocery store again. I figure you can reuse a heavy-duty Ziploc bag between 5 and 10 times before they have to head for the landfill. That’s a lot of baggies that are not in the waste stream.
Most people don’t bother taking the time for tightwad techniques like these. (Although if the economy continues to tank that sentiment may change.) My eco-conscious “green tightwad” tactics are undoubtedly considered odd by most people. Realistically, we live in an incredibly wasteful society. Nowhere is waste more extreme than in the book publishing industry.
Traditionally, books have been one of the only types of wholesale merchandise that can be returned by retailers after they buy them. With most products, the retailer is responsible for selling the merchandise. If you order 25 snow globes and 24 of them don’t sell, you don’t get to return them to the wholesaler. You put them on sale and don’t order those snow globes anymore.
The world of bookstores, however, is completely different. As an author, you may be thrilled when major chains like Barnes & Noble or Borders carry your books. Bookstores can (and do) return books literally years after they purchase them. Returns can put a small publisher out of business. Bookstores place huge orders, and then when their invoice comes due, they just return the books instead of paying. The small publisher is left with an accounting disaster and a bunch of books that no longer look new.
When you look at the traditional publishing model, it’s no wonder so many books go out of print quickly. The publisher prints a huge quantity of books to distribute in bookstores, and then deals with storage and the aforementioned returns problem. The book gets shipped back and forth a few times, resulting in both shipping and storage expenses. If the book stops selling, it becomes too costly to store, and it’s remaindered, which is essentially selling it at a loss to anyone who will take it. Remainders are the books you see in the “bargain bins” or in those creepy strip mall stores, where you can buy books for a couple bucks.
Even after remaindering, the book can sometimes still be returned. The final indignity is when the book goes to the pulping machine. All that writing, printing, publishing, marketing and so forth ends up wasted, as the book is ground up, using still more energy.
That’s why the “Publishize” approach we talk about in this newsletter makes so much sense to me. Books are ordered only when someone actually buys one, so the whole returns, storage, and remaindering mess is taken out of the loop. By avoiding bookstores and their archaic systems, a book can stay in print almost indefinitely. For a “green tightwad” like me, it’s the only way publishing makes sense.