Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Authors ask, "Why isn't my book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble?"

For all you authors self-published or published by small independent publishers, who are wondering why Barnes and Noble bookstores don't put your print book on their shelves, here's the (probable) reason. It is a little-known secret that we feel is necessary to expose and explain.

Our goal in doing so, in part, is to help put a stop to all the naysayers who claim that print-on-demand books are inferior and come from self-published authors who do a poor job of publishing their own books, or from publishers who are just out to scam authors. This claim of course is not true of all self-published authors or all independent publishers.

Some authors go to great lengths to make their books the best they can be. They hire professional editors and cover artists to package their manuscript in a printed format that is both pleasing and worthy of reading. The same holds true for many independent publishers. (And by 'independent' we mean publishers who are not a huge corporate entity like Random House for instance.) But there are vanity and subsidy publishers who charge all their authors for publishing services, with plans to make money entirely off the authors instead of sales of the books to readers.

That IS NOT how legitimate publishers operate. Any small publisher can be legitimate by choosing books to publish they consider well-written and marketable. These publishers might not have the force of a huge corporation behind them, but they are nevertheless legitimate publishers who will publish your book at their expense and do what they can to help sell your book in exchange for a percentage of earnings from those sales. You just have to look carefully to make sure you find one of these legitimate publishers that is suitable to handle your book.

Now, back to the Barnes and Noble question. (By the way, this information is available on the bookseller's web site, but we are broadcasting the major points to answer this question for the benefit of authors everywhere.) It is a complicated explanation, so bear with us...

CORPORATE WAREHOUSING. Barnes and Noble warehouses all the books that can be ordered by their individual bookstores. B&N Corporate chooses which books to warehouse from the 'books in print' catalog that comes out every 180 days, or approximately every six months. Books get into the 'books in print' catalog by being assigned an ISBN and having the 'metadata' for the book (ISBN, title, author, cover image, retail price, etc.) sent to the ISBN gatekeeper, Bowker. A self-published author can either purchase an ISBN from Bowker or use an ISBN furnished by a self-service book printer like Lulu or Createspace. Depending on when the book becomes available in print and when the 'books in print' catalog comes out, it could take up to six months for a book to end up in the 'books in print' catalog.

BOOKLAND BARCODE. Barnes and Noble requires a 'Bookland' barcode on the book that is a UPC barcode for the ISBN plus the retail price of the book. If the retail price is not included on the barcode, then the book will not be considered for B&N's warehousing. Specific print-on-demand printers like Createspace DO NOT give the option of including the retail price in the barcode. In this case, B&N suggests the publisher go to a barcode provider and get stickers printed with the ISBN plus retail price, to be affixed to books before they will be ordered by B&N for warehousing.

STORE RETURNS. Barnes and Noble requires that the publisher or whatever distributor the publisher uses accept returns in case books ordered by bookstores do not sell within a given period of time. The books are then sent back to the publisher/distributor at the expense of the publisher/distributor. In the case of large publishers, books are remaindered (destroyed). Because POD printing is predicated on the idea that the book shall not be put into printed form until the book is ordered (paid for), printers like Createspace do not accept returns. If a publisher wanted to be able to accept returns, the publisher would then have to become his own distributor and order a short run of books to be available for ordering. In that case, the publisher would have to warehouse his own POD books IN CASE they might get ordered by B&N for warehousing - which totally defeats the purpose of POD and the impact on the environment. So, if you use a self-service printer like Lulu or Createspace, you're going to have to order your own books, pay for shipping, warehouse your books, then hope they get ordered by B&N - with the understanding there's no guarantee they ever will get ordered.

QUALITY CHECK. Last but not least, Barnes and Noble requires a catalog from each publisher who wants to be considered a 'vendor of record' - a book distributor where B&N can order books for their central warehouse. For individual self-published books, B&N Corporate will consider books on an individual basis. If they don't meet all the criteria above, plus pass B&N's idea of minimum quality, they won't be accepted for warehousing.

There are some various other requirements, but these are the major ones that stop most small publishers and self-publishers from getting their books onto Barnes and Noble bookstore shelves. This of course does not keep the books from being sold through B&N's online retail bookstore. But it does keep them off the already overcrowded shelves of physical bookstores.

Deciding to absorb all the expense and headaches involved in trying to get a book onto the shelf of a Barnes and Noble bookstore suddenly doesn't look like a winning proposition. Instead it looks like a recipe for losing money quickly.

And that, author friends, is why your book isn't on a bookstore shelf.


  1. Very good info. Appreciate someone taking the time to give us outsiders a glimpse of the inner-workings. Thanks.

  2. Sad but true. The old standard is still alive and well, shutting out most authors from publishing/distribution opportunities available only to a select few favored by the Big Six publishers.


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