Pub Rants

Let’s Talk Co-Op

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STATUS: I’m blogging before 7 p.m. Makes me feel like I’m ahead of the game today!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’VE MADE ME SO VERY HAPPY by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

I probably shouldn’t make an assumption as I start this blog entry that readers know what Co-Op means. Given that, I’ll start with what it means in publishing. When we say co-op, we are using this as a short-hand term for referring to a process of publishers paying booksellers for the privilege of having certain titles prominently displayed on front tables, endcaps, or shelves when a book is initially released.

Otherwise, the book is unpacked and placed on the regular shelf—and if you’re really lucky, maybe placed there face out. Usually it’s just the spine that is showing.

Now as you can imagine co-op placement doesn’t occur for every title; it can’t. Too many books are published on any given day which means booksellers can only accept X number of titles for co-op placement depending on the size of the store. And it goes without saying that publishers only have so much money to pay for co-oping as well.

In general, publishers reserve co-op for their big authors and/or lead titles on any given launch list.

But even as I’m writing this and you are nodding your head, you are probably realizing that bestselling titles tend to be prominently displayed for months on end—even years sometimes. Surely the publisher hasn’t paid for the privilege for all that time?

And you would be right. There is an interesting balance dance between bookstores/sales outlets and publishers. Initially, if a title or author is new, a publisher has to pay to get that prime real estate. However, when a title/author has proving him/her/itself, then the balance tips in favor of the publisher as they then no longer have to pay for that prime location. It becomes in the seller’s best interest to have that title prominently displayed because it’s a money maker for them as buyers will be looking for that author or title. And hopefully they’ll buy other titles too on their way to the cash register.

And then there are programs such as Borders Original Voices. If a title gets picked for this program (and the Borders buyer does the picking—publishers cannot pay for this privilege), then a title or author is going to get the full support and backing of this outlet in all kinds of really positive ways—prime location just being one of them. Now publishers do send out hundreds of ARCs for a shot at the possibility but other than that, they have no say in what will be chosen.

It’s a wonderful thing to be picked for this as you can imagine.

21 Responses

  1. Mike Gerrard said:

    I love the blog not just for the insights into publishing but for the musical memories too. Blood, Sweat and Tears? Oh my.

    And there’s a wonderful typo, which I hope you won’t correct. Booksores? All definitions gratefully received…

  2. ~Jamie said:

    Wow! I guess I am just so naive about this whole world of getting published. When you think about it, of course people pay for those spots, but I always just assumed the book stores picked the books to put there based on merit. There is just so much stuff to learn about all of this stuff. It is overwhelming!

  3. Rebecca Chastain said:

    I was in my local Borders today and saw Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet prominently displayed in two different front tables! (I did my own dance of joy simply because I got the chance to interview Mr. Ford on my blog this week. Seeing his book right when I walked in the store and having had the chance to chat a little with him made me feel like I was seeing a friend’s book on the shelf.)Congratulations!

  4. Elsa Stander said:

    Huh. As a Borders bookseller myself, I admit that I wasn’t really aware of co-ops. That said, I don’t know how other stores do it, but any new title we receive for laydown goes straight to a featured New Fiction/Nonfiction bay. As far as I know, publishers have no say on that score, because we make the decision on the store level.

    But I did see Bitter and Sweet on the charts for multiple displays, and as I kinda like this blog a lot it was exciting. Will def have to check it out!

  5. Anonymous said:

    I work at a borders style book store in Canada. Coles, Part of Indigo books and music, for my fellow Canadians.

    My take on Co-Op’s.

    We have a list every month of “new and hot” that they require to be on the first tables. And a list of books they want on our moveable displays or the end caps.

    But, while we are given the list, and start out with good intentions to fill the table based only on the list, sometimes we need to pick other titles to replace.

    The number one reason is the books they send us are out of quantity for a proper display. If they want something featured on a table (and also in it’s proper section) they need to send more than two books. But of course, that is the case for EVERY store, which means a huge print run with possible remainders to sell off.

    The number two reason for books being replaced – we simply like another book better. If we have had a great run in our store with an author, or someone read an ARC and wants us to order up on a new release, it often lands on the table.

    That said, we have SO many co-op tables (and walls, and end caps and such) there are very few titles that are bumped for reasons other than #of books. We usually have free spaces for our own favorites to mingle with the “paid for” books.

    And of course, if we have personally met an author, their book usually gets a prime spot for a little while so we can share with our customers. And if they sign a copy or two, all the better.

    And this is why I’m happy I work in a book store. At some point, when my book is published, it will always be faced. Either I’ll do it, or my friends at the store (should I not be working there) will. Nice Perk.

  6. Sherry Thomas said:

    I did not go out to bookstores much after DELICIOUS my second book, came out, since I was on deadline for my third book.

    DELICIOUS came out end of July, and I only went to B&N around the end of October. Whereupon I was shocked to see how many copies of DELICIOUS they had (10 to a store) so long after its release.

    And it was like that in every B&N near me. And the copies were placed near the front of the store in a rack with big name bestsellers. I asked my editor if my publisher was paying for the placement, she said no. Finally I talked to a romance-friendly bookseller I knew and she said it came from corporate.

    I was frankly flabbergasted that corporate knew I existed. 🙂

  7. Anonymous said:

    Thanks so much for this answer, Kristin. I knew the term co-op but didn’t know quite how it worked.

    I found it interesting that certain lead titles no longer have to pay for the co-op as they become an asset to the bookstore as far as sales go. My guess would be authors like Johnn Grisham or James Patterson or even Stephenie Meyer (after the initial book Twilight) would be an automatic “table placement” w/o the co-op.

    Great info. Happy to Jamie’s book on tables, btw.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I never considered what it meant to be a Borders Original voice. I imagine that would be a nice surprise, for an author. Sort of like winning a lottery you didn’t even buy a ticket for.

  9. Dara said:

    I never knew about that. I learn something new nearly every time I come and read your blog!

    That would be very exciting to have such a coveted spot.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Love posts like this! I had a vague idea of what co-op meant, but didn’t realize how much the bookstore itself influenced position. (Also, I assumed publishers paid for those prominent best-seller displays.) Also, I’d heard of Borders Original Voices but had no clue why it was so cool.

  11. Peter said:

    We have a local Barnes & Noble that fronts into a mall as well as having an entrance to the outside. On the mall side, there’s a window with books very prominently displayed in it, nice bookshelves, lots of room with few titles so each title has a great placement.

    Until I tried to BUY one of the books on display and discovered, to my amusement, that the copy on display was the ONLY copy in the store. Needless to say, the cashier I finally talked into walking in to the display so I could purchase the book wasn’t all that pleased with the sale. The next day, I ended up having to go back to the mall (the curse of 3 kids…) and walked past the B&N: The shelf was still empty, no book on display at all.

    Was rather amusing.

  12. Anonymous said:

    (Note: This is Anon from above, and to simplify things, my name is Melissa, but I don’t have a bloger)

    To: Peter

    Your experience, with the single book on a special display, is the reason that some of our “new and hot” titles and co-op titles get bumped from the tables.

    If we have only a couple of copies of the co-op book and 15 copies of another title, we’ll always opt to put the second title on the table, even if the first is a co-op.

    Aside from the way a large stack looks on the table as compared to smaller ones, Our number one job is to make life easier for our customers. If we have 3 copies of the new Ian Rankin, for example, we want to make sure they are in their proper section.

    Sure, a customer *might* see it on the table on their way in, but if they go to look for it on the mystery wall, where it should be filed, and don’t see it, they are more likely to leave without it.

    That said, we’ll always try to face a new title in section. Co-Op or not, faced books draw the eye better than spines.

  13. Editorial Anonymous said:

    Just so we’re clear, co-op is small to non-existent in independent bookstores. If you see a book face-out in one of them, chances are very high it’s because the staff recommends to book.

    Co-op benefits the big bookstore chains, but don’t assume it automatically benefits the author. B&N has a 40% returns rate.

  14. literaticat said:

    Well, EA, but co-op can benefit independent booksellers in different ways. We may not take money for placement, BUT, for example, we put a few images and blurbs or a logo from a certain publisher’s books on the back of our bookmarks and then bill co-op for the cost of printing them (not an insignificant cost as we have 10 stores).

    The problem of course is that many smaller independent bookstores either don’t have good enough credit to buy direct from enough publishers to make co-op viable, or they don’t even realize that such opportunities exist or how to take advantage of them.

  15. Editorial Anonymous said:

    I know, Literaticat. But the co-op system, so I’ve heard, is complicated enough to be a real pain for independent booksellers, even if jumping through enough hoops does get them a little extra money sometimes.

  16. Blythe said:

    Fascinating . . . I always assumed, though I should have known better, that booksellers made these decisions on their own. Thank you for the great tutorial on Co-ops!