Week Two Thoughts
|Mar 20|| 3|
I received nice notes from many of you, responding to last week’s newsletter; turns out my thoughts helped others navigating suddenly uncertain waters. Thank you so much for letting me know; it buoyed my spirits.
Here’s where we are since last Friday (bad news first; good news later—keep reading!):
Orders from our distributor have basically flatlined. Bookstores are closed; Amazon is deprioritizing books.
Returns to our distributor have jumped. See above. In fact, I think returns are outpacing orders, which means our account is probably in the red for the past week. The returns system in publishing is so insane you could literally lose money by selling books.
Because sales from our distributor are paid 90 days later, but returns deducted immediately, our April payment, for books sold back in December (I know! It’s so crazy!) will be lower than I planned (I won’t know until April 5, the day the check is sent, how much it is for) (I know! It’s so crazy!). Obviously I can estimate reductions for our May payment, for books ordered in January, as well, as more books are returned by now-shuttered stores.
Because of returns and lower-than-projected sales, I expect that the crisis that indie bookstores have been under this month will be echoed by small presses in two to three months. It’s one big chain.
However: orders placed directly to our online store have surged. Yay!
So for my current take: I feel optimistic Belt will be able to weather this. Here’s why:
People are buying from us directly, though our store. As I wrote about in earlier newsletters, direct orders have always been central to our business model. We sell 25% of the total number of books direct to consumers, but that brings in 40% of our revenue, as there are no middlemen. 40% of estimated income—plus perhaps an additional 10-20% because more people are aware of this option and other options are harder—will help us weather the downturn in the distributor payments.
Earlier in 2020, I decided to publish a series of books under our Parafine Press company. Parafine Press is the rubric under which we help others self-publish. For a few of these, I decided to underwrite the costs. These books fit into our overall list, and have very niche audiences, so we can reach the intended audience easily, without the help of a distributor sales team, and with fewer publicity costs. We will print a smaller number of copies, lessening our printer bill. All of the sales for these books will come directly to us, either through our online store or wholesale orders we handle in-house. So these books will bring in quicker cash, and can be turned around much, much faster than a Belt Publishing title, given the requirements of distribution and the expectation of media.
We have five of these projects in the works for 2020; most are not listed in our catalog (or anywhere else) yet, but a few, such as Chicago Transit Hikes, are up for pre-order on our store. But most importantly: working on these books keep our staff occupied and paid, and the quick revenue from sales should throw off enough income for us to keep it that way.
Parafine Press also offers self-publishing services. Normally, clients pay for our the work, and that pay goes to the (part time, independent contractor) staff as additional money they earn above their Belt stipend. For the next few months, staff work will work on these projects as part of their base Belt pay. Because some of our Belt Publishing titles are now delayed, we need to keep enough work in the pipeline to justify current stipends. Plus, Parafine Press titles are not a risk, as all Belt titles are: clients pay us for our services. Those checks, unlike so much in this business, are guaranteed.
So that’s where I am today. I can project we will all be able to keep doing the same work, for the same pay, for another two to three months, even if sales continue to go down and returns continue to rise.
Come June I am less certain, of course, but at least there are actions I can take to help things more forward: I can work on attracting more Parafine Press clients (interested?); I can increase the visibility of our online store (come shop! we are having a big sale—and our shipping time remains very quick and reliable.) Having some measure of control over the business—-something the distribution system often deprives me of— makes the difference.
Of course, week three may upturn everything here written here. Just take it day by day; we are all in this together.
Be like these guys: come on in and pick out some books from our store! We are shipping quickly, and our office is safe and socially distanced.