Fiscal year 2017 marked the first full year of selling RID Press titles on Amazon.com through two different channels – Amazon fulfillment (which means our existing inventory is listed on Amazon) and print-on-demand (through Amazon’s back-end printer). This allowed us to supply existing inventory and books that are now only available as print-on-demand via the same storefront. We also continued to run our bookstore order fulfillment services in house for certain customers.
The use of Amazon has been an experiment carried out with an eye on reducing expenses, unleashing talented staff for other work, freeing up tight office space from the function of storing inventory, and streamlining the bookstore ordering and fulfillment experience for our customers. In looking back on how we did, with an eye to our successes and failures, the RID Publications program continues to learn valuable lessons as we strive towards building a robust bookstore and manuscript publishing pipeline.
Last fiscal year saw much rebuilding of operations within the RID bookstore. After the long-time office manager passed away in 2015, temporary staff filled the position until FY17, when RID hired an enthusiastic new office specialist to provide “behind the scenes” support for our busy office and staff of 15. Part of the specialist’s role also includes bookstore order fulfillment. Over the past fiscal year, the bookstore team has worked hard to heal relationships with bookstores – RID’s key customers – and members as orders were taken, processed, and shipped in a timely and accurate manner. A new Return Authorization Request document was developed for customers wishing to return overstock, and a process was implemented to ensure that all return requests were reviewed/processed in a timely and standardized manner.
As we branched out to Amazon fulfillment and print-on-demand, the goal was to transition all book sales over to these platforms. Over time, inventory would diminish, books would be converted to print-on-demand and RID would eventually maintain zero inventory on site.
However, as the year progressed, several drawbacks and limitations became clear. RID’s core customers, college bookstores and other resellers, did not mesh well with this new approach. Ordering was difficult, as these customers primarily used purchase orders and “in house credit”, a form of buy now, pay later. These customers also needed the ability to easily return overstock and receive volume discounts that enable them to make a profit themselves as book sellers. Pushing all customers over to Amazon proved problematic because of this. Another drawback is that moving the books to Amazon fulfillment and print-on-demand also undercut RID’s own profit per title as Amazon and the print-on-demand service took their sizeable share of the sales price before remitting the balance to RID. This would not be an issue if volume increased sufficiently, as was anticipated due to reaching a much larger audience via Amazon’s marketplace. However, this, too, has been disappointing. The print-on-demand sales did well, and actually doubled in volume. In FY2016, an average of 45 books a month were sold, while in FY2017, an average of 100 per month were sold. Amazon’s fulfillment of existing inventory sales were less stellar, going from 12 per month to 10 on average. The reality of Amazon’s “Wild West” of seller listings, such as copycat listings and incorrect ISBNs posted by other sellers, has become clear as well, an issue that management will need to wrestle with in upcoming fiscal years as they consider to what extent the cost of investing in and maintaining online sales outlets are worth the benefits received. There is a happy middle ground in there somewhere, and the talented publications team will find it.
RID’s in-house portion of the bookstore also fared poorly in FY2017, in spite of the focus on rebuilding, going from 368 titles sold per month to an average of 136 titles by the end of the year. Revenues totaled $102,614, approximately half of what they had been in previous years (volume decreased by only 33%), attesting to the increased bite that Amazon fulfillment and print-on-demand took from all sales proceeds. Some of the in-house issues stemmed from the unavailability of some titles on the online RID store portal as inventory on hand ran out, but demand did not. A decision was made to continue to operate in-house order fulfillment services and maintain smart levels of inventory going forward. Staff began work to identify optimal levels of inventory for all titles and instituted timely inventory physical counts and sales reviews to ensure that titles would remain in stock for customers who prefer the personal touch of a human being. Other planned improvements will be heading your way over the next fiscal year or two, including a revamped online store and ordering process, a new interactive catalog, and re-imagined discount policies and shipping methods/rates. Publications staff are also renewing a commitment to the RID Press author pipeline, which will allow RID to recruit new authors and encourage updated versions of current titles. We look forward to being able to offer new and exciting titles to complement the moreseasonedtitles that are currently sold in the upcoming few years.