There was a piece on last week (either Tuesday or Thursday) on NPR's Marketplace radio show on how publishing companies struggle with distributors.
Here's how it works. Bookstores (especially the large chains) order large numbers of books through distributors (only) because they are competing with the Internet and don't want to be left with a title out of stock. They don't have to pay for books for 90 days. Just before the 90 days are up, they return all unsold books-thus they don't have to pay for them. Then, to hedge their bet, they reorder all the books again for another 90-day period.
So a publisher has to print a large number of books due to the initial demand from distributors, but ends up being paid late (if at all), and they are left with a large number of unsold books (dreaded inventory) at the end of the day.
How are they to survive? Many small bookstores only buy through distributors (even many, but certainly not all, small Catholic book and gift shops), so if you want to play the game, you have to play with the distributors who specify large numbers of books and returns.
If you don't play this game, a publisher is locked out of the large bookstores and many smaller ones. It is an uphill battle for the small guy to be sure.
We have never bought into this model, but have survived, but growing slowly to be sure. Complicating matters are a growing number of books being published with a shrinking readership.
We do a fair amount of reprints. With the advent of print on demand (POD), some companies are finding every public domain book; making facsimile copies and selling them POD. In general, this is good. Valuable works are kept in print. However, the quality of the facsimile copy is sometimes lacking. You can even find books printed this way with missing or damaged pages-because their source had missing and damaged pages. (The POD quality itself is usually good, technological advances have made these sometimes almost indistinguishable from offset printing. We use both technologies.)
At Requiem Press we re-typeset every reprint and often add footnotes to clarify language not familiar today (often Latin was used for quotes quite often in Catholic books, which may not be understood today. See especially, Witnesses to the Holy Mass.)
This week (or next) we will be launching a new marketing tool for people who may be interested in our books. Stay tuned.
Oremus pro invicem!