One afternoon in September, a bright-eyed young publisher walked into a small independent bookshop in South London with a large cardboard box containing copies of a shiny new book, and asked the manager if he’d like some. Sale or return, no money upfront, no risk.
“If we decide to order a copy,” said the manager, giving the book a cursory glance, “we’ll order it through a wholesaler.”
And the publisher replied that, though it would obviously be a much better deal for both parties if the manager ordered directly from the publisher – especially given that said publisher was, at that very moment, standing in front of him with a large box full of books – then Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler, could supply him.
The manager looked up the Gardners website on his computer.
“It says it’s not in stock,” he said.
And the publisher explained that this was because Gardners didn’t hold stock in their warehouse; Gardners would need to order the book from the publisher, who’d send it to Eastbourne, so that Gardners could send it back to London. Which seemed a bit daft, given that the publisher was, at that very moment, standing in the shop with a large box full of them.
“Well, that’s no good, then,” said the manager. “If Gardners have to order it, it won’t be sale or return. And we’d only be interested if it’s sale or return.”
And the publisher decided to chance his arm and mention again, in case it had momentarily slipped the manager’s mind, that he was at that very moment standing in front of him with a large box full of books, any number of which he was willing to hand over then and there, on a sale-or-return basis.
“Sorry,” said the manager, “we only order from wholesalers.”
At which point a small penguin walked into the shop wearing a fez and asked if anyone knew the way to Basingstoke.