Heyday Books, Berkeley, Calif., has had its consignment program--called the Heyday Partnership Program--in place only for around two years, but according to sales manager Christopher Miya, the results have been phenomenal.
Independent bookstores that have joined the program, Miya said, have seen sales of Heyday titles jump on average 100% compared to the previous years. In some cases, sales of Heyday titles have increased by 300% and even 400%.
"We're looking at this largely as a program for small independent bookstores," said Miya, who was the buyer and manager of Pegasus Books in Oakland, Calif., before joining Heyday. "That's my background--it's what I know and understand. Indie bookstores have more in common with a small indie publisher than a large, conglomerate publisher. We ought to be working together and trying to help each other out."
The terms of the program, Miya explained, are straightforward: whenever a customer joins the program, Heyday asks for a report on any of its titles that the new partner might already have in stock. The publisher then credits the partner for those titles and enters them back in their account as consignment stock. From there, the partners are free to order however much they want. At the end of each month, Heyday asks for a sales report, and partners are invoiced at a 45% discount for whatever stock they sold. "Basically, all we need is a sales report at the end of every month," Miya said.
Heyday Books, a nonprofit that celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, publishes predominantly art, photography and nonfiction with a Californian focus. Some of Heyday's more popular titles, Miya said, are its field guides and history books. Miya and his colleagues are well aware that they fill a very particular niche, and the consignment program, Miya believes, is instrumental in getting the company's books into bookstores.
"Sometimes our books are not the easiest books to sell, and we understand that," said Miya. "As more publishers combine into larger and larger conglomerates, it's harder for indies to juggle invoices and buy responsibly. As a small regional publisher, sometimes we get left out." Indies are happy about consignment, Miya said, "because they feel there's no risk, and we're confident that once our books are on shelves, they can find an audience."
Currently, 25 stores are enrolled in the Heyday Partnership Program. By the end of next year, Miya hopes to double that number. One of the keys to the program's expansion, Miya judged, is its simplicity.
"As a buyer, I would hear 'consignment' and just flinch," he recalled. "It seemed to be that you mentioned consignment to buyers and you'd get this sort of fright, as though the whole thing is very complicated. It really isn't. Part of the battle for me has been getting buyers to understand that this is not complicated--all I really need to have is what you sold from us in a month."
From his days as a buyer for an indie bookstore, Miya remembers the great deal of pressure to order conservatively. Consignment, he said, can help buyers break out of that habit. "You don't have to order just one or two copies. You can order seven or 10," he said. Miya doesn't see large publishers widely adopting the consignment model, but he does think it can be a game changer for independent bookstores and independent publishers. "I've always felt there must be a better way to do business," he said. "I think this is a way we can do business in the future. I hope a lot of other publishers get on board. Indies are really benefiting from this--it's incredibly important." --Alex Mutter