Our thanks to Bill Gladstone, head of Waterside Productions, Inc. in San Diego, CA, for relating the following story about how his father might have been the one to trigger the start of "returnable" terms for the book trade.
How the book industry went astray during the Great Depression
As related by Bill Gladstone, whose father described it to him
Well, my father Milton Gladstone started his company Arco Publishing in 1936 so would have been 1938 or '39 at the earliest if his version of story is true. What he told me was that, as a publisher of test preparation guides for New York City civil service tests such as post office clerk carrier and fireman written exams, he would go to the outlets, especially Macy's which carried his test prep titles and offer to substitute one test prep title for another after an exam had been given since clearly there would be no demand for that title for several months. It was really an inventory swap rather than true returns policy and worked quite well for both Arco and Macy's.
According to my father, a sales rep from Simon and Schuster called on the Macy's book buyer shortly after my dad (who served as his own sales rep for New York City accounts in the early days of his company) had made his "inventory swap" arrangement to ensure Macy's would place another large order of Arco test prep guides. The Macy's buyer told the Simon and Schuster sales rep that he liked the way Arco was willing to let him return Arco books that were not selling. The Simon and Schuster rep, eager to make a deal, said, "Well, I'll check with my boss and if we agree to the same policy of accepting returns as Arco, will you start ordering more Simon and Schuster titles?"
And with the Simon and Schuster boss saying yes, the returns policy was born and of course word quickly spread and other accounts wanted the same privilege. Thus was created the single most detrimentable policy in the history of book selling, one from which the industry has never recovered.
My father was a great story teller and had many more details but there is no way of knowing if the story is true in all aspects since my father also had a wonderful imagination and an ability to take actual events and see them as having greater impact than they might actually have had! I do not doubt that the basic details of the Macy's story are true and that they did in fact accelerate Macy's demand for returnablity from other publishers. But whether this was the first case of the returns policy of just one specific vendor is impossible for me to verify.
--- Bill Gladstone, via email on April 10, 2009
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ABOUT BILL GLADSTONE
Mr. Gladstone advises publishing and training companies on mergers and acquisitions and has been involved with transactions ranging from six figure to mid eight figure deals. In addition Mr. Gladstone represents award winning photographers such as Doug Menuez and continues to represent individual authors such as Eckhart Tolle, the author of A New Earth, Tom Hartmann, author of What Would Jefferson Do?, international peace advocate Dr. Ervin Laszlo, Melissa Rossi, author of the What Every American Needs to Know Series, infomercial maven Dean Graziosi, and many other outstanding authors and professionals dedicated to creating books that will inspire and improve the world.