BEA: Thursday, part IV (intro to co-op)

Okay, like everybody in the world, I find co-op confusing and thus have mostly not looked into how to use it (despite the urgings of our dedicated and awesome Macmillan rep, who even wrote me a template for a co-op claim; yay Jerry!).  But I also knew that by not working on it, I was losing out on what was essentially free money from the publisher.  So I went to this session determined to learn what to do.  And I pretty much did, in as much as that is possible with co-op.  At least, I understand the idea a lot better, and I know where to start.  The panelists were Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates and Libby Cowles of Maria’s Bookshop.  They were a great pair, because Mark has been working with co-op for almost a decade with one of the projects Paz & Associates does (helping bookstores make newsletters that are eligible for co-op), whereas Libby is new to bookselling and has only been working with co-op for a year.

The panel almost exactly followed the handout on bookweb, which I am not going to reproduce here, but which you should definitely check out if you don’t understand co-op.  It does a pretty good job of laying out the basics.  The notes I wrote down are in addition to the presentation, so I’m not sure how much sense they’ll make, but here they are anyway.

  • Higher profit stores spend less of gross sales on advertising, but more of other people’s money and more money overall.  In other words, co-op is key to a better bottom line.
  • Box stores return at about 30%, indies return at about 10—but co-op is issued on what you BUY.  This high return rate form box stores is screwing over the publishers, but that’s another post.
  • Something I hadn’t heard of before: buck-a-book co-op.   The publisher says, we’ll give you a dollar for every book you buy (out of non-pool co-op).  This doesn’t play out as well for indies, who are rarely if ever going to buy 1000 copies of something.  However, some publishers are starting to do something like, if you buy 6 copes of this, you’ll get $50 display co-op, which is a good opportunity if it’s a book you wanted to display anyway.
  • You can usually earn a small bit of pool co-op on purchases from wholesalers–in other words, your pool co-op is determined by how much you bought from the publishers, because it’s a certain percentage of that.  But you can also get a smaller percentage of the money you spent on that publisher’s books from Ingram, B&T, Bookazine, etc.  February is a good month to ask for this annual co-op summary report from wholesalers (may cost $25 or so, but it’s worth it).  Then you just submit it to the relevant person at the publisher, who the sales rep can help you find.
  • Important reminder: some publishers on a calendar year basis, but a few are on a fiscal year basis.  Also, there is no carry-over from one year to the next.  Use it or lose it.
  • Okay, the most important thing I learned: display placement co-op is easy, just take pictures and send them in.  It comes as a shock to me to find out we can have money for something WE ALREADY DO.  We have a big beautiful table with stacks of the books we are currently very excited about, right in the middle of the most trafficked area of the store, and we can get money for some of those books.  This is insanely awesome.
  • Smaller publishers may not have a formal co-op policy, but they might very well be open to your suggestion, it can’t hurt to ask.  As with most things, start with your sales rep.
  • Getting back to placement: there is DEFINITELY a relationship between how much you can charge for placement and how many books you can expect to sell; keep in mind that your pool is the size of your purchasing, so it should correlate.  Another way of thinking about this is, if you can afford to buy 20 copies of a book because you expect to sell all or most of them, you can ask for more placement money than someone who can afford to buy 10 copies–and since the money available to you is a percentage of what you buy, stores who buy 20s of books instead of 10s will have more money to draw from anyway.
  • With publisher, returns do not effect pool co-op, it’s just based on your purchases.  With wholesalers, it’s determined by net (includes returns).
  • Many publishers only give half the amount of money for electronic newsletters as opposed to physical, which hopefully will change soon.  A standard policy is that you get up to 1000$ a year, 50$ at a time, for putting titles in your newsletter.  Again, this is so insanely easy, and so something that we already do, that I am flabbergasted that I can get money for it.  (I guess that’s what I get for not reading the actual co-op policies, although if you look at them, you can’t really blame me!)  Mark later estimated that you are looking at AT LEAST 10-15k a year, just in newsletter co-op, just from big publishers, that could be credited to your accounts.
  • How simple is it to get newsletter co-op (which is not pool co-op, by the way)?  It’s a 50-word blurb (can be taken from publisher marketing copy; hell, as Mark says, they’d probably love it if you did that) in a newsletter, which you can get from ipage or TitleSource, a jacket image, and BANG!  You’ve got newsletter co-op.
  • A great idea: get publisher to pay for off-set of cost of insert of holiday catalog in paper.  The holiday catalog is already created a great deal with co-op (which goes to regional associations) so you probably can’t get co-op for the books being in the newsletter, but some publishers may well help you pay to insert it in the paper near Christmas.
  • Libby kindly shared that she prefers to do co-op in a big 3-hourish chunk, about every couple of weeks, which is helpful to know.  She also uses Excel to keep track of everything, and underscored the importance of keeping EVERYTHING written down, because every publisher is different, and you want to be able to follow up if you never get a credit for a claim.
  • Displaying BookSense bestsellers and staff picks is also a good place to get display co-op (which comes from your pool co-op).
  • Libby also shared that for events (which have their own co-op money, not from pool co-op) she thinks about co-op at the front end of the events, and basically goes to the publisher and says, this is what we do for advertising, and we will also run this ad in this paper IF and only if co-op pays for it.  You can also use event co-op for things like food and drink, but make sure you get approval first

Mark and Libby also did a good job of talking about the importance of ethics to co-op.  Obviously, you could just advertise and promote books you would get co-op on, but didn’t really feel passionate about, but that would be distinctly unethical, not mention lame and a good way to make your store boringly inauthentic.  Also, it’s obviously just wrong to take money for display and then not display the book, or only display it for a day.  After this session, I’m sort of looking at co-op as a good way to get money for things we’re going to do anyway, as well as to get money for advertising for events I’m going to hold anyway.  It’s definitely a hassle, but worth the work.

Thanks to both for a great panel and for allowing me to post the notes.  Mark said something great when I asked him: “Well, this community is all about idea-sharing, so I don’t see why not.”  Which is true.  Over and over again, indie booksellers will share whatever you want with you if it’ll make your store better, which is one of the number one reasons this is one of the best professional communities in the country.

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