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Understanding Book Returns with IngramSpark

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

If you’re new to the publishing world, book returns may be a bit of an elusive concept. While print on demand services and digital innovations have helped the book business better predict book demand, returns are still an inevitable part of the bookselling process if you’ve chosen to make your book returnable with IngramSpark. We’re here to help you better understand why book returns occur, and help prepare you on how to handle book returns with IngramSpark.

You should always celebrate when a bookstore places an order of your title (go indie authors!), but remember that the final book sale hasn’t been made just yet. The final sale with bookstores only occurs when the bookseller sells the book off of their shelves and into the hands of a reader. But as far as your publisher compensation is concerned, your book was ordered, IngramSpark printed and shipped it and so considers your book sold to the bookstore—which results in you getting paid for that sale.

Booksellers often buy independently published books on a trial basis to see how your book will sell in their store and test demand for your title. While print on demand only prints your title when it’s ordered, it doesn’t prevent bookstore returns if the bookstore is unable to sell the copy they purchased of your book.

Before you publish a book, it’s important to consider all the costs associated with publishing a book, not just printing it. If you plan on selling your book to independent booksellers or chain bookstores, understanding book returns will put you ahead of the curve in your self-publishing journey.

Although online retailers are less selective than brick and mortar stores in regards to whether a book is returnable, typically, brick and mortar stores will not order a book unless it is returnable. These brick and mortar stores range from the “big box” stores, such as Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and Costco, and include most independent bookstores as well. Although there is no guarantee that booksellers will carry your title if you make it returnable, it increases the likelihood that your book will be considered by booksellers if it has a returnable status. Many booksellers pass over titles that are nonreturnable as a rule. Selling books is their business; when they take a chance on a new author, it’s easier for them to justify the purchase to themselves when the risk is alleviated by a returnable status. When your title flies off the shelves, the returnable status becomes irrelevant because there is no book to return. They may even order more if your title performs well for them! The bottom line: the fact that your book is returnable helps encourage booksellers to give it a chance in the first place.

At IngramSpark, we support standard industry conventions by allowing you to designate whether your titles can be returned. You can make this designation at the time of initial title setup, and the return designation can also be changed at any time.

How Much Are You Charged for Book Returns?

As we mentioned above, many booksellers will not stock a book unless it is returnable. However, returns can be costly, and you should be financially prepared for returns. IngramSpark will charge the publisher for the wholesale cost of returns plus any applicable shipping and handling fees.

Before discussing shipping and handling fees, let’s talk about the wholesale cost of your book. If you set a retail price for your book of $20 and select a 55% wholesale discount, the result is a $9.00 wholesale cost, and the retailer will pay $9.00 to purchase your book. If the book is returned, we charge you back the wholesale price of $9.00 + the shipping and handling fees shown below. If you decide to change the price of your book, you’ll be charged at the wholesale price that’s active in our system on the date that the return is processed.

Three Return Options for Publishers 

  • “Yes – Deliver” Costs: Quick reminder—choosing this option means you would like to receive the physical copy of the returned book. In addition to the wholesale cost of the book discussed above, the below shipping and handling fees will apply.  
    • Returns to US addresses - $3.00 per book shipping and handling charge
    • Returns to non-US/international addresses- $20.00 per book shipping and handling charge
This option can be costly and should be carefully considered. In addition to the shipping charges, the quality of the book when it is returned to you is not guaranteed.
  • "Yes  Destroy" Costs: If you chose this option, your returned units will be shipped back to Ingram and destroyed. You will be charged the current wholesale cost of each book returned, but no shipping and handling fees will apply. This is a more cost-effective option than “Yes – Deliver.”
  • No or Non-Returnable: This option is available in all markets. Select this designation if you do not want to allow your titles to be sold on a returnable basis. IngramSpark will not accept returns from booksellers for any title so designated. Returns can be very costly and if you are not financially prepared for returns, this may be your best option.

When Are You Charged for Book Returns with IngramSpark?

Book returns will be deducted from your publisher’s compensation for sales in the month that the returns are received from the retailer (in the case of “Yes-Destroy” titles) or the month that the return is shipped to the publisher (in the case of “Yes-Deliver” titles).

At the end of each fiscal month, Ingram will post the net amount you’ve earned in that month (publisher compensation earned minus the cost of returns) to our accounts payable system. The net amount earned will be paid in accordance with the payment terms contained in your print on demand agreement. If returns received in a given month exceed sales by an amount that causes your balance to become negative, IngramSpark reserves the right to send you an invoice for the balance due.

How Do You Change the Book Returns Status in IngramSpark?      

You can change the returns status by logging into your IngramSpark account and clicking the blue edit button next to Market Pricing.

Once you save the change, it will reflect on your IngramSpark account—but the information will not be sent to distributors immediately. Changing your returns status is considered a price change, and price changes occur weekly in order to ensure a smooth metadata update with our distribution partners.

What Happens After You Change Your Book Returns Status in IngramSpark?      

If you change your book’s return status from either of the “Yes” options to “No”, IngramSpark will provide notice of the change to all distribution partners, but booksellers will continue to have the right to return books for a period of 180 days from the date we provide notice to them (at the costs discussed above). More specifically, if you change your status from “Yes – Deliver” to “No,” then any books returned to Ingram during the 180-day period will be destroyed.

If the returns status changes from “No” to either of the “Yes” options, booksellers are able to return titles immediately from the date notice is provided to them. Make sure you’re aware that booksellers may return books from the effective date of the change, regardless of when the books were originally purchased. 

While no one likes book returns, it’s important to understand what your book return statuses with IngramSpark mean and the opportunities/risks they present. Making your book returnable means bookstores are more likely to carry it, which extends your reach considerably. More people visit bookstores worldwide in search of books than are probably visiting your author website or seeing your book advertising. But the bookstores’ added exposure also means that returns are a possibility. Not offering returns may limit your books market viability, but also means an order is a sale no matter what. Consider your options and your sales goals and make the decision that’s right for you and your book.


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IngramSpark Staff

IngramSpark® is an award-winning independent publishing platform, offering indie authors and publishers the ability to create, manage, and globally distribute print and ebooks.