A few weeks ago something occurred that I'd never given much thought to before. As an indie author, it's not something that affects my books, but as a reader, it's something that still has me scratching my head asking, "how is that fair?"
It was the week before Labor Day and a Facebook group I belong to was all abuzz because copies of Sarah J. Maas's upcoming book, Empire of Storms, was showing up on bookseller shelves at least a week (more in other places) before the release date. On and on the group members cried about the unfairness of the situation and how the booksellers that put the book out early should be fined.
I was curious to see if my local Barnes and Noble had the book out early but I wasn't too concerned... I've just started the first book in the series so Empire of Storms wasn't a book I was dying to get my hands on like other people.
No, upon a visit to my local Barnes and Noble on September 3rd, they didn't have Empire of Storms on the shelf. However, they did have the Throne of Glass Coloring Book, And The Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich, and another book I'd heard mentioned, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova; none of which were supposed to be released until September 6, 2016.
When I brought this to the group's attention and asked, slightly frustrated, what was wrong with these bookstores lately I was met with a completely different reaction than those that brought forth comments about the EOS "tragedy."
I was basically told that if the book (in my case And The Trees Crept In, which I did purchase) wasn't marked S-O-S when it was shipped to the store then the bookstore could put the book out whenever they felt like it. Basically, the reaction was, "who cares?"
What Are S-O-S Books?
Yes I know dear readers, I thought S-O-S meant Save Our Ship, too. I honestly before that day had never heard that term before when it came to books. So what does S-O-S mean when it comes to books?
After a little digging, I learned that S-O-S means Strict-On-Sale. Apparently when some books are so highly anticipated - think Harry Potter, Twilight, or in this case, Empire of Storms - publishers place a sticker on the boxes of books sent to booksellers marking them "Strict-On-Sale" as in "if you sell these books or even open the box before the printed release date, YOU ARE IN BIG TROUBLE." There's even an embargo or law if you do break that agreement and the bookseller could be slapped with fines.
Why Aren't All Books S-O-S?
This is a question I'm still puzzling over. I mean why is it that some books are considered more important than others? Why is it that a group of people can get so hysterical about the early release of one book but be so nonchalant about the early release of another?
How is putting out a book early fair to the publisher of that book or the author, no matter what the book is? If booksellers have to option to say, "this box is taking up space in my stock room, I think I'll stick the book out today even though the release date isn't until two weeks from now," just because the book isn't marked "S-O-S" then why do publishers even set release dates? I mean if booksellers are going to set the books out whenever, just willy-nilly then why even bother?
The other thing that bothers me is how is that fair to a reader that may really want to read a certain book when a bookstore in let's say, Appleton, Wisconsin (my nearest store) sets out a book five days before it's release but a reader who's dying to read it in Denver, Colorado has to wait until the release date because their local bookseller doesn't put it out until the release date? And don't even get me started on people who've pre-ordered a copy online or are waiting for an eBook copy to be delivered to their Kindle/Nook/Kobo/iPad, etc. They still have to wait until the release date!
But of course when I voiced this opinion to the group I was told a bookseller couldn't keep every book that comes in until the release date; that would be unrealistic. How stupid of me for even suggesting it! After all, life isn't fair and some people just have to suck it up. (Those last two sentences weren't actually spoken to me as much as they were implied.)
In my opinion all books should be S-O-S, otherwise why bother setting a release date at all? How can you market something when technically a book isn't supposed to be out until "this date" but some stores set it out on "this earlier date?"
As an Indie Author, I set the release date for my books carefully and thoughtfully. I don't just randomly say, "Oh, by the way, my next book comes out on Tuesday," a week prior. That wouldn't give me enough time to get people excited about the book, nor would it make the release date special. What good would it do to say "Into the Light will be on sale on December 13, 2016," then put it out two weeks earlier? Hint: it wouldn't.
How Would You Feel?
Let's forget books for a minute. How would you feel if you were really looking forward to a new video game, or a movie coming out on DVD, or concert tickets - all of which were going on sale on a SPECIFIC date but let's say a Walmart in Louisville, Kentucky put the video game out a week early and you live in Omaha, Nebraska. Or a Target in Houston, Texas started selling that DVD five days before the Target store in your hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota? Or worse yet, the ticket seller for the concert you want to go to has the ability to print tickets before they go on sale for herself and her friends, so she does. How would you feel? Outraged, if you're anything like me. I'm sure you're thinking, "well if I don't live in that place how would I know?" But that's the whole point! It's the craftiness, the sneakiness of the booksellers I'm talking about. If you run a red light at 3 AM and there's nobody else on the road to see it, does that make it okay? No, no it doesn't.
So what do you think? Do you think it's okay for booksellers to put out books whenever they feel like it? Or if they have to wait to sell one book, should they have to wait to sell all books that come in before their release date? Why or why not?