Book trade frustration ... A university bookshop contacts Reality Street, wants to order 30 copies of tapestry by Philip Terry, which is up for a major award. I question the quantity, but they insist they are ordering 30 each of all six titles on the shortlist, and they don't want RS as a small press to be disadvantaged in terms of display space. Oh, and can they have 45% discount, and can it be sale or return? I point out that our book is print-on-demand and therefore I will have to pay for all 30 copies to be printed, with no guarantee of a sale. We compromise on 40% discount (instead of our normal 35%) and they can have "reasonable" returns.

The award ceremony comes and goes, and a month later the bookshop is back - they only sold 10 copies, can they keep 3 for stock and return 17? I reluctantly agree, the 17 copies are returned, I refund the cost to the bookshop and we settle the bill.

Two months go by, and the bookshop is back. They failed to sell the 3 copies they held for "stock", so can they now return those too? I am really annoyed, and tell them so: I thought we had concluded the deal. The bookshop manager gets shirty; he has been told by the company to get rid of all the stock for the summer vacation (which is still at least four months off!) and if I don't agree he will be left with three books he can't sell. I relent, and tell him to send the books back and we'll see what we can do. So far, they haven't arrived.

Is this how it always works? Do bookshops always capriciously over-order at zero risk to themselves? Or do they only do this with small presses?