A self-published children’s holiday book has become a bestseller at a major online retailer—but some independent booksellers are having trouble getting their hands on copies because of the publisher's strict 12-copy minimum order. First published five years ago and sold through Junior Leagues, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is currently B&N.com’s number-one selling book. Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell wrote the book and founded CCA and B (Creatively Classic Activities and Books) to publish it in 2005, along with Aebersold’s other daughter Christa Pitts. Sales growth has averaged 342% a year; first-year sales were a little over $100,000, and the company expects 2009 sales to approach $7 million. But several New England booksellers have said they were unable to order just one or two copies of the book—a $29.95 hardcover that comes with an elf doll—and must order in increments of 12, which has led to some stores teaming up and splitting orders.
Pitts, who is chief operating officer, told PW the company only sells the book in packages of 12 because 12 units is the size of a “master casepack,” which comes from the printer in China. “In the beginning,” Pitts explained, “we didn’t have the manpower or the resources to break open each master carton. Thus the practice stuck.” Heather Doss, children’s merchandise manager at Bookazine, said CCA and B only sells Elf direct, non-returnable through its Web site to stores, and will not work with wholesalers or distributors.
In Falmouth, Mass., Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins said she ordered 36 copies and split the order with nearby Edgartown Books. Eight Cousins has already sold its share of the order.
Referring to the high minimum order, Pitts said “lots of independent booksellers have chosen to give it a try. To date, it has worked beautifully for them. Many still need to reorder time and time again.” To Pitts’s point, Susan Fox of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., ordered 12 copies of Elf this year and has already sold out. She said she recently placed an order for another dozen, but was told that if she wanted more she would have to get onto a waiting list. “Demand is high, and to their credit they’ve done a good job at limiting distribution to keep that demand up,” Fox wrote on the NECBA listserv. “I would guess that next year it will be even bigger and we’ll have to order really early or give up on it.”
Elf on the Shelf is selling well at B&N.com, Borders.com and on Amazon (although its sales ranking on Amazon's bestseller list is not as high, possibly due to the book being categorized as a toy). It is not available at any big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's.
Pitts said that when her family first wrote the book, a literary agent tried selling it to a major house but had no luck, so they decided to self-publish. To date, she and her family have not received offers to be picked up by a large publisher.