Observing that publishers are more efficient shippers when they pay for freight, booksellers welcomed Holtzbrinck's decision to adopt free freight by November. That move, following Time Warner Book Group's shift to free freight January 1, means that all the major New York houses now follow the policy.
"Free freight works because when publishers control shipping, they can find savings," said Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla., and president of the American Booksellers Association. Likewise, Neal Coonerty, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., expressed satisfaction, calling freight a critical issue because inefficient shipping—"like shipping three books at a time"—eats into profits. He added that "most independents prefer free freight over larger discounts."
For Allan Schmid, owner of Books, Etc., in Portland, Maine, and president of the New England Booksellers Association, "the rule of thumb is that freight is 2% of retail," so if a company switching to free freight "drops its discount more than 2%, I'd start to get worried." He added that he would like to see more smaller publishers go to free freight.
At large houses that offer free freight, most hardcovers and trade paperbacks are sold at a 46% discount. Under its FOB policy, Holtzbrinck offers a 47% discount on such titles. Details of Holtzbrinck's new terms won't be finalized until March, Alison Lazarus, president of Holtzbrinck's sales division, told PW. "We'll make adjustments to help offset the additional cost of free freight—although we absorb most of the cost," she said. Also the current threshold of 10 copies to qualify for a 47% discount will be changed.
Lazarus acknowledged that Holtzbrinck's move to free freight was made in part because it was the last major house not on the free freight bandwagon. Like Lazarus, TWBG sales director Chris Barba said the company's accounts had been asking the publisher to make the change. "It makes sense for smaller booksellers," Barba said, adding that she hasn't heard of any complaints from accounts about the switch, which did include narrowing the discount. In addition to shipping all its titles free freight, all of TWBG's distribution clients, with the exception of Guinness World Records, have adopted the new model.