From the blog February 15, 2011 Nathan

Demand for Modernist Cuisine Will Temporarily Outstrip Supply

In my previous post, I explained how I arrived at the decision to print 6,000 copies of Modernist Cuisine in the first press run. Initially, the plan was for all 6,000 copies to arrive at about the same time. They would be printed and assembled in China and then loaded into containers for the long trip across the Pacific. Then trucks would pick them up at ports of arrival in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, and finally, the books would fan out to warehouses—both those of individual booksellers, like Amazon.com, and distributors, like Ingram.

Unfortunately, the printer ran into some delays in the binding part of the process. Although all of the books are now printed, binding is not yet complete on all of them. Chinese New Year has been another source of delay—like most businesses in China, our printer shuts down for two weeks surrounding this major holiday. A similar delay occurred last fall.

The good news is that the first shipment of books has left China and is now steaming its way across the Pacific. It is due to arrive at the port of Seattle on February 19. As soon as the books clear customs, they will be trucked to the nearest distribution centers. If you have prepurchased a book, depending on the bookseller and how long ago you put in your order, your set might be on its way to you in the last week of February or the first week of March. This is actually ahead of schedule!

The bad news is that this first shipment contains only 500 books. The next shipment, which should be larger, is due to arrive on March 17. After that, books are due to arrive every week or two through early May.

As of this morning, 2,721 copies have been preordered through various booksellers, so unfortunately, the first shipment will fulfill only some of those preorders. Please bear with us; we will catch up as the books come in.

The old-school publishing way to handle this matter would be to hold all of the books until enough have arrived to fulfill every order placed to date. I actually had people suggest that to me! I was horrified. Some people put in their order way back in August. They were first in line, so it only seems fair that they should get their books first.

Apparently, holding books is the conventional wisdom in publishing because publishers consider the bookstore, not the reader, to be the customer. Publishers take great pains to avoid looking like they are giving advantage to one store over another. So if a shortage develops, the publisher typically delays release until it can give every store its allocation of books on the same day.

That strikes me as just plain silly. It is a simple fact that some stores (both the online variety as well as those made of bricks and mortar) have been accepting preorders for Modernist Cuisine for months now. Why shouldn’t they get precedence?

Our allocation strategy is to send each store or distributor a prorated share of the shipments based on the number of orders they have taken. That seems fair to both customers and stores. This allocation scheme means that if you order Modernist Cuisine today, you’ll get it at roughly the same time no matter whom you order from. But if you ordered it months ago, you’ll get it before people who order it now.

This isn’t an exact science, of course. Some distributors have longer delays than others in moving new books through their system. Some distribution centers are farther than others from Seattle, and not all vendors use the same delivery services. I can’t control those variables, so the scheme is as fair as I know how to make it.

There is one small loophole to “roughly the same time” that requires a bit of an explanation. Most books are basically sold on consignment, meaning that stores retain the right to retain any books they stock that do not sell. Books that come back from retail outlets are usually remaindered because they become worn from being handled while on display.

For this very reason, expensive art books are almost invariably sold to bookstores on a non-returnable basis. As a result, most bookstores can’t afford to stock them—the cost of carrying the inventory is just too high. Instead, the store takes one copy to put out for display rather than sale; then it takes orders from customers. This is the way that most brick-and-mortar bookstores are handling Modernist Cuisine. I suspect, however, that a few stores have taken the plunge and bought some copies on spec. They will likely have bought through our distributors, so I can’t say whether they bought copies to fulfill customer orders or to place for sale on on their shelves.

So it may be possible to find a copy of Modernist Cuisine for sale in a bookstore, even if it is back ordered online. Then again, it may not. We’ll just have to find out.

The reason I bother to mention all of this is that the possibility of a shortage of Modernist Cuisine looms in our future. Normally speaking, preorders don’t add up to much; people tend to wait for reviews and hear the buzz via word of mouth before they decide to buy a book. In our case, preorders are already approaching half of our initial print run. They are running well ahead of my expectations and those of the publishing experts that I have consulted.

Frankly, we have no idea how to extrapolate from our amazing preorder rate to total sales of the book. It seems likely, however, that in the months ahead, people will continue to order the book at least at the current rate that they have been ordering, and possibly at a much quicker pace. If the latter occurs (there is, of course, no guarantee), then we may find ourselves sold out of the first print run before we can fulfill the last preorders. Customers ordering at the tail end of the preorder period could then see a delay of a few weeks to perhaps a few months before their books arrive.

We’re trying to figure out ways around this issue. We’re now working on ordering a second print run, and talking to our printer about accelerating their shipping schedule. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Discussion

  1. pedro February 16, 2011 Reply

    Ok. Take your best guest, I preorder from Amazon Canada on Oct 22. What are my chances of getting my book by mid March? I know you’re good with math. :-)

  2. pedro February 16, 2011 Reply

    I’m in Madrid, Spain, btw.

  3. Steve February 16, 2011 Reply

    For $600, I would like to think I’m buying a U.S. made product, not one from China. That’s very disappointing.

    • nathan February 18, 2011 Reply

      I need to respond the comment about “US made” rather than printed in China. We looked at printers around the world and by FAR the best quality we found was the printers we are using in China. The idea that “made in China” means inferior.

      Cost is also an issue, and printing the in US would make the book cost much more than it is now, but the quality would not be any better – at least from the options we saw.

      The paper is Japanese – again, it was the best we could find.

      Also, from my standpoind the book was “made” in the US as far as I am concerned – the printing, while important, is not all there is to the book.

      • Edward February 21, 2011 Reply

        “The idea that “made in China” means inferior.”

        Sounds like you didn’t finish your sentence.

  4. Cari February 16, 2011 Reply

    I’m disappointed to learn that you chose to have your books printed in China rather than supporting a local printer. Think of the negative impact you’ve had on the local economy, your heavier carbon footprint, and on local employment. Very disappointing.

  5. Andrew February 21, 2011 Reply

    Shipping goods from China by boat has a much lower carbon footprint than sending them around North America by truck – large cargo ships are one of the most efficient forms of transport ever devised. Look at this article, for example, talking about wine: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/ship-or-truck-makes-all-the-difference-in-wine-carbon-footprint.php

    If you live in New York it’s much more environmentally friendly to drink French wine than Californian.

  6. SCOTT ANERSON February 22, 2011 Reply

    Congratulations on the book Nathan. I hope to be seeing you in Princeton soon!!!

  7. Brian R March 4, 2011 Reply

    It’s a very nice change to see an author explaining in such detail the reason for the books’ delay. If every professional put such detail into communication with their customers, the world would be quite different.

  8. Tom March 10, 2011 Reply

    I too am disappointed at the decision to print the books in China. There wont be any printers of any quality left in the US if everyone decides to print overseas. Also, there is more than just quality to think about, there are environmental regulations as well as the treatment of workers. As well as the government you’re supporting. I think that companies should be aware that consumers take into account where the products that they buy are made.

  9. Simon March 13, 2011 Reply

    What possible response could there be to this post but ‘congratulations’? I’ve been following the story of this book with great anticipation, and it’s been wonderful to see a work so deeply steeped in the ethic and practice of excellent science gain such interest. Congratulations, again and again. I’m looking forward to experiencing the work in the flesh.

  10. Chuck March 14, 2011 Reply

    I’m married with kids, meaning broke. If printing the art work in China held the cost down, I say Thank You Sir!

  11. Jeff May 12, 2011 Reply

    I think it’s about time for another shipping update. It’s the middle of May now and the book is still sold out online. Please post some updates on how many were ordered recently and when they should start showing up. Thanks!

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