Ask a Book Question: #73 (Tuesday New Releases)

June 9, 2009 | 2 books mentioned 9 2 min read

Poornima writes in with this question:

Why is it that new hardcovers seem to always release on a Tuesday? I have noticed this pattern a lot and I wonder if there is a reason.

The Tuesday release date is an industry standard, and not just for books; new CDs and DVDs are almost invariably released on Tuesdays. Before we get to why this might be, though, a quick note about book releases: 99% of books don’t have a hard release date at all. Generally, books are set to arrive during a particular month, and bookstores just put the books on the shelves when they arrive at the store. Only the most popular books merit a street date that is actually enforced. These books arrive ahead of the date in boxes marked “Do not open before…” and they sit there until that date arrives. For Oprah picks (and other big TV book club picks) these boxes don’t even have a book title listed on them. The box might just be marked “Oprah book club selection.” I suspect that not many books have specific street dates because, for many stores, it wouldn’t be feasible to store all the books that have been shipped but can’t yet be offered for sale.

covercoverIn the book world, street dates exist for books that will have a large, unified publicity push behind them. They include the “book club” books noted above and generally any other book by a recognizable name. In the fiction world, for example, Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic are set to hit shelves on the first Tuesday in August. But why Tuesday?

An Ask Metafilter thread and a Google Answers item offer some clues, though both focus on music and movies. Among the theories thrown around on those pages, a few would seem to make the most sense for the publishing world:

  • “If a Tuesday release is selling well, there still is time to order more before the weekend.” This makes sense, as it can often be difficult to gauge just how popular a release will be.
  • “Consumers know when to look for new releases.” This explains why new releases continue to be on Tuesdays but not why it was decided they should be on Tuesday in the first place.
  • Consolidating the releases to one day greatly reduces the costs to the distributor. (This doesn’t explain why it has to be a Tuesday, nor does it account for the fact that new releases often arrive at stores prior to Tuesdays.)
  • Tuesday is traditionally the lowest sales day of the week, so popular new releases boost otherwise weak sales.

My theory, somewhat inspired by what I read in the above links and somewhat drawn from experience is that releasing a new book on Tuesday allows for several full days of book-related hype in the media to get people interested leading into the weekend when most of the shopping happens. Allowing a weekend to break up the media hype cycle too soon might let the new book fall from people’s consciousness before they got a chance to buy.

Anyone in publishing got the real story on Tuesday releases? Let us know.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.

9 comments:

  1. I work in book publishing, and my understanding has been that for sales tracking through BookScan and for the kinds of tracking for bestseller lists, you are only going to have a full week of sales reported for the week it goes on sale if it goes on sale on a Tuesday.

    Also, I can correct this:
    "Consolidating the releases to one day greatly reduces the costs to the distributor."

    Wrong–in fact, only really big books that publishers hope will be bestsellers all actually go out to the booksellers on the same date–it's called a "one-day laydown"–and again, has to do with how sales are reported and how bestseller lists track that. It's more expensive to do that. Your average book just trickles into the bookstores at different times around the official publication date.

  2. Just an amusing anecdote; our local radio station goes down to the county jail on Tuesday morning and talks to one or two of the prisoners being 'released'.

  3. I was actually under the impression that Tuesday release dates had something to do with the shipping of the products. Someone whose father owned his own independent publishing company told me as much. However, I can't remember the details of what he said, so… yeah, I'm a lot of help. Anyone else heard something similar?

  4. Although this is nothing official, consider this: Most books ship via UPS, which doesn't deliver over the weekend. If they deliver on Monday and your "laydown" day is Monday, there isn't much chance to get your book in and on the shelf for the early demand. If they deliver on Friday or Monday and the "laydown" day is Tuesday, it gives time for book to be in the system and get onto the shelf in plenty of time. It's true that many books arrive earlier than the laydown date, but they have to arrive, be logged in, and distributed by booksellers.

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