Why are books released on Tuesdays?
I hate to spoil the ending, but we don’t really know why. So, if you’re looking for the one right and true answer, you won’t find it here. That said, if you enjoy a good mystery and like parsing through a mixture of plausible and somewhat out-there theories, please pull up a chair!
Ask a bookseller or a publishing professional why books are released on Tuesdays, and many of them will tell you that’s just how it’s always been done. However long-standing a tradition may be though, its longevity rarely reveals anything about its origins.
Out of every day of the week, why Tuesday? Was it a random choice made by someone who had no idea it would become the standard practice? Or was it a well-researched decision, proven time and again to be the most optimal day for book sales?
According to Laurie Hertzel, writing for the Star Tribune, the Tuesday standard can likely be attributed to three root causes:
Ease of distribution
Is money always the root cause? Publishing is a business after all. Because consolidating new releases to one day can reduce costs, this theory seems quite compelling.
Consider this: if books are released with equal frequency on any given day of the week, that means a distribution company will need to send out more trucks throughout the week to deliver shipments, and those trucks may only be partially full if there isn’t enough volume to fill it. In these cases, both the distribution company and the publisher may get the short end of the stick. The publisher could end up paying more money for extra transportation throughout the week, and the distribution company is sending out trucks that aren’t completely full, which is a loss in potential revenue.
So having a common day of the week for new releases makes sense, but this doesn’t exactly address why Tuesday is the magic day. It may be a stretch, but some believe it’s quite simple—if a Tuesday release is selling well, there should still be time for a bookstore to order more copies before the weekend, which wouldn’t necessarily be true of later days in the week.
Level playing field for booksellers
Having a specific, already agreed upon “laydown date” helps ensure a level playing field. If stores were able to sell new books the moment they are received from the distributor, certain stores would end up with an unfair advantage over neighboring stores who are still waiting on their copies to arrive. Even online retailers like Amazon and Bookshop.org are not supposed to send books to customers before the laydown date.
This usually works, although in September of 2019 Amazon was involved in a scandal after sending out copies of Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale—The Testaments. Constance Grady reported on the issue for Vox, and spoke with indie bookseller Lexi Beach who runs Astoria Bookshop. While Beach didn’t believe the scandal would negatively impact her sales, stating that people who pre-order books on Amazon aren’t necessarily her customers, the fact that Amazon can violate an embargo without facing the usual punishment reveals the unfair advantage they have in the industry.
Once again, having a common laydown date makes sense, but why must that day be Tuesday? Some say that Tuesdays are usually low-sales days, and new releases help even out an otherwise disappointing day for profits.
A better shot at the bestseller list
Every author wants to be a bestseller and every publisher wants to see bestseller-level sales—but can a Tuesday release day make their dreams come true? Possibly!
With a specific laydown date ensuring that books are put on shelves across the country on the same day, book sales are more neatly organized into a strong first week of sales, rather than being dispersed across several weeks.
As Constance Grady notes in her article on The Testaments scandal: “If the book’s release date is fuzzy for some reason—if some parts of the country get it a week before other parts do—its early sales become diffuse. They get scattered across two (or more) weeks instead of one. Which, in turn, makes it harder for the book to debut as a bestseller.”
And for the third time, we are left wondering, does anyone know why Tuesday matters? Nicholas Latimer of Alfred A. Knopf told Laurie Hertzel that “Most stores tabulate and report their sales for any given week on Monday, and then start fresh on Tuesday.” It’s possible that these sales reports strategically affect bestseller rankings.
Bestseller lists are complicated though, and different lists have different criteria a book must meet to qualify. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of bestseller lists, check out this helpful article from Vox.
A theory all publishing professionals can get behind
Oftentimes I find myself wondering: Tuesday is great, but why not Monday? Let’s start raking in book sales earlier in the week.
But then I remember that publishing professionals work Monday through Friday. Having books release on Mondays would likely cause some very hectic starts to the work week. Tuesdays, though, are more manageable because we have time to get our ducks in a row on Monday before the big day. Is that a flimsy and ultimately selfish theory? Maybe, but I think it makes sense!
The one right and true answer
We live in a postmodern world (or possibly a post-postmodern world—who’s keeping track?) so you know there isn’t one right and true answer. Maybe it’s ultimately up to you to decide. Do you have a theory that wasn’t listed here? Let me know!
Vox Article – Bestseller List:
Jackie Karneth is a publicist with Books Forward is an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.