Our order didn't ship from Wizards of the Coast until yesterday, making the release of Keep on the Shadowfell a precarious one for us. We snagged just enough copies from distribution and hopefully we didn't lose any sales. We ran out last night, but nobody asked for a copy after that. Our regular order arrived a couple hours ago. This problem came about because I ordered very early. Keep on the Shadowfell got lumped in with Star Wars releases originally scheduled the same day. When the Star Wars stuff got bumped, so did my KotS order.
My 4th editon order is big enough for WOTC to ship it via freight, rather than UPS. A big tactor trailer will pull up and offload a pallet of D&D 4 books. The positive side of that is that freight orders are a bit more unpredictable, so they're delivered earlier than a UPS order. This is especially good, because the book stores are already breaking street date on Keep on the Shadowfell, so every extra day is more sales. Of course, the down side is the unpredictability of freight. The freight company may promise a lift gate, to get that pallet off the truck, but when they arrive without one, are you going to tell them to come back in a few days and not delivery your thousands of dollars in product or are you going to roll up your sleeves and start with the heavy lifting?
My backup plan is still my book distributor, but with pre-orders in the many dozens, the book distributor order would likely last only a few hours before being depleted, and that's not even covering all the pre-orders. It's sad that I need a backup plan, and there is definitely a cost associated with the plan, but street dates are the real problem here.
Mass market cannot handle street dates. They are just not capable of that level of granular planning. Mass market gets many pallets of stuff in their stores every day and this stuff need to go out on the floor immediately. There's limited space and it's all about staging product for flooring, not storing it because some podunk publisher says you can't sell it until Tuesday. In the game industry, everyone is podunk to the likes of Target or Barnes and Noble, and although D&D 4 might be an exceptionally big release, most stores probably barely notice a Yu-Gi-Oh or role-playing release, let alone care about their street dates. The solution is to eliminate street. There is no middle ground, no "soft" dates or soft releases, just get rid of the street dates and all these problems disappear. Of course, I say that with the luxury of no local competition to scoop me on new releases.