Friday, February 10, 2012

In Brief: Pulp

Every author hears about "returns" when they hear about trade publishing. They're often invoked as one of the big bad problems of trade publishing (and while they are a hurdle, it's more nuanced than that). There's a lot to be said about returns, and at some point I'll blog on it, but today I wanted to share this photo, which I snapped as we were closing the store location where I used to work. (I transferred locations recently due to a store closure--I will get around to blogging about that, I promise!)

This photo is why you see that little note inside a mass-market paperback that says, "If you purchased this book without a cover, it has been reported as unsold to the publisher and neither the publisher or the author have received money for it." Mass-markets have a cost of goods of cents per copy, and it is more money-intensive to return the whole book than it is worth. When you return a mass-market, you "strip" its cover, and only the cover is sent back to the publishing company, because it is light, and cheap. The actual books themselves go to the recycling bin.

Don't ever pay money for a stripcover. Anyone who has one and is selling it is criminally infringing on the ability of the author to earn money from her work. These are unsold books—not used books, not special books. Unsold. They are supposed to be destroyed.

And now you know why my blog is called "From Prose to Pulp."


  1. Don't you think we should be able to come up with a better system than this? Seems like a waste.

    p.s. when I was a girl, I brought two paperbacks to the counter of my Indie bookstore. I could only afford one, and I wanted the sales guy to tell me which one he thought was the better one to spend my allowance on. He ripped the cover off one and gave it to me, saying "Here, take both." I was horrified! He was destroying books! Then I found out he could return the cover as "unsold" which struck me as completely crazy (I guess it still does). :)

  2. Short of direct-shipping every mass-market paperback to the consumer, I don't think there's a more cost-effective system. And then the MMs wouldn't be browsable in the store, and browsing is the #1 way MMs get purchased.

    Now, ebooks are starting to take over the land of mass-markets, and I think this is one of the areas where ebooks will shine. I know I for one am in the process of getting rid of all my MMs and replacing the ones I want to keep with either ebooks or hardcover.

  3. Well Amazon and B&N DO direct-ship to consumers every day (being a "member" at B&N, my shipping is free). I think browsing in bookstores is on a serious down-swing (as evidenced by the amount of floor space taken up by toys). But even if it's important to have books in the physical store, that doesn't mean that the system of pulping books is the only way to go. Why not donate remaindered books to the library? Too ripe for abuse?

  4. I'll write more about returns. But the big distinction here is that the store is being refunded for the mass markets, just as they are refunded for hardcovers that are actually shipped back to the publisher. If the books are given away, it's essentially the publisher making the donation, because the bookstore got their money back.

    Remaindered/bargain books are a different matter entirely. They are non-returnable, and yes, they are usually donated to libraries, schools, and other nonprofits.


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