Monday, August 21, 2006

Remaindered books

In the Comments on this post about used-book stores, my English blog-friend Neal Dench asked a very good question. He wrote:

One thing I've often wondered, Brenda. Do you make any money (directly or indirectly) when someone purchases your book from a remainder book store? I've always assumed you do, because the book has originally been purchased by a "new" book store, which has then failed to sell the book and sold on to a remainder store, so you must have made some money on the original purchase. But I've never been sure. Perhaps you only make money when the new book is purchased from the book store, rather than when the book store purchases it. (If you see what I mean)

Generally speaking, authors make no royalties on remaindered (sometimes called "publisher's overstock") books. And stores that sell those books aren't buying them from other booksellers, but directly from the publishers.

I don't know how these things work on your side of the pond, Neal, but here in the U.S., if a bookseller can't move a batch of books he returns them to the publisher for full credit. Publishers cut postage costs on returned paperback books by asking booksellers to strip the covers and return only those, discarding the books themselves. That's why you'll see the following notice on a book's copyright page:

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

Now you're wondering where all those "remainder" books come from, since they're obviously not the unsold stock of other retail bookstores. They're purchased directly from publishers. When publishers print more books than they can sell, they attempt to recoup some of their production costs by peddling their overstock as steeply-discounted "remainders." They won't realize a profit on those books; they're simply trying to ease some of the hurt. The author receives nothing from the sale of such books because royalties are tied to the publisher's net profit. If the publisher is selling books at a loss, there's no money to share with the author.

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Shelley said...

I always wondered about that message in books - the one about the books being stolen if they had been purchased without a cover. I couldn't figure out why someone would want to buy a book with the cover missing - and just why the cover was missing. Thanks for answering it. Now I know!

Neal said...

Wow -- thanks for the detailed answer. As far as I know, in the UK, the stripping the covers off the books and sending them back to the publisher thing doesn't happen. At least, I've never heard of it, and I've never seen a book with the covers stripped off.

However, I bet that the rest of what you say still applies in the UK -- i.e. that remainder book stores get (at least the majority of) their books direct from the publisher, and hence the author makes no money. What a shame. Of course, simple mathematics means that there have to be some losers in the whole remaindered books game, but it's a shame that the authors suffer as well as the publisher.

My local remainder store (and I admit I do buy quite a few books from there -- if I bought all my books full price I'd probably be bankrupt!) does occasionally carry books that have a price sticker that is identifiable as coming from another bookstore. That does lend some support to the theory that, in the UK at least, a small proportion of books might come from the bookstore. But I'd bet that 99% of them don't.

Thanks again for such useful information.

Laura Vivanco said...

Neal, I'm in the UK and the one time I've seen books missing part of their cover was when the local Tesco was getting rid of the Mills & Boon they had in stock (they're not selling them anymore, at least, not in the 2 Tesco shops near me). What they did was rip off the back covers and donate them to the charity shop next door. The books weren't current M&Bs - they were from a few months before.

I'm not sure if those had been reported as "unsold and destroyed" to M&B or if that branch of Tesco was just wanting to mark them in some way so that it didn't look as though the charity shop was selling new books.

Brenda Coulter said...

That sounds mighty suspicious, Laura. I imagine those were indeed stripped books. The back covers would do as well as the front to identify the books and prove to their publisher that they had not been sold by the store that ordered them. And I can't imagine why any store--even a charity store--would be reluctant to appear to be selling "brand-new" books.

Again, Neal, I know nothing about how these things work in the U.K. (and perhaps only a little bit more about how they work here in the U.S.), but if you're seeing books in a store with other stores' price stickers on them, I would imagine those books are no longer eligible to be returned to the publisher for credit--meaning that the authors would have earned royalties on those sales.

You may be interested to know that publishers are always slow to pay royalties to their authors because they never know when and how many books might be returned for credit. An author's royalty statements will show the number of books "sold" to date, but the publisher will not pay 100% of those royalties until sufficient time has passed that there is no longer any reasonable expectation of books being returned. Publishers call those held-back monies "reserves against returns."

Brenda Coulter said...

Shelley, I have seen stripped books for sale many times--most often at flea markets and yard sales. My guess is that a lot of people find them in the trash--perhaps sitting in a box beside a Dumpster behind a bookstore--and don't see anything wrong with taking those "perfectly good books" and trying to sell them.

Neal said...

I should stress that the number of remaindered books I've seen with store stickers on is very small -- less than 1%.

Nevertheless, the message to take away from this post, I think, is that it's better to buy second hand. Not only better for the environment, but also for the author, because it does at least increase the chance that the author got paid for that particular sale!

Brenda Coulter said...

Neal, authors don't make anything on the sale of secondhand books. And as far as the "environment" question, remaindered books are leftovers--books that were printed but never sold. So those trees were already dead. ;-)

cantnever said...

Many, many years ago, we bought blocks of books from a local mom & pop store that had covers off. They were very cheap, and we didn't know any better. But they were ugly and not fun to own. That store is long out of business too. I haven't actually seen these kinds of books at all anymore. (Maybe the note inside every new book is making a difference.) I have seen books that have a stamped message inside them that says 'not for resale' or some such. Puzzling to me. We need a guide to help figure out these nuances in bookselling. I say, why don't the writers buy a quantity of their books wholesale - or less from the publisher - and sell them on Amazon? (Book selling online is good business.) I'm interested in ALL books not just the ones that are currently released, and I suspect others are too. One author I love sells his books from home and autographs each one! I think that's neat!

Brenda Coulter said...

Yeah, bookselling is a complicated business. But I'm afraid I don't understand your suggestion that authors buy books and sell them on Amazon. That's the publishers' job.

Neal said...

yeah, I realised that what I'd said was pretty daft. I suppose if you buy from a charity shop at least your money goes to a good cause.

I still agree with your basic principle, though, that a book bought from any source means publicity for the author, which may pay off in terms of revenue in due course. There are many authors I've "sampled" by buying them second hand or remaindered, that I've then gone on to buy more of, which I would never have sampled in the first place, had I had to pay full price for the book.

Brenda Coulter said...

yeah, I realised that what I'd said was pretty daft.

Oh, don't worry, Neal. It was obvious to me that your fingers had just got all tangled up when you typed that. I corrected you only for the sake of the strangers who might happen along and read these comments.

cantnever said...

Regarding my previous comment: One author I love sells his books from home and autographs each one! I think that's neat!

This author, Stephen Bly, sells from his web site and also from his fan club email group (I think it's yahoo). When you send him the order, he personalizes the autographs and even sends along perks, like a nifty book marker, etc. He must have a supply on hand or he couldn't sell and ship so quickly.

Pen said...

Sometimes books that have been returned to the publisher still have the booksellers' stickers on them. When you receive them as 'new' (not remaindered) backlist titles you can clearly see they've been out and about before. It's particularly amusing if they've been in a bookshop quite close when the warehouse is half a country away. What a waste of resources.

Brenda Coulter said...

It's particularly amusing if they've been in a bookshop quite close when the warehouse is half a country away. What a waste of resources.

Well, I'd say that depends on the width of the country, Pen. Are you a Brit?