Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Fate of "Returned" Books

Keli Gwyn here to talk about unsold books.

Have you ever wondered what happens to books that sit on the shelves at your favorite booksellers and don't sell?

The logical answer is that the booksellers return the books to the publishers. But, sadly, that's not what happens to all books.

In the case of mass market paperbacks, which are the smaller-sized paperbacks such as those published by Love Inspired, a different fate can await them.

If you look at the copyright page of a mass market book, you might see a box similar to the one in this photo. Unless you're a curious sort, though, you might not be in the habit of reading copyright pages and the fine print found there.

In this close-up shot, you'll see that the books might not be shipped back to the publisher. Instead, a mass market paperback might (shudder) have its cover removed, and the remainder of the book would be "destroyed."

Yes, it's possible an employee would wield a box cutter, slice that pretty cover off the book and toss the rest of it in the trash. The mere thought causes me to blink back tears. Perhaps your reaction is similar.

Why would a publisher allow an unsold book to be destroyed? Good question.

Publishers know that not all the books they print are going to sell. They factor that into their planning. Because mass market paperbacks are priced lower than the larger trade paperbacks, the publishers figure it's more cost effective to have the book sellers return the covers for credit than to ship the books themselves back.

It's sad to think of books meeting such a sorry end, but that is the nature of the publishing business. What can help is realizing that every time you purchase a mass market paperback, you're ensuring that the book will not end up lying in some dumpster "stripped" of its cover.

As I stood in our local Walmart a few days back, I saw that all five copies of my August Love Inspired Historical, Make-Believe Beau, were still on the shelves. Knowing what awaited them if they didn't sell, I grabbed four of the books and headed for the register.

Since I'm a softy and believe those books deserve good homes, I gave them away to some happy Facebook friends who will provide them.

Questions for You 
Have you ever wondered what happens to books that don't sell?
Have you ever noticed the "stripped book" message in a book?

If you were to rescue books from such a fate,
who would you give them to?


Sally Shupe said...

I had never thought of a book's fate. I guess I just assumed they all found homes. It saddens me to find out that isn't the case. If I could rescue those books, I would, and give them to women's shelters, friends, our church library, and I'd find other places that would take them, to help them find good homes.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sally, I like the idea of donating the books to women's shelter and church libraries. I've given author copies to my local library and to women in our community's homeless shelter. Talk about a rewarding feeling.

Jackie Smith said...

Yes, this is sad!! I share my books with libraries, shut-ins.....shame to just toss them. I learned that a sweet lady checks out the LI books (that I donate to local library) for ladies in a nearby nursing home.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jackie, I've shared my books with shut-ins, too. Many of them really appreciate getting reading material. It's so sweet that a kind woman in your community checks out your books from the library to loan to the lovely ladies in that nursing home.

Valri said...

Keli, I did not know they were destroyed! i thought they went back to the publisher! I HAVE thought about what they do with the unsold books though. I buy books every month at my local stores and i always wonder where "last month's" books go! I'm a firm believer in passing on a book! I either take mine to used book stores or share them with friends. It's the whole recycle attitude I have about everything! It pains me to put anything usable in the trash! Thanks for enlightening me about the "book's fate"!!!

Keli Gwyn said...

Valri, it pains me to think of what happens to books that don't find homes. I understand why publishers must take the steps they do, but it seems a waste and very sad. However, they can't be giving away books all the time. They have business expenses and employees who appreciate getting paychecks. And there are those authors who like to be paid for what they do, too. :-)

Like you, I share the books I've read. Many of them end up at my local library. I like thinking that I'm helping introduce other readers to authors whose stories I enjoy.

Library Lady said...

Who do I see about getting those books off the shelve before this happens? I would love to rescue them and give them a home in the church library.
Does this happen in all stores that carry books?
Janet E.

Keli Gwyn said...

Janet, I wish it were possible to rescue the books, but it's not--other than buying the remaining copies, of course. The books are the property of the publishing company. As it says in the notice I posted a picture of, it is illegal for the store owners to do anything other than destroy the unsold books, as per their agreement with publishing house. The same fate would befall the books even if they were shipped back to the publisher. Having the booksellers take care of the disposal saves postage, which ultimately benefits us as readers because we enjoy lower prices as a result.

Not all books are handled in this manner, as I mentioned in the most. It's primarily the lower priced mass market books.

Anonymous said...

I had noticed and read the box but did not realise that the rest of book was destroyed .Shelia Hall

Keli Gwyn said...

Shelia, I wasn't aware of how unsold books were handled before I became an author. Although I understand the reasons for the process, it's still sad.

Beth MacKeage said...

I knew this. I worked for a large bookstore chain in Canada and had to pull books from the shelves for return. I have seen the covers in the back room and the remainders in the trash. It is sad but as you say less expensive to just return the covers. Trade and hardcovers are returned intact and eventually might re-appear as bargain books.

Beth -;)
In Calgary.

Keli Gwyn said...

Beth, I feel for those who have/had to pull the books and remove the covers. It can't be an easy thing for book lovers to do.