Friday, October 24, 2008

Loved to death: On book-stripping and why some book lovers shouldn't be booksellers.

As a follow-up to Andrew Wheelers excellent post about bookstore economics and why some indie bookstores deserve to die, novelist J. Steven York posted his own thoughtful examination of how one local indie bookstore in his own neighborhood died because the owners literally loved their books too much: they refused to return books or strip out old paperbacks for store credit.

One of the things that York sheds light on in his post is the very odd publishing practice of "stripping".

For those of you who have never worked in a bookstore or a retailer that sells magazines and books, "stripping" is the practice of tearing off the cover of a magazine or mass market book to return to the publisher for credit. (Newspapers, on the other hand, usually only have their mastheads stripped off and returned.) The idea is that the retailer returns the cover and receives credit for the entire book as a return (usually about 48% to 52% of the cover price). Returning only the cover saves the cost of postage and freight fuel, but is terribly wasteful of paper. Theoretically the remainder of the book or magazine is then recycled or destroyed, but in reality what usually happens is that the books are donated to hospitals, prisons, or schools. Sometimes the store leaves the mutilated books in a "Free Books" box out front. And sometimes they just get tossed.

Not all books get stripped, by the way: only mass-market and some digest-sized kids chapter books. Trade paper and hardcovers are returned whole, restocked and then resold later. You'd think that publishers would want the stock back in order to resell it, right? Wrong. It actually costs more for the publisher - in terms of time and labor - to have their warehouse folks physically restock the books, especially if the returns are not for full, unopened cartons.

In any case, I encourage you to read York's entire post.


Bobbie said...

When I worked at my family's bookstore, stripping books was one of my least favorite jobs. Each ripping sound just sickened me and made me feel guilty that we hadn't done more for the author, pushed her book harder, sold it at the counter . . . anything. I even pitied the book itself: "Sorry we have to do this to you. You just weren't moving." But it's a part of the business. Out with the old, in with the new. My father was the greatest book lover I've ever known, but he and my mother also had a family to support.

But we never gave those books away. We threw them away, which was always a very sad sight as well. But if people could get these books for free in a bin at the front of the store, perhaps they wouldn't buy one of the bright, new ones sitting on the shelf, hoping to find an owner before getting stripped as well.

Two great articles. Thanks for linking to them.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

wow. I never even heard of stripping, nor did I know they do that.

BUT that answers my life-long question. When I was a child, I remember noticing a statement on so many books, that would appear on the back of the front cover, that says something along the line of "if this book has been sold without a cover, please be aware that it has been sold without proper royalties" blah blah you get what i mean.

anyway, interesting article.

Helen said...

The guy at work who's in charge of returns wanders around and spreads the word that there's strips to be taken in the "usual place". By the end of the day, there's usually very little left; anything else gets put out with the recycling. When I first started there, the stripping used to upset me--now, I just accept it as a sad fact of the book business.

Marva said...

I never ended up stripping anything in my bookstore. For one thing, I was so underfunded, I needed to have something on the shelves to fill space.

When I turned over the bookstore for a nominal cost to my manager (had to do real work after a divorce), she probably stripped books. She was a far better businesswoman than me.

I'm happy that she continued the store for another fifteen years until ill-health made her give it up. It was an excellent run for a very small Indy.

Fabien Lyraud said...

In France stripping is forbidden. Booksellers ressells their stocks to a usaged books sellers. Occasion books is a a very florishing market specially in the big towns.

Dustin said...

Wow, so many booksellers here! Personally, I love stripping books. It's a cheap catharsis, and I rarely do it to books I love, though it's sometimes more painful to watch those yellow on the shelves. Most often I'm glad to see them go.

I'm guilty of bringing some home, too, however. I just read a strip of an Alastair Reynolds last month that I liked well enough. Pushing Ice I think it was.

Laura said...

Yeah, book stripping is one of my favourite tasks at work.
Especially when I get to tear apart all the really frustrating books that fall off the shelves constantly because they're so overstocked.

Plus it's a great way to work out any frustration, haha.