Why is it Still Acceptable to Strip Books?

ImagePhoto Credit: Nesting Place

I was thinking last night about how traditional publishers allow for unsold books to be returned. I had an idea about how the process to return unsold books takes place, and unfortunately I was right about how the process works when it comes to mass market paperbacks. These are those small paperbacks that basically fit inside the palm of your hand. You probably have hundreds of them. The price range for these books is typically $7.99-$9.99. At least that’s what I’ve always seen them listed at.

But do you know what happens to these books if they go unsold and a retailer decides to “return” them to the publisher? Their covers are ripped off and sent back to the publisher as proof that the book has been destroyed. Ripped off! These then become known as “stripped” books. Paperback and hardcover books are typically shipped back to the publisher as whole books, but mass market paperbacks are not. They’re simply destroyed.

Tell me how come these books can’t be shipped back to the publisher just the same as others. Or how in the world this practice was ever acceptable. Or what kind of evil person could sit there and actually strip the covers off either by machine or by hand. I almost couldn’t believe that the practice was still going on, but then again, the publishing industry has remained unchanged for so long that it really shouldn’t have surprised me.

It doesn’t matter that the return rates of these books is higher than the rest. You know why? Because the publisher is the one paying to have it shipped back, not the retailer. This practice should be done away with immediately because I’m sure a group of reasonably intelligent people could come up with something better that doesn’t destroy books.

I don’t like that books can be returned at all, but if I had to pick between returning a book to its publisher or destroying it, well then I say ship it back.

What do you think of the practice of stripping the covers of mass market paperbacks?

You’ve likely seen this message on the inside of your mass market paperbacks.

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.”

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88 thoughts on “Why is it Still Acceptable to Strip Books?

  1. The thing is, a single paperback literally costs a publisher pennies to make. So, they take a calculated risk based on hardback and trade paper sales, and then push the paperback.

    Do I think they could find a better use for books that don’t sell the first printing? Of course. Ship them at discounted prices to smaller indie bookstores, or even consider them used and sell them to aftermarket shops.

    But, if a bunch of paperbacks are being returned, it’s probably been decided that that particular author isn’t worth the effort.

    Sad story, but it’s just not financially viable. At least to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So they’re cheap to print, obviously. And books are already being shipped back and forth between retailer and publisher.

      I guess the additional finances that are supposedly not there would be spent on what? Storage? Because the Big 5 don’t have warehouses of books. I don’t buy it.

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  2. I’ve always wondered if publishers who receive these stripped books at least recycle and reuse the materials. I would like to think that they would, especially considering that they can take the recycled material from one paperback to print and release a new one. Does anyone know if this happens? I doubt it does, but if it did, I would feel better about the practice of stripping books.

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  3. That’s ridiculous! I didn’t know this happened. I’ve probably just skipped over the fine print inside the book. Theoretically, I get why they do it, but realistically, I think it’s stupid.

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  4. Having been a person who was forced to rip covers off books myself, I know it sucks. But when it’s your job, you don’t have much choice. In defense of the retailers, they don’t have a choice either. These are mandates set up by the publisher, not the retailer. I would love to see these unsold books given to charity, either to be sold at reduced prices to make money for a charity, or given away to those who can’t afford to buy books. Unfortunately, a publisher would have no proof that a retailer gives the books to charity. The retailer could just say they did, and continue to sell them. The publisher has to protect themselves from fraud as well. My employer allowed me to take as many books as I wanted home with me, though. They aren’t supposed to do that. I read them and gave them to others.

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    • Oh my goodness. You actually did this? I would have quit.

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      • I wasn’t going to quit a minimum wage job while going to college and supporting my daughter over cheap paperbacks. As a writer, I have great respect for other writers of all genres, but it’s not like I was destroying classics. And I saved as many as I found interesting to read and share with others. While it is book desecration, it is part of the publishing industry. If these authors wanted their books to last forever, they should have written better novels. There’s no guarantee when you become published that your book will sell, or sell big. It’s just another risk you take as an author. No publisher should expend extra money on novels they won’t sell elsewhere. I still would like to see them given to charity though. If you feel so strongly about it, try to change it.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree that this is a terrible practice, but I have to defend publishers at least a little bit in this case. Best case scenario for publishers is that their books sell, and sell well. If a bookseller doesn’t sell out of the stock (which is not its fault), it sends the stock back to the publisher (which is). The publisher would obviously rather have the stock sell. The publisher could theoretically resell the stock, but how? The market has more or less demonstrated that the book is unwanted. While there are other avenues to explore, that comes with a big cost expenditure, on top of the calculated risk about how big of a print run to produce in the first place. Print on demand has been a potential solution, but not an all-encompassing one.
    Interesting article; thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • But these books are typically released like a year after the hardcover release, they should have an idea about how they’ll sell.

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      • If that is how the timelines go, John, what about this: when a hardcover is released, HOW MANY are printed and sold? Isn’t this obviously a fraction of the number of paperbacks that then get produced and shipped and stocked? Again, I think it (very sadly, and very coldly) all boils down to numbers and dollars and cents. The economics, plain and simple, are unfortunately what keep the industry going, especially in this time of e-books and digital blogs! All costs must be kept to a minimum on a grand scale. I honestly have no concrete information about this situation, I am just speculating with both my posts here. ::shrug::

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      • I honestly don’t know if known authors sell more or less hardcovers than paperbacks. I’d think more people are buying a book newly released because by the time the paperback comes out, the author’s next book is on the way.

        But yes, I know it’s money, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. At all.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, please, you shouldn’t agree with it. You should fight it and passionately work toward a world where a book is a cherished thing. This whole book-shredding situation is starting to feel a bit Fahrenheit 451 to me……

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      • Never read it. But I think it’s one of the Amazon 100 books, so I will eventually.

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      • Oh, man, it is spot on with everything you are feeling from this OP. Definitely check it out! In fact, if it weren’t for the flagrant, blatant, despicable blasphemy that it would mean, I would even gift you an e-copy on Amazon.com, like for Kindle, etc. However, I believe that all things here considered, you should read this Ray Bradbury piรจce de resistance (I can’t spell French) as a physical book in hand.

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  6. Well, John, speaking as a man who is married to a wonderful woman who happens to have hordes of this very type of paperback, I can say this: They are all the same size, usually sharing the same cover format, and of course the typeset between the covers is usually the same, as well. The businessman side of me suspects that it is a purely economic situation that (as all business) looks t only the numbers and money and NOT ever at the heart and soul of the art. Since these paperbacks are overwhelmingly often just serialized “dime-store novels,” or those type of romance/sci-fi/fantasy/what-have-you that are disrespected by erudite literary critics for lack of originality and grammar/spelling inaccuracies, this might mean that the publishers are doing exactly what iemergedinlondonrain first explained in her comment for this post. I bet the publishers who ship these books to bookstores/sellers are indeed trying to keep track of which authors/how many books did not sell. It may be faster, due to the differences and incompatibilities of the many inventory computer systems being used by different vendors, to just have them send in only the covers, which all have ISBNs and UPC codes. If this were the case, I would marvel that they would even want the entire cover; they could just require the back cover only. This way, the publisher pays a minimum on the return shipping cost, and can still track sales on the market, without having to do more in-depth research. That way, they know whom to endorse/sign/re-sign, as The Lady Who Sprang From The London Precipitation said above. Of course, it is highly uneconomical for the publisher to take on the fiscal responsibilities of recycling the actual mass of printed pages. I suspect this is why the entire cover gets ripped off – it is made of a different material than the pages within, and with colored ink. Hopefully, the vendors are all sending these piles of flayed books to be recycled, since it should be very easy to recycle and reuse a mass of one kind of paper with only black ink.
    And now I know why I am in business school. Because I am actually excited to find out if this is really what does happen. My 21-year-old self would be in shock if he could see how interested I am in supply chain/vendor demand/production analysis/shipping cost breakdowns right now.
    Wow, what a bunch of meaningless Businessbabble!! Sorry for boring you to tears, my man.
    NB

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your comment could have stopped about a third of the way. Lol. The articles I read said that they’re at least supposed to be recycled, but that doesn’t always happen like it should.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha, yeah, my main problem, with writing and with life, is that I am far too verbose. Very much so. ๐Ÿ˜‰
        Also, it doesn’t happen like it should. But isn’t that what seems to always happen when people who are no better and no smarter than those working underneath them (and sometimes less so!) are put in charge of making sure “things get done properly?”

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      • You couldn’t be more right.

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    • I just want to add that when this was part of my job description (and it only happened rarely) we had to rip off the front cover only. With computerized systems, maybe they have changed to wanting the back cover. I don ‘t know. This was about 17 years ago when I was a cashier at a chain drug store.

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  7. While I always have issues with destroyed books, having worked in the library system and had lots of dealings with the friends of the library and such for book sales, I can honestly say with the amount of paperback books that come in, some really good and some bad, there are enough books to insulate your house. So in all reality, if it’s a mass paperback, I’m not that concerned about it. I suppose that sounds callous, but when you are dealing with that many books, you just realize there is no need to keep all of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I used to work at Target and made a huge deal about it when I found out what they did with unsold books. I was pissed. They do it with unsold greeting cards as well. Just recently, my brother, who still works at Target, told me they are doing something different with books instead of destroying them. I can’t remember what he said they were doing with them, I think donating them or something, either way they are no longer destroying unsold books at a Target in SC.

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  9. There should be a non-profit company responsible for collecting these unsold books and shipping them all over to libraries or schools (depending on what kind of book they are) so that other people could enjoy them.

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  10. And have students draw or crayon or paint new covers on the then non-corrugated cardboard in the recycling bins, so original covers can be seen on all the books. An art class project. PS TONS of these books can be found in dumpsters behind bookstores. Of course just mailing the covers back does save fuel and carbon emissions but not much. I’m not sure how many of those books are worth reading, but that’s another argument.

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    • That’s an idea. And I know. I’ve read that they’re actually stolen from dumpsters. But they shouldn’t be there anyway.

      As for whether or not they’re worth reading, at least one article I read had the “return” rate of ALL mass market paperbacks over 40%. This isn’t only unknown authors.

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  11. What a ridiculous practice! What happens to the books after their cover has been torn off? I get that they don’t want people not paying for them, but what does ripping the cover off achieve? Do they recycle the paper? (I don’t really expect you to know the answers, but these are all the questions I have)

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  12. Pingback: Marking Your Books | Write me a book, John!

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