Books without covers...Why are they stolen?

Usually, on one of the first few pages of a paperback, there’s a notice that says something like this: “If you bought this book without a cover, it was stolen.” What the hell does that mean? Why would someone buy a book without a cover, and why does a book without a cover necessarily have to be stolen? If you’re going to steal a book and sell it, why would you tear off the cover?

The covers are torn off by the bookstores to signify that it was an unsold book. The covers are returned to the publisher for reimbursement, and the bookstore is supposed to destroy the rest.

When bookstores “return” unsold books to the publisher for credit, they save on shipping by simply tearing off the covers and sending those in. The stripped book is then supposed to be destroyed. But these books often end up in people’s hands anyway.

Stripped Books

My sisters used to work at Waldenbooks, and we have more than a few without a cover.

one of the bookstore perks was that you could take home 5 stripped books.

you were suppose to destroy them after reading them.

when our store closed they (b&n) were setting up a recycle thing for the books.

they had set up a recycle thing for the magazines before we closed. no more free mags.

To clarify: the book is stolen because the bookstore was refunded the wholesale price. It’s wasn’t actually stolen from the bookstore; it was stolen from the publisher.

Everyone agrees that stripping books is wasteful, but no one has come up with a better system to ensure that bookstores get proper credit.

Actually, the system was set up more for newstand and rack sales – the rack jobbers who serviced the paperback racks in candy stores did not want to pay the cost of shipping a book back, so the publishers allowed them just to send back the cover. That became standard.

Ok…how do bookstores so routinely end up overstocked that there is a system like this in place?

If you could predict what everyone wanted to read before it was printed and distributed, you’d make a lot of money very quickly.

The sales of any given new title are unpredictable - at least not so predictable as, say, toilet paper. The unit cost of printing and shipping a book is fairly low, so it makes sense to overstock the store - better to ship a few more copies than you’re likely to sell, than to lose sales by not shipping enough.

Plus, the whole notion of sale or return is very deeply established in the book trade.

Sales on consignment, where the store doesn’t pay the supplier until the customer has bought the item, is also pretty common - and in this case, there’s not even a refund process for returned books or covers

Every store ends up overstocked. Haven’t you ever noticed those giant outlet malls? They’re nothing but stores full of overstocked merchandise.

Please note that books that are damaged by the browsing public get pulled by the rep and the covers torn off. It’s not just overstock that is pulled. Reps always have many damaged books, when they service the product.

Although, not every store gets to send all of its unsold goods back to the supplier. Books are somewhat different, for reasons described by Mangetout.

Anyone know what percentage of paperbacks usually end up stripped?

By my best guesstimate, having worked in childrens books distributing, about 5-7%. Alot of stuff also gets burned off at sale events or by bundling with a hot seller. Its probably higher with adult fiction.

Alot of this is because there was a change in how the IRS handled old inventory. Publishing took an ugly hit from how they used to handle old stock.

A More detailed analysis with examples

This is interesting. I work in the book trade here and we return the books in perfect working order to the publishers.

Our policies are based primarily on shipping costs and tax law, my second cite gives the breakdown.

It could be ten times higher for adult paperbacks. For most books, more get stripped than sold.

I keep saying that the publishing industry is insane. Here’s further proof.

That depends on the book. In the US, hardcovers and trade paperbacks are returned. Mass market paperbacks are not.

And technically, the difference between a trade and mass market paperback is that a trade paperback is returnable, but a mass market paperback only requires the cover be returned. However, in general use, trade paperbacks are books about the same size as hardcovers with a paper cover. Mass Market paperbacks are the smaller ones (around 4 1/4" x 6 7/8"). There have occasionally been trade paperbacks published in that size, but it’s unusual.

The main reason why mass market paperbacks are handled differently is that they are (or used to be) sold in many places other than bookstores. A supermarket or candy story or drug store, etc. would have a rack of these. They were not serviced by the store itself, but rather by “rack jobbers,” who would rent the space and fill the racks. A rack jobber would handle hundreds of stores, making a regular route each week. Because of the volume, they didn’t want to return entire books, so the practice of returning just the covers was established. Returning a hundred book covers was much easier than returning a hundred books.

The rest of the book was supposed to be destroyed, since the publisher was issuing a credit on it and the author and the publisher were not getting paid for it.

The main reason why books are returnable is to get more books in the bookstores. It’s hard to tell how a book will sell – especially for a new author. Bookstores don’t want to buy copies of a book and get stuck with unsaleable merchandise. So, to make sure they’ll be willing to take a chance, they are 100% returnable.

CDs are the same way, for the same reason.

This differs from other goods. There are fewer options, for one. If you’re selling appliances, you probably only need to keep a few dozen models on hand. In a bookstore, you need thousands of books – and you just can’t predict what books might sell.

Will we see the long-promised “print on demand” facilities in bookstores any time soon (or ever)? Seems like that could avoid this whole problem. And also avoid the problem of the bookstore being out of stock.

You’ll sometimes see this with newspapers and magazines too. Some years back when I worked a weird shift, and stopped in my local 24-hour convenience store at strange hours of the night, I’d often find the proprietor stripping the flags (the newspaper’s name/logo at the top of page 1) off the papers. He’d return the flags for the credit, and toss the rest of the papers. I admit, he often said, “Help yourself,” and I’d get a flagless paper–good, since I hadn’t had the chance to read the news that day. And I read a lot of coverless comics as a child, because the nice local convenience store owner would pass them along to me, rather than trashing them.