Books without covers...Why are they stolen?

Soon? Absolutely not.

Ever? Probably not, because electronic books will take over first. The production cost margins are far better for electronic readers. Photons or electronic ink are vastly cheaper than paper and toner.

But still not soon. The readers are too expensive, are getting better but are a long way from perfect, and too many older readers won’t accept them because they love the feel and experience of physical books. A huge number of contract, rights, and other legal issues also need to be worked out.

I’m of the opinion that they won’t take off until they adopt the Gillette model: charge virtually nothing for the razor and make money from the blades.

Hmmmmmm… Maybe we could invent the book which can later be used as toilet paper. If it does not sell as a book you just move it to the toilet paper section. It would make for great bathroom reading too. . . . I think we are on to something here.

Okay, but what am I supposed to do if I somehow get a “stripped” book in my hands. I’m I supposed to go to the police or something? Report it to someone?

And how common is the practice of tearing off the cover of books to get money from the publishers and then selling books without covers?

Naw, you’re supposed to feel guilty and not buy any more books from the guy at the flea market with the table full of stripped books.

(And to get anecdotal, it worked on me – I won’t buy stripped books now that I know where they come from.)

Plus, in adult books, a book can get stripped and sold! :smiley:

Not likely. Not only for the problems Exapno mentions, but also from the logistics of it all.

If a high-speed copier prints 100 pages a minute, that’s five minutes for a 500 page book. If you’re buying three books, that’s a 15 minute wait. And if the person in front of you wants to buy three books, that’s another 15 minutes. Then there’s the time for binding, printing the cover, etc. Bookstores that do this would lose customers left and right.

Also, the equipment needed to make a first-class product is very expensive (see the difference between a book cover and an copy of it), and is just not cost effective for short runs.

Now, this could be useful for special order books – there would be fewer of them and waiting a half hour would be more acceptable (assuming the quality issue was dealt with). But the logistics make it no good as a regular way of selling books.

It used to be so very common that I knew of whole used bookstores springing up around them.

That was probably 30 years ago. Publishers cracked down really really hard since then. And the growth of chain bookstores plus the demise of drugstores and other non-book outlets for paperbacks has put rules and structure into the industry.

Today stripped books are extremely rare. You’ll see a few slipped out of stores by employees but nothing comprehensive and wholesale as in the old days.

There are far more complaints about the sale of ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) and reviewers’ copies than of stripped paperbacks. (Both take royalties out of authors’ pockets.)

Rube E. Tewesday has it correct. Moral suasion is good enough for most knowledgeable buyers. I know I stopped buying them once I understood the situation.

If you know of the actual source of the stripped book, complain to the manager. One of the employees is light-fingered, and that should concern everybody.

Well, what if you had a smaller retail outlet that kept a single copy of lower-demand items in stock, and a higher (but still small) number of higher-demand items? Then you could just create new copies only to replensh the stock as it’s sold. Customers only have to wait if two people want to buy the same book within 15 minutes of each other. I’m sure you can create a model for # of copies of a given book to reduce both wait time and extra copies.

I do agree that electronic books will probably go mainstream first, but there’s no reason that the logistic of print on demand couldn’t be overcome.

Once electronic books go mainstream, print on demand may look a lot better. If 90% of books are digital, then the economics of the situation may change. If you sell 10 books a day, but need to have thousands of books available for purchase, you cannot afford the overhead and logistics train a book store currently needs.

Slightly off topic, but electronic books could be fully viable right now. I have been doing the majority of my reading on a Palm based PDA for eight years now. The text is easy to read, it is more mobile than a paperback, and I can carry hundreds of books at a time.
Right now, both the hardware makers are publishers seem intent on proving it is not workable. I have no use for the dedicated readers because they do not fit easily in my pocket and they cost over twice what I paid for my latest and greates Palm T|X, which is extremely overpowered for book reading. The current dedicated readers are scaring people off with their size and cost when you could use a stripped down Palm Z22 and charge less than $100. The only publisher that got behind electronic books and did it right was Baen. They have a free library with over 100 DRM free titles (mostly the first in series, or just a few by an author) and they sell all their books digital as they publish with sample chapter online. They are priced cheaper than paperbacks ($5 for a single book, even cheaper as a bundle). They even let you pay extra to buy some of the Advanced Reader Copies before the publication date. Everywhere else I have looked the eBooks are more expensive than the paperback, or in some cases even more expensive than the hardback.

eBooks should be a win-win all around. You should be able to save at least 3 dollars a book over the paperback cost and 20 on the hardback price. The publishers can sell directly to the customer and have lower production costs. If you average a $5 a book savings, you break even on the reader after 20 books. So what is the problem?


Some of the “print-on-demand” suppliers tend towards suggesting that their products work best in stores with a built-in cafe.

The writer. Writers get royalties based on the cover price of the book. These normally range from 10-15% on hardbacks, depending on number sold, and 7.5-10% on paperbacks. That’s perhaps 3 per hardback and .50 per paperback.

When you drop the cover price, the entire contract model breaks.

That’s not to say that an entirely new model can’t be developed. I’m sure it will. It’s just that royalties are the vestige of a system that’s been in place for decades, and for all its flaws everybody understands why that system is in place.

Nobody has yet to able to make a case that has even majority approval for a new pricing structure, a new royalty structure, a new distribution structure, a new marketing and promotion structure, a new format structure, or any of the other changes that are inherent in a changeover to electronic books. Not to mention that paper books will continue for decades so you need both systems running simultaneously, even though they are in conflict in many ways.

You see lots of people poking at a new system, trying to determine what works and what doesn’t. Mostly things don’t work, or not very well.

Here’s another issue. The higher a price you change for an object, the more individuality you can afford to build into it. Low prices require mass sales of lowest common denominator products. Some say that the publishing industry is already at this point. What happens if you lower prices, having to sell more of each title in order to make the same amount of money? Don’t talk to me about the long tail. As choices grow, the end of the tail gets less of a percent of the total and there is no good evidence that the total is growing proportionally to make that lesser percentage worth more.

The changeover to electronic sales is a huge, gigantic, looming disaster that has the entire industry shaking. Something will happen. Nobody knows what. Charging less for a product is great for the consumer but the producers aren’t sure what’s about to hit them. Electronic books could be airplanes or zeppelins.

So, yeah, there’s a problem. And no good answers.

It’s a long story, but here it is in a nutshell: During rough financial times (and before the mega-chains), bookstores and newsstands had trouble coming up with enough cash for inventory. They became extremely conservative, focusing on buying only the known sellers. Publishers set up the return model to encourage stores to stock more books, and to experiment with new authors. Depending on the publisher (or distributor), the return still costs something. For example, my indy store usually buys enough books to get free shipping, but I have to pay to send them back, and distributors often have a penalty. It costs me as much as three bucks to return a typical hardback, but that beats having it rot on the shelf and losing the entire amount.

The return model has become quite a problem lately, because big box stores will often buy double what they think they can sell, and return the excess in a few months. Publishers are afraid to say no because they want the business, but they end up with badly deteriorating profits due to all of the returns, which causes them to jack up the prices of the books to compensate.

Generally, as others have mentioned, only mass-market paperbacks and magazines get stripped. On a mass-market book, you’ll often see the “strippable” symbol (a letter S in a triangle with rounded corners) somewhere near the barcode.

Nah. Just toss it.

Pretty rare these days. It’s like selling books before the “laydown” date. If a publisher finds out a store is doing it, the store will get cut off. It’s not worth making a few bucks from a bin of stripped paperbacks if someone reports me for it and I can’t buy from that supplier anymore.

A typical POD system is much faster than that. When my brother worked in IBM’s printer division in the 1980’s, they classified the 100ppm printers as “medium speed.” The typical POD printer these days is a very expensive unit (hundreds of thousands of dollars) that not only prints, but binds the books, too.

I agree with most of what you wrote, but the royalty really isn’t an issue. All it takes is a change in the contract–which I’ve done on most of my books–to make the royalty a fixed dollar amount instead of a percentage. It does mean special handling for remainders and such, but it’s not a big deal.

We have done this recently, but here’s a quick summary of a few reasons that people haven’t rushed to switch over to ebooks:

  1. I read on airplanes, beaches, camping & hiking trips, and even in bathtubs and hot tubs. I’d be very worried about a $300 reader being lost or damaged, but I have no such concern about a $5 or $10 paperback.

  2. It’s much easier to share a book than an ebook when so few people have readers.

  3. Most of today’s ebook readers do a poor job with heavily illustrated books, and many of the readers don’t work well for color illustrations at all, since they have B&W screens.

  4. When I’m traveling, I don’t want to be stuck with nothing to do if my reader’s battery dies, or if it crashes, or if there’s a data error in the book, or…

  5. Many people like the look and feel (and even the smell) of a “real” book.

  6. It’s nice to be able to read in full sun without worrying about glare.

  7. As a book collector, I like having autographed copies of books – especially the ones autographed to me personally by authors I’ve met. An ebook will never replace that.

As I said in my post, readers should not cost $300 dollars. My first “reader” was a Handspring Visor Deluxe that could now be made for less than $50. It read just as well in the sunlight as the dark and it took two AA per book. I have a waterproof shell that cost $30 that is good down to 20 meters (I use it at the beach, pool, and gym, not scuba diving).

This is a real issue that I do not see an easy trade off for. But how many heavily illustrated books does the average consumer read? They also tend to be very expensive, not the $5-$10 paperbacks that should be the current choice for eBooks.

I used to travel extensively for work. I would rather carry a charger or extra batteries then the five or six books I would go through on trip. Also, I keep backups of my books on both my laptop and on an SD card. I need my lap top and an SD card is less than ounce.

The original B&W LCD PDAs were easier to read in full sun. Once they went color, the first few generations had issues in bright light. My new one is perfectly readable in any lighting condition from high noon to pitch black.

This is not really a good argument for most of us. I read upwards of a hundred books a year, but I do not have the space or time to collect them all. Do you keep a copy of every book you read, or only select ones?

Anyway, the point is there is no technical or monetary reason for eBooks not to thrive. I think the hardware makers are making things too complicated, the publishers, with one exception, are scared of it, and the combination does not give the average book buyer a reason to switch.

I bought my first PDA for work, not reading. eBooks were an afterthought. Now that I have a blackberry, it is the only reason I replaced my last PDA when it finally went kaput (after 4 years and hundreds of books).


This is the major problem I have with all of my ebook readers – I read in the shower a lot. I need a waterproof reader, dangit!

And (potential TMI coming up) when I’m in the bathroom, I like to read books that have many individual parts to be read, like those Bathroom Readers or the Straight Dope books, or comic strip collections like FoxTrot or Dilbert or Get Fuzzy or the like. And occasionally comic book-style works like a Spider-Man collection or The Walking Dead. So I need a waterproof reader that can also display comic book / comic strip pages.

Oh, yeah, I see you address that in part 3.

Well, it’s not universal, but Robert J. Sawyer pointed out to me on his mailing list that many ebook readers now have autograph functionality, at least for touchscreen devices like phones or PDAs. He has apparently autographed numerous ebooks for his fans.

Well, the numbers don’t work all that well. If you’re constantly printing new stock, there will be be a backup. 15 minutes a book – even just to replace those on the shelves --mean you can only replace 48 books a day (assuming a 12-hour work day). Even 24/7 means you’d be doing 672 books a week. That would mean you’d fall behind pretty quickly during busy seasons. And since you’d have to order the books anyway, why invest in the printing equipment, paper, toner, supplies, etc.?

Also, printing individually gives no economies of scale. The prices of books would skyrocket. You could not print a book on a copier for less than on an offset press. Even if you factor in shipping, it’s just not likely you can print a book for less (remember – the more copies you print offset, the cheaper they are per copy*; but every copy on a laser printer costs the same price).

There’s also the cost of equipment. A good high-speed book copier isn’t going to be cheap, especially if you want the same quality as an offset printed book. A small bookstore isn’t going to be able to afford it, and a big chain couldn’t afford enough to keep up with demand (most POD books are done by one big printing house – Lightning Press – which can do it more cheaply than any startup due to their volume).

*The first copy on an offset press costs a fortune, but after than each copy only costs the price of ink and paper, and ink is cheaper than toner.

Well, as mentioned above, people still like to have the physical, printed text.

If no one wants to buy the book, then what does the writer lose? I doubt if anyone today goes around trying to find the latest Grisham novel without a cover because it will be cheaper. And besides, if they could sell it at a lower price, instead of returning the cover, they should just lower the price and see who bites. Granted, they’ll have to fowrad the author some royalties, but it’s better than nothing; 10% for a $7.00 paperback that isn’t selling doesn’t seem like a very useful business model, because a book without a cover looks like something no one wants to read.

How do I harm the writer once I’ve bought the book? Are you saying that I should throw it away and then go out and buy a legitimate copy? People aren’t likely to do that, however much they appreciate the author.

For $50 I’d get one. Otherwise, I’ll just use the library.

As I pointed out to the Wombat, you can by a waterproof shell for your PDA/bookreader. Mine works fine, it just makes it bulkier.

The comic book/illustration issue is more difficult. On the one hand, I want something I can slip in my pocket to read while standing in line or waiting for my lunch to be served, on the other it would be nice to see the pictures. So far I have not found a good solution, so I read novels on my PDA and buy paper copies of anything graphic.


I have a problem with e-books, in that any kind of screen now available (and no sign this will change) is much harder on my eyes than printed paper. I wrecked my eyes on one of the very early computer monitors (for mainframes, before UL certification), the kind that gave you purple auras after a little while on them.

But I have some e-books anyway (from Baen; who else?). Why? Because the full Grantville Gazette is available only as e-books. They’ve said they’re not printing hard copies of every story - and I’m hooked on the 1632 universe.

If that’s the way the future’s going to be, I can only hope that someone will, eventually, produce screens that are much easier on my eyes. Sunlight is not the problem. I don’t understand the problem, exactly. I only know that I can read printed paper all day long, and half the night, and my eyes hardly ever tire. After four hours looking at a screen, my eyes are at least starting to ache, and usually they’re burning.

Maybe “electronic paper” will work. I certainly hope something does, if they’re the future. But I’m another that wants hardbound - preferably sewn - copies of my favorite books, as they get a lot of re-reading.

I thought Print-On-Demand was so that you would go to some guy’s website, order the book, and he would print it and send it to you. In other words, it would allow publication of things which were not publised until now.

Are returned hardcovers where the “bargain books” come from, that are marked down from $25 to $5-$7?

And when B&N or Waldenbooks sells them, are they actually getting new shipments from the publisher, or are they marking down their own inventory?