Can a book store demand edits to the books it sells? Has this happened?

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Wal-Mart sometimes alters the music it sells. Let’s say that some book chain, big enough to be a major market in itself, demanded that a book be edited before it could be sold through its shops or website. Would the publishing house handling the book make a special production run to supply that seller with the edited edition it demands? Would it just edit all editions to reduce shipping overhead? Would the author have any input at all?

Has this already happened? Is it a common occurrence?

Just to bump this.

It’s possible that an alternate cover with less racy imagery might be offered. Seems like this might have happened at some point although I can’t come up with any examples off the top of my head.

Changing the contents? Well, probably not. There’s the current kerfluffle about an expurgated version of Huck Finn made so that more schools would be likely to buy it, but that’s not really the same thing.

A store demanding and getting changes? It’s a big world and people are generally insane, so I’m hesitant to give an absolute negative. But it has to be very close.

OK, I guess that answers my second question: It’s rare to the point someone in the industry would be surprised at it happening. (Textbooks are in a world of their own, as usual, and I don’t expect something that happens to them to be relevant to mass-market hardcovers and paperbacks sold in a place like Border’s or Wal-Mart.)

Actually, bookstores can dictate the content of a book. If the buyers from Wal-Mart, B&N, Borders, etc aren’t interested in stocking a book due to any reason (content, genre, something else) they simply won’t purchase it. If the buyers indicate they’re not interested, the publishers may have incentive to adjust the book or cancel the book entirely. Obviously the smaller publishers are more likely to have their books dictated by the retailers, but the reality is that there are more books published in a year than space available. The retailers have a lot of power.

I learned this one the hard way.

Just to be clear, they don’t actually alter CDs. They just choose not to sell stuff with objectionable lyrics or album art. Some artists create sanitized versions to get their stuff on the shelves. Others don’t.

I’d be surprised if Amazon or B&N ever asked a bookseller to change a cover because they found it objectionable, and I’d be shocked if they ever asked a publisher to change content inside of a book.

A fair number of DVDs get sold in R and Unrated versions for just this reason. It looks like a lot of movies have footage shot that don’t show up in the theatrical release and different versions for airlines and broadcast releases. That doesn’t could edits to reduce the runtime of the movie.

I don’t know about this specific reason, but covers for the same book can and do vary. One major example is some novels appearing on the YA and regular fiction shelves with different covers, the YA version appearing more cartooney to appeal to kids, but with apparently the same content. I flipped through a YA shelved copy of Ender’s Game once and the text looked to be unexpurgated and unabridged, but boy was the cover cartooney, completely unlike the serious military SF covers of other US editions.

For what it’s worth, all the Walmarts I shopped at offered both edited and unedited CDs side by side. You just had to check the sticker to make sure you got the right one. I still think that’s stupid, but not as bad as refusing to sell the unedited versions. For some reason, they never thought it was necessary to offer edited movies though. Perplexing.

OK, this is interesting because it looks like music is the outlier and books, movies, and magazines all play by the same rules: Music can get edited for Wal-Mart, whereas with books, movies, and magazines it’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition with the exception of book covers. (Apparently. I don’t know how we’d prove that no book, movie, or magazine has ever been re-edited specifically for Wal-Mart or similar large stores.) So is there something special about how music companies work that doesn’t apply to how movie companies and the publishing world work?

Sure. Walmart outsells every other venue for CDs. (Or did back when CDs meant something and the edited versions started appearing.) It doesn’t do that for anything else.

Maybe because they already were editing music for radio and for singles? Both for length as well as for lyrics. Once they were in the habit of doing editing, doing it in this case may have come more easily.

That they were dealing with two formats (45s and LPs) may also have been a factor.

Both of those reasons make sense.

And there aren’t people getting all up in arms about it, unlike that new Huckleberry Finn book.