"If You Bought This Book Without A Cover.....

… you should know it was stolen and the author receives no royalties." (IIRC, that’s what it says on the inside cover of the book).

So… what? I’m going to steal a book, tear off the cover and try to sell it?

Can someone explain this, please?



Earlier thread.

Wikipedia: Stripped book

Bookstores have a deal with publishers, where the publishers agree to buy back any unsold books so that the bookstore owner doesn’t have to eat the cost. Shipping books is expensive, though, and the publishers don’t really want them back, so they demand that the bookstores destroy unsold paperbacks and send them the front cover as proof. They don’t want any unscrupulous bookstore managers trying to sell the coverless books that the publishers are paying for, so some of them put that warning in there to limit the market.

I could be compleatly wrong and this is a WAG based on something I saw in a gas station once*, but I’m thinking that when a book store has books they can’t sell anymore that need to get returned, instead of returning the entire book, they return just the cover and get credit on that. This way they can just toss the rest in the recycling/trash and save on space and freight.
Based on that, I’m sure there are some bookstores out there that will still try to sell the rest of the book at a very low price since it’s all profit at that point.

*I once saw the person that delivers magazines to a gas station tearing off the front covers of the old magazines. I assume they would just take those back in lieu of the entire magazine and give the store credit.

If some boos or magazines don’t sell, the retailers can return them for a refund. But it’s prohibitive to send them back to the source – they don’t want the books or magazines. So they have the retailers simply send back the covers as proof that they have the books. The retailers are expected to throw out the coverless books/magazines.

Only they either don’t (reselling them on the junk market), or else junk markleters go dumpster-diving and get the coverless stuff that way. Either way, it ends up at flea markets or second-hand shops. But the original publisher gets no cut, and the author gets no royalties.

When I was a kid, I bought lots of coverless books, and didn’t know why they were mutilated like this. Now I avoid them.

Also, in sales, this is called a ‘guaranteed sale.’ Stores love it when vendors do this since they can sell the product for a more competitive (lower) price since they know they’ll never have to discount or throw away any of the product.

Woof. I seem to be batting zero with the questions tonight, thanks!

Appreciate all the answers, though.


No harm, no foul. You got the answers you wanted… that’s what matters :slight_smile:

The way this system is set up, publishers & bookstores get the savings (on shipping costs), dishonest bookstores (or dishonest employees) get the profits (on sales of coverless books), while authors & readers take the losses.

Authors on missed royalties for sales of coverless books, and on delayed royalties (publishers don’t pay on wholesale sales, but wait until through the period where bookstores can return the covers for credit).

Readers take a loss in that books disappear from the bookstores faster (to be replaced by the newest ‘hot’ bestsellers), and books go out of print faster. And, indirectly, that decreased earnings for authors may discourage them from writing more books.

This may be changing, as book selling moves to mainly online sales more than physical bookstore sales. Online sellers can store books in cheap, warehouse settings instead of expensive, public store shelves, and are willing to keep books around longer waiting for them to sell.

And of course, print-on-demand or e-book sales remove this issue entirely – the book is only produced when there is a buyer wanting it.

When I was a kid, comic books without covers were used as prizes at school fairs. I assume the covers of unsold books were sent back to the publisher as described above. I don’t know if their use as prizes for a non-profit event was done with the publisher’s permission, but their was no loss of revenue, the books were old and unavailable. The practice might have resulted in more purchases of current comic books and benefitted the publisher in the end.

All of this is about the rights of intellectual property ownership and the extent that people should support such practices. Authors and publishers produce these books and distribute them unsold, because they find that to be the most profitable means of conducting business. I don’t really feel that it’s my responsibility to help them maintain this imperfect system. I do anyway, but only for my own benefit, not theirs.

This smacks of piracy, y’all.

Would that be a valid analogy?

I do understand the sending back of covers to the publisher to save on postage, but then what? The rest of the book goes where?

Into the hands of those unscrupulous employees, right?

But where is the frickin’ market to sell those coverless books???

Surely not here in the US???

Sorry! I’m REALLY not being obtuse, just trying to hang and ask what I think are intelligent questions. :slight_smile:

Thanks for being patient.


It’s not piracy, there’s no use of force. If you mean software piracy, I don’t think much of that as a legal concept (and I make my living by creating and selling software).

There is no real market for these books. They are primarily sold to people who would not have spent the money on an authorized copy in the first place. Sales of books like this are an insignificant portion of the market.

As I said before, this would not be the practice if publishers didn’t find it to be profitable. They’ve lost nothing. They could simply require outlets to pay for the books when shipped, or return the entire book if it’s unsold and there would be no such problem.

I’ll also point out that simply writing something about an author not receiving a royalty inside the book means nothing. You or I would have no idea how the book came to have no cover, or if the author would receive royalties otherwise. I can afford to pay for any book I want, and if I know of someone who could not, I would let them read any that I have. And I wouldn’t feel responsible to pay the author an additional royalty. You and I have no idea how the seller came by the coverless book in the first place. He might have found a box of coverless books discarded on public property. He’s not commiting any crime or immoral act by selling what he rightfully owns.

Of course I did not mean “piracy” as a use of force, just that if this truly is happening, then who would buy these books, Tripolar?

And if I understand you correctly, that whole statement on the inside cover is meaningless?

Thank you very much for continuing this thread and giving me the benefit of your knowledge!


There’s only a little knowledge there.

I don’t think there are many people who buy these books. The publisher probably puts the statement in the book to satisfy authors that they are doing their best to recover the royalties promised.

My cousin’s wife used to work at a bookstore and had bookshelves of paperbacks without front covers.

The publishing company will have contract with bookstores to ensure that the books get disposed of without being sold directly from the bookstore, so they wouldn’t have a problem with her having a private collection but would if she were running a private store out of her house.

If someone were running a bookstore out of their house in those circumstances they would be deliberately engaged in a contractual violation or crime. The purchasers of the books aren’t doing that though. Why doesn’t book contain a statement saying “If you are selling this book without a cover you are stealing and the author receives no royalties”. They have deliberately targetted the purchaser who is not responsible for the theft.

These statements in books are as meaningful to the end user as ‘Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty of Law’.

Perhaps a little more. You ARE informing the potential customer that they are buying stolen property, which they might not have known. The notice isn’t addressed to the seller because they likely already know they are breaking the law, and don’t care.

BTW, if you look at those bedding tags, they usually now include wording like “tag not to be removed under penalty of law except by consumer”. Whatever federal agency regulates that probably got tired of all the jokes being made about removal of the tags.

Neither notice is much of an intrusion into your use of the product, and provides stuff for us to ponder.

The main reason publishers buy back unsold books is because of the “New York Times #1 best seller” process. The publisher wants to claim #1 on their books. The best seller lists only measure the number of books “sold” to stores. NOT how many books actually sold to consumers. So when a new book comes out the publisher ships massive quantities to the stores. They know they won’t sell, but they will be #1 for a week. The publisher then buys back all the unsold books, and re-issues with a “New York Times #1 Best Seller” on the cover.

This is entirely wrong from a legal standpoint. As I pointed out in the other thread, it is theft, pure and simple.

If someone went into a publisher’s warehouse and stole stacks of the books sitting there, would you have a legal right to buy or use that stolen property? Does it matter if the property were televisions or mattresses or cans of food? Obviously not. It’s someone’s property and they are stealing it for their own purposes.

The bookstore has a contract with the publisher. The contract says that when a book is stripped, the bookstore must pulp the books and return the covers for credit. As soon as the book is stripped it is the legal property of the publisher, not the bookstore. Owners of legal property can determine how they want that property handled. Any use of that property afterward violates whole bunches of laws. Theft, grand larceny if done on a large enough scale, fraud. These aren’t violations of the intellectual property laws you disdain. They are good old fashioned theft of property crimes that go back to English common law.

All sales of stolen property are an insignificant portion of the market. That doesn’t make the sale of stolen property moral. People who sell DVDs off the back of a truck are a small part of the market. People who sell counterfeit purses or tickets are a small part of the market. Doctors who bill Medicaid for procedures they didn’t do are a small part of the market. What possible difference could that make? It is to everybody’s interest to keep theft, fraud, and the sale of stolen goods to a minimum.

Ludicrous. Publishers allow bookstores a convenience so that they don’t have to go through the endless work of packaging and reshipping paperbacks and therefore they are responsible that some get stolen? Publishers don’t want their books to be stolen. How do we know this? Because publishers have succeeded in stamping this practice out almost entirely. And they did it by applying the laws on the book to prosecute offenders.

Every business has problems with theft, whether organized break-ins, customers shoplifting, or employee shrinkage. That never at any time means that the business is encouraging theft. It shouldn’t have to go through the enormous expenses n time and resources to stop theft and prosecute thieves. They do have to, because some people don’t care about the law. That doesn’t make them moral and it doesn’t make them right and they aren’t striking back against the Big Bad Establishment. They’re thieving scum.

The Times surveys bookstores for actual sales of the book. Not the number ordered.

Publishers can trumpet number of copies printed in their ads, and this often won’t take into account how many copies are returned. But that’s something different.

Or you could cite documented cases when this actually occurred.

Buying back unsold copies goes back before WWII, BTW. It existed before the New York Times ever started its bestseller list.