Getting Rid of All Those Unsold
by Linda Carlson
Returns, hurts, remainders,
overstocks—they’re all books you can’t sell to your regular trading partners.
But what you call them is not nearly as important as what you can do with them
to cut your losses or earn a profit.
When shrinkwrap has been removed,
covers have been scratched slightly, or revised editions are now available,
many publishers resell copies—either to the general public online, at special
events, or to wholesalers as bargain books. Options in addition to reselling
include donating the books, preferably in a way that allows you to take a tax
deduction, and using them as samples and review copies.
PMA members use each of these
online through used-book sites.
Some publishers sign up as used-book vendors at Amazon.com, Abebooks, and
similar sites. You can discount a book slightly from retail and still make more
than you would by wholesaling it. (For information on Amazon.com’s Marketplace
program, select “Help” on the home page and scroll down the menu on the left
until you see “Selling at Amazon.” At Abebooks.com, select “Sell books.”)
Steve Carlson at Vermont’s Upper
Access, Gordon Inkeles at California’s Arcata Arts, and Lynn McGlothlin at
Michigan’s North Country Publishing are among the PMA members who use Amazon’s
Marketplace. Others, with more books to sell, have created storefronts at
online via your own Web site. Add
a “Bargain Books” page for earlier editions or badly damaged books. Older titles
that are available only as scuffs on your Web site may draw traffic to it, as
Richard Godwin at CGP/Apogee Books in Wheaton, IL, points out.
at book fairs, street fairs, and craft sales.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Judy Geary at North Carolina’s High Country
Publishers reports, “There’s frequently a reader in the bunch who is delighted
to find a booth with discounted books. Authors can make a real killing
providing ‘local color’ and signed copies, even if the books aren’t perfect.”
One caveat from my experience: If you have only one title, it can be hard to
sell enough copies to make a profit after paying fees and travel costs.
at bargain-book expos. Many of the
big names in book publishing take booths at BookExpo in the spring to promote
new titles, and tables at CIROBE in the fall to dump the old ones. The tables
don’t come cheap at the Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book
Exposition: this fall the regular rate for a six-foot table was $1,175. But if
you have dozens of titles and thousands of copies of each to move, it may be
the place to take samples, covers, and an inventory list. Check <span
for early registration dates for the 2007 show; discounts on table rental are
usually available between January and April.
The Spring Book Show (<span
865/922-7490), scheduled for March in Atlanta, is slightly less expensive: $975
for an eight-foot table booked before December 31.
inventory to bargain-book dealers.
You may recoup only a fraction of your cost, but some dealers will pay the
freight on their purchases.
American Book Co., in Knoxville,
TN, which expects to sell 40 million books this year, calls itself the world’s
largest remainder dealer. This past summer it had 12,000 ISBNs in stock,
representing 15 million units.
“We’ll look at everything,” says
Chris Eaton, senior vice president of purchasing, but the company prefers
larger lots. It’s unlikely to be interested in a few hundred copies of a single
title. American, which does cover freight costs, usually pays less than 10 per
cent of cover price, and far less than that if a publisher restricts where the
remainders can be sold (for example, not in the United States, or not to major
Retail price means little when a
dealer bids on books, says Eaton, who emphasizes that this is a closeout
market. Dee Mitchell, head buyer at Half Price Books, echoes his thought. Half
Price determines what to pay for remainders by establishing what it wants the
remainders to retail at; that may be as much as half the original price, or as
little 20 per cent of it.
“We work backwards from that to an
offer,” notes Mitchell, who makes no offers until Half Price has a sample book
in hand. (But don’t start out by swamping him with samples; “If the list is
over a dozen or so titles,” he says, “we ask for samples only for books that we
might bid on.”) You can send a list of available titles to Mitchell at <span
or call him at 214/678-6680. Quantity is not an issue with Half Price; it will
consider a single title or several dozen.
Dawn Jeffers, at Raven Tree Press
in Illinois, recommends Taylor Marketing, in Houston, run by Virginia Taylor (<span
281/213-8658). She works primarily with larger quantities—at least 1,000 copies
of a title—and cannot consider quantities of a few hundred unless they are part
of a large purchase. Like Half Price, she bases her bids on what she thinks her
customers can charge their customers, who buy at flea markets, dollar stores,
military bases, catalogers, and book fairs, among other places.
“My customers need to be able to
sell a book for at least 50 percent off retail; they prefer 60 to 80 percent
off, and they want a 50 to 60 percent margin,” Taylor explains. The result: her
bid is usually 5 to 7 percent of the original retail price.
Taylor focuses on what she calls
“pretty” books, usually hardcover, with lots of attractive full-color photos.
She likes to buy cookbooks, children’s books, and books on interiors and
gardening. Today she’s also looking for Spanish, African-American, and
Another dealer, this one
recommended by Michael S. Levins of Innovative Kids in Norwalk, CT, is Strictly
by the Book in Bridgewater, MA (contact: Erez Bredmehl, <span
508/675-5287). “We sell to them for a fixed percentage of the retail price,
which allows us to recapture 20 to 30 percent of our original cost,” Levins
PMA’s online Remainders Expo. For
$25 a quarter, a publisher can advertise a title on the PMA Web site (see <span
You’ll be asked to describe the book, give its retail price, and indicate how
many copies you have available, what the carton count is, and when the
publication date was.
Remainder dealers, retailers, and
others can use the PMA site to place a bid, and bids are immediately forwarded
to publishers. All transactions are between the publisher and the bargain-book
buyer, so PMA keeps no record of the number of transactions that occur.
The sponsors of the Spring Book
Show run a similar program, Bargain Book News (<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>bargainbookbids.com), which charges $250
to list up to five titles in its electronic newsletter.
to prisons, literacy programs, or disaster-struck regions.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> As explained in “Announcing a New PMA Project” in this
issue and at www.lifetimeliteracy.org,
PMA’s new lifetime literacy program helps publishers make surplus books
available to such good causes as prison libraries.
Franci Prowse at California’s
White Rose Millennium Press sends books to Texas prisons. “Books of any kind
are treasured there by thousands of inmates,” she points out, “especially those
who are Latino, uneducated, or semiliterate.” Jeffers at Raven Tree sends
bilingual children’s picture books that don’t sell to her local Salvation Army.
“They give the books to kids in their programs; sometimes that’s a child’s
first book,” she reports.
Many libraries devastated by
Hurricane Katrina or other disasters continue to solicit books, often on their
sites or through publishing and writing associations.
Linda Carlson, who writes
regularly for the Independent
from Seattle, is the author of 11 books, including <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest
(University of Washington Press).