If you’ve never worked in a bookstore or for a retailer and noticed what happens to magazines and books, then this might come as a shock. When they are “returned” to the publisher, the covers removed from the books/magazines and shipped in place of shipping the whole book.
Stores don’t do this for all books. They try to pass the surplus to other stores if they can, and some publishers have them returned whole so they can send them as “Bargain Books” to stores like the Dollar General or Big Lots.
When that doesn’t work, stores have to follow publisher guidelines. To understand the guidelines, know that books aren’t on consignment, instead stores pay 55% of retail cost plus shipping and handling on books they receive. Stores cover their overhead (pay the bills and employees) with the other 45%. If books aren’t selling, they don’t have the money to pay employees, rent and maintain the store space, buy new stock, etc.
To help, publishers offer returns. They give either a credit toward another order or a refund. Since the publisher doesn’t know what condition the books will be returned and the cost of shipping, processing, etc., they offer to help shoulder some of that by taking a loss on the printing cost (each paperback is around $3.50 a piece to print unless they’ve done a massive order of thousands to reduce the cost further) and ask only for the cover in a “good faith” move that the bookstores refrain from selling the book after that.
Why don’t the stores sell/donate the coverless books even after they get a refund?
Besides that being theft? Again, it goes back to the publisher thinks the book hasn’t sold. The publisher nor the author are paid. If a book isn’t making money, a publisher may assume the author isn’t a good choice for a future advance or a book deal. If the author isn’t being paid … Do I really need to finish that thought? Most authors don’t make enough from writing to live off of, and they may stop publishing completely.
To complicate it more, if a store is reporting more returns than average, the publisher can flag that store as not being a good fit and refuse to sell them books they want to sell legally. Now the store that was doing something illegal no longer has the ability to order books that would keep the business open.
It may seem like a “harsh” business practice, but at its core, it’s designed to keep the system honest without burdening all the parties involved.
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This post was edited/proofed by ProWriting Aid.