Friday, December 11, 2009

Pulping is the Publishing Industry's Dirty Little Secret

In time for the holiday season, while you're perusing best-of-lists to find that perfect book gift for a loved one, here's something the publishing industry doesn't want you to know. By shipping books to retailers on consignment terms, then requiring the return or destruction of unsold merchandise, the publishing industry operates unlike all other manufacturers. An estimated 30 TO 40 PERCENT of books are returned by bookstores annually. Between 65 and 95 percent of returned books are pulped - destroyed by publishers.



Clearly, the publishing indutry overprints on a massive scale because of returns. And the environmental impact of this pulping waste is staggering. The Canadian website Book Industry Bailout has calculated the shocking scale of trees cut and greenhouse gas emissions due to overprinting by the publishing industry in Canada. In the U.S., the environmental destruction is multiplied at least tenfold, since our publishing industry is 15 to 20 times larger.



Most big publishers would like to keep this a secret, refusing to release hard figures on their returns. Conscientious small publishers are thankfully not so quiet on the subject, especially those who have moved to publish-on-demand business models.

Reporting in the Wall Street Journal in 2005, Jeffrey Trachtenberg called returns "the dark side of the book world," and quoted Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio as saying, "We'd like to see (returns) discontinued. Any rational business person looking at this practice would think the industry has gone mad." Last year, Borders executive VP Robert P. Gruen told the New York Times that "We generally support the idea of looking at potential solutions to a return system that is not working well for the industry as a whole."



According to Book Industry Bailout, the practice of publishers providing books to retailers on returnable terms only dates to the 1930s, and "began as a temporary sales gimmick by a desperate New York publisher." But the concept spread as booksellers demanded the same favorable terms from other publishers, and eventually became standard – "handicapping an entire industry for the next seven decades in an unfortunate practice that has wasted literally billions of dollars worldwide."

Nearly all non-book retailers purchase products from manufacturers or distributors at 50% or less of their retail value, mark them up, then discount the items until they sell. They can't return unsold items.



The business of selling books turns this normal practice on its head by allowing book returns of unsold books to publishers. Yet it costs money to ship returned books back. Thus was born the practice of stripping covers from books, only sending back the covers, and book stores themselves destroying the remainder of the unsold books.


Dumpstered books behind a B. Dalton Bookseller store in Ohio, 2003

Independent book stores have far fewer returns than chains, with sell-through rates estimated at 80 percent. This suggests that smarter buying practices by stores reduce returns, and further demonstrates why overprinting is so unnecessary.

Many chain book stores do the publishers' dirty work of pulping the books for them – booksellers call it dumpstering. And when financially struggling book chains shut stores, as is happening right now with Borders closing 200 Waldenbooks locations, there is enormous pressure for management to take the cheapest way out and order employees to simply dumpster unsold books.

4 comments:

Andy Laties said...

Great article.

The cited Jeff Trachtenberg article was informed by his conversations with me--I recount this tale in a chapter of my forthcoming book http://rebelbookseller.livejournal.com/29137.html

Andy Laties, Author,
Rebel Bookseller: How To Improvise Your Own Indie Store And Beat Back The Chains

Andy Laties said...

Also, I started writing a comic novel in which the stripping of books will play a significant role....Here's the first chapter.

http://rebelbookseller.livejournal.com/19248.html

Andy Laties
www.rebelbookseller.com

Erik said...

Andy, thanks for commenting.

The chapter of your book where you discuss some of the background behind Jeffrey Trachtenberg's 2005 WSJ article ("An Industry Gone Mad") is very interesting, and provides further insight into the mindsets of executives who control the big book chains.

Andy Laties said...

My first book, "Rebel Bookseller" takes as one of its principal themes the idea that the returnability of books must be abolished. You can read the entire book for free, on Books.google.com

http://books.google.com/books?id=HBuq-kHI2ZUC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false

The very idea that a thousand bookstore employees are rising up against their boss! Hooray! This could be the beginning of something transformative.

I have bought books on a non-returnable basis since 1996 -- and my stores have been far more profitable than the industry average.

The fact that end-buyers are the ones who pay high prices to subsidize book-returnability should help clarify that this practice is injurious to the entire society because it forces prices up and therefore forces book-buying down. Lower prices would increase book-buying!

So -- it's very bad sales practice for the big players to adhere to this particular system.

HOWEVER -- they are addicted. The book returns system is the locus for an elaborate credit-support scheme whereby the publishers are the real owners of all the books in the chainstores.

Bookstore companies roll their debt over buy over-buying and over-returning, applying today's return-book-credit against last month's overdue bill.

Thus, the billion dollars of books on B&N's shelves that they don't own are effectively on loan to them INTEREST-FREE from the publishers.

If book returnability were eliminated, Barnes & Noble would have to suddenly actually pay up for (or, rather, invest in) the inventory in their stores. That's over one BILLION dollars they would have to pony up to publishers!

Barnes & Noble will not be able to find a billion dollars from anywhere in the financial marketplace right now (they're only a seven-billion-per-year company so cannot simply borrow a billion dollars).

Therefore, book returnability will be abolished only with the destruction of Barnes & Noble. THAT IS OUR GOAL. (Amazon is helping us. Many indie-bookstore activists have trouble grasping the weird fact that the enemy of our enemy is our friend...at least for now.)

(I do not claim to speak for all indie bookstore activists!)

Tags

$400 haircuts (3) 1980s (1) 1984 (1) 1988 elections (1) 1989 (1) 1990 elections (2) 1992 elections (1) 1993 (3) 2000 elections (3) 2004 (7) 2004 elections (2) 2008 (32) 2008 congressional races (2) 2012 elections (2) 2014 elections (2) 527 groups (1) 9/11 (4) 9/11 first anniversary (1) Abba Eban (1) abortion (3) action alert (4) activism (1) advertising (2) advocacy (1) affair (4) Affordable Care Act (1) affordable housing fund (1) afghanistan (2) Age of Obama (1) AIDS (1) AIDS victims (2) AIPAC (1) al gore (2) Al Sharpton (1) Alec Guettal (3) alienation (2) alternative energy (10) Alzheimer's (1) amanda marcotte (2) American Left (1) Amnon Rubenstein (1) andrew young (3) Angelo Robinson (1) anti-communism (1) anti-gay bigotry (1) anti-gay violence (1) anti-immigration activists (2) anti-Semitism (1) anti-war (6) appeal to southern voters (1) apprentice (1) Ariel Sharon (1) Ashley Todd (2) assassinations (1) attack ads (3) attack on voter rights (4) Australia (1) average Americans (1) baby boomers (1) baby formula (1) bank of america (1) bankruptcy reform (1) barack obama (24) Barry Commoner (2) BBC (1) Benjamin L. Ginsberg (1) Bensonhurst (1) Beth Ising (2) bi-racial coalition (1) Biden-Palin Debate (1) big money (1) bigotry (7) bill clinton (6) bill donohue (1) Bill Hedrick (1) Billy Bragg (1) Black Cultural Center (1) black voters (6) Blan Holman (1) block the vote (1) bloggergate (1) bloggers (1) blogosphere (1) Bob Dole (1) bob johnson (1) books (2) Borders (2) BP (2) Brad Blog (1) Brad Friedman (1) budget deficit (1) bush (7) Bush Administration (2) bush administration misconduct (2) bush donor (1) bush on steroids (1) bush v. gore (1) California (1) campaign feud (1) campaign finance reform (3) campaign gaffes (2) campaign scandals (4) can edwards win (3) canvassing (1) capitalism (2) Catalyst (5) censorship (5) Cesar Chavez (1) Channel One (1) chapel hill (6) chapel hill town council (3) Charlie Black (1) Chatham County (1) chemical industry (2) children (1) chris hughes (1) Chris Whittle (1) Christine O'Donnell (1) CIA recruiting (1) citizen participation (1) civil disobedience (2) civil rights (7) civilian casualties (2) Civitas Institute (1) class issues (1) Clear Channel (2) Clinton Administration (3) code words (1) Cold War (1) colin powell (1) Colin Small (1) college campuses (2) colonialism (1) columbia (1) community reinvestment (1) community reinvestment act (1) concentration of mass media ownership (3) Concord (1) congress (4) conservation (1) consumer fraud (2) consumers (2) Coors (1) corporate accountability (8) corporate influence (4) corporate media (1) corporate misconduct (7) corporations (8) counter-inaugural (1) CRA (1) cra-nc (2) crony capitalism (1) cultural imperialism (1) Dale McKinley (1) damage control (2) Dana Rohrabacher (1) David Ball (2) David Brower (1) David Horowitz (1) Debbie Cook (1) demagogues (3) democracy (6) Democratic Convention (1) democratic nomination (15) democratic party (2) Democrats (2) Denis Hayes (1) deregulation (1) Dick Cheney (1) dictatorships (1) dirty tricks (4) discrimination (1) disparate treatment (1) diversity (1) divisive politics (3) Dominican Republic (1) Donald Rumsfeld (1) donald trump (2) dumpstering (2) durham (2) e-mail (2) early voting (1) Ebola (1) economic inequality (2) economy (3) ed meese (1) Ed Rollins (1) Edison Project (1) edith childs (1) education (1) edwards affair (4) election day 2008 (1) Eliot Spitzer (1) Elizabeth Dole (1) elizabeth edwards (2) Emily Lawson (1) energy independence (9) entertaining ourselves to death (3) environment (15) environmental pollution (5) environmental racism (2) Eric Odell (2) Ericka Kurz (21) evan bayh (1) expenditures (1) exploitation of 9/11 (2) Exxon Valdez (1) factory farming (1) Fear (1) fec (1) feminism (1) Fidel Castro (1) field plan (1) financial house of cards (1) fire (1) Fire From The Mountain (1) firebombing (2) fired up (1) first openly gay elected official in south (1) florida recount (1) foreign policy (1) Fox News (1) fraudulent inauguration (2) Frederick Douglass (1) freedom songs (1) friend (1) fuel efficiency (1) fundraising (2) gary hart (1) gay (6) gay history (2) gay marriage (1) gay-baiting (4) Gaza (2) gen. david petraeus (1) general election (23) Generation X (1) George H.W. Bush (6) George Norris (1) george w. bush (10) Geraldine Ferraro (1) Germany (2) gerrymandering (1) get-out-the-vote (2) global warming (1) GOP (15) GOP Slime Machine (8) GOTV (2) great recession (1) greed (1) grocery store (1) ground game (1) ground zero (1) GSE's (1) guerrillas (1) guest workers (1) Gulf War (5) h+r block (1) hackers (2) Hamas (2) Harriet Ann Jacobs (2) Harris Wofford (1) Harry Blackmun (1) Harry Truman (1) Harvey Gantt (2) hate-mongering (3) hatred (3) health care reform (3) hedge funds (1) Helen Caldicott (2) Henry Hyde (1) Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1) hero (1) Hezbollah (1) hillary clinton (9) history (1) hit the road jack (1) HMO's (1) Ho Chi Minh (1) hoaxes (1) Holocaust (1) home foreclosures (1) homophobia (1) housing (1) HR 1461 (1) Huks (1) hurting communities (1) i feel pretty (1) iit’s a wonderful life (1) immigration (2) immigration reform (2) Inauguration Day 2009 (1) Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl (2) income inequality (1) Indigo Girls (1) industrial agriculture (1) industrial revolution (1) integration (1) international relations (1) Invasion of Panama (1) iowa caucuses (1) Ira Magaziner (1) iraq (2) iraq war (4) iraq war costs (2) Irgun (1) Israel (5) Israeli Labor Party (1) Israeli-Palestinian conflict (6) James Bay II (1) James Carville (1) james watt (1) January 20 2001 (2) January 20 2009 (1) jeb bush (1) Jenn Karson (1) Jeremiah Wright (1) Jesse Helms (8) jesse jackson (3) Jessecrats (1) Jesus de Galindez (1) JFK Assassination (1) Jill Biden (1) Jim DeMint (1) Jim Hunt (3) Jimmy Langman (3) job losses (3) joe biden (3) joe herzenberg (3) Joe Sestak (1) joe trippi (1) John Boehner (1) john edwards (12) john kerry (4) John Locke (1) John McCain (15) John Moody (1) john poindexter (1) John Raese (1) John Reich (1) June 24 1973 (1) justice (1) Kansas (1) Karl Marx (1) Karl Rove (3) Ken Calvert (1) Kirti Shastri (1) Korean War (1) Ku Klux Klan (2) labor unions (1) Lakota Woman (1) Lamar Alexander (1) Larry Kissell (1) Latin America (2) Latinos (2) lazy journalism (1) Lebanon (1) lee c. wilson (1) legal system (1) lesbian (1) liberation theology (1) Likud (3) Linda Brent (2) Lisa Abbott (3) lobbying (1) Louisiana (1) love child scandal (2) macaca moment (1) Mark Chilton (2) Mark Kleinschmidt (1) Mark Penn (1) marketing (2) Martin Frost (1) Martin Luther King Jr. (1) Mary Brave Bird (1) Mary Crow Dog (1) Matt Czajkowski (1) max cleland (1) mayor of franklin street (1) mbna (1) McCain missteps (2) McCain VP (7) McCarthyism (1) McDesperate (4) media (2) media bias (2) media hysteria (1) media monopolies (3) medical insurance industry (3) melissa mcewan (1) memorial (1) Menachem Begin (2) mentor (1) merger (1) Michael Stipe (1) Michelle Bachmann (1) michelle malkin (1) middle east (1) Mike Castle (1) Mike Easley (2) military-industrial complex (3) Millennials (1) Milton Wolf (1) mission not accomplished (1) Mitt Romney (4) Mobil (2) molly ivins (1) Moral Majority (2) MOVE (1) multiculturalism (1) multinational corporations (2) mybo (1) NAACP (1) Nat Turner (1) Nathan Sproul (1) Native Americans (2) nc (4) neo-nazis (1) Nestle (1) netroots (3) New Orleans (1) New World Order (1) New York City (1) Nicaragua (2) nobama democrats (1) non-profits (2) North Carolina (14) North Korea (1) nuclear industry (3) Obama Inauguration (1) Obamacare (1) Obsession DVD (1) OCAW (1) occupied territories (2) October 28 2007 (1) offshore drilling (1) oil (10) oil industry (6) oliver north (1) Omar Cabezas (1) online organizing (1) oppression (2) oprah (1) organizing (11) ots (2) outrage (1) overconsumption (1) Palestine (1) pandagon (1) pat buchanan (1) Pat Roberts (1) Pat Toomey (1) patriarchy (2) Paul Wellstone (1) payday lending (1) peace (3) peace is patriotic (1) Pennsylvania (1) Penny Rich (1) petition (2) pharmaceutical industry (1) Phillipines (1) phony billionaire (1) PIRGs (1) PLO (2) police brutality (1) political committees (1) political consultants (1) political heroes (1) pottersville (1) President Obama (2) presidential campaign (29) privatization of education (1) pro-war propaganda (1) profits (1) progressive Democrats (1) property (1) protest (2) protests (5) public health (1) public opinion (1) publishing industry (2) pulp (1) pulping (2) PUMA (1) race card (1) race relations (5) race riots (2) racism (16) racist terrorism (1) Rafael Trujillo (1) rally (1) ralph nader (3) RALs (1) ray charles (1) reading list (2) reagan's racism (1) recall elections (1) recession of 1991-92 (2) recession of 2008 (1) redbaiting (1) redistricting (1) refugee camps (1) refund anticipation loans (1) Republican National Convention (2) republican party (1) Republican Study Committee (1) returns (2) revolution (1) rielle hunter (2) Right Wing (8) right wing Republicans (5) RIP (2) rip-off (1) Robert Redford (2) Robin Hayes (1) ronald reagan (2) Ruby Sinreich (1) rudy giuliani (1) ruling class (1) rush limbaugh (3) Sabra and Shatilla Massacres (1) Sam Brownback (1) same-sex marriage (1) Sandinistas (1) Sarah Palin (13) savings and loans (1) schools (1) Scientology (1) Scott Brown (1) SDS (1) SEAC (19) selected not elected (1) Senate races (2) sept. 11 (3) sept. 11 2002 (2) sexism (2) Sharron Angle (1) Sheldon Adelson (1) Shimon Peres (1) single payer health system (2) Six-Day War (1) slaveholders (1) slavery (2) Smithfield Foods (1) social movements (1) social networking (1) solar panels (1) soul music (1) south carolina primary (4) spat (1) state governments (1) Steve Schmidt (3) stolen election (4) stop bush (1) strange incidents (2) student activism (17) students (11) subprime lending (1) super PACs (1) superdelegate petition (2) superdelegates (2) supreme court (3) susan baylies (1) swine flu panic (1) Syria (1) take action (13) tax code fairness (1) Tea Party (2) Ted Cruz (1) terrorism (1) Terry Sanford (1) The Revolt (1) The Zionist Dream Revisited (1) these guys (1) third world (3) Thomas Frank (1) Threshold (8) tim kaine (1) Time Warner (1) tobacco industry (1) Tom DeLay (1) Tongass National Forest (1) Tony Coelho (1) Tony Mazzocchi (1) Troopergate (1) trump was born wealthy (1) U.S. power structure (2) UNC-Chapel Hill (4) undocumented immigrants (1) unemployment (1) United Kingdom (2) universal healthcare coverage (5) unprovoked war (1) UpStairs Lounge (1) uranium mining (1) US foreign policy (2) US support for Israel (2) Vandana Ramaswamy (1) veepstakes (4) vice president (6) Vietnam War (6) VOE (1) volunteers (5) vote packing (1) voter education (1) voter ID (1) voter mobilization (1) voter registration (9) voter suppression (7) voter turnout (6) voter-owned elections (1) voters (7) voters for obama (2) voting (1) voting problems (1) voting rights (1) vp (1) Waldenbooks (2) walter mondale (1) war (6) war in iraq (5) war on terror (1) war profits (1) War Resisters League (1) war toys (1) war weary (1) waste (2) wealth (1) white supremacy (1) Whittle Communications (1) Winona LaDuke (3) Woodrow Wilson (1) workers (1) World War One (1) xenophobia (1) Yitzhak Rabin (1) you're fired (1) youth (1) youtube (1) Yusef Hawkins (1) Zionism (2)

Rogues Gallery