Bargain Books and Remainders Bad Deal For Authors

I received an e-mail newsletter the "Remainder News" from Bargain Book News yesterday, unsolicited. Maybe they got my e-mail address from the PW newsletter I subscribe to, maybe from another professional association, but it provided an interesting look at a business I usually ignore. Remainders are a necessary evil in the traditional publishing world with their large offset printed book runs. Big publishers can't sit on inventory forever (sometimes they can't wait three months) and I suppose it's better those books get a second chance at readership before they get pulped or landfilled. It's just a cost of doing business for publishers, and it creates a business opportunity for bargain book specialists, but it's all pretty painful for the author.

The Remainder News featured a big story about ABE Books, one of the premier Internet booksellers, so I popped over to the ABE site for my first visit in a while, and did a publisher search on Foner Books. Lo and behold, of the 30 copies available through their network, the cheapest one was priced a dollar ABOVE my cover price. That's a dollar more than the book costs new on Amazon or Barnes& or ordered through your local bookstore. That's what I call good remainder news.

The reason my titles aren't available at bargain book prices anywhere are twofold. First, I never sell them at bargain book prices because I want to make a living. Second, nobody can buy them at bargain book prices from distribution, because I assigned a short discount of 25% at Lightning Source. One of the side effects of this approach is that my books all end up having a high resale value on Amazon, I've seen them sell as used for just a dollar below the cover price. It's just a different business model.

The sad truth about the traditional publishing industry with their pulp-and-remainder model is that many books never get a fair chance to succeed. There can be numerous reasons for a new book to get off to a slow start, especially if the publisher marketing is mistimed, misplaced, or totally absent. Unfortunately for traditionally published authors, as soon as some retail chain pulls the book and the publisher panics into remaindering them rather than accepting them back at the warehouse, the game is half over. Those remainders rapidly appear on Internet book sites, including ABE and Amazon, and cannibalize some percentage of new sales that would have otherwise occurred. This feeds back into "the book is failing" logic, creates more remainders, and depresses prices even further, making the bargain book option even more attractive to potential buyers.

One of the beautiful things about self publishing is the author controls the remainder cycle, including whether or not that cycle ever begins. If you control your inventory with print-on-demand, there's never a reason to consider selling bulk lots to remainder houses, just don't print them. Your titles will remain commercially viable longer, you'll save a couple trees and ink creatures, and your bank account will thank you.

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