Friday, February 27, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Strippable

Ooo, that sounds dirty. Will there be pole-dancing involved?

No. We're still on the topic of returns. Sexy, sexy returns. Yes, I'm being ironic.

Now, I do not offer the following explanation in an effort to further undermine authors' delicate self-esteems. What you're about to read is just another fact of the industry, and should not be taken as a judgment of your books.

Some paperback books are quality (or trade) paperbacks, and some are strippable.

How can you tell? It's simple. Is there a barcode on the inside front cover of your paperback? Does it have a little triangle with an "S"? Then it's strippable.

"Strippable" means that the publisher values this physical book very little. (This is not a reflection of how the publisher values the contents of the book, or the author.)

If a bookstore wants to return a strippable book, the publisher's attitude is essentially, "Oh, just throw it away."

To get credit for the return, and to be sure the book is not re-sold, the bookseller is asked to tear the front cover off the book and return just the front cover to the publisher. The bookseller will simply throw away the rest of the book.

Several of you have uttered screams of anguish and run off to check your own paperbacks for this designation. But it's really not a matter of high drama. The barcode above, for instance? Comes from this book.

The thing is, the chances of being able to refurb a damaged paperback are veryveryvery small. And if the publisher is printing a gazillion copies of the paperback whenever they go to press with it, those individual copies represent essentially pennies to the publisher... which is far, far less money than the cost of having the warehouse staff process a returned book. It's cheaper to just trash the thing.

Sad but true. But if it's good enough for Madeleine L'Engle, then it's good enough for you.


Sam Hranac said...

Wow. I totally guessed this one wrong.

literaticat said...

Cue chorus of "but why can't we give them to needy children" in 3...2...1...


As a bookseller, I actually seriously love returns. Returns are like shedding a manky old skin. Shelfoliation!

But obviously, as an agent I don't want it to happen to MY books. :)

Steve Brezenoff said...

Here's one I never knew and probably should have: What is meant by a triangle beside the barcode, but without the "S" inside?

Also, a polite reminder to EA readers: If you buy a coverless paperback from your local shop, the shopkeeper has been paid twice, and the author and publisher have not been paid at all.

Jo said...

It used to kill me when I worked in a bookstore to strip those front covers off.

Editorial Anonymous said...

An empty triangle means not strippable.

BuffySquirrel said...

I occasionally get hold of older secondhand books with a hole punched in the cover, which I suspect means they should have been pulped.

Sarah Miller said...

Stripping books used to make me feel just about as dirty as it sounds. I used to hide in the back room and shut the door.

Even worse? Eventually, I GOT USED TO IT. *cringe*

Kerry said...

aw, I love Madeleine.

Vic said...

EA, Just letting you know that I've read every one of your publishing info series and I know loads of other people who have.

You might not be drawing Nathan sized crowds of commenters, but that's because there isn't a whole lot to say.

Just, hmmm. That's all very interesting. Thanks for the education. : )

Editorial Anonymous said...

Thanks, Vic.
I figured that's what was going on. My traffic has increased, but yeah, not a lot of comments.

I still have a hard time believing this stuff is all that interesting. Ah, well.

Chris Eldin said...

Interesting, and makes complete sense.
A long time ago (before color tv and the invention of the light bulb), I worked for a fitness company. We were always told to keep the equipment (home gyms, weight sets, etc) because they weigh so much, the cost of shipping them back was too much to bear. Yay, free stuff!
But, didn't happen often.

Chris Eldin said...

*Seconding Vic!!!*

Anonymous said...

These definitions are extremely helpful! Thanks.

Jodi Lee said...

When I was a teen, I used to pick up horror and romance paperbacks from the grungy pharmacy downtown. The guy was selling them for $2 a pop, because they'd been "damaged in shipping."

When I found out what was really going on, myself and a few others reported him to the parent company and within six months he'd been fired.

christine tripp said...

Adding my enjoyment of the Pub process lesson's to the mix!!!
I headed to my book shelves and madly began checking all my paper back versions of my pic books. No triangles at all, do you know EA if there is a different symbol used for pic books? Since the paper back version of a pic book sells at even less then a paper back novel, you would think the publisher would want these distroyed rather then shipped back as well.

Lily Cate said...

That's why paperbacks have that little note about "if you purchased this book without a cover..."
Which I always thought was loony, until I got a job in a bookstore.

literaticat said...

Christine Tripp - pretty much only mass market paperbacks are strippable. These are the rack-sized books you often see in supermarkets, as well as many children's chapter books.

So, like, TWILIGHT is not strippable. But the smaller "movie cover version" is.

Picture books are never strippable, as far as I know.

christine tripp said...

Thank you Literaticat!

Katrina said...

I guessed right! (Mostly cuz of the comment inside some paperbacks that says "If you bought this without a cover, it is stripped and sold illegally. Please report the seller." (Or some such, I'm paraphrasing.)

To reiterate what everyone else is saying, thank you for posting this series. I tend to lurk, as I'm neither writing or publishing, but I read a lot, and the topics are interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

Picture books cost more to produce, even in paperback, because they have full-color interiors.

J.M. said...

Oh. My. Goodness.

I had no idea... But they're all recycled... right... right!!??!

I love this blog!

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