Thursday, February 26, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Damages, Hurts, and Refurbs

Alas, dreaded returns. Someone in an inventory office or bookstore backroom somewhere has decided to return your book to the publisher.

Maybe this is because it didn't sell. Or maybe because it got damaged in shipping, or on the shelves, or in the mouth of a busy toddler. Maybe someone on a ladder dropped it from a height of some feet onto one of its corners. Maybe the diecut in the jacket ripped. Maybe it's dirty.

One way or another, it's back in the publisher's warehouse.

If it's in perfectly salable condition, then it's put back into warehouse inventory and sold again.
But maybe... maybe it's damaged.

Damaged means there's something about it that's not salable. Damaged books go to a separate section of the warehouse, awaiting sorting into hurts and refurbs.

Refurbished books are ones that have a fixable problem. The most common type of refurbishment is putting a new jacket on the book. Publishers routinely print a few hundred extra jackets for this purpose. The Hachette warehouse, for instance, refurbishes about 4 million books a year.

Hurts are not fixable. They are a loss, and go to the pulper.

When a publisher talks of having books pulped, they don't mean the books are reduced to paper pulp. (At least, not yet.) In warehouse terms, being pulped means the books are shredded in an industrial shredder and the shredded material is packed into bales and sent to a recycling mill.

It's a little dismaying to consider that the cardboard boxes your books are shipped in may have been made out of dead books.


Travis Erwin said...

I've always wondered about this.

Unknown said...

That's a lot of info I would never normally know about the publishing process. Thanks for this post.

Jan Jones said...

Ouch. Dead books. Why does that phrase hurt so much?

This is a terrific series of posts - all informative and demystifying.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Oh God..."dead books". For some reason, that makes me so sad.

MAGolla said...

Thank you,EA for this entire series! I've always felt that the more you know about publishing, the better you are prepared to do business with publishers.

Anonymous said...

Sad. What about if the author wants the dead books? I don't want any copies of my book to get pulped, no matter how destoyed they are.

Anonymous said...


Just wanted to say I LOVE this series of posts and am going to print them all. You've really done a great service for aspiring writers as well as those new to working in the publishing industry.

Great job!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Of course "dead books" hurts. I hate it!

Anonymous said...

Seriously? It's more cost-efficient to destroy a hurt book than to sell it for 80% off and gain a new reader? Isn't this the obvious solution to getting the cheapskate crowd to buy new releases? Does the author have the option to buy them for a buck apiece and sell them for two bucks out of the back of his car?

(I love these definitions. Thanks!)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Anon 10:35,
How much would you pay for the torn, folded, scuffed, scratched, crunched, water-damaged, dirty, chewed-on books?
Because they can't be free.

It would take extra warehouse time (and therefore money) to separate your hurt books from the other hurt books, and extra money to ship them to you. The shredder is a hell of a lot more cost-effective.

Maybe the best thing would be for you to pretend you never heard about this process, or imagine that none of your books will ever be "hurts". ;)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Experience shows that when a book is in the condition of many hurts, people won't pay 20% of the retail price for it.

They'll expect it to be free, and even then many people will be put off by how ugly it looks.

Literaticat said...

To the anons - Don't think of these as dead books, they are just screwups.

Restaurant analogy: You are making breakfast for a roomful of hungry diners. 100 dishes come out perfect. Order 101, you break an egg wrong and screw up the yolk. Do you freak out about it? Do you sell that breakfast at a discount? NO. It is gross and unappetizing now, no longer a viable restaurant food product. You wouldn't even think twice - you'd throw that one away and start fresh - because you have a thousand more eggs where that came from, and chickens who will lay still more if they are needed.

Do you really want to pre-remainder your own work, when it is still available in bookstores at retail price? Do you want to set your own price at "worthless"? Do you really want no royalties?

It is a fact (a bizarre fact, but true) that when a book is deep-discounted many customers tend to look past it, or think of it as "less-than", if they think of it at all. Remaindering is a fact of life, and remainders can be very useful for a store's bottom line and for customers with shallow pockets, but believe me when I tell you, you don't want damaged, awful things in the marketplace with your name on them and a big red "sale" sticker. ESPECIALLY when the book is still available new!

Deirdre Mundy said...

EA-- some publishers DO sell their hurts, especially to used bookstores.

Cambridge and Ignatius come to mind.

And let me tell you, a lot of academic types are MORE than willing to pay 20% retail on a Cambridge book with a dinged cover... those things are EXPENSIVE new!

The Ignatius hurts at my local bookstore are usually sold for between 30-50% of retail, depending on the damage.

But it might be that Academic publishers are more able to make money off of hurts since they have smaller print runs?

I can imagine that the'hurt' of a bestseller might only go for 3 or 4 dollars.....

Ebony McKenna. said...

"hurts" really hurts, but I can imagine some of them end up pretty manky after a chew and a spew.

Pop-up and lift-the-flap books fare badly too. They are robust, but some kiddies see this as a challenge.

Anonymous said...

EA- I recently bought a copy of Frankie Landau-Banks from Amazon for $6.99. It was listed as an "Amazon Bargain Book" and has a black marker slash across the bottom but otherwise it's a new book and doesn't appear to be damaged or different in any way. I got it directly from Amazon, not one of their used book affiliates. They also have the same novel available as a regular book, discounted to $11.55 (cover price is $16.99) I get the Amazon discounts but what's going on with the bargain book thing?

Anonymous said...

Is there an acceptable/expected rate in the industry for Damages, Hurts and Refurbs? I assume it might vary greatly from book to book, but is there some point that it rises to the level that something is seriously wrong?

Elle said...

Thanks for the analogy literaticat. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who tend to discount bargain books (pun intended, heehee). I'll glance through the bargain section, but if I don't recognize any of the authors or titles, I tend to think of them as lower quality, not-as-good writing, and generally not worth my time. I know it's not fair, and I feel badly about it because I know people like me worked hard on those books that ended up in the bargain bin. But psychologically I'm more comfortable paying more money for a book because subconsciously I think it's worth more (lessons learned from my Intro to Psychology class in college...)

And EA thank you so much for writing about things you don't find interesting, because I find them fascinating.

Anonymous said...


I've got to say, I love this series. Not only is there so much information, but it's presented so cleanly that I haven't found myself confused or having to re-read anything even once. Thank you so much.


I'm much the same way. There's something about a bargain bin that makes me think "they overestimated they staying power of this book; I don't want to overestimate it as well."

On the other hand, when it comes to hurts, I still have my 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea with no cover that I got for $0.50 at a book store when I was 10 years old.

J.M. said...

This is all so, so, WASTEFUL! I was scared of the Publishing Industry before, now I'm going to have nightmares:)

But I am always thankful for the knowledge EA gives me, of course!

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