Two years ago many bookstores in the Waldenbooks chain closed, including those in Sacramento. But a mountain of unwanted books remained throughout the chain’s bookstores nationally.
Where do you send an orphaned book without a library, reader, or store to cherish it and re-read it? Borders owned the Waldenbooks chain. And Borders Books closed in Sacramento and Davis. The mountain of books, mostly paperback novels and crime stories had a new label now: ‘Unsalable.’ The trend is to recycle the book to improve the environment.
These weren’t old textbooks. They were now labeled not romance fiction but bodice-rippers, and not mystery stories but actually true-crime stories and mystery fiction that didn’t sell or didn’t sell fast enough. The workers in various book stores in the Borders chain nationally, according to the Washington Post article, followed management’s directions to remove the covers from the books and toss the books.
Books were not donated to those who would appreciate free reading material
How wasteful. When readers and employees complained via a viral Internet campaign, the books instead were recycled into pulp. Book stores with ‘unsalable’ romantic novels and mystery books labeled as bodice-rippers and crime stories “unsuitable for public libraries or public school” aren’t donating them to the poor, to safe houses and shelters for the homeless, not even to places where women and children running from domestic violence look for temporary housing.
That’s what happens in those large Sacramento chain bookstores and across the country when many of the stores close and are left with many books that are deemed not salable. You wonder why the publisher shipped the books in the first place to stores that had little chance of selling them. It’s difficult enough even getting your book into a store.
The books already come to editors after revisions as PDF files before they’re printed on paper
And the books aren’t being shipped overseas to people trying to learn English by reading novels. Book stores with books deemed not salable are destroying the books by recycling them. Oddly, the original manuscripts after digital typesetting already are in e-book form in the publishers’ offices. They could have been offered for downloading as e-books.
Manuscripts are sent to editors usually as e-books or quickly converted to various types of PDF files before they’re finally printed on paper. Any print-on-demand publisher will show you what happens to a book when published. It’s no longer like it was in the 1950s when authors had to send in typed copies on paper of their novels.
Books were turned to pulp for recyclers
They’re recycling the books into pulp, destroying all that labor the authors went to to create the stories. See the January 23, 2010 Washington Post article by Washington Post Staff Writer, Ylan Q. Mui, “Consumer complaints have companies rethinking how to dispose of unsold inventory.” There’s more money in selling paper pulp for recycling into other products than in trying to sell many of the literary tomes in print judged not salable.
To some of the authors, it’s like burning books in a bonfire. Only the pulp can be recycled into other uses for the paper. What a waste of creativity for the authors of romance novels and mysteries that someone in the book store world declared as ‘unsalable.’ The reason they couldn’t sell is that no one had the money to promote the books in the high-circulation types of mainstream or niche media.
Even though the books didn’t hit the dust or dumpster, no hospital, foster home, women’s shelter, homeless shelter, assisted living apartment complex lounge for seniors with a library ever received even one book. Neither were the books shipped to exotic places where few can afford books in English when they begin to study the language.
Recycled books now had a purpose: To improve the environment
Books took a turn to improve the environment by the fact that they’re made of paper. But the words on paper were not valued. No one wants to see books emulsified into pulp. It’s something you do with paper bags and bathroom tissue, newspapers and cardboard boxes.
You don’t puree words on paper. You could have digitized them online in a database where anyone could read the books on websites. But of course, there’s no one to pay for the bandwidth or website or volunteers to turn the books into e-books. So the books went to pulp.
What happens to unsalable books?
There’s a place for unsalable clothing, usually the poor. And unsold packaged foods not expired are donated to food banks. But there are no free book banks to distribute entertainment fiction or true crime stories or mystery novels to readers interested in entertainment fiction or any other books that did not sell in any category.
Public libraries decide what books they’ll stack. Books donated to public libraries by individual readers usually are sold to the public each year in warehouses.
The bookstores’ unsalable paperback tomes weren’t shipped back to the publisher. There was no liquidation firm taking the books and no used book stores wanting them.
Why weren’t the books re-sold in used bookstores? Or sold online for pennies? There are plenty of online booksellers specializing in used books or overstocked books that never sold in bookstores. Also, book sales of print-on-demand books compete for sales with unsalable books in bookstores.
At Borders/Waldenbooks there’s the issue of mass-market paperbacks. Retailers are supposed to get a credit from publishers when they ship back books not sold. The problem with romance novels and the true-crime story books is that they are cheap — so low-cost to produce that it doesn’t pay bookstores to ship them back. More money can be made recycling books.
In the past books were thrown in the dumpster. Now they’re recycled.
In fact they cost so little to publish that they’re not worth shipping back as new books, according to the Washington Post article. Borders had the employees rip off the covers to show the books were not sold to anyone so that Borders could receive credit from the publishers. The books without the covers on them usually in the past were thrown in the garbage. The trend now is the improve the environment by recycling books into pulp.
That’s what many types of bookstores do to books that don’t sell. It’s done to make way for new books. When nearly 200 Waldenbooks locations closed, the employees were surprised at all those books headed for the dumpster.
Think of what that would mean for the landfills. On the other hand, authors who self-publish books or print-on-demand books often are charged huge fees for publishing their book and only get one copy unless they buy their own books in paperback or hardcover.
Some opt for e-books only, and not many books sell unless promoted. But promotion of an author’s books costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and few authors can afford to invest in publishing their own books unless they have enough sales to recoup their investment. So promotion is important, and publicity costs money.
The unsalable paperbacks couldn’t be donated
Borders wouldn’t donate the books because the bodice-ripper romance themes or true-crime stories were not what could be mailed to schools and public libraries. Instead of giving the books away to those who enjoy reading the genres, Borders decided to recycle the books and not trash them.
As far as the authors, the writers really had no say in the matter. The writing, the labor of words and creativity of the stories or the true-crime accounts were trashed when the books went to pulp. Information was destroyed to make more paper…as in reincarnation of the basic building blocks of creativity–paper. The books could be recycled into anything as paper pulp. The words on the paper might just as well have gone into a black hole.
Long-term alternatives to pulping are needed for books that don’t sell quickly enough
Some books don’t sell until they become classics a century later. Who’s to say how long to allow a book its lifespan?
CDs and DVDs deemed unsalable were donated to Gifts in Kind, a charitable organization
At least the company donated all non-returnable merchandise, such as its private-label gift items, CDs and DVDs, to the nonprofit organization, Gifts in kind. There has to be more nonprofit organizations willing to take unwanted books. Perhaps authors or retired novelists should group together and open a place for unwanted books. See, Gifts In Kind International.
That means CDs and DVDs are valued by book store chains and charitable organizations more than books in print because people can watch the videos or listen to the audio materials on discs. In current times, the printed word is passed over in favor of video or audio, at least by the various chain bookstores management.
Would the charities also have taken books in large numbers? After all people are asked to donate their old books to the charities that pick up the books in bags from your driveway’s curb. But thousands of unsalable books were at the numerous bookstores. Writers need to know the criteria of an unsalable book. Is it the content, the story, or the fact that no one knew the book was available, and so it didn’t sell. Or was it not on prominent display?
There are thousands of those paperbacks around which don’t sell enough or are priced in used book stores for under a dollar. Bookstores are stuck with books that don’t sell. The authors can’t buy them, since most authors don’t sell that many books and are not rich. And the best-sellers sell, so the authors with enough money don’t need to buy back their books.
That leaves the publisher paying the expenses. Since many publishers are merging and smaller, niche publishers are arising, often touting e-books, it remains to be seen what happens to the writing of authors whose books don’t sell quickly enough or don’t sell at all. Perhaps the books can be sent to those who would appreciate them. The question is who can afford to pay the handling, shipping and postage?
There’s competition between the bookstores and the print-on-demand publishers. More publishers are moving to niche markets or merging. And more writing is going digital. In the romance, mystery, and true-crime market, the best-sellers do make money.
For many romance authors, they research their topic and work as hard as the best-selling authors for just as long. The difference is what each author earns from the sale of books after the agent, taxes, and publisher take their share of any profits. Best-selling paperback still sell enough to keep them in supermarket racks and in the existing bookstores. Or they’re sold online.
Where your book may find its resting place recycled
For many authors who thought writing a book would seal their immortality in print, it’s a reality shock to find out the book so quickly went to pulp and may be recycled into toilet paper, bags, or boxes. See, How toilet paper is made. If your books become toilet paper made from recycled paper, know your book will be put to practical use. Toilet tissue made from recycled paper is made from both colored and white stock, with staples and pins removed.
The paper goes into a huge vat called a ‘pulper’ that combines your emulsified book with hot water and detergents to turn it into a liquid slurry. The recycled pulp then goes through a series of screens and rinses to remove paper coatings and inks.
The pulp is whitened somewhat and sanitized with oxygen-based products like peroxide. It then goes through steps 7 through 10 like virgin paper products, producing a cheaper, less-white paper. So that’s how your words end up when your book is recycled because someone decided what you wrote wasn’t valuable enough to be promoted where it would have made money for you and perhaps become popular.
When it comes to art work, paintings not in galleries usually end up in thrift shops, painting, knitted goods, crocheted blankets, and crafts done by countless creative workers and hobbyists. It makes you think of how your labor ends up when you try to think back on whether any creative, non-living product you wrote, labored over, or painted made a difference if it never sold because the price of promotion was too high.