Mass market paperbacks are interesting creatures, as are some trade paperbacks. 99.99% of all mass markets, if they are slated for return, aren’t actually returned. Not whole, anyway. One of the most horrifying things a bookseller will ever learn to do is strip a book. Stripping a book means that the front cover — and the back too if the front doesn’t include the book’s barcode — is ripped right off the book. The book is then recycled and the covers are sent back instead, earning the bookstore credit since it never sold those books. These coverless books aren’t supposed to go anywhere after that. However, sometimes they end up in interesting places.
A coverless book is one that has, in essence, never been paid for. Some people assume that because the store has the book on the shelf it’s been paid for, so cover or not, it shouldn’t matter. After all, they had to order it from the publisher, right? Yes, they did, but they also sent back the books’ covers. This is akin to when a customer returns a book and gets a credit for it. The bookstore isn’t out the money for the unsold books, but the books don’t get to sit on the shelves forever, and the publisher can take note of what is selling and what is not. When the publisher gets those returns, they’re factored into that author’s sales numbers.
So what does it mean when you’re shopping in a little convenience store run by mom and pop, or you’re in the local used bookstore down the street and you see coverless books?
It means no one paid for those books.
It means someone has access to books that have been stripped — whether they know someone in another bookstore who’s shuffling them over, or they’re actually dumpster diving to fish them out (yes, that is actually a thing and has even happened to the store I worked at before I arrived), they’re selling books that have already been returned for credit. It doesn’t matter if the coverless book is being sold for $1.00 or $0.10 — that’s money the author will never see. An author who has worked a year or more of their life to create that book for someone to read and enjoy.
What’s more, that’s also a lost sales number, and who knows? That single figure may have been the deciding factor whether or not an author’s series continues to be published.
The vast majority of used bookstores don’t actually sell coverless books. In fact, many of them instead sell a mixture of used and new. But there are still some unscrupulous people out there who do try to sell them, and they may just have a random little store of knickknacks — or even a garage sale — and think, “Hey, free merchandise for me to sell.” It’s not. Technically, it’s stolen.
In fact, go grab a mass market paperback book right now. Open it to the copyright page and you’ll see something similar to this:
The books themselves inform you that if you’ve bought a coverless book, you’ve just purchased something you shouldn’t have.
There are some that might argue, “Well, you’re just throwing the books out anyway. Why can’t you let people have them?” This is because, again, the books are not paid for. The author is getting absolutely no credit for the book that is being destroyed. And booksellers know this. Which is why, if they realize books are being taken from them and then resold somewhere, they get angry about it. It’s not that they’re losing money — they aren’t. They’ve already taken care of that part. It’s the fact that someone has decided the author’s work isn’t worth anything and are trying to make money off stolen goods. It’s not cool.
So if you find a place that sells coverless books, don’t buy them. And if that location is near an actual bookstore, go tell the bookstore. Ours devised a whole new method of recycling strips so people could no longer dumpster dive for them. We support the authors out there who work hard to create amazing stories for you to read.
You should, too.