Monday, 22 September 2008

Remaindered Books

While sales of some long-published books are sometimes resurrected by a chance remark or a turn in world events, and a few continue to sell well for years, most books enjoy their highest sales during the few weeks immediately after publication.

Once that first flush of sales has passed, what happens to a book?

It becomes part of the publishers backlist: it will probably have turned a profit for the publisher already and so any further sales will provide a welcome income. If it continues to sell consistently, even in smaller numbers, chances are that it's publisher will keep it in print.

There is a cost to the publisher associated with the book: it isn't free to warehouse the remaining copies, and as numbers dwindle they become harder to locate and store, and more difficult to maintain in a clean, new condition. When the income generated by a title is exceeded by the cost of continuing to sell it, the book is declared out of print and all remaining stocks are disposed of.

Where possible, those remaining stocks are sold as "remaindered books" to the chains which specialise in this trade, like "The Works", in the UK: but if the titles don't have much popular appeal, then the last step for them is the pulping machine.


Richie D said...

I was quite surprised by the comment that the book will already have turned in a profit for the publisher.

I had the impression that most books didn't make a profit and that it was the blockbusters which were keeping everyone in business.

So, even if a book doesn't sell in huge numbers, it's still possible for it to be profitable for the publisher?

(You can tell I have high expectations for when my first novel is published!)

Nicola Slade said...

I don't think the profit necessarily comes from sales of copies of the original book, Richie. Small independent companies often make money by selling the various rights - audiobook, large print, translation, paperback, etc, which they share with the writer. This can wipe out the author's advance still owing and then the author might start getting a penny or so in royalties.

But don't quote me, Jane's the expert. But that's the way it's worked for me.

Richie D said...

Thanks Nicola, so it's possible for a book to be profitable even if it hasn't sold well. Interesting!

emmadarwin said...

For a book to be profitable, as I understand it (Jane, tell me I'm wrong if I am) it only has to sell up to or beyond reasonable expectations, so that the profit-and-loss calculations the publisher made, and on which they based all their budgets, are fulfilled. A small book by an unknown may only sell a few thousand, but as long as it covers its costs, that doesn't matter.

And a book can still be profitable for a publisher even if it doesn't earn out its advance for the author, as long as they haven't spend more on it than they get in receipts from the bookseller. Royalties are based on cover-price (mostly), i.e. numbers of books sold, which is a different set of figures. Nicola's right, though, that selling sub and translation rights (assuming the publisher owns them) goes towards paying off the advance, or rather 80% does; in that the publisher's acting as your agent, they keep 20%, which of course goes towards pushing your book into profit for them.

Nicola Slade said...

Not sure about that 20% figure, Emma, don't think it's across the board. Both my books have gone into audio and large print but the deal has been 50/50 and my agent's commission comes out of my 50%. But I don't care, I'm just pleased to be out there! Other rights are different percentages though.

Jane Smith said...

Richie, I've covered more about profitability in the piece I wrote called "Earning Out", here:

If most books didn't make a profit, most publishers would go out of business. While most books don't earn out (and so earn extra income for their authors), most of them do earn money for the publishers.

Nicky, while subsidiary rights can be a nice little earner for al concerned, publishers don't always have them to sell: if a writer's agent thinks that he or she has a better chance of selling them well, then they'll ensure that the writer retains them for the agent to sell direct, without losing that 50% to the first publisher.

And Emma, you (or your agent!) have done well to get 80% of any subsidiary rights that your publisher, rather than your agent, has sold: I'll agree with Nicky here that in my experience (as both a writer and an editor), a 50/50 split is more common.

emmadarwin said...

I've just checked - yes it's 80% of translations rights (so well done my agent, I guess!) - and small variations thereof (75% of audio book, but 50% of large print, 90% of serial, etc.). Can't remember what my US contract says, it's a much more impenetrable document.

And as Jane says, it's not always the publisher who has the sub rights. My agent held back the US rights, and did a separate deal (including sub rights in their US market) over there. As well as the possibility of the agent getting more for it than the publisher would, that has the advantage for the writer that the money comes straight through, rather than going into the pot (minus 20%) to earn off the UK advance, which is still better, even though my agent takes a rather higher commission than she does on UK sales.