Where the Pipeline Ends

At the nethermost end of the pipeline — that being the remainder and overstock dealers — the jury is still out on whether publisher supply chain initiatives are drying up their business. “More publishers have tightened up than not,” says Mel Shapiro, President of publisher and overstock dealer Book Sales Inc. “Some of them have cut their print runs down considerably, which is not exactly making us thrilled.” Publishers that once tossed off six-figure fiction remainders are policing their print runs more closely, he says. But never fear: “The remainder business is going to go on and on as long as publishers have to print to satisfy author advances, and so on.” Others are perhaps more bullish on the subject. “Probably the hurt level has taken off more than remainders in the last few years,” offers CIROBE co-founder Brad Jonas, explaining that returns seem to be gaining momentum over titles remaindered by publishers. Jonas says returns are happening “more quickly and in a larger volume” than in the past — as publishers tighten up inventory, so booksellers return books with greater haste.

For a dealer of higher-end remainders, publishers’ efforts are receiving a blunt appraisal. “Things are the same as they’ve always been,” says Robin Moody, President of Daedalus Books. “There’s always talk that publishers need to tighten up their print runs and that they’re going to be more economical. But we’ve never really seen a major change.” Lower first print runs, he says, require speedier decisions about a second print run, which are made with less market feedback — “And at that point you’re just as liable to make a mistake.” Moody also attributes hefty remainder numbers to the growing use of overseas printers — “You can’t call up Hong Kong and say, ‘Give me a reprint,’” he says — in addition to more publishers buying packaged titles, which may only be offered in substantial quantities. Then there are the mysterious ways of the corporate publishing world. Moody tells of publishers changing the price on a title (the old one gets remaindered) or changing the cover (ditto). The pièce de résistance: a movie tie-in with a new cover gets rolled out (the old cover gets remaindered), then the movie ends and the tie-ins are all remaindered — as the publisher reprints the first cover again. As Moody dryly observes: “It’s all done according to huge corporation rules.”