Reinvent Your Unsold Inventory
You would think it was one of the best kept secrets in the publishing business. … It's not that publishers don't repackage and remarket returns and unsold inventory. It's that they don't want the consumer to know.
"This is a secret because no one wants to talk about it. It is recycling at its best," says David Dunn, chairman of Dunn & Co., in Clifton, Mass., a self-proclaimed "book hospital" that repairs books and repurposes hardcover returns.
If the public perceives such books as "recycled," the publishers would have a perception problem, and the consumer may reconsider the purchase. Traditionally, publishers deplete unsold inventory through discount bins, online sales, catalogs and direct mail campaigns.
A large part of Dunn & Co.'s business is converting hardcover books to softcover by replacing the board cover with a softcover.
Many publishers choose this path as opposed to a discount bin because as a remainder, the publisher can only get a price based on what the market will bear. Repackaging the work as a softcover increases the value of unsold inventory, Dunn says.
The Penguin Putnam imprint of Penguin Group (USA), in New York, is one example of a publisher that has re-bound hardcovers as paperbacks.
"We usually do that with overstocked books to move the inventory, and as a way of recouping some income," says Diane Lomonaco, a senior production manager with Penguin Group (USA).
Sunset Books, a subsidiary of Time Warner, is a Menlo, Calif.-based "backlist" publisher that sells both hardcover and softcover titles, but only rebinds them if the covers are damaged.
Lory Day, Sunset's production director, says the company sells overstock to online retailers, direct mail companies and companies that sell through catalogs.
With today's digital publishing capabilities, Dunn says it is more cost-effective to re-cover and add pages to a select number of books targeted to a specific market. Publishers will also package unsold titles of a particular genre into a three- or four-book set and sell them as such, Dunn says.
Some publishers repackage and remarket unsold inventory quite successfully. Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., a New York City-based publisher of illustrated nonfiction books and a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, takes advantage of the remainder market by selling its unsold inventory as overstock to different sources, says Marcus Leaver, the book publisher's chief operating officer.
"We rarely strip and rebind because it is no longer economical to do so," he notes. "It is easier to print a new book because the cost of printing has come down," he says, adding the company saves 30 percent printing in the Far East.
"Remarketing," Leaver points out, also "frees up cash. After paying for printing, paper and binding, publishers might as well get something for books that sit in their warehouse."
Sterling markets these titles online, using direct mail, discount bins and through foreign channels.
Firming up a Softcover Return
In an interesting twist, some publishers will turn unsold or returned softcover books into hardcover books, rather than go back on press with a title. Newmarket Press of New York, for example, has converted paperbacks to hardcover books for the library market.
"Sales in the library market, which traditionally demand hardcover books, were stronger than expected [for some titles]," says Esther Margolis, president and publisher of Newmarket Press. "As a result, hardcover stock ran low quickly while [we still had] paperback stock available." Newmarket chose to convert paperbacks from the original printing into hardcovers to keep the supply of hardcovers available to its library customers."
Use Your Right Brain
Sunset's Day says the key to moving unsold inventory is being creative with your marketing.
Sterling's Leaver agrees. "Be creative. Use that intellectual property and repackage it as often as possible until it reaches the end of its useful life."
"For any leftover inventory, publishers must have a program to maximize the sale of a book," Dunn says, noting the program should include policies that pay careful attention to your warehouse inventory and its value. For example, if a novel is turned into a movie and the movie does well, Dunn says a publisher will buy the rights for the images and replace the original softcover with the promotional art for the movie adaptation.
Dunn also recommends that in the case of classic books, publishers should look to update and reprice them for a new audience.
Finally, Dunn recommends there be no layers in a publisher's creative staff. "They need to brainstorm all of your options to move inventory. It needs to be a team effort," he says.
There are fortunes to be made in unsold inventories, Dunn says, and publishers should explore all options to move them.
7 Tips for Moving Unsold Inventory
Publishers can turn returns into real dollars using the following tips for moving overstocks:
1. Re-cover hardbacks as softbacks. Publishers often turn their hardcovers into softcover editions by replacing the hardback with a paper cover stock, to recoup some income for the original hardcover print run.
2. Repackage similar or multiple titles by one author into a multi- book set.
3. Repackage books and add pages that create a special edition targeted to a specific audience.
4. Sell overstocks through alternate channels, such as online distributors, direct mail and catalogers.
5. Turn softcover remainders into hardcovers for specific markets, such as the library and educational markets.
6. Be creative. Initiate a program that maximizes the sale of a title, updating and repackaging the intellectual property as often as possible, for different audiences.
7. Have your creative staff brainstorm as a team to come up with innovative, new packaging ideas.