Big bookstores often put in orders with a publisher for hundreds or thousands of copies of a book – but what happens to these books if they are not sold?

For some titles, the majority of these books are returned to the publisher, who must then refund the bookstore. This means that if publishers are overly optimistic about how much a book will sell they can be flooded with unsold books months later. These books are often pulped.

What does it mean to pulp a book?

Pulping a book means tearing its cover off and recycling the paper. The paper is mixed with water and cleaned of ink and debris. This pulp is then spread out to dry. Paperback books are easier to recycle than hardback books because of the different types of paper used to make the covers and the glue that is used on the spines.

Why is it important to recycle books?

It is estimated that it takes one tree to make 25 books. This means that a family of four who each read one book a week will be responsible for 8 trees being felled every year. Using more recycled paper means that fewer trees will need to be chopped down and so the publishing industry will be responsible for less deforestation.

How is Print on Demand better?

Most publishers try to estimate the popularity of a book before a single copy has been sold. This means that sometimes they print far too many books which are ultimately returned and then pulped. At Wordcatcher, we operate a print on demand business model, which means that a copy is only printed when we know it is going to be sold. When authors want stock, we supply what they need, when they need it, not hundreds of copies that they might not sell.

While major publishers expect around 30% of their books to be returned less than 2% of Wordcatcher titles are returned, and any that are returned are because of printing faults that require exchange, rather than being excess stock.

Publishers Weekly:
Recycle Nation:
Wordcatcher Publishing

Image credit: (C) Chris Bentley on Flickr

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