Bristol’s Last Bookshop probably counts as the true book lover’s remainder store: a bookshop that sells end of range and discounted titles from some of publishing’s finest lists. I was fascinated to find out how they can do this. After all, remainder stores usually are crammed with the book trade’s dross. Last Bookshop’s stock is anything but. Why?
The bookseller explained that careful negotiation by his supplier gains access to some particularly fine lines, such as Faber’s best poetry works or Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series. They aren’t forgotten works, or publisher’s mistakes. Yet the economics of publishing still allow them to be acquired and sold at a heavy discount.
That ought to trigger some reflection about publishing, pricing and the book trade. After all, if they can’t shift these books at regular prices, why aren’t they looking at their pricing strategy? Why are they wasting valuable resources on overproduction? Meantime, if you are in Bristol, call in at Last Bookshop. It may be the last bookshop you ever need…
For the bookstore, it rarely makes sense to sell regularly ordered copies of a book at a deeply discounted price. They can return them to the publisher and get a full refund (minus the cost of shipping them back), so that sets a floor on the price.
Oddly, a bookstore that also sells remainders might return a book, only to get back the very same copy at a reduced price to sell that way. The only difference is that the remainder will have been marked in some way to indicate its status so that it can’t be returned for full price. Otherwise an unscrupulous book seller might return its remaindered copies to offset full price copies of the title that it sold earlier, likely receiving more money than it paid for the remainders.
In the past there were some curious outcomes of the remainder process. One I know of is the story of the original version of The Annotated Alice. The first edition came out at a high price and sold poorly. It was then remaindered, and was a big hit at the reduced price… so much so that there were additional printings made just to sell through remainder channels! (Mine came from the Barnes & Noble catalog in the early 70s.) The new printings weren’t as fancy as the first printing (which was printed on watermarked paper) to keep costs down, but they were still decently made books. (I know this because I bought one of those later printings and some years later married somebody who had bought the first one, so I was able to compare the two books.)