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Stocking Bargain Bin.

How Black Booksellers Scavenge for Markdowns

As many a book collector knows, few things can match capping off an afternoon of browsing at the mall finding an armload of volumes--glossy gift editions, last year's bestsellers or obscure-but-inviting titles--marked down to as little as $1 or $2.

Those bargain tables at the bookstore, warehouse club or discount chain--what amount to the book "clearance rack"--are the culmination of a complicated series of transactions, called "remaindering."

If all goes right, just about everybody is happy. The readers get dirt-cheap titles. The retailers gain big profits and repeat customers. The remainder dealers make money. The publishers dear out the warehouse for new editions. Authors who receive no royalties on these off-price sales, may be less thrilled.

"A book has its season and once it passes through that, we have inventory in our warehouses which we cannot afford to maintain;' says Anne-Marie Anderson, assistant director and marketing director for Temple University Press in Philadelphia, Pa., which publishes academic books and books of regional interest, including notable black titles like "The Afrocentric Idea," by Molefi Kete Asante, the Temple scholar.

Black booksellers and publishers, as well as those who want to market to a growing African American customer base, are increasingly finding ways to capitalize on the remainder market.

A related product is the bargain or promotional book--shiny new, books produced to sell at an attractive "discount" price, somewhat like designer knockoffs. Some are art books or coffee-table books, but much cheaper.

Historically, black booksellers were often not in a position to take advantage of this market because they could not buy in the huge quantities needed to buy remainders directly from publishers and remainder dealers carried few black interest titles. But that is changing, booksellers say, so by the time an audience reacts, some books go off the shelves.

"The numbers of titles of African American interest have expanded geometrically over the past few years," says Nancy Starr, a book industry consultant with a clientele that often targets the black consumer. "This will increase 'the number of available remainders and promotional books, too. Every remainder wholesaler is hungry for books of African American interest, because there are so many retailers who specialize in that. Even retailers who don't specialize in it will have a section or area of books of that interest."

How books end up as remainders is a function of the marketplace, but a fascinating one.

Hargis Thomas, director of sales and marketing for Oxford University Press in New York City, which specializes in high-quality, leather-bound Bibles, is also owner of HAM and EGGS (an acronym for Hargis And Max Excess Goods Are Gravy Sales), a remainder business.

He says, "One of the most popular categories is African American fiction for women. Ten years ago, you didn't see a lot. Today, all of it can't be consumed. Sometimes the books didn't hit their market--maybe it's a poor novel, or poorly written novel. There are a lot of different reasons a title can fail, or sometimes you can be at the back end of success. Extremely successful titles--say a Terry McMillan novel--still have returns."

"This is the lifespan that any book hast' Hargis adds. "Toward the end of a book's life, before it goes into paperback, you end up with some overstock. There is a difference between that and someone's printing that never sells through."


Remainder and bargain trading traditionally took place well behind the scenes through bids placed with publishers and through wholesalers like Daedalus Books of Maryland and by individual bookstores or chains like Borders or Barnes & Noble. Now an entire year's trade may take place at a few major shows. The "granddaddy" of the United States shows, the Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition (CIROBE), is only 10 years old.

Brad Jonas, president of the CIROBE and of Powell's Book Stores in Hyde Park, Ill., co-founded it with Marshall Smith, who owns a Key West, Fla., bookstore and is a sales representative for The Texas Bookman, a major player in the discount trade. Jonas, who also owns a remainder house of his own, recalls that, as the sell-off or secondary market was growing in the 80s, "we were finding that it was a part of the industry that really needed its own home." CIROBE started with about 100 buyers and 20 to 30 publishers or wholesalers. As it marked its 10th year in 2000, he said, it drew 1,600 to 1,700 people.

"We get letters all the time that this is one of the ways stores have survived the last 10 years," says Jonas. "It has actually been very meaningful for their survival rate." Oxford University Press has found opportunities there, according to Hargis. "Six years ago, we were one of first religious publishers to attend the show" he recalls. "It was very successful for us. It is a very exciting opportunity for us as publishers to go to one location and, in effect, over a weekend meet with most of the people who were involved in the secondary marketplace."

Anderson, at Temple University Press says, "You have a lot of individual book stores there buying small quantities of books. If they buy from me at 25 to 50 cents, they can put it on the bargain table and sell for $5 to $10" Among books Temple Press has offloaded at CIROBE are Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, (ISBN 1-566-39713-8), which Anderson says sold out one year before the show officially opened, and "Bass Line: the Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton" May 1989, (ISBN 0-877-22518-4).

"I've found that African American studies, through the years since we've been going there, has always been a top-seller," says Anderson. "As it becomes more and more popular, you have less to offer. I noticed this year people are looking for them, but their pickings are slim. I heard people complain that there were not a whole lot of offerings in African American studies."

The Chicago show does not keep statistics on black participation or sales of books of African American interest, but Jonas says he is sure the show is having an impact on the market.

Spring Book Show

A relative newcomer to the bargain trade is the Spring Book Show in Atlanta. Larry May, the President and Founder, recalls that-it started from a cooperative, about 40 stores that banded together eight years ago to buy truckloads of books. They later expanded to about 80 stores and invited vendors to a private showing.

"Three years ago, we opened up to anybody who was in the bookselling industry," May says. About 300 store buyers and booksellers are expected in 2001. "CIROBE is in late fall and is, of course, the biggest. What we were hearing from the buyers is 'That's an excellent show and the best, but we need another show to fill our stores up in the springtime.'"

May knows his show attracts a lot of African American vendors and a lot of trade in titles of interest to them, though he does not keep tallies either.

"I noticed at CIROBE that there is a real strong market for specifically black, Christian issues--African-American Bibles, African-American books," May says. "I happened to be next to a discount Christian seller at CIROBE. I'll bet you I heard 10 times, people coming up and asking for African American Bibles."

For the spring show, he specifically targets inspirational presses and estimates that his own show may have an even larger percentage of Christian vendors who successfully market to African Americans.

Black booksellers like Emma Rodgers, co-owner of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, Texas, are among those discovering the benefits of buying at such shows. She recalls that one book, Miss Ophelia by Mary Burnett Smith, (ISBN 0-078-38402-8), that retails for about $26, was available at CIROBE for $4 or $5, allowing her to resell it at $10. "Customers are always interested in sales and bargains, so this helps me to not only offer a hardback book at a bargain price" she adds, but to also extend goodwill, "showing the customers that we try to pass on savings to them. It really helps your margins."

Rodgers, who has been in business since 1977, began going to CIROBE in 1997 and was planning to go to the Spring Book Show in 2001. "The first year I went to CIROBE, I had just ordered a book at full price and was able to get it at CIROBE at a reduced price," she says. "In our area we did some group buying" says Rodgers. "If the minimum was that you had to buy 100 of one title, we were able to split it up."

Black Entrepreneurs Get In The Game

Dr. Tius Eze, owner of Afrobooks in Memphis, Tenn., would like to see black booksellers capitalize even more on this market. Eze, a former economics professor who has been in the book business for 10 years, buys at tradeshows like CIROBE and the Spring Book Show, as well as in London and Germany, sometimes reselling to other stores like Rodgers'.

He recalls that he began looking into this side of the business early on when he discovered that black books were going out of print quickly. Some experts say black buying habits and industry practice clash because books become remainders quickly if early sales are slow. Black consumers often buy more by word of mouth than from early reviews or promotions.

"So I had to find out where they went," he said. These days, he estimates that 60 percent of his revenue comes from remainders and bargains.

"I had decided from the beginning that it can't be true that every African American that wants to buy a book wants to buy a brand new book with no blemish and pay a premium for it," he recalls. "There must be a niche in the market where people want a book that's six months or a year old but buy it at a good price."

Industry experts predict growth in the African American market for remainders and bargains. "Every market that grows will have some growth in remainders," says Start, the industry consultant. "Remainders result from some risk-taking. I won't even call it risk-taking. I call it optimism. If you are optimistic about the market, you will print a few more than you can sell."

And that creates a bargain for almost everyone.

The Terminology

"Hurts" and "returns": Unsold copies that have been in stores then returned to publishers for credit. Publishers resell them. Larger quantities are sold by the skid or container known as a `gaylord.' The wholesaler or bookseller may not know exactly how many of each title or what titles are in them.

"Remainders": These books never left the warehouse and remain in pristine condition. They are not shopworn or damaged. They generally sell for slightly higher prices than "hurts" or returns. The wholesaler might buy 10,000 copies from a publishers' bid list or the entire stock of a title for as much as 95 percent off a publisher's retail. The wholesaler will establish a retail price and usually discount 50 percent to retail bookstores. If the price is set at $5.99, the store may get it at $3.00.

"Promotional" or "bargain": Books published with an imprinted price at which they were never intended to sell. They may be 'quasi-coffee table books" with a price mark of $49.95, for instance, but actually intended to retail at $19.95 from the beginning. The imprinted price gives the customer the perception of a higher value.

"White Sales." Books that publishers discount to move at a lower price but are not yet ready to sell at remainder prices. Such books may retail at 25 percent less than the suggested retail.

--Source for glossary: Larry May, president of the Spring Book Show

Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition (CIROBE) November 2-4, 2001, Chicago Hilton and Towers, Chicago II. Phone:(773)404-8357, Fax: (773)955-2967 or

Spring Book Show March 1-3, 2002, Georgia International Convention Center, Atlanta, Ga., Phone:(865)922-7490, Fax:(865)922-7492
COPYRIGHT 2001 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:remaindered titles
Author:Dodson, Angela
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Scoreboard.
Next Article:Found in Cyberspace.

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