Remainder? Bargain Book? Hurt? A Glossary

Many remainder wholesalers and hurts sorters build assortments. These can be based on category, quantity, publisher, format, or any criteria their customer specifies. The most common assortments I see are based on quantity, wherein everything received on a truckload or group of truckloads that did not exceed 5 or 10 copies gets put into skids and either sold to the highest bidder or at a fixed price per book. Nearly as common are the assortments sold to mass merchants and supermarkets, packed in retail displays which can be unwrapped and placed in the retail environment without any other handling. 

Bargain Books 
Bargain books include everything described here, but most often when booksellers mention bargain books they are talking about books which are published to be sold at bargain prices. These are books produced by old school remainder-wholesalers-turned-publishers to fill the gaps left by huge hits in the remainder market after they sell out. For example, the Wordsworth Classics series, all classics and reference works of past centuries, are all high quality reprints, most meant to sell between $4.99 and $14.99. A few of my customers prefer these to anything else and order frequently. You should try everything because what sells depends on what you put in front of your customers. Obviously the guys that buy these by the ton are doing it for a reason. What's the reason for not buying them?

This is something of an expansion of the "Hurts" entry below. Condition notes vary depending on who is writing the notes. Some wholesalers call anything mint if it does not have a "remainder mark" and is clean and tight. Others will only refer to those books which have arrived at their warehouses in publishers' sealed original cases and have remained so until sold as mint. I refer to hurts from reliable sources as "remainder marked, otherwise in excellent condition." In other words, clean, like-new, not used, probably never opened, but not having that glass-like gloss that mint copies have. Hurts are returns and, as such, have been handled just enough to take off that gloss. If you are new to bargain buying, you might want to shy away from anything with an "as is" designation. At the other extreme, if you insist on mint only, you will have very slim pickings.

Several publishers make deals with remainder wholesalers on a contractual basis, wherein all of that publisher's remainders and returns, or one or the other, are sold to that same wholesaler. These contracts usually have terms of a year, some much more, and many are renewed year after year. There was one such contract that lasted for over 25 years. The benefit for the publisher is that they always know the absolute bottom price any books will be sold for, and they can plan for it in their budgets. They also have a trustworthy partner in distributing this often problematic product. The benefit for the wholesaler is that they have a steady, reliable inventory stream. The wholesalers will often agree to abide by restrictions placed on them by the publishers, within the terms of such contracts, not to sell into certain markets.

Free Freight
Not in this dictionary. Free freight is something publishers are occasionally able to offer, never remainder wholesalers. Freight is too high a percentage of the cost, both for the wholesaler bringing in the books and the bookstores buying them. The book that was published at $19.95 which the bookstore now sells at $7.95 still weighs the same. On the other hand, all remainder wholesalers get great freight rates and provide it at cost, so it's as low as it can go.

Hurts are returns. When booksellers return a book to the publisher or distributor for credit, it goes into a bin and eventually, after the bins become truckloads, gets sold off to one of the remainder wholesalers, often on a contract basis. Again, remainder is a generic term often used when hurts are what is meant, and this leads to some confusion. There are lots of remainder wholesalers in the business who trade exclusively in hurts, but call themselves remainder wholesalers, as do their customers. Hurts are not really hurt, though they can be. They have a mark on them, usually on the bottom edge, because they are current books that could be mistaken for new and returned again for credit. The mark is to prevent this. Most of my business, by far, is in hurts. The books are more current and often more sought after, and come in much shorter quantities and much greater variety. It is easier to build a bargain department around hurts than remainders due to the broad selection.

Hurts Sorters: See Remainder Wholesalers, below

Overstocks & White Sales 
Overstocks are usually not returns, though they can be. They are frequently unmarked and come in their original publisher cartons, at least as shipped to the remainder wholesalers' warehouses. Overstocks tend to be more expensive, your cost being 15% - 25%* of list price, as opposed to the typical 10% - 15%* for hurts and remainders. Overstocks, like hurts, are still current books. They tend to show up in higher quantities than hurts, but lower than remainders. The publisher (or their bean counters) have decided to make a little room in their warehouse, while keeping the book in print. Sometimes the publishers sell these directly to booksellers in "White Sales."

Packages are like bargain reprints, in that they are produced to the same quality standards as full priced books, but priced to sell in the bargain market. Packages are often new titles, not reprints of classics or copyright-free books. Packages include full color cookbooks, gardening, art, and children's books, and can have sales that rival trade best sellers. There are publishers that specialize in packages. Some remainder wholesalers have their own publishing divisions, producing packages based on the successes they have had with their remainders.

A remainder wholesaler may decide that a book which has not yet been remaindered is an ideal book for them. They will tell the publisher how many they would take, or agree to take all remaining, and at what cost. It is not a bid on a remainder list, it is a forecast of a hoped for deal. This is a put. Puts can help publishers with print run decisions and can help remainder wholesalers with some projection in a hard to project business.

This is what most of us in the trade call any book that is sold wholesale to the trade to be sold in turn at a deep discount to the end customer. Real remainders, however, are only those books which the publisher has decided are no longer carrying their weight in the distribution chain. It might be some first-and-last novel that sold several hundred less than its initial 2000 copy print run, or a novel by Stephen King that has sold in the hundreds of thousands or more through a dozen printings. If there are too many new books in line to be produced, the publisher needs warehouse space fast, so they cut their losses and take the book off their front, back, and any list and sell the entire remaining inventory to the highest bidder. (More on that highest bidder later.) The book no longer generates royalties for the author, it cannot be returned to the publisher by anybody anywhere for any reason for any credit, it is out of print. Real remainders used to be marked, now they are not, and are often in mint condition. Since everything runs on scanners, such as when you return a book for credit that was a remainder when you bought it, marks are only for hurts. I created an entry for remainder marks here because the term has become a misnomer.

Remainder Marks 
Marks are no longer placed on remainders. Before the age of UPC codes and warehouse scanners, remainder marks were used to indicate that a book was remaindered and could not be returned. Now the books returned to publishers for credit are scanned as they are received and your account is not credited for those which you return after the remainder date. Hurts (see entry here), not remainders, are marked. The mark is usually a black dash or line on the bottom edge of the book which can only be seen if you pick up the book and look. Some publishers use other marks, but the majority use a black marker.

Remainder Wholesalers 
The businesses that buy remainders, overstocks, and hurts from the publishers and sell them to other businesses that sell them to the end consumer are called remainder wholesalers. Most of the businesses referred to as remainder wholesalers are not exclusively selling remainders, and several never sell any remainders. Many only sell hurts and some of us old timers in the industry call these Hurts Sorters. Some remainder wholesalers did so well with some of their remainders that they bought the rights from the publishers and started printing their own. Some went on to become publishers as a result of this continuing activity. See Packages above, for more on this.

Skids and Pallets
Hurts are sometimes sold by skid or pallet, two words meaning the same thing in this context. These are usually a 42 inch or 48 inch cardboard cube filled to capacity with books, the whole thing wrapped and attached to or resting on a wooden or plastic pallet. They are sold per book, skid, or pound. Though I have not seen the latter for several years, I'm sure the books-by-the-pound deals are still out there. Buying skids is one way to build up your bargain section in a hurry, however you will get lots of books that don't sell along with the huge winners and middle of the road stuff. The way to shop for these is to ask if a maximum quantity per title per skid can be, if not guaranteed, guessed at. You don't want a 1200 book skid to come in with 500 copies of one title. Trust me, it won't be the title you were hoping for. You also need the cost per book to be some fraction of the average bargain cost for the same product. If you usually pay an average of $2.15 per book for the line, don't pay $2.00* per book in a skid lot.  Expect to pay between $.0.90 and $1.30*, depending on the overall desirability and format. In addition to getting an idea of how many books per title per skid there are, you should also get your supplier to vouch for condition. If the skids are loaded with a pitch fork it does not matter how low the cost, you don't want them. Books should at least be stacked neatly and packed tightly enough not to flow or bump during shipment. Another qualifier is raw or untouched versus worked. If a wholesaler has their own retail internet business, they will sometimes put their rejects from that side of the business in skids which should really be called assortments, but they call them worked or touched skids. They tend to sell for less money than raw skids.  Raw or untouched skids are as received from the publishers. You should also ask if there is a manifest of the contents. This is usually not available, but if it is, you can use it to determine which are the best skids for you. If you are a small or relatively new bookseller, I would advise against buying skids. If you do decide to buy them, work only with companies and sales people you know well and trust.

*A Note About Pricing. I am putting this here because this page is, by far, the most popular place to visit on my blog. Given that this is my most popular page (twice as popular as my next most popular post,, it is possible that many who are reading this page are either new to the business of bookselling, or booksellers new to the business of bargain books, all of which is great news. If, however, you are not in the business of bookselling, if you are a retail customer looking for books, please let me know and I will direct you to a great bookseller near you. 
So, as I was about to say: Pricing cited above is referring to your cost as a bookseller, charged to you by the wholesalers who have arrangements with publishers which make it possible to bring you these books. The prices I mention here are not firm or even representative of prices charged by wholesalers everywhere. Your cost will depend on who you are buying from, how fresh the inventory is, condition, terms, and if the wholesaler is under pressure to sell.