What Are Remainder Marks?

Remainder marks are an important marking that clearly denote certain information about hardcover books and do affect the potential value of a collectible book if you are looking at them for that reason.

Remainder marks are marks made on hardcover books that are considered excess by the publisher. This marks them to be sold at steep discounts. The marks help insure that book sellers can’t return them to publishers for full price, if at all.

During a book’s run there comes a point where there are far more copies being stored than being sold. This is when a simple mark is made on the outside of the pages to clearly show that the book is no longer considered new. Some might be a straight line, some a simple dot, some even have stamps (like college book stores) but all of them will have a mark that shows they’ve been marked down from full price and should never be refunded as such.

Still a little confused? That’s understandable. Read on and I’ll be happy to talk about remainder marks in detail, what they are how, how they work, and all you need to know about them.

stack of remaindered books
Those little marks are the most common type of remainder mark you will see. Others will be simply dots, some have stamps, but it’s always the same location.

What Purpose Do Remainder Marks Serve?

To understand remainder marks, you need to understand how book sales and the relationship between book publishers works. The super simple graph looks like this:

Book Publisher –> Book Seller –> Reader (Paying Customer)

While that’s a decent 3rd grade explanation of how the publishing industry works, remainder marks exist because in reality it actually isn’t nearly that simple.

Books are published in “runs” or “printings.” If you’ve run across classic books that were marked something like “1st Edition, 5th printing” that means the book sold so well they sold most or all of the first run and make at least four more to get up to that fifth printing.

The book was still profitable as a hardcover to warrant those printings. When this is a surprise because an author was previously unknown or had never known huge success, this can lead to an absurd number of print runs. I once owned a To Kill A Mockingbird that was 1st Edition 15th Printing, so this shows how quickly those presses can go to get more books out when there’s a demand.

However, the opposite is what happens 99.9%+ of the time. This is when a publishing company prints off books

So this looks like:

Step1: Book Publisher (many books) –> Book Seller (some books) –> Readers (Paying Customers)

Step 2: Book Seller (remaining unsold books) –> Book Publisher (gives agreed upon refund for unsold books)

Step 3: Book Publisher (marks books as remainders) –> Remainder Book Sellers (at steep discounts)

These remainder books are considered technically new from a consumer standpoint but are not considered new by collectors – though any modern remainder books you find in a retail store aren’t going to be collectible.

These extra steps are what cause the remainder marks to be necessary, because these marks do a few very important things:

  • Mark the book so the publisher (or sometimes retailer) doesn’t refund these at full price and thus lose money
  • Marks the books as needing to be cleared out to make space for new printings
  • Marks the books as being discounted or on sale

If in the future an author becomes famous and their early books become collectable, the remainder marks will make a difference when determining value. This will be less important than if a first edition/first printing was a book club copy (never worth serious money) or a library copy, but it is something that is going to be taken into mind because there will be marks on the book.

Why Are Books Marked As Remainder?

Publishing is a high volume industry for two reasons. One is that over 95% of books printed will never break even or they will barely break even. If 19 out of 20 books are going to be losers that cause a publisher to lose money, they need to cut losses quickly to find the 1 in 20 that will make a lot of money.

This also relates to the next reason: when proven best sellers have a book coming out both publishers and retailers need shelf space. If Stephen King has another book coming out, you don’t want shelves full of books struggling to sell copies taking up space. Retailers need shelves loaded with the new Stephen King book. Warehouses need space to hold the mass printings on the way.

This means books taking up room need to be moved because that space is move valuable right now than the books that aren’t selling are.

This is where the process of remainder books come into play. Because of how publishing contracts work, once the books are sent back they are marked, and that mark makes them remainder books.

Some book sellers will then buy remainder books at a steep discount to sell over time, there are also stores like various Dollar General style of stores that only sell discounted or remainder books. There are also used book stores that do well by buying remainder books in bulk to stock their shelves.

Remainder sent back out to the market but have “Remainder Marks.”

Why Do Stores Buy Remainder Books?

The profit from remaindered books can be solid for those stores that specialize in it. A person will hesitate to buy a $30 book from an author they don’t know, but they are much more willing to pay $5 to give a new book a shot.

Generally many remaindered books are sold for $1 each or even less when it’s averaged out, so if these can be sold for $5-10 each, that is a very good profit, especially if this can be done in mass.

There is definitely a place for remaindered books in many businesses, but it’s definitely a very different part of the publishing process that you are now familiar with that many others are not.

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