Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Terms To Know

Lo, a brief glossary of terms I think you need to know to understand book sales (or at least, to understand what I'm talking about at any given time). It's necessarily incomplete, so if you need a definition I haven't listed here, please ask in the comments!

Account—A book retailer (e.g. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Costco, &c). While "store" can mean "account" or refer to an individual store (e.g. the Borders on Park Avenue in New York City), "account" always means "group of all stores with a given name." Roughly synonymous with "company."

Buyer—A person who works for a given account and is charged with buying books (or a select subdivision of books, e.g. science fiction, biographies, &c) from publishers for the account.

Co-op—Advertising/promotional space in book stores (front-of-store tables, in-section face-outs, endcaps, &c) that the publisher pays the account for, often on a monthly basis.

Hardcover—Also called "hardback" or "cloth," a book with a rigid cover (generally cardboard covered in cloth). Comes with a fancy dust jacket and a price in the $20.00 - $40.00 range (USD).

Mass market—Also called "paperback" or "rack-size," these are the "pocket-sized," extra-thick paperbacks printed on lower quality paper and at a smaller trim size. The price is generally in the $4.00 - $8.00 range (USD). Rather than being returned or remaindered, mass market editions are often stripped (see below).

Nielsen BookScan—A service provided by the Nielsen Company since 2001 that tracks book sales. It is estimated that BookScan captures about 70% of total sales, as not all retailers report to BookScan.

Remainder—Remaindered books are books that are no longer selling in sufficient quantities and are being liquidated by the publisher (i.e. sold to a third party at significantly reduced, often near-unit, cost). Oftentimes authors are given the option of buying their remaindered stock at unit cost before the title is offered up to other parties.

Retailer—Book store.

Returns—Often expressed as a percentage, returns are the books sent back to the publisher by the account(s). The return rate is described by (# of books returned by the account)/(# of books shipped to the account).

Sales call—A meeting during which a publisher's rep(s) meet(s) with an account's buyer(s) to sell books to the account.

Sales rep—A person employed in the sales division of a publishing house whose job it is to sell books to an account or accounts.

Sell-through—Also often expressed as a percentage, sell-through is the number of books sold by an account compared to how many it bought. It is described by (# of books sold by the account)/(# of books shipped to the account).

Stripped book—A book without a cover, almost always a mass market edition. Because it is not cost-effective to return or remainder mass market editions, their covers are torn off by the retailer and shipped back to the publisher as proof the books have been destroyed. The retailer then destroys the books. This is the reason for the "If you purchased this book without a cover..." note on the first pages of many mass market editions. Strippable books are marked with an "S" inside a triangle, often on the inside of the front cover.

Trade paperback—Also called "quality paperback," this is a paperback edition of a book with a trim size roughly comparable to the hardcover edition (if there was one) and larger than that of a mass market edition. The price range is generally $10.00 - $20.00 (USD).

Trim size—The dimensions of a book (generally in inches).



  1. Eric,

    I congratulate you on the G.I. Joe reference in the labels, sir. The theme song is now stuck in my head as a result.

    I can't think of any other terms I need to know right off the bat, but I'm sure they'll come up as time goes by.

  2. Haha. This was also a nice test for me to see how many of these terms I knew right off the bat.

    They seriously strip the covers off of books? That's so sad!

  3. Reesha, that's not the worst of it - some evil vendors then sell these coverless books, which have been reported destroyed to the publisher, and keep 100% of the sales. You'll often find little stands selling coverless books on city streets or in flea markets. Hence the note inside the cover.

  4. This post would certainly be helpful linked on the side someday, when Pimp My Novel has grown, and its archives groan under the weight of knowledge. Having the strange language of publishing deciphered makes me want to run and print out posts like these to keep pinned around my desk because of how overwhelming the language gets at times.

  5. Again, thank you!

  6. Good to know. Thanks again for demystifying.

  7. Eric, is there an preferable combination of publishing options a new author would want? For example, a contract stipulating a commitment from the publisher for a certain level of co-op and only trade paperbacks, no mass market? Etc.?

    Thanks very much,

  8. Copied, pasted and printed! (and then stuffed in my "help" folder!) Thanks for the info!

  9. When the bookstore doesn't want them anymore, are trade paperbacks stripped like MM books, or are they returned like hardbacks?

  10. Hi Keith--

    It really depends on the book, and since I know relatively little about how contracts are constructed, I'm not sure I could say. I have a feeling the publisher wouldn't be amenable to restrictions like that, though.

    Hi Margaret--

    Trade paperbacks are returned, like hardcovers.

  11. I honestly didn't know mass market books that don't sell are stripped. It's sad! And think of all those poor trees...and of course the authors :( I suppose there's not much else to do with them, but still...

    Anyway, thanks for this list of terms. I agree that at some point this should be posted on the side for future quick reference :)

  12. Could you also explain these:
    White Sale
    Sell and Drop


  13. Eric, thanks for doing this blog.

    Q: can you describe a typical buyer staff for a big chain? A buyer for each genre? A buyer for each region or set of stores? 100 buyers? 10? And then can you contrast it with the process for independent booksellers? Also, how does it work for online booksellers or online arms of stores, if it's at all different? Thanks much.

  14. Eric, good stuff. Thanks for shining a light into the darkness.


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