The written word may be sacred to bibliophiles, but books are just a commodity to bookstores.
And when they’re not wanted, some get tossed in the trash or the recycling bin.
Bookstores generally send unsold books back to the publisher, but some publishers don’t want to pay shipping costs on the unwanted merchandise and ask the stores to dispose of the books instead, said Kolleen O’Meara, Borders spokeswoman.
Donating them to charity is usually against the publishers’ rules, so bookstores have to either recycle or trash the books, magazines and calendars, O’Meara said. But some recycling companies, including the one that services the Saratoga Springs store, won’t take new copies of some magazines and books because of their high glue content.
Borders packs books in boxes, tapes and seals them before tossing them in the trash to keep people from stealing the merchandise, she said. The covers also are ripped off and destroyed.
Barnes & Noble has a policy of donating books that it can’t sell and that the publisher doesn’t want back, said spokeswoman Carolyn Brown. “The majority of the books and magazines we sell are returnable to the publisher,” she said in an e-mail. “A small percentage are non-returnable.”
If the publisher requires the bookstore to strip the book, it gets recycled, Brown said.
“Mass market titles” are most likely to be thrown away because the publishers usually don’t want them back, O’Meara said. She described those small, 7-by-4-inch paperbacks as the ones you’d find at a grocery store.
They can be novels or nonfiction. The company doesn’t track how many books it pitches, and the policy on exactly what to do with them varies from store to store.
“It’s not as cut and dry as you would think,” O’Meara said. “You’d think it would be very simple — you see a book, you recycle it.”
New books can be for sale at full price for anywhere between a week and six months before they get marked down, O’Meara said.
“It could stay in the front of the store for a year,” she said. “There’s so many factors involved in that.”
Independent booksellers that buy used books at auction or from individuals aren’t bound by publishers’ rules. But they’re still plagued by what to do with books they can’t seem to sell at any price.
“It is a problem,” said John Demarco, owner of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore.
Ironically, many of the books that Demarco can’t sell are the very novels that major bookstores sell by the thousands.
“People get rid of them. They just don’t want them.”
Demarco said he holds a sale at his Route 29 warehouse twice a year to thin out books in storage. This summer, he hopes to empty the warehouse by selling the books cheap. “The warehouse is totally stuffed,” he said Wednesday.
Demarco typically tries to donate his unsold books to the library, or if the library doesn’t want them, he recycles them at the Saratoga Springs recycling center.