Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Remainder Bins: Literary Flotsam, Jetsam or Gold?

Share |
Remainder Bins: Literary Flotsam, Jetsam or Gold?

Honestly, some of the finest books I own have cost me little to nothing. For example, I just copped rapper Jay Z’s memoir Decoded for eight bucks. I’ve seen some local retailers try to sell this biography of everyone’s favourite ex-drug-dealer- cum-multimillionaire for up to 30 bones. For me, an eight dollar price point for anything Hova equals Buy Any Means Necessary. I make no apologies for having slowly mutated into that new breed of book consumer who walks into bookstores and completely bypasses the New Release sections or Heather’s Picks or whatever — anything that comes at near or full cost — in favour of cheapo retail steals. In the past, I’ve scored everything from Chuck Klosterman and Joan Didion titles to Marcus Garvey readers, all kinds of awesome literary treats for mere pocket change. And I have Sir Richard Remainder, the inventor of the remainder bin, to thank for all of that.

What’s a remainder bin you ask? Well, it goes a little something like this. Let’s say Pietrangelo’s Publishing Co. publish 11 million copies of The Book of Awesome, or some other self-help title. When the phenomena runs dry and the publishers and/or bookstores (who ordered in a ton of copies that they didn’t return) are stuck with leftover copies that they couldn’t shill, out comes the discounted sales bins. And there goes the neighbourhood (of overpriced titles). It’s either that, or retailers and publishers can keep these unsold, under-ordered books in boxes in their basements and warehouses for the rats to feed on. Oftentimes, these cheapo book bins of what appear to be literary nothingness can be found in abundance in those used book stores in downtown Toronto that carry Miley Cyrus autobiographies and “how to master photoshop” instructional manuals, that carry 2001 copyright dates and such. These outlets kinda operate like Dollar Stores, but for books. Some of these dens even hawk used books alongside DVDs and Playstation games.

A huge swath of Toronto folk are broke, so the more of these stores that pop up, the better. I’m not sure who coined that old adage about one person’s garbage being another one’s treasure, but I make no apologies for going all raccoon up on these outlets, to look for some great castaway junk, in book form. In fact, if I didn’t rummage through these bins with the same ferocity as them multi-colour-tailed wonders – who used to feast on my compost bins before the city developed green bins — I wouldn’t be the proud owner of Jay Z’s Decoded. Or the whole The Boondocks paperback book series, which appear to be out of print. A few of the books in this series were so cheap it felt like the retailer was almost paying me to take these fine literary treats out of their hands. Back when people actually bought CDs, my crew and I used to scour used CD joints routinely, looking to score that hit. So these Bloor and Yonge Street voyages aren’t really that different for me.

Now, as an author, I would feel no shame in seeing one of my books end up in one of those discount bins alongside six copies of Reality TV: Realism and Revelation or that last copy of Cooking With Artichokes: The Untold Story. Although I haven’t seen any of my titles show up in these discounted remainder bins yet, if they did, I’d wear it as a badge of honour. It means some publisher and bookstore cared enough to get my title out to market. Even copies of Atwood’s books are returnable and I imagine would eventually get shipped off to some remainder house. At the end of the day, there’s nobody making any money off of these remainder bin sales, really. The author’s not getting any royalties from these sales since they're sold at far less than the retail price, well past the books' prime. And retailers who house these heavenly bins are just looking to recover some costs from having poor foresight for ordering a trillion copies of The Book of Awesome It’s the consumers that are winning, like (Charlie) Sheen.

For those emerging authors out there who are schlepping away looking to score a traditional book deal, at a time when many of the aspects of the business that work really well are un-traditional, in your contract you will find a remaindering clause. Rather than worry about whether your book might one day end up sitting in a dusty bin at some Queen Street West retail outlet (like the one across from MuchMusic) alongside Much Dance Mix 1994 CD, consider this. Every book, including Atwood’s, will no longer be deemed commercially saleable at its original price point, at some point in time. And here’s the thing. You, Josephine Author, will most likely get a chance to purchase remainder copies of your book from your publisher before they head off to the wilds of Scarborough (warehouse) and disappear into the literary abyss.

Would you rather your books get tossed into some anonymous recycling bin and then get shipped off to a material recovery facility to be repurposed into another product; sit in some Scarborough warehouse for eternity (or until the Scarborough LRT gets built, which will take an eternity); take up what little space you have in your minuscule condo? Or would you prefer they be sold for one tenth of their original list price so that some unsuspecting broke bloke book consumer can learn how to master cooking with artichokes, in those recipes you supplied in your 2002 book on everyone’s favourite subject? I like this latter option.

I say, go support your local area used bookseller, and show them remainder titles some love. And if you see a discount book bin somewhere that’s carrying Questlove’s memoir Mo Metta Blues, just hit me up on twitter @daltonhiggins5.

PS. Sir Richard Remainder is a character I just made up. Much like how the US made up an excuse to go to war in Afghanistan under the Bush administration. Let’s hope the situation in Syria is different because war really sucks.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives