Sunday, January 21, 2007


Cheaper by the dozen

In this amusing Sun-Times piece, Cheryl Reed visits that authorial necropolis known as the Chicago International Remainder & Overstock Book Exposition. Reed endures her trial by fire in the very first paragraph, when she's told that her own book (Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns) is among the thousands of sacrificial victims on hand. Yet she maintains a stiff upper lip and a sense of humor:
Welcome to the used car lot of the book world or--as I see it--the publishing world's version of limbo, the waiting ground for books in between bookstore and pulp fire pit. These books are either overproduced, undersold, or their publishers just want to clear their warehouses for newer, flashier models. With stacks piled across the vast expanse underneath the Michigan Avenue Hilton, this is the largest remainder book sales convention in the world.
The metaphors spring to mind, most of them bleak. The charnel house. The glue factory. The archaeological dig, with its shards of pottery and chipped atlatls. But Reed finds the sunnier side, too. And at least one buyer argues that the post-mortem pricing system is actually more sensible, more correct, than the inflated numbers on the jackets.
The used book world is like a small fraternity, and the Chicago Remainder Book Expo is the yearly reunion. More than 1,100 book buyers thumb through stacks that represent millions of books sitting in warehouses. Despite the plastic name tags around their necks, there seem to be no strangers here--even among the international book dealers from Germany, Australia and England, Russia and Ukraine.

"This side of the business is important," insists David Crane, who buys for Columbia Marketing, a London book firm. "This isn't just selling books cheap. It's about buying a book at the right price at the right time. This is the futures market for books. Some people are less likely to take a chance with an author at $25 but for $4 they will."
For some fearsome photos of the 2004 show (lots of books, lots of people, lots of industrial carpeting), click here.

It is, perhaps, the hell that awaits those of us who put words on paper ever hopeful of becoming black swans.

The humor helps the medicine go down, hemlock though it may be.

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