Despite Down Economy, Remainders Still a Great Way to Make Money

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka


KNOXVILLE, TN: “For a long time the remainder market wasn’t considered a legitimate part of the book trade,” says Larry May.  May, who runs The Spring Book Show and the Great American Bargain Book Show, remainder book trade fairs held in Atlanta and Boston respectively, believes that perception has finally turned around. “Maybe it’s the economy, but retailers have finally realized just how much money they can make in remainders and hurts.”

The global economic recession has given retailers and distributors a much greater incentive to go hunting for deals. As a consequence, one of the few burgeoning areas of the book business not in the digital domain is the remainder and hurts market.

While no overall statistics are tracked for the segment — as publishers are often reluctant to release details about what they are sending out to be sold on the cheap — anecdotal evidence suggests that the slow holiday sales of last Christmas and the lackluster first two quarters of this year have pushed larger and larger quantities of higher quality books less often seen in this secondary market.

For overseas buyers traveling to the United States to buy remainders, the first stop has traditionally been 230 Fifth Avenue in New York City, where many of the largest US remainder dealers maintain appointment-only show rooms. When BookExpo America was in New York earlier this year, buying activity at 230 started a week before BEA opened and lasted until dealers ran out product: Unlike traditional book retail purchases, when publishers try to ensure there’s enough to go around for everyone, remainder buyers are competing over a finite supply.

In recent years, the strength of the Euro and other currencies against the dollar has made buying American bargain books a relative, well, bargain, prompting buyers to return to the U.S. numerous times — including visits to both of May’s shows, as well as CIROBE (the Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Expo), the largest remainder book show in the United States, which takes place in November.

May says that in recent years, international participation at his two shows has grown dramatically – so much so that he decided to move this August’s Great American Bargain Book Show (GABBS) to Boston, Mass. from Atlanta, GA, where it has previously been located.

“It’s less hot in Boston in August than in Georgia,” said May, “and because of its proximity to New York, it’s also a much better place to connect international booksellers and buyers.” Within a short drive of Boston are three large remainder warehouses that fairgoers will have the opportunity to visit firsthand, including Strictly By-The-Book in Fall River, Mass., World Publications, in Bridgewater, Mass., and Symposium Books in Providence, Rhode Island.

As at the Spring Book Show earlier this year, a number of international vendors will be selling remainders, including Caxton and PR Books, as well as Columbia Marketing from the UK and Fairmont Books and Book Depot from Canada.

But it’s the overseas buyers that outnumber the sellers. European buyers are already familiar with the market and have been showing up in greater numbers each successive year, says May.

“Oddly, the Spanish and Hispanic markets have been relatively weak,” adding, “The real growth is in Asia: the Korean, Japanese and Chinese markets have been pretty strong in the past five years. There’s demand in their countries for English language books, but to buy them new and import them can be extremely expensive. So remainders are a good option.”

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About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.