In the book industry, "pristine" is the word wholesalers and retailers use to describe books that are in saleable condition. If a book isn't pristine (which means “absolutely flawless” in this context), it's sent straight back to the publisher. Its fate—pulping, free giveaway, remaindering, years of gathering dust in a warehouse—is determined from there.
We recently spoke with Debbie Purrington of Ingram Book Company, the industry’s largest wholesaler, who spends her time doing fix-up jobs on the slightly imperfect books Ingram receives from printers. Debbie’s workstation in Ingram’s Tennessee warehouse checks books for twenty types of damage, including dented spines, torn pages, creased dust jackets, oozing glue, unsmoothed Mylar, and printing errors such as missing sections or upside-down pages (which, she says, happens more frequently than you may think). If the damage is too extensive to repair, the pallets of books are returned directly to the publisher. But if there’s something Debbie or her colleagues can fix, she sets to work. The book repair station, which is operated by only one person at a time, mends between 50 and 100 books per shift. The books Debbie fixes have not seen the rough-and-tumble of shipping through the supply chain (in other words, she won’t fix your books that got damaged because the UPS guy dropped them), but her tactics, outlined below, can help any author or small publisher for whom creased, dented, unsellable books can be a huge revenue drain.
Attempt to repair slight damage. Ingram has some tools you may not have at home (like a hydraulic press that shears page-edges an entire book at a time), but if your books are looking a little ragged, Debbie had some repair ideas that you can implement at home:
- Use a regular clothes iron to get rid of folds and creases. Put the iron on the lowest heat setting and lightly wet the page with a water bottle to straighten out the affected area. The same method can be applied to dust jackets, but never use an iron on laminated covers or plastic sheeting. Never use steam, and please use common sense—we absolutely refuse to be responsible for acts of stupidity involving high temperatures and paper.
- Use adhesive remover to eliminate stickiness. Debbie recommended the 3M general purpose variety for that awful residue left over from price stickers and the like.
- Water-based markers can be used to touch up discolorations or hangnails on covers.
- Dirty, smudged, or fingerprinted books can be cleaned with simple alcohol prep pads and dry-erase erasers.
If you want to get into hardcore book repair, check out the Dartmouth College Library online manual on the topic.
Take damage-prevention measures. Once you put books in the hands of the USPS or a shipping company, you can’t control the injury they may sustain at the hands of others. You can, however, make it harder for them to get hurt by packing them properly. Newspaper is a great, cheap standby if you’re not fancy enough for bubble-wrap. And no packing popcorn—it can wedge inside the pages of a book and cause both damage and extreme annoyance for the unpacker. Don’t overload the box, and make sure the box is sturdy enough to withstand a few hard bumps from people who don’t care about what’s inside. Also, ensure that your books, whether in your own garage or at a major distributor, are not subjected to heat or humidity which can warp and bow book covers.
Think about potential damage at the production stage. Another way to reduce losses from damage is to avoid printing books that are especially susceptible to said damage. The striking white dust jacket may be a compelling design choice, but is it worth the inevitable grime and smearing? Likewise, glossy black jackets are great at showing those tiny, shiny scratches, and oversized coffee-table books are usually the first to get bumped, ripped, and crushed on conveyor belts and chutes. If you do go with a jacket that’s likely to sustain damage, ask about printing extra jackets so that the books can be resold.
Inspect books for problems before you ship them. Debbie pithily summed up Ingram’s quality standards this way: “Don’t send a book if you wouldn’t buy it yourself.” If you’re getting ready to ship books anywhere—Ingram, your distributor, Amazon.com, a local gift store—it pays to inspect the stock before you subject it to the hazards of shipping. One of the adorable little quirks of the book trade is that all product is fully returnable; if those books are nicked or dog-eared before you send them, you’ll be seeing them again very soon, and you’re out the cost of shipping them in the first place. No one but FedEx wins in this scenario. So think like a consumer when inspecting product: Would I buy this book in this condition? Standards are not universal, of course: Debbie pointed out that damage on a car repair manual is not as significant as damage on a luxurious Annie Leibovitz retrospective.
Any ideas of your own? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!