About a month ago, I was in an Oral Communications class at Baker College of Auburn Hills. As a writer whose paper voice is the same as her vocal voice, I am very much a writer TO the reader. I heard a great example in fourth grade, when my brilliant teacher, Mr. Bob Zimmerman, explained to us exactly how to get started on writing a personal essay. He said, “tell me what you want to write. Say your story out loud, and then write what you say.” I have used this technique in my writing since that point in my education, and have very much enjoyed hearing the compliment from others that I have a voice that readers can truly hear.
I wrote this speech for this class after finding out about a horrendous practice of waste that is hidden in the back rooms of our bookstores and publishing houses. I’ve been submitting my works in a more serious, optimistically professional manner for a few months now, and this new information has cut me to the quick. Knowing that my blood, sweat and tears is most likely doomed (statistically, anyway) to a pile of confetti is such a discouraging thought – and I would like to shed light on this cycle of profit and waste for others so we can initiate a a movement towards a more environmentally friendly – and most importantly, artist friendly – system that honors that beautiful gift that every writer offers to their readers.
Stop Stripping and Start Saving!
(our books, that is.)
Have you ever wondered about that paragraph on the first page of every book you read? The one that says, “If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It has been reported as ‘unsold and destroyed’ to the publisher and neither publisher nor author has received any payment for this ‘stripped book.’? Today, I’m going to shed light on what exactly “stripped books” are and why this is such an abhorrent practice for profit, and I hope that after my speech, you will understand the power of literacy and step up to stop book dumping and start donating! It is true that knowledge is power, and as the Doctor once yelled, “Books [are] the greatest weapon in the world!” (The Doctor, 5008).
This is how the publishing cycle works: thousands of people attempt to have their work published each year. I’m going through this rigorous rat race myself right now. Very, very few of those submissions will reach a bookstore. Yet, there are millions of titles in print circulation at this moment. How is this possible? There is an extremely high turnover in the publishing market, despite how exclusive it is. This means that there is always something “up and coming” to push the books that aren’t selling off the shelves. Jonathan Karp, an editor and publisher, said, “Publishing is a business based primarily on blind hope.” (Karp, 2008). This means that publishers inflate the sales projections of their new titles and overstock booksellers. When booksellers do not sell the books, they can return the books for a refund, and because it is not cost effective to ship the books back to the publisher, those books are then – be glad you’re sitting down for this – taken out back to the Dumpster, their covers torn off, and shredded.
According to Karp, what publishers and booksellers don’t want to tell authors is that their books are very likely to be mulched, and this is not a technical term. They are very literally thrown in a mulcher to be made into pulp, to be made into new paper, to be made into new books, so that the cycle of profit can begin again, and the terrible cycle of book “recycling” can continue to destroy perfectly good books, educational materials, and the blood, sweat and tears of their authors. Exactly how likely is this to happen? Well, it’s estimated that nearly 40% of all mass-market paperbacks are pulped, and in many genres, this number skyrockets. (Moonrat, 2009). That’s a whole lot of book recycling going on.
This may seem like a victimless crime against literature, but the real victims here are the students in rural areas who don’t have access to library services, and the low-income urban citizens whose cities have closed their libraries and reduced their school funding because they are not “vital services.” Education is the most vital service we can offer. Some libraries are forced to work ghost hours, or hours that are based on whether or not a volunteer can be available. When providing tax-supported services to our citizens becomes such a low priority that it becomes voluntary to do so, it reflects the sliding standard of our education system and it is not a flattering reflection. Unfortunately, in these places, the citizens are in such low tax brackets that the revenue to fund these services is just not coming in.
The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund released a report that stated nearly 47% of Detroit citizens were functionally illiterate, meaning that they could not rely on basic reading or writing skills to assist them in everyday tasks, despite almost half of that number having received their high school diploma or equivalency. (DRWF, 2011). What happens when an illiterate adult is thrust out into the world? They are unable to secure employment. When they are unable to secure employment they are forced to fall back on government assistance, which leads to further poverty. An article for the Baltimore Sun said, “A welfare recipient has a 97-to-1 chance of securing employment that pays a living wage, which provides an income above the poverty line.” (Holden, 1999). A Princeton study found that, “[Data indicates] that socioeconomic disparities in reading achievement are much larger than racial and ethnic gaps.” (Reardon, et al., 2012). This means that even though there are gaps between groups such as males and females or African-Americans and Caucasians, the biggest gap in literacy falls between the students who have and the students who have not.
But we don’t have to let this happen. We can put a stop to book pulping for profit if we do our part to support our booksellers and purchase these books! I am writing to my congressman to propose a charitable tax deduction for booksellers to receive in exchange for donating their unsold books to qualified literacy programs. Booksellers will find that the deduction will greatly reduce if not cover the cost of labor and shipping to donate rather than dump, and this will be the incentive to do the right thing and help people help themselves.
How can you personally assist in the fight against illiteracy? Please, donate your used books! Share with bookstores! Support local book sellers! When your children grow out of their childhood books, consider donating them to their elementary school library. Support your local library by attending their “Friends of the Library” book sales, like the ones they have at the Waterford Public Library every few months. At the very least, read to your children and instill in them the incredible power of knowledge so they may be fully equipped for the future.
Benjamin, S. (2013 December 13). Stop stripping and start saving. Baker College of Auburn Hills. Persuasive speech.
The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund. (2005 May). Addressing Detroit’s basic skills crisis. Retrieved from http://cbsdetroit.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/basicskillsreport_final.pdf
Holden, E. (1999 April 19). The adult literacy problem. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://articles.baltimoresun.com
Karp, J. (2008 June 29). Turning the page on the disposable book. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com
Moonrat. (2009 July 20). Wait, is it true? Are 40% of books printed pulped?. Editorial Ass. Retrieved from http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2009/07/20/is-it-true-are-40-of-books-printed.html
Reardon, et al. (2012). Patterns of literacy among U.S. students. The Future of Children. 22.2 p. 17. Retrieved from Gale Cengage Database.