This morning, the Uncanny Veronica asked us a question over on our Facebook site. When looking at the barcode on the back cover of her book, she discovered that there’s a mysterious empty triangle. Here’s the answer to her question!
This is a secret message from the publisher to the bookseller. Well, not so secret really. Basically, the triangle indicates whether or not a book is “Strippable”. Strippable books have a triangle with an S in it. Empty triangles mean that it’s not strippable.
So what does that mean now? If a book doesn’t sell, then it will be taken off the shelves at some point. Bookshops have bought these books from the publisher, so they usually can get a refund for the bought book that doesn’t sell by sending it back to the publisher.
So if a book is strippable, all the publisher wants to see as proof of “Your book didn’t sell, I want my money back” is the cover of the book. Some poor soul at a bookshop’s job is it to rip off covers of books, trashing the rest and putting the covers in a parcel which then goes to the publisher. Usually, cheaper books are strippable.
If it’s unstrippable, then the publisher wants the entire book back. Of course, this is more expensive for everyone involved as the unsold books are heavier in their entirety and thus cost more to send back, but some books – such as hardcovers or special editions – are worth it.
The decision which book is strippable and which one isn’t is entirely up to the publisher. For example: Publishers like Reclam – they publish tiny booklets of great literature for a really, really low price but leave out any and all extra frills – can decide that their books are unstrippable. On the other hand, the Hachette Book Group could decide that J. J. Abrams’ S is strippable, despite all the nice extra things. NOTE: It is not strippable. It could be, but there are no triangles anywhere, so this book was merely used as an example for what could and couldn’t be strippable by the logic that Reclam produces the bare minimum of what makes a book and S is a huge and complicated ordeal.
Not all publishers are doing this, though, so it’s not always indicated whether or not a book is strippable on the back. Research has shown that the S in the triangle has been on books for at least twelve years now.
Credit for the photograph used in this article goes to our very own Veronica.
And if you have a question about books, movies or comic books, head over to our Facebook-Page and ask away. We will do our best to answer them.