A Suggestion for Publishers’ Shipping and Credit Departments

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 1st, 2015

IMG_4540Every day, shipments arrive, many of which contain damaged books. We have to call the publishers to report the damages, and they issue credits or — occasionally — send a call tag for the more expensive items that arrive damaged. Damages are expensive for publishers and cost bookstores processing time and disgruntled customers (often, it seems that the $40 hardcover special order is the one that arrives with a torn dustjacket, squished corner, or bent boards).

Often, these damages are caused by preventable packing errors. Today, we had a paperback easy reader arrive curled in half because whoever closed the box during packing had folded the book into one of the flaps.

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Often, book jackets are torn because of the way books slide and collide in the box. This one also came in today, from a different warehouse:

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We learned a great shipping technique from one of our first employees, Roman, who had worked solely as a book receiver at a big Boston bookstore. He showed us that placing books spine-to-spine rather than spine-to-open-side prevented many damages because spines bumping against one another don’t do nearly as much harm as open pages and covers catching on each other. It sounds obvious when you think about it, but I rarely see books packed that way.

IMG_4542With the smooth spines next to each other and the walls of the cardboard box against the more vulnerable open sides of the books, the books are better protected.

You can see how, in the second photo, damage is a little more liable:

IMG_4543 Worst of all is this:

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I have no idea how packing in the warehouses works. I can only imagine how quickly those hardworking book packers must be going in order to fulfill all the orders coming in, and it’s truly amazing to me how few fulfillment mistakes there are even in orders involving dozens of single titles. Maybe damages cost publishers less than it would cost to change packing methods or slow the packing process down a bit. But if our small store receives one to five damaged books almost every day, that’s got to add up with damages across the country.

It might also be worthwhile for publishers to see how books are getting damaged. If booksellers sent in a quick photo of their damages when they called the credit department, the visual information might be useful for warehouses to change some of their methods.

Maybe these ideas have been tried and rejected for various reasons, but speaking as a bookseller who hates to see ruined books — and hates to spend my staff’s time on reporting them, replacing them, disappointing waiting customers, and spending more time to follow up to make sure credits were issued — it seems worth a mention.

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