I recently came across a “save this series” campaign–the publisher has basically told the author sales have been rough and they likely won’t be able to buy any more books unless they see a dramatic uptick . But the author couldn’t understand how sales could be bad if a book sold out its print run.
One word: returns.
For mass-market paperbacks, when a book is “returned,” it’s really destroyed. There’s no way to resell it.
Just recently I got numbers back for a debut published a while ago. Our intitial print was close to 50,000 copies, which is pretty terrific for a first-time author. In fact, a major account wanted to take 6000 more a few months after publication, which led to a reprint. Fantastic, right?
Unfortunately, that same account then went on to return that 6000 and a good chunk of what it had initially bought. Why did they order more when they had unpurchased stock sitting in their own warehouse? I have no idea. I’m sure it’s something to do with costs of shipping and warehouse inventorying. It seems completely inefficient to me, but since they’ll get reimbursed for returns, there’s really nothing for them to lose.