Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The cost of paper, printing and binding, PPB, is calculated for each book and comes to around $3.00. There are also warehousing and transportation costs directly associated with that book.
A publishing company cannot survive, let alone flourish, unless most of the books it produces contribute revenue toward editorial, advertising, royalty, and plant costs also. In accounting terms though, PPB is the cost of the book.
PPB is a somewhat artificial number. Still, publishers like to recover PPB on remainder copies of a book that they are letting go out of print. In the 1970s winning remainder bids were usually less than PPB. This was disappointing to the publisher but it was better to get something for the books rather than nothing.
In an extreme example of this, Ted Maass, then V.P. in charge of sales at Simon & Schuster, urged Chris Stephens to buy the remaining 1100 copies of Wolf by Jim Harrison for a penny a book. 1100 books for $110. Quite a deal. Ted knew that Chris was interested because Chris had already purchased 1000 copies of the same book at quite a bit more.
Chris was interested. He believed in Jim Harrison who is listed as one of the authors in Chris' famous Sixties Catalogue.
Limited space forced Chris to reluctantly decline the great deal. It didn't make sense for us. It did make sense for Maass to try though. A penny was a tiny fraction of PPB but it would cost a nickel each to have the books ground up. The sale would have made a 6 cent swing per book for Simon & Schuster.
Not everyone saw it that way though. Thomson E. Murray didn't. In the 1980s he was the manager of remainder sales at Doubleday.
Many authors have a clause in their contracts that allows them to purchase copies of their book at PPB when it becomes a remainder. Charles Newman had such a clause. Newman had been editor of the Tri Quarterly Review for many years. He also wrote alternative fiction. Dial, then an imprint of Doubleday, published Newman's novel, White Jazz.
White Jazz went out of print in the fall of 1985. Newman asked Stephens to buy the remaining copies and put the title back in print under Stephens' Ultramarine Publishing Company. Chris was happy to. Charlie offered to exercise his option to purchase at PPB. Chris said, "No. no. We'll handle this as if we don't know each other. I'll bid on White Jazz at the next remainder sale."
Chris bid 15 cents per copy. He was the only bidder. He should have won the bid and purchased the remainder at that price. But it didn't happen that way. Manager Murray was personally insulted by the low bid. He told Chris he would have those books ground up before he would let them go at 15 cents.
"That doesn't make sense," said Chris. "It will cost the company money to have them ground up."
Murray didn't care. He was incensed. He said he'd destroy them on principle.
Maybe he was playing chicken. Neither Stephens nor Newman cared to chance it. Chris bought the entire remainder at PPB. Which was much more than was sensible.
Doubleday was right in a way. Sales were slow. It didn't make financial sense to pay the warehousing and distribution expenses of keeping it in print.
But in the bigger picture Ultramarine was right. White Jazz is an interesting piece of experimental fiction by an important author. Still in print almost 25 years later, it has been available to the occasional - yet keenly interested - reader all that time. The title's in-print status has actually outlasted the author.

PPB is one measure of a book's cost but what's the measure of a book's value?

books by Charles Newman:
New Axis
The Promise Keeper
A Child's History of America
There Must Be More to Love Than Death
White Jazz
The Post-Modern Aura: the Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation

reviews of Jim Harrison's books from The New York Times
an interesting article about Jim Harrison

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