We Can’t Take It Out Of Prints-iple

, , , , , | Right | December 14, 2020

We have a very lax return policy; basically, anything resealable can be returned for store credit. An older couple comes to my register with a small stack of hardcovers and I know it’s going to be trouble. The books all look like they’ve been gathering dust for a few years, none of them have our store’s barcode, and they’re all related to a very specific chronic disease. They’re likely not books we would carry now, if we ever did.

I explain to the customers that I’ll need to look them up in our computer system to see if they’re returnable. They grumble a bit but don’t seem too put-out. The computer confirms my suspicion: one we can take back, but the others are in our catalog as “Out of print — nonreturnable.” I go back to the customers.

Me: “I can give you store credit for this one, but unfortunately, we can’t return the others.”

Woman: “Why not?”

Me: “They’re out of print and marked as nonreturnable.”

Man: “And what does that mean?”

Me: “It means that [Store] is no longer carrying them, so we can’t sell them, and in this case, we can’t even send them back to our warehouses.”

Man: “No, what did you say before? Out of print? What does that mean?”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry. That just means that the publisher is no longer printing copies.”

Man: “Why not?”

Me: “Well, there are a few different reasons; I don’t know specifically in this case. Usually, it’s because they’ve released an updated version or a book just isn’t selling.”

Woman: “But these are good books! Very good!”

Me: “I’m sure they are.”

Man: “Then why would they do that?”

Me: “Perhaps there are new editions with more updated information?”

Man: “I just don’t understand how they could do that.”

Woman: “Such quality books, it doesn’t make sense.”

Me: “I’m sorry, I just don’t know. All I know is that we can’t take them back.”

While I finish the return, they have a whispered conference, giving me some suspicious side-eyes. I give them the store credit on a card and hand back over the nonreturnable books.

Man: “What are we supposed to do with these? Since they’re ‘out of print.’”

Yes, he did air quotes.

Me: “You probably can’t bring them back to any other retailer, but you could try a used bookstore or sell them online. Good luck!”

I sent them off with my best customer service smile, and they kept shooting me irritated glances as they walked away. I later found out that they hung around for a while, asking at least two other employees what “out of print” meant. Apparently, they thought I’d just made it up.

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