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It All Comes Down to Pulp : Guaranteed Destruction is what happens to books that don’t sel

<i> Chris Goodrich is a regular reviewer for The Times</i>

Imagine you’re a book publisher, and you’ve just printed a million copies of “Blue Notes,” in which white-hot talk-show host, Lavender Ecru, recalls her days as a police detective in rural Australia. Other publishers are green with envy . . . until a reporter reveals that Ecru is a former accountant named Jane Jones, has never been out of the United States and is wanted in three states for mail fraud. One day later you can’t sell “Blue Notes” at 70% off, and booksellers are returning the title to your warehouse by the truckload.

Who you gonna call? Quite possibly, Guaranteed Destruction, Inc.

Yes, it sounds like a company Wile E. Coyote might patronize for products to terminate Road Runner. But Guaranteed Destruction is a serious business, founded six years ago in Union, N.J., to deal with situations like that facing Ecru’s publisher.

“No, it’s not the glamorous part of publishing,” says the company’s marketing vice president, Erwin Baker, with some understatement. “It’s the back part of the business, not the part you talk about.”

Indeed. Book editors overflow with optimism when they buy manuscripts, but not too many months after publication thousands of books, even former bestsellers, end up as pulp. Publishers try to eliminate past-their-prime titles on remainder tables, through charitable donations or cut-rate foreign sales, but the time often comes when it makes more economic sense to destroy a title outright.

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Michael Emposimato, president of Guaranteed Destruction, says 250,000 tons of books are destroyed annually . . . and he hopes to get the lion’s share of the book-mashing business within the next year.

Book pulping isn’t a new phenomenon, but Guaranteed Destruction’s approach to pulping is. The company, which now pulps 300-500 tons of books a week in plants in New Jersey and Indiana, has adopted a “green” strategy, attempting to recycle as much of a book as possible--up to 90% and more, says Baker. Most pulpers, Emposimato explains, use crude “hoggers” to process ill-fated books in bulk, and the result, usually, is a pulp product only as good as the lowest-quality incoming paper; Guaranteed Destruction, by contrast, separates paper grades before the pulping process, and uses “guillotine” cutters so that book spines and bindings, for example, don’t contaminate high-quality paper. The company is even on a campaign to get publishers to indicate paper grade on a book’s bar coding, so that books to be pulped can be sorted by machine.

“ ‘Books into books,’ that’s the new slogan,” says Emposimato. “We’re maximizing recycling for book publishing, which has not been geared for it.”

But why the menacing name? Because Guaranteed Destruction stresses security as much as recycling--a significant fear among book publishers, who often have to deal with irate calls from booksellers regarding titles that have made their way back onto the market after having been lost, misrouted, or simply stolen following their official dispatch to the pulper.

If Guaranteed Destruction hopes to crack more literary publishing, however, it might do well to drop its tough-guy name in favor of a friendlier moniker. They might have to bring in Quentin Tarantino as a partner, of course . . . but how about Pulp Fiction Inc.?


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