A Facebook follower recently asked, “why the cover art for The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear changed from the original version and if other Berenstain Bear books have had more than one cover art?”
Mike Berenstain provided the following answer:
The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, first published in 1984, is the only title in the First Time Book series which was ever given a new cover. This was a consequence of that peculiarity of the publishing business—the system of “returns.”
Unlike most other consumer products, books are typically sold to bookstores and other accounts on a basis that copies unsold after a given period may be returned to the publisher for credit toward future orders. This practice was started during the Great Depression when book sales were languishing and publishers offered inducements for larger orders. It has persisted even though it long since ceased to make any real economic sense.
The greatest problem with the system is that it encourages publishers to promote, and booksellers to demand, over-optimistically large orders for books that it is believed will be popular—the theory being that, if they don’t sell them all, they can always be returned. When this happens books that experience large returns can be unfairly stigmatized as not living up to expectations even though they may have sold quite well by any other standard. This is what happened with the Santa Bear title.
After it was published in 1984, it sold very well during subsequent holiday seasons. It was viewed by its publisher, Random House, as a reliable seasonal standby. Then, during one holiday season in the early 1990’s, it was decided to market it as their lead promotional Christmas children’s book. It was shipped to the stores in record numbers. Though it sold just as well as in previous years, there were many copies left unsold from the massive distribution program. These copies became “returns.”
Concerned that this mismanaged marketing effort would depress sales in future years, Random House pulled the book out of distribution for several holiday seasons, then asked Stan and Jan to create a new cover for its re-release. It has been a bestseller in every holiday season since.