Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Want Your Book to Be a Bestseller? Fork Over £50,000

Or in American dollars, that's $94,137.

That's how much it will cost in the U.K. for your publisher to get your books placed prominently in the large chain stores, according to an article by The Times Online, and prices in the U.S. are in the same ballpark. Think those tables of books sitting out in plain view when you walk into Borders were chosen by the staff? Or that the face-out books on the shelves were just to fill space or look aesthetically pleasing, or even to help the customer find books? Or that the staff picks are really, truly staff picks in every case?

Think again.

Most shoppers probably figure that the large cardboard display cases holding the latest Harry Potter installment were the work of a publisher, but few suspect that merely placing a stack of books out on a table where the customers walk it is a privilege bought and sold in huge, costly packages that put the major publishers in the best position to get a shopper's attention.

The practice is nothing new, but it has grown so expensive in recent years that the smaller, independent publishers are feeling the pinch, both in the costs of promotion, and lost sales if they don't promote. Bookstores know that shoppers are attracted to interesting book covers, and are more likely to buy books from table displays and face-out books than they are to choose any particular book that is displayed spine-out. Staff recommendations may make a book more attractive, and in some cases even these are purchased as part of a promotional package. But small publishers are hard-pressed to afford the fees required for prominent placement, 3 for 2 deals, or similar promotions. Publishers belonging to larger media conglomerates often have far more cash for promotion, and the very size of their war chests may be a factor in driving up the price.

The practice, in turn, can limit a shopper's perception of choice. It's easier to find books that are dipsplayed with their covers showing. If you come in looking for a certain book on writing, but spot a different one that is displayed more prominently, the book that was on display may be the book you walk out with.

So what does the average book buyer do about this? Most shoppers are completely unaware that areas of the bookstore carry price tags, so most shoppers will do next to nothing to alter the practice. And since most people buy books by their title or author and care little about who publishes it -- the name of the publisher doesn't carry the same brand name clout as the name of, say, a soft drink -- most shoppers probably don't care. But as an aware shopper, you can make it a habit to seek out the unusual. Bypass the prominent displays and search among the spine-out books for lesser-known publishers to see what they have to offer. Find independent booksellers in your town, who often carry more books from smaller publishers. And if you hear of a good book by a small publisher and your bookseller doesn't carry it, ask them to order it for you.

It's a small gesture, but it means so much to artistic freedom.


Cynthia Bronco said...

I usually bypass the prominent displays because people get upset when you sit on the floor to read in the main aisle. Further, I bypass the Harry Potter displays because I preorder my Harry Potter books & get them right at the check out desk. Still, that bit of information is scary and makes me want to see my mommy.

Anonymous said...

I suppose you could sit on the floor of the main aisle to force people down the side aisles. Who knows what a bit of civil disobedience might accomplish?