Saturday, April 25, 2009

Speed Bump Ahead

Here on Straight From Hel we’ve talked before about how publishers have a tendency to give huge advances to “name” authors or celebrities. They’re betting these names will bring in tons of readers, enough to make back that advance and more. Then, to make sure they get people buying these books they’ve invested so much in, publishers put more bucks behind promoting them. New and lesser known authors get much, much smaller advances because they don’t have a platform to draw in the book buyers. And they get little to no help in promotion because they aren’t expected to sell that well and because the authors are expected to work their connections and the Internet to build a platform.

Which brings me to Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) and his upcoming book in the series. The book’s working title was: The Solomon Key. But it will be released on September 15th as The Lost Symbol. This is the third book in the series starring symbologist Robert Langdon.

The initial print run is expected to be 5 million copies - the largest ever in the history of Doubleday/Random House. The book release will come on the heels of the May 15th debut of the movie Angels & Demons, based on Brown’s prequel to The Da Vinci Code.

With an initial print run of 5 million copies, it’s clear Doubleday expects The Lost Symbol to be a mega seller. Brown gets a hefty advance, Doubleday sells books, bookstores sell books, readers buy books.

So where’s the speed bump in this success vehicle? Looks like it’ll be right there in the bookstores, who may turn out to be the losers. In their efforts to get readers back into the stores, they’re discounting The Lost Symbol big time.

The Wall Street Journal reported:
Barnes & Noble Inc., the largest bookstore chain in the U.S., began taking pre-orders for the book Monday. It priced the $28.95 title at $17.37 for general readers, a 40% discount. The store's club members will pay only $15.63.
At Borders Group Inc., the U.S.'s No. 2 bookstore chain, Kathryn Popoff, vice president of merchandising for adult trade books, indicated that they'll follow suit. "It will be very competitively priced," she said.
Of course, that’s good news for those of us wanting to snag a copy. But not so good for independent booksellers who can’t afford to eat the losses from selling the book at such a deep discount.
The discount competition is especially hard on small stores. One independent bookseller said she expects the discounting will be so intense at price clubs, book chains, and online that she will sell only 50 copies in the first two weeks.
I know there are some who feel that if the independents can’t compete, then they should go out of business. Each time one near me disappears, though, I miss it. I miss the owners who intimately know the books and authors, who know their customers and what they like to read, who promote local authors and neighborhood events, who email you when a book comes in that they think you’ll like, who greet you by name.

And I’ll miss the midlist authors who can’t get the publicity push that Brown is getting. And who won’t get anywhere near the sales. And who face being dropped from a publisher’s list in favor of Tori Spelling or Britney Spears or the Goo Goo Dolls.

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  1. Yeah, sigh, sign of the times. I miss the corner hardware store where I was known by first name and the owner knew my wife and kids' names and asked about them, too. All that kind of thing is disappearing from our world.

  2. We may reach a time when we don't even have to leave our house. Certainly don't have to leave to buy books, work, watch movies, read mail or pay bills.

  3. I share your sentiments, Helen. I miss my little corner bookstore and was shocked to hear about Borders going under. We're all happy to buy at discount but have to consider the consequences.

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  5. So true Jean. It's always hard to turn down a discount, but esp in this economy.

  6. OK, I really have to get out more. Borders went under?

    I admit that I do shop at the big chains, B&N and (up until now) Borders. I got into the habit when my small neighborhood bookstore closed shop - the guy retired.

    A new independent has now opened up in my neighborhood. I'll have to try and break out of the autopilot that seems to take me to B&N without a second thought. Though I'd hate to see B&N go under too.

    I'm not a huge Dan Brown fan, so I probably won't be reading his new book until it hits paperback.

  7. Of course I understand it's business and publishers want to back the mega authors, but I think it's also shortsighted. They need to be looking ahead and how to take what they do have as good authors and look for ways to groom them to be bestsellers. Sometimes it's just a matter of time.

    There are a lot of mid-list authors that are very good and have the possibility of reaching bestseller list if given the chance. Some on the best seller lists now were mid-list for awhile and as they grew and built a solid reader base, they did make it.

    We still have a few indie booksellers around here. They've had to diversify to stay afloat, but I wouldn't want
    to see them gone. I like the personal touch they bring to the neighborhood.

    Barnes and Noble will work with local authors in the neighborhoods the store is located, if approached but not easily as the Indies.

    Good article Helen.

  8. Unless you're a celebrity or someone with an already-built platform, you're going to have to have a blockbuster manuscript to hit the top on your first time out. So unless you're one of the few, you've got to work your way up the ladder. That seems to be getting more and more difficult to do. However, Internet marketing is helping out.

  9. I think you just summed up a lot of what's wrong with the industry!

    And who CARES what Brittany Spears thinks?

    L. Diane Wolfe

  10. I don't mind when bestselling authors like Dan Brown get huge advances and huge promotion. At least he's a writer and he's proved himself. The huge advances to nonwriter celebrities are hard to take though.

  11. Brown's book are transparent and boring.

  12. I was trying to explain to a non-writer friend who is a successful businessman about "making it big" in writing. When I summed up the process, he said, "Oh. So authors don't make bestsellers, publishers MARKET bestsellers." In a nutshell, yup.



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