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2 June, 2006

Fixing the books

In case anyone was unaware: product placement in a bookshop is rarely on merit, other than the merit of the publisher's bank balance, and 'Top Ten', 'Book of the Week' and 'Buyer's Choice' ratings are invariably meaningless, merely reflcting what the publisher was willing to pay for that status.  I suppose it's different in independent bookshops, but if you buy from high street chains, airport concessions and supermarkets, don't be fooled by spurious ratings.

According to The Times (okay, not the most reliable or unbiased of sources), 'seventy per cent of promotional budgets go on furtive payments to bookshops'. £50,000 renders a book W.H.Smith’s 'book of the week', whilst Waterstone’s charges £10,000 for the same status. That a book is indicated to be a 'fiction buyer’s favourite' at Borders is no indication that a buyer has even seen the front cover.

It could be argued that this practice will only exist so long as customers and reviewers remain fooled by artificial hype, so spread the word and burst the bubble. Even better, tell a friend about a genuinely good book.

Internet-based music retailing seems so much further ahead on this issue. I'm certainly aware that professional marketing is just as insidious in that field, and several 'word of mouth' hits are anything but (c.f. Sandi Thom), but it does seem bands can reach audiences without massive promotional budgets or marketing agencies in a way unknown novelists simply can't. I'm afraid I can't think of a solution.

[Via Neil Gaiman.]

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