Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Book TV

So in true BSC fashion, I did all this research for this one topic, realized that I really didn’t have anywhere to go with it yet, and immediately chose to move on…to another topic that I have done no research for, of course. Rather than go do some more research (and therefore posting absolutely nothing for yet another day), I’m going for some off the cuff stuff (and clichés, oh the clichés).

You see, I have a dream, a glorious dream, where we use the visual stimulation of television to get people to read more, where we play upon the United States’ need for “personality” in their stars and introduce them to the literary world. This does, of course, mean that I dream of hauling all writers out of their caves, ivory towers, Hampton cottages, whatever, and getting them out there on the circuit to whore themselves out for their babes of the written word.

I realize that many people would never have become writers, a solitary activity to be sure, if they were gregarious, out-going, attention whores, but hey, that’s what acting coaches and speech therapists are for! Do you think that I’m happy, go-lucky Perky McGiggles (my customer service personality) all day, every day? Dear God, no, and neither are 97% of the other retail people out there (3% are, of course, and the mere presence of that percentage makes me shudder). But if I can paste on Ms. McGiggles at the drop of the hat to keep someone happy, then so can a large majority of the writers out there.

For those who cannot, there’s the internet, and all hail the World Wide Web that allows us such options as edit and delete, but the internet is not today’s topic.

Today’s topic is television, and how I would like to see it in bookstores.

Gasp, horror, dismay! Everyone over the age of 22 is probably cringing, crying, or screaming in outrage. Television in the bookstore? A bookstore is a place of quiet, of contemplation, of getting away from the constant bombardment of product placement and ad jingles. You want to put television in bookstores? What kind of bookstore clerk are you?

One who wants to catch her daily dose of Passions, perhaps?

I kid. I haven’t watched Passions since the summer that I got my wisdom teeth removed and to this day I’m still not sure if it was a crazy as I remembered or that was the codeine messing with my head. Besides, Passions does not represent the kind of TV I’m talking about. I’m talking about the writer interviews done by Jon Stewart (John Hodgman anyone?), Charlie Rose, and others. I’m talking about the actual Book TV provided by the same people who do CNN. I’m even talking about the music video for Lolita Files’s new book, and the commercials from Patterson and Roberts. I’m talking about using these in some way to catch the attention of the everyday book browser and turning them into the book buyer.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, the generation after mine, the one that is below the age of 22 with money to spend and brands seared on their brain, is different. That generation is addicted to the visual image for the most part, almost to the detriment of their own imagination, and if you don’t find a way to tap into that part of the market then your written word might be doomed.

One of the fastest growing sections in my bookstore (and in most of the bookstores in my company) is the Manga section. For those of you who don’t have or know a teenager, Manga is a Japanese style comic book that reads right to left and usually runs around one hundred pages long. Like anime, the Japanese movie equivilant, the stories range from small animal-type creatures fighting each other to high school situations and drama to more mature topics. Anime cartoons have already invaded most Saturday morning (think Pokemon, DragonBall Z, and Yu-Gi-Oh), so chances are that any child who watches them has already been introduced (even if their parents have not). These children, when asked by their parents what they want to read, then turn to the Manga version of their favorite TV show. Meanwhile, Manga comics, which used to be the sole domain of the “nerds” and “geeks” of most high schools, are now socially acceptable to most students. These books, which range in price from $7.95 to $10.99, provide ongoing storylines along with the visual stimulation of pictures. No longer does a child have to read “she smiled” and try to figure out what that smile might look like, the picture is right there on the page.

In a culture of video/computer games, television and comics, we’re raising a generation that needs visual stimulation to catch their interest. Something about the author, the book, or the trailer needs to trick them into giving a book that is all words a try. It’s no longer a joke when someone complains that books with no pictures aren’t worth it, it’s indicative of the culture we are creating for our children.

I’m not here to pass judgment on whether or not this is right, I’m here to figure out a way to tap into this market. I’m here to figure out a way to sell books and get people to read.

I’m here to figure out how to get Book TV into bookstores because as it stands now, adults are only slightly less susceptible than children when it comes to giving into the curiosity of what is flashing across that screen.



Garianne said...

I think you are on the right track. As much as I hate the idea of TV's in a bookstore, the idea has it's merits. I also don't think it applies to just those younger than 22 - how many adults will go look for a book after they've seen the movie version? Also, look at Oprah's popularity. Granted, the books on Oprah aren't bought because of a commercial or movie, etc... but people see it on TV and it somehow "appeals" to them more than if they just browsed the shelves or read a blurb.

I think that part of the problem nowdays is that we've stopped encouraging our children to use their imagination. From hand-held video games to DVD players in the car the next generation is learning that they don't have to entertain themselves - someone will do it for them. Why read a book where you have to do all the thinking and imagining? I do think that the Harry Potter books have been a welcome change from this despite the movies. Most of the kids I know read the books before they were allowed to see the film.

Ms. Librarian said...

I think that's a great idea, BC -- I don't always watch the book review channel (can't remember which channel that is at the moment), but I've heard some very nice lectures by authors about their books on it. Usually it makes me go look up the book to see if our library has it. The latest book that caught my interest this way was the one about Buffalo Bill's America (I think that was the title). Unfortunately, the library doesn't have it and is going to have to buy it.

Eileen said...

As a writer who will having their first book come out this year and who wants to make a living doing this- I am all for anything that sells books. I'll dress up like a trampy figure skater and glue glitter to my eyelids if it will help.

jason evans said...

I wholeheartedly agree. (Is half a heart even functional?) Roll with the punches or get knocked out. It's just that simple. Climbing out of the ring isn't an option either. It's a cage match and the door is locked.

lady t said...

I've seen the growth of Manga,too(not just at bookstores-a good portion of many video retailers such as Suncoast have an ever expanding section devoted to anime and carry manga as well)and there's even a manga series that's putting classics like Dracula and the Wizard of Oz in that style.

Throwing tv into the bookstore mix can be a great way to make reading a higher priority for folks-just look at Lost(a show I don't watch)and how sales of the Third Policeman have gone up,due to just being a focal point of the series.

Kaley Nick said...

I'm watching QVC one day (not going to bother with excuses for that), and they're selling a package of children's picture books (Scholastic, I think?. As I watch, I fall into a daydream about something similar for adults, some publisher putting together a sampling of titles from their different lines, some biggies, of course, but also some newer ones or midlisters they want to break out/promote. Authors, right there on QVC talking about their books with the hosts. Readers, calling up with unsolicited testimonials. The ticker at the bottom, counting up the sales.

Eileen said...

Oooh I like the QVC idea! I can picture myself sitting on a sofa chatting away with the host. I could even toss in a salad spinner with every order.

Lisa Hunter said...

Well, why not sell books on television? TV already sells other forms of culture: theater tickets, music albums, and especially movies (which is why Thursday night is the biggest night on TV -- the ads for movies that open on Friday generate huge revenues).

I'm less enthusiastic about the idea of television right inside the bookstore, though. It's hard to read while a TV is going.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the late Mediaplay's ads on overhead TVs. As customers waited to pay , they could watch ads for lots of media including books. Unfortunately it hardly did justice to a book to follow the latest rapper's promo or some other music promo not to one's taste. A new title was brought to one's attention.

Eileen said...

I've added your blog as a link on my site. If it feels like our relationship isn't ready to go to that stage let me know and I'll delete. Thanks

Book Nerd said...

I think this is a fascinating idea! You'd have to figure out how it would work in different stores -- maybe on mute with closed captioning in quieter stores, out loud in poppier, younger stores. Having it where people can watch it while they wait in line (or wait for friends to browse) couldn't hurt at all.

I love your fresh take on bookselling, and I'm totally flattered to be one of your links. Great to join your bookseller blog world!

Michele said...

I agree.
Get it in there.
Nothing but books though.
No music videos, unless it has direct relevency to the book.

It is the future.
The 30-60 second sell.
It's not just for direct in-home sales any more.
It's tech.

Book TV is OK, but that is like watching a seminar.
Unless you have viewing rooms for the intellectual searcher with time on their hands,
The quick visual bite will make the most impact.

anne frasier said...

i'm glad to see this post. we've been talking about the same subject on my blog and a couple of people suggested televisions in bookstores. i seriously doubted any booksellers would want that. guess i was wrong. :D

Bookseller Chick said...

garianne, I agree that many, many people over the age of 22 are influenced by television, but I think that the very reasons you pointed out in your second paragraph about not encouraging children to use their imagination is indicative of why I singled out the 22 and under age group. I'm not saying we should have continue to encourage this unfortunate trend, but recognize it and turn it into an advantage. Nor do I truly want TVs blasting away all over my store. I envision something more at the entrance, faced out at the people walking by, or perhaps with headsets so one could listen to what is going on.

Ms. Librarian, that's an example of exactly what I'm talking about. Would you have heard of Buffalo Bill's America without the television show? Probably, you work with books. But would your customer? Possibly not. As form of media, TV gets to a lot of people and books should use that to their best advantage.

Eileen, I think dressing up as a trampy figure skater will only help getting your number on the bathroom well--unless you book is about a trampy figure skater, of course. I think that author's have to be open to whatever is within their range to sell their books though. Oh, and link away. I definitely think we can move to that next level.

Jason, my King of Cliches. You're a knock-out.

Lady T, your Lost illustration is a great example. I saw the sales of Watership Down go up last year because Sawyer was reading it early on in the series. In fact, that's the kind of product placement that books need, people will stop and try to find out what the book is about.

Kaley, the QVC idea amuses the hell out of me, but I would much rather have customers come into my store and buy the book instead of calling in or going online. Not that I'm against shipping out if they call me, of course.

Lisa, I wouldn't want the Book TV to interfere with the bookstore experience either. It would have to be done in moderation (no TVs everywhere you look) and perhaps with subtitles and headsets (so people can listen to whatever actually is being said).

Anonymous, you have a very good point. Placement is everything, but I think if the whole viewing experience was strictly book-related the sequence of order could work out itself.

Book Nerd, thank you! I'm glad you see where I'm going with and it would definitely have to be a medium changed slightly for each store its in. Urban stores would be different than suburban, and the showings would be adjusted to store traffic. I'm not sure how it would work on a grandscale (not to mention someone would have to work out those TV rights), but I think that the idea has merit.

Michele, I think there is even room for the "seminar" book TV, but it would have to be showing in the right store. I imagine something small, independent, and near a college campus would be the right store for the seminar book TV, but I could be wrong. And I don't mind mixing mediums (the song in the Lolita Files music video has apparently gotten a bump because stores are playing it as a tie-in to the book) as long as a book is still involved (which now that I look back on your post is what you said, but let's ignore my dorkiness, shall we?).

Anne, I don't claim to be representative of all booksellers, or even most. My opinions have definitely been shaped by my experiences in the bookworld. I'm glad that I'm not the only one discussing this idea though, because I think that it is part of the bookselling future and we have to roll with the times.