Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Business of Product Placement, Hand-Selling, and Integrity in the 21st Century

Found via GalleyCat, The Sunday Times talks about a subject we’ve discussed before: the business of publishing co-op, providing actual monetary figures in the range of 50,000 to 200,000. Dude, seriously? What really makes my head spin is that I know that the conversion to U.S. currency would make the number even higher. Whether or not this is comparable to what is charged here, I don’t know, but with the help of my handy calculator, I divided that 50,000 by the 542 stores said books would receive prominent placement in and came up with the amount of $92 (after rounding off the decimal) per store.

I doubt this means that you can walk into any bookstore, offer them $92, a wink and a nudge along with the words “put this some place pretty,” and get the same result.

What I found most interesting about the article is this:

“The Publishers Association, a trade body, said that 70% of promotional budgets were now spent on the so-called “below-the-line” schemes operated by bookshops rather than the more traditional advertising and posters.”

Why? Because these “below the line schemes” offer up results. People may not open up their paper and see your ad—they may not even get the paper or any one of the thousands of others out there—but they might have a greater chance of seeing your book if it has a prominent front of store placement in 542 stores.

Speaking of advertising, Mr. C. Max Magee covers the fact that Amazon has just added a new upgrade to their system called the Amazon Online Reader. Are they trying to sell access online to books without selling the hardcopy or does some of this money translate into ebook sales for the publisher?

I admit that I don’t feel qualified to really discuss the subject since I have no where near all the facts. I also have a love/hate relationship with Amazon—it acts as a default access to all the books mentioned in this blog because I want you to be able to get more information (and I’m lazy about tracking each to the publishing source), but I would much rather you buy the books from a bookstore (any bookstore). Still I think that Amazon taps into that part of us that lacks impulse control when it comes to book buying. You don’t have the sound of anyone’s voice (with it’s possible disapproving tonal inflection) telling you the price as you tap, tap, tap in your credit card number. You don’t feel the stomach drop of opening your wallet and seeing that you’ll be paying with your last twenty that you had to search for within the mass of old receipts you really are going to record in your checkbook.

And in a way, I (and other online book review sites) count on this impulse control problem to get you check out what we’re recommending and try someone you might not have otherwise picked up in a store setting. Odd, I know, since many people claim that the Amazon process kills the act of browsing wherein a customer browses the shelves of the bookstore and makes these new book discoveries on their own via the front table, store recommends (both of which you now know may be paid for by the publisher thus mudding the purity of the process thought of so highly), and the neatly arranged shelves.

One could argue, however, that blogs such as this and others offer virtual browsing, allowing you to see the recommendations of thousands without the worry that it’s all paid for product placement. No one tells me what books to inform you about and sending me an ARC does not guarantee that I’ll say wonderful glowing things about you (or even say anything at all). The only way that I (and others) would receive payment in this process would be to sign up as an Amazon associate, which would not only allow me to make some money, but also track how many of you actually use the links provided here to buy your books. That idea that I might be able to track that latter bit of information intrigues more than the monetary recompense because it could make (or break) the case for virtual handselling with the internet acting as one large bookstore.

Does this cut out the bookstore completely? No, because many of you are book people and need to feel the weight of the book in your hand before you buy, peruse the first few pages, and maybe sneak a look at the end. I don’t think that brick and mortar chains and independents will ever die for this very reason.

Whom do you trust more: the recommends at your local bookstore or those provided by readers on the thousands of different sites on the internet?

Do you read reader and bookseller review sites at all?

If you do, do you follow the links provided (whether to Amazon, Powell’s, B&N, Borders or others) to buy the books online or do you prefer to go to a bookstore and browse the book there?

There is no right or wrong answer, just what works for you. I admit that I’ve been interested in the Amazon associate idea for awhile because of these questions and how it offers up a small measurement of the power of the internet. Handselling is an art, but one that may be even more powerful when practiced virtually due to sheer quantity.

I’m interested in reading your thoughts.


web said...

How about using Powell's as your link site?

PJ said...

I have an odd relationship with bookstores. Every once in a while I have to go to one - to wander the aisles - to run my fingers down the books - to see what's new, what's selling...what's actually there...(screech) And that's where things can go wrong. If I'm just out to browse, to get my fix for the touch and smell of that many books in one place, all is well. However, if I'm out to find a title - and it isn't there - it's very disappointing. Of course, they will offer to order it for me - but the thing for me is: I don't go there once a week any more, and the bookstores in my area are a good 30 minutes away (due to traffic and bad road planning). So, if I have a specific book I really want, I go to Amazon, and I can have it delivered to my home in the same time or less.

Sometimes the title I want is out of print (eep!), and while the shop I used to frequent as a kid had a man who I swear could track down a copy buried under a rock ... a lot of shops over the years would just shrug and say, "It's not available any more." The web has provided a way for used bookstores and individuals to connect with seekers of OofP titles.

Now - all that being said - my choice to follow and buy via a link depend a lot on who is doing the recommending, what kind of book it is, and whether I'm seeking that kind of book at the moment. If I'm in the mood/need for a good example of a certain type of SF/F, and Holly Lisle links to it on her site in her rave review, I'm probably going to be inclined to click and buy. Holly and I have similar tastes in things, I'm in the mood/need, and don't have any plans to journey to the other side of town to go to the bookstore.

Just my $0.02


Eileen said...

I buy most of my stuff at the local store as I want to support it as an independent. However, if time or hassle is an issue than I order on line.

Rowan said...

For books I know I'll read (i.e. continuing series, that sort of thing) then I'll get it anywhere, Amazon, bookstore, whatever. That includes recommendations from those I trust.

However, if I'm in the market for something new, I have to go to a bookstore and browse the books. It's about the feel of it, the combination of the cover copy and maybe a page or two. Does the concept sound interesting, etc. I've yet to see an online store provide that.

Interestingly, blurbs are meaningless for me. Just 'cause someone else liked it, doesn't mean I will. Except when I've built up a track record where every book I pick up that is blurbed by the same person I enjoy. FWIW, Anne McCaffrey and I seem to have the same taste, as whenever she's blurbed something I like it. Go figure.

Bottom line, nothing will replace an actual bookstore. Even for guaranteed buys, I usually walk in.

otterb said...

I seldom buy things on a single recommendation, so don't often use the Amazon links (though I do sometimes). And I will make a point of using them for sites whose recommendations I especially value; I feel like that's a way of saying thanks for helpful reviews.

I like browsing in the physical bookstore, but I also like the online stores. Their strength to me is in the midlist backlist. When I find a new author and want to go back and read his/her older books, they are often not available in my usual stores even if still in print. Yeah, I could order them from the bricks & mortar store, but then I'd have to get back down to the store to pick them up instead of finding them as a pleasant surprise on the doorstep one evening when I return from work.

Diane P said...

I started reading blogs off of the Amazon website, then I could connect to the author's site. I do look to see what the recommendations are. Generally I look to see if most people agree or is it widely different. I like the way other books are suggested or I can check to see if they have earlier editions available.I also look to see when the next book in a series is coming out.

Of course I love going to Powell's but I don't always find what I am looking for.

Kendall said...

Amazon's Online Reader feels similar to what they already had. I don't think its purpose is either one you mention -- I think it's to offer an experience more like a brick'n'mortar store, where you can browse the book before buying (gasp). It's funny how some people (not necessarily you) complain about Amazon's browse feature, yet don't mind that folks can sit and read a whole book in Borders. Honestly, who'd bother to read a whole book on Amazon -- what a PITA! And one can read a whole book in a library without checking it out (and thus without making a blip on anyone's RADAR).

I read primarily SF/F/H and I read several monthly and bimonthly review sites, subscribe to Locus, and if I'm considering a book, I'll read the [real] reviews Amazon publishes. If I want a sample or more plot details, I might use Google, hoping to find stuff on the publisher's site or track down an author's site. I don't know about "trust" (everyone's got their own opinion), but I find the online review zines the most useful for reviews/opinions.

I might also (here's the heresy) read the Amazon customer "reviews" (er, comments). Sometimes that's the only place I can find information about the book; and I like reading the most negative comments (when they're more than just "this sux"). Occasionally a pattern in negative comments will reveal something the praise skips over, which can be useful in deciding not to buy...or I read the negative comments and realize the specific complaints don't sound valid.

I'd treat a bookseller's recommendation like any other stranger's (until/unless a pattern developed I could trust). But since I don't recall ever getting a recommendation, I'm not too worried. The only thing I've ever gotten is, "Can I help you find something?" -- not "Can I recommend something to you?"....

lady t said...

I had to use Amazon just the other day-I had gone to two bookstores,looking for some George Sand(I picked up a biography of her at a local rummage sale and usually like to have some of the author's work to go along with it)and came up empty. I didn't check with the staff(one store had Title Search computers available for customer use)since both stores are about 50 miles away from where I live and it's easier to use Amazon for special ordering.

In fact,there are no bookstores in my neighborhood-you'd have to travel across town to reach the local B&N or Waldenbooks. I've been using Booksfree lately(thanks to the link at SMLTN)which is very handy and the automatic list of recommendations is as amusing as the ones Amazon pops up with(how they do that is one of those mysteries I'm too busy to solve).

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of the few who still has to physically touch the book before I'll buy. I haven't bought anything online yet (but that's partially because I don't trust the "World Wide Web" to keep my info private).

Since I no longer work in a bookstore I have to get my information elsewhere. As a result I read blogs, magazines, publisher websites, author websites, and book "store" websites to get recommendations. Then I make a list of the books I'm interested in and check them out in an actual bookstore.

Thank God for all of these resources because I used to get my recommendations from co-workers and the customers and when I left the book selling world I was lost for a while. I've gotten so many good recommendations that I now have a daytimer/calendar thing-y that lists the books coming out in a particular month - well, at least the ones I want to get.


Susan Wilbanks said...

I buy about half my new books online and half from bricks-and-mortar stores. Online shopping is wonderful for books on obscure topics (sure I could have my bookstore special order them, but it's so much quicker and easier to cut to the chase and just order from Amazon), and is also what I do when an auto-buy author has a new book coming out. I just pre-order and wait for the happy day a book is waiting on my doorstep when I get home!

Bricks-and-mortar stores are more about browsing and seeing what's there. It meets a different need.

I can't imagine doing without online or physical bookstores. But given how expensive gas is and how busy I am (working full-time, trying to write and sell my manuscripts, mother of a 2-year-old), these days if I can buy something online, I do. Books, clothes, toys for my daughter, organic produce, whatever. Saves time, saves hassle, saves expensive mileage. It's not that I don't go out to shop anymore. I just do it more rarely, and plan trips to cover several errands at once.

As for where I get recommendations, it's a mix of online reviews, print reviews, and (mostly with nonfiction) author interviews on NPR, The Daily Show, etc. I rarely follow links provided, because it generally takes several reviews/mentions for me to decide I want to try a book.

Stacey said...

Speaking from experience: Definitely you should become an Amazon associate. You can make good money that way.

Also, Amazon's reports are far better than those of any other affiliate program.

Camy Tang said...

Hi, I'm new to your blog, but I wanted to say that often I'm terribly disappointed by some of the recommendations by people at my bookstore. They rave about books that I end up disliking. I think it's just the particular people at the store--their tastes are just way different from mine.

However, I've found Amazon reviews really useful. I mean, I read them with a grain of salt. And many reviews aren't very helpful at all--a lot of either raving or ranting. But some are very thorough and help me decide to buy or not buy a book.


Christine Fletcher said...

I use Amazon, Powells.com or Alibris to find specific titles that I can't get at a bookstore. Usually, these are books I need for research. Like other people above, if I want to browse and explore, then the bricks and mortar store can't be replaced. "Browsing" online simply can't duplicate the physical pleasure of holding the book, skimming the first few pages, studying the blurbs and reviews.

Speaking of which, I don't put much stock in blurbs, but I do pay attention to reviews.

Susan Adrian said...

Bookstores for us are a destination--we go as a family. We usually spend a fair bit of time reading kids' books to our daughter, which she loves. Many of the bigger bookstores particularly are good at having engaging kids' areas, with tables, favorite characters, even play areas. Actually we don't often go to our local independent because it's the reverse of that--it's teeny, and there is absolutely no place to sit and read with kids. It's not welcoming.

We also do a fair amount of purchasing on Amazon--I love their wish list feature. I just create a wish list as I see new titles or people recommend them, and present it to my husband at Christmas or birthday. That way I always get a stack of books I really want.

Marianne McA said...

I buy a lot on-line - because the price & availability is good - but I'd rarely go straight from a blog to buy a book. I'd make a note of the name, read the reviews when I was next on Amazon (co.uk) and perhaps stick it in my basket. When I next have money, I'd pick enough of the books in my basket to get free postage & order them in one go.
I'm very dependent on reviews for on-line purchasing - TV reviews, radio reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon 'People who bought books by this author also bought...' links. If I'm buying in a bookshop, it's a much more random thing. No bookseller has ever suggested a book to me - but against that, I'm not convinced I'd like it if they started taking an interest in what I read.

Michelle K said...

I'm split about 50/50 as to purchases on-line versus going into a book store. I'm a smallish town, so the selection is sometimes limited, and if I have to order a book, I'd just as soon have Amazon deliver it right to more door and save myself a trip.

However, I tend to get new authors at a bookstore, where I can pick up the book and look at it, but I can't tell you precisely what will make me buy a book. However, I've also had good luck with Amazon's recommendations, though mostly because I've added a recommended book to my wish list, and then later picked it up at a book store.

I also read a lot of fantasy anthologes, and have found several authors that way. (That probably doesn't work as well for other genres, I realize.)

And I second (or third) the recommendation for the Amazon Associates program. It may have taken me a year to get a $10 gift certificate, but that's a free $10 for books, for something I was going to do anyway (provide links to Amazon so people could easily find the book.)

Sherryl said...

I love bookshops, of all sizes, and it's almost impossible for me not to buy something. I buy trade paperbacks (here in Australia a lot of books come out first as trade pbs, not hard covers, and they cost $30-32) at discount in KMart or similar department stores because I refuse to pay that much for a pb.
I buy books on Amazon that I can't get at the bookshop. Often books from the US or UK can take a bookseller here 2-3 months to get in. Amazon arrives in a couple of weeks, sometimes sooner.
I also like the secondhand option. I've bought several out-of-print books from US secondhand sellers. The book is 99cents, the postage is $9-10!
My friends and I swap recommendations. Sometimes I buy because of a great review but not often. I like to find writers in the library that I haven't tried out before. If they're good, I will buy.

Lisa Hunter said...
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