I’m not sure why this counts as news, but The Times today has a large page 3 story about the "cash for book display" issue. According to a "confidential letter" it claims to have seen, the Times reveals that Waterstone’s has has set the rates that publishers will have to pay to promote their books in this Christmas. These range from £45,000 per title for the six "top selling" books; through to £25,000 per title to display at the front of each branch (45 books in total); £7,000 for inclusion as "paperback of the year"; down to £500 for a mention in Waterstone’s gift guide. Other chain bookstores have their own, similar charges.
From the article: "Anthony Cheetham, the chairman of Quercus books, a small independent publisher, said: “It’s not a system you can opt out of. If Smith’s offer you one of these slots and you say no, their order doesn’t go down from 1,000 copies to 500 copies. It goes down to 20 copies.” " He is trying to decide whether to hold out and to refuse to pay the "product placement" fee for Stef Penney’s Costa prizewinner "The Tenderness of Wolves", and wondering what the consequences would be, according to the article.
Some shoppers interviewed by The Times for the article are quoted as being appalled by these revelations. I wonder if they also know that publishers have to pay to enter books for most of the presigious prizes and awards that one reads about?
Is the book publishing/selling industry going the way of some scientific journal publishing experiments, in which the articles are free to readers and libraries? The revenue model for such "vanity" publishing is to charge the author or the author’s funding institution. Will the day soon be here when we walk into a bookshop and can pick up any book we like, for nothing, perhaps at the "cost" of a sponsor’s logo on the cover? Only the other week a new-ish paperback by a "bestselling" author (whom I shall not name) was being offered to evening commuters at Waterloo for nothing. And I didn’t see any takers.
All these promotional tactics apply only to a very small subset of books, of course. It is not a very edifying manipulation: in the long run, the booksellers will create a more enduring market by letting people browse through a more varied, larger, but admittedly more expensive, stock. Well, that’s my opinion and I suppose that is what a blog is for. I am sure plenty of people will disagree with me.