Cash for book display scandal?

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.

12 thoughts on “Cash for book display scandal?

  1. Well I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I wouldn’t dream of disagreeing with you, Maxine!
    This kind of cynical manipulation saddens me no end …

  2. I was generally aware that this practice occurred, but I was shocked by the prices, and the consequences of turning down the bookchain’s offer. Guess I should make a concerted effort to trawl the crime shelves at random rather than make a beeline for any prominently displayed books!

  3. Strangely, it never occurred to me before that publishers were the ones paying for those displays. What a racket! Discouraging, indeed….

  4. I guess it is yet one more factor that makes book buyers tend to use Amazon and other internet sites for their “non-bestseller” purchases. Then, when they get to Amazon, they see that the bestsellers match the booksellers’ lowest price, and so the temptation is to buy those there too — I wonder if the booksellers have thought of that angle?
    I’m sure independent booksellers don’t indulge in this practice, though. But their prices do tend to be correspondingly higher, and their stock smaller because they are on smaller premises. The independent booksellers’ website I’ve written on before tries to address this by allowing a buyer to order the book over the web and then to pick it up from their local shop next day (or whenever). Last time I looked, not enough bookshops were registered, and the overall stock was not as good as Amazon (inevitably).

  5. I agree (of course)! I think they should bring back the net book agreement, but I expect that’s a lost cause.

  6. I was aware that publishers had to pay for pitches in bookstores (my books have been promoted like this, fat lot of good it did them) but the prices quoted are appalling.

  7. I was aware for ages that this was happening – par for the course, in the business world. The supermarkets led the way – with main aisles to walk through, as you turn, you see a damn good offer from Persil or the like. But whatever is stacked (perceivably) judiciously at the end of that aisle, it’s there because the producer wanted to promote it and someone like Tesco is happy to host it, at a cost.
    Applied to books, this is very sad. (And I will post my more comprehensive thoughts on this on my blog later in the week.) This method of marketing can only serve to discourage writers, especially those with small to medium sales or those about to launch? Those about to launch may strike lucky with marketing budgets from their publishers, but hell, it’s that one hand in brand tub in a decade that hooks to that grade! They are lucky, while many miss out.
    Time for a publisher-rethink, I presume.
    What really makes a successful book?
    Over to you!

  8. Well, Norm and CrimeFicR, funnily enough I was reading that Andrew Goss (Gross?)’s new book, his first non-James Patterson, will be on sale in Tesco’s in some radical new marketing deal — but it is about the witness protection programme, not extortion 😉

  9. I wish Andrew Gross all the best, now he’s out from the penumbra of Patterson’s star.
    But by the time I was aware of him, (as a co-writer of James Patterson’s novels), I was already bored with the Patterson formula.
    Anyone new to the Patterson formula might atill be thrilled. Die hard, old fans of the Alex Cross series might be tired, like me.

  10. I too gave up on James Patterson long ago, I liked his first couple of Alex Cross books, but they have long degenerated into forumla and franchise. In my book club addiction phase, they kept giving you the books for a penny, or even nothing, so I still have a couple in my pile but not high on the priority list. I am not sure if I feel well-disposed to reading a Patterson collaborator’s first “own” novel (complete with Patterson endorsement on the cover) but I’ve read a few things about this one in the trade press that make me waver, as the story sounds good. As I am not a Tesco shopper (mainly for geographical reasons), I shall probably never find out 😉

Comments are closed.