Posted by: dougery | July 12, 2011

Your Money is All That Moneys, Money

The following is an email I almost sent to several of my friends. I held off at the last moment because I occasionally fear I am some kind of pop-cultural spam-bot and that I shouldn’t be ramming what I find interesting down everyone’s digital throats. At least y’all will have to arrive here by your own volition, and even then you always have the choice to stop reading and go look at Internet Cats. At the heart of the issue here are all my favorite pet topics: art, writing, politics, free will, pop-culture, and the shady inner workings of capitalism.

Book Friends (That looks even nerdier written down),

There is an excellent interview with Neil Gaiman on the AV Club right now, particularly interesting in that he kind of draws back the curtain on several things that one doesn’t normally think about. The questions are mostly about his novel American Gods and its 10th anniversary and subsequent HBO series. Neil goes on to explain (and you can tell he is rather pissed about the fact) that there are ‘mail room’ folks in Hollywood who get paid $100 per tip pop-culture gossip sites about deals and such, and that the 6 year HBO American Gods deal leaked in such a way, before any of the people involved in the project was ready to talk about it.

However most interesting, to me, is the following exchange (I will highlight the portion of Gaiman’s response in italics that I want to focus on) :

AVC: You also said, at the time, that you had a feeling that the science-fiction fans would see American Gods as science fiction, fantasy fans would see it as fantasy, horror fans would see it as horror, and you were hoping that mainstream readers would see it as literature, which does seem to have happened. Is that happy coincidence, or is that something that went into the writing? Having not had a bestseller, were you setting out to write one?

NG: “No, I definitely didn’t set out to write a bestseller, ’cause I don’t really know what a bestseller is. But I was very willing to take advantage of the fact that I knew this was going to be published as a bestseller. And “bestseller” can be a publishing category as much as it can be anything else. It means that the book is going to be on certain shelves, pushed a certain way. Back then, it mattered. I don’t honestly know that it matters anymore. The whole shape of bookselling has changed. Back then, it meant that your publisher would pay for your book to be on the table by the door when you went into a Barnes & Noble or a Borders. There would be those tables, and the publisher is paying for it to be stacked on those tables, rather than back in a particular area. So I knew that because I was being published as a bestseller, I could be a lot more cavalier with my genre distinctions. And I hoped that people who would like it would find it. And I think eventually they did.”

This is pretty fascinating and insidious, yeah? I mean I kind of already knew this was/is happening, but when you hear it laid out so baldly… That there are books that are made as bestsellers. That are treated as bestsellers before they are even printed. The public has no choice, or rather, the choice is made for the public to make in advance. The only thing left up to chance is that the ‘bestseller’ doesn’t sell quite as ‘bestly’ as folks paid for it to, either slumping or running wild–the difference between selling, say, a million copies and a ga-jillion. You’d think a bestseller would happen organically, and yeah, I suppose some do (we have to believe that, right?). But the chances of the ‘bestseller success rate’ go up 99% when it is staring everyone in the face at all the right tables in all of the most frequented bookstores (i.e. chains).

The same can be said for just about any industry where lots of money is on the line (Music, TV, Film, etc). Which is why I hate it when armchair critics stand up and say “Well we’ll see if [The Tree of Life] is any good by how much it makes at the box-office.” Um, no we won’t, actually. Because nobody is going to be throwing money behind the product to increase the exposure. The playing field isn’t level when I can go get my Green Lantern burrito at Taco Bell or a Transformers tampon from CVS.

(Moving back to books) And then there is Amazon, a company that is 1000 times more smug and blatantly upfront about cash for product placement than Borders or B & N ever were. With its constantly increasing market share, will there ever be a ‘homegrown’ bestseller ever again?

Is anyone else completely bummed out by this?

Reading: Feast For Crows

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Responses

  1. Isn’t there always the well-backed horse, though? In anything? Those aren’t the only horses that win.

    Also, you need to lay off the Transformers tampons because they are revolutionary. My life is so much easier now that, in an emergency, I can change my makeup compact into a tampon with the push of a button.

  2. I find it interesting that you were hesitant and ultimately unwilling to “Ram… …what I find interesting down everyone’s (digital) throat’s” when your ’email’ was about the publishing companies doing exactly that via product placement and exposure. (Also, kind of funny that you are doing their job for them further by writing about the horrors of the book world’s reality in this blog when your intent was to call them out on it… Cause I am buying this book tomorrow!)

  3. Damn you, Doc, for foiling all my schemes yet again!

    *Sound of you getting thrown through a digital window*

    • *Digital OUCH*

      -LaFav’s Archy-enemy

      (I love all those fancy, computer-generated designs that come along with each of the commenters names. Is that my digital self?)

  4. My plan after being published: to go to every book store I can and slip an employee $20 to put my book on the front table. It’s a win-win-win. The employee gets enough money for 2.5 grandmissimo soy-goats-milk lattes at the in-store Starbucks. I get bestseller status. And the world will have more chances to discover the devastating power and beauty of “An Adonis for All Seasons: The Austin H. Gilkeson Story.”

    • This is actually being done by a few indies for consignment authors, Tattered Cover specifically. They will take the consignment and the author can pay then like $50 for better display placement. Meanwhile we’re offered co-op for placing books on display by some of the smaller biggish presses, like Europa.

      To your point, Doug, there will always be homegrown bestsellers because Amazon, while it does have good book people, let’s the sure thing get in the way. They will help make something unexpectedly big into a phenomenon, but it’ll start in some indie with some English major getting behind a book that catches everyone’s attention she brings it to and by word of mouth it’ll start selling two states over, and then in NYC, and then elsewhere. And only then will Amazon push the shit out of it, thus preventing the indie that originated it from getting it back in stock.

  5. I hope you compose all the volumes in advance. I would be most interested in your future exploits, how you solved the debt ceiling impasse, your inevitable addiction to hyperlinkLSD, and of course, your infamous reaction to the end of A Song of Ice and Fire where you purchase most of western Europe and restage the epic, patricide by patricide, over the course of 30 years.

    Hope you bought your undead mammoth saddle!

  6. @dougery: As any creditable climate scientist will tell you, my plan is scientifically proven to be well-underway. I keep my windows open and my AC blasting all day in order to bring about global warming and the disruption of the seasons it will cause. My attempts to use T-Rex and bat DNA to clone a dragon are well underway, at least in the initial “Wikipedia research” phase. Aside from goading Europe into a devastating, pre-Industrial technological war and making the Mongols a viable power again with a territory that stretches to Florence, Italy, everything is going according to plan. Except my contract negotiations with Peter Dinklage to legally change his name to Tyrion Lannister. For some reason he refuses to do it, no matter how many piles of gold and sweet-tempered whores I offer.


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