Yes, but look at $9.99 upside-down

Amazon.com’s announcement that it is acquiring Marshall Cavendish‘s trade book department is making me think again about last week’s blogosphere discussion re bloggers and publishers and review copies. In that conversation, Pam Coughlan (Mother Reader), rightfully decrying William Morrow’s graceless attempts to make bloggers jump through hoops in order to receive free ARCs, asked, “Can you imagine them [trying this with] Horn Book or The NYTimes?”

Well, no, I can’t imagine William Morrow (or, more exactly, the children’s-book imprints of HarperCollins) doing this, because they know Horn Book reviews sell books and look good excerpted in advertisements. Aside from their sheer numbers, I think the reason bloggers have trouble with publishers is that bloggers generally insist upon reviewing what they want, how they want and when they want, putting the publisher in the position of sending out hundreds of ARCs with no idea of what effect it will have. With us, if the book is hardcover and from a U.S. publisher listed in LMP, they know they will get a review from either the Magazine or the Guide, and that the Magazine almost always reviews books within a two month window either side of pub date. I sympathize with bloggers, who naturally don’t want to just be an arm of a publisher’s marketing department, but I can also see why publishers want some structure. And while this is not going to make me any friends, I have observed too many blogs more than eager to uncritically pass along marketing messages and campaigns, which has the unfortunate effect of changing the playing field for everybody else.

But back to Pam’s point, I wonder if the Horn Book will be receiving review copies from Cavendish/Amazon, since Amazon has long insisted that customer reviews are more effective in selling products on their site than are professional reviews. The problem with banishing the gatekeepers is that you also banish the gatekeepers: we open gates far more often than we close them.

I have more questions. The press release linked above talks avidly (and stupidly) about how good Gennady Spirin’s pictures are going to look on a Kindle Fire (the screen is too small for picture books), but what is Amazon’s commitment to print? What is their commitment to libraries and schools, the Horn Book’s (and, heretofore, Marshall Cavendish’s) primary audience? Will their books be available from sources besides Amazon? (Will other booksellers carry them?)  What is with Amazon’s discounting “list” prices of books they publish and sell? Give your answers or add your questions in the comments.

share save 171 16 Yes, but look at $9.99 <i>upside down</i>
Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Tanya Anderson says:

    I shudder to think what the staff at MCP will have to deal with in sales and marketing meetings—especially when it comes to new acquisitions. Talk about the tail wagging the dog–or in this case, the spiked tail wagging the devil. (My personal position has been to boycott Amazon for the past couple of years. Now I have to think about what that means when I see a MCP book I want to purchase.)

  2. didnthearitfromme says:

    An intern from a big 6 emailed me to review their YA on my blog. First, I do not review on my blog. Second, not my genre, never read them. But before I told the poor intern no, I pumped her for info. Will I be paid? NO. Will they promote my book in return? NO. Well, Big 6, you get a salary for your work, time, right? So do I. Then the poor intern was given a message to relay to that marketing coward who could not ask me and used the intern. *Stop asking underpaid, overworked, over burdened authors (not even my publisher!) to do what the Big 6′s staff is supposed to do but gets a salary regardless, for free, and without an even promotional barter. *Pay your warehouse taxes and cut out the lowest denominator celebrity books. *And those elaborate holiday parties promoted on PW is my marketing money. Talk about being out of touch =1%. Not what I signed up for.

  3. Jennifer Laughran says:

    As an agent for a couple of clients with extensive MC backlist, I’ve tons of questions (which I’ve put to my good friends at MC directly). I must say, review copies and blog reviews are wayyyyyy down on the list of my concerns. So far down that they are not even on the page.

    I’m not sure why the story about MC/AMZ does not rate its own blog post, rather than being linked in with the Morrow debacle – the two seem to have nothing to do with one another. But perhaps I am missing something?

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Gawd, Jen, you’re just like those publishers who try to tell bloggers how to blog ;-)

    For a book reviewer, the issues are very much linked. They are both about the place of independent criticism in a cultural economy that wants to exist without it. Publishers trying to make bloggers part of the marketing department; Amazon trying to create a closed system of book production and consumption; hell, let’s throw in embargoed books–these to me are all symptoms of the same thing.

  5. Soon after Barnes & Noble bought Sterling to expand its own book-publishing business, B&N’s top competitors stopped carrying Sterling titles. Will Amazon’s top competitors (starting, and in some ways ending, with B&N) follow the same course? That would make Marshall Cavendish books less widely available—except, of course, that they’d be widely available through Amazon.

  6. As an author who’s scheduled to debut with Marshall Cavendish next year, I’m very concerned about what this will mean for my book. Nothing like feeling like the entire world of independent booksellers is already against me! The professional review angle is one I hadn’t considered before, though. I’m also a librarian, and we order our books almost exclusively through professional reviews. Would Amazon really be foolish enough to cut out a huge segment of the children’s lit market that way? Of course, so many smaller libraries go through jobbers these days, maybe it wouldn’t make much difference. :-/

  7. It seems to me that unlike on the adult side of things, Amazon is not the/a major outlet for most children’s book sales–so if it turns out that Amazon intends the website to be the exclusive outlet for Marshall Cavendish books, it may not be the great distribution route that it’s being touted as.

    Up to now, I would guess Marshall Cavendish has depended on reviews and institutional sales for much of its success. For that reason, it seems such an odd match for Amazon. I do hope it will bring the company’s books to more eyes, not fewer, and like Jen, I am anxiously awaiting answers from my friends at Marshall Cavendish.

  8. I have two thoughts here. But first a caveat: I am an author and have been a reviewer. (NY Times, Parents’ Magazine, Book World, etc.) I have been an editor. I have written critical essays about children’s literature. So I wear many hats at this tea party, have many dogs in this fight. (Disclaimer: I am also a Cavendish author, my latest being SISTER BEAR, out this fall.)

    1. As I told Cavendish’s top dog, Margery Cuyler on the phone, I have been around almost fifty years in the publishing business and if I have learned one thing, it is to wait till the second (and sometimes the third!) shoe drops before deciding something is good or bad or makes no matter. Whether Amazon really is $9.99 upside down is a personal position and though I occasionally I have ordered something from them, I buy big at local Indies.

    2. If you look at some bloggers (not the good ones, not the well-read, well-thought out blogs like Seven Impossible Things and Miss Rumphius Effect and the like) they serve up mini-blurbs. Sometimes, as is pointed out above, the reviews are little more than a slightly rewritten blurb from what the publishing company sent, or a gloss on the flap copy. Some reviewers review so many books in a week/month, that I have to wonder how (or even if) they have read all the books, and wonder, too, if they have given much thought to any of them. I get a lot of reviews of my books sent to me, and most of them, alas, are blogs of the “pictures-compliment (or complement, depending upon the literacy of the reviewer) the text variety. Or they merely ramble on about how much their children liked or didn’t like a particular book. Or they say, “A real treat.” A real review–or at least the ones I pay attention to–try to understand the book at hand, not the one they wish the author had written. The real review speaks not only about the story, characterization, plot, but also tries to place the book within the context of the greater body of literature. Hard to do in six or seven sentences? Well, yes. Of course it is.That is why there are so few really good reviewers out there. It takes not only a good reviewer, but good review medium to hold the reviewers tootsies to the fire.

    3. (Oh, didn’t I mention there was a three?) this is a very small publishing world, but when I was reviewing, either one did NOT review a lover/spouse/partner’s/cousin’s/best friend or hated enemy’s book or -if doing so– declared it openly.It often seems that many reviewers on various internet sites (Amazon included) are clearly friends, relatives, neighbors, or love partners (or a combination thereof) dragooned into the reviewing service of the author. (Akin to my children and various friends going into B&N and turning my books cover out!) And sometimes it is even the author himself/herself in disguise.

    Jane

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