Monday, October 02, 2006

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Yesterday's L.A. Times ran an article about the multitude of worthwhile books being published this fall; it asks whether publishers' decisions to release so many strong titles at once is a bad choice. To which most of the seasoned staff here at Vroman's reply, "Huh?" Our own general manager, Allison Hill, is quoted in the article: "There's no downside to a plethora of good books."

We had an interesting discussion about the article in a meeting this morning. The Times story likens the book industry to the film industry, which we all think is a strange comparison. People rush to a movie within a few weeks of its release date, our buyer Sherri Gallentine pointed out, because if we don't hurry, that movie will be gone from the big screen forever; after that, you wait a few months for the DVD and watch the film on your home screen -- and that's a very different experience from seeing a new movie in a theatre. In contrast, books generally remain in stores for months after they're published (although they may lose that coveted spot on the new release table). Because it takes people far longer to read a book than watch a movie, word-of-mouth spreads much more slowly and books can find a life months or even years after their initial publication date. The chance to savor that initial reading experience never really changes.

I later talked to Allison about how she felt about the article, and she said she was struck by the whole "culture of fear" tone it takes. "Why are we supposed to worry about something that hasn't happened yet?" she asked. She assumes the biggest fear for publishers -- and readers, too, I suppose -- is that good books will get lost if a lot of them are released at the same time. "But that's the beauty of independent bookstores," she said. "We make sure those good books won't get lost." Heck, my whole job is based on making sure the titles we love best (whether they're bestsellers or not) are displayed so that they'll find their readers.

My biggest complaint about the article, I nitpicked, was that the author referred to books as "product." It's one of those business jargon terms I loathe; and while I understand why it's used, I can never bring myself to refer to books, something to which I have so much emotional attachment, as "product." Allison agreed. Placing a book in someone's hands can change his or her life, and it's hard to think of a life-altering event as "moving product."

1 Comments:

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Joanne Gram said...

I agree lots of strong titles is GOOD. Recently I was inspired to read HAMILTON, a 2004 biography, because
my cousin married a Hamilton descendant. It was a FASCINATING book. I loved it.

 

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