Sunday, June 12, 2005



Friday's Guardian tells the tale of how a single book, Gideon Defoe's The Pirates! An Adventure With Scientists, went from pub bet to publication. Among some good first-book-hazing anecdotes -- "Orion's publicity department also made Defoe dress as a pirate and tour London bookshops by rickshaw, autographing their stock. 'It was,' he recalls, 'the most mortifying day of my life.' " -- is buried this sharp observation on the nature of modern bookselling:

The first 20 feet of any large bookshop, people in publishing will tell you, are all that really counts. Not that the placement of books in the shelves at the back of the store isn't fought over too: whether a book is displayed "face-out", or merely "spine-out", is a subject of much negotiation. But what matters most of all are the windows, the "new titles" shelves and the display tables, with their special offers: inclusion in Waterstone's famous 3-for-2 offer, for example, frequently boosts the sales of low-profile literary fiction titles by as much as 5,000%. To decide what gets placed in these crucial zones is, in large part, to decide what is going to sell, and it is here that the pyramidal structure of the industry becomes most acutely apparent.

Last Sunday's New York Times discussed just what lengths publishers will go to for those face-outs -- it's an old practice, but one that few customers are aware of.

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