Thursday, 16 September 2010
Books are like ice-cream
Now, I don't consume much of the stuff, except when in Italy, because I rather not have any at all than have poor quality. This is NOT how books are like ice-cream, because I have to be reading something all the time, even if it's rubbish. Even if it's train time-tables or ketchup labels. There are lots of people like me - logophiles? Anyway, addicts of the written word (and the spoken, come to that).
Ice-cream comes in lots of flavours but I have my favourites - coffee, gianduia, nocciolato to name but three. But that's still NOT how books are like ice-cream, because although I have my favourite writers and genres, I like a wider range of kinds of book than I do of ice-cream flavours.
No, what caught my attention was that big companies like W***s will give retailers a freezer in which to display ice-cream in but then the shopkeeper is obliged to stock a hefty percentage of the supplier's products in that freezer.
That made me think about the kinds of promotion that publishers pay booksellers for - inclusion in the Books for Giving Christmas catalogue, table position, window displays. Isn't it a bit similar?
OK, the ice-cream manufacturers are giving something away and the publishers are paying but the end result is the same: the customer buys what they see.
Now there might be gorgeous ice-cream made in the traditional style by Yum Yum Cottage*, on a farm with Jersey cows and soft fruit picked from a poly-tunnel that morning, but what are the chances of finding Yum Yum Cottage ice-cream in enough shop freezers, in the limited space allowed by Messrs W***s** et. al. and competed for by everyone else to make that a known brand?
What are the answers? Yum Yum can't afford to hand out free freezers any more than small publishers can afford to pay the promotional prices asked by bookshops. Nor can big publishers afford to pay the "added value" mark-up on every title they publish. I heard over ten years ago from a major publisher who did not want to be quoted that this could amount to £1 per copy.
Please suggest answers in comments.
What I can tell you is that the result is the same. People buy what they see and what they have heard of even what they can't see and haven't heard of may be better. You can't blame them. Just think of the best-selling ice-creams in the country and compare the flavour, ingredients, appearance with that of any really good ice-cream you have ever tasted (e,g. Brivido on Nanni's in Siena or Vivoli or Festival in Florence) and reflect.
Now think of the best-selling books. THAT is how books are like ice-cream.
* Fictional brand
**Not fictional brand