Publishers Pay For You To See Their Books

by Ginger on November 18, 2011

in Inside Book Publishing, The 9-5

Today on Twitter, I became aware of a controversy regarding the popular #fridayreads hashtag. Some folks were unaware that #fridayreads is ALSO a website, and one that sells its services to publishers–meaning, publishers can pay to have their book featured on Friday Reads. There’s more backstory there (including an upset author, and complaints on both sides about lack of transparency, I’ll be honest, I stopped paying attention after a while), but it brought up something I’ve been meaning to write about: what publishers pay for that you may not realize.

Here’s the thing. If you see a book in an ad, you know that was paid for. That’s advertising, duh. But what you MAY not know, is that if you see a book featured LOTS of places, chances are it was paid for.

  • When you see a book on a table at Barnes & Noble, that was paid for by the publisher (chosen by B&N, but paid for by the pub).
  • When you see a book on the end of an aisle at Barnes & Noble, that was paid for by the publisher.
  • When you see a book anywhere on Amazon or that isn’t the individual book page–that was most likely paid for by the publisher.
  • When you see a book at MOST retailers in an endcap, table, or face out feature, the chances are REALLY good (particularly for big chains) that it was paid for by a publisher.*

One of the questions that Shalini asked about publishing was “How do publishers know if something is going to be successful before anyone reads it?” There’s a lot to that question and I’m going to delve into it further next week, but one of the things that question brings up is the fact that books that get publisher money are more likely to do well. When most people think of spending money on a book, they think of advertising, or a big publicity push, or an author tour. But I can tell you that getting a retailer to take your money to promote a book on a table, endcap, front page of the website, or in their window is going to go a LONG way to helping sales.

Think about it: if you are just going to a bookstore to browse (meaning, you don’t have a particular title in mind), are you more likely to shop the tables, where the books are laid out so you can see all the covers, or go to the shelves and search? I know where my eye is drawn and I *know* that it’s paid for.

I think people like to forget that books come to us from a business, an industry. For book lovers, in particular, we like to pretend that they come to us in this cloud of love of the written word alone. And I will say that, by and large, people who work in publishing love books like NO OTHER. But it’s also a business, and there are tricks to this trade. This is one of them–paying for placement. At Amazon, at Barnes & Noble…and at places like Friday Reads.

So my question is–does that bother you? And if so…why?

*updated to add: As Erin points out, accurately, in the comments, many independent bookstores promote titles without publisher payment. My comment was meant more for the big chain stores/national retailers, because indies..well, honestly indies probably have as many ways they deal with this as there are individual bookstores! Which, for those of you who are bothered by pay for placement, is one more reason to support your local indie bookstores!

Anne November 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

It doesn’t bother me at all. I *love* books. Love love love them. I love finding new-to-me authors, reading new genres, everything. Personally, I don’t care how I find my new favorites – if I stumble across them in the dark corner of a used bookstore or see them pop up as “recommended from Amazon”. If it’s a book I enjoy, then I’m happy to buy a copy to support the author and validate the publisher’s decision. If I don’t enjoy it, I’ll probably pass it along to someone I think might. I’ll be honest, I don’t pay for a lot of books these days. I borrow from friends, go to the library, get ARC’s, enter giveaways, get them as gifts, conferences, trade shows, etc. So if I pay for a book I don’t love, I look at is a trade off for all the free books I’ve gotten that I’ve loved. If I get a free book that I love, I’ll probably buy another copy to give as a gift. I think I got a little off track there, but my point is that a good book is a good book, no matter where I find it.

Lisa November 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I always buy off endcaps or tables. Frankly, I’m glad they are there. I’ll browse through shelves for something in particular, but if I’m just walking through the store looking for something random, I want it to jump off the shelf at me.

I do not understand why people are so offended by advertising lately. I remember Twitter freaking out over a breast pump company advertising….wait for it….A PUMP. Seriously, WTF? COMPANIES ADVERTISE.

Now, the crappy Old Navy commercials, and the ones with the crazy Christmas lady at Target, those could go away. I do expect my advertising to be well-done, I just don’t care *where* it is done.

Erin November 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Those are things that I probably should have realized, but never thought of until now! It makes complete sense but I also find it a little upsetting. Traditionally published books are already the books that publishers have decided will be the most successful, and now they are choosing among those to decide which will get the most attention? Based on what? I already know there are more books out there than I can ever read in a lifetime — now I feel like I’m just reading what publishers want me to read. Down with The Man!! 😉 I’m definitely interested in learning more about this process; how they decide which books get that extra publishing cash.

Erin November 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Some good points re: co-op. However, I know firsthand that many indie bookstores face out, display or advertise titles that they are passionate about, not just those that they get an advertising allowance for. If you’re a buyer who is hesitant to buy a title based on the publisher’s recommendation (which is sometimes a book with a high cost/sales goal or sometimes just those books we have grown to love and want to give an extra push to) you can always go to the “staff recommends” tables or shelves for choices that are solely chosen out of love. And I don’t think that because a publisher is “promoting” a title, you can assume it is unworthy! Publishing is made up of passionate booklovers and we want books that are well-written and creative to succeed.

Jennie November 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

And if you see a book in an airport bookstore, the publisher really paid for that.

Ashley // Our Little Apartment November 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Makes total sense, but I guess it bothers me almost on the same level that presidential candidates who have the most money tend to fare better. It’s just frustrating knowing that there might be something better out there, but money speaks louder than almost anything else, sometimes.

Reading (and chickens) November 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Ooh, thank you for answering my question! It doesn’t really bother me that publishers do this (I think I knew this via librarianship? or book blogs?), but it does bother me a tiny bit about the #fridayreads, only because it seems like…I dunno, I wanted a little more transparency and had no idea I was participating in an advertising scheme. That said, I do not begrudge anyone trying to make a living through writing any kind of money. Not writers, not bloggers. I will happily click away on ads for writers I like if I KNOW what I am supporting.

I think the #fridayreads thing bothers me only slightly because it seems like book bloggers only write positive reviews now WHICH IS NOT THE POINT, right? Just because you get an ARC doesn’t mean you have to like the book! Tell me the truth, book bloggers! I just want a little more transparency as to WHY people are saying what they’re saying.

Jen November 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Just chiming in to say: Great topic! As a book marketing specialist (blech, I hate my current title), I can 100% relate to everything you described. 🙂

clara November 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Well that makes sense. I try to support indie shops when I can but 1. There aren’t that many in my part of town and 2. let’s face it I’m on a budget. Hell I don’t even have a job. I do my best.

Didn’t know that about #fridayreads though…not sure it bothers me, I thought it was just a random meme.

Anastasia @ Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog November 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I was one of the ones who didn’t know #fridayreads has a website and that it sold services to publishers, but once I found out I was more surprised and jealous than anything else. I want to be paid to promote books! I mean, who wouldn’t?

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