David Blum Will Fix Your Book Industry Like He Fixed The Newspaper Industry

Former Village Voice editor and J-school prof David Blum is confused about something. Why is Josh Ferris's Then We Came To The End not a New York Times bestseller, even though everyone—including Gawker!—thought it was "pretty good?" Blum puts on his reporter cap and discovers that sometimes even well-reviewed, well-marketed books don't sell hundreds and thousands of copies! He also has some pretty groundbreaking (as in wrong) theories as to why this might be.

Part of the problem may be that bookstores don't pay close enough attention to reviews. I went to look for Then We Came to the End at the Lincoln Square Barnes & Noble the day after the Times review, and experienced the kind of scenario that leads authors into years of costly psychotherapy. No one knew where to find it. Three clerks and 10 minutes later, I'd bought one of the store's last three copies. At that moment it occurred to me: What if bookstores created sections devoted to that week's best-reviewed books?
If you're already afraid that you've permanently damaged your optical nerve by rolling your eyes too hard, you might not want to read the rest.
Or posted positive reviews alongside the books themselves? That way, book reviews (even those that appeared only online) would be easily accessible to those most likely to buy books — people already browsing in the bookstore. Right now, bookstores place all their marketing muscle behind bestseller lists, meaning that prize positions get awarded to those who've already won the horse race. Even movie theaters operate according to more democratic principles than that. Shouldn't good bookstore placement go to good books? Just a thought."
Here are some other thoughts. Unlike David's, these have a relationship to objective reality.
  • Book placement in chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble is paid for by publishers. That's right: there is a thing called "co-op," which is part of a book's marketing budget, and it lands books in windows or on front and center tables. Bookstores decide which books they'll accept co-op payments for, of course, but ultimately, prime placement usually goes to whoever wants to shell out the most dough.
  • "Right now, bookstores place all their marketing muscle behind bestseller lists." No.
  • You're more likely to find clueless employees who don't know where to find a book that was on the cover of that week's Times book review at a megachain like B&N. Why not head to an independent bookseller? They're not all out of business yet. And not only do they "pay attention to reviews," some of them even have sections where employees recommend their favorites! Imagine that: book recommendations, accessible to the people most likely to buy books.
  • If there were very few copies of Then We Came To The End available, that just might mean that a few people besides David Blum read the New York Times. Maybe these people had the same bright idea he did, and the store ran out of copies and their reorders hadn't come in or maybe hadn't been shelved yet. JUST A THOUGHT. How Not To Write A Bestseller [NYS]