Thursday, June 28, 2007

From over the pond

Do people even use that "pond" expression anymore? I've always hated it. And I'm using it. I blame the heat - my brain isn't functioning properly.

On that note, I'll keep it to a link and very little commentary. Via Shelf Awareness, here's a link to a story from the Herald in the UK, by Karin Goodwin, wondering if book clubs like Oprah or, in the UK's case, Richard and Judy, are hurting publishing. This is a bit like the Franzen debate that happened a few years ago, no?

This detail though is one of those things that doesn't entirely translate, even sounding completely nuts:
Each month, the supermarket's book club will select a book released by its partner, publisher Random House, and offer notes and reviews in the Tesco magazine and on its website. Tesco aims to make choosing a book as easy as grabbing a tin of beans or a pint of milk. Its initial choices sound interesting and intelligent. Alison Weir's Innocent Traitor, a historical novel about Lady Jane Grey, will kick off proceedings and Scottish novelist Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn will follow.
Yes, the grocery store is selling Random House books, selecting them for the busy shopper. This is making all of us wee idealists a bit uncomfortable as the whole book-as-product becomes a little too, ya know, real.

The article talks about this fear: "Publishers can no longer afford to take chances and authors who have enjoyed modest successes over many years are suddenly being dropped in favour of potential big hitters." I'm not convinced book clubs are entirely to blame for this phenomenon. Books are just further proof, like the whole electricity deregulation in Texas, that the competitive market creating better options is a myth. Everyone's striving for mundanity... not a word, is it? You get my point. Politics proves this every election. The more milque-toast, the wider your base. So of course big publishers do this, but book clubs are just kind of a funneling of the readership. Admittedly, they block that readership off even more, as some stray sheep might actually buy a different milque-toast book without them, but at some point, we may just be splitting hairs.

I think Mark Lambert of the Scottish Book Trust, quoted in the article, has it right when he says it's not the book clubs that are the problem, necessarily, as much as the supermarkets getting in on the market there. We have the bookstore chains to contend with here, but I don't think Wal-mart et al have really made a dent in the book market. I could be wrong, but it seems their book sections are weak. But if book clubs prompt people to go into an independent bookstore and buy the selection? I ain't mad.

Which goes back to an earlier post about Oprah not encouraging people to go to an indy for her books....

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