Fast Company has an interesting article on the placement of books in bookstores. (“Bookstore Baksheesh: The Real Estate Deals That Sell Books”, November 2009)
The article poses an interesting question:
Have you ever wondered who decides which of the 55,000 books published each year end up on which tables and why?
and the somewhat surprising answer quickly follows:
It’s not serendipity, not by chance, not because some Barnes & Noble tastemaker is trying to lure us with the most scintillating reads of the year. It’s marketing, pure and simple, all of it bought and paid for by publishers. One editor I spoke with, who, like almost everyone else I interviewed for this column insisted on anonymity for fear of alienating powerful booksellers, calls it “bookstore baksheesh.
According to the article, each book on each table costs publishers anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000, and even up to $50,000 depending on placement (the closer to the front of the store, the more expensive it is), quantity and duration. Bookstores are not alone in that practice: Barns and Nobles “sells” only 3-5% of the stores space, far less than supermarkets.
There are two interesting issues that worth discussing. First, which books should the bookstores place on the table. According to the article:
Publishers only invest in titles they predict will sell, and Barnes & Noble has the final say, sometimes refusing to stock books on tables if it decides customers won’t buy them.
To me it seems that most of the best sellers will sell even if not placed on these tables. The bookstores should probably compute the added value of placing the book on a table, and I am quite sure these will be much higher for the mid-sellers. It is also fairly clear that the added value should be probably pretty different for the bookseller and the publisher. The publisher is trying to maximize sales, while the bookstore is trying to establish long-term relationship with the customer (while maximizing profits).
This brings me to the second issue, which is the transparency of this process to the customer. In my mind, one of the main advantages of Google is the clear separation between the search results and the sponsored links. By placing products on a table as if they are the recommended books, will, in the long run, further dilute the value of the neighborhood bookstore.