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Bookstores Recommended Books Are Paid for by Publisher

After researching how bestseller lists are compiled, I’ve come away with a new cynicism about how the book world operates. It does seem that if the publisher is willing to pay, some venues will promote chosen books as bestsellers or, in the case of Waterstone, include a book on its “best of the year” list.

Waterstone, the leading bookstore in the UK (comparable to Barnes and Noble/Borders), expects publishers to pay a hefty price for promotions. If you don’t pay, you can expect to be penalized. Anthony Cheetham, the chairman of a small indie publisher, Quercus, said that if you are offered one of these expensive, but coveted slots, and opt out, the order for the book can go from 1,000 copies to 20.

The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs 45,000 pounds ($88,942.50) per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for 25,000 pounds ($49412.50). Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to 7,000 pounds for each book ($13,835.50), while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at 500 pounds ($988.25). Similar packages are available at other bookshop and supermarket chains, too.

I hardly believe that Waterstone is the only bookstore who is doing this. Right now, it is the only one we know about. It’s no surprise that readers tend to look to other readers for recommendations. It seems like they are the only ones impervious to being bought.

Via MediaBistro.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. Phyl
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 08:08:20

    Because this doesn’t surprise me, I wish there were a way to compile a “best-read” list. I may buy (or borrow) 10 books, but the one I pick up to read next more than likely has more to do with an enthusiastic comment from a reader than its placement on a bestseller list. Similarly, a book can remain in the TBR pile because of lukewarm or negative comments. Basically, I’m more interested in what others are actually reading than what they’re buying. I believe there IS a difference.

  2. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 09:01:26

    I hardly believe that Waterstone is the only bookstore who is doing this.

    They’re not. The Borders newsletter with all those “letters to the reader” etc. is a paid for promo, as is placement at the front of the bookstore in all major chain bookstores in the States.

  3. Rosie
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 14:31:11

    I got my rude awakening when I posted pictures of the AA books in the center kiosk shelves at my local B&N. An author posted that the publisher probably paid to have the books there and promote them, not that the store manager had an epiphany or reader demand got them there.

    To my mind it makes the word of mouth and readers “finding” books and promoting them all the more powerful.

  4. Jane
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 14:47:21

    I’m just completely shocked at the cost, but I guess if you are giving 6 figure advances, you need to sell enough books to justify it.

  5. Caroline
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 15:54:21

    As I understand it, pretty much every aspect of placement is a paid service (at least with the major chains). If you find a book on the New Releases table; on the New in Romance display; on the Hot New Reads shelf, you should assume the publisher paid, in some fashion, for that book to be there.

    I’ve never seen a price menu before, but this is all part of the “co-op” money publishers spend to make their top titles succeed. And yes, the more they pay as advance, generally the more they spend to promote the book. Assuming 8% royalty on a $6.99 book, over 175K books need to sell to earn back an advance of $100,000. Given that shelf life is often short, the publishers pull out the stops to make those sales up front.

  6. Keishon
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 20:12:55

    Can I say that I am not surprised? There are a million books published, how else are you gonna stand out from the crowd?

  7. sherry thomas
    Jun 18, 2007 @ 20:54:03

    I must say I, too, am suffering from sticker shock. We keep hearing about bookstore sales dropping, do they manage to make up the rest with higher promotion fees?

  8. Li
    Jun 19, 2007 @ 15:16:35

    I’m not surprised either – I’m sure all large chain bookstores do it. I’m pretty sure I’ve read that Borders and WH Smith (two other large chains in the UK) charge as well for prime spots/product spotlights.

    Here’s the response from Waterstones, in case you haven’t seen it:
    http://www.thebookseller.com/news/40785-waterstones-defends-hidden-charges.html

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