Long, long ago, it was the custom of record companies to pay radio stations to play their records. Disc jockeys, station owners, whoever---they were bribed to increase air time of certain songs, to the benefit of the recording artist.
The practice was declared illegal and prosecutions ensued.
Why isn't the same thing illegal in book vending?
Publishers pay ridiculous amounts of money to Barnes & Noble, in the neighborhood of $30,000 according to Adam Penenberg at fastcompany.com. For a bribe of that size, a publisher can expect to place a key title at the front of the store, to catch a book buyer's eye the minute they enter the big box retailer.
If the marketing gurus deem it worth the money to have a certain book shelved facing out, with the attractive cover up front and personal to the potential buyer, B&N or Borders are happy to oblige for a fee.
According to Mr. Penenberg, every place you find books, you'll find literary payola, and that includes the rack of paperbacks at the local supermarket.
What does it mean for a writer? If your publisher isn't convinced that your particular work of art isn't destined to be a blockbuster, a la Dean Koontz, you won't get the marketing budget and your book won't get the payola treatment. And so, your book is sure to fare poorly because it's not getting the promotion.
Since no one seems to be heading towards the State's Attorney's office, it means an author might have to cough up some big money to counter the publisher's bribe. Up the ante, so to speak, in a bid to claim some prime real estate in the book store or at Amazon's website.
Knowing that the books up front were placed there on purpose, doesn't it make you want to bypass the front tables and confine your browsing to the shelves? Just to stick it to the whole marketing concept that figures you for an instant gratification sheep?