Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Members Of The Club

If you subscribe to PublishersMarketplace, you get a weekly listing of book deals that serves as an early alert to upcoming publications.

Will someone not hunting for a literary agent pay for advance notice? Would they pay to get their hands on a book galley before the lay-down date?

The Women On The Web are betting that many someones will.

Joni Evans, who once worked at big house publishers Simon & Schuster and Random House, has faith in loyal readers. To snap up Jodi Picoult's newest release, there are those who would pay a premium and the owners of WowOwow are ready to collect the admission fees.

For $15 - $30, you are made a member of the club that receives a hard copy for your reading pleasure. You gain bragging rights among your friends, if you're so inclined to boast, or you become everyone's best friend by lending the pre-release out among your clique.

What's in it for the publisher?

They'd like to sell more books, of course, but they can use the club as a focus group and test out different cover art and the like. Oddly enough, publishers haven't used market research or focus groups to help them shape their product, but that old-fashioned way of doing business may soon change.

On the down side, the pre-release reading group could all head over to Amazon and pan a book they didn't much like, which would kill sales. What if Steven King or John Grisham wrote a dog of a novel and everyone knew it before the book was released? It would make for a very weak bottom line. There's risk involved for the publishers, who are banking on their most highly marketable authors to bring in the profits.

Will pay-to-play focus groups help or hurt publishing? Or will the WowOwow situation make any difference at all? It's the publisher who decides what they'll be getting for their entrance fees, not the readers, and there's a chance that the pre-release reviews could do nothing more than boost sales for the big name authors, like Jodi Picoult, while the mid-list and genre folks go begging.

The focus group does not return publishing to the old days of nurturing a talent, before the bean counters took over and proven talent became a requirement. We may end up with nothing more than more of the same, a steady procession of books that are as alike as the parts stamped out of a punch press.

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