November 4th, 2009

Price war = more consolidation = fewer books

William Petrocelli [full disclosure: is it possible we are related because my MIL’s maiden name was Pieruccini?] of the wonderful independent Book Passage took a look at the book pricing war going on among Target, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. While only a handful of books are involved, it could have devastating effects. He says that “a handful of books -- far less than 1% of all the books published -- are probably accounting now for more than 30% of all sales in America.”

He says, “How does a new author break into this landscape? It's never been easy. The key has always been diversity at the retail level. There's a big difference, say, between 500 buyers all buying for their own stores and one chain-buyer purchasing for 500 outlets. Buyers for independent stores tend to cancel out each other's mistakes; no single error in judgment can sink a prospective literary career. But when the system is dominated by a small handful of powerful buyers, their decision can make or break a book. Often, there is no appeal from such a decision. One of the dirty little secrets of the book business is that publishers often check in advance with the buyers for the chain stores and mass merchandisers before agreeing to publish a book. If the answer they get is no, the book may never see the light of day.”

You can read the whole article here.

The New York Times kept track of prices throughout the day for a handful of hot new books.



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Make things worse for your characters is not so great in real life

In books, you basically make things worse and worse for your characters. It's a great way to increase tension.

But not so great in real-life. I read this in the New York Times:
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"ONE afternoon in November 2006, a policeman spotted an expired license plate on Dorothy Thomas’s 10-year-old Toyota Corolla as she drove through San Jose, Calif. He ordered her to pull over.

Struggling under the weight of thousands of dollars in credit card bills, Ms. Thomas was perpetually short of cash. She had not bought a $10 auto registration sticker. The officer checked his database and recognized that she had already been ticketed once before for the same thing. He arranged to have her car towed away.

“I got down on my knees and begged that officer,” Ms. Thomas recalled.

As she watched her car being hauled off, she sensed that this was the beginning of a descent into a crisis from which she might not easily escape. Without money to pay the towing and storage fees, she could not extract her car from the lot, and the tab soon grew to $1,600. Without a car, she could not reach the hospital where she worked in the administrative offices, so she lost her $16-an-hour job. Without a paycheck, she could no longer pay the rent on her modest home. She moved to Oakland, where a friend lived in a beaten-down, rented house on a street they called Crack Avenue. By year’s end, Ms. Thomas, then 49, was occupying a bunk at a homeless shelter, searching in vain for a job in an economy plagued by unemployment.



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