Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Obama Book Controversy

No doubt Chelsea Green publishing thought they had come up with a reasonable marketing concept when they agreed to POD their upcoming Obama title (Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency) with Booksurge and offer Amazon a three week exclusive sales window. Whether this promotion had its genesis in an inefficient editorial and manufacturing process that failed to deliver what must be their single most important title in the company's history on a date that's been on the schedule for months, becomes immaterial when considered against the antipathy that has resulted. The small company has succeeded in upsetting both independents and B&N by giving Amazon this exclusive.

B&N has now cancelled their order for the non-POD version and will only sell the title on their web site via special order. Admittedly, my immediate reaction would have been much the same: Cancel the orders. On reflection however, why didn't B&N double the order and publicise that they would honor the discount coupons once the book hit the stores? Even better, offer a special discount on pre-orders. Secondly, surely the number of attendees at the convention who will actually purchase the book is small compared to the market spread of customers walking into B&N stores across the country.

The publicity surrounding this book may now have more to do with the B&N reaction (perhaps more so within the publishing community) but assuming the publicity and enthusiasm continues to grow for this book, B&N's reaction will seem increasingly ridiculous. With a little more perspective and strategic thinking B&N could have stolen a lot of the thunder from Amazon; that is, if it even existed before B&N made such a big deal about it. On a larger point, if this is how non-Amazon retailers react, how soon will it be before Amazon, encouraged by this reaction, can claim that their retailing competitors don't have the product spread they do. I don't think that is a vortex any retailer wants to be on the cusp of.

1 comment:

Michael Herrmann said...

Well, the problem with this critique is that Kuttner's book is really not going to be all that important. A lot of the commentary surrounding this controversy has assumed that Kuttner is delivering the counterweight to Corsi's "blockbuster" collection of smears. But he isn't. Kuttner's book is a thoughtful and well written book about policy--in other words, a non-best-seller.

Chelsea Green's most important book to date is Don't Think of an Elephant. This book will not come near it in sales or influence.

B&N's reaction is more along the lines of swatting a fly. I really didn't blame them. I do agree that they need a comprehensive strategy to combat Amazon on a number of fronts, as do we independents. But I don't think this controversy is as important as some people are making it.