Friday, February 12, 2016

Is the marketing ploy of pre-ordering books on Amazon an underhanded publishing gimmick!?

Is pre-ordering books on Amazon is marketing ploy gimmick that is destructive to what books really are? Or is it cool?

SUBHEAD TEASER:  "What's the big deal? Technically, you pre-order food. It hasn't been made," says a literary man of letters in Brooklyn over my shoulder as I was writing this informal oped.  "[So] I see no problem pre-ordering recherche [unknown, obscure, unagented] authors to give them a chance."

by staff writer, with agency

Ever wonder why authors and publishers and their PR units want you to pre-order books months in advance before a book is even published and hits the market? It's a savy marketing strategy that is becoming controversial the more that  consumers begin to understand how they are being used as pawns in the game. Here's a story:

I recently got an email message from a good friend in California who writes bestselling business books for major publishers, and his/her/their books are about how the corportate world and capitalism is turning us all into walking zombies, both in real life and online.

​​''A local newspaper has a nice interview about
upcoming book, and
​so this email ​is
a good excuse for me to say the time has come:
please support
by pre-ordering through your
​ favorite bookseller or Amazon,'' their email read.

​So I wondered why he/her/they, of all people, was asking me to partake in a corporate scam that they must know is scam, because if anyone would know this is a scam, it's this writer.

So I wrote back and said: "What is pre-ordering all about? Why can't we all just wait for the book to be released and then order? Why this emphasis on pre-ordering? We don't pre-order pizza or NPR radio broadcasts, do we? We don't pre-order a cream soda in Brooklyn or a taco in Tuscon, do we? So why this pre-ordering emphasis in the book industry? I smell a rat. Something is fishy here. Can you explain to me in plain English?"

A letter came back, in internet time, and he/she/they said:

​"Good question," they said. "Most lay people don't understand this. Let me explain in total corporate and capitalist marketing-speak. I myself am a bit embarrassed to be repeating and taking part in this scam, but this is life in the tech age and you asked me why. Basically, to pre-o
​these days ​
before it comes out ends up cueing up a whole lot of orders in the system. This leads bookshops to
order in
more copies of the book. Then,
​the author (and their publisher)
book on a front shelf
​ in bookstores nationwide."

​They added: "
So, pre-ordering is a bit like priming the distribution pump, and convincing both the publisher and the bookstores to support it. If
​a book gets
a lot of pre-orders, then on the day it is published there will actually be books in stores. Bookstores use pre-order figures to decide whether to carry a book."

For many writers today, of nonfiction and fiction, publishers and their PR units and marketing people expect them to be involved with the PR and promotion chores as well. It's not in the contract per se, but almost.  They want authors to get on Twitter tweet news of their book and how to pre-order it, and the same with Facebook. And use a blog to tell everyone they can pre-order the book. And don't forget RSSing the blog. A newsletter, too. See? publishers have forgotten that authors became authors  to sit alone and write ideas or stories.

"It used to be when a writer finished a book it would be a celebration. Now it’s when the PR and promotion work starts. It’s torture," says one writer I know.
Wikipedia isn't much help in getting at the truth behind the pre-ordering scam, but it does offer some basic information.  
"A pre-order is an order placed for an item which has not yet been released," the Jimmy Wales site says. "....Pre-orders allow consumers to guarantee immediate shipment on release, manufacturers can gauge how much demand there will be and hence the size of initial production runs, and sellers can be assured of minimum sales. Additionally, high pre-order rates can be used to further increase sales."
And this: "Pre-order incentive, also known as pre-order bonus, is a marketing tactic whereby a retailer or manufacturer/publisher of a product (usually a book or video game) encourages buyers to reserve a copy of the product at the store prior to its release.''

''Reasons for this vary, typically publishers wish to ensure strong initial sales for a product, and the offered incentive is used to induce shoppers (who might otherwise want to wait for positive reviews or a specific shopping period like the holiday season) to commit to a purchase. Having paid for part or all of the purchase when placing the order, these consumers will usually complete the transaction shortly after the product's release, often on its first day in stores. Individual stores or retail chains may also offer bonuses for a popularly anticipated product, to ensure that the customer chooses to buy at that location, rather than from a competitor."

So dear reader and pre-ordering bookworm, caveat emptor. You are being used as part of a multi-level marketing ploy and PR gimmick. Am I right or am I wrong?

A literary person in NYC tells this blog via Twitter: "Technically, you pre-order food. It hasn't been made. I see no problem pre-ordering recherche [unknown, obscure, unagented] authors to give them a chance."

So  how about the new and unknown recherche author with no big publisher or PR unit behind them? They get lost in the shuffle here, no?






A literary person in NYC tells this blog via Twitter: "Technically, you pre-order food. It hasn't been made. I see no problem pre-ordering recherche authors to give them a chance."

Unknown said...

Wise article. I wouldn't dream of pre-ordering a book before it is published and reviewed by reputable book reviewers.

Richard Hollick said...

You are correct when you say that preorders enable the trade to assess demand. But there's nothing nefarious about this really. If you have large preorders you will know to print more; if they are low, you can print less. Since any bookstore can return any book to the publisher, there's no need for your caveat emptor line. The whole thing is risk-free. If the book buyer decides they don't want the book, they just have to say so, and it'll end up either being sold to someone else or going back to the publisher.


Peter and Richard, I see both your points. Thanks for commenting! DANNY