Friday, July 15, 2011

Indigo's new evaluation policy: the 6-week deadline

I'm still alive! Just haven't been feeling well enough to post coherent thoughts and stuff. Now then.

Canadian book and music chain Indigo is shifting their focus away from books, with worrying consequences for everyone involved. My writing group teammate Stephanie has some interesting thoughts on the subject.

What blows my mind is this expectation that a newly released book will sink or swim within 45 days. Just six weeks. That's a tight time frame for a casual reader to find, buy and read the book, never mind tell their friends about it and have those friends go buy, read and recommend the book. A 45-day deadline makes it unlikely that word-of-mouth advertising will help an unknown author out, especially if it's their first book and they're not an expert in self-marketing.

If they had been judged for performance after 45 days, how many now-beloved books would have been thrown out as poor sellers? The Lord of the Rings trilogy was published in 1944 and 1945, but got mixed reviews and it took ten years to become popular. Animal Farm took ten years to earn a paperback print run. The Great Gatsby went unnoticed for twenty-five years. I know those works were published in a different time, but expecting future classics to sell briskly within 45 days of launch is still absurd. Even Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone took two years to reach bestseller lists.

I don't exactly blame Indigo for their decision. This is evidence of traditional book distribution's struggle to survive, printed in the news headlines and outlined with neon. The old distribution system is flawed and it clearly can't handle the modern quantity of new books being pumped through it. This isn't about whether new classics will be able to reveal themselves; this is about business. It's about having a handful of sure-fire bestsellers. Those few household names that are guaranteed to sell to the masses. As a lover of outside-the-box writing, I think I'll stick to shopping online.

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