24 July 2009

Link Sausages of Unusual Size

Today's publishing/IP sausages probably don't belong on the same plate... if only because there's not much room left after the first one. And I apologize for the lateness of that particular sausage — I spent a lot of time toning down my own ire.

  • Some YA critics feel cheated by the new Justine Larbalestier cover. As does the author herself. Frankly, I think they're missing the point... but not in their ire, which appears to be well founded.

    The real problem here is that the marketing dorks don't know what they're selling. They are not selling refrigerators. They are selling individual hand-crafted pieces of jewelry. And that, in turn, means that an effective marketing campaign must consider the individual characteristics of what they're selling. Add this to the fact that the marketing dorks aren't selling to the public — they're selling to chain-store bookbuyers, a white/middle-class audience.

    This is not a problem unique to YA fiction, by any means; it is just — perhaps — more evident on the surface. It exposes a much deeper difficulty, though, implied by this comment on Ms Larbalestier's blog:

    The US Liar cover went through many different versions. An early one, which I loved, had the word Liar written in human hair. Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell. Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah.

    (Bold emphasis added) Really? Let me put on my scientist hat right now and ask several questions to which I know the answers, although I'm pretty sure that Bloomsbury itself does not... because it has never asked them:

    • How does Bloomsbury define "a lot of success"?
    • Is the population for which there has been "a lot of success" actually congruent with the population of books with "photos of girls on their covers"?
    • If so, is that population both comparable to and statistically distinct from the populations:
      • Books with photos of girls on their covers that did not have a lot of success?
      • Books without photos of girls on their covers that did not have a lot of success?
      • Books without photos of girls on their covers that did have a lot of success?
    • Have any of the above variables been controlled for time, for subject matter, for prior author experience and brand identification, for velocity as opposed to volume, or indeed for anything else?
    • Is there a statistically significant sample of acknowledged nonrepresentative covers to compare?
  • I could go on for a while longer, but I won't. Instead, just remember that the entire S&M mystique is built upon unverifiable gut instincts, and yet the S&M persuasive position relies upon not just "we know what works"... but "we've got numbers to prove it." Bluntly, no, they don't. They may have numbers, but pulling made-up statistics out of thin air isn't the same thing at all.

    Instead, what we actually have here is not just a failure to communicate, but a failure to communicate based on an argument from authority — not from fact. And the authority is, at best, dubious, given the incomprehensibly random nature of book sales.

  • New that Random House is holding a very stiff line on payment for e-book rights isn't exactly news, but the even moderately intelligent should think "monopsony pricing" and scurry off to the Sherman Antitrust Act.
  • More appropriate for a Friday list, consider this copyright fight over a quasiiconic drinking song in Germany.
  • Professor Rebecca Tushnet notes a case involving allegedly misleading labels on fruit juice. This just begs for a publishing, and perhaps film and music, corollary, revolving around the Copyright Office's determination of "how much expression must be contributed to be an 'author'" and the issue of books "by" James L. Patterson, films "by" Director X, and lip-synched cover songs "by" anyone from American Idiotol.