Drawing parallels between selling books and selling senatorial seats has led me to certain conclusions, since "Pay for Play" exists in both instances. When it occurs in the political realm, it creates Moral Outrage, and justly so. But when it occurs in selling books, it never causes indignation, for it's simply seen as Good Marketing. Yet, it seems to me, that anyone interested in making sure that good candidates and good books rise to the top of the charts will conclude that Pay for Play does society a disservice.
Walk into any of the chain stores and you will find up-front tables and counter space filled with large displays designed to catch the eye of wandering customers. "These are the worthwhile books," is the implication. Well, perhaps that might be true on occasion, but much more often than not, these titles are prominently displayed because the publisher "pays to play," by paying money to Borders or Barnes & Noble. This is a significant expense and forecloses exposure for titles published by any small press (of which there are thousands) who, if they are lucky enough to have a book in stock at a chain store, will have it on a shelf, spine showing, under whatever category it fits into.
The moral outrage frequently found in the book business usually has to do with how the chains have forced independent booksellers out of business. Or how Amazon.com has also put pressure on all bookstores. But I would like to offer a different point of view, namely applause for both Amazon.com and the independent stores for leveling the playing field, and welcoming the fact that Borders is close to bankruptcy and hoping that Barnes & Noble, which is also facing financial pressures, will not be far behind. Nothing would please me more than seeing a consumer boycott of these chains to hasten this process. It would also help restore the ailing independent bookstores that now account for less than 25% of book sales, where a few decades ago they accounted for approximately 75%.
When a book buyer goes to Amazon.com and hits a button for a book they've heard about, there is no pile of up-front competing books to distract them, nor are they tempted to buy something else because Amazon always has stock of titles that are not widely known even if they are well and widely reviewed. Also, the independents--members of the American Booksellers Association--are far more likely to cater to a more demanding clientele, reflecting the taste of both owners and staff. The "Indie's" have also set up their own program to bring quality books to the public through their Indie Next List (earlier called the Book Sense Picks List)--titles chosen from pre-publication copies made available to these stores from which they select 40 books a month from the hundreds submitted.
For the past 30 years we've been publishing one book each month, and in that time have earned as many honors per book as any publisher in America. Since October we've had a series of six excellent reviews in Publishers Weekly--the bible of the book business. Three were for novels already released: Roccie Hill's tale of the rock scene in the early 70's, Three Minutes on Love ("A wonderful debut"), Lucia Orth's starred review set in the Philippines, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop ("A stellar first novel"), M.F. Bloxam's eerie The Night Battles, set in Sicily ("Fine literary horror") and for three yet to come: Efrem Sigels tale of the parents reaction to the disappearance of their fourteen year old son, due out in February, The Disappearance ("A powerful and elegantly crafted novel"), Daniel Klein's The History of Now, due in March ("A charming philosophical lesson of destiny and history colliding"), and Ivan Goldman's The Barfighter, due in April ("Brings to life the sleazy underbelly of professional boxing"). You are not likely to find them in Barnes & Noble, however, for we haven't paid that piper his fee for playing. But you will be able to see them and order from Amazon.com and, perhaps, your local independent, or read about them and order directly from The Permanent Press website http://www.thepermanentpress.com/
And here is my take on the economy: Last week the Federal Reserve said they would be printing money, as much as needed, to stimulate the economy. This goes beyond borrowing through bonds or from China, for why would anyone lend money to a country that is constantly increasing its astronomical deficits and whose politicians insist on tax reductions that only worsen the situation?
The problem with this latest "fix" is that it's reminiscent of what happened in the Weimar Republic in Germany between the two World Wars, where printing money without real reserves led to hyper-inflation, with citizens having to take wheelbarrows full of German marks to the grocery story to buy a few bags of food. Or, more currently, the run-away inflation in Zimbabwe. This printing of money without backing-up its value is fraught with danger. If one dollar in today's currency will be valued at $500 some time in the future, it's easy for the government to pay back its loans: $200 dollars--value-wise--in today's currency would have a face-value of $100,000, an easy way to pay off debt. But it will be hell for those citizens who thought their money was safe if they put it in a bank as opposed to buying securities.
One can only hope that the incoming Obama administration will do something to rectify this situation as, for all the talk about our being in recession, the fact of the matter is we seem to approaching the cusp of the next "Great Depression."