Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Books, American Idol style

Just over a year ago, Mr. Obie Joe was collecting books to send to New Orleans to refurbish the libraries of a few schools. The call went out for the collection of children's books, primarily, but Mr. Obie Joe wouldn't say no to a few other books.

One donator asked Mr. Obie Joe to pick up the donation. Upon arrival, Mr. Obie Joe saw dozens of mid-size boxes stacked on the front porch. All of the books inside were paperbacks: romance, mystery, and other mass market titles.

"These all yours?" inquired Mr. Obie Joe.

They were, until Mr. Obie Joe took them to New Orleans. Curious, Mr. Obie Joe asked the enthusiastic reader how she determined which books to buy, which old authors to support and which new authors to try. She depended on a variety of word of mouth techniques: online forums; her book club; water cooler conversations; and book jacket blurbs. Whose opinion mattered the most to this reader who spent nearly $200 monthly on books? Someone like herself.

Given the recent intrigue over Simon & Schuster's decision to partner with Media Predict to "use the collective judgment of readers to evaluate book proposals," (says James Surowiecki in The New Yorker), Mr. Obie Joe wonders if we're letting conceit overrule reality. The truth is we've not taken enough advantage of the rich resource of the public's view of books, before and after publication. Their opinions do matter. We've seen that to be the case of those books that find enormous readership, and response, with online marketing campaigns.

It's not a question of imitating America Idol; rather, it's jut an expansion of the most valuable tool books have: word of mouth.

No comments: