Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Can I Get Fries with That?

When I'm in the mood for a lunchtime sandwich, I have to decide between two nearby cafes. My decision-making process rarely involves the type of bread or the kinds of sandwiches served. I'm a tuna fish guy, and both restaurants make a tasty, not overly mayonnaise-laden sandwich on wheat bread. I make my decision based on whether I'm in the mood for a chocolate chip cookie or potato chips. One restaurant gives you a cookie with your lunch, the other gives you a bag of chips.

I like the extras. I want the add-ons. There are probably a dozen more places within a few blocks where I could get my tuna, but they don't have the goodies that I want. So I've narrowed my choice down to these two restaurants. I started thinking about all of this last week, while I was working at the Amy Goodman event promoting her new book, Static.

Goodman, the host of the daily left-wing news radio show "Democracy Now," usually gets me thinking about the hypocrisy of the Bush administration, the atrocities of the Iraq war and other blood-boiling political issues. But last Tuesday night, she got me thinking about my free chips and cookies. This was because she had such a great add-on of her own. We sold an extra 60 books because of the freebie, and that had me .

Goodman, along with her brother David, gave an impassioned presentation about the lax job the media has done in monitoring the Bush administration, the story of the mothers of slain Iraq war soldiers and why you should buy their book. They desperately want their book to reach the New York Times' bestseller list.
They figure it's the only way the book will appear in the Times, since the Times has thus far ignored it. In addition to their great oratorical skills, they had a gimmick to help sell the book: buy two copies of Static and get an exclusive DVD that is not for sale anywhere else.

Customers had their choice between two DVD interviews by Goodman, either Harry Belafonte or Pete Seeger. The DVDs were in simple paper sleeves and came with no art work or liner notes. About 50 people bought two books to get their free DVD. Another handful couldn't choose between the two, and decided to buy four books so they could get both interviews. Wow. It's rare to have more than a few customers buy multiple copies of a book. The Goodmans created a stampede with the bonus DVDs, and the disc must have cost less than 50 cents to produce and package. I don't know about the New York Times' list, but Static was our top-selling book for September.

It seems like every other business does some variation on this theme, and yet we rarely do it in the book business. Tonight, the store is hosting Philippa Gregory, the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. We are anticipating strong sales, but how much stronger could they be if we had something exclusive to give away when customers purchased two or more of her books?
Wouldn't it be great to get a signed copy of a short story that was only available on the tour? What if there was a CD featuring Gregory being interviewed?

Once I started thinking about this, the possibilities seemed limitless. Of course, they depend on the individual author and book, but I think people would eat up this type of thing. A book is only $25, and that's not much to pay for a chance to get something by your favorite author that no one else will have.

I'm starting to see this add-on phenomena hitting the publishing world in other ways. I am just finishing up a wonderful forthcoming novel The Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig. It is the first 2007 title that I've read. I had never heard of Haig before the sales rep showed me the book. I decided to read the book, in part, because of the extras that Viking pushed my way. My sales rep handed me a snazzy marketing piece featuring six new Viking novels that included a CD. I played the CD and heard an interesting interview with Haig. But I still wasn't convinced. About a week later, a DVD interview with Haig came. I watched it and thought I'd read at least the first 20 pages. I was hooked.

Now that I'm tuned into these possibilities, I see missed opportunities everywhere. When I read Zadie Smith's hilarious novel On Beauty in hardback, I immediately looked for interviews with her on the internet. I found a great conversation she had with Terry Gross on NPR. It was funny, illuminating and riveting. Wouldn't it be great if a CD of that interview was bound into the paperback edition of On Beauty?

It seems to me that if I'm willing to change my buying habits for a bag of malt vinegar potato chips, then the opportunities to convince readers to buy particular books, or more copies of certain books, are out there. After all, publishers and bookstores have a lot more varied options than just chips and cookies to used in an effort to tempt people.

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