Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Blockbuster or Bust?

I subscribe to the print version of The Wall Street Journal but not the online version. So I can't provide a link to this article but if you get a chance to read it you should.

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg had an article in yesterday's issue titled "In Era of Blockbuster Books, One Publisher Rolls the Dice." The article is about a debut novel by Jed Rubenfeld titled The Interpretation of Murder. It is an historical novel about a 1909 visit to the U.S. by Sigmund Freud.

The publisher, Henry Holt & Co., paid an $800,000 advance to get the North American rights only. Did I mention this was Rubenfeld's debut novel? The publisher committed to a $500,000 marketing campaign and printed 10,000 advanced reader copies. All told the publisher spent $1,300,000 for the book (and this DID NOT include the actual production cost). It needed to sell 150,000 copies of the hard cover edition just to break even.

Guess what? That's right. It flopped. The book hit the NYT bestseller list at number 18 and fell from there. Bookscan reported that Murder sold 12,400 copies in the first 19 days after its release. It's going to have a hard time getting to 150,000.

And just to show how fickle the industry is, on September 20 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held up Noam Chomsky's book before the U.N. and praised it. Sales soared. And the publisher you ask? Henry Holt & Co.

This story proves the point that it is virtually impossible to predict a bestseller. A publisher can spend millions of dollars but it takes word-of-mouth to effectively market a book.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I told my crit partners to pray for me because I'm going on a business trip to Vegas. It's kind of like Ted Kennedy moving to a dry county--really no point. But maybe I should hit the casinos. My odds are probably better there than in the publishing biz. Thank God we write for an audience of One. It's what sets us apart from secular writers.

11:14 AM  

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