From Publishing Perspectives:
Out of the blue recently, I received a message by email, one that reminded me of Book Club Associates, which had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.
Stan Remington was the head of Book Club Associates, the biggest and arguably almost monopolistic direct-mail bookselling group in Britain and Australia.
“I’m writing on behalf of my father, Stan Remington, who is delighted to see you have set up your own publishing operation.
“He is still reading around three books a week and living in Oxfordshire. He keeps a keen interest in the world of publishing if only from the sidelines. He fondly remembers so many business lunches at Oxford. And what they led to.”
Well, I’m glad and proud that the lunches led to much new business for Oxford University Press.
In the days of retail price maintenance in the UK, Book Club Associates was the only significant place to buy bestsellers cheaply and have them delivered to your door. A reader had to commit to buying a certain number of titles every year. It worked. At its peak, more than a million households in the United Kingdom subscribed and the program’s database held the names of as many as 4 million book purchasers.
My lunches with Stan were focused on establishing whether Book Club Associates could enhance the sales of Oxford University Press books, which were rather different in content and status from the usual book-club fiction fodder. We did come up with some pretty good ideas in his and my opinions. But some at the publishing house thought we might be lowering standards or cannibalizing existing sales.
That was the first time I came across the concept of cannibalization in publishing.
The argument went that any book we sold through the book club would be one fewer we sold through bookstores, and at much lower revenue and margin. In other words, we’d be cannibalizing our own business. In the phrasing of Evelyn Waugh’s Mr Salter to his boss in Scoop (Chapman & Hall, 1938): “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
. . . .
Mass-market book clubs are a thing of the past in the English-speaking world, defeated by changing technology and business models, but their contribution to reading, writing, and publishing should not be underestimated. How we’d like to enjoy a bit of their form of cannibalization today.
. . . .
Cannibalization can be defined in many ways. According to my edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1988) cannibalization means to take parts from one unit for incorporation in, and completion of, another of a similar kind. The first citation is 1944 and it relates to the breaking up of old aircraft and using the parts in new ones. Far from being a pejorative, it would seem that cannibalization was a forerunner of today’s environmentally friendly recycling movement and to be encouraged.
So my publishing tip of the month is to stop worrying about one channel for selling books potentially cannibalizing another. Instead, embrace every opportunity to reach a new audience or serve an author by saying yes first and worrying about the consequences later.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
PG will limit himself to two points:
A. During a meeting with a group of very good and well-compensated marketers many years ago, discounting from list price to access a new sales channel was under discussion. Someone (not PG), said something to the effect that we would be cannibalizing our own product if we did that.
The response from one of the more experienced people in the meeting was quick and concise, “If we don’t cannibalize our sales, someone else will.”
Meaning that if the price of a product was perceived by consumers as being too high, a competitor would offer a lower price and steal business.
If you successfully set an optimum price for a product, you will maximize both sales and profitability. The highest price you think the market will bear is seldom the optimum price.
B. The fact that this ancient misconception is still floating around the publishing business and requires mild correction by the author of the OP is an indication that really talented marketers coming out of college or graduate school have been and will continue to almost universally choose to use their talents in places other than traditional publishers.
Alternate employers will pay higher salaries for talent, provide an environment in which that talent will blossom and grow, and increase compensation quickly to retain the truly talented as they develop their talents.
PG finds it difficult to believe a marketing major from a quality business school would ever consider working for a traditional publisher.
Yet another reason why the field is ripe for smart indie authors.