Wednesday, June 03, 2009

From the Department of Bad Ideas

I'm still on a roll, with more than 5,000 words written yesterday. I may have lower productivity today, since I have choir practice tonight and something to write for the medical school today. But still, I'm starting to feel like a diligent professional instead of a slacker. It does help that I've reached the part where I really know what I'm doing, the part the rest of the book was aiming toward.

There's been a lot of news out there lately that has to have come from the Department of Bad Ideas. I'm not even going to get into the economy and politics and stuff. Just in the general field of entertainment there's more than enough.

For instance, that idea to make a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, but without any of the cast from the series or the characters (aside from, I would assume, Buffy herself) or Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, this is one of those Hollywood things. Once the script for the initial movie was sold, it became the property of the people who bought it, and they have the rights to do whatever they want to with it. That's something you have to be aware of in selling things to Hollywood and why I just about broke out in hives when reading the film option contract. With publishing, you just assign the rights to the book for a certain amount of time, and once those conditions are met (usually a certain amount of time after the book goes out of print), you get those rights back and can sell them to someone else. In Hollywood, you sell something and they've got it for good. If they do make a movie out of Enchanted, Inc., then they have all rights to it forever. Even years later when it comes time for a remake using the new holographic technology, I don't get to sell it again. I get a cut of whatever they make if they sell it to another production company or remake it, but the decisions are out of my hands.

Still, having the right doesn't mean it's a good idea. After all, the people talking about making the movie are the ones who made the first movie, which was kind of why they needed the TV series to set things right after the movie messed up the concept. I can't imagine how making another movie with even less involvement from the creator is going to work, especially when the core audience is rather devoted to said creator. So, yeah, bad idea to remake something by removing the elements the very vocal core audience is most attached to.

Then there's the latest round of Stupid Corporate Bookseller Tricks. Apparently, Borders, as part of their effort to rebuild and avoid bankruptcy, was struck with the new and innovative idea (sarcasm alert) that it might be helpful if their staff hand-sold books to customers. They might be a huge corporate entity, but they could act like an independent bookstore, with their staff interacting with customers and making personal recommendations.

Except it turned out that the "handselling" and "personal recommendations" were actually product placements, just like those "new and recommended" tables at the front of the store (those books may be new, but the "recommended" part just means the publishers shelled out money for them to be there). There were certain books mandated to be hand-sold, with quotas for each employee, and employees who didn't sell the assigned number of these particular titles risked losing their jobs, no matter how many copies of other books they might have sold. It had nothing to do with the booksellers personally endorsing books they loved or making recommendations based on the customers' interests.

That's a problem that comes up so often with marketing and promotion, and it's one of the reasons people are so resistant to sales pitches. Something that starts as a good idea for spreading a message gets overused and misused to the point that the medium becomes useless. It's the reason people automatically throw away junk mail and delete advertising e-mail unread. It might be a convenience if it contained information we actually wanted and were interested in, but we get so buried in the stuff we're not interested in that we don't have time to sort through it and just toss everything. It's like when I bought a new car last year and that put me on the dealership's mailing list, so I kept getting e-mails about sales they were having on new cars -- like I was going to buy another one a couple of weeks later. I unsubscribed from their mailing list because I didn't need the information they were sending me, but that also probably meant I missed things I might have wanted, like specials on an oil change. I'm afraid the Borders thing will work the same way. If employees are desperate to keep their jobs and required to sell a certain number of these specific books, they're probably going to be pushing them on people regardless of their interests, and that then will make people leery of bookseller recommendations in all bookstores.

The thing is, the good booksellers at Borders or any other store were already handselling. I've had great "Have you read this? Then you might like this" conversations at my nearest Borders. All an edict like this does is penalize these people and make them less effective by forcing them to do something that goes against what makes them good at their jobs. It reminds me of my PR days when I knew a particular publication wouldn't be interested in what I was pitching, but my boss made me call anyway so we could tell the client we'd called that publication, and all that did was make that reporter less likely to take my calls in the future so that I'd be less effective when I did have something to pitch him that he'd be interested in.

There was a huge outcry when word about this got out, and I don't know what became of it or if Borders backtracked. I know the last time I was in a Borders that nobody tried to sell me anything (but then they were in the process of doing inventory and reorganizing the store after getting rid of the movies/music section). I know there are bookstore folks here. Anyone want to clue us in? (and you can comment anonymously, if you like)

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