Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of Step

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you missed a memo somewhere along the way? I may be having one of those weeks. It started in church Sunday. I'm in the choir, so I get a pretty good view of the entire congregation, and this Sunday, it seemed like there must have been some kind of organized effort for everyone to wear blue. I know a lot of the kids were wearing blue t-shirts because they'd had music and arts camp the week before, and this was the Sunday when they sang a song in the service to show what they'd learned, so they were in their camp shirts. But I don't know if the adults planned to wear blue in support, or if it was just an odd coincidence because just about every man in the congregation was wearing either a pale blue Oxford shirt or a blue dress shirt. Then a lot of the women were wearing blue dresses or blue blouses. The church was a sea of blue.

What was I wearing? Bright red -- a dress that looks a lot like the one on the cover of Damsel Under Stress. And during the summer we don't wear choir robes, so that one spot of red really stood out.

So, in general, I'm afraid I may be having a red dress on "wear blue day" kind of week, where no matter what I do, I'll be at least a little bit out of step with the rest of the world. For instance, I have a funeral to go to later in the week, and at the last couple of funerals I've attended, I've gotten the impression that you aren't supposed to wear black to funerals anymore. All the Southern ladies have worn pastels or bright jewel tones in floral patterns because you're not supposed to look like you're mourning. The problem is, my wardrobe is pretty much either black or red, and I can't quite see bright red as appropriate funeral attire. If I wear mostly black, I'm not wearing funeral clothes. I'm wearing my general wardrobe. Now, I don't know when this change in customs came about, but apparently I missed a memo along the way. I may play the "eccentric writer" card and not worry about it.

In other news, the bookselling follies continue. I mentioned a while ago that a certain major chain whose name begins with a B but doesn't include an ampersand decided to try something new and innovative and (gasp!) handsell books to their customers. Only, they weren't really handselling. It was just another form of co-op marketing, in which certain books, whose publishers were paying for the privilege, were to be pushed by sales staff as though they were handselling, with quotas in place and jobs at stake. I'm guessing from my last visit to a store in this chain that the book Julie and Julia is one of the titles being given this treatment at the moment. I'm basing that assumption on the fact that one of the employees was stationed near the store entrance and greeted everyone who came through the door with, "Hi! Is there something I can help you find? Julie and Julia is 30 percent off!" As she did this, she was standing next to a table piled high with copies of the book and whatever copies of the Julia Child memoir and cookbooks they were able to scrounge (since apparently someone severely miscalculated and they didn't print nearly enough books, and those are the books the movie seems to be selling). Oddly, she didn't push the book on me, possibly because I was already making a beeline toward the book I was there to get or possibly because I gave off the vibe that I would be One of THOSE People who was likely to smirk and say, "Oh, let me guess, that's the 'make' book of the moment."

This strikes me as a really odd use of marketing resources, considering that the book is already a bestseller, so the publisher has surely already made a profit on it. There's a movie with the same title, and the movie is being advertised far more heavily than any book ever is, with someone else (the movie studio) footing the bill. If there was ever a book that didn't need extra marketing resources, this would be it. I can't imagine there's any kind of return on investment here, where forcing booksellers to handsell it is going to sell that many more copies than would have sold anyway. While eavesdropping, I noticed that every person she pushed the book on either already owned it or had already read it. Why spend huge amounts of your miniscule marketing budget on a book where just about everyone who might be interested in it has already read it? I guess that's more proof that the future marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is currently working in publishing. Meanwhile, I hope the bookstore chain is getting some serious money for this, because it doesn't seem to me like a good use of staff resources. A good bookseller turned loose and allowed to handsell books she's familiar with and passionate about could probably make the company a lot more money than one forced to stand next to a display about a book while telling every customer about it (though that may have been that particular bookseller's tactic for meeting her quota -- but still probably not the most profitable use of her time for the company).

It seems like there are opportunities here for tiered levels of publisher payola to bookstores to push certain books. At Level 1, the book gets placed on the "new and recommended" table in the front of the store and a mention in the store's online newsletter. At Level 2, the book gets its own display, a poster in the window and featured placement in the store's online newsletter. At Level 3, it gets everything in Level 2, plus the employees are forced to handsell the book (with their jobs in jeopardy if they don't meet their quota) and the book is displayed next to the cash registers. At Level 4, the book gets everything in Levels 2 and 3, plus employees chase customers around the store, beating them around the head and shoulders with a copy of the book until they agree to purchase it. At Level 5, employees are forced to form gangs to go out and terrorize people in the streets into purchasing the book.

I'm still not sure how they know which employee sold which copies of the books in question. Does it work like a telemarketing firm, where they get to ring a bell when they persuade some poor sucker to buy that book? Will it be like at a clothing store, where the sales staff make sure you remember their names and then the cashier asks you if anyone helped you with your selection so the right salesperson gets credit? If you agree to take the book, does that employee then accompany you to the cash register to get credit? I haven't yet bought one of the "make" books (none of them really interest me, and I have to admit that I'd probably rebel against the concept even if they pushed something I was interested in and go buy it from Amazon or get it from the library) so I haven't seen how the process works.

Now to go put together some funeral outfits because God forbid I actually look like I'm in mourning at a funeral. The world is all topsy-turvy -- you can now wear black to weddings, but you're not supposed to wear black to a funeral. I even hear rumors that white shoes may be allowed after Labor Day.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

That may depend on the part of the country, because over here in SC, black's still for funerals. I've worn black to weddings, and I've never heeded the labor day rule--but then, I usually wear black, anyway (often with bright pink, purple, or teal). My mother keeps asking me where the funeral is.

Some of the B people recognize me at my local one, despite my rare purchase (um... a good friend used to work there), so I'll have to ask them about that policy.