Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows (And So Do I)
Another day, another opportunity to explore the frontiers of media and marketing.
Perhaps you recall our mutual adventure in July, when we conducted a crowdsourcing exercise to find a title for my forthcoming sequel to The Chaos Scenario. Through the collective genius of the MediaPost-o-sphere, we were able to consider several hundred worthy options before finally deciding on a title the publisher had suggested a month earlier.
Still, when Can't Buy Me Like is published in March, you can truly feel a sense of ownership and pride as per the very Relationship Era precepts explored in the book.
In fact, what the hell -- why not memorialize that proprietary stake right now by pre-ordering a copy of Can't Buy Me Like here or at your favorite bookseller? Goodness gracious, Christmas 2013 is just around the corner. Order two.
But wait. Before you get your knickers all in a wad about “shameless self promotion” (why do marketing people ever get offended about self-promotion?), let me just say my purpose here is not to abuse my journalistic prerogatives to once again tout my own book about the future of marketing. At some point, even my fanatical cult of worldwide devotees is bound to lose interest in a thoughtful, forward-looking, witty, unflinching manifesto and manual on marketing's future.
So, no -- this article is not about the frontiers of media and marketing. It happens to be about another new book, published this week, titled Bedfellows.
Bedfellows is a novel published by Thomas & Mercer, the genre-fiction imprint of Amazon.com. A comic mob thriller about a Madison Avenue refugee suddenly thrust into an incipient war between the Russian mafia and a struggling Ebbets Beach, Brooklyn crime family branding itself the Cozy Nostra, it has been favorably reviewed by the press. (Booklist said: "There hasn't been a Mob crew this funny since Jimmy Breslin's The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.) It features an enforcer on light duty with diverticulitis, a bagman/lounge singer with finger-snapping issues, a stamp-collecting consigliare, an off-price hitman called The Chiropractor -- because he's a chiropractor -- and a reluctant protagonist called Mr. Mattress.
What's most unusual about the novel, however, is its business model. Whereas Can't Buy Me Like commanded an advance from a major publisher well into six figures, Bedfellows fetched exactly zero. Offending the author not one bit.
CBML is being published in approximately the way books have been published for decades. Significant advance, aggressive promotion to the trade, purchase of shelf-space at retail locations, advertising, publicity by any means possible and most likely a book tour -- the most degrading of all experiences a human can have outside of Abu Ghraib. Like any new book, it will succeed on the basis of word of mouth -- kick-started by reviews, author interviews and the visibility that comes with wide distribution. (Remember, pre-order and get six copies of CBML for half the price of a dozen!)
There will also be publicity for Bedfellows, some of it -- as you see -- in the places you would least expect. And there may be some author appearances. But because Thomas & Mercer is owned by Amazon, the most valuable marketing tool will be Amazonness. The publisher knows who reads thrillers, who reads comic fiction, who reads about the mob, who reads about Brooklyn. These people will get emails and promotional offers. Some will be served ads. And because they all use Amazon, they will have easy access to the most motivating tool of all: the reviews of other users. (Examples: “Elmore Leonard meets Jerry Seinfeld” and “A hilarious mob fantasy” and “A big surprise.”) At this writing, Bedfellows has an average rating of 4.5 stars out of five. Thomas & Mercer believes such user-generated content -- more than any ad or press review -- will propel the book to success.
Now, having read the novel, I think that 4-1/2 stars is overly generous. To me Bedfellows is intermittently funny, intermittently gripping and densely populated with sociopaths in varying degrees of eccentricity and charm -- oh, and the final twist is a doozy -- but 4 stars seems about right to me. The writer is new to the genre, and, believe me, he is neither Elmore Leonard or Jerry Seinfeld. But I admire him for putting his literary fate into the hands of the New World Order.
So here I return to our mutual adventure: you and I together can participate in the grand experiment. Perhaps you can get a copy and weigh in with an Amazon review, or a tweet or a bulk order, because Christmas 2012 is just around the corner. This is an exciting time, and now you can have a proprietary stake in a (middlebrow) literary event. You’re online now. You've got the links. Check it out.
So there. Are you satisfied? Have I not pried myself away from CBML, and the accusation that I only care about the frontiers of marketing when it concerns my own nonfiction? How I resent such judgments. It happens that I also care deeply about the frontiers of marketing when it concerns my non-nonfiction.
Oh, yeah -- so that's the other thing. I sort of wrote Bedfellows too.