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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Covers and Corporate Control

Imagine you are the production team of a book (author, illustrator, publisher, cover illustrator, etc.) and you produce an outstanding product. Your marketing people contact the big corporate bookstores to see if they’ll stock your book, but they are told they have to make changes first. A discussion on childlit, kidlit, YALSA, and at various conferences lately has revealed that one of the huge chains has told publishers they must go back and change covers before they’ll buy and stock the books. 

Why should these bookstore chains control the creative process of books? Shouldn’t the publishers and artists involved decide these things? Is the power of the large corporate chain greater than the right of an artist? I’ve learned that many booksellers sell the space on the tops of their shelves of end units to companies to market their books. Do the publishers have to meet corporate criteria to buy this space?

Betsy Bird wrote her yearly wrap up including her favorite covers. Note that the ARC of one of those changed greatly from the final product. Being a conspiracy enthusiastic I have to ask you, readers, did the company make the change or did a corporation let the company know they wouldn’t market the book without the change?

This happens with nonfiction, too. Many of the truly outstanding nonfiction works I find or even the interesting series that I know students like to read in libraries won’t be picked up and sold within a corporate bookstore chain. Why? They assume that people won’t buy the Volcanoesnonfiction. Marc Aronson posted the Desolation of the Chains while he was in search of a title on Ancient Rome. Sitting here I can picture several great books in my library, but woe be the consumer who tries to purchase these in a book store.

That’s sad when I look at series like Gareth Stevens’ The Ultimate 10: Natural Disasters. Students are very interested in these titles and the series seems to be branching out to all areas of kid-interest with sports coming in the spring. Will we see these in the chains? So far I haven’t found them while searching. Fortunately, Gareth Stevens publishing is part of the Weekly Reader Company so they run two websites – one for librarians to purchase and one for teachers/parents The Ultimate 10: Sports (6 titles)that has paperbacks. 

I went on to the website of one of the chains to see how many titles they stock of several nonfiction series publishers. Result: 43 of Gareth Stevens, 111 of Capstone Press, 79 of Abdo, 16 of Enslow, 217 Cherry Lake, 495 of Heinemann. 

What? Out of the 1000s published, the distribution of titles is very uneven. While I buy all of these series, I’m going to go take a look to see just what Heinemann is doing "right" to be in the market. I’m currently surrounded by fascinating Enslow products to review so I cannot believe they have only 16 products on the chain website. Perhaps this is why many parents use online sources like Amazon and ebay to buy books.

How can I help this? Well, I’m going to continue to review lots of series nonfiction to try to help you find these titles. You might want to point more parents to reviews of nonfiction titles. Perhaps we should offer opportunities for parents to purchase some of the nonfiction titles their students love. 

I did go back to my principal and shared with him the stats on my nonfiction circulation so he could understand that students choose to read nonfiction and we need to continue to purchase more nonfiction titles. It isn’t simply that teachers assign topics and students who can’t find the online sources have to resort to books. Thank goodness librarians are out there purchasing nonfiction titles. These students wouldn’t have a chance to find them in a corporate chain.

Fellow conspiracy enthusiasts, I went back and removed all names of chains so I wouldn’t get sued, stalked, or hassled by the corporations. Does this mean I wimped out?