Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fact or fiction: "A book is a product"?

No kidding. I read this eye-opening post by Sean Silverthorne in The View of Harvard Business ("What You Can Learn from the World's Top-selling Author") It describes how the world's top-selling author, James Patterson, has a book-writing "assembly line" of 7 or 8 writers each capable of producing a book. Patterson provides the plot, manages the "brand", writes his own ads (He used to be JWT's chief honcho once), buys the billboard space. His guiding principle is to occuply a large chunk of shelf space by producing 7 or 8 titles every year. "Sentences are hard. Stories are easy" is how Patterson with over 35 New York Times bestsellers to his credit besides an Edgar in 1976 put it to Guardian's Gaby Wood. The Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School John Deighton (no relation of Len Deighton presumably) has this comment on the Patterson "age of brands" phenomenon: "I see his success as a sublime integration of operations and marketing ... if you want shelf space you need to publish a lot of books; that you need a production system with more than one author; and that you need to mind the brand." Julia Hanna, Associate Editor, HBS Alumni Bulletin writes in "The Case of the Mystery Writer's Brand" that the "case also highlights the spread of the blockbuster phenomenon. Ten years ago, a book was considered a success if it sold 200,000 copies. Today, the bar has been raised to 1.5 million copies, thanks in part to the dominance of "big-box" retailers (such as Wal-Mart and Costco) that only stock twenty or so bestsellers yet are responsible for 34 percent of book sales in the United States." I guess what Patterson does is a far better thought-out variation of the syndication model used by such mystery and spy brands as Ellery Queen, Michael Shayne, The Saint and James Bond.