Saturday, April 02, 2005

Strange pairings at Amazon

The current issue of Publishers Weekly comments on a little-known marketing program at Amazon where a bestseller is paired with an unknown author's book, calling it "The Strangest Program You've Never Heard Of."

In a little-known but eyebrow-raising program, Amazon is pairing well-known authors with nearly any publisher or author willing to pay the fee. It's a
program that evokes strong reactions: while the site's willingness to let unknowns mix with celebrities is hailed by small publishers, others say it raises significant questions about Amazon's responsibility to protect an author's brand or to disclose its own financial arrangements.

The program, known as BXGY to publishers (for Buy X Get Y) and appearing to customers under the header "Best Value," has existed in some form for several years. But anecdotal evidence suggests a recent increase in small-publisher participation. Under the program, houses or authors interested in pairing with a bestseller are sent a list of eligible bestsellers, which, according to participants, includes nearly every author who isn't taken. They can then pay $750 per month to be linked with one of Amazon's bestselling authors, sometimes paring for multiple months and rotating among several bestsellers. The program is distinct from the similar-looking "Better Together," where the choices are made, without sponsorship, by Amazon—though no such distinction is made on the page.
Mmm... I've got nothing against free enterprise, but some of these book pairings are rather frightening:
Jared Diamond's scholarly but accessible Collapse draws History: Fiction or Science, which is described in part by its publisher, an outfit called Mithec Press, as "Eminent mathematician proves that: Jesus Christ was born in 1053 and crucified in 1086."

Yikes! Reader beware.

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