Give me back that Tom Piazza, give me that Piazza.

From this week’s Tournament of Books commentary comes some worthy grumbling:

…consider my experience in trying to buy this book. City of Refuge was first published in hardback in August 2008. By the time I received the initial list of ToB contestants in late December 2008 (well-ahead of the public release) the book had already worn out its welcome on the shelves of bookstores. I checked four different Barnes & Nobles in two different cities (both below the Mason Dixon Line) as well as three independent bookstores, and none of them stocked the book. All of them were willing to order it for me, of course, but only if I was willing to pay the full price of $24.95. Amazon and Powell’s, bless them, had it in stock, and at discounted prices, but I’d already acquired several other tournament contestants and even though the subject matter of City of Refuge intrigued me more than some of the other titles, I put in on the back burner, hoping that perhaps the paperback edition would make its way into stores in the meantime.

But no, the paperback of City of Refuge isn’t scheduled for release until August of this year, a full 12 months after the hardcover release, and probably nine months since the book largely became unavailable for purchase outside of special order or the internet.

Publishing treats books like they’re the McRib or Shamrock Shake, available for a limited time only before mothballing them. Anyone who is following the tournament and is now intrigued by the book will not run across it in most stores. I’m sure Tom Piazza appreciates all the attention, but it isn’t going to do his sales any good if there’s nothing to buy. Many people have gone on and on about how stupid this strategy is, but it doesn’t really hit home until one of the (apparently) best books of the year can’t be purchased in a bookstore outside of an initial three-month window. Is there any other industry that treats their product this way?

No, there isn’t.  Not any industry that’s still solvent, anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Give me back that Tom Piazza, give me that Piazza.

  1. To play devil’s advocate: if no one buys a book for three months, keeping it around for longer takes up space for new books that might sell better.

    If a book sells well for those three months, a book store will definitely keep it around. And if it gets a lot of late attention, it’s easy enough for the bookstores to reorder it.

    That said, my store keeps books for nine months.

    If there was no such thing as returns, smallish independents would be packed to the ceiling with books no one wants.

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