Book Awards on BookTV

Since my invitation to last week’s National Book Awards ceremony was apparently “lost in the mail”, I had to content myself by watching the proceedings on the BookTV cable network last night at midnight.

The event seemed to have been recorded with a single videocamera, and was edited down to an hour. I don’t know what happened to the part at the beginning where Billy Crystal acts out scenes from each of the five nominated novels, because the broadcast began instead with a droll speech by Garrison Keillor, who wasn’t too bad. Jessica Hagedorn then introduced Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was impressive and dignified. Next, Toni Morrison introduced Norman Mailer, describing him (correctly) as maddeningly obtuse about women and racial issues. I fell asleep right around the time Mailer grabbed the mic. Yes, a thrilling show all around.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I watched this broadcast:

1) It was a quaint move to seat the audience at round dinner tables, as they used to do at the Academy Awards in the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, I have a feeling the people in this crowd have already sat down together at many other dinner tables, and if the ceremony had instead taken place in a theater like Radio City Music Hall or Avery Fisher Hall they could have invited more people and maybe my invitation wouldn’t have to have been “lost in the mail”.

2) Does it or does it not suck that most of the finalists for this year’s book awards are still only available in overpriced hardcover editions at the time these awards are given out? Publishers of the world, please listen: normal people do not buy hardcover books. I certainly don’t have $24.95 to spend checking out Rene Stienke’s Holy Skirts or $40.00 (ridiculous) to spend on W. S. Merwin’s Migrations (yeah, as one of those lit-blogger types I occasionally get free hardcover books in the mail, but that’s besides the point).

Imagine if today’s movie industry had two-tier pricing, so that a movie cost $25 to see in the first year and $10 afterwards. Who would care about the annual Academy Awards in that case? Well, maybe that’s one reason why the Academy Awards play on prime time on a major network, and the National Book Awards play on BookTV at midnight.

Book industry … please heal yourself of this elitist practice of two-tier pricing, and please do so fast.

3 Responses

  1. Amen to thatI would have
    Amen to that

    I would have liked to have seen Ferlinghetti. I didn’t even know the show was on.

  2. No Celebrity Authors in
    No Celebrity Authors in 2005

    Nowadays, there is growing illiteracy in America and books face competition from multimedia trends which, if spun right, could promote books. As portrayed in the post, the National Book Awards sound like a dismal failure only successful for insomnia.

    The name escapes your correspondent but there is a woman in LA who has her own successful publishing company who has been raking it in over the major publishing houses oversight. Possibly they are happy with their market share, the majority of which is supposed to be on the East Coast between Boston and DC.

    Possibly the print on demand paperbacks can reverse the major publishers inertia, but as witnessed by GM’s $7bn. meltdown, change only occurs under market forces.

    If Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury or Aaron MacGruder’s Boondocks could create a character like Uncle Duke, maybe writers would get more respect. Only the composers of rap lyrics get any respect in this hip-hop world which emphasizes the spoken word, not the written, regardless of what has been posted here lately about the new street novel trend.

  3. Book PricesThis is a
    Book Prices

    This is a situation where the solution seems so obvious to me (your suggestion of ending the two-tiered pricing) that the fact that it isn’t done leads me to conclude that, well, I don’t have an MBA, I don’t work in publishing, and since the goal is to make profits, they must have done research that leads them to believe it’s more profitable to sell books in hardcover for the first 6-12 months. But then, all we hear about is how people aren’t buying enough books. And like any industry, they blame it on the consumer rather than looking at their own practices.

    Listen, book industry. I’m a book-buyer, your target consumer. Do you want me to name the books I’d probably be buying right now if they were available in a $14 quality paperback rather than a $25 hardcover? Let’s see . . . On Beauty, Shalimar the Clown, Blinding Light, Saving a Fish from Drowning. Okay, I might not have purchased all four, but I’d probably be reading one or two of them right now, rather than zero. And you know what? By the time they’re out in paperback, I’ll have probably forgotten about them, or I’ll just wait another month or two (since I’ve already waited 6) for all the hardcovers you didn’t sell at $25 to start appearing on the remainder tables for $6.

    Sure, maybe the profit margin on the hardcovers is higher. Okay, like I said, I’m not an MBA, I’ve only ever taken one accounting class in my life, and I’ve never been great at math, but (correct me if I’m wrong) when you look at a ledger, wouldn’t the X real dollars for each QPB you actually sold come out to more than the higher (but imaginary) profits for each hardcover you don’t sell?

    Have you not heard that “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush?”

    And sure, there are people who prefer to buy in hardcover(collectors, people buying gifts). And I’ve bought a few hardcover books in my time when I was too impatient to wait 6 months. But I can count the times I’ve done that on my fingers vs. the times I’ve thought, well, I’ll just wait for the paperback …

    I’ll know you’ll have your reasons for not making the switch. And I’m sure all those reasons are well-thought out and not totally based on “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done things.”

    I even read an article in the last couple years (possibly on where somebody blamed writers, saying we were the holdouts for hardcover books out of the vanity of seeing our books in hardcover. And I realize that writers are incredibly powerful forces which you in the book industry cower before and therefore can dictate the terms on which you are allowed to publish their work. (There’s a traditional saying in the industry, “What the writer wants, the writer gets.”) But jeez, grow some spine and stand up to those tyrants.

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