Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Two Faces of Publishing

Many of you have heard about the travesty that was the TODAY SHOW's snub of this year's Newbery and Caldecott award winners last Tuesday. Those of you who haven't can get the scoop in this Publisher's Weekly article. I won't get into the details here, but what it boils down to is that the TODAY SHOW chose to forego their traditional interview with the winners of the two most prestigious awards in children's literature, and aired an interview with Jersey Shore's Snooki instead. Interestingly, Snooki was there to promote her new book.

Let's just pause for a moment to let that sink in.

Are you ready to continue? Okay.

There has been outrage from the people in publishing, as well as disgust, which I share. Their move has been called a ratings grab, which in one respect makes good marketing sense, but when you look at it and realize that they have every other day in the year to do high-ratings shows with celebrity authors it becomes clear just what a flimsy excuse that is. And as for Megan Kopf's explanation that "the show was booked for the entire week," well. We've all known for a while when these awards were going to be announced. It's not like they crept up on us. It's called "planning ahead."

But let's get back to why Snooki was there in the first place, and who put her there. She has (purportedly) written a book. Published by a publishing house. (Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, in case anyone is interested.) And, since she's a celebrity author, she most likely has a publicist assigned to her by that publishing house, who probably called the folks at NBC (which broadcasts the TODAY SHOW) and got Snooki her spot on the show. This person could have requested a different date, or even insisted on a different date; maybe he or she did, maybe not. My guess is not, because I can't see NBC arguing a point like that with the publicist of someone as huge as Snooki. But either way, the publishing industry needs to carry its share of the blame here.

You all know that I have read books by celebrities that I have liked, and I have read books by celebrities that I have thought were drivel. (The books, not the celebrities.) And we all know the mantra: books by celebrity authors make the publication of all those other books (you know, the 80% that don't earn out) possible. Snooki's book is probably, at some point in my future, going to indirectly put bread on my table. And we say that we should accept it, because how else can publishing survive? If this is what people want to read, then we have to give it to them, and then we hope that while they're there they pick up some of the higher-quality stuff too. But if we're going to accept this, then we have to understand what comes with it: not only the loss of a publishing slot to a celebrity book, but a loss in publicity share.

The world of marketing and publicity is already extremely skewed towards celebrity authors. Even if the folks at NBC were right in their prediction that a story about award-winning authors and illustrators wouldn't garner much interest, they were wrong to pull the plug on the interview on the assumption that it would harm their show in the long term. This is an interview that should have happened. It is a sad fact that high-quality books, especially children's books, need this kind of publicity.

But it's a slippery slope, guys.

If you're upset by the omission of the Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners in the TODAY SHOW's programming, you can write to NBC and tell them. (Scroll to the bottom of that link.) You can also go to the campaign page on Facebook, and "Like" it.  And, of course, you can blog about it, and tell other people who care about quality in literature to do the same.

And of course, feel free to discuss this further in the comments.


  1. Wow. Thanks for bringing this to my attention (I missed it).

    I, too, understand that celebrity books are a sure thing for the publishing companies...which leads to the almost religious-like zeal our culture has for celebrities (but that's a whole other discussion).

    I'd have more respect for publishers doing celebrity books if, one, they made sure the final product was of some quality. And two, they used some of those easily-won profits to increase the marketing budgets for debut authors and/or award-winning books.

  2. Oh my heck! I never watch news or anything, and I didn't know this. This is terrible! Thanks for making me aware of it, and for giving me the link to do something. :)

  3. Hn. I had not heard about this. Sad to say, it doesn't suprise me. Geez. I guess it just goes to show that most Americans will take drivel over intelligence any day. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.


  4. Ishta, totally by coincidence today I blogged about Snooki's book- because a bookseller and I were talking about it over this past weekend. I had no idea about the Today show thing but I am absolutely even more appalled now...and I'll link this post in the comments on my blog post.

    Going to look into 'liking' that protest page on Facebook too, thank you for the heads-up!


  5. interesting. not nice. interesting

  6. What a travesty. Just feels dirty. Dirty and totally lousy.

  7. Uh, yeah, it's a total popularity contest. I'm not popular. Never have been. Makes me worry about ever getting published. Ugh.