S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 

Making Book

 

[Books]

Anyone who says TV is dead hasn't

been to a bookstore lately.

Bookstore chains and libraries

may take opposite poles - like

the Fox network and public TV -

but the for-profits have always

believed that the free market

has its invisible hand out for

intellectual wallpaper. Now the

two entities have fused into a

symbiotic relationship.

 

[Trek Books]

Bookstore floor-clerk lore always

included "Oprah alerts" - the

apocalyptic crunch for titles

after cathode-ray infomercials -

now TV-sized dreams have even

pervaded the books themselves.

Coffee-table volumes celebrate

The Bold and the Beautiful's

10th anniversary, next to

display-rack copies of Tim

Allen's biography and the Rocky

and Bullwinkle Book. Simon &

Schuster even set up a special

icon on their Web page for Star

Trek-related offerings.

Publishers learned that nothing

bolsters sales of a book like

tie-ins to more popular media.

 

Predictably, the most defenseless

terrain is children's books, where

Emma & Mommy Talk to God

competes with leftover copies of

Escape from Devil Mansion.

Commemorative Easter books

included Barney's Easter Egg

Hunt ("Put a book in their

basket" read the poster at B.

Dalton - across from the display

rack of Star Wars titles). The

children's section of the local

Border's displays a sign reading

"Books are our friends. Please

be nice to them." Words to

consider when reading the box

copy for Slaughterhouse-Five,

the CD-ROM. ("Travel time. Cheat

death. Meet women.") In

Fahrenheit 451, books were

burned. Now they're just

licensed. Stroll the aisles - in

this world of C3PO Bookmarks,

even Dr. Seuss's Living Book is

password-protected.

 

And technological gimmicks

quickly entered the

quasi-religious mix. Biblical

scholars rushing to purchase

Charlton Heston's Voyage through

the Old Testament found the

CD-ROM trumped by a competing

product: "The Jewish Internet

may be the greatest thing to

happen to Judaism since the

Talmud," barked the cover copy

for The Guide to the Jewish

Internet ("Software included").

 

[Baywatch]

It's book-vending 101: You're

golden once you realize that

there actually is a market for

the Hooterville Handbook, Goober

in a Nutshell, and Planet Baywatch ("The

Unofficial Guide to the New

World Order"). And no coupling

is too improbable. While

bookstores morphed into

high-profile Web sites, Web

sites were morphing into ...

books! The "official companion"

for The Spot hit stands just

days before the site hit

bankruptcy court. (The

timing would seem slightly less

pathetic if its cover didn't

offer "Free GNN!")

 

Moving in the other direction,

bookstores appeared online,

following the Gibsonesque

hallucination that millions of

consumers languish on the Web,

waiting for a chance to

purchase. Currently it's a

touchingly naive act of faith,

like when preschoolers remove a

TV's picture tube and stage

puppet shows - but they'll need

deep pockets while they wait for

profits to materialize. Barnes

& Noble shacked up with AOL,

and Project Gutenburg shifted

into Project Gutenburg Inc. It's

survival of the fattest - and

Amazon has gone to Wall Street

to make book.

 

[Bezos]

Still, as Jeff Bezos would be the

first to admit, there's a

difference between making money

being in the bookselling

business and making money by

simply selling books. Every

trick has to be tried.

Publishers even troll the geek

demographic, in the mistaken

belief that there's a market for

computer-book parodies (Life for

Dummies, America Off-line) that

lack even the unintended humor

of their originals (Personal

Finance for Dummies, America

Online). The most damning

testimony comes from John

Brockman, who writes on his

Encounters with the Cyber Elite

("Louis Rossetto: The

buccaneer"; "Steve Case: The

Statesman") - thus proving

writers don't necessarily

become convincing pundits simply

by making it to print.

 

New-media boosters should read

the handwriting on the fourth

wall - as 24 Hours of

Cyberspace devolved into a book,

it carried the endorsement: "As

Seen on ABC News Nightline."

Never mind the Web - TV is the

ticket to legitimacy. In fact,

buoying dubious products with

television-related imprimaturs

has a long tradition - whether

it's Nichelle Nichols and the

Psychic Friends network, Siskel

& Ebert and Yahoo Internet

Life, or Adam West and AOL.

After all, ultimately the

bookselling business is a

business - and bookstores hate

it when they get stuck selling

leftover copies of GNN for

Dummies.

 
 
 
courtesy of Destiny
 
 
 

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The Fish

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The Barrel
 
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The Gun

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