Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The History Book market

No Canadian history books in the top 50 sellers? (see post below)?

Well, Altitude Publishing of Canmore, Alberta, had a refreshingly commercial and pragmatically down-market approach to moving books about Canadian history. Amazing Stories: slim books, colourful stories -- crimes, disasters, heroes, legends. No pretention, no promotion, mostly unknown authors. Titles published in great profusion, prices kept low, and 20 or 40 different titles displayed together on Altitude's own display racks rather than shelved with all the other publishers' wares.

Now Altitude is unable even to pay royalties to its authors and may be toast.

Altitude is blaming the aggressive returns policies of the big-box chains. It's easy to see the problem. Altitude's marketing strategy is to make Amazing Stories timeless. When you want a little history, there's sure to be something on the Amazing Stories rack to catch your eye. Just published or ten years old, who cares?

But the chains want to wallpaper their stores with new books and return everything that doesn't sell through very fast. And they are too big and inflexible to understand niche strategies that might actually work for Canadiana and Canadian history.

If Altitude can survive, it should future-focus on tourist destinations, hotel lobbies, and other retail spaces that mesh with its strategy. Live by the Chindigo, die by the Chindigo.

[Later update: On reflection, I realize this is misplacing the blame. I'm not a reflexive big-box hater. They do a lot to sell books and bring people into contact with books. But we desperately need alternate outlets too. When Chindigo dominates the retail marketplace, things like this happen that should not happen.]

Meanwhile, here's a history title guaranteed its fifteen minutes of fame. If there's anything the media likes about Canadian history, it's a story that can be treated as funny and trivial.
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