Should fiction written by black authors be shelved in African-American departments, a move that often helps nurture writers? Or should it be presented alongside other categories, such as general literature, allowing books written by black authors to take their place in publishing’s mainstream?
–Jeffrey Trachtenburg, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2006
Race-based marketing is one way that cultural products are introduced into the marketplace. This article prompted me to organize a discussion to explore the issue of race in the book publishing industry, especially as it impacts that marketing of books by black authors. How effective is this strategy? Following is part 1 of that discussion. Subsequent installments will follow over the next week or so. In the meantime, comments are welcome and encouraged.
00:00 – Overview
01:06 – Introduce the participants
01:27 – John McGregor, president JMG Books, literary agent
02:17 – Camille Hacker, editor, John Wiley & Sons
03:11 – Bridgett Davis, author of Shifting Through Neutral
03:45 – Economics of publishing
06:51 – History of the current system
08:17 – Impact of economics on an editorial POV
10:37 – 1963/64—Conglomerates start buying publishing houses
12:13 – Lingering perception that blacks don’t buy books
13:27 – Black books published straight to paperback
14:33 – An author’s expectations vs. the reality
15:58 – Book covers as indicators of industry’s conflicted feelings
16:38 – Barnes & Noble and Borders
18:08 – Does a race-based strategy really work?
18:41 – What are the “boundaries” for blacks?
19:36 – Just be grateful
20:06 – What do we mean by African American?
21:57 – AA life only understood through narrow lenses
23:01 – No salespeople of color, so sales to retailers are problematic
25:57 – Marketing amnesia
28:11 – Really, how thin are the margins?
31:32 – A surprising fact about Harpercollins’ backlist
If you missed the WSJ article, you can download and read it here