Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Coop

No, this isn’t a post about chicken coops. The coop I’m talking about is publishers’ coop, which is pronounced “co-op” even though it’s spelled like the barnyard habitat of our little feathered friends. So what is coop? Coop is the money publishers pay to get their books a better position in stores. The theory is, the more people who see a book, the more people who will buy a book. If a book is simply stuck sideways on a shelf at the back of the store, it could be the most brilliant novel ever written but no one will ever know it because it will languish unseen and unread in the dark.

Until I became involved in the book industry, I did not know publishers did this. I thought when you went into a drug store or grocery store and saw Stephen King’s latest in a stand by the checkout behind a sign that said, “Number One Bestseller,” it was because the book was, literally, the number one best seller. Now, it could very well be, but that’s not why it’s there; it’s in that slot because that’s the slot King’s publisher paid for. If the publisher had only paid for “Number 8”, that’s where it would be. If a publisher hasn't paid any coop, then you won't see that book at those racks. Simple as that.

Publishers’ coop money also pays for books to sit on the tables at the front of Barnes and Nobles and at Borders. The books on the end caps (the ends of the rows, where books are displayed face out) are all there because of coop. And the cardboard display stands (“dumps”) at the front of stores? Coop, again—although dumps seem to be going out of style these days. The biggest outlay in coop ever spent in publishing history was laid down for, you guessed it, The Da Vinci Code. Bottom line: coop works.

So for writers, having their publisher agree to pay for at least some coop is a Really Big Deal. It’s also frustratingly hard to get. I’ve written over a dozen books, yet The Archangel Project is the first book I’ve ever had come out with coop. Traveling up to Baltimore barely a week after Archangel’s release was a heady experience. I checked out every Hudson’s News I passed, on every concourse, and there it was: The Archangel Project, in Bestseller Slot Number Twenty-something. A little higher number would have been nicer, since it would have brought the book up to eye level, but hey, I’m not complaining!

As the writer of one of those twenty-five Anointed Ones, it was great. But as a reader, my reaction was a little bit different. You see, the more bookstores I ducked into, and the more I saw the exact same books (in the bookstalls on the concourses, the twenty-five “bestsellers” were typically all they carried), the more troubled I became. I mean, what if I was flying and none of those twenty-five titles appealed to me? Think about it: thousands of newsstands and bookstalls in airports across the country, all carrying the same twenty-five titles, all there courtesy of the coop paid by their publishers. Magnify that by the Walgreens, the Walmarts, the fill-in-the-blank chain. Oh, look; there’s the latest Grisham. And there’s the Lisa Kleypus. And there’s the latest Raymond Khoury. Again and again. What if I was looking for, say, C.S. Harris’s Why Mermaids Sing (also released this month in paperback, but given no coop)? Tough.

Is Archangel a better book than Mermaids? No. Is it going to sell a heckova lot better, thanks to all that coop? You betcha. On which thought I’ll leave you with this snapshot of Archangel on the shelves of a bookstall in Tampa—right between the latest Grisham and the latest Khoury.

11 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting information. Coop has never had any impact on me. I don't think I've ever bought a book from those racks, until I bought yours. I may have picked up a Stephen King book that had been in those racks at some point. Apparently it influences a lot of people, though.

Steve Malley said...

With the first two St. Cyrs, your Australasian publisher did get you some mighty fine coop here in Borders. If my phone at the time'd had a camera, I'd have taken a picture for you.

Told you they were breaking you out! You *so* deserve it!!

cs harris said...

Charles, I'm not sure I ever bought a book from those racks, either, now that I think of it. But I have picked up books from the front tables in bookstores.

Steve, I did not know my Aussie publisher did that! Great news. Every little bit helps.

Barbara Martin said...

Thanks for this interesting information which is news to me.

Indigo bookstores here have racks and tables near the entrances. In the past I have purchased very few books from the racks, ones I was looking specifically for.

Sphinx Ink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john student said...

re: page 66 of the paperback archangel project- what is this cordite from which the stench is coming?

cs harris said...

John Student, according to Wikipedia, "The smell of Cordite is referenced erroneously in fiction to indicate the recent firing of weapons." Oops!

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