Fiddling while Rome burns

The postponement, perhaps indefinite postponement, of the trade-wide generic campaign, announced this week ahead of the Book Industry Conference, illustrates the best and worst of the book industry. On the plus side the two halves of the trade combined to recognise that some sort of generic campaign or initiative to boost overall book buying was becoming increasingly vital. Marketeers from across the trade, plus external consultants, spent 18 months coming up with ideas and concepts: from initial brainstorming and strap lines to the "Bookaholism" concept, enthusiastically backed by the conference last year, to a more refined online solution that was presented to the BA/PA liaison committee recently. This was turning into a great example of the uniquely collegiate approach of the book trade, a project for the common good following in the footsteps of successes such as World Book Day and Reading Partners. On the minus side we note that at the crunch point the project has been stalled, for lack of money and, one sur-mises, because of competing interests. Estimates of the cost of the website proposed vary, but everyone puts it at under £1m to set the project up and run it for three years. This, in a £2bn a year industry, is a piffling sum. Even if the initiative only added a single percentage point to sales, it would have paid for itself many times over. The site would work by recommending to readers the next book they should read, and a place, on or offline, they could buy it from—drawn from a -rotating list of retailers, large and small. The initiative would be publicised using a page at the end of all new books. Industry worries centred around the cost, the fear that readers would just go to Amazon to buy the book, and the difficulty for the retailers of measuring the actual- uplift on sales. We would say to that: Amazon can’t be uninvented; and, although individual sales could not have been tracked, the number of visits to the site would provide a crude measure of success, while the database-building potential of the scheme should not be overlooked (readers have to put in their address before they get their three recommendations). The danger in all of this is more drift and delay—and one wonders if any industry committee, even one from a culture as collegiate as the book trade, can ever overcome its factional differences and spend money bravely. So another 18 months have been -frittered away without action, and now the annual slump in sales is around 6%.