Tuesday, February 24, 2004
I woke up this morning with the old School House Rock song about the Preamble rattling through my skull. I don't know what absurdity of dream or nightmare lodged it there, but there it was: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfareŚ" and then I draw a great big blank.
But I figure the blank is probably for the best. Bush's America isn't leaving a lot of room for consitutional folderol.
And speaking of the boundless joys of writing and publishing, and the darkest comedy that attends both enterprises, if you've ever wondered why there are so few good fiction magazines, consider this open letter from Argosy publisher James A. Owen (posted here by permission):
We're Too Sexy
A brief explanation as to why one of the most highly praised, fastest-selling, lavishly produced publications Coppervale has ever released has found itself championed by independent booksellers, noted authors, national advertisers, and the media, while being embargoed-nay, virtually exiled-by the national bookselling chains, who have determined that the mechanical actions of removing a flysheet, scanning a barcode, and disposing of the two squarebound volumes and the slipcase comprises too arduous a range of motions to engage in, when the only benefit would be the possible sale of a thirteen dollar magazine that was fully returnable to begin with
It's the dichotomy that kills me.
Right now, this very moment, there are several thousand copies of Coppervale's high-end arts magazine International Studio, shipping to every chain bookstore and most of the independents in the country. It's a fifteen dollar magazine, and worth every penny.
Its companion publication, the new high-end fiction magazine Argosy, costs thirteen dollars, is worth every penny, and is outselling IS by a more than forty-to-one margin in subscriptions and direct orders from independent bookstores. The debut issue was supposed to have been in Barnes & Noble, and Borders, and Books-A-Million, but it's not, because, frankly, we're too sexy.
Fully half the print run was allotted to go to mainstream stores and newsstands, and a direct order for most of that quantity was hand delivered by the publisher a week before Christmas to a warehouse in Los Angeles where they have remained ever since.
The non-distribution has nothing much to do with Coppervale, personally, or else the current IS would not be shipping to the stores. Our distributor, Rider Circulation Services, has placed the blame squarely on the format: the wholesalers don't know what to do with it.
To be fair, this potential problem was addressed early on; the "two volume' concept," at least as applied to magazines as opposed to say, the Harry Potter gift set or Complete Far Side, eluded them completely. The slipcase was also a black monolith at which to hurl femurs-seen as a hindrance in
processing returns, and not a sales tool.
They argued that the barcode would be inconvenient, placed on the back of the slipcase (never mind that back placement of the barcode on books hasn't confounded too many salesclerks), so we flipped the slipcase opening so that the back was now the front.
Still the wholesalers protested, before finally proposing a solution of their own-that we print and shrinkwrap with the package an additional flysheet containing the barcode that could be removed and scanned to assess returns. We agreed, at considerable additional expense. It apparently didn't do the trick, since they can't seem to sell any.
The distributors are accustomed to turning in a print order prior to production; Argosy already existed (in a format approved by the distributor and wholesalers) because we wanted to debut it at the World Fantasy Convention. Otherwise, it's possible that the single most remarked-upon aspect of Argosy-the format-would have been rejected as unsalable prior to printing, and we wouldn't be having this problem.
I also believe we wouldn't have the groundswell of support we've developed precisely because of the lushness of the package.
Our distributors' solution-having to date not moved a single copy-is to delay the next issue to give them more room to sell the first one, which becomes outdated in a little under two weeks. Delay the next issue, which generates new subscribers every time I turn on the computer; which is generating thousands of dollars in sales for independent booksellers who are selling the first one; and which promises to surpass the first issue in terms of critical acclaim.
Delaying the next issue would also mean delaying ad billings from the advertisers still willing to stick it out-and at the moment, that's a big problem. Our advertising accounts, some of whom I have courted for up to five years, were sold on the basis that advertising in our magazines would bring both prestige and exposure; the first is swinging right along, but because of the embargo, it's the second one that's tanking.
Argosy has no circulation at all in what advertisers view as the primary market-the chains-and our distributor, in a clear indication of who they feel has the stronger strategy, has offered to "set aside" a quantity of the warehoused magazines so Coppervale can continue to fill direct orders.
You know what Argosy is. Let's tell everyone else.
Booksellers who place an order for Argosy in any quantity, and use the phrase, "We're Too Sexy" in the purchase order will receive our distributor's discount of 10% in addition to the normal wholesale discount.
New subscribers who use the phase "We're Too Sexy" in their order request will receive the first issue free of charge.
Current subscribers who go to the Argosy message boards at the Coppervale website and post the phrase "We're Too Sexy" along with their address (for verification) will have a free issue added to their subscriptions. Companies wishing to advertise in Argosy are asked to please send an email to email@example.com tell us we're too sexy, and name your rate.
And to whomever it was at Barnes & Noble who casually lit the match on the literary pop culture explosion that's about to hit him: brother, you asked for it!
James A. Owen
Publisher & Editorial Director
And now I direct you to the Argosy website. I shall go back to trying to get this frelling Preamble jingle out of my head. I think I've almost remembered the very last bit, something about making posterity safe for all the rich, normal white people and ordaining... ordaining something.