Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book of the Month - really recommended?

It's not often that someone around me raises a bookish topic of discussion, but yesterday a question arose, one that got me thinking quite a bit. I was asked regarding an article that explained that when a bookstore has a list of "recommended reads", the books are not necessarily really recommended by the staff, that often these are simply books that publishers want to push. The well-read questioner was surprised by this and wanted to know if this was something well known.

My answer was, somewhat sadly, yes.

Publishers have their own reasoning behind what books they decide to massively publicize. I'm never going to be able to comment on what decisions are behind this but I can point out what I have noticed myself in this wide world. Look at Amazon's monthly recommended reads. Vine Members will easily be able to identify a large number of the books they were offered last month suddenly pumped and marketed as that month's "recommended reads". Really? Does staff at Amazon.com really think that these books are worth reading, or is it simply worth it for them to sell them?

One also notices rather quickly how sometimes rather well-established titles (by a few months) can make the lists. Why? Because the book has suddenly become popular (or has won an award) and is now worthy of being massively publicized. Recommended? Very possibly. Necessarily really the staff's recommended pick as best book of the month? No.

The original question posed to me was one born of innocence. When one is unaware of such publisher techniques, it's easy to believe that these are truly the "best" books. Imagine - most of us don't know a lot of things about the products we buy. The same can be said of the book industry. It's somewhat disturbing to learn for the first time that the books you buy based on bookstore (online or real, indie or giant) recommendations are mostly fueled by book exposure and publisher pushes.

Does this mean we stop paying attention to recommended reads? I don't think so. Good books make it to these lists. That's a fact. Not always, but sometimes. The lesson to be learned, though, is to take so-called "recommendations" with a grain of salt. Perhaps even several.

7 comments:

  1. I would add a caveat to that - yes, most of the company-wide recommended books are publisher pushed, but I worked as a manager at my local Barnes & Noble for almost 2 years, and we always had shelf talkers or displays with recommendations from the booksellers in the store. And rarely were these new releases. This is generally the case for all B&N's at least, that the booksellers do make local, store-specific recs, with no input form corporate.

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  2. This is a good point. I worked in a used bookstore, and those recommendations were always actually by the staff, but I imagine it's different for the big boxes or any independent that sell new books.

    I also think that now, with so many blogs and newsletters and magazines and the like specific to certain genres, it's very easy to find a niche for yourself, and do research to find out what YOU will like, as opposed to finding books that are marketed en masse. I find most of my best book recommendations come from friends who know my reading tastes well.

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  3. Thanks for an informative post! I tend to look at the recommendations, looking for good reads, and often I find the lists disappointing. Whereas often I just stumble across great reads in a library or a used book store. But I've never thought about the background of those recommendations.

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  4. It's like that documentary about pop stars that I watched a few years ago, this producer said: "We don't give people what they want, but rather, what WE want them to have."

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  5. I never put much stock into recommendations at large chains, but at the small independents, such as the one where I work, staff recommendations are just that.

    For me, any book I put on my wish list or buy is one that was recommended by a trusted sorce. I rarely, if ever, respond to hype. In fact, when a book is blogged about by everyone in a short period of time, I tend to run in the other direction.

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  6. Great point. you've always got to think for yourself and remember how much of "recommendations" are often driven by advertising. which doesn't make it worthless, only suspect.

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  7. I think it's an argument for getting recommendations from people you actually know (or know a lot about), such as bloggers!

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