So I Saw This Today…

…and it annoyed me on all sorts of levels. First, it was at the register at Publix. Primo sales real estate. Clearly Harlequin paid big bucks to have it placed there. Interestingly, this store is in an almost exclusively black area south of I-20 in Atlanta. And don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of black readers who enjoy cowboy and western romances, but it’s not a major category with black readers. So this makes me wonder.

As some of you might know Harlequin is discontinuing their Kimani, their black line at the end of the year. Presumably sales are not what they had hoped, and they’re dropping it, but this little publication here makes me wonder about Harlequin and their marketing efforts toward black people.

If you’re going to spend big bucks for this type of placement, would it have been that difficult to put one book in there with black characters and have that cover in their more diverse areas? I mean, this thing is retailing at $15.99, it’s not exactly cheap, and placing it at the point of sale spot like that means they’re counting on impulse buys.

Publishers make little to no effort to sell to black folk, and then when the sales don’t happen they use it as an excuse not to publish black books. This has been going on since forever, back in the “black folks don’t read” days. Studies have shown, and experience as a bookstore manager tells me, black women read more than anybody. They buy more books, and they’re willing to spend more money because they’re accustomed to doing it because of the rarity of black characters in media. Given that history, there’s no reason on earth that a black line like Kimani should have suffered from poor sales. Except, of course, that no effort was ever made to market it to black readers.

I can’t speak for Harlequin, but from my observation most publishing companies are almost exclusively white. This is primarily because most jobs in publishing are low-paying and black folks are generally in no position to spend a fortune for a college degree and then work for nearly nothing. I say this as someone who did this, and I was the only person in editorial at a publishing company that didn’t come from an upper middle class background, and it goes without saying the only black person. If they have no black people working in their marketing department, they’ve literally handicapped themselves, and of course, us, in regards to sales.

Now of course, you have to ask why? Why would a publisher deliberately hurt the sales of its own authors? Well, I’m a firm believer in that old maxim, Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. Don’t get me wrong, having conversed with plenty of authors and publishing folk, I have no doubt that racism plays a role as well, but the bottom line is, they’re both stupid and arrogant, and that’s why publishing is in trouble today and will continue to struggle. Unless and until they diversify their workforce to get a better grasp of a global readership, this will continue.

And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t limited to major publishers. Some ePubs lost sales because they didn’t put their books in the African American category on Amazon! This happened even as they were deliberately recruiting more diverse authors, but by overlooking this very crucial component, they lost sales. Publishers of all kinds are leaving money on the table because they fail to consider one crucial issue: Marketing to black people. As far as they’re concerned all the readers are white, and nothing can be further from the truth.

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