Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ask Not For Whom the Reorders Come

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a lot of celebrities have died this summer (Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Ed McMahon, Robert Novak, Don Hewitt, and now—R.I.P., friends—Ted Kennedy and Dominick Dunne), and I've been hearing from folks in the know that this has translated into one thing (well, one thing among many): reorders for their books.

Be they biographies, autobiographies, novels, or children's books, fiction or non-, celebrity books always see a bump in sales when that celebrity dies. And I mean immediately—I don't think some of these poor people are even cold before we start seeing reorder requests for their backlist from the major chains. This is, I think, for two reasons:

1.) News media are able to tell us about these sorts of things almost immediately these days, so there's very little delay between the death of a celebrity and the news of that death reaching the public;

2.) People become a lot more interested in something or someone once that something or someone is no longer available. Thus, once it's clear to people that a given celebrity's last book really is their last book, whether they've been meaning to read it or not, they're more likely to buy it, either for themselves or that friend they have who's totally obsessed with said celebrity.

Now, caveat: this really only works for celebrities (either people who are famous for being authors or people who are famous and happen to have written a book*). Unless you are already somewhat newsworthy, gentle readers, your demises (untimely or otherwise) will not really do anything for your book sales. Please consider this before faking your own deaths and moving to the Bahamas to sit back, relax, and watch the royalty checks roll in. (Also, turns out it's hard to collect royalties when you're, uh, dead.)

I know the chains have been reordering books by all sorts of recently deceased celebrities lately—the practice is not new—but I'm curious: are you more likely to buy a book by or about someone famous if they've recently died?



*Or, more likely, paid someone else to write their book for them.

17 comments:

  1. Not really, but I very rarely read books by or about celebreties. I'm less interested in who a book is by or about than I am in how good a book it is. I did pick up a copy of Katharine Graham's "Personal History" the summer she died, as reading about her in the news reminded me what an interesting life she had and oh by the way the memoir won a Pulitzer.

    I guess I see why the trend happens, but not really my cup of tea. If I want to read about a celebrity there's more than enough on the internet for free. If I'm going to buy a book, I want to at least have an idea that it's a good book.

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  2. Hmm, good question.

    I don't think I'd be any more likely to pick up a book by a recently dead person; after all, the death won't make it any better or worse. If I wasn't going to buy it when he/she was alive, why would I do so when he/she is dead?

    Although I'm not a big biography reader, I admit that media exposure surrounding a death might spark my interest enough to pick up a biography of someone I found interesting (much more likely to be Ted Kennedy than Michael Jackson).

    Cheers, DB

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  3. Ditto Meg Spencer:

    "Not really, but I very rarely read books by or about celebreties. I'm less interested in who a book is by or about than I am in how good a book it is."

    I just can't get excited about nonfiction much in general. :\

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  4. Okay I have to admit that I am the type to pick up a book about a celebrity (well certain ones anyway) after they've died. But I think there's a reason.

    Yesterday I was reading several articles about Ted Kennedy - his life, his accomplishments, his family. And I was fascinated. Much of it I knew, but a lot was new to me. And the parts that were new enticed me, and made me want to read more and learn more.

    I've known who Ted Kennedy is for years, but never felt compelled to pick a biography on his life because there was never anything that prompted me to explore further.

    It was the in-depth news articles that have pushed me to want to learn more, and not just his death. The news articles fed me tidbits I was unaware of, and opened my eyes to how un-informed I actually am.

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  5. I'm with MeganRebekah: it's not a death, per se, that makes me hunt down a book, it's the pervasiveness of the media coverage. For example, when Apollo 13 hit theatres, I had the sudden urge to read The Right Stuff, because I suddenly realized how little I knew about the space program, and I wanted to join the national conversation.

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  6. Haven't purchased one yet...

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  7. I'm with Kristan, I don't really read much nonfiction (unless it's well-written true crime). But it's when I find out those interesting tidbits in news reports about a person that might make me more likely to seek out a biography. Although unless I just loved the person already, I'd sooner look for the book at the library than actually go out and buy it.

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  8. Recently dead or not, I only read about people I cared about to begin with. And not to mention, this is quite the creepy topic we're discussing. Out.

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  9. We have a signed copy of a children's book by Ted Kennedy about his dog called MY SENATOR AND ME. This book now has some poignancy--I finally read it last night (illustrations are wonderful)...I can imagine a book like this might have a spike in sales.

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  10. I think the only reason I would buy a celeb book is if I was terribly nostalgic about the celebrity.
    (At least, I think so. I'm not old enough to feel nostalgic about old pop culture icons.)

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  11. I don't tend to read too many celebrity books anyway, but I am less likely to read them after their passing as I get so sick of hearing about them on the news that I feel overloaded by it all.

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  12. I can't remember ever being inspired by somebody's death to buy one of their books. But then again, I don't read celebrity books anyway, for the most part.

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  13. No, but then again I don't read books by celebrities because they're by celebrities anyway.

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  14. It never crossed my mind and, as someone else noted, there is so much talk about a celeb. when he/she dies I don't want to hear or read anymore about them. I'm more likely to read the biography (or auto.) of a long dead person who seems to have a interesting story.

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  15. I don't buy celebrity books (or magazines) as I just don't find 'celebrity' that interesting, and it kinda embarrasses me that some celebrities feel compelled to disclose intimate aspects of their relationships/lives, including their sex lives (who cares), and it also embarrasses me that the public invades the lives of those who are trying to live privately.

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  16. After all the media coverage who needs to read a book! But I may finally read a Dunne book. I've been saying I'd read one of his books forever and this will probably push me to do it. Normally death doesn't create an interest in a person I wasn't interested in before. If anything media coverage accomplishes the opposite.

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  17. Interesting post. Also interesting that no one mentions how much this happens in music sales. I first noticed this when Susannah McCorkle died. The clerk in the record store made note of how many people were doing the same thing. And it certainly occurred recently with Michael Jackson.

    I don't buy celebrity books, but I have bought novels when a famous author dies.

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