Friday, March 6, 2009

Wonderful Bookclub Books! Cheap, Badly Bound, Wonderful Bookclub Books!

In your recent posts you have alluded to the costs per book and how small the profit margin can be in children's book publishing. In light of this, i am curious about how book publishers work out deals with the scholastic book club. Does scholastic simply license the titles and make their own printings?
Scholastic's Book Club division is a whole separate arm of the company. Sometimes it will buy bookclub rights from a publisher (even another arm of Scholastic) and print its own bookclub edition of the book. Sometimes it will take existing stock from the publisher.
Book club prices are substantially less than what one might pay in a bookstore, how are such prices possible? When i order picture books via these bookclubs I never know whether I will receive a "normal" paperback picture book or one of the "stapled in the middle not glued" picture books which fall apart quite quickly in my classroom library. I assume this type of binding is done to keep prices down, does it really make so much of a cost difference?
Oh yes. Especially when you also use cheaper paper.

The idea of the Scholastic Book Clubs is to make children's books available at prices that children could conceivably afford. In poorer areas, this is a blessing, and studies have shown the important psychological difference that owning a book makes to children. (Which is not to say that learning to borrow books and use libraries aren't damned important skills.)
Do the authors/illustrators make the same money per book sold via these bookclubs as they do through the regular market place?
No, not usually. But it's good exposure for the book, and the SBC editions only sell in the bookclubs. For those of you unfamiliar with this, bookstores cannot order bookclub editions. The Series of Unfortunate Events books, for instance, were available in paperback through the bookclubs a long, long time before they became available in paperback editions to bookstores.
Last question: Is there any listing or way of knowing which publishing companies have "deals" with scholastic to sell their titles through the bookclubs?
Pretty much all of them.
I often hold off on purchasing new titles if I know they will be available more cheaply (or free with points). This works fine for books published by scholastic itself (ex. I held off purchasing Hunger Games, until it appeared in a bookclub flier), but how do I know what titles from other publishers will be available?
You don't! Ha-ha!
No, really, Scholastic decides which books it takes, and you find out when you get their catalog. Sorry.

15 comments:

Peni R. Griffin said...

From the author's point of view, a book club edition is a mixed blessing.

First, you get a chunk of money when Scholastic pays the publisher for book club rights and the publisher passes you your portion (determined in the original contract) in the royalty sheet after the usual appalling time lag. Extra money in a big chunk = good.

How much extra money? Depends what your contract says and how much the agreed-on price between the publisher and the bookclub is. I got twice as much for bookclub rights fort The Ghost Sitter as I had ever gotten in a single royalty check before, but a person with much experience in this area told me it was unusually high and indicated a lot of confidence in their ability to sell this book to school children. Chunk of money up front + data indicating how well your book is thought of in the industry = good.

But then the publisher, bookstores, and in particular the distributors stopped bothering with the original hardcovers and paperbacks because they expected the book club deal to take away their sales. Cheap editions for which you get no or a drastically reduced royalty knocking out sales of books you'd get a normal royalty for = oh no! But it shouldn't matter so much because you got that chunk of money, right?

Well, maybe, but when The Ghost Sitter won the William Allen White Award and the people of Emporia brought me in for a ceremony, presentation, school visits, and the all-important book signing - and the bookseller for the signing couldn't get the copies she expected to need for love nor money because everybody'd let them go out of stock - including Penguingputnam, who claimed at one point to have none at all in any of their warehouses. E-mails and phone calls flew, to the publisher and distributors and other bookstores, and I certainly signed a lot of books, including cheapass Scholastic Bookclub copies brought in by kids from all over Kansas, but that bookseller didn't make nearly the profit on me that she was entitled to for the work she put in and the market she had. So, effective monopoly of one distributor with a restrictive policy = bad.

But - cheaply available to kids across the country, even poor ones, still = good.

On the whole I think it's better than it is bad. And it's not like you have much control of it, anyway. This isn't a horse you ride so much as one you hang onto and give its head.

Jo said...

Thanks for all the info. As a little- known children's author I would love to have my book available through the Scholastic book club. What great exposure!

Bonnie A said...

My first break as an illustrator was for the cover of a bookclub edition of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle for Troll Books. The WFH fee compared favorably with those offered by other publishers--if only Troll Books hadn't picked that year to go bankrupt. :-(

thespectacleblog said...

It's nice that my husband's a teacher and I can buy books through his book club. But yeah, you never know what's going to be available. It's really fun collecting old classics that way, though.

Parker P

debra shirley said...

You make an excellent point about the importance of affordable books for kids in poor areas. I learned a sobering piece of information at a recent conference presented by Johns Hopkins Institute for Summer Learning. One study found that there are, on average, a total of 2 - that's right,TWO - books, in the homes of those families living in poverty. Those two books are most likely to be the Bible and a phone book, neither of which are suitable reading material for kids learning to read.

Anonymous said...

I love Schlastic Book Club. Seriously love it. Just saying.

Maria said...

As a mom of 5, three in school, I have a love/hate relationship with the Scholastic book club. It's fun to browse the kids' flyers and pick out classics that we can get at great prices, even sometimes discover new-to-me classics. But you have to wade through so much crap to get to the gems. Too many cartoon character books, cheap toys, and poorly-written "easy readers". Still, books for a few bucks means we can afford to own more of those few gems than if we had to pay full price for all of them.

Wendie O said...

Good post, Peni.

Francis Scott Key is a big deal here in Baltimore. For years, one of the few picture book biographies of him was one written by Steven Kroll. Can't get it for love nor money because it's only available as a paperback from Scholastic Book Club.

He was showing off copies of it when the New Atlantic Booksellers convention was here last year -- and didn't seem to realize how frustrating it was to see it and to know that neither libraries or booksellers could have it. Scholastic often buys 10 years rights to sell a book, returning rights to the original publisher after that. I wonder if Kroll's 10 years are almost expired?

As for poor families only owning two books? If only they realized that libraries weed their collections in order to have room for new books coming out. And these weeded, but still good books are for sale at library book sales for 25 cents and up. (some paperback children's books for 10 cents) A dollar a bag on the last day of the sale.

Love your blog, EA.
-wendieOld, writer/ librarian, who has had books offered through Scholastic Book Club at one time.

Deirdre Mundy said...

When I was a kid, I loved book club books, because they were an exciting treat.

But they fall apart after one or two reads, and then you need to buy the REAL book to replace them!

Now I definitely prefer library discards for kids-books on the cheap...

After all, they're LIBRARY BOUND. They'll stand up to generations of normal home use!

And if I really love a book, it's always worth buying a new, good quality hardcover--- that way it will still be handy when I want to REREAD IT.

Oh, BTW-- my own pet peever -- Why on earth do publishers waste their time putting DUST JACKETS on picture books? Especially when the picture is on the cover, too?
At my house, they just get destroyed. So then I'm left guiltily throwing them out, or trying to file them away somewhere for the day when I don't have a toddler......

Wendie O said...

Deirdre, Don't throw out those picture book dust jackets. use them as posters on your children's bedroom walls. Cut them up and make puzzles out of them. Give them to kids to 'cover' their school books.

In our library we have boxes and boxes of picturebook bookcovers that we simply give away to the public. Teachers love them to decorate their bulletinboards. I even use some to tape above various holiday displays -- to draw attention to the display.

Yes, the 'seem' useless. But they can be used in so many ways. -wendie old

ae said...

As someone who makes and values the art so much ...this throwing away thing makes me feel like a piece of shit somehow. But I perservere wih my love and LOVE.

Please don't throw me away..I am trying to offer something lasting.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ooh! I like the "Posters for the kids room" idea!!!!! Hmm... or maybe scrapbooking fodder?

In my defense, the ones I throw up are usually half-eaten.......

(Toddlers! If they love it, they must chew it! I'm sure this is why "Goodnight Moon" sells so well... It doesn't last for more than a single child!)

tim b said...

Two thoughts on Scholastic book clubs. First, my family had no money when I was a kid but the Scholastic book club books were affordable enough that my parents were able to say, essentially, 'no limit.... whatever you want'. This wasn't something I heard a lot as a kid and it made a huge difference in my reading habits and - by extension - my life.

Second, as an author, I had a picture book that was, by any serious standard, unsuccessful, but which Scholastic picked up and published in a book club edition.

Years after the original hardcover was out of print, a copy of the Scholastic paperback found its way to a film producer, whose interest in the project led to Disney optioning the film rights. The movie is now slated for production and may allow me to put the original title back into print.

Even if that doesn't happen, the option deal alone has generated more income for me than all the rest of my books put together. It's paying right now for me to take time to develop some new original titles, something I haven't had leisure to do in a long, long time.

So a little respect, if you please, for those cut-rate paperbacks. They have been - they continue to be - good and generous friends.

Mrs. Olsen said...

Great discussion. I wasn't aware how the book club ins and outs worked. As a parent, I will say that I get annoyed when Scholastic starts pushing Hannah Montana bling or Spongebob books with a read-along CD...or things in that crappy genre. In fact, I just joined a facebook group regarding that particular annoyance. If anyone is interested, here's the original site that started the FB group. http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/621/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=1852

gabrielle said...

I believe that Scholastic's website for teachers now lets you order a book even if it's not in the current book club catalogs. It may not help you see what's going to be forthcoming as a book club edition soon, but at least it's an avenue to help track down a book without waiting for it to go through the rotation again.

Their customer service department may also be able to help track down a book, if all else fails.

If you hate the toys that are packaged with the books, contact customer service and tell them so. That feedback does get relayed to people in decision-making positions, and every call or letter counts. The same goes if you hate the pop media stuff that shows up in the flyer.

But, keep in mind also that the goal of the book club is to get books into the hands of kids and to get kids reading. There are kids for whom those branded products are motivation to pick up a book when all other motivation fails. Even if they're ordering a book for the bling that comes with it, they're still ordering a book.