Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

BTW, Where’s Your Book @?

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BTW, Where’s Your Book @?

By Dalton Higgins

Okay, so you’ve been slogging away for the last three years at your Dell 15.6 inch touch screen laptop with 16GB RAM memory capabilities, cranking out mounds of copy until your nose bleeds. It’s the fall of 2013 and your publication date is near. When your brand spanking new book has been published and is ready to hit the marketplace, do you honestly spend much time, if at all, wondering (or worrying) about where your potential readers are going to find your book? Five books in and that’s actually all I’ve consumed myself with. I travel quite frequently as a self appointed hip hop evangelist, so when I lecture in different cities spouting off reams of hip hop propaganda, I’m looking to not only collect my speaker fees once the event is commenced, but I’m looking to drive audience members to buy my books. I was out in Edmonton recently and some of my friends based there were wondering where they could buy my book. Rather than have them dither around the city trying to find outlets that carry the book, I brought a few copies in my carry-on luggage to meet their demand.

I know what I have to say about hip hop culture and its relationship to technology, globalization and multi-cultural living is important, but much of what I gab about is contained within the chapters of my books. And the teens, twenty- and thirty-something and college/university students who make up a large bulk of my readership need to know exactly where they can buy my product. Or like my man Giuseppe who used to own a restaurant in Little Italy would say “who cares if I make the best pulled pork sandwich this side of west Toronto, if no one knows where my business is!” Now, I’m not sure what happened to Giuseppe but I do know that one of my ex-neighbours Tom who owns Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder on St. Clair Avenue West has almost cornered the market on these types of sandwiches. Was Giuseppe able to get his product into the mouths of this large nation of pulled pork eaters? Probably not.

The idea here is that whether you are trying to shill books or move bricks in south Parkdale, your product has to get into your customers hands in the most no frills way possible. If your customer has to think too long and hard about the potential purchase of your book (or bricks), within a few minutes they just might turn their attention to another product.

Despite some of the doom and gloom scenarios you read about regarding some aspects of the book publishing industry, according to the National Book Count, Canadians buy and/or borrow more than 3.4 million books in a typical single week. But where is this activity happening? For example, are Millennials casually walking into traditional bookstores to browse and discover new titles they might want to cop for their reading pleasure like Baby Boomers do? This is something I have to obsess about because my works cater to a significantly younger and more mainstream audience than some of my peers. So while a few of my friends, who happen to be authors, are obsessed with looking to see if Book City on Bloor Street carries their title, I have to be doubly concerned because I know that some of my demographic don’t peruse traditional bookstores like I wish they would. That means, I sometimes have to drive them to the Amazon dot coms of the world and to A Different Booklist or Chapters-Indigo. My digital distribution footprint has to be as strong, if not stronger, than me worrying about what bookstores carry my book. Drake, the subject of my latest book, is 27 years old and has almost 13 million Twitter followers who pay equal attention to his real life as they do to his online exploits, and that could mean that my readership might be more apt to buy the ebook version of Far From Over: The Music & Life of Drake than they would be to ride or drive around the city to find a brick and mortar bookstore that carries copies.

I’ve had some pretty good luck with the distribution of my other four books but I haven’t met too many authors who haven’t expressed some kind of distribution frustration. I have a friend who might still be experiencing the aftershocks of being HB Fenned and another who has lived through the nightmare that was the collapse of General Distribution Services in 2002. I’ve also had author Jan Wong tell me why having her books sold at non-traditional outlets like Loblaw’s, Costco and Shoppers is a beautiful thing. Book return policies seem to annoy many publishing industry practitioners across the board but that’s another column my friends.

What will book distribution look like in 10 years? And how will the kids of today want to access their literature in 2025? I’m not a palm reader, I don’t own tarot cards or a crystal ball and I’m not a soothsayer, but what I will say is that the virtual bookstore model might be on the rapid increase only because potential book buyers are only a search engine query away from finding out if a certain book they are interested in are carried at various digital destinations. During my lectures, people always ask me to make bold predictions regarding futuristic pop culture consumption habits. What I will say is that “mobile” is where it’s at. There will come a time when you don’t hear any stories about readers “stumbling” into fantastic new books while walking through the aisles of some bookstores that carry a bazillion titles across literary genres and more about consumers having a device on their person that makes it that much easier and cheaper to track down, order and purchase books as they desire and thus eliminating the need for people to ask them where their books are @!

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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