Thursday, November 17, 2005

National Book Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2005 National Book Awards were announced last night, November 16, at a ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. The annual awards are given by the National Book Foundation to recognize achievements in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The night's ceremonies included the presentation of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Norman Mailer. The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was presented to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore.

This year's winners by category are:


Europe Central by William T. Vollmann (Viking)


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Knopf)


Migration: New and Selected Poems by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)

Young People's Literature

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Goat at Saks and Other Marketing Tales

November 14, 2005

Few children's books carry promotional blurbs from the likes of the fashion designers Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier. But then "Cashmere if You Can," is not your typical children's book.

This new lavishly illustrated book from HarperCollins Publishers follows the misadventures of Wawa Hohhot and her family of Mongolian cashmere goats who just happen to live on the roof of Saks's Midtown Manhattan store.

The location is no accident: a Saks Fifth Avenue marketing executive came up with the idea, and the department store chain owns the text copyright. It is as if the Plaza Hotel had underwritten "Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups."

On sale now only in Saks stores, HarperCollins plans to distribute the $16.99 book nationwide in January as if it were any other children's picture book. And "Cashmere if You Can" has inspired HarperCollins, a unit of the News Corporation, to make a business out of these sorts of corporate collaborations.

Saks has already signed with the publisher to produce another children's book for next year's holiday season, and HarperCollins is in negotiations with sports and entertainment entities and packaged goods companies.

The weaving of brands and products into content - making them supporting characters or even the stars rather than mere scenery -is growing elsewhere in the media, particularly on television, as advertisers try to cut through the clutter.

The book world, however, has not always been hospitable to such commercialization. Working that closely with a sponsor is viewed as compromising the work's artistic or literary aspirations or sullying the integrity of the reading experience, as the novelist Fay Weldon discovered when she accepted a product placement fee for a 2001 book.

While there have always been books, like "Weber's Big Book of Grilling" and "The Cheerios Counting Book," with obvious corporate tie-ins, "Cashmere if You Can" offers a new twist, with a more subtle connection and no clear disclosure of Saks's involvement.

Although there is a Mr. Saks in the story, who hires Wawa to be a model, and the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon at the Saks Midtown location makes an appearance, they are in service to an actual plot. "It's not the 'Saks Book of Style,' " said Andrea Rosen, vice president of special markets at HarperCollins. "We flipped the model." (HarperCollins receives a publishing fee from Saks and an undisclosed share of revenue.)

In attempting to make a business - albeit a modest one - out of publishing similar books, HarperCollins is also trying to goose an industry that is being squeezed from different sides. Powerful discounters like Wal-Mart and Costco sell a limited selection of books and return them promptly for full refunds if they do not sell quickly. Book chains like Barnes & Noble are devoting more space to gift items and other trinkets.

Amid all this, publishers have been trying to push into nontraditional markets and to find new outlets for their wares, like Saks Fifth Avenue.

"We can't keep chasing only best sellers," said Jane Friedman, chief executive of HarperCollins. "We all recognize we all have to do different things today."

Ms. Friedman enjoys doing just that. Not one to play down accomplishments - she misses few opportunities to take credit for the invention of the author tour or popularizing the audio book - she recently put corporate initiatives into place aimed at making HarperCollins as much of a brand name as its authors.

To further those ends, she relishes making use of other assets within the News Corporation empire. On "Stacked," the Fox television show revolving around a ditzy character played by Pamela Anderson who works in a bookstore, the books on display are from HarperCollins.

And Ms. Friedman mused in a recent interview about steering her writers on to the show. "Wouldn't it be fun to put Jack Welch with Pamela Anderson?" Ms. Friedman asked.

Given synergy's dodgy record, it is unclear whether these efforts will help sell HarperCollins books. But Ms. Friedman does not lack optimism. "Maybe I'm a dreamer," she said, "but a lot of what I've dreamt has come true."

Terron Schaefer, the senior vice president of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue who came up with the idea for a children's book and has an as-told-to credit on the cover, also dreams big. He envisions a movie or television show based on the antics of the Hohhot goat family, and has hired a Hollywood talent agency to sell the project.

(He hit upon the surname while researching cashmere, discovering that much of today's fabric comes from Inner Mongolia, and that Hohhot is one of its towns.)

Although "Cashmere if You Can" is part of a chainwide holiday promotion for a certain expensive fabric, Mr. Schaefer said the book was not about persuading 7-year-olds (or their mothers) to develop a taste for fur-trimmed cashmere scarves. "There's no real sell in the book," he said. "It's just about being happy with who you are."

But the ultimate goal is, of course, all about marketing in some form. "If you can get into the lexicon of the public, I think we'll have accomplished something," he said. "Eloise at the Plaza; I rest my case."

But not all booksellers may be keen to help HarperCollins insinuate the Hohhots into the national consciousness come January.

"That's disgusting," said Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics and Prose in Washington, when told about the book. "Teaching kids about material things most people can't afford, that's gross."

The intersection of books and advertising - disguised or not - has always been a fraught issue. Chris Whittle was greeted by a torrent of criticism more than 15 years ago when he bound ads into books by authors like John Kenneth Galbraith and Richard Rhodes.

Ms. Weldon created a minitempest when she accepted an undisclosed sum from Bulgari, the Italian jewelry company, in exchange for prominent placement in her 2001 book, "The Bulgari Connection." (HarperCollins was the book's British publisher, while Grove/Atlantic published the novel in the United States.)

And last year, the Ford Motor Company paid Carole Matthews, a British author, to feature the Ford Fiesta in her next two novels.

The Saks imprimatur does not necessarily bother other booksellers. "If it's a good book, we'll buy it," Steve Riggio, chief executive of Barnes & Noble, said through a spokeswoman.

That view was echoed by people in the independent bookselling world, including Roxanne J. Coady, owner of R J Julia Booksellers, which owns two stores in Connecticut, and Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, with three locations in southern Florida. "All the books published come from a big corporation," Mr. Kaplan said. "In situations like this, it all depends on how good the book is."

Anne Irish, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children, concurred that merit would be the primary consideration.

Ms. Friedman said the publisher would disclose Saks's involvement in the trade version of the book, but she was puzzled by objections.

"The idea of working with a company and creating editorial together, I see nothing untoward about that, nothing," Ms. Friedman said.

And if people do have a problem? "Don't buy our book if you don't want to," Ms. Friedman said.

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