Friday, April 11, 2008


When I published a new paperback edition/revision of my book, THE MALLING OF AMERICA, I became part of a new publishing phenomenon: print-on-demand. Several outfits, including Xlibris (where I published) offer books through primarily online booksellers, and when the orders come in, the books are printed and sent. It's digital age publishing, and for certain books and authors, it's great.

But these days, it's marketing that drives the publishing business. Conventional publishers market and publicize only a few of their books, usually to see that those that would do well anyway, do even better. But even big name publishers employ marketing and p.r. firms, and most of their authors must do most of their own publicity, and even hire p.r. and marketing firms themselves.

Still, getting your book noticed is a particular problem for those who "self-publish" through these print-on-demand companies, and so they often offer marketing services for additional fees, and there are independent companies that can be hired to do this work as well.

So after I published my paperback, I've been contacted from time to time both by Xlibris and these independent companies. Usually they offer to do things I've already done, or give me access to being reviewed in publications where reviews of my book have already appeared. (Not much point in offering me possible access to Kirkus reviews when I was already reviewed there, and in a full page review in the New York Times as well as the San Francisco Chronicle, etc.) But recently I received a unique offer--and an eye-opening one.

It came from an outfit called Chosen Few Books. At the top of the letter in headline-sized type were the words: The Malling of America has been chosen! The special meaning of "being chosen" is quickly "revealed" in the letter's first sentence: "Every year Christian authors write hundreds of inspiring and uplifting books." I'm sure that's true, but what does it have to do with my book?

"THE CHOSEN FEW is a limited collection of Christian titles that we believe deserve special attention. We discovered you and The Malling of America only because we were seeking books with powerful messages that we believe will sell."

I could rationalize ways in which my book could be read as having a message that comports with a Christian message of charity, tolerance and moral values. But it seems more likely that this letter was sent without anyone there having the slightest idea of what my book is about.

That much would simply be either touching or amusing or both. But then I took a look at what they were offering. There were the standard promises: book and author photo on their website, selling the book through websites and online booksellers (where it is already available), etc. But here's what caught my eye:

"We will guarantee an interview on a Christian AM/FM radio show."

And in bold:

We will guarantee an interview on a nationally syndicated AM/FM radio show.

For these and other services, they charge a fee of $2700. Which my perhaps creaky sense of ethical practices tells me, is for Christian payola.

For those unfamiliar with the word, "payola" was a term for record companies paying disk jockeys to play certain records in the 1950s, which led to congressional hearings and ended some careers. Things have slipped sufficiently now that many people may be surprised that according to the official radio and television code of ethics, an "interview" that's guaranteed by paying for it is unethical if not illegal, unless the radio program specifically states that it is a paid commercial.

I'm certainly not against giving potential readers the opportunity to buy my book, or to hear about it. (That should be obvious from this site.) But there are rules, or there should be.

Although I have to say that if I had $2700 to throw away, it might be fascinating to hear the questions of that interviewer, trying to figure out what the powerful Christian message of my book might be. I could point to the chapter near the end where I write about commercial media as part of the Mallcondo Continuum of controlled entertainment environments designed as simultaneous advertising and product. I could offer as an example, that very interview. Although perhaps that wouldn't be a very Christian thing to do.


Janny said...

While I got a chuckle--and a cringe--out of the obvious lack of research that "Chosen Few" did to pitch you and your book, I really wish you wouldn't refer to the $2,700 they're asking for as "Christian payola." Payola is payola--they didn't specify that the Christian stations were charging this or asking for it, but that THEY were. It's "Chosen Few"'s payola...not something a Christian media outlet expects or asks for.

We Christians have enough things people criticize us for, mainly from ignorance or pure spite. Don't let your phrase be one of the things some uneducated hack can pick up on and use as yet another unjustified brick to throw at us!


Captain Future said...

Thanks for your comment, and I appreciate your sensitivity to the term "Christian payola." It's true that as you say, in the letter I got, Christian radio stations themselves ARE NOT not guaranteeing interviews for a fee. (Unless of course it turned out that Chosen Few is a company associated with media.) I hope that's clear from the context of my post.

But the letter does promise what could be payola, if Chosen Few paid radio stations to do these interviews--and if they "guarantee" it, some sort of payment seems likely.
And payment to radio stations to put something on the air is what "payola" means. If it happened, it would be the Christian media outlets accepting the payment that makes it payola.

Of course as we learned on the illuminating Writers Beware Blogs post, Chosen Few is probably bogus, so their promise of conducting payola could well be just something else they had no intention of actually doing. In other words, no payola, Christian stations or otherwise--just fraud.