Friday, 20 February 2009

Droplifting

I've seen several people suggest that droplifting is a good way for writers to promote their self-published books: but I think it's a terrible idea.

Droplifting is shoplifting in reverse and involves surreptitiously leaving copies of books on bookshop shelves in the hope that someone will buy them. The obvious problem is that while the books will physically be in the bookshop, they won't have a virtual presence in the bookshop's computer system and so if they ever do reach the checkout, the cashier will be unable to sell them. If there's a manager on hand to authorise the deal the shop will probably just give the books away: if there's no manager available the books will be put to one side and will probably end up in the recycling bin or dumped with the sale items. But as booksellers tend to be aware of their own stock, chances are that one of the shop workers will spot the droplifted books on the shelves, recognise that they shouldn't be there, and dispose of them within hours of their deposit.

How ever this is worked, the writer loses money. How does the writer benefit? And what on earth do they think they will achieve by doing this?



ETA: Marian Perera, over at Flights of Fantasy, has written a much better piece than mine about droplifting, which you can read here. Thank you for the link, Marian!

31 comments:

R.R.Jones said...

Now that really is daft... or sad.
Desperation can make a fool of us all.

Bradley Robb said...

Guerrilla artist Banksy used to do this with art museums - where he'd sneak in and hang a piece of artwork which looked like it would belong, but instead of having a long dead painter, he was the actual artist.

He was making an artistic point. I think droplifters are simply attempting to soothe a bruised ego.

I wonder if they have their friends attempt to try and buy the books as instant publicity?

Nicola Slade said...

I can't see the sense in doing that but I do plead guilty to sneakily scattering bookmarks around in shops, libraries, bars, restaurants and ladies' loos!

Helen P said...

And before someone else says it: Just look at Banksy now!
I say go for it 'droplifters'...and I'd be really interested to hear from someone who's actually done it with their own book.

Jane Smith said...

BR, what Banksy did was a whole different thing to droplifting: as his work was a single original (I'm assuming here), then for it to appear alongside other single original artworks, in an establishment-approved gallery: well, yes, that's newsworthy and interesting. I can see some potential there.

But for books? Nope, it doesn't hold water. The nearest artistic equivalent I can think of would be Banksy putting copies of his artwork in card shops and hoping that somehow people would buy it and... and... I'm at a loss to know what realistic expectations a writer (or Banksy in the card shop) would have at this point. I doubt that a single droplifted book, or even 20 books spread out across a city, just isn't going to generate the same interest. So this anaology just doesn't hold water for me.

Jane Smith said...

Helen P, if you're interested to read some first-hand accounts of droplifting, take a look at the PublishAmerica message boards--there are plenty of people there who have tried this.

Meanwhile (and here my snipe-factor is properly turned off, just so you know--I don't want you to think I'm insulting you, but it's hard to portray tone over the internet sometimes), as you seem to think it's a good idea I'd be grateful if you could explain to me how you think that this might help promote an author or his book, or increase sales because I just don't understand it!

Helen P said...

Hi Jane, I just love people who take their lives in their own hands, I suppose. I think your blog is great for explaining how publishing works but for us non published writers (well, novels anyway), or writers with a book that not many people have read, I like to think that there is some hope out there if we bend the rules slightly - as long as it's legal of course and, possibly more important, honest. I just love a 'battling against the odds' sort of tale that lifts everyone's spirits.
And please don't worry about tone -I love a good discussion and your blog really does get us all going!
By the way - I can't link to Greyling Bay or The Self Publishing Reviewer. Are they both still live links?

Jane Smith said...

Helen, both those other blogs are still ongoing: I've not heard of people being unable to reach them, but I do know Blogger is having all sorts of trouble at the moment which might be causing your problems.

Back to droplifting: I like people who take a more creative approach, too. But I'm still doubtful of the value of scattering books around bookshops and hoping that will Lead To Something. What? Where will it get the writers, or the books? As books are a different art form to paintings and sculpture, the Banksy approach doesn't work here. I'm sure we can come up with something more creative and effective if we work at it. After all, I am that woman who wanted to arrange a live window display at HMV on Oxford Street, for a computer game I was promoting at the time: it was called The Eye of Horus, it had an Egyptian theme, I was ready to put on my belly-dancing costume and I had even booked a low-cost camel, but in the end the publisher chickened out.

Matador said...

Droplifting sounds like a good way of really hacking off the booksellers... any book that is scanned through the till will come up as not being in stock! And believe me, the booksellers are the people who you need to be best friends with...!

emmadarwin said...

Personally, if I were going to leave copies of my novel lying around I'd do so in coffee shops, where people are more likely to pause and read a few pages with their latte.

It does seem completely pointless to me, though. It's a very understandable conviction in writers that people just need to read our stuff, to 'get' it. But if self-publishers have resorted to self-publishing in the face of innumerable rejections, then lots of knowledgeable people have already not 'got' it. In that case, the chances of someone picking up a book which has already failed to get over the transom and into being published, and enjoying it to the point of persuading the bookshop to let them buy it even tho' it's not on the computer, and then telling all their friends, are about as low as the chances of the famous bobby on the beat actually passing a house as a burglar emerges with his stripy sweater and his swag-bag over his shoulder.

Jane, what a great story! In Oz the publishers of In Bed With did exactly that with a scantily clad model snoozing and reading on a lavishly dressed bed in a bookshop window, but sadly the UK publisher didn't do the same. Not that I was volunteering, mind you - you're a braver woman than me!

Jane Smith said...

Emma, I was a lot thinner then. If I did the same now, I'd scare the horses (I wonder, though, if I'd get more news coverage?).

I'm pleased to hear about your Australian publishers: I was obviously ahead of my time!

Sally Zigmond said...

Have I told anyone that I used to work in a bookshop? Don't answer that...

I've never come across this before but I'm trying to imagine the headache this would have caused me had I been at the till.

First thing you do is scan the bar-code. All the details come up. It would say it wasn't in stock and therefore couldn't proceed with the sale. The till would remain locked. Imagine the customer who might have come across this book on a table getting cross with me because because I was totally flummoxed. He's in a hurry because it's his lunch break and he's swearing at me. (Not an uncommon occurrence.) I would have to call a manager who was probably be either in a series of meetings with a queue of publishers' reps or out at lunch--they usually are when there's a crisis--and then a queue of tutting and moaning customers would build up at the till that wasn't functioning. Tension and high blood pressure all round. And I don't know how it could be solved. We couldn't sell it. The customer couldn't buy it.

People who think this might work have less knowledge of how modern retailing and stock control works and even less about bookselling and publishing.

Thinking out of the box is one thing but most 'new' attempts at book promotion have been tried already. Talking about Oxford Street. Thirty years ago I was a department manager in an Oxford Street bookstore--Claude Gill. Remember them? Giles Brandreth--ex-MO and wearer of execrable jumpers, who was promoting his book on party games (I think) was prowling about the store dressed in a cat suit and jumping out at staff as well as customers. I think he emptied the shop in five seconds flat. The book bombed.

Sally Zigmond said...

I mean, ex MP. I don't know what an ex-MO is.

Jane Smith said...

"Giles Brandreth--ex-MP and wearer of execrable jumpers, who was promoting his book on party games (I think) was prowling about the store dressed in a cat suit and jumping out at staff as well as customers. I think he emptied the shop in five seconds flat. The book bombed."

Bugger droplifting, Sally--this bit deserves a whole post of its own. Gyles Brandreth prowling around a bookshop in a cat suit. Good grief.

You've put me right off my dinner.

BuffySquirrel said...

If you want to put your book into the hands of readers at your own expense, try BookCrossing. It has the advantage of not wasting the bookshops' time :).

Oh, and Jane, I meant to mention before that the links in your sidebar under "Me and My Blogs" are broked. Sorry about that.

This is what's linked to: http://www.blogger.com/%3Ca

(for both Greyling and SP Review)

:)

jenny2write said...

Actually the idea of making up bookmarks about your book and leaving them around bookshops is a good idea. Even better to see if you can get the shops to offer them to ALL their customers!

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, Bookcrossing! What a brilliant idea. Far better than droplifting.

And I've fixed those links--again. I've just checked them and they are working for me but if anyone else could check them in a while and let me know if they're still working I'd be grateful. This is the third time they've gone haywire.

Marian said...

Some time ago, I did a couple of unofficial interviews with bookstore personnel to see how they felt about reverse shoplifting.

Here it is.

Jane Smith said...

Marian, thank you for that link: I've edited my original piece to include it, it's very useful and far more informative than mine.

DanielB said...

Yes, the Banksy comparison doesn't work - he wasn't banking (excuse pun) on someone offering to buy the piece.

Scattering bookmarks is a good one though!

Slightly different, but when I was published in the Doctor Who range I always used to go into bookshops and put mine to the front of the selection. I know other DW authors did the same! And I'll be doing the same again when "Autonomy" comes out this autumn. I know some DW authors who do "guerrilla signings" as well, looking for copies of their books and signing them surreptitiously.

I also regularly shift my books from shelf to table, although this has become harder since tables have become more theme-focused and set aside for 3 for 2 offers and the like. Yes, I know it annoys booksellers. But frankly, they annoy me :) And if I don't do it, who will? Certainly not my publishers...

Sally Zigmond said...

DanielB. Pity the poor shop assistant when the manager bawls her out on stock-taking days because she can't find the books where they should be. And her frantic chase around the shop looking for the one copy of something a customer asks for when it's not where it should be... (There's a reason why books are where they are.) But I suppose it's better than finding half-empty coke cans dribbling sticky gunge across books (The publisher won't take them back), not to mention used tissues, fag-ends and half-eaten Big Macs or chewing gum ground into the carpets.

Jane Smith said...

...which reminds me, Sally: there's a very long thread over on Library Thing, somewhere, in which librarians discuss the various odd bookmarks they've found in books which have been returned. Everything from old love letters to slices of bacon (I can't remember if they were cooked or uncooked, but doubt if that's significant).

Jane Smith said...

Aha. The bacon was fried. I have honoured it with a thread all of its own so that newcomers here won't be distracted from droplifting by random slices of bacon, fried or otherwise.

DanielB said...

I do pity the poor shop assistant, I really do. I wish there was better communication in general between publishers, writers and bookshops. We all want the same thing, and yet at times it feels as if we are all pulling in different directions.

I think part of the problem is that it's unlike any other retail (except maybe music) in that you have several thousand competing "brands." Each company doesn't equate to a brand - each *book* does. Compare tea. In a supermarket you'll have maybe five - three well-known brands, shop's own and value brand. Running a bookshop is like selling several thousand brands of tea, each made by a different person and each needing to be marketed differently.

Incidentally, I've heard it's useless to place flyers/bookmarks inside library books because library assistants always riffle the books before they go back on the shelves (probably searching for elusive fivers). So where are *good* places to put them?...

I left some writing-class flyers with Waterstones once, thinking they'd leave them on the counter for interested people to pick up. Found out later that the fools had just shoved them in the bags of the first thirty customers of the day. Probably all wasted. Real smack-hand-on-forehead moment.

Marian said...

Hi Jane,

Thanks very much for including the link! Talking to the bookstore personnel was fun too; I like seeing things from the perspective of other people in the industry.

On the plus side, I haven't seen any references to reverse shoplifting on the PAMB after that, so perhaps the state of the economy has dissuaded people from trying that.

BuffySquirrel said...

What supermarkets do you frequent, Daniel? In the ones I go to, finding the tea you want (own brand, FairTrade, tea bags) is a nightmare. There are dozens of kinds!

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, Dan and I both live in Sheffield, where Yorkshire Tea dominates the tea-shelves and we are expected to Be Tough And Put Up With Things.

Meanwhile there's an interesting discussion about bookselling and book-branding beginning over at Janet Reid's blog, here:

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2009/02/mr-champion-i-rebut-you-sir.html

BuffySquirrel said...

Sheffield! My family come from Sheffield originally :).

Down here in the Sarf we see Yorkshire Tea on the shelves, which is a bit odd when it's supposed to be specially blended for Yorkshire water. Ahem.

Jane Smith said...

Speaking as a transplanted Southerner (oh, London! I love it!), I envy you (except the view from my window is spectacular, and wouldn't be easily replaced).

And I've never taken to Yorkshire Tea, preferring Earl Grey when I'm not swilling gin.

emmadarwin said...

As a Londoner born and bred, the first time I encountered Yorkshire Tea was in Suffolk. What's that all about? as my teenagers say.

Sally Zigmond said...

Be careful all of you!

Up here, it's a hanging offence to criticise Yorkshire Tea.

Although in their defence, the company that markets YT is a damned fine local firm with a very good reputation for staff welfare.

Lightbulb moment. As my new novel is set in the town where YT is based, I could do a deal to give away sample tea and coffee with every copy sold. Or arrange for discount vouchers in every box. Or sell it in Betty's cafes. Forget droplifting. I'm on a roll here...