I spend a good deal of time in the children’s section at the store, and I know it pretty well, but every time I work alongside Lori, who’s the real pro in that area, I learn something new. She’s especially good at finding exactly what a young reader needs. Looking for middle grade fiction about ancient Roman detectives? She has something apt in your hands before you can blink. She can do this because she knows not just the titles but the contents of the books in her domain, as an expert should.
What she showed me earlier this week was especially interesting. Mike Lupica is a name many of you will recognize. He’s an award-winning newspaper sportswriter with frequent magazine appearances and television gigs, but in the book world he’s probably best known for his very popular sports fiction geared for tweens and teens. His latest is The Underdogs, the tale of a talented 12-year-old running back and his efforts to prop up his financially failing football team. As in most of Lupica’s frankly formulaic novels, there’s a feel-good ending. In this case, a major athletic shoe company comes to the rescue with sponsorship money. What was surprising to Lori, and to me when she told me about it, was that the shoe company in question is the decidedly non-fictional New Balance Athletic Shoes, Inc., whose CEO, Robert DeMartini, plays a major role in the book. The plot is essentially an advertisement for the brand. What’s more, each book comes with a bookmark promoting New Balance.
Now, I know we’ve all become so accustomed to this kind of product placement in movies and TV shows that we don’t even notice it, and I know that the publishing sphere isn’t immune to commercialization. 1970s paperbacks frequently included advertising inserts, and just a decade ago, established novelist Fay Weldon was paid ₤18,000 to mention the name of a high-end jewelry company at least a dozen times in the text of her then-new novel. The corporate name is in the title, too, but they didn’t pay me anything, so I guess I won’t mention it here.
I’m not forgetting that we at Island Books are in the business of selling things ourselves, but don’t you think sneaking ads into the pages of a kids book is questionable, to say the least?
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