bookstoreWho says editors have the final say in which books get published or played up big? Sales departments count. And so may buyers for huge book chains. But how about a little input from actual readers—not young Vassarites at large publishing houses, but ordinary mortals who patronize Borders?

In fact, Borders actually has conducted just such an experiment, and M.J. Rose has the details. Approvingly, she writes: “Better to have 2000 readers saying yes, I love that cover rather than three people sitting in an office who have just spent the last 2 hours looking at covers for 200 other titles.

“Of course we have to be careful when we start testing whether to publish books based on letting a handful of readers read a few pages.”

Buzz, too

Exactly. In fact, if e-books get published ahead of p-books, imagine letting the testers enjoy access to summaries and, if they want to follow through, full texts. Along the way, this group as a matter of course would help create buzz. Perhaps the chains could offer access not just to randomly chosen customers but also those willing to pay a subscription fee. In somewhat the same territory, at least one technical publishing one house has let paying customers enjoy first looks at forthcoming titles.

No, like Ms. Rose, I’m not suggesting this be the sole method of determining which books get published. Think of the niche books or Moby Dick-caliber masterpieces—books ahead of their time—that might suffer. Mock ‘em, but yes, sometimes well-educated young trends might actually identify books that are as brilliant as they are unpopular. Even today, let’s hope there is at least a little room for books published on the basis of sheer artistic merit. Must popularity be all, especially when e-publishing costs are lower than in p-publishing?

Just one more tool—not a full solution

Still, customer voting is one more tool for book marketers, who, given the less than awesome growth of most of the book industry in recent years, at least here in the States, might well benefit from experimentation.

Photo credit: By Roger, via Creative Commons.

(Thanks to Peter Brantley.)