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Re: [BKARTS] Reflections on bookart and commerce

on 7/6/03 8:28 AM, James Pepper at Biblescribe@xxxxxxx wrote:

> There was no point to it, the buttons did nothing but make a sound,
> everything was random.

Another laugh. It's a perfect description of the publishing industry. I
don't know if I told this story before, but it is my favorite about life in

Human Behavior, by Berelson and Steiner, told of an experiment in which
pigeons were taught to recognize colors by being rewarded with grain from an
automatic feeder that delivered when the right code was pecked on colored
buttons. The birds became fabulous performers, ten thousand trials without a
single error. Then he changed the feeder to deliver randomly instead of

As he reduced the rate of delivery, the pigeons actions became more odd and
contorted. Take three steps forward, tuck right foot under left wing, then
peck. You could see them working out superstitious routines that obviously
had a great meaning to them but no effect on the outcome. These ridiculous
strategies made the pigeons feel better (if it¹s possible to speculate on
what pigeons feel) because they apparently provided a feeling of control.
Gamblers at Las Vegas act in the same way.

First editions sell on a distribution curve. Some fall through the cracks
immediately. Most sell along the center of the Bell curve. A few zoom off
the chart. Among all those books, however, some will just keep selling
forever, even ones that flop at the beginning. Even with the government
changes in inventory deductions, the backlist is what keeps the publisher
going from year to year.

What would happen if books were selected at random, instead of subjected to
marketing review? Better, let the pigeons select them. They'd hassle the
authors a lot less, I'm sure.

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