Tuesday, March 23, 2021

You've been had!

As background to this little post, I worked in distribution of audio and video for fifteen years. I also have been a marketer in book publishing for the last seventeen. So, I know of what I speak.

I've been following the Dr. Seuss thing a bit. When the Seuss people announced the discontinuing of the selected titles, my first thought was this: Oh, they must have been running low on stock and decided to make them OP (out of print). But, when a marketing person got wind of it, they thought, "Hey, this is a great opportunity to create some buzz!" Cancel culture is huge right now, as is sensitivity to racism. So, they score some points with the woke crowd by giving the inherent racism in an older title as a reason. Never mind that sales on these titles were slow and that it wasn't worthwhile to do a traditional print run. And it would give a nice bump to the sales of the nondiscontinued titles.

As I said to a former colleague, a brilliant, although unscrupulous marketing decision. Of course, marketing people with scruples are about as rare as a never-Trumper at a Trump event: Few and scorned as RINOs (MINOs—marketers in name only).

I let it go at that until this weekend when we went to a big-box store. We prefer to buy our groceries at a smaller store in walking distance, but there are some things that we can't get there, so about once a month we drive to the big box. We also needed some stuff at Menards. So, what do I see at Menards? A big shipper display of Dr. Seuss titles! And what do I see at the big box? At least one, maybe two (I can't remember for sure) shipper displays of Dr. Seuss titles! At both places, the titles were very picked over, which means they had been there for probably a week.

My distribution and marketing mind put two and two together, and I think I came up with four: This was a well-thought-out marketing plan. You don't put together as many shippers as they would have needed to supply the big box chain and Menards in less than a week! You have to make sure that you have the necessary stock, that there is enough cardboard, that the shippers are all assembled and skidded up. And probably in many of these cases, you can't ship direct to the store; you have to ship to the central warehouses for them to distribute them to the stores.

All that takes months of planning, going back to reprint some of the titles, getting the correct number and style of shippers, getting approval from the buyers at the various chains. Yes, this was a well-planned marketing blitz. I wouldn't be surprised if some enterprising employees bought out a good number of the soon-to-be-discontinued titles to sell at a handsome profit on e-bay and the likes!

Because, you see, as much as you might decry cancel culture, you fell right into the trap. If you really cared about Dr. Seuss being canceled, you would boycott the company doing the canceling. But you revealed what you really care about (and that the marketers at Dr. Seuss knew all along) was that your convenience was being infringed on.

So, my friend, if you purchased a Dr. Seuss book in the last two weeks, you were had. Owned. Played for the fool. You were played like an expensive violin for the benefit of profit.

Remember, with very few exceptions (Song of the South comes to mind), movies with blatant sexism and racism continue to be played and sold. All the studios did was slap a disclaimer on the front just before the movie. Dr. Seuss could have done the same. It would have been an excellent learning opportunity when you read the books to your kids and grandkids.

Instead, they went for the sure thing: Profit.

How very American!

P.S. I don't for a moment think Dr. Seuss was "canceled." Nor do I think free speech was infringed upon. It was a sales decision. Period. And would have been a nonissue if a marketer somewhere hadn't come up with this brilliant plan. Unethical, but brilliant. And I do indeed decry the racism and sexism of many older (and contemporary) titles. But I see it as an educational opportunity. You see, as a liberal arts person, I see the past as something to learn from. Learn from their blindness, yes, but more importantly, use them to shine a light on our blindness.

Just an
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