All is quiet on the bookselling front after the skirmish between Amazon (AMZN) and publisher Macmillan over e-book pricing. Amazon backed down, restored the option to buy Macmillan titles on its site, and sales of the publisher's print and digital titles continues. But this week's acquisition of a Lady Gaga book could turn out to be timely insurance against future attacks from the online retailer.
St. Martin's Press (under the Macmillan umbrella) snapped up Lady Gaga: Critical Mass Fashion from book producer Becker & Mayer in an auction among several publishers this week. The "good deal" (Publisher's Marketplace code for a rights purchase that falls in the $150,000+ range) is for a 120-page photo essay featuring the fashions of the 23 year old pop star.
A six-figure purchase might set fingers wagging among critics who believe publishers spend too much on books. But Gaga's popularity is soaring -- her song "Poker Face" was the third most downloaded song of 2009 -- which practically guarantees brisk sales.
However, the publisher isn't taking any chances. To stand out from the ever-growing pack of unauthorized Gaga biographies currently listed on Amazon, Kjersti Egerdahl, the book's editor, told me they developed a direction beyond the typical biography. "We're hoping to explore the visual and musical impact that Lady Gaga has had in such a short time. This is an independent critical take on Lady Gaga." The "exploration" will discuss her masks, un-wearable shoes, and (ahem) bodily functions.
Maybe you're the type to be totally turned off just thinking about how to walk to the bathroom in 10-inch platforms, but Gaga's fans (over 2.8 million of them on Twitter alone) are sure to be fascinated. The more bookish of the bunch will delight in the fact that the Lady's literary tastes lean toward German poet Rilke, so much that she's tattooed a verse about writing across her left arm. And while Critical Mass Fashion might not rack up the hundreds of thousands of copies that Madonna managed to bring her publisher, nearly 20 years later Sex (the book) continues to sell.
This is key. Even if Amazon pulls a stunt like it did last month, the retailer can't prevent individual sellers from buying copies elsewhere and then peddling them to eager buyers on Amazon's site. Sure looks like six figures is a small price to pay for a little extra protection.
Image by Billy Joe via Flicker CC 2.0