Journals and Book Reviews: The Experience of African Books Collective (Abc)

Article excerpt

The values of book reviews to ABC - the African publishers' marketing organisation

Reviews work is an important element of the overall marketing strategy. ABC shares the industry view that reviews do sell books. Reviews - along with catalogues, monthly email alerts, websites, exhibits, flyers, book prizes and publicity - are marketing tools. They generate profile and prestige. The more ways in which a book is exposed the more likely it is to sell.

Analysis of reviews content leads to the conclusion that the cultural/developmental case for having African books reviewed in Northern journals is a strong one, whether or not appreciable sales income is generated. Reviews profile authors and publishers, giving them confidence that their books are visible. They ensure that books are independently reviewed in authoritative journals - which is all the more important owing to the lack of journals and peer-review infrastructure in Africa itself. They ensure that African ideas and information are fed into wider academic debates.

But generally speaking, reviews do also have an impact on sales. As is the case with ABC's publishing-support and marketing work as a whole, it is not possible to separate the commercial and cultural agenda, book reviews being integral to both.

Specific benefits

For marketing and profiling

- Book reviews are an inexpensive marketing activity, the only direct cost being the postage to mail out copies. A review is a free advertisement, a productive, inexpensive way to generate promotion and sales. Any review raises awareness of the book.

- Review quotations can be extracted for catalogues, the website and other publicity. Citations give a second view of the book, legitimising a title in the reader's mind.

- International circulation of journals provides wide exposure; journals' coverage serves as a microcosm of the overall market.

- Reviews make books known to both a wider readership and a specific audience. Coverage might broaden the subject disciplinary range for book; and reviews reinforce other marketing mailings.

- Book content is increasingly available on the internet, and links to reviews are important. Publishers mount ABC sourced reviews on their own websites, which may help sell books.

Feedback to ABC

- On production and price; and reviews inform stocking decisions.

Editorial and marketing feedback to publishers b authors

- Reviews provide independent academic and literary feedback to publishers on aspects such as: book organisation, chronology, topicality, length, quality, variations in quality, indexes, bibliographies, contents pages, structure, language, editorial standards and proofreading.

- Reviews enhance authors' reputations and boost professional academic careers. They may make useful suggestions, and contribute to an author or publisher's satisfaction with ABC's marketing.

Constraints

- The difficulty of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of reviews work: it is difficult to establish a direct relationship between book reviews and sales.

- The time-lag between submission of a book to an editor and the publication of a review, which may be years later in the case of academic journals. However, late reviews may be useful for backlist sales.

Rates of reviews and impact on sales

Rates of reviews

ABC sends out about 600 review copies a year. Taking an average 200 new titles taken on to the list annually, this equates to an average 3 copies for every new title. In fact, the number of review copies mailed for a new title ranges from zero to about 15. The ratio of books mailed to reviews received in the last few years is somewhere between 18% and 23%. An average ratio of review copies of around 20% equates to one published review for every 5 copies mailed. This reflects a satisfactory outcome, but also the limited scope of mailing review copies primarily to specialist African studies journals, where we are confident of securing reviews. …