Many large bookstores carry sections devoted to works of African-American interest, and a number of book clubs and other specialized selling channels do a thriving business by specializing in black themes and authors. In October, however, Florida-based author Nadine Aldred, who writes under the pen name “Millennia Black“, filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against her publisher, Penguin Group, on the grounds that Penguin (she alleges) insisted on steering her work into black-interest channels although she would rather have been marketed as a general-interest author. On the Wrong Side of the Alligator has reprinted excerpts from the complaint (Jan. 6).
The estimation of whether a particular author’s work will sell better if marketed to a niche or to a more general audience is inescapably going to depend on case-by-case judgment (assuming that marketing dollars and available cues of cover design, etc. are limited and cannot be dispatched in both directions at once). It is not immediately apparent why Penguin would not have an interest in taking a path that maximized its author’s sales. Aldred’s suit asks $250 million. See also Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “Why book industry sees the world split still by race”, Wall Street Journal/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 6.
P.S. Disclosure, for whatever it’s worth: Penguin was my publisher on my first book (The Litigation Explosion).
More: Charles E. Petit of Scrivener’s Error writes to say:
The real problem in this instance is not with Penguin. The real problem is an antitrust nightmare: the book distribution system, which is probably the paradigmatic example of “one man’s antitrust is another man’s economy of scale”–at least until you look into the financing and terms of doing business, which makes me ask “What economies of scale?” The _distributors_ are the ones who demand “pigeonholing” of books, and Penguin’s best defense will be to point out that books that are released _without_ a category tend to stay in distributors’ warehouses unshipped. In other words, “We had to put _some_ category on it as a business necessity, and this is the one that in our commercial judgment was the best fit.”