Can we sell books with suggestive gibberish?

The other day I tried to buy a little smackerel of something from a fast food joint. When I went to close the deal the fellow behind the counter suddenly said “Wuddawuddabopbopbop.” Hilarity ensued.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.
Me: Sorry, still don’t get it. Can you repeat it slowly, not louder?
Goon: WUD – DA – WUD – DA … (etc).

It turned out he was trying to sell me an add-on. The speed of the patter, I suspect, was part of the technique to get an unsuspecting customer to buy a delicious handful of whole unboned chicken, lovingly dropped through an industrial macerator, chemically bleached, mechanically reconstituted into bite-sized chunks with artificial flavour, wrapped in sawdust and MSG before being deep-fried, left for half an hour to go lukewarm, then served up in a grease-stained cardboard cup.


That led me to wonder whether I couldn’t get bookstores to do the same for books. You know – somebody picks up the latest best-seller and ends up being on-sold a couple of other titles. The trick is mangling the request so the hapless book buyer doesn’t know what they’re ending up with – they think they’ll be getting two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey whereas they’ve just bought a pile of books by that guy Wright (for selection, click on the titles in the right hand column of this blog).

And this is where you come in. Drop me a comment with your take on just how a bookstore attendant might mangle things so as to slip in one of my titles (that column on the right) – or one of your own. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “Can we sell books with suggestive gibberish?

  1. It is called fast food for a reason. People buy it for the convenience of saving time and get on with the more important stuff in their lives that is on their mind. They may scan the menu for their usual choices but proceed to order mostly out of habit. Without much thought they pay and get on their way. This state of acting from the subconscious mind, or having different thoughts to the task at hand leaves them vulnerable to gibberish.
    When walking into a book store people look around, pick a few books off the shelf with titles that speak to their line of interest and make up their minds based on what they see on the back and the few pages they view to see if it grabs them enough to part with the requested amount of money. The choice of purchase is far more conscious than ordering fast food. They do not think about their chores while looking for the next bestseller taking them on a journey, that takes their mind off the daily grind, but fantasize about the expectations instead.

    From this observation I conclude that gibberish is not helpful in selling “add-on’s” in bookstores. What could work is having the less known authors displayed near the register and an attendant suggesting the customer should have a look at one of those less famous, just as talented authors works as well. They may not buy it then and there, but it could be the next book they buy.
    One way to get them to buy it straight away, is to add urgency of a time limited special “Buy this bestseller and get one of the selected titles for half price, today only!”
    Of course our hard work deserves to be treated better than an add-on or carrot, so the best strategy is getting on that best sellers shelf through the right marketing tactics in the first place.

    1. Yes it certainly is. Another technique that works is to stock monolithic quantities of one title. Stack ’em in prominent places. It creates a buzz on the back of it – what is the appeal of this title that a shop stocks so much of it?

  2. I think the technique is called, “bait and switch.” It’s a con job that’s existed for as long as there’s been markets to buy things at. I see it even now when I’m buying books online for my kindle, or even when downloading some free software. Amazon lists books that are “JUST LIKE THAT BOOK YOU’RE BUYING!!!!!” and are in fact, only related because they also contain words. When downloading software, I must carefully analyze the page because that GIANT DOWNLOAD BUTTON, is not, in fact, the button to press to get what I wanted. *sigh* It’s always been like this in one form or another I suppose.

    1. I think it has. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the techniques have migrated to the web. And got slimier on the way (well, maybe it’s just because we’re all seeing them up front and personal on our screens).

      1. Yeah, that’s right, with all the blinking, flashing advertisements. Those flash presentations that cover your screen really bug me. The ones where you have to hunt around for the X or the hide button. Argh!

        1. Yeah, they’re a total pain. The main NZ news site, Stuff, had one of those ads yesterday. On my second or third visit, I abandoned Stuff and went to the competitor site…

  3. This isn’t precisely what you’re looking for, but the Shuler’s near me (this is a small chain in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor, Michigan) and they do literally have books you can buy without knowing what they are: one or several books are bundled in plain brown paper and a loose description, like, “SUSPENSE. THRILLER. CATS” put on the cover. Buy one and learn what you’ve got, or don’t and wonder what it might ever have been.

  4. In the spirit of this post what comes to mind immediately is “As long as you’re learning about diamonds and coal (I am taking a liberty here but WTH), why not discover more secrets from Donald McLean?” I think this concept has possibilities, Matthew, as readers are always looking for a good story. And, I do like the above comment concerning books wrapped in plain, brown paper with a cryptic description. Fun post, Matthew!

    1. Thanks! I like it! The brown paper idea is a really good one – move those hard-to-shift books, give readers a potential serendipitous discovery, and add a surprise factor. Win-win all round (and the world needs as many win-win situations as we can engineer, right now).

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