On the New Jersey Turnpike, not far from where I live, there is a billboard which reads, "After you die, you will meet God." I'm not sure that's necessarily the message we want to send to people zipping by at 80 miles an hour, but it's not the disturbing part.
Underneath the message, there's a phone number.
A phone number? Now I'm wondering if the implicit message here is that a LOT of people are going to die, and you should make your appointment in advance. Or do they simply want us to check in with the information that we're not quite dead yet? Shouldn't the people in charge of such things know that already?
To be fair, at least it's a toll-free number. Hate to pay the long distance on THAT call!
I'll admit, I have not summoned up the courage to call the number, mostly because I believe that if I really am going to meet up with a supreme being who is not Diana Ross after I pass on, I'd prefer it be a surprise. There aren't that many advantages to being dead, so finding out that you really do get some face time (assuming God has a face) with the being in charge should be the nicest kind of shock, shouldn't it? These spoil sports placing the ad on the Jersey Turnpike are just ruining it for the rest of us, don't you think?
But then, if that ad really is a sign from above, who do you think pays the rental on the billboard once a month?
This brings us to the overall issue of... that's right... advertising (had you there for a second, didn't I?). It has long been accepted in the publishing business--you remember the publishing business--that advertising is a waste of money. Multiple "impressions" are necessary before a consumer will recall the name of the book, and the amount spent in newspapers or other media would far outweigh the increased sales.
That makes tons of sense to me. As I mentioned here a while back, I did take out an advertisement in the Newark Star-Ledger when A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION was released, mostly out of a feeling of responsibility toward newspapers in general, and to see what would happen.
Nothing happened. Hits on my web site the day the ad appeared in more than 100,000 households went DOWN.
So I'm willing to accept the conventional wisdom about advertising. What I find interesting is that the publishers themselves don't seem to take their own advice. They buy full-page, full-color ads on the back page of the New York Times Arts section when a new book from a bestselling author is arriving, seemingly without giving the expenditure much thought.
If I'm reading the rate card correctly (which I sincerely doubt), a full page ad in the New York Times Book Review would cost just short of $42,000. A full-page ad in the daily Arts section would be somewhere around $95,000. And these are for authors whose books are pretty much guaranteed to sell ANYWAY.
I'm not suggesting--believe me--that anyone should spend $95,000 advertising my book. But wouldn't it be a better idea to take that money and spread it around trying to build a new John Grisham rather than stroking the ego of the current one? Wouldn't that be more cost-effective in these stripped-down, e-book ready, pirated-download-fighting times?
Clearly, this is why I am not a businessman. In fact, I have never taken a business course nor actually understood a business article I've read. Such topics do not penetrate my thick brain. It's a pity, really. Because then I might understand why the only people who can afford to advertise their products are those who don't really need the publicity. Like John Grisham.