Marketing partnership between new teen novel and cosmetic company draws attention, book creates new interactive experience
A news story about a partnership with a book publisher and a cosmetics company set off a blizzard of discussion last week around the industry about what the proper role between product placement deals in publishing and the readership it intends to target should be.
In an article published in The New York Times on June 12, reporter Motoko Rich set off the debate about a new promotional relationship between Running Press, an imprint of Perseus Book Group, and Cover Girl, a division of Proctor and Gamble. The deal will see Cover Girl products being mentioned in the pages of the upcoming young adult novel, “Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233.” The novel was created by authors Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman, who are award-winning game designers.
Cathy Vickers, the 17-year old protagonist of the novel, is described as wearing a lip gloss called Liplicks, a product sold by Cover Girl Cosmetics. Other references to the company’s products are also seen throughout.
“The use of even the subtlest of sales pitches, particularly in a book aimed at adolescent audiences, could raise questions about the vulnerability of the readers,” Rich wrote in The New York Times piece.
Although neither the publisher nor the authors will receive any direct financial compensation for mentioning the company or products in the text, the book will be promoted on one of Cover Girl’s Web sites, Beinggirl.com, a site directed at adolescent females.
“What we are selling here to the customer or the reader is an experience that transcends the book itself,” David Steinberger, president and chief executive of Perseus said. “The relationships with Beinggirl.com and Cover Girl are enriching that experience.”
According to publisher, the initial print run of the book has already been increased from 30,000 to 100,000 copies, thanks to good initial response.
“’Cathy’s Book...’ is just the kind of project that sets Running Press’ upstart [young adult] publishing program apart from the pack,” said Jon Anderson, publisher of Running Press, in the same release. “This highly designed, heavily illustrated, interactive and hip project is just the kind of publishing we like to do. And [Proctor and Gamble’s] unique support will allow more readers to find the book and makes the story even more believable for its audience.”
Running Press and Cover Girl instantly drew fire from nonprofit Portland, Ore.-based advertising watchdog group’s Commercial Alert. According to the group’s Web site, its mission is, “to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.”
On the same day The New York Times article ran, the group sent a letter to 305 book reviewers across the country asking them to refrain from reviewing the title.
“There is a difference between a novel and an ad; and if you do not uphold that distinction, then who will?” Commercial Alert asked its letter recipients.
In a statement issued by Perseus the next day, Steinberger responded to the group’s campaign against the book.
“Commercial Alert’s action is troubling,” he said. “As a publisher in a free society, we feel that it is inappropriate to discourage people from reading, discussing or reviewing a book. Calling for a review boycott is a form of censorship. Cathy’s Book is a terrific cutting-edge [Young Adult] novel that deserves to be read and judged on its own merits.”
The book is scheduled for an October release.
Steinberger told Book Business Extra! this week that the novel, and the interactive portion of it that will feature other Web sites and phone messages, is a means of getting teens excited about reading.
“Our answer to all the critics and people passing judgement is get a copy read it and give it your 13-year old,” he said. “Pass it along, and then let’s talk.”