Poetry SpeaksNearly a decade ago, industry pundits warned booksellers that if they didn't stock new media, the CD-ROM revolution would pass them by, and software stores would supercede them. Within three years, however, it was clear that dire prediction would not come to pass--"whatever stock we had, we got hung with," recalled Fran Keilty, owner of Atticus Bookstores in Amherst, Mass., and Middletown and New Haven, Conn. But some multimedia packages are proving to be more attractive for both booksellers and consumers.

In the forefront of the effort to mix media, 14-year-old Sourcebooks in Naperville, Ill., recently printed a whopping 100,000 copies of its oversized book-and-three-CD collection, Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath (Nov.), edited by Elise Paschen, former executive director of the Poetry Society of America, and Rebekah Presson Mosby, NPR arts reporter and former host of New Letters on the Air. Poets Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Dana Gioia advised on the selections from 42 poets writing between 1892 and 1997, while Seamus Heaney, Jorie Graham and Billy Collins, among others, contributed original essays about each poet. "It's a big quantity for any book, but a huge quantity for poetry," acknowledged director of publicity Judith Kelly. "We've had a wonderful response, and we'll promote Poetry Speaks through April, National Poetry Month."

Margaret Maupin, buyer at the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colo., who has done well with previous Sourcebooks multimedia titles, is ready to take a gamble on the poetry package, which retails for $49.95. "I'm enthusiastic about this. I bought it rather aggressively, and I think it's a great gift," she told PW. Although she placed her order before the tragic events of September 11, Maupin believes that now, even more people may want Poetry Speaks. "Poetry has the power to move us. Whenever a crisis happens, people turn to poetry to have someone express the feeling they're having," she said.

Publicity plans for the book include a broadcast blitz with Paschen and Mosby, as well as Sourcebooks founder and publisher Dominique Raccah, who came up with the idea for the book and serves as series editor. Kelly also anticipates prominent holiday placement in chains and independents, and will provide booksellers with an audiovisual presentation they can use for in-store events such as poetry slams. In the spring, the company will stage two large-scale Poetry Speaks events: one in March with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and one in April at New York's Guggenheim Museum.

But Sourcebooks' ambitions for this book didn't come out of the blue. The company released its first book/CD package--We Interrupt This Broadcast by Joe Garner--in 1998. Raccah went to BEA that year aiming for a first printing of 25,000 copies, her baseline for publishing the $49.95 hardcover profitably. At her booth, four-color blads along with a boom box featuring Bill Curtis's compelling narration--which ties together verbatim accounts of dozens of newsworthy events ranging from the Hindenburg explosion to the Kennedy assassinations--elicited strong enthusiasm from booksellers. Raccah left BEA with plans to print 75,000, later pushed up to 150,000 by the time the book actually went to press. "It was the riskiest thing I ever did at Sourcebooks. I didn't sleep for months," she told PW. But that compilation went on to become Sourcebooks' first New York Times bestseller, and has since sold more than 1.5 million copies.

In the intervening years, Garner has produced three sports-related book/CD packages that also retail for $49.95: And the Crowd Goes Wild, And the Fans Roared and the newly released Echoes of Notre Dame Football, for which he has already done more than 125 interviews. A piece is slated to run on Entertainment Tonight within the next few weeks, and Sourcebooks will follow up on an early September radio push with a second radio campaign in November.

Both Poetry Speaks and the newest Garner effort are being published under Sourcebooks' MediaFusion imprint, created last year to market the company's burgeoning multimedia book packages. "Each title has a narrator who helps bring the material together. Until they listen to the CD, people assume that the audio and text are identical. But they are completely separate. Text, photographs and audio all come together in a greater experience," said Raccah. In selling the books, her first priority has been to have booksellers experience the book and CD firsthand, though producing blads and audio samplers has entailed additional expense. Competitive discounts and free freight on orders of 10 or more backlist books also encourage booksellers to take the plunge.

While most MediaFusion titles are sized and illustrated like coffee-table books, the series is not locked into a specific look. Alex Lubertozzi (who manages MediaFusion and, with Brian Holsten, edited H.G. Wells's The Complete War of the Worlds, a book/CD set released by Sourcebooks last March) is interested in experimenting with audio, video or even Internet components as well as the paper, format and trim-size. Next spring, MediaFusion will publish a book and Web site on How a Book Is Made, and in fall 2002, will release a 6"×9" hardcover book/CD on The Trials of Lenny Bruce.

A Growing Genre

Remembering Jim CrowOther publishers are creating mixed media packages on more of a project-by-project basis. "At the New Press, we publish book/CD or tape sets when the primary source material is in audio form," said editor Marc Favreau, who inherited Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South (Nov.), a hardcover/2 CD set edited by William H. Chafe and others, after acquiring editor Joe Wood disappeared while hiking in Oregon two summers ago. The boxed set is about to go back to press after selling out its initial printing of 15,000.

The book is part of a projected three-book series, the first of which is Remembering Slavery, an oral history set co-authored by Favreau, with Ira Berlin and Steven F. Miller, which retails for $49.95 and has sold 30,000 copies in hardcover since 1998.

To date, the house's bestselling book-and-audio title has been May It Please the Court, a series of compilations of Supreme Court oral arguments, the first of which was published in 1993, and has sold just under 70,000 copies in hardcover. CDs will also be part of the Justice Talking series, which the New Press will introduce in November. Based on the NPR program of the same name, the series will launch with paperback originals, edited by Kathryn Kolbert and Zak Mettger, on Censoring the Web and School Vouchers, accompanied by dialogues on each topic.

The house has high expectations for Remembering Jim Crow. "We expect really strong print coverage, just like we got for Remembering Slavery," said independent publicist Megan Butler, who will direct the publicity effort. She noted that PW gave the book a starred review (Forecasts, Sept. 3) and USA Weekend, the Sunday magazine for USA Today, will run an interview with William Chafe close to the publication date. In addition, an hour-long documentary with the same name will air November 13 on 80 to 100 NPR stations. "I'm looking at a campaign that will go from November 1 through Christmas, and we will fire up again for Black History Month," said Butler.

James Fugate, owner of Esowon bookstore in Los Angeles, reported, "I expect Remembering Jim Crow will be big. I actually think it's going to be bigger than Remembering Slavery, even with the state of retail right now." He's hoping to do an event with one of the authors and anticipates selling at least 100 copies of the set, which has a suggested retail price of $55, this holiday season. Not that price appears to be an impediment for Fugate's customers, who have begun buying a far more expensive boxed set of black music originally collected by Harry Belafonte in the '60s and just released by BMG Entertainment's Buddah Records. Retailing for $75, The Long Road to Freedom consists of four CDs, a DVD and a hardcover book.

Public Affairs is also aiming to entice readers to listen up. Last year it introduced The Presidential Portfolio book/CD series of presidential papers and recordings, edited by Michael Beschloss. The house printed 35,000 copies of the first volume, on John F. Kennedy, by Charles Kenney, and will re-promote it this November with a new one on Ronald Reagan by Lou Cannon, which has an announced first printing of 50,000; both titles will retail for $35. Director of publicity Gene Taft views book/CD sets as "a value-added kind of thing. We're not doing them for every book. Part of what we're trying to do is re-create what it would be like to go to the presidential library, and audio is part of the experience."

Although Taft plans to promote Ronald Reagan with placement in regional holiday catalogues, advertising and author appearances in California, New York City and Washington, D.C., booksellers will have to do more than merely display it and the other book/CD sets due this fall if they want to maximize sales. As Mary Yockey, buyer at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill, noted, "Our customers love the book/CD packages. They've sold very well for us. The ideal way to display them--and we have done this at our store--is with a boom box next to the display with a sample CD."

While the idea of marketing books together with other media is not new, today's slimmer packages, frequently with the CDs affixed inside the front cover, do offer publishers and booksellers new options. "There's definitely a market for them," asserted Fran Keilty. "We're probably at a beginning." Across the country, Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English in Salt Lake City, agreed, "I thought they would be a good idea. Now I have to get them in and see what happens."