Book lovers and fans of To Kill a Mockingbird have been eagerly awaiting the release of Go Set a Watchman since it was announced that the Harper Lee book would be getting published. And they let their dollars do the talking, setting a one-day sales record for Barnes & Noble. Remember them? According to the company, the book is in a position to be the biggest book of the year.
A bit of intrigue hasn’t hurt. The story behind Go Set a Watchman is nearly as interesting as the book itself: Lee submitted this manuscript in 1957. An editor suggested that it should be written from the point of view of a child, and a classic was born. HarperCollins says 40 million copies of To Kill A Mockingbird have been sold around the world. It won Lee the Pulitzer prize. Atticus Finch, one of the most loved characters in literature, has been turned on his head. And there are rumors that Lee actually didn’t want this book published.
Two million copies of the latest book have been printed and Barnes & Noble says sales of To Kill A Mockingbird have doubled since it was announced that this new book would be coming.
To put it mildly, this is a huge win for Barnes & Noble, a company that could use it. It is in the midst of a transformation, spinning off its college retailers, in order to create a modern company that can compete with companies like Amazon, which has taken over the book business with e-commerce and digital books.
But clearly there is still hope for the old-school book business. As we’ve seen, a crowd favorite like Harry Potter or an author with with a cult following like Stephen King can still draw people out. Perhaps what B&N needs to do is make a point of turning more book releases into Go Set A Watchman-like events. Following in the footsteps of the movie industry and Gary Shteyngart (who has released trailers for his books), B&N can create more fanfare in anticipation of a book being added to its shelves.
In this case, it seems like Barnes & Noble was a lucky beneficiary of the excitement surrounding Go Set a Watchman. But it doesn’t have to just be luck. For instance, who’s ever really excited about a new Adam Sandler movie? It’s an enthusiasm that’s generated by the movie producers, the actors and the theaters themselves. B&N should look into extending that sort of strategy into the publishing world.