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Friday, September 16, 2016

Can The Book Industry Sell Books Like Crazy Eddie?



If you lived in the New York metro area in the 1980s you may recall the legendary advertisements for electronics dealer Crazy Eddie.  The TV commercials were outrageous, aggressive, and in your face.  

“We are not undersold, we will not be undersold, we cannot be undersold – and we mean it,” the ad would say.  He’d bellow out: “Get it now, during Crazy Eddie’s greatest TV and video sale ever.  Crazy Eddie – his prices are insaaaaaaaaaaaaane.”

What began as a single-store enterprise in Brooklyn grew to become 43 stores in NY, NJ, CT, and PA.  It went bankrupt after a massive profit-skimming scheme unraveled.  Crazy Eddie Antar fled to Israel amid indictment for securities fraud and insider-trading charges.  He was ordered to pay 150 million bucks in fees and restitution.

He died at age 68 this past week.

His passing made me think of how his commercials revolutionized an industry and the whole discount electronics business.  His tactics worked -- initially -- but the criminal activity undid everything.  It seems we learn a few lessons here, first on savvy advertising and branding, and then on crime not paying.

Could the book industry gain something by copying the brashness of Crazy Eddie?  He had a whole persona -- bulging eyes, excited voice, promises of the best deals out there.  You felt he was someone you could trust -- and that by virtue of the price guarantee you would never be screwed.  Maybe book publishers, stores, and authors need to take his zany -- but legal -- approach to pushing books.

When’s the last time you saw an author go crazy on TV?  Or a publisher promise a giant deal that couldn’t be found anywhere else?  Or a bookstore that guaranteed you’d like a book?  Books don’t get sold by personalities or even individuals.  But they should be.  There should be a mascot for the book industry.  There should be outspoken, flamboyant bookstore executives.  There should be in-your-face authors peddling their wares like great show business legends.

Crazy Eddie turned out to be cooking the books, a thief and a piece of shit.  He was retail’s Bernie Madoff.  We can’t praise such a man for such crooked, destructive behavior, but we can admire the creative genius and force behind those attention-getting TV spots and apply a similar approach to books.

The book industry needs its Crazy Eddie.  TV needs celebrity power, not just best-selling authors.  It needs a character, a personality, an identifiable spokesperson.   Does any one person represent books or the industry that the public readily relates to?

Cities have colorful mayors.  Big companies have outspoken CEOs.  Some non-profits and political movements have names and faces to front them.  Sports teams have their captains and fans have favorite players.  But books?  You might think of colorful children’s book characters – Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Clifford the Big Red Dog – but you don’t think of a living person who embodies books -- their intellectual property, their entertainment value, their social significance -- nothing.  Literacy, freedom of speech, book censorship and banning are major issues but we don’t identify with a single personality to trumpet them.

Crazy Eddie wasn’t insane and he was a criminal, but he had passion, creativity, and in-your-face likeability that has been missing in the book industry.  This void needs to be filled.  Book publishing needs its beauty queen, its mayor, its savior.  The industry is not a damsel in distress awaiting rescue, but it is in need of a great spokesperson who can champion it to a new level and bring in a whole new generation of excited readers.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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