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Paradox of Choices (The State of Publishing)

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choice can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. In short, he argues that there is a cost to an overabundance of choice. Consumers decide to not decide and do not put the effort into making a decision.

Last week, I witnessed a perfect illustration of this point. I accompanied three authors touring ten different metropolitan book stores to sign copies of their books. The number of books authored by the three ranged from three to over twenty.

It was amusing to watch all three authors try to find their books in the store. If the authors who know the product and the industry have to think and hunt for their books, how are readers supposed to find them? The sheer volume of choices and the number of titles available is mind boggling when you step back and take clear view of how books are merchandised and displayed.

Grocery store sets or layouts are somewhat consistent from store to store and chain to chain, but the array of choices and differences from book store to book store forces readers to make a lot of decisions.

Right now, the book industry is in a state of change and a lot of people of trying to understand their new reality. I think publishers will find success in decreasing complexity, costs, and causing readers/customers “mental fatigue.” Better promotion, merchandising and making it easier for readers to find a good read will make all the difference in the world.