June 3, 2004

A Column by Byron McAllister

(If mysteries were automobiles…)

Corporations spend a lot of money promoting something they call "brand loyalty."  Never mind that not only the corporate officers keep changing but so do the marketers, the workers, the engineers,…, everybody in the company!  And yet, the promotion works.  We keep running into people who swear they'll never buy anything but a Ford or a Chevrolet.  Or a Hupmobile.  Well, ignore that last one; there's been a lot of attrition among its loyalists.  But you know what I mean.  And it isn't just automobiles.  Look at all the folks who say they've used such-and-such brand of soap all their lives and see no reason to change now.  And consider the people who swear by one certain breakfast food or a particular brand of dentifrice or deodorant.  "I've learned to trust them," people say.

Corporate misbehavior doesn't seem to bother people, either.  It's semi-political, most think, and, when you come right down to it, allegiance to a political party is of the same ilk.  Scoundrels and incompetents may give rise to a plethora of cynical talk, but the principal of "my pappy and my grandpappy and all the rest of my family always voted Know-nothing, and I'm a gonna vote Know-nothing forever," never dies.  (I used an obsolete party-name to avoid offending our gallant Democratic, Republican, and Minor-party brethren.)  What brand one is loyal to may vary from person to person, but the desire for stability drives nearly every individual to adhere to his or her favorite in the market place, at the polls, and, let's face it, even in choosing which team to root for.

So, when one wants to buy a book--and we'll avoid going too far afield by making it a mystery--can one be loyal to a brand?  Sure: why not?  Right?

Wait, though.  If you're loyal to an author, wouldn't that be like being loyal to a particular automobile engineer, rather than to the company she (or he) works for?  That's not what brand loyalty is.  We don't say, "I'll buy only cars designed by Robert Roe, because my Pappy and Grandpappy always bought cars designed by Robert Roe."  No indeed.  We say, "I'll buy only Hupmobiles, because my pappy and grandpappy always bought Hupmobiles."

So if we're going to admit that the brand loyalists have a point, we have to address our loyalty to the publishing house, of  course.  "I'll buy only mysteries published by PubCorp," I might say, "because my pappy and grandpappy always bought mysteries published by PubCorp."

Now that would really be something!  If only the publishing industry emulated the automotive world!

My neighbor, Joe, just bought a new mystery.  He leaves it on the porch railing, to make all of us jealous.  He likes InkPress books, but from what I can see of the cover (which he leaves sticking ostentatiously out of the dust-jacket), it looks like InkPress is beginning to emulate the style PubCorp is famous for.  I had an InkPress, once.  I blundered and bought it used because it was cheap and the salesman said the plot had been re-installed, so that it should be good for a thousand more page-turns.  The characterization, however, was weak.  PubCorp would never put out a mystery with weak characters like that.  Some of them actually went to church.  I bought a PubCorp for my wife, too.  It reads well, even though the scenery is sometimes inadequately described, but a PubCorp is a PubCorp, and, naturally, takes a bit of getting used to.

Meantime, my own PubCorp is getting quite tattered, and though I take it in to have the dust-jacket repaired and the pages re-numbered every six months, as recommended in the owners' manual, it is no longer--let's face it--as stylish as it was when I bought it.  I think I'll just go down to the PubCorp dealership and take out a 2004 model for a test read.  Of course, I'll buy a thicker book than Joe's, because I don't want to feel like his reading outclasses mine.

I'm brand-loyal, but I'm not dumb.  First I'll get hold of a suitable consumer magazine and make sure PubCorp's repair record is still holding up.

Ah, that's nice: they say that PubCorp has had a little trouble with plot twists in the past, but the test-readers report that the company has dealt with the problem nicely, and all the current books in PubCorp's line have a solid, substantial plot twist.  In the higher priced models, treatment of the denouement is sometimes a little sluggish, but the type-size more than makes up for that, and the luxury models handle even better than the sportier ones.

So, now, a trip to the local PubCorp dealer is in order.  The store that had the franchise until last July kept stocking stuff by other publishers, and PubCorp wanted an exclusive, so they located a dealer who is interested in them, and them alone.  I'll see if they have a demo they can loan me overnight.

Wow, that demo handled like a dream.  Except for a couple of missing pages at the end of the ninth chapter, it was in perfect condition.  I just loved leafing through it.  One thing, though: I didn't much care for the color.  The dust-jacket was all right, but the hard-cover itself was an ugly tan, and I'd been planning on a somewhat more stylish red.  Florescent red, to be precise, so my neighbors can see that I can afford to read a really good book.  So I ordered one in the color I prefer, with a few extras my wife may not approve of, but that I really have to have in order to read it contentedly.  The plots in this year's models are all alike, but that means I don't have to take routine matters like that into consideration: from the plot point of view, a PubCorp is simply a PubCorp.  And I splurged a bit and ordered the luxury model, since it has slightly wider inner margins--easier on the thumbs when I hold the book open for a late-night read.  The pages are waterproof, too--a new feature that should help it hold its value when I turn it in on next year's model.

As for my neighbor Joe: he can just eat his little heart out: my new PubCorp weighs at least twice what his InkPress does.  Worse for him, he had to make a choice of plots, since different lines of InkPress have different ones, and he'll take months to get used to the plot he bought.  If he'd taken my advice, and bought PubCorp in the first place, he'd have learned the plot by heart, by now.

My PubCorp comes with a ten-thousand hour warranty on the spine and twenty on the ink: InkPress only offers five for each.  Believe me, my family's PubCorp tradition is well worth preserving.  Brand loyalty--that's the thing!