Re: RARA-AVIS: Donald Goines

From: David Moran (
Date: 25 Mar 2004

Mark Sullivan wrote:

> miker wrote:
> "I had to smile when I read the part about publishers being leery of
> marketing books with a black male protagonist."
> I got the impression from the article that the problem was the type of
> black male protagonist, a street one with few, if any, redeeming
> qualities. As the article points out, Ellison, Wright, Baldwin, etc,
> who were thought to appeal to a more literary audience all found major
> publishers. And the same class battle goes on, as seen in the reaction
> to the pretty much stillborn Syndicated Books, which had planned to be a
> younger version of Holloway House, attaching a tie-in hip-hop CD to each
> of its books.

It's also worthwhile to keep in mind the difference in the marketplace for black books, and the unique problems that publishers of black books have, namely the self-sabotage of black American readers. Whereas I think most white literary audiences (due to geographic factors, mostly) will not purchase books from guys selling them off blankets or collapsable tables on street corners, audiences for black books do it openly. Take a walk in my neighborhood, or in East New York, or along Lenox Avenue in Harlem, and you'll see dozens of guys selling bootleg CDs and (since books are harder to bootleg) shoplifted books. These books come from my store, and stores like mine.

When most all of the books are sold at or below cost, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where they come from. When one copy of something gets stolen, it's possible to assume that the thief is taking the book for his own personal reading pleasure. When people are stealing 10 or 15 copies of one single book at a time...they're not giving them away as Christmas presents.

The result of this, is that while there is now a big boom of black readership
(in my area, at least), actual sales are stagnating, or even declining. Most of this has to do with the elaborate security precautions I have to take...e.g. keeping certain books under glass, or out of reach of customers, and keeping the black fiction section next to the cash register. These things all discourage browsing and discourage sales. But they keep me from getting robbed blind every day, too. Many times I have debated--as much as I like Donald Goines--dropping his books from my store entirely, as we barely break even with the sales we make versus the copies that are stolen. Luckily, I didn't have to make that decision, as the Goines-theft eventually trailed off to an acceptable level, in favor of theft of black erotic novels, like Zane's

To bring this back in a roundabout way to being on-topic...this is not just a problem with Black America, but I think reflects a larger problem for publishers of books about violence, sex, drugs, political revolution or other counterculture or bohemian topics...which happens to be the category that an overwhelming majority of Af-Am fiction fits into. When I worked at a large independent bookstore in NYC, Donald Goines was a high-theft author. But even more high-theft was Jim Thompson.

David Moran

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