May 16, 2011

Go the F**k to #1


It’s been a heartening story in an otherwise bleak time in the book industry: a book by a little indie press made it to number one on the Amazon bestseller list. It’s a doubly impressive feat as the book doesn’t exist yet.

As a story in the San Francisco Bay Citizen reports, there aren’t even galleys of Adam Mansbach‘s Go the Fuck to Sleep yet, “so the only form that people have seen the book thus far has been as an emailed document.”

So what happened?

The book, now scheduled to hit stores on June 14, began attracting attention with a sudden, mysterious climb up the Amazon list after it had been posted for pre-sale earlier this year. While it’s impossible to calculate the number of emailed documents shared, media outlets such as the New Yorker have begun to speculate that one of the biggest engines of its success has been booksellers and other industry folk circulating the 32-page PDF to the wider world.

This, of course, presents a challenge to Akashic Books, the independent publisher who is seeing unbelievable success with this slim, illustrated book —namely how to stop piracy of its intellectual property while not squashing healthy buzz. The book’s success, while only existing in electronic form, seems fairly unprecedented: already, Fox 2000 has optioned the film rights and Mansbach appears to be poised for a national media tour.

“The copies have been proliferating since this craziness started,” said Ibrahim Ahmad, senior editor at the Brooklyn-based press, “With a PDF, you can make so many duplicates and people have just been forwarding it.”

Meanwhile, three days after this story originally appeared, the book continues to bounce up and down between the number one and number two position of the Amazon bestseller list, after 21 days in the top 100 books. Which must be why Brooklyn stalwart Johnny Temple of Akashic moved the book up from its original pub date of October.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.