Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 11:54 UK

Racing for the first Jackson book

By Dominic Laurie
Business reporter, BBC News

Michael Jackson biography, published by Harper Collins
The first books will be on sale by the end of the week

We don't know if he has even been buried yet but already the first Michael Jackson tribute biography is bound and ready to go.

Harper Collins is one of 15 publishers racing to get their book onto the shelves first.

A printers in Somerset began running 110,000 copies of their edition on Saturday. Harper Collins hopes this means the book can hit the shops on Friday, just three weeks after Jackson's death.

How they did it is down to some of the tightest self-imposed deadlines the UK publishing industry has ever seen.

Race begins

The morning after the news Michael Jackson had died, Harper Collins sensed an opportunity. They decided a new book was needed, especially since the most recent Jackson biography in the marketplace was over five years old.

In terms of the reaction to the death of a public figure, it's probably the most significant publishing event since the death of Princess Diana
Joe Browes, music buyer for Waterstone's

The trouble is, they knew their competitors would be thinking the same thing.

"We needed text in two days, pictures in three days," says Carole Tonkinson, publisher for non fiction at Harper Collins. "We started the project Monday afternoon, and by Thursday we had to give it to the designer to put together, which is the tightest schedule in the history of our company."

To meet the tight deadlines the publisher had set themselves, they quickly brought in a freelance author, sat him down in an office on the editorial floor of their London headquarters, and told him to write 10,000 words of new material in 48 hours.

He shut himself away until he had finished.

Sales boost

"Being first is key, we need to get that slot in the retailers," says Tonkinson. "If our competitors sell them their Jacko book, then we're out in the cold. We need to be in that slot, on the shelf in the supermarket, in the book shop before anybody else."

Books rolling out
Harper Collins gave itself the tightest schedule in its history

The book trade, under pressure from the recession and online media, is excited at what all the publishers might come up with.

"In terms of the reaction to the death of a public figure, it's probably the most significant publishing event since the death of Princess Diana," says Joe Browes, the music buyer for Waterstone's.

For the industry, this is great news. It means extra sales that had not been planned for.

But with four or five publishers rushing to be first to market, it seems likely that there won't be room in the market for all of the books.

Even though Jackson's commercial appeal is huge, the pie is finite and not everyone will get a bite.

Reacting fast is everything.



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