Monthly Archives: July 2017

Strategies to cut overheads in a shrinking book business

31 July 2017

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

An inexorable reality of today’s commercial book publishing world is that it is shrinking.Although there have been no obvious signs yet that actual long-form book reading itself has declined (even though that would seem a likely consequence over time of the changed ways we get our reading inputs), the self-publishing and indie segment of the market keeps growing at the expense of the legacy commercial business.

Although it would take data I don’t have to prove this, it certainly appears anecdotally that the big houses are cutting back their investment in midlist titles, perhaps actually cutting future title count (which, over the years, has been an often-espoused but seldom-pursued strategy) but also offering smaller advances for all but the very top books.

Sales seem to be drifting away from the established publishers as their title outputs shrink or remain static and are shifting to Amazon’s own titles and indies, which is where the title base is expanding.

When businesses are shrinking, or even just not growing, it is a normal reaction to find ways to cut costs to maintain margins and profits. And, in fact, the big publishers have generally been managing their costs pretty effectively during a period of flat or declining top line sales.

In that context, it was no real surprise when it was publicly announced last week that F+W Publishing, which recently changed ownership, will cut overheads by moving from doing their own sales and distribution to working instead through Perseus, an Ingram company.

Meanwhile, the whole legacy industry worries about the future for Barnes & Noble.

Last week a significant Barnes & Noble shareholder called publicly for the chain to offer itself for sale, apparently calculating that new (and perhaps “private”) ownership would see paths to profits that aren’t being followed right now. This follows continuing evidence that B&N’s overall sales track the legacy business, and are therefore declining. Amazon, of course, is not just the principal creator and beneficiary of the new competitors, primarily independent authors. They are also moving from being an online-only retailer to competing in B&N’s milieu: physical locations offering books.

. . . .

Amazon’s supply chain, built on a scale that the book business alone could never support, is now the gold standard. It will enable them to continue rolling out smaller stores, which is the kind of outlet that can succeed in today’s book marketplace. The stark fact today is that more than half the sales are online (and despite and the increased frequency of online book peddling from authors and various vertical organizations enabled by Ingram’s and its competitors, almost all of those go to Amazon).

Big in-store inventories have become a pointless anachronism.

It is cheap sport to ridicule Barnes & Noble’s performance in the Internet age. They’ve made many of the standard incumbent mistakes in the face of upstart competition. They dealt themselves out of the online business by not pursuing either of the two most likely paths to success. They should either have made their dot com a stand-alone business, with pricing and growth aspirations beyond books that competed with Amazon, or they should have tightly integrated the online and store offerings to produce a hybrid that had its own appeal. They did neither.

. . . .

The shrinkage of the commercial business has other visible impacts. There is anecdotal evidence that the agents are suffering from these cutbacks. One much-younger-than-I-am publishing veteran recalled for me that when he started agenting (he no longer is active in that aspect of the business) a dozen years ago, he could live on his salary as a fledgling agent and he could really “build a list”. Neither of these things seem to be possible anymore, or at the least they are much more difficult. Meanwhile, even the older agents — those who have a list of productive authors — are finding it get harder and harder to make sales. And like publishers of a certain age, these agents don’t find their own progeny or their younger staff as willing to commit money or time to the future of the business as they would have expected them to 10 or 20 years ago.

Present trends clearly suggest that we will continue to have fewer commercial publishers signing up fewer books for smaller advances outside the handful of authors that are virtual guarantees to deliver big unit sales. And for those books that do have an assured big unit sale, publishers will tend to be willing to overpay because they need throughput to feed their fixed-overhead machines.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has disagreed with more than one of Mike’s posts in the past. In this instance, PG doesn’t disagree with the way Mike has characterized the current business climate for publishers. Mike has described the serious (likely fatal) problems of the traditional book business utilizing perspectives and information sources only a long-time publishing professional would understand.

However, as far as a solution for Barnes & Noble’s or the publishing industry’s overall problems, PG is reminded of an old business adage, “You can’t cut your way to success.”

Unless there is a reason to believe that a smaller book business will, by virtue of its size, gain access to powerful strategies, tools and talents that the larger one can’t obtain, cutting expenses is just trying to keep the Titanic afloat by tossing buckets of water overboard.

For authors, PG will repeat his harangue that the “standard” publishing contract that will last for the term of the author’s copyright – the remainder of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar lengths of time in other countries – puts traditionally-published authors into a very difficult situation. They’re the only ones who can’t jump ship and take their sources of income with them.

Traditionally-published authors have signed a contract that ties up their books basically forever. The contract is with a publisher that is a corporate entity, not a person.

Although the publisher’s past record of selling books or an editor’s reputation for quality work developing other authors’ careers may have been a key element in deciding to place the author’s book with that particular publisher, the editor and the people who worked hard to establish a successful sales record are not parties to the contract. They have no obligations to the author or to the publisher. The publisher probably has no long-term obligations to the people who built the publisher’s reputation.

Cutting your way to success often means firing people with the highest salaries. Cutting your way to success can also mean ruthlessly pruning expenses so the corporation can be sold to an entirely new owner.

The author has no voice in choosing a new owner for the publisher and no ability to change the lifetime term of the publishing contract.

The new owner will undoubtedly be another corporation. That corporation may be operated by people who are experienced and skilled in the book business or the new owner may be a hedge fund that specializes in sucking the last dollar from distressed properties prior to placing them into bankruptcy where even lower bottom-feeders will pick over the bones of the once-successful publisher.

And the author continues to be an unwilling participant in the process by virtue of the lifetime plus 70 contract she signed.

Visitors to TPV can decide whether publishers operated by bottom-feeders will be conscientious about sending out timely and accurate royalty reports. And royalty checks.

If an author has an obligation to give the publisher first option on new books or is prohibited from writing books that will compete with those the publisher has already published, how likely is it that the bottom-feeder will promptly respond to the option manuscripts or agree that the new books are not competitive so the author can sell those books to another publisher or self-publish them? A bottom feeder might decide that the author should pay a fee to obtain clearance to take each new book elsewhere.

PG reflexively takes the author’s side in business transactions with others. As he has mentioned before, Mrs. PG is a long-time author, first traditionally published and, in recent years, very happily self-published.

He lays out these possibilities and probabilities not to ruin the day for a traditionally-published author, but as a warning to act like a business person who sees a big storm on the horizon and take whatever precautions are available to minimize the financial and emotional damage which is likely to occur based upon current trends in the book business.

Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs on Amazon Sold More than 2 Billion Items Worldwide

31 July 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

Amazon today announced that small businesses and entrepreneurs on Amazon sold more than 2 billion items in a record-breaking first half of 2017. With more than 300 million active customers, Amazon offers small businesses the opportunity to reach shoppers in more than 180 countries around the world. Small businesses are also able to use Amazon’s world-class fulfillment and customer service expertise through Fulfillment by Amazon.

“We started working with small businesses to sell online back in 2000 and have helped hundreds of thousands achieve success. Amazon Marketplace has grown so significantly that sales by small businesses now account for over half of the unit sales on Amazon sites around the world, and 2017 is off to a record-start with over 2 billion units sold,” said Peter Faricy, Vice President for Amazon Marketplace. “We love hearing the stories from these small business owners who are able to quit their day jobs to sell on Amazon full-time, hire more employees to grow their business, and, in many cases, start other businesses – it’s very energizing for Amazonians to know that the technology we are building is helping so many people pursue their dreams.”

Facts about the Amazon Marketplace:

  • Amazon has 11 marketplaces around the world for small businesses and entrepreneurs to reach customers.
  • More than half of the items sold on Amazon worldwide are from small businesses and entrepreneurs that offer their products through Amazon Marketplace, many of whom also choose to use Fulfillment by Amazon as a way of making their items Prime eligible.
  • More than 100,000 entrepreneurs achieved over $100,000 in sales selling on Amazon in 2016.
  • According to an Amazon economic study, sellers have created over 600,000 new jobs outside of Amazon.
  • Small businesses and entrepreneurs selling on Amazon come from every state in the U.S., and from more than 130 different countries around the world.
  • Amazon sellers fulfilled orders to customers in 185 countries in 2016.
  • The Prime Day 2017 event grew by more than 60 percent over last year – sales growth by small businesses and entrepreneurs was even higher

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

PG says small business sales on Amazon Marketplace doesn’t fit the Giant Amazon vs. Poor Little Bookstores/Walmart/Target/mall owners/etc. narrative, so it doesn’t create a lot of mainstream news stories.

PG noted the “quit their day jobs” quote in the OP which is the same story more than a few authors tell about their experience self-publishing with KDP.

Perhaps PG’s brain is not adequately bathed in Coke Zero this morning, but he could not think of another organization that has made it possible for small businesses to sell 4 billion products per year or hire 600,000 employees.

Amazon provides a small business with a best-in-the-world ecommerce platform plus payment processing at a cost that is almost certainly less than a small business could negotiate with the credit card companies.

Add a network of the most efficient and innovative warehouses ever created plus a logistics/delivery system that undoubtedly has the lowest rates UPS, Fedex and the United States Postal Service provide to any customer and you have a system that allows a small business operation to focus on designing and creating the best products for its customers instead of figuring out how to promote and deliver its products to customers. (Yes, you can use this as an example of a run-on sentence with any of your students.)

Plus, unlike some providers of “small business solutions,” the businesses that use Amazon for fulfillment will never outgrow the capacity of Amazon to handle increasing sales and delivery volumes.

PG doesn’t contend Amazon is perfect or that it never makes mistakes in dealing with small entrepreneurs or authors, but it has certainly enabled a lot of little gals and little guys to earn much more money than they would have without Amazon.

And there are all those people who have been able to quit their day jobs and do something they enjoy more during their working lives.

Learning and innovation

31 July 2017

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.

William Pollard

His Life Among Books

31 July 2017

From The American Booksellers Association, interviewing Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.:

Bookselling This Week: Please talk about your early experiences with reading and books.

Bradley Graham: Books helped propel me into my first career — journalism. I came of age reading the works of Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Gay Talese, and Hunter Thompson. They were the purveyors of the “New Journalism,” eschewing the standard model of dispassionate, even-handed coverage and instead incorporating literary devices more common to fictional works. Their creative narrative methods broke all the rules — and drew me in. I became a reporter and stayed in journalism for more than 30 years. Somehow, it seems fitting that after leaving journalism, I entered the book business and can now help others find works that might inspire them.

BTW: Did you hold other positions in the book industry before becoming a bookseller?

BG: No, I was a neophyte to the business, at least to the retail end. I had written two books but had never worked in a bookstore. Still, as a veteran journalist trained in the art of quick study, I figured, “How hard could running a bookstore be?” After six years at Politics and Prose, I now can attest, “Harder than it looks!”

BTW: How did you begin as a bookseller, and how long after starting in bookselling did you begin to feel that you had found a special vocation?

BG: I got into bookselling as a co-owner of P&P, joining with my wife, Lissa Muscatine, to buy the store in 2011. From the start, I recognized that a bookstore serves a larger purpose than simply selling books. What lifts it above ordinary retail is its role as a community center, a forum for discussion, and a cathedral of ideas. Keeping a bookstore going carries a deep sense of responsibility, but, as I quickly came to appreciate, it also can be especially gratifying as a form of service to community.

. . . .

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you bought your store?

BG: The six years that I’ve been in bookselling have seen a dramatic shift in mood and outlook among indies. Back in 2011, much doom and gloom hung over the business amid widespread predictions that e-books would soon supplant physical books. Nowadays, the news media are filled with stories about an indie revival, and while some of this also is overdone, there is certainly justifiable renewed confidence in the survival of bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Why the shift? A combination of factors account for it, but perhaps most significant has been a deepened commitment by customers to shop local and support their neighborhood bookstores.

BTW: As an ABA Board member, what are your key goals for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

BG: First, to do more to help indies widen exceedingly narrow profit margins, whether by improving terms through ongoing discussions with individual publishers, developing new sources of financing, exploring cost-cutting options, sharing best practices among stores, or other measures. Second, further improve IndieCommerce and better educate stores about how to use online services.

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

Confessions of a Content Creator

31 July 2017

From Medium:

Gut: Hey Brain, want to write something that’ll almost certainly expose us to massive criticism?

Brain: Uhhh, no?


As a content creator, I don’t really care about data.

There. I said it.

Don’t misunderstand: I know I’m supposed to care about data. I’m supposed to end that opening sentence by saying, “but I’m working hard to improve my analytical chops.”

But the truth is, I’m really not.

Instead, I’m working hard to improve my creative chops. It’s what I love. It’s what I was put on this earth to do. I aspire to create things that make you feel stuff and think stuff and want to spend more time with more of that stuff.

Now, I’m no fool. I know I’ll look far better if I claim that I’m data-driven. After all, I’ve worked for online startups and tech companies my entire career. We’re the crowd responsible for the data-first ways currently permeating even the most analytics-agnostic fields.

I know I’m supposed to say I care a ton about data. But, well … I just don’t.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: I’m not alone in feeling this way about data. There are others like me, others who create content for a living — damn good content at that — and we don’t really think about data all that much. We’re walking among you right now, working on your teams, attending your meetings, nodding at our CMOs who shout of MQLs and monthly lead-gen metrics.

We pretend to care. But we don’t really care.

We really care about our craft. We really care about what our intuition is urging us to try. We really care about making things others like — nay, love. And as it just so happens, this is the skill that many businesses are starting to realize they need but can’t often find.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that Content Creator is one of the many jobs that didn’t exist when he was a little squirt.

Bringing A Bookstore To The Bronx

31 July 2017

From National Public Radio:


Nearly a million and a half people live in the Bronx. And since the end of last year, there hasn’t been a single general interest bookstore in the New York City borough to serve them. But a Bronx entrepreneur is working on changing that. From New York, Rick Karr reports.

RICK KARR, BYLINE: Bronx native Noelle Santos decided it was time to open a bookstore in the borough even before Barnes & Noble closed its only retail location there.

NOELLE SANTOS: That Barnes & Noble – while I appreciated their presence, it never, like, really served the core or was accessible to the core of the Bronx. It could take you up to 50 minutes if you live where I live just to get there by public transportation. It was easier just to take an express train to the city. And then you’re taking your dollars out of the Bronx.

KARR: It’s not just money that’s flowing out of the borough, Santos says. Bronx-based writers have to head to Manhattan for readings and other promotional events. Bronx-based readers don’t have a place to connect. And online booksellers, she says, don’t solve either problem.

SANTOS: We need a physical space like a bookstore, whether it be independent or a chain store. It serves this physiological purpose that Amazon cannot reproduce. Amazon is not a bookstore. They are an algorithm, and that’s all.

KARR: It’s also easier for young people to get in the habit of reading if they grow up with access to bookstores, according to Lisa Lucas.

LISA LUCAS: That’s a place of discovery. That’s a place where the magic of books comes alive in a really tangible way.

KARR: Lucas is executive director of the National Book Foundation.

LUCAS: And I think the more places and spaces that we have that communicate the value of the book, the more that people will want to take a book home or think, oh, this is something I should do.

KARR: Creating a space like that isn’t easy. And Noelle Santos knows it, not least because she has no experience as a retailer. She works in a corporate HR department. Her only experience with booksellers is as a customer.

SANTOS: The industry has been pretty volatile over my entire lifetime, 30 years. And I was, like, OK. What can I do to put a spin on this traditional bookstore model to be a more sustainable business?

KARR: Santos decided that what she could do was combine a bookstore with another business she figures is pretty much recession-proof, a wine bar. She calls it The Lit Bar.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Pemberley, Manderley and Howards End: the real buildings behind fictional houses

31 July 2017
Comments Off on Pemberley, Manderley and Howards End: the real buildings behind fictional houses

From The Guardian:

Howards End, Manderley, Brideshead – some fictional houses are as unforgettable as the characters who inhabit them. They can provide a sense of identity, as in the novels of Walter Scott, which were set in a time when a man was distinguished by the land and house from which he got his name. They can convey ideas of personality, as Charles Dickens’s living spaces reflect the quirks of his characters. They can offer us symbols of social status, as with Jane Austen’s Pemberley, or some tangible link to the past, as so ardently forged by writers such as Evelyn Waugh.

The house that commands the fictional centre of a story exerts a power over the characters: their behaviour, aspirations and fate. In my research into houses in British literature, I wanted to find out what drove authors, from Austen to Alan Hollinghurst, to home in on a particular house or type of house as the focus of their fictional worlds. The British may not have the monopoly on house-centred stories, but the literature is filled with thinking, writing, and imagining houses in ways that betray a particular consciousness of house and home. Some of the most celebrated novels, such as Howards End or Brideshead Revisited, signal this from the title, while others sneak us in through the back door, as it were, so that we understand the importance of the house only once we’re ambling along the passageways, scrutinising the furnishings. But once over the threshold, fictional houses have us in their spell. As Daphne du Maurier said of Menabilly, the house that inspired her characters’ devotion to Manderley, it possessed her “even as a mistress holds a lover”.

. . . .

Godmersham Park, Kent:
Jane Austen 

The daughter of a vicar, Jane Austen grew up in a household of more modest means than many in her circle. She attended parties, balls and other social gatherings at plenty of grand Hampshire country houses, writing to her sister Cassandra in 1800: “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not else how to account for the shaking of my hand today.” But it was Godmersham, in Kent, and the smaller, less spectacular but still impressive Chawton House in Hampshire, two properties inherited by her brother Edward after he was adopted by childless relatives, that helped her to inhabit the world of her more privileged characters.

In Edward Austen’s day, Godmersham had 5,000 acres of land (today it still has 2,000). The house was built in 1732 by the Knight family, who added two wings in the 1780s before Edward inherited the property in 1797. It still has several wings and retains its elegant Italianate style. It is sometimes speculated that the more famous Chatsworth in the Peak District was the inspiration for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley, but it was at Godmersham that Austen experienced living in a large house, with many servants and entertainments. She spent long hours writing letters in the library, and the vicarage – still extant on the property – is thought to have inspired Mr Collins’s house in Pride and Prejudice. The place was luxurious to Austen: “I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now; – let me shake off vulgar cares & conform to the happy Indifference of East Kent wealth.” By contrast, writing in 1798 from the rectory at Steventon in Hampshire, where she grew up, she complained: “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. – Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there.”

. . . .

Rooks Nest, Hertfordshire:
EM Forster

Few can read Howards End without longing for a golden afternoon in the garden of an English cottage. The house represents the England of the past, threatened by a modern world in motion where motorcars speed people through a landscape they have no time to appreciate. “Only connect” is the motto of the book, and conveys a possibility for spiritual fulfilment that Forster felt strongly could be imparted through the life of a house. He was very clear about the inspiration for the house of his eponymous novel – Rooks Nest, his childhood home. After his father died of tuberculosis, when Forster was not quite two, his mother decided it would be healthier to move to the country. In 1883 she took the lease on Rooks Nest, near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, where they lived for the next 10 years. The house had belonged to a family named Howard, who had farmed there for three centuries. Forster began memorialising it while still in his teens. “I took it to my heart,” he later wrote, “and hoped … that I should live and die there.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Amazon Titles Dominate Amazon E-book Bestseller List

30 July 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

The biggest surprise in our annual roundup of bestsellers for the January-June period came on the Amazon Kindle e-book bestsellers list. The sheer number of bestsellers that were published by the e-tailer’s own in-house publishing imprints—fiction and popular nonfiction imprint Lake Union, mystery imprint Thomas & Mercer, literary fiction imprint Little A, and Montlake Romance—was remarkable. Amazon had 12 of its own titles on its e-book list, a stark contrast not only from the BookScan print list but from Amazon’s list for the first half of last year, which saw only a single Lake Union title make the cut, and that in its final slot. (Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a Lake Union title, was #2 this year.)

In response to inquiry, a representative from Amazon denied that anything has changed. “Nothing has changed in the way we count sales,” she wrote in an email. “We haven’t changed how titles are promoted. These titles are priced competitively and participate in new and growing reading programs like Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited.”

. . . .

Relevant backlist dystopian fiction also had a moment. Both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 were in the BookScan top 20 and on Amazon’s list of Kindle e-book bestsellers, where the Atwood—which was adapted as a critically acclaimed Hulu original television series starring Elizabeth Moss earlier this year—took the top slot overall. (Vance also found his way onto the Amazon list, at #20.)

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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