Big Publishing

Bonnier Zaffre poaches Wilbur Smith in eight-figure deal

19 June 2017

From The Bookseller:

Bonnier Zaffre has poached author Wilbur Smith from HarperCollins in an eight-figure sterling deal, described as “one of the biggest in publishing history” by Bonnier Publishing group chief executive Richard Johnson.

Mark Smith, c.e.o. of Bonnier Zaffre, acquired world all-language rights to eight new Wilbur Smith books, together with English language rights to 34 backlist titles including classics such as When The Lion Feeds, Elephant Song and River God, from Kevin Conroy Scott at Tibor Jones Agency.

Smith, who is now 84, is said to have sold more than 130 million copies of his novels worldwide, and is currently published in 25 languages.

HarperCollins published Smith’s first co-authored title, Golden Lion, in September 2015 after he moved from Pan Macmillan in a six-book deal, rumoured to be worth £15m. Before that Smith published 34 books with Pan Macmillan. The last book under contract with HarperCollins deal is due to be published this autumn.

. . . .

“With over 130 million books sold, Wilbur is at the top of his game and is much loved around the globe. With world rights in the new titles, we are very much looking forward to working with likeminded, entrepreneurial and commercial publishers in all international territories,” he said.

He told The Bookseller there would be “more of this to come”, with Bonnier Publishing looking to grow both by building their own brand authors and by buying them in.

“This is exactly part of our strategy, if we do have the opportunity to deal with, talk to and convince other brand name authors we are the place to be,” said Smith. “We’ve built a great team and we’re having great results, we’re very focused and determined and we have a successful approach to commercial fiction; I think what we do is appealing so I hope there will be more of this to come.”

Asked whether other publishers should be nervous about their prized writers being poached, Smith added “there is enough opportunity for everyone to succeed.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller


Greenpeace Wars with Paper Company, Sticking Publishers In the Middle

19 June 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

America’s Big Five trade publishers have found themselves in the middle of a long-running battle between Greenpeace and Resolute Forest Products over the forest company’s logging practices in Canada’s boreal forest. Greenpeace has been campaigning for years to make Resolute change its polices in Canada’s northern forests, and the fight has taken a number of turns; one of the unexpected twists was Greenpeace’s decision to take a booth at this year’s BookExpo. The booth and ads in PW Show Daily and last week’s issue of PW magazine are designed to pressure Resolute to modify its forest practices and also to drop a lawsuit it brought against the environmental organization.

Responding to what it says are unsubstantiated claims Greenpeace has made against it, Resolute first filed a lawsuit in Canada in 2013 charging the organization with defamation and economic interference. It followed that up with a May 2016 lawsuit in Georgia alleging RICO violations and defamation. Greenpeace views that suit as creating a free-speech issue, claiming it is designed to silence the group and could silence other advocacy organizations.

Last September, the AAP joined with 11 other media groups in filing an amicus curiae brief in the Georgia case, arguing that if the lawsuit is upheld it could have a chilling effect on free speech rights. But in May, Greenpeace chose to put more heat on publishers to support its cause, releasing a report saying it learned that major U.S. publishers, despite backing free speech, are buying paper from Resolute sourced from disputed areas. Greenpeace also took a petition to BookExpo, signed by more than 100 authors, that called for publishers to stand up for free speech by opposing the Resolute lawsuits and pressure Resolute to engage in more sustainable forest practices.

Rodrigo Estrada, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said that though Greenpeace does not usually attend trade shows, the organization made an exception for BookExpo because it felt it was important to reach out to publishers to more clearly explain its position on the issue. Estrada added that Greenpeace seeks to reassure publishers that it doesn’t want to work against them but would rather work with them on sustainability and free speech issues. “The message isn’t that publishers are the bad guys,” Estrada said, adding that “we want to show them we aren’t the enemy.”

The Big Five publishers—which have all created environmental policies—have called the Greenpeace-Resolute fight a complicated issue (one person, off the record, called it a mess) and have expressed sympathy with some of Greenpeace’s objectives while opposing some of its tactics. A statement from Simon & Schuster sums up the general feeling among the publishers PW contacted: “Each party in the dispute has made claims, counterclaims and arguments in support of its positions about complicated issues, that, as publishers, we have little ability to judge or verify. We do, however, recognize the urgency of current environmental issues, the unalloyed right to free and responsible free speech in advocating for environmental and other causes, and the right to defend one’s reputation.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Save the planet, read ebooks.


AAP Reports Trade Revenues Flat, eBook Revenues Down in 2016

15 June 2017

From The Digital Reader:

The Association of American Publishers has released its end of year revenue report. The data is supplied by 1,200 member publishers, and reflects the net annual revenue of somewhere under half the industry.

In terms of format, ebook revenues were down 15.6%, and hardback books grew 2.2%, children’s board books grew 7.7% and paperback revenues grew 4.1% compared to 2015.

Downloaded audiobook revenues were up 25.8% for 2016.

In terms of category, adult book revenues declined 2.3% while YA and religious presses rose 3.7% and 8.4%, respectively.

. . . .

Overall publisher revenue for 2016 was $14.3 billion, down 6.6% from 2015.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader


Harper Lee estate endorses To Kill a Mockingbird graphic novel

7 June 2017

From The Guardian:


To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s classic story of racism in the southern states of the US, which has sold more than 40m copies since it was first published in 1960, is to be turned into a graphic novel. Unexpectedly, the move has been encouraged by the late author’s estate.

The graphic novel will be illustrated by Fred Fordham, the artist behind Philip Pullman’s recent first venture into the form, The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. The London-born artist said: “Adapting a story that means so much to so many – and finding the appropriate art style to give it life in a long-form visual medium – is a great honour and responsibility, and, mercifully, also a great pleasure.”

. . . .

The Lee estate approached the publisher with the idea of a graphic novel. It is just the latest in a series of projects using Lee’s groundbreaking book since her death in February 2016. In December, it was announced that the reclusive author’s home town Monroeville planned to create and build a group of tourist attractions based on the book, which are due to open this year. A coalition of local businesses – led by the late author’s lawyer Tonja Carter – was behind the plans, which included creating a dedicated museum in the courthouse in which Lee’s father, the model for the character Atticus Finch, kept an office. There are also plans to build replicas of three of the houses featured in the novel.

Whether Lee would have approved of the way that her book is being used since her death is moot.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says To Kill a Mockingbird action figures and video games can’t be far behind.


Print sales might be rallying, but don’t get complacent

31 May 2017

From The Bookseller:

In many ways, the worst thing to happen to book publishing has been the persistent strength of print books and the drop in sales of ebooks. Namely, the stalling of the digital transformation of the industry.

Yeah, I did say that. Let me explain.

Some might say that book publishing has weathered the transformation very well and is in a strong position. The numbers would tend to agree with that. Print sales up a notch, new bookshops opening, children’s book sales going from strength to strength. Time to put the kettle on then, sit back and put our feet up, yes?

Well, I tend to agree with Andrew Keen, the Internet critic and author who spoke at FutureBook in December. To paraphrase, he said publishing had come through the digital transformation mostly unscathed. However, he went on to say that this was down to good luck and not by any strategic play.

. . . .

During the early stages of the transformation, publishers threw money at a variety of digital initiatives: apps, ecommerce platforms, their own community websites… even buying the odd start-up. But big publishers spent big and lost big. I could easily list 10 initiatives that were launched with much fanfare, to be left unloved for 18 months and closed with a whimper. The intent may have been there, but the commitment certainly wasn’t. And further, their structures, people and processes did not allow for successful innovation at any scale.

But what does this matter if print sales are up and ebook sales are down? We’re fine, right?

Well yes, if we anticipate no further transformation happening. Or put another way, if we hope nobody else enters the industry looking to disrupt it; if no companies come along with new business models for books; if readers do not change how or what they buy; if no new technology emerges to offer readers a different experience, and if – a big if – Amazon, Google et al don’t come up with yet more game-changing ideas. That’s a future dependent on a lot of unlikely ifs.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream.

Donatella Versace


Don’t Immediately Trust Mainstream Sites on Publishing Stories

30 May 2017

From Jane Friedman:

Over the last month, there have been a couple publishing stories receiving wide play across mainstream news sites such as The Guardian, Vox, Huffington Post, and others. While such outlets may be respectable and have the ability to get most stories right, in the publishing industry, two problems often come into play:

  • A lack of understanding of industry statistics—and an inability to put them in their proper context
  • Knee-jerk judgment regarding anything Amazon does

Publications with business models that predominantly rely (or did rely) on print also have the “nostalgia” problem—where they’re particularly prone to latch on to any story that indicates a possible resurgence of print or decline of digital.

. . . .

A lawn-mower vendor or a light bulb manufacturer could have told you this was probably coming. In every part of Amazon’s far-flung retail operation, third-party vendors “compete with Amazon”—that’s Amazon’s own language—to be the default sellers of items in a product’s buy box—the box that contains the purchase button and indicates the seller and purchase price.

This wasn’t the case for non-used books, however, until earlier this spring, when Amazon introduced this same capacity for third-party vendors to be made the seller in the buy box of new books. This change has kicked up a firestorm of complaint in the publishing community.

Let’s start with Amazon’s statement to the press on this: “We have listed and sold books, both new and used, from third-party sellers for many years. The recent changes allow sellers of new books to be the ‘featured offer’ on a book’s detail page, which means that our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third-party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items. Only offers for new books are eligible to be featured.”

At the heart of the matter for publishing people is the question of “new.” If that book is in fact new, then it will have been bought from the publisher (or an official wholesaler/distributor) by the third-party vendor. Thus, the vendor’s payment will have paid the publisher and thus the author.

So, the question is: Are these new books really new? Are they being sourced legitimately? Amazon says it’s working hard to be sure that books offered as new are actually new. In this seller forum thread, you can see a third-party seller (called “tomepusher”) working through a long exchange with other vendors. His listings have been removed by Amazon, he says, “because of complaints about used items sold as new.” In the course of this exchange, you see the vendor being told by colleagues that he should have an invoice “directly from the publisher” as protection, to prove the books were legitimately bought new, if Amazon inquires.

And the retailer isn’t the only one inquiring. Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has reported that Penguin Random House is asking Amazon re-sellers “specifically how and from whom you are acquiring our books.”

Coverage from Publishers Weekly has included a precise definition from Amazon of new as “brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition. The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. All supplementary materials are included, and all access codes for electronic material, if applicable, are valid and/or in working condition.”

As is frequently the case, reaction to Amazon’s application of its standard buy-box policy to books is probably overheated. It’s not clear yet how much actual impact this may have on revenues for authors and publishers if third-party sellers are indeed held to dealing in actual new books.

That said, at the heart of the disturbance is a mystery as to how third-party vendors can sell new books at the low prices they charge (and still make anything) and how they’re obtaining the books they say are new. If anything, this development will lead to a healthy tightening of some publisher’s own sales policies—particularly as it relates to advance review copies, hurts, and remainders—as well as to tighter controls on what books are sold as new on the Amazon platform.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says this is another example of publishers believing they have a divine right to overprice their books. Barnes & Noble discounts books online and in stores and has done so for years.

There are vendors (and not a few) that have figured out how to make money on razor-thin margins in all types of consumer products. Why should books be special?


The Critical Marketing Challenge in Digital Times: What to Work on Next

25 May 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Every publisher with more than a handful of published titles has a daily challenge to assign the marketing resources available to where they will do the most good. Efforts no longer have to be restricted, as they sensibly were until the most recent past, by what titles have inventory in front of customers on store shelves. With more than half of book sales — and for many titles half of the print sales — taking place online, the lack of availability of copies in stores is no longer the insuperable barrier it once was to getting sales when a title has appeal in the marketplace.

In fact, better allocating their marketing resources may well have become the single biggest opportunity for publishers to improve sales in the digital age.

. . . .

What Pete learned through data-driven experimentation, which has been leveraged by OptiQly, is that Amazon reads dozens of ranking signals to determine its own marketing position on any book at any time. So the Amazon product page becomes a window into a title’s online positioning, if you know how to look through it.

From the user’s perspective, OptiQly looks at each book and gives it two “scores”: one for the “brand” (which most of the time means the author’s online footprint and credibility) and one for the “product”, which is the book itself. The higher the score, the more likely the product is to be successful within the online retail environment.

. . . .

OptiQly looks at the ecosystem outside of Amazon — as Amazon itself does — to find out whether there is interest in the title and the brand. But then it looks inside Amazon to see if people can find the title and whether it is positioned correctly. As Ruszala explains it, the book’s Amazon “page” is its storefront where the title can be — metaphorically — face out at eye level or spined on an ankle-level shelf.

Amazon is trying to put the most appealing title for you in front of you, and what Amazon considers the most appealing titles are merchandised directly by Amazon in a variety of ways, guaranteeing an uptick in sales, with no added marketing expense to the publisher.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files


Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?

23 May 2017

From The Guardian:

For nine decades, the New York Times bestseller lists have been the industry gold standard when it comes to obtaining a seal of approval that will make readers sit up and pay attention. But like most things in the book industry, it’s something Amazon has in its sights.

Last week the online retailer launched Amazon Charts, which complements the site’s usual hourly updates of bestselling books. The new list combines what’s being ordered from them with data obtained from Kindle and Audible users to find out what books are actually being read and listened to.

It’s an interesting algorithm, and one that has been utilised before, but never formally by Amazon in this way. In 2014, the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg created an index of the most abandoned books, based on Kindle data. So while every man and his dog might have bought a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Thomas Pinketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, not everyone actually read them.

Amazon Charts might open up a whole new set of bestsellers based on books actually read rather than books bought as coffee-table status symbols. But will this carry more weight with the publishing industry – and readers – than the venerable New York Times bestseller tag, which has been the go-to example of bragging rights since 1931?

On the face of it, Amazon Charts might democratise and re-evaluate the bestseller concept, but on the other – like Coca Cola, KFC and Big Mac special sauce – nobody really knows what actually goes into the New York Times’ bestseller list.

It certainly isn’t just a roundup of physical books bought over the counter at bricks-and-mortar stores. A request for an explanation and a breakdown of audience figures for the various NYT bestseller lists which are posted online was greeted with a firm: “We don’t share traffic data at the section level.”

. . . .

One advantage Amazon has is that it subdivides literary categories almost to an atomic level, which has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it gives a leg up to authors working in a genre that might not have its own New York Times bestseller category, and who might never trouble the upper reaches of the general fiction sales charts.

“In general, I do not think the Amazon bestseller tag will carry as much weight for literary works,” Stein says. “Though for genre books, for which a New York Times tag is not possible due to their evaluation system, it might serve the purpose in the same way – as a validation that this book stood out above the others.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG suspects the NYT’s best-seller list formula is a deep secret because disclosing it would show it’s subject to manipulation, put together with wire and chewing gum and would sink the list’s credibility.



Thriller-seekers strike big deals

17 May 2017

From The Bookseller:

The popularity of psychological thrillers shows little sign of abating, with commissioning editors at the London Book Fair signing up many such titles—including one pre-empted for a seven-figure sum in the US.

Sphere publishing director Lucy Malagoni snapped up UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy from Jenny Meyer, acting on behalf of Elisabeth Weed at The Book Group, and plans to publish the title in 2018. The thriller, set in the wake of the abduction of a six-week-old baby, was pre-empted by HarperCollins in the US for seven figures.

Film rights to the title were sold to TriStar, with actor Kerry Washington to star and Amy Pascal to lead production. The book has sold in 12 territories to date, with Malagoni stating that “the writing really gets under your skin”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller


Are things getting worse for women in publishing?

11 May 2017

From The Guardian:

When Edie and Eddie started work as junior editors in the same corporate book publisher, they had much in common: firsts from Oxbridge and career ambition. And a passion for books and ideas. When Edie saw her role model moved out of the chief executive’s office to be replaced by a man, the two joked about what it took to get to the top.

But as both observed the same thing happen at one publishing house after another, the joke wore thin. And Eddie, frustrated at the lack of promotion, changed. “He donned a suit and began to walk and talk like the men he saw getting on in the business and suddenly things changed for him,” Edie recalls. “It was as simple as that.”

To her, it seems that “all you need to get on now is to be a suited and booted man, who looks like he has an MBA. They remind me of David Cameron and George Osborne. All of them are white, middle class and presentable.” She pauses. “And male of course, which is definitely something I cannot aspire to be.” (Edie and Eddie are not real names, but like many of the people interviewed for this piece, Edie did not wish to be identified.)

This is a harsh assessment of UK publishing; an industry that had comforted itself that the one area of diversity it need not address was gender. A 2016 survey of the gender divide in US publishing found 78% of the industry is female (no UK-wide survey has yet been done). But the same survey found that, at executive or board level, 40% of respondents were men. And Edie is not alone in the frustration she feels over the split at board level: there is growing disquiet among the rank and file.

This is not to say that women have left the boardroom completely. But, as one senior female editor notes, women such as Random House’s Gail Rebuck, Penguin’s Helen Fraser, Macmillan’s Annette Thomas and Little, Brown’s Ursula Mackenzie, who had all embodied the ideal that women publishers faced no glass ceiling, have in the last five years all been replaced by men. “There is a problem, because you get the sense with the remaining women in senior management that they have gone as far as they are going to go, and in every case they are answerable to clean-cut, fortysomething men,” the editor adds.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

On Author Central, no one knows if you’re a woman or a Klingon.

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