Big Publishing

On the rapaciousness of scientific publishers, and my refusal to be their slave

1 December 2016

From Why Evolution is True:

I’ve long complained about the bloated profits of commercial scientific publishers, which can be as high as 40%. That’s obscene if you realize that other companies which actually make a product make far less money, that the scientific publishers get that money by not only charging authors to publish there, but having their scientific papers refereed and improved by reviewers who are paid nothing. Those reviewers—and I’ve done plenty of gratis reviewing for journals like Nature and Current Biology, as well as for journals issued by less greedy publishers—are done out of a sense of “public service”. Profit-hungry journals like to play on our sense of duty and public service, all the while raking in huge profits by using scientists to do the journal’s job for free. And remember that these journals charge people for access to papers that are, by and large, funded by government grants—by the taxpayer. It’s reprehensible that the public who funds such research is denied access to the results of that research.  (Some funding organizations, however, allow journals to charge for access for only one year. But even that is too much.) Commercial publishing of taxpayer-funded research is a travesty unless the profits, beyond those needed to pay salaries and run the company, are plowed back into more science.

But young scientists, who need to make their reputations by publishing in well-known journals like Cell and Nature, have no choice, for their hiring, tenure, and promotion often depend on what journals accept their papers. Sadly, many of the “high quality” journals are put out by greedy publishers. And it’s not just young scientists, either: organizations that hand out grants often look at where you’ve published your papers before deciding whether to give you further funds.

. . . .

Their solution is to abandon these greedy publishers and publish under the model of those university and society presses that plow back profits into scientific initiatives. They also say that scientists and granting agencies need to abandon the use of journal titles as measures of scientific worth, a move I heartily approve.

. . . .

Finally, they argue that scientists should stop allowing themselves to be exploited by rapacious publishers:

What can we as individuals do to promote change? One obvious action that would help weaken the grip of the for-profit publishing industry on our community would be, whenever reasonably possible, to decline to provide our free labor. One of us (PW) for example, with very few exceptions that can be counted with the fingers on one hand, has not published in and not reviewed for any Elsevier journal for the last 13 years. What is most puzzling is a lack of more widespread anger in our communities regarding the degree of exploitation and abuse by for-profit publishing enterprises that we not only tolerate, but accept and support.  Rather, as Scott Aaronson points out later in his article, “[w]e support the enterprise by reviewing and by serving on editorial boards without compensation, regarding these duties as a moral obligation.

. . . .

Coincidentally, I was asked yesterday by one of the Nature journals to review a submission. I agreed, read the paper, and then noticed that the paper was tracked through the “Springer Nature Tracking System.” Springer? I wrote to the editor and asked if Nature was now affiliated with the rapacious Springer. I was told that “Springer Nature. . . formed last year through the merger of Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group and Springer, both commercial publishers.”

With that, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to work for free to enrich either Nature or especially Springer, which is a gouger. I wrote this response:

Given that Springer makes at least 30% profits, and it is using, through the journals, reviewers and authors as free (and exploited) labor to swell its coffers, I’m afraid I must refuse to do my review, even though I’ve read the paper twice. Nature should, in these circumstances, remunerate its authors and reviewers instead of greedily sucking up profits for Springer. Given that you’re asking all of us to do this for free, I must decline to work further for Naturewithout remuneration.  I have no doubt that you, [editor’s name redacted], and the other editors are doing your job because you care about science, and are trying your best to maintain the quality of our field; my decision is simply a refusal to work for a system that exploits scientists to make profits for a company.

I’d urge other scientists to avoid reviewing for Nature given its new affiliation, or at least to demand $400 per hour for reviewing, something that no journal will pay, of course.

Link to the rest at Why Evolution is True and thanks to G.P. for the tip.

AAP Reports eBook, Trade Revenues Down in First Half of 2016

17 November 2016

From The Digital Reader:

The latest stats from the Association of American Publishers show that the Big Five publishers’ ebook revenues continue to decline.

Overall revenues were down 3.4% in the first half of the year, and more specifically trade revenues were down 1.1%.

In that segment, adult book revenues declined 2.8%, while religious presses and kids books each rose 10.4% and just under one percent, respectively.

In terms of formats, revenues from hardback sales grew one percent while paperback sales rose by 8.8% and sales of audiobooks increased by 32.3%.

. . . .

According to the AAP, publishers’ ebook revenues fell by 20%, to $579.5 million.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Newspaper publishers face very different and much more immediate threats than book publishers

16 November 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The business news has been very painful for newspapers lately. A piece we saw a couple of days ago says both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are going to cut back sharply on their arts coverage. The advertising simply isn’t there to support it.

And recently before that, we read a piece suggesting that perhaps newspapers should have just ignored the whole digital thing (a frighteningly obtuse suggestion) and then right afterwards a Times story documenting the collapse of advertising dollars available for print which pretty much obviates the “just skip digital” idea. (One wonders if the people advocating that solution are not aware that overall ad budgets are reviewed by all advertisers regularly and the budgets are routinely reallocated to put more into digital and less into print! This is not a “secret” trend.)

. . . .

I have two print subscriptions left: The New York Times and The New Yorker. I have recently found that their online prompts through emails and digests have led me to read most of what the print edition offers on my phone before the print edition arrives! (Still, I have no plans to cancel either because digital-only isn’t that much cheaper and I still get a bit of value out of the print.)

While I think the book business still has years of viability in front of it, I can’t see a way to sustain the periodicals. It isn’t just about consumption in print versus consumption in digital. There are two massive differences between the businesses.

1. Newspapers (and magazines) depend on advertising in their business model; book publishers don’t.

2. Newspapers (and magazines) are aggregates of content while many books are themselves a single unit of content. You can get the box scores or the weather or the national news headlines from a variety of places, no matter how unique or distinctive are other parts of the newspaper you buy. You wouldn’t find an acceptable substitute for the sixth chapter of a novel you’re reading.

. . . .

Both the “whole” newspaper and the record album made sense in a physical world. It would simply not be practical for the newspaper to deliver recipes and box scores on your lawn and national news and TV listings on mine. Record companies “stamped” records and CDs, and it was approximately the same cost basis to them whether they gave you one or two songs when they did that or twelve. Both business models were built on aggregations when physical requirements made the aggregations sensible and the consumer readily went along with it.

Book publishers certainly have serious challenges in front of them. In the short run, they are learning that novels work better as both print and digital productsthan cookbooks (where the unit of individual content appreciated is the recipe, although for the printed version there are rewards in the entire presentation). They are dealing with consolidation on the distribution side which threatens their margins at the same time that increased competition from indies forces down retail prices. There is reason to believe that long-form reading itself may diminish as our attention spans are increasingly shaped by mobile consumption with many built-in distractions. The commercial book business is already shrinking and it will continue to do so. But the core business model by which publishers acquire units of content, develop and refine them, and then market and distribute them, is currently only eroding. The advertising-based model for printed newspapers and magazines appears to be collapsing.

. . . .

Each large and (historically) successful newspaper is a large business on a one-way path to oblivion.

. . . .

So while newspapers and magazines should continue to pursue events and any ecommerce opportunities they see, they should also recognize that they are riding on a seriously dated business model. If there’s still cash to extract from it, that’s fine. But it is like a mine that has been worked for years or a machine designed for years of use that has now performed for decades.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

People have stopped buying printed newspapers but people will always buy printed books?

The business model of publishers “is currently only eroding” while the model of printed newspapers and magazines “appears to be collapsing.”

In PG’s experience, erosion is usually followed by collapse, often sudden collapse.


Mahey-Morgan urges publishers to focus on boardroom diversity

16 November 2016

From The Bookseller:

Crystal Mahey-Morgan, the founder of OWN IT!, has called on the industry to stop focusing on entry-level schemes to improve diversity, but instead to look at the boardrooms “where the real decisions are actually made”. She has called on the industry to interview at least one minority candidate for every role it advertises throughout the whole of 2017.

Giving the keynote speech at the Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference yesterday (15th November) held by the London Book Fair (LBF) and the Publishers Association (PA), with The Bookseller as a media partner, Mahey-Morgan spoke of the moves that publishers are taking to improve lack of diversity in the industry and criticised what she sees as the over-reliance on entry-level schemes which ignore diversity in board rooms.

“We need to stop believing that these entry level schemes are something to be proud of because we all know it’s the board rooms where the real decisions are actually made,” she said. “If you want to talk to me about schemes, then where are the schemes to ensure that our boardrooms are more diverse? Where are the schemes – working alongside the entry level ones – to find senior people from diverse backgrounds? Even if that means enticing them in from other industries if we don’t have them to promote from within right now.”

She added: “But wait, let’s think about that for a minute. If you bring in a new person, say from a more diverse background, from a different industry to come into a board room does that mean an existing member would have to step aside? Would that be a step too far? Do we really want change or do we just want to talk about it? Let’s not be naive in thinking that in a few years time that entry level candidates will be promoted into decision making roles. Making the whole conversation about entry level, as we all too often do recently, ignores the very real glass ceilings that exist right now.”

. . . .

Robyn Travis, an author with OWN IT!, also gave a keynote speech at the conference, detailing his journey into becoming an author and describing how he didn’t feel supported by the publishing industry and how he was alienated from reading as a young child because he didn’t see himself represented in the books that he read.

. . . .

Speaking of the publication of Travis’ second book Mama Can’t Raise No Man (OWN IT!), Mahey-Morgan suggested that Travis is “possibly” the only male black British debut novelist published in 2016. “That’s not through a lack of emerging black British talent or Asian British talent. It’s a flaw in the industry for not finding it and believing in it and publishing it”, she said.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has found indie authors to be quite diverse.

How Publishers Can Build On Self-Publishing’s Victories

16 November 2016

From Digital Book World:

In recent articles, I have pointed with optimism to the green-shoots of recovery for the book industry after a bruising and challenging seven years.

Print sales are on the way up, or at least finally not falling, depending on whom you speak to. Consumer ebook sales are dropping, but likely to be stabilizing against their huge initial growth, and non-consumer ebook sales are on the rise. The threat of the super-markets are no longer as strong as they look increasingly elsewhere. We have finally accepted digitization, and it is now a core part of most publishers’ businesses. The often acrimonious divide between self- and traditional publishing has quietened, as they sit, with caution, alongside each other. And with Amazon—though still challenging—we understand the pros and cons and are learning to work with or around them.

It would be wrong, however, to think that all is now rosy. There are still fundamental issues with the traditional publishing business model; we’re not going to see a surge of new bookshops filling high-streets any time soon, and the all-powerful customer will continue to demand more for less, or preferably for free. We are long past any return to the past. But we do now have a brief time to exhale while moving toward the future.

. . . .

Many self-published authors have taught traditional publishers an ego-puncturing lesson over the last few years. From being close to the customer, building fanbases, tireless and innovation promotion, through to metadata, pricing and even just business-sense, some self-published authors have led the way and made millions in the process. At times they have made the traditional sector appear what we are—an industry dreamed up by English graduates—and we should be grateful for the embarrassment

That said, one of the most dangerous things traditional publishers could now do is simply replicate what the self-published authors did successfully, while adding nothing else. While this would generate an ego-reinflating uplift, it would only be temporary. Ultimately, without book publishers actively showing the value that they can add, there is no need for them to exist.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Karen for the tip.

The Book Industry’s ‘Gut Instinct’ Problem

15 November 2016

From Mediashift:

The book industry, like many areas of the media business, straddles two worlds. On one side is the 21st-century digital maelstrom, a place where software, platforms, devices and networks are upending the way authors and publishers do their work, and how readers buy and read books. On the other side is the traditional book industry, which revolves around the centuries-old concept of printing words on paper.

. . . .

Casual observers might suppose that the traditional concept of a “book” is about to expire, as people switch to phones, tablets, and audiobooks. I have news for them: It’s not going to happen anytime soon. Printed books have shown a surprising amount of resiliency and flexibility (case in point: adult coloring books) and still sell very well. For my own publishing business, printed books account for 80 percent of sales (up from 70 percent three years ago).

. . . .

[A]s someone who is engaged in the business of producing and selling books, I so much prefer to be working on the edge of the digital maelstrom. It’s fraught with unpredictable change, but at the same time it’s an exciting, dynamic, and hopeful place to be working. At the same time, prospects for widespread improvements in the way publishers do business are not possible while the traditional book industry is hobbled by old ways of thinking and a few dominant players who are highly resistant to change. Take the Bowker ISBN monopoly, which makes millions off the backs of enthusiastic yet naive authors and new publishers in the United States. Then there are the big-name publishers that regularly leave books hanging in editorial limbo for years before finally releasing them. The practice of publishers launching books with little or no marketing support is a longstanding problem that has gotten worse as publishers attempt to cut costs.

A huge impediment to the publishing industry is the bureaucratic mindset that prevents many organizations from embracing innovation. There are many opportunities available to organizations that are willing to embrace change. Yet innovation is regarded as a threat, as evidenced by the many outmoded and inefficient models in the book industry.

. . . .

“Editors fall in love with books. They see something in it that resonates for them personally and they become passionate about it. They really have no idea whether or not the book will sell. It’s strictly an intuition, an instinct.”

. . . .

Most of the time, however, books fail to make back the massive investments in time, money, and other resources. According to the same NPR article, 80-90 percent of books don’t sell. That does not mean the books are bad. But it does indicate that most titles fail to resonate with readers. It further points to a huge hole in publishers’ understanding of the marketplace … and a huge opportunity to close the gap.

Link to the rest at Mediashift

Hachette UK to target diversity in senior management

15 November 2016

From The Bookseller:

Hachette UK is to target diversity in its senior management team with its Diverse Leaders Future Mentoring Scheme, designed to give up-and-coming stars from non-traditional publishing backgrounds the skills and confidence to rise up in the business.

The measure is one of four being launched in Hachette’s Changing the Story programme, which aims to make it “the publisher and employer of choice for all people”, regardless of age, disability, race, gender, sexuality or socio-economic background.

Places on the scheme will be limited and the selection process will be “rigorous”, concentrating on diversity and potential. Each successful candidate will be paired with a Hachette UK Board member who will have received professional mentoring training to ensure that this “intense” programme of one-to-one mentoring is “fruitful and rewarding” for mentors and mentees alike.

. . . .

Sharan Matharu, editorial assistant at Hodder & Stoughton, said: “Our aim is to get young adults excited about different aspects of publishing and to raise awareness of the industry in those to whom publishing might not seem an obvious career path.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG wonders if this initiative will help eliminate Big Publishing’s common practice of pushing out older and higher-paid editors in favor of younger and cheaper versions.

Harry Potter helps Hachette UK to 30% third quarter sales rise

10 November 2016

From The Bookseller:

The release of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playscript, published by Little, Brown, has helped Hachette UK to grow its sales by 30.1% in the third quarter, according to results issued by its parent company Lagardere. The release of the “eighth story” on 31st July to coincide with the showing of the play also helped Hachette UK achieve a sales rise of 8.3% for the nine months up to 30th September 2016.

The UK growth was attributed “partly” to the success of the playscript – which to date has sold 1,319,355 copies for £14.37m according to nielsen BookScan- and “partly” to the “solid performance” of its Education unit, especially at the secondary school level.

Tim Hely Hutchinson, c.e.o of Hachette UK, said: “Hachette UK had an exceptionally strong third quarter, driven largely by J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child published on 31st July, with record-breaking sales through the quarter, resulting in our significant year-to-date growth and corresponding rise in market share.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Five skills everyone in publishing needs now

9 November 2016

From the “director of people” at HarperCollins UK via The Bookseller:

The world of work is changing rapidly, and the demands being placed on everyone in this digital age are far greater. As an HR director, the ‘war for talent’ never disappeared; in fact it is still vitally important that we are clear on how to drive high performance cultures and the skills, behaviours and attitudes needed to be successful. Here, in my opinion, are the vital skills for someone to succeed in publishing, and frankly, in any modern business.

1. Powerful communication and high emotional intelligence

Relationships exist in everything we do – so understanding the mood, tone and values of those around us, and communicating with people fairly and consistently, is vitally important to building a successful career. There is a great quote I like to use from Maya Angelou that says: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Making people feel valued by communicating with them and attending to their emotional needs is a huge part of being a great colleague with the potential for success.

2. Openness, integrity, honesty

Be authentic – showing vulnerability is a strength, and demonstrating that you are human and not a robot will enable people to want to work with and for you. Saying “I need help” or “I’m not good at that” is far more courageous (and ultimately more useful) than saying you have the skills or experience to do something when you don’t.

. . . .

4. Learning with agility

As the saying goes, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” It’s absolutely okay to fail, but you also need to learn quickly and understand how to continuously improve. That’s how you’ll develop your potential and grow as time goes on. The best talent I have ever developed understand this and are not afraid to fail fast and fail often – this is what true learning agility is.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Tips for Getting Your Novel Published During a Skeleton Apocalypse

8 November 2016

From cartoonist Tom Gauld:

Publishers rarely read unsolicited manuscripts because they are too busy fighting off murderous skeletons.

Link to the rest at Facebook (no account necessary) and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Here’s a link to Tom Gauld’s books.

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