Big Publishing

Holiday Book Sales Slipped Again

10 December 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

At outlets that report to NPD BookScan, unit sales of print books were down 1% in the week ended Dec. 3, 2017, from the similar week in 2016. This was the second consecutive week in the holiday season that sales were lower than at the same time last year; the previous week saw a 2% decline from the similar week in 2016.

. . . .

Adult fiction unit sales were down 1% from this time last year, despite two debuts: Darker: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by Christian selling more than 74,000 copies in its first week, putting it #1 on the adult fiction bestsellers list, and Danielle Steel’s Past Perfect landed in the sixth spot on the list, selling almost 28,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Pitfalls of Landing a Traditional Publisher

9 December 2017

From HuffPost:

Publishizer is a NYC-based startup and crowdfunding platform that’s helped hundreds of authors get published.

. . . .

Loren Kleinman (LK): Can you talk about the traditional publishing route vs. what Publishizer has to offer authors? What are the benefits? Is Publishizer a new publishing model?

Lee Constantine (LC): Landing a traditional publisher can be a frustrating, convoluted process. Yet, most speakers, professionals and fiction writers want to publish a book. The main reasons being: credibility and retail distribution, followed by logistical help producing and fulfilling sales.

Self-publishing lacks legitimacy, especially now that anyone with internet access can publish on amazon and call themselves an expert on whatever topic they choose. It’s lowering the legitimacy of Amazon bestsellers every single day, while traditional publishing remains an elusive endeavor.

Publishizer uses proprietary software to query your proposal to a targeted list of acquiring editors from traditional publishers. We believe pre-orders can be used to filter and match authors with a diversity of potential publishers. Debut authors can get discovered, experienced authors earn better book deals, and acquiring editors make more profitable acquisitions.

. . . .

LK: What was the idea that sparked Publishizer? What’s been the process like growing the new platform?

LC: The idea was built around rejection. Acquiring editors at traditional and independent publishers, for one, receive hundreds of book proposals to their inboxes every day.Andthey don’t have time or the resources to read through every single one to determine writing quality and market fit. So instead, they default to traditional gatekeepers, which include literary agents.

On the author side of things, they don’t usually know what publishers really want, or often times how to gain a loyal readership. And if they do know how, they’re not great at executing. So they also default to traditional gatekeepers: literary agents.

As a result of these gatekeepers, 96% of book proposals get rejected — usually because most books don’t have potential to earn a $50k advance from the publisher (of which, the literary agent earns 15%). So, tons of highly quality amazing books never leave the slush pile simply because someone’s not making a big enough paycheck. This is a major downfall of the book publishing industry.

Link to the rest at HuffPost and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Here’s a link to Publishizer.

PG admits not being terribly impressed with the interview or the Publishizer website, but he could be wrong.

The Contributions of Publishing’s Conference Contrarians

8 December 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some of the FutureBook conference’s most memorable moments came from speakers who addressed challenging issues and lobbied for awareness to drive the industry forward.

. . . .

During the conference, the collegial and congratulatory aspects of the program were occasionally punctuated by contrarian events, comments, personalities presenting healthily challenging viewpoints to an industry that might prefer an unrelieved reflection of itself as stable and successful.

. . . .

 Richard Johnson: ‘The Industry Is Too Snobbish’

That woke everyone right up. Richard Johnson, the CEO of Bonnier Publishing, gave an opening keynote.

. . . .

“Books have the power to enrich everyone’s lives,” Johnson said, “particularly the youngsters that we sell to, the ones who need education and have got no money. We should be selling to those people. And we do, but the industry should as well. The industry is too snobbish still.”

He’s not wrong that his company’s focus on inclusivity has been on display to all. The fun caricatures of its staffers in all their diversity have been on the site for years, and some of us have written about this. As it turns out, these are the faces with which Johnson feels he was able to get ahead of the current acute need for egalitarianism in publishing, and he sees this as having set him and his company way ahead. He may not be wrong.

He took it farther, too, urging the business to think of itself as “an entertainment business, not the literary business. Sometimes we create literary masterpieces which is fantastic,” he said, “but we have to entertain people to attract people.”

. . . .

“And let’s not be afraid to say that: We are in the entertainment business.”

. . . .

Jeff Norton: ‘Publish 10-14 Books Per Imprint Per Year’

. . . .

In a resonant moment of the conference,  Jeff Norton, the author and television producer (Awesome Media Entertainment) recalled a 2013 moment in the FutureBook conference’s “Big Ideas” session–missed this year–when Canongate’s Jamie Byng (who was on another panel this year) announced that he would publish only as many books in a year as he had staffers. Publishers, Byng asserted, simply were publishing too many books.

Today, more publishers are aware of this. Simon & Schuster UK’s Ian Chapman told Publishing Perspectives at Frankfurt that his company will produce 100 fewer titles this year and focus more on strong marketing. And for his part, Norton said that imprints should cap their output at 14 titles per year. That arbitrary figure was a joke, but the concept was not: Norton knows that the problem of over-production in many of today’s publishing markets is a real one.

. . . .

“Film is dying a slow, painful death. Books are at risk of becoming ‘niche products’ or simply intellectual property source material” for the burgeoning television production industry that has recaptured its audience with superb storytelling, production values, and streaming delivery onto every device in the digital arsenal.

“Netflix knows me,” Norton said. “Amazon knows me.” And yet, he said, he’s been trying for five years without success to get Hachette, his publisher, to correct the reader age-range on his Metawars books’ online listings.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG posits that “publish fewer books” is also a reflection of the impact of self-published books by indie authors which are coming to dominate online ebook markets. As Author Earnings has demonstrated, indie authors and Amazon imprints combined are the leading sellers of adult ebook fiction on Amazon.

Additionally, Author Earnings has documented that sales through traditional outlets for print books – Barnes & Noble, other bookstore chains, Walmart and other mass merchandisers, etc., are declining. Amazon is where virtually all growth in print book sales is occurring :

  • 41% of all traditionally-published print books are purchased online
  • 69% of trade-pub adult non-fiction unit sales are online
  • 63% of trade-pub adult fiction unit sales are online

As far as ebook sales are concerned, the more ebooks sold, the lower the share of sales from traditional publishers:

  • 91% of online adult fiction sales were ebooks. Over half – 52% of these ebooks were published by either indie authors or Amazon-owned imprints
  • There is a direct linear relationship between the share of unit sales of ebooks and the share of ebook sales by either indie authors or Amazon-owned imprints – the more ebooks that are sold, the higher the number of sales by either indie authors or Amazon-owned imprints.
  • In the monster genre – Romance – only 34% of unit sales are made by traditional publishers.
  • In an underserved genre – African-American Fiction – only 26% of unit sales were made by traditional publishers (and only 4% of unit sales came from Big 5 publishers).


Paris Review editor resigns after internal investigation

7 December 2017

From The Bookseller:

Lorin Stein, the editor of the influential literary magazine the Paris Review, has resigned following an internal investigation into his behaviour towards female employees and writers.

Stein has also reportedly resigned from New York-based publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), where he was an editor at large.

. . . .

Stein sent a letter of resignation to the board of the Paris Review apologising for his behaviour and saying he could not continue in the role. The magazine’s board president Terry McDonell told the Associated Press that Stein submitted his resignation on Wednesday.

It said: “At times in the past, I blurred the personal and the professional in ways that were, I now recognise, disrespectful of my colleagues and our contributors, and that made them feel uncomfortable or demeaned.

“I am very sorry for any hurt I caused them.”

. . . .

A board subcommittee along with lawyers from the publication’s counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton, spoke to current and former employees during the investigation and heard complaints from “at least two” female writers about Stein.

. . . .

Stein sent an email “expressing his remorse and suggesting any missteps would not happen again”. He admitted dating and expressing interest in women in professional circumstances, including interns and writers of the magazine, which he now saw as an “abuse of my position”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Stories like these bring a whole new meaning to the term, “gatekeepers”.

On Book Publishing’s Drinking Culture

6 December 2017

From The Literary Hub:

‘Tis the season to be jolly. In publishing it’s that time of year when holiday parties are in abundance. If it’s not a mingle here, there’s a gala there and an office happy hour right before the next literary magazine party begins. It’s that time of year when it’s easy to see the same faces two or three or four times a week and everyone around you is drinking alcohol. Or it can feel like everyone is drinking alcohol. Some evenings, you are also a part of the scene and you are also drinking alcohol.

Come to think of it, the holiday season is the same as the rest of the year in publishing as there are always events going on in New York City, always parties to attend, always book fairs to prepare for or festivals to organize. It’s part of what keeps the industry buzzing, and it’s part of the job to participate in some capacity. At each evening event it’s a given that alcohol will be on offer. It will be served cheaply or, most often, freely. The non-alcoholic beverages will include sparkling water, sometimes also orange juice. The non-alcoholic beverages often come with a frown, a question (What’s with the water?  Are you ok? Are you pregnant?) or a personal statement from whoever is standing next to you (Yeah, I really shouldn’t be drinking either but, you know, it’s been a long week).

I started working in publishing straight after university, which means I was still growing up as I was starting my professional career. Early on and at previous jobs there were times when it felt like I was drinking more with my colleagues or bosses than with my friends. It seemed crucial for the career I was told I could have and the lines sometimes got blurred because I thought these people were also my friends. Time and experience (some of which included awkward and even terrible incidents) helped me see the difference. But the drinking in publishing has remained.

. . . .

The Bookseller recently published the results of a survey on sexual harassment in the trade industry and among the many disturbing findings they also wrote that “well over half of respondents (59 percent) said that the social aspect of the industry often puts employees in vulnerable situations, and many respondents suggested a check on the industry’s drinking culture and steps to protect more junior members of staff at such events.”

. . . .

It’s been almost ten years since I started in publishing and the drinking culture feels as prevalent as it did when I first started. This has bothered me for quite some time and while it’s not been difficult for me to turn down a drink when I’ve not wanted one, it’s only recently that I don’t feel embarrassed by not drinking at all (people are sometimes too tipsy to notice anyway). Even if I don’t let the industry decide what’s best for me at social work events, it’s not with ease that I write this. It is not my wish to criticize any single person in publishing. Having a drink or not having a drink at a social work event is a deeply personal decision. It plays in with how we want to participate in our surroundings as social creatures.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Perhaps at least some of the problems with traditional publishing have something to do with decisions made when under the influence or hung-over.

Or perhaps the managers in traditional publishing are drinking to forget those problems. And succeeding in their goal.

Facing Sexual Harassment Charges, An Exec Art Director at Penguin Workshop Resigns

5 December 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Three weeks after actress and comedian Charlyne Yi charged an art director at Penguin Random House with sexual harassment via Twitter, he has resigned. Giuseppe Castellano, executive art director of the Penguin Young Readers imprint Penguin Workshop, issued a statement on his personal blog about his decision, citing the incident with Yi as the cause. In the statement he maintained his innocence, saying that Yi’s story is “false” and that he denies “every accusation made by her.”

In her initial tweet about the encounter with Castellano, Yi said he approached her about getting together at a local bar to discuss the possibility of her doing a book. After some conversation in which Castellano said he was appalled by the recent revelations about men using their power to sexually harass women, Yi said, it became apparent to her that he was one of the “untrustworthy creeps” he was talking about.

After leaving the bar together, Castellano, Yi claimed, became more assertive. When the pair arrived at her hotel, she said he tried to convince her to invite him up to her room. While Yi did ultimately turn him away, she said she emailed him a few days after the encounter to express how disturbed she was by what had taken place. In her account, Castellano cast what had happened as humorous and offered to meet her at a coffee shop to apologize. Feeling unsafe about another meeting with him, Yi said, she declined.

. . . .

In a statement from PRH, the company said that as soon as it learned of the matter it conducted an internal investigation, and then hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation. The statement continued: “These two investigations have concluded. In the end, it became clear to [Castellano] that his presence at the company had the potential to impact the day to day workings of the Penguin Workshop imprint. As a result, he resigned.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Accidental Bestseller

4 December 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Some books arrive labeled “can’t miss,” or have such a hefty advance that publishers do everything they can to assure that they won’t miss. But what about the sleepers? Those books that worked their way through the publishing pipeline quietly, launch with little buzz, and somehow find their way to bestseller lists anyway? Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie had been abandoned unread in a box when an editor went on maternity leave and decided not to return. Dusted off and published by her replacement, it has sold 8.8 million copies. Jeff Kinney’s now international bestseller Diary of a Wimpy Kid initially met resistance at Abrams, where some wondered whether kids would buy a book that they could already read for free online at the Poptropica site. Random House acquired Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a first novel published under a pseudonym, for a modest advance. Even those with the highest hopes for that book didn’t dream it would sell two million copies, spend 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and spawn a movement about the importance of being kind.

Nobody loves a good story more than an editor, so we asked editors to tell us how they came to publish their favorite buzzless bestsellers.

. . . .

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle, 2011)

I found Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site buried in our bin of unsolicited manuscripts and I was immediately taken with the concept, the sweetness of the text, and the pitch-perfect title (which never changed). I also responded to the author’s story about how the book came to be. In her cover letter, she described a nighttime routine in which she helped her sons settle down by saying good night to all the things they loved—which, for one of her boys, always included trucks. I thought this was a brilliant approach to bedtime and could see how it would benefit moms and dads of truck-obsessed kids everywhere.

My second thought, though, was that the concept of a bedtime book about trucks was so natural and smart, that a similar book must exist already. I jumped online, but happily found no books that could come close to competing. I called Sherri to share my enthusiasm and make sure she hadn’t sold the book elsewhere. She was lovely to talk to—so excited about the opportunity and ready to collaborate and work hard. Now I didn’t just want to work on the book, I wanted the opportunity to work with this delightful and talented debut author. I took the manuscript to our acquisitions meeting with no doubt that it would pass—which it did, quite quickly and easily. Soon after, the designer, Amelia May Mack, and I were lucky enough to find the perfect illustrator in Tom Lichtenheld. I had the chance to see the book through from acquisition to publication, but I was living out of the country when it first hit the bestseller list. I was over-the-moon thrilled, but not really surprised. I only wished I could be home to celebrate with Sherri, Tom, and the wonderful creative team at Chronicle. —Mary Colgan

● Rinker sold Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site to Chronicle for a $4,000 advance. The title has been on the New York Times list for three years, with more than 850,000 copies in print and rights sold into 23 territories.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG will note that Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is a big favorite with the posterity of Mrs. PG and PG.

Ten Years Ago Amazon Started A Revolution and It Just Gave Me a Very Good Month

30 November 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Ten years ago, Amazon released the first Kindle device. There had been electronic book reading devices before the Kindle and, indeed, the Sony ereader was actively in the market when Kindle arrived. (Others, like Rocketbook and Softbook, had perished for lack of interest.)

Kindle and Amazon succeeded where others failed for several reasons. First and foremost was the power of Amazon, which already had the attention of a very large segment of the book-reading and book-buying public. But Amazon helped themselves with three big breakthroughs — one technological and two commercial — which made what they were doing different from what had been done before.

The technological breakthrough was integrating the purchasing into the device, eliminating the two step “download and synch” process that previous ebook readers had required. Since wifi didn’t exist yet, executing on that required Amazon to take the risk on dial-up connection charges that MIGHT have been used by Kindle owners to do things other than make ebook purchases.

. . . .

The other commercial breakthrough was pricing. Amazon was willing to take real financial risks to present ebooks as a money-saving alternative to print. They wanted to establish a maximum ebook price of $9.99, so that’s what they charged even if the publisher’s price to them was higher and they had to take a loss on the sale.

. . . .

Back near the beginning of ebook time, a friend at Kobo put together a collection of the first two years of Shatzkin Files blogs into an ebook. Then, about a year ago, a British digital publishing operative named Simon Collinson felt the blogs were worth collecting into annual “books”. He did an extraordinary amount of work to arrange the blogs by subject and to give me the drafts of annual summaries. This turns out to be a pretty decent history of the ebook revolution since its dawning.

And now those ebooks are available in all the ebook formats for 20112012201320142015, and 2016.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

“Since wifi didn’t exist yet” in 2007, ten years ago when Amazon introduced its first Kindle, is an example of both MikeSpeak and MikeWorld.

The first version of the 802.11 wifi protocol was released in 1997. This was updated in 1999 with 802.11b to permit 11 Mbit/s link speeds which really got things going.

Within five years, wifi exploded to about 100 million users, tens of millions of wifi devices being sold, etc. PG can’t remember when he first installed wifi in Casa PG, but recalls regularly using hotel wifi in the early 2000’s.

PG suggests that wifi may not have existed in New York publishing circles in 2007 (MikeWorld), but it was in common use at airports, restaurants, homes, etc., at that time. For example, in 2004, Slate published an article entitled, How to Steal Wi-Fi and How to Keep Your Neighbors from Stealing Yours.

PG has always viewed Shatzkin’s thoughts as reflective of the current thinking in traditional publishing.

Unfortunately, that thinking is consistently out of date and seems unable to draw any lessons from other businesses that have been diminished or destroyed by disruptive technology. The ebookstore, the ebook and the ease of self-publishing an ebook together constitute a hugely disruptive technology.

Traditional publishers are accustomed to paying only a small percentage of the revenue generated from book sales and licensing to the author. Of course, Amazon pays a much higher percentage to authors who self-publish via KDP. Depending on the pricing the author chooses, the majority of the price a reader pays for an ebook will flow through to the author.

Publishers are fond of talking about all the things they do that an indie author can’t do, chiefly getting printed books into traditional bookstores. From the publishers’ viewpoint, this sales channel is very important. From the author’s viewpoint, looking at the money the author actually receives from the physical bookstore channel, it’s less important.

Simply put, an author can often generate a higher income from a given book by self-publishing ebook and POD paperback editions only and selling exclusively through online bookstores than the author can generate by paying a much higher percentage of each book sold to a traditional publisher and accessing the physical bookstore channel. The publisher captures the lion’s share of income from physical book sales, so from the author’s viewpoint, that channel is much less important to his/her financial well-being than it is to the publisher’s.

If publishers were willing to enter into hardcopy only publishing agreements with authors, permitting authors to retain ebook rights for self-publication, business-savvy authors would be happy to sign such agreements. Even with low royalty rates, the hardcopy only agreement would generate net income to the author that the author would not otherwise receive while the author would benefit from the much higher percentage available from independently publishing his/her ebook editions.

One last and obvious point – twenty years ago publishers generated all of their income from print-only operations. If, as the traditional publishing press keeps saying, readers are returning to printed books and physical bookstores, a return to an earlier era of print-only publishing would seem to be a viable business proposition.

Soft July for Trade Sales

22 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales of adult books dropped 9.8% in July, compared to the same period in 2016, while sales in the children’s/young adult segment fell 36.8%. The statistics are derived from figures released by the Association of American Publishers as part of its StatShot program.

The plunge in children’s/ya sales was due to the release last July of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was a huge hit in 2016. The publication of Potter had the greatest impact on the children’s/ya hardcover format, where sales fell 61.1% in July compared to a year ago. E-book sales were down 16.0%.

. . . .

In the adult books segment, mass market paperback and physical audio saw declines of 26.3% and 41.7%, respectively.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Temperature check from two US CEOs at Frankfurt 2017

22 November 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

It is no surprise that the public remarks at Frankfurt by Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle and Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy contain gems worth pondering. Book publishing has been fortunate to have really smart people leading the biggest companies during our period of digital transition. The apparent collusion over the implementation of agency pricing — which is itself proving to be a mixed blessing — was definitely a collective setback and has to be seen as a very big mistake (that I didn’t see that way at the time.) But, for the most part, book publishers have done very well in a time of great turmoil, certainly better than other publishers of print or any other big media from the 20th century.

Now we have settled into a period of apparent stability. The two big shifts that were big challenges to navigate — from printed books to digital books and from in-store purchase to online purchase of the content — are no longer occurring at a dizzying pace. From the commercial publisher’s perspective, the ebook market is flat or declining and the print book share is holding its own.

. . . .

Dohle’s speech delivered virtually unqualified optimism. He is jubilant about the stability in the market with print holding an 80% share. (He takes a dig at the fact that prognosticators would have predicted that it could be ebooks that would hold the 80% share by now.

. . . .

Dohle points out that his company is now publishing John Green’s follow-up to “The Fault in Our Stars”. I’m sure his marketers will tell him that they’re aiming for lots of adult readers with their efforts, whatever the original intentions of the author were about the audience.

. . . .

Two observations from [Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn] Reidy seemed extremely important to take on board. One is that self-publishing is taking a growing share of the market. She characterized the self-publishing share in America as “huge, no matter what statistics you use.” And the companion observation should be a wake-up call to publishers. As she was quoted by Michael Cader in Publishers Lunch:

“The romance market, which used to be huge in mass market, has pretty much dried up and gone to digital original. [And] it has put pressure on pricing of all ebooks…. Those are consumers who, if they wanted a book, they used to come to us, and now they go elsewhere.”

. . . .

The other elephant in the room which got no mention, as near as I can see, from either CEO, is Amazon. That growth in print sales that publishers are so happy about was given a huge boost by Amazon shifting promotional dollars from ebook-discounting to print-discounting when Agency forced them to reconsider their strategy.

. . . .

The growth of sales at Amazon presents a number of potential challenges to the big houses. It means that their biggest trading partner will push them for more margin. It means that the channel with the growth is one where big publishers don’t have an automatic advantage because of size. And, if the print sales being boosted in relation to digital is because Amazon’s pricing strategy can whipsaw the consumer in that way, it can also reverse itself if Amazon decides to change its strategy.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

One additional point PG would add, the biggest elephant in Big Publishing’s room, is that Barnes & Noble is going to disappear.

Whether it continues to disappear slowly (Barnes and Noble has been closing 15-20 bookstores annually in the US for the last ten years) or if it collapses all at once (like Borders did seven years ago when 511 Borders superstores and 175 stores in the Waldenbooks Specialty Retail division closed and, within a few weeks, disappeared into bankruptcy court).

If Big Publishing continues to hitch its wagon to hard copy books, it will be relying upon a retail distribution network that becomes more mom and pop with each passing year.

A major marketing push for a new title through Barnes & Noble can be a powerful tool in launching books for big publishers. Doing the same thing through a bunch of  shops run by Fred and Ethel that carry inventories perhaps 20% of the size (at best) of a typical Barnes & Noble is a whole different story.

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