Big Publishing

A great step forward by Sourcebooks which we expect other publishers will imitate

29 April 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Since I started working with Peter McCarthy, he has been impressing me with the importance of publishers doing “research” in the digital age, by which he means“audience research” done with a variety of online tools. That audience research should inform what publishers do to market their books by identifying, segmenting, locating, and understanding the potential buyers for those books. That enables publishers to “aim” their marketing efforts where they are likely to do the most good.

. . . .

What we were already beginning to see then (and more since) is that many publishers, and by now most of the big ones, have created an executive position with the word “audience” in the title or job description. The responsibilities to address audiences required research as a prerequisite, but it has seldom been framed that way.

This week we were delighted to see that Sourcebooks, a legitimate contender for the title of “most innovative company in book publishing”, has created a “data and analysis” department. As reported by Shelf Awareness in its newsletter (and also reported by Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly):

Sourcebooks has created a data and analysis department that brings together “experts from supply chain, editorial, and sales” to streamline data functions and offer a higher level of analytical support to departments, partners and customers.

The only part about this that is disappointing is that the word “research” is not in the department name or description. But the separate department to specialize in “data and analysis” is exactly what we were advocating when we called for creation of research departments.

It is important to keep the connection between “data and analysis” and “research” in mind because, historically, “data and analysis” in publishing have meant “post mortem analysis” of specific marketing efforts. Indeed, many publishers have “analytics” roles already, but they are not cross-functional and they tend to be focused on analysis of time-honored activities, not applying new techniques on audiences as is enabled in the digital age.

As an industry, we have usually used “data and analysis” to measure the effectiveness of prior activities rather than to understand what we’re aiming at in the future. Being explicit about the fact that “research” is the core function means you are also being explicit that the primary purpose of that function is to aim future efforts, not evaluate the successes or failures of prior ones. Research is seeking to be predictive as well as to inform rapid response to an ever-changing landscape. With most of their existing capabilities and activities, in Pete’s words, “publishers don’t look out; they don’t look forward; and they don’t look ‘big’”.

. . . .

We applaud the Sourcebooks approach to staffing their data and analysis group, which acknowledged that “editorial, sales, and supply chain” needed to participate.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG was going to “comment” about “research” but decided not to.


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Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved

27 April 2016

From Medium:

Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a “morning briefing” app, a “lean back” iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter. All of these things together might help, but even then, you will not be saved by the magical New Thing that everyone else in the media community is convinced will be the answer to The Problem.

I can tell you from personal experience over the last several months, having met with countless investors and leaders of media companies and editors and writers and technologists in the media world that there is a desperate belief that The Problem can be solved with the New Thing. And goddammit someone must have it in their pitch deck. A new kind of video app. The best news stories of the day, except all on video. Video, but with subtitles. Only 30 second videos, designed for vertical screens. A personalized Facebook bot that delivers only the video you want. Video on-demand, over-the-top, linear, succulent, meaningful, plentiful, attention-grabbing video!

. . . .

What’s The Problem, you ask? The Problem is that we used to have a really neat and tidy version of a media business where very large interests controlled vast swaths of the things we read, watched, and listened to. Because that system was built on the concept of scarcity and locality — the limits of what was physically possible — it was very easy to keep the gates and fill the coffers. Put simply, there were far fewer players in the game with far fewer outlets for their content, so audiences were easy to sell to and easy to come by.

Then digital. Then you and me. And all of a sudden all those old, fixed channels started falling apart. Papers didn’t sell. Magazines died. Networks scrambled. Local news meant a lot less. Local papers even less than that. Suddenly a lot more free stuff was available online, and anyone could start a blog! But the media industry is a hulking, stupid, slow moving beast that has little awareness about its threats and surrounding environs.

. . . .

Basically: it was really hard for them to figure out the internet, and all of the money (like subscriber dollars) were still going to traditional outlets. So magazine ads remained orders of magnitude more valuable than their digital counterparts (if said counterpart even existed). TV was not even in the same class. Pennies on the dollar doesn’t begin to describe it. It is still mostly this way today. A broken model that is aging badly.

A second thing happened alongside those foundational publishing challenges: this industry which had controlled its ability to reach a populace through ownership of things like printing presses began to cede its power in the delivery and distribution process to other people. People who didn’t care about or understand the media business. People who told them the answer wasn’t the best of something, it was the most of something.

. . . .

The media industry now largely thinks its only working business model is to reach as many people as possible, and sell — usually programmatically, but sometimes not — as many advertisements against that audience as it can. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying.

They are also wrong, I believe, in the long run.

And every few months — or let’s say annually — a technology, or idea, or person comes along and the very stupid and slow media industry thinks that New Thing will fix everything. Get them back to the good times. Make those pennies into actual dollars.

Link to the rest at Medium

Beyond Bookmarks: How Publishers Can Help Authors and Booksellers

26 April 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Oh, publishers, you do love your promotional doodads. And we sometimes love them, too, but much of the time, they honestly don’t help us promote and sell your books. You might play to your strengths by helping where we need it most. Publishers have entire departments devoted to creating marketing and promotional materials, whereas we stores often have small staffs with varying levels of artistic ability. Instead of sending us 200 bookmarks that only 12 customers will end up taking, or shipping us those books-nestled-in-Easter-grass-in-a-special-fitted-box – which too often arrive looking sad, squished, and decrepit from their postal journey – consider sending us instead:

. . . .

Sample Facebook Event Page Copy —Promotional writing is a special kind of writing, and not everyone is good at it. Not only that, but the person responsible for creating promotional materials at a bookstore is not always the person who has scheduled the event and knows the book. It can be a challenge to make a reading sound brand new, to capture the essence of a book in a few sentences, and to present an author’s personality and appeal to customers who may not be familiar with his or her work.

“But don’t independent bookstores want to be unique?” you ask. Of course we do, and of course we are. But we are also overworked and always, always short of enough time to make things as perfect as we’d like. So it could be extremely helpful to have some snappy text to use as a jumping-off point.

. . . .

How About Some Promo for the Midlist?
We know that a few books get the lion’s share of marketing dollars, and the rest need to make their way in a Darwinian world. But what if a few of those big-budget-book dollars made their way toward shelftalkers for the quieter titles that need help to find their readers? Small shelftalkers, with an eye-catching graphic and maybe one review pull-quote. Not too many words, just enough to catch the attention of a bookstore browser.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Follett Picks Up Library Book Distributor Baker & Taylor From Castle Harlan

20 April 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amid a period of rapid change in the book industry, Follett Corp. has acquired Baker & Taylor Inc., a distributor of books, videos and music products, from private-equity firm Castle Harlan.

“You are either a consolidator or you get consolidated,” said Ray Griffith, Follett’s president and chief executive. “Follett and the board of directors, which are members of the family that has owned the company for 142 years, have decided to be aggressive in the growth and demonstrate its commitment to the industry.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based Baker & Taylor is a distributor to public libraries and institutions and a wholesaler to retailers world-wide.

. . . .

Follett said in a news release that the acquisition, its fifth and largest, will leverage the two companies’ technologies and other capabilities to drive further innovation. Follett added the two businesses generate combined sales of $3.6 billion.

Mr. Griffith of Follett said there are opportunities to consolidate services Follett and Baker & Taylor provide, currently offered independently despite serving the same community of libraries.

“We believe we can use the combined experience to go to the library community and create advantages for them,” Mr. Griffith said. “It is what they’ve been wanting and need. And we can help [them save] them money, use resources better and invest their money better for students’ outcome.”

. . . .

The physical book sector has faced disruption in recent years with new digital technologies affecting not only the way readers read but also how they access content. To be economically viable, some participants have been consolidating to gain scale or shedding noncore units.

Publisher Penguin Random House late last year sold Author Solutions, a self-publishing unit it bought in 2012 from private-equity firm Bertram Capital Management LLC, to an affiliate of Najafi Cos., a Phoenix-based private-equity firm. It said in a news release at the time that the sale reaffirmed its “focus on consumer book publishing through our 250 imprints world-wide.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG notes that “there are opportunities to consolidate services” means “a bunch of people will lose their jobs.”

Want to write a novel? First Novel Awards finalists say it’s better with age

19 April 2016

From The Globe and Mail:

After she published her first book of short stories in 2003, the acclaimed collection The Rule of Last Clear Chance, Judith McCormack set out to write a novel.

Twelve years later, she published Backspring.

“It took me a long time because I was learning how to write a novel,” says McCormack, 62, who is also assistant dean of the graduate program at the University of Toronto’s law school. “I thought I knew how to do it, but it turned out to be trickier than I thought.”

In the end, she’s probably glad she took as much time as she did – not only is McCormack a finalist for this year’s First Novel Award, but she’s been nominated in a year when the prize money has increased more than fivefold.

. . . .

It’s worth noting that, for an award devoted to debut novels, the majority of this year’s finalists are well into their writing careers. Alrawi, for instance, who won the HarperCollins Canada/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction in 2013, enjoyed a long career as a playwright before turning to fiction.

“When I think back to being a playwright, when I was in my 20s and 30s, that seemed the right thing for me to be doing,” says Alrawi, 58, on the phone from Vancouver. “I couldn’t think of writing a novel – it just seemed something that was beyond me.

“Graham Greene has this thing about how a writer’s experiences have to be composted before they can be written,” he adds. “I guess that I needed time to acquire the experiences … and then compost it all to be able to turn it into a story.”

. . . .

The publishing industry (and the media) tends to lionize younger writers – consider Granta’s career-making lists of the best young novelists that get published once every decade or so, or The New Yorker’s list of the best 20 fiction writers under the age of 40 that appeared in 2010. Publishing, says the 48-year-old Aaron Cully Drake, “puts a premium on youth.”

“Kids in their 20s come up with really interesting stuff,” says Drake on the phone from Coquitlam, B.C. “But once you hit your 30s, you’ve got a little bit of grey in your beard. You’ve got a couple of scars on your fingers. You’ve got some things to say.”

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Want to Diversify Publishing? Unionize.

19 April 2016

From The Nation:

T hose who work in or follow book publishing can now reliably expect to encounter an annual cycle of handwringing over the industry’s lack of diversity. These flurries generally begin with the release of a demographic survey of the workforce, ascend to fever pitch through a bevy of near-identical articles and panel discussions in which the industry elite decries the unbearable whiteness of the industry, then fade to dormancy until the next year’s report comes out and the sequence begins anew. In the past, the catalyst for this progression has been Publishers Weekly’s annual salary survey, which tracks the demographics of publishing employees and, in 2014 and 2015, estimated the industry to be almost 90 percent white. This year it was Lee and Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey, a new report which polled over 3,400 staffers from 34 publishers and eight review outlets and found a workforce that was 79 percent white. In his introduction to the survey’s findings, Lee and Low publisher Jason Low wrote, “By now, it’s no secret that publishing suffers from a major lack of diversity problem.”

Indeed, book publishing has been discussing its shortage of non-white employees since at least the 1990s, and the conversation today looks much as it did over two decades ago. In 1994, Calvin Reid wrote, “Ask most people in the publishing industry about diversity among their employees and you’ll probably get back a one-liner: ‘Don’t you mean lack of diversity?’”

. . . .

[W]hile the Diversity Baseline Survey shows that women “dominate” the industry at 78 percent of its workforce, according to the 2015 Publishers Weekly salary report, a significant gender pay gap still exists, with women making about 70 percent of what their male colleagues do on average. (That same report also found that average salaries for both men and women fell substantially from 2013 to 2014.)

Other industry-wide factors—including low salaries, fierce competition for jobs, few opportunities for advancement or mentorship, and difficult workplace environments—produce a system of interminable professional hoop-jumping that Picador editor Anna Devries has called “a war of attrition where survivors come out the other side many years later by the skin of their teeth.”

. . . .

Fifteen years ago, a group of publishing workers found a way to circumvent this problem. In the fall of 2001, staffers at The New Press signed union cards. They had been feeling restless: Salaries were low, as in most book-publishing operations; the work was thankless; and employees reported regular clashes with an overbearing, abrasive manager. The office was too small to accommodate the whole staff; assistants and interns were forced to work at makeshift stations in the hall. One afternoon, Shomial Ahmad, then an editorial assistant, was tasked with a mountain of copying. When the ill-kept machine ground to a halt, it seemed to represent the increasing dysfunction of the office. She joked to a colleague, “We should start a union.” The joke became reality following a series of after-hours gatherings among employees at a Pakistani restaurant down the street from the office. The staff met with a number of union representatives and ultimately decided to join UAW Local 2110.

. . . .

To address this imbalance, The New Press’s first union contract included an affirmative-action clause, among general protections for employees such as overtime pay, annual salary increases, parental leave, and requiring just cause for terminations. The clause, which survives to this day, stipulates that management “make strong and sustained efforts in recruitment, hiring and promotion, in-house training, and mentoring to foster career development” of non-white applicants and employees.

. . . .

“Succeeding in publishing, especially in editorial, means navigating a series of informal networks in a notoriously hierarchical industry, often with very little guidance,” Hsiao told me. “The most common way that people move up the ranks is by landing a rare, coveted spot as a powerful person’s assistant. Outside of that apprentice-like situation, there aren’t many ways to advance. But a union can force a company to provide clear paths for moving up.” The current New Press contract, for example, contains provisions that require it to pay for training programs and professional development activities as requested by employees. And more broadly, Hsiao says, unions help foster a sense of collectivity among their members that is often scarce in an industry where employee turnover is high and each new job opening attracts hundreds of applicants.

. . . .

But if a brawny, social justice-minded union in the genteel world of book publishing sounds like a fluke, that’s because it mostly is. The New Press employs a staff of fewer than 30 employees, and the press’s left-leaning mission and output selects for employees who are likely to be invested in collective progress and equality.

The other unionized book publisher, which is also represented by UAW Local 2110, is HarperCollins, whose unit has existed in some capacity since the 1940s. According to its unit chair Renée Cafiero, who has worked for HarperCollins for over 45 years, a hostile management transformed the company from an agency shop to an open shop in 1985, meaning that union membership is now voluntary for employees. “Management back then was so anti-union that it was almost pathological,” Cafiero recalls.

Link to the rest at The Nation and thanks to Christian for the tip.

PG wonders if Authors United and its fellow travelers realize that they supports a publishing industry which has long been a cesspool of worker oppression and systemic racial and gender bias. Knowing management treats workers this way, perhaps we can better understand its attitude toward authors.

This story deserves a bonus quote of the day.

Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for, never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.

Edmund Burke

Top 10 Things To Consider When Choosing A Publisher With The Same Care As A Jane Austen Heroine Chose A Husband

18 April 2016

From author Katherine Grubb via 10 Minute Novelists:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story must be in want of a publisher.

It’s the age old story. You have so many hopes and dreams. You have all these wonderful stories to tell. You know that it will take an attachment, a proposal and perhaps a big commitment to make you moderately rich and a teensy bit famous. So you, the perfect Lizzie Bennet, who will only writes for love, not necessarily £10,000 a year, will be happy just to attach yourself with a publisher who respects you.

. . . .

1. You’ll attract folks like you. If you want the best, then be the best. Before you start looking for a publisher, make your story the best it can be. I know, you’ve been working on it for a long time and it really is good. It’s not silly like Lydia or Kitty’s, and it’s not quite as good as Jane’s (but she’s being courted by the Big Six.) Your first responsibility as a writer is to write well. Take your time. Learn from the greats. If you are going to take your writing seriously and you want to attract publishers who take writing seriously, then push yourself to the most excellent level. If you want to make a fast buck, then you’ll attract publishers who want to do the same.

. . . .

3. You understand your own goals for publication. Some writers have Rosings Park ambitions. Some will be content with Longbourne. (Forget Purvis Lodge. The attics there are dreadful!) If you don’t know what you want, then it will make choosing a publisher all the more difficult. This is what I did: I tried to find books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were similar to mine in content. I looked at who published them and who represented them. I asked myself if I wanted my books to be lumped together with these kinds of books. If I did, then it was from this list of publishers and agents that I would do research. If I didn’t, then I kept looking until I found books that were a better match.

. . . .

4. You have a full understanding that an entire industry has been created to take advantage of desperate authors. And along comes your first contact with a publisher. He is tall, dark, handsome (okay maybe not in reality, but go with me, this is fun!) He is a mercenary. He may not be interested in art. He may not be interested in your long term goals. He may just want to cash in from your hard work. Legitimate publishers, who have good reputations, are, in this current economic climate, not likely to initiate relationships with writers. They don’t have to. They’re turning manuscripts away constantly. It’s the less than trustworthy who are Googling authors and trying to sign anyone. Anyone. What to do? Go to Preditors and Editors and look for the names of reputable and notorious publishers, agents and editors. This is like Consumer Reports for writers. You’ll be really glad this site warned you about that Wickham!

Link to the rest at 10 Minute Novelists

Here’s a link to Katherine Grubb’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

During the course of watching various adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, Mrs. PG and PG have observed that, despite providing a wonderful setting for the romantic quandaries Austen so brilliantly depicts, both of us are happy that we didn’t actually live during the Regency. But it is a delightful place to visit via the BBC.

Panel Discusses Challenges for Women in Publishing

16 April 2016

From Digital Book World:

A panel of executives from the book publishing and paper manufacturing industries related their career experiences during tonight’s Book Industry Guild of New York’s (BIGNY) “Groundbreaking Women: The Second Wave” event. The panel discussed their professional experiences as they ascended into senior positions during a change in the business world that welcomed more women.

. . . .

Each panelist took a unique path to achieve career success. Grimm’s initial years as a sales representative found her advancing into increasingly responsible positions despite being in a largely “old school” male industry. Marcus embraced a number of editorial challenges that demonstrated her high-level skills, business commitment, and strategic insight. Palladino shifted from law school to publishing and never looked back.

The panelists unanimously suggested that women new to the publishing or paper/printing industries find in-house mentors. Their experienced guidance is invaluable to grasping the essential knowledge of their business. It’s also extremely difficult to find equally rich sources of advice outside of their respective industries.. They also underlined the value of mentorship, and noted that those receiving it should “give back” to the “following wave” that will enter publishing, paper manufacturing, and printing.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG immediately thought of the many skilled and successful women he knows who are achieving career success as indie writers who run their own enterprises. He predicts their futures will be brighter than those of women who have shackled themselves to a sunset industry.

Pullman urges publishers to examine their role

11 April 2016

From The Bookseller:

Publishers need to ask themselves what are they offering writers and readers that other agencies cannot provide, author Philip Pullman told delegates at the International Publishers Congress yesterday (Sunday 10th April).

“If I was a publisher I’d be looking very carefully at what we do and what we don’t do,” Pullman said. “I’d be asking: what is it that makes me necessary to writers and readers, storytellers and their audience? Could it be done by anyone else? Would it make any difference if it wasn’t done at all?”

. . . .

The changes in this fourth revolution [computer and digital] had “swept away much of the old, elegant world of publishing,” including the ability of mid-list authors to survive.  “Together with the killing of our libraries, which were so important for these writers, and the discounting of books, there has been a catastrophic fall in authors’ income and that is not healthy for society,” he said.

Nonetheless, he maintained that there would always be storytellers – “it’s the people in the middle, the people between readers and writers, who are affected,” Pullman said. “Maybe a time is coming when the job of publisher will disappear”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Diana for the tip.

In an indie-dominant world, what happens to the high-cost non-fiction?

7 April 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

[Hugh] Howey’s observations are not particularly welcomed by publishers, but he has a deep interest in indie authors and, by his lights, is always trying to help them by encouraging them to indie-publish through Amazon rather than seeking a traditional deal through an agent. He has organized the AuthorEarnings website and data repository along with Data Guy, the games-business data analyst who has turned his analytical skills to the book business whom we featured at the most recent Digital Book World this past March.

Howey and I have had numerous private conversations over the years. He’s intelligent and sincere in his beliefs and truly devotes his energy to “industry education” motivated by his desire to help other authors. Yet there are holes in his analysis of the industry and where it is going that he doesn’t fill. Given his substantial following and obvious comfort level doing the marketing (such as it is, and it appears Howey’s success as an author hasn’t required much) for his own books as well as his commercial performance, it is easy to understand why he would never consider publishing any other way but as he has, as an indie author who is “all in” with Amazon. But he seems to think what worked well for him would work best for anybody.

In this interview, Howey says that any author would be better off self-publishing his or her first book than going the route of selling it to a publisher. And he actually dismisses the marketing effort required to do that. Howey says the best marketing is publishing your next book. He thinks the best strategy is for authors to write several books a year to gain success. In fact, he says taking time away from writing to do marketing is a bad choice. Expecting most writers, or even many writers, to do several books a year strikes me as a highly dubious proposition.

. . . .

Howey also has an unrealistically limited view of the output of big publishing. If you read this interview (and I would encourage anybody interested in the book business to do so), you see that he thinks almost exclusively about fiction or, as he puts it, “storytelling”. Books come, like his did, out of an author’s imagination and all the author needs is the time to write. Exposure through Amazon does the rest.

. . . .

The other is that Howey’s analysis totally leaves out one of the biggest categories of publishing: big non-fiction like history or biographies or industry analyses that take years of research and dedication to complete. Unlike a lot of fiction, those books not only take time, they require serious help and expense to research. In a imagined future world where all books are self-published, aspiring fiction writers give up very little (small advances) and successful fiction authors have the money to eat while they write the next book they can make even more money on doing it the Howey way (even though none have). But big non-fiction books like Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” (or anything by David McCullough) took years of research to put together. “Dark Money” was undoubtedly financed at a very high level by the Doubleday imprint at Penguin Random House. How books like that will be funded in the future is not covered by Howey’s analysis.

Now, that’s not to say they must be. Economic realities do rule. Howey’s thesis that things are shifting in Amazon’s direction and away from the ecosystem that has sustained big book publishers is correct.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG says that, because a successful fiction author like Hugh says fiction publishing is best done by indie authors and doesn’t say anything about non-fiction, Big Publishing must be the only way for big non-fiction to be published.

The fundamental economics of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing include an inherent financial bias for the author towards self-publishing. Amazon is just as willing to pay 70% royalties to an indie non-fiction author as it is to an indie fiction author.

Mike cites nonfiction unicorns (the nonfic equivalent of James Patterson and Lee Child) and says they need big publishing to finance their research expenses. Ergo, nonfiction authors need big publishing.

PG is happy to be corrected, but he bets that midlist nonfiction authors don’t get treated any better than midlist fiction authors. PG doubts that any publisher plans to fund years of research for anyone but a nonfiction superstar.

As far as attractive alternatives to tradpub funding, what about Kickstarter and GoFundMe? A far greater portion of the financial benefits of indiefunded and indiepublished nonfiction will go to the author than will the benefits of publisher-funded nonfiction.

PG bets that David McCullough could get millions for research through Kickstarter. PG would certainly contribute. Come to think of it, James Patterson could as well.

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