Big Publishing

Innovation is in the blood

16 April 2014

From FutureBook:

If there was one dominant theme coming of out the London Book Fair last week it was of an industry taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath and working out what comes next. At Digital Minds, the author Nick Harkaway said that publishers liked to reach a plateau and then wait for the next innovation to run them down.

. . . .

There isn’t a conversation I have with anyone in publishing these days that isn’t prefaced by a worried shrug, or a slightly nervous glance over the shoulder. Publishing is in confident mood right now, but that confidence is based on some brittle assumptions: that digital continues to not disrupt, and that physical book retail does not close down. Take either of those two pillars away, and all this talk of an orderly transition to digital, will vanish as quickly as a drunken tweet.

The question of what comes next, and how much we can influence that should now be foremost in our minds. Speaking at Digital Minds, Faber’s Stephen Page said it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.

. . . .

Publishing’s other great problem is that its core product isn’t broke. What have we really found out from five years of Kindle? Readers like reading. And generally they like reading in an environment unencumbered by music, video and animation. If publishers don’t feel like their products are going out of fashion, how can we expect them to change them.

. . . .

Publishers innovate constantly but much of it occurs in niche areas, away from the glare of social media. Show me a reader in demand of a new way of reading, and I’ll show you six publishers trying to meet that demand. Show me a publisher innovating and I’ll show you six technologists explaining why they are wrong.

Link to the rest at FutureBook

Big Publishing’s inability to engage in meaningful innovation was encapsulated for PG in, “. . . it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.”

If you’re afraid to lose money, you’ll never do serious innovation. If you think real innovation can happen on a six month time-table, you really don’t understand innovation.

This is a reflection of a classic bean-counter mentality which may be well-suited for optimizing revenue and profit in a stable business environment but practically guarantees the business will be roadkill during a period of change.

The book business is not in stasis and won’t be for awhile. Organizations that do well in a period of disruptive change are typically lead by people who are willing to bet the company on a great new idea. Jeff Bezos has done this over and over with Amazon.

And as for “taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath,” PG doesn’t expect Amazon to do that any time soon.

Big Publishing has all the wrong people in management positions and probably can’t do anything about it.

Stand Up For Yourself

14 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A few weeks ago, at our weekly professional writers lunch, a writer mentioned a private listserve he’s on with other writers, all of whom are traditionally published. According to him, that list has been discussing an abusive editor, one who is tearing apart her bestsellers, making them revise their books repeatedly while telling them that they don’t know how to write.

. . . .

I knew the editor in question, and she went after me viciously in October of 2011. So viciously, in fact, that I immediately attempted to terminate my contract with the publishing company.

Let me tell you what happened, then let me tell you what I did, and then I will expand this essay into something everyone can use.

October of 2011 was a bad time for me.

. . . .

Publishing in the United States was changing quickly, and it often felt like the ground was shifting under our feet. We had cash flow issues because of the estate (see the link above) and because we had started three new businesses before Bill died. My stress was off the charts.

I still managed, somehow, to write a novel that I was quite pleased with. For once, I managed to hit every note I had promised in the proposal that sold the novel. The novel was risky for its genre, but the editor had approved the proposal and all was fine—I thought.

Then on the afternoon of October 18, 2011, the editor called me from a conference I had had to cancel out of due to my health and the estate issues. I thought she was going to update me on a book the company had just published—sales figures or something—or maybe convey something about the conference.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the book I had turned in. She didn’t ask how I was (and remember, she knew that I couldn’t attend for health and personal reasons) or anything. Instead she lit into me and my work as if I were a beginning writer.

She told me that I couldn’t write very well. She told me I knew nothing about the genre I’d been publishing in for fifteen years. She told me that I might think I was a good writer, but I wasn’t, and I needed to shape up.

I was stunned as this torrent of abuse continued. It went on for fifteen minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. I should have hung up; I was too sick and emotionally exhausted to think of that option until after the call ended.

. . . .

I drafted a letter to the publisher of the company. I cited everything the editor said in this and previous conversations, said I had concurrent notes so I wasn’t trusting a faulty memory, and then demanded to be released from my current contract.

Because I’ve been in publishing a long time, I did not do this angrily or stupidly. I told the publisher of this company that I would repay my advance and, on the book that was currently in production (not the one I had just turned in), I would repay all expenses the company had incurred to date.

. . . .

In my letter to the publisher, I cited my credentials, my publishing history, and my business and financial history, so he knew who he was dealing with.

He knew this was not a bluff.

I also told him that his editor was not doing her job. She was having subordinates do much of the work for her, if not all of her work for her.

I sent the letter as an email and as a certified letter, then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was a prolonged negotiation with the vice president of the company, a much higher ranked person than the publisher I had initially addressed. I still had several books under contract, one in production, plus the one I had turned in, and three more to write. I was going to cancel the contracts on all of these and repay the advances.

He reminded me how expensive it was.

I told him that I would not work with a company that approved proposals and then turned down a book that followed the proposal to the letter. I also told him that I had been misled about the company’s focus. I had not realized that it expected me to follow rules of a subgenre I would never ever write in. I usually avoided companies and book lines that required such things, because that’s not how I write.

He assured me the company did not expect that. We went back and forth for some time, and came to an understanding. I would switch editors for the book in production and the book I had just turned in. I would have no contact with the first editor.

If I was still dissatisfied, we would part company before I started writing the next novel I had to finish for them.

The new editor was just fine. A gem, in fact.

. . . .

Which brings me back to that professional writers’ lunch a few weeks ago. I asked the writer who is on this listserve what the writers who were being abused by this woman had done.

He said they hadn’t done anything. They were signing up for more books and taking the nastiness—the you-can’t-write, you-are-worthless comments—and sucking it all up, trying to continue forward. And unsurprisingly, several were having trouble finishing novels.

I had to clarify: You mean no one has asked for a different editor? No one has withdrawn her book? No one has left the company?

. . . .

In publishing, when someone in charge of your book does not respect you or the book, it shows in the book’s treatment. I fired an agent of mine shortly after she told me her bestselling client wrote smut. It wasn’t literature, it was crap, but it sold, she said. And then she laughed.

She said that to me, another client, about a client who earned millions for the agency. Imagine how she talked to the client’s editor. Imagine how she talked about me.

Respect matters, and writers should demand it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One of PG’s rules for business and life is not to deal with jerks.

The only exception is when PG has been in court and the jerk was on the other side of a case. Then it could be fun.

Value Propositions

13 April 2014

From author Dan Meadows at The Watershed Chronicle:

Here’s the thing, we can all talk until we’re blue in face about ebooks, bookstores, publishers, writers, et al (a point some would say we already reached sometime in early 2012) but none of it means a damn thing. The only thing that matters is the value proposition offered to us and how that informs the choices people make. Everything else is bluster. Worse yet, it’s meaningless bluster that far too frequently merges with wish fulfillment of the person doing the blustering. “Ebooks are dying.” “Bookstores are crucial to the future.” “Writers need publishers to be the best they can be.”

. . . .

Twenty five years ago, if I wanted a new book, I had a few choices. There was the library (a brick and mortar bookstore that’s basically free for readers), used bookstores (brick and mortar store that’s cheap but whose offerings are dependent on readers getting rid of their old books), rotating racks of best sellers in retail stores (having little to do with book discovery and everything to do with pushing already known entities to impulse buyers) or bookstores themselves (who offered the best selection and knowledge about books available at the time).

In that environment, the value proposition to readers was on the side of bookstores. The time, effort and extra money necessary to patronize a bookstore was a fair trade off for what we got in return; a wider selection of books to choose from. Today, however, that value has flipped on them. Bookstores, with their real world physical constraints, inherently offer a limited selection of books. Online, however, has no such trouble. Online, you can find and buy every book. All of them. So now, bookstores have gone from having the best selection of books available to having a limited subsection of books.

. . . .

With ebooks, online print book sales and rapidly approaching explosion of print on demand technology, the value proposition to readers of frequenting bookstores is a problem. When they had the best selection and a knowledgeable staff that wasn’t easily reproducible, we thought nothing of the outlay in time and effort to shop there. We didn’t mind paying a few extra dollars on the price of a book to support their infrastructure when they provided a service that we valued. Today, though, shopping at physical bookstores requires readers to sacrifice. We need to give up our time and effort to get there, then pay those extra few dollars for the privilege of shopping in a limited pool of material. We need to choose to give up value available to us in order to use bookstores.

. . . .

When the value proposition changes from one where I pay out because you bring me value to one where I pay out to bring you value, that’s not going to end well for you. You can discuss bookstores’ place in literary history and culture all day long, it doesn’t change the simple fact that the value you once earned your coin with simply ain’t what it used to be.

This applies to the publisher/writer dynamic as well. Twenty five years ago, if I wanted to be a published writer, I had to go through the slow slog of querying agents, editors or whomever, piling up rejection after rejection until I get lucky enough to be offered a contract that paid me pennies on the dollar from the revenue my work generated. Not only did writers accept this, we fetishized it to the point where there are still writers who have inexplicably fond memories of taping rejection letters to their bulletin boards. The fact was, if I wanted to be published, that’s what I had to do. The value proposition of going through that crucible was worth it because it was the only way to reach the goals we wanted.

. . . .

Publishers and bookstores carefully crafted the value they brought over decades, some would say centuries. It does seem a bit unfair to people who have dedicated their lives to those ends to see that value knee-capped in less than 10 years. But that’s life. Sometimes, the things we value are life-long, sometimes they only last a matter of days or weeks. The thing is, you can never really tell when that value is going to vanish. And once that happens, you have to look toward the value you actually possess today and going forward.

When you hear people talk of the role of bookstores and their value to society, ask yourself, are they referring to the value they offer right this moment or the value they offered a quarter-century ago? Same with publishers. Is what they do today valuable or are they still treading on what they did that was valuable two or three decades ago?

Link to the rest at The Watershed Chronicle and thanks to Chris for the tip.

In Google Books appeal, Authors Guild decries Google’s impact on Amazon sales

12 April 2014

From TeleRead:

The Authors Guild is appealing Google’s November fair use win in its Google Book scanning case. The Guild says that Google is “yanking readers out of online bookstores” and stifling online bookstore competition with its digitized books.

“Google emptied the shelves of libraries and delivered truckloads of printed books to scanning centers, where the books were converted into digital format,” the Guild’s lawyers said.

They wrote that the library project was designed to lure potential book purchasers away from online retailers like and drive them to Google.

Wait, what?

. . . .

Second, this is the same Authors Guild that blamed lax antitrust enforcement for Amazon’s domination of the online book sales market, called Amazon “anticompetitive,” and insisted that the DoJ antitrust suit against the publishers was only going to help Amazon.

Now they’re suddenly all concerned over Google’s impact on Amazon’s wellbeing? Seriously?

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Solidly Mid-List

10 April 2014

From author Russell Rowland via The Rumpus:

Solidly mid-list. That’s how an agent described my work a few days ago in her very flattering letter telling me that she wasn’t interested in representing me to sell my next novel. She also said many of the things I’ve become accustomed to hearing about my work—that the writing is lovely, that it beautifully captures the dynamics of its small Montana community. But all those nice things were followed not by an ‘and,’ but by a ‘but.’ The same ‘but’ that I’ve been hearing a lot lately, which is that this book is too quiet to be a breakout novel.

And it may sound strange, but I was grateful that she was the first to acknowledge something I’ve suspected for years now but haven’t heard outright from anyone. That I have somehow become a ‘mid-list’ writer. And what that means is that I am likely to have a better chance of making the Red Sox pitching rotation than of finding representation. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

The signs were all there. The sales of all my books since my first novel have been mediocre at best. I have not been able to break in with a major publisher again since novel number one. I’ve been reviewed by some smaller publications and newspapers, but nothing like In Open Spaces, which was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Times, made the San Francisco Chronicle’s bestseller list, and was named on a couple of ‘best of’ lists for 2002.

. . . .

So what happened? How did I get here? That’s really the mystery of this whole business, this amazing adventure we call writing.

. . . .

I know that I am at least partially to blame for the way my career turned. There were missteps along the way. The most significant mistake was in the process of trying to sell novel number two. In Open Spaces was originally sold to William Morrow, in 1999, when they were still a separate entity. But a year later, about the time we finished editing, Morrow was swallowed up by HarperCollins, my editor was among those who lost their jobs, and for a while (two and a half years, actually), my book got lost in the sea of books that a merger produces. There was a period where they weren’t sure it would be published. There was an even longer period where I heard absolutely nothing, which was worse. It had taken me eight years from the time I wrote this book to find a publisher, so on some days, the thought of waiting another year or two wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But there were other days when it felt like a horrible joke.

Thankfully, after being assigned to five different editors, all of whom left the company, a junior editor was willing to take it on, and it came out in 2002, three and a half years after I signed the contract. But she too left the company, a month before it was released. I would imagine that Harper was surprised at the modest success of In Open Spaces considering it didn’t have anyone pushing it in-house. But I was eventually assigned to another editor to negotiate the second novel. He was a big fan of the first, so I was sure I was in good hands. I wasn’t worried at all.

. . . .

[H]e was very happy to find out that a sequel was in the works, and asked me to send along what I had, which was only a couple of early chapters. A few weeks later, he contacted my agent with an offer. A very good offer. Five times the advance I got for my first novel. Today I would take that offer without a second’s hesitation. But basking in the success of my first novel, and prompted by a suggestion from my agent, we arranged to meet with my editor, and we discussed the possibility that he might get me a better offer once the novel was finished. The idea of getting more was too appealing to pass up. So I officially declined their offer, with a wink and a nudge to my editor.

And I did what writers are supposed to do. I went to work, and close to a year later, I was nearly finished with the first draft of The Watershed Years. What happened next is so predictable I can’t believe it never even occurred to me at the time. When I contacted my editor to tell him the new novel was nearly finished, he had some bad news. He was leaving the company. They gave the finished novel to a different editor, who was not interested.

. . . .

The hardest part about being a mid-list writer is that people assume, because you have several books out there, that you don’t have to worry about whether your next book will get published. People are constantly asking me for advice about how to find an agent, or whether I will recommend them to a publisher. I often don’t have the heart to tell them that I’m looking for an agent myself, which is a whole ‘nother story. People assume that if you’ve published three novels, publishers are eager to have you join their stable.

. . . .

So where does this leave me now, today, without an agent or a publisher, with two finished novels waiting patiently in folders on my computer, and a third well underway. Not to mention the memoir. Well, it’s simple, really. And also incredibly clichéd. But what writers always need to do in the end is to write. There have been many many times during these years that the rejections have battered my confidence to the point where I’ve considered giving it up. Every time I get my royalty statements, which come every six months, my resolve gets tested in ways that sometimes take weeks to overcome. But the desire to write, it seems, is a sickness for which there is no cure. Except writing.

If I were the only one going through this, I would know it was me. I would know that I really am one of those people who think they’re better than they are. But I know so many writers, many very good writers, who are struggling with this same situation.

Link to the rest at The Rumpus and thanks to Matt for the tip.

PG says consolidation among publishers is far from over and, of course, more experienced editors will be laid off. And more authors orphaned.

Nobody cares about your writing career as much as you do.

The end of the beginning

8 April 2014

From The Bookseller:

After the excesses of the early years, did we all wake up in 2013 with a digital hangover? It can sometimes feel like it. Coming off the back of three years of treble-digit e-book growth, last year’s growth rate, of around 20%, was a detoxifier. In truth though, this party has barely even begun. As Amara’s Law argues, we tend to overestimate the impact of digital changes in the short term, but underestimate them in the long run.

. . . .

The numbers (those available to us) are not in dispute. The Bookseller reported in its issue on 24th January this year that e-book sales grew 18% in 2013, based on data supplied by all of the big publishers. It has since been backed by Nielsen’s Books and the Consumer report, which showed, based on consumers’ responses, that purchases of e-books were up by 20% in 2013. The Bookseller estimated that 74 million e-books were sold in 2013; Nielsen put out a figure of 80 million. The difference was Nielsen’s  larger estimate for sales of self-published e-books; it believes they account for 20% of overall e-book sales.

For those in doubt (and disappointingly some still are) both sets of data contain Amazon figures. But the caveats are important. There are huge chunks of the e-book market that we do not have sight of, and the data we do have is partial and estimated. I think a section of the e-book market, mainly Kindle-based, will be forever unknown.

. . . .

However, I don’t think the overarching message would change. The champagne days of treble-digit digital growth for all are clearly behind us. What we perceived as an explosion of e-reading was actually a market shift: for some sections of the reading community the e-book represented something new and convenient, and they flocked to it in their droves, downloading more than they’d ever had access to before, at low prices, and reading, I suspect, only a proportion of it. That—along with Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games—served to inflate the e-book space at a time when the print market was heading in the opposite direction. It also overemphasised the slowdown.

The next generation of e-book adopters may be slower arriving, and more promiscuous in their choices. Ideally, they will read across different platforms and be attracted to books by levers other than price. But in truth nothing is certain. Except clearly it is wrong to suggest that the e-book is going away, or that there is some kind of titanic struggle between the different formats, or those who work on them. What I see when I go into publishing businesses are editors as delighted by their e-book sales as well as their hardback sales, but relieved that one format did not kill off the other.

. . . .

When I interviewed Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle in Berlin two weeks ago he said he thought the group’s growth rates would average out at around 2%–4% annually, driven by emerging markets and new business models. He expected the mature markets (the UK and the US) to grow by around 1%–2%.

. . . .

The inevitable lull that has followed a quieting of the e-book market is not to be dismissed. As one senior executive put it to me recently, the “bed-wetting” is now a thing of the past. As I wrote in The Bookseller Leader last week, it seems to me that publishing can now look forward from a stable base.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG thinks 1-2% projected growth by the largest publisher in the US/UK markets is anything but a good sign for traditional publishing. PG would bet that Amazon’s book sales are growing significantly faster than that.

If Amazon sells more books than anyone else and it’s growing faster, what does 1-2% projected growth say about what’s really happening with physical bookstores?

People who write about the book business seldom recognize the market impact of authors (other than the occasional 50 Shades-style megabook). In PG’s behemothically humble opinion, most business-savvy authors are engaging with large traditional publishers these days only (or at least primarily) because those publishers offer access to physical bookstores and can push a bunch of books into those stores if the publisher decides it’s going to be a big book. As the number of physical bookstores shrinks, that tradpub benefit becomes less valuable.

While a lot of individual authors have reached the tipping point at which they’ve decided they’ll make more money traveling the indie road and either quit or never engage with traditional publishing, PG suspects there’s a tipping point up ahead when self-publishing will become conventional wisdom in the same way that “show, don’t tell” is in the writing world. The default choice for the ambitious author will be self-publishing.

If you’re looking for a parallel, think of the Blackberry. PG got an early Blackberry that just did email when he was doing a lot of business travel and it was wonderful. He remembers keeping track of the location of the Delta flight attendant while holding his Blackberry up against the airplane window during take-off to suck in as many emails as possible before entering the email dead zone.

He was happy when Blackberry offered an email/cell phone combination so he could give up his Nokia phone and just carry one lump in his pocket or (horrors!) on his belt. Blackberry’s physical keyboard was a lovely tool for composing emails. PG doesn’t remember exactly how many Blackberries he had, but there were several.

Then came the smart phone. And the even smarter phone. Email became an app, one of many apps.

For PG, the Blackberry physical keyboard would still be the best for thumb-typing, but he uses Siri for 90% of his email/text compositions. Plus email comprises a much smaller portion of what he uses his phone for than it did during the pre-iPhone era when Blackberry dominated the business market. Today, most business publications limit their Blackberry stories to the “will Blackberry survive or not” genre.

Blackberry didn’t stop doing what it did best. It just couldn’t change fast enough to keep up with competition.

Hence the comparison with traditional publishing.

Self-publishing is a far more threatening competitor to Randy Penguin than HarperCollins is or ever will be again.

The London Book Fair: Where Word-of-Mouth Reigns

8 April 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Much in the same way that a certain breed of writer seems to do little more than go from fellowship to writing retreat to guest lectureship to fellowship, never taking the time to write or publish an actual book, there is a certain type of publishing professional who always seems to be on the road, traveling from book conference to book fair to book festival to — well, when do they go to the office and work?

. . . .

But this week is one of those rare occasions when we all seem to be in the same place, London. It’s the start of the London Book Fair on Tuesday. By time you read this, work will already have begun and, in some cases, completed.  Agents have scrambled for weeks, nay, months to get their lists ready in time for endless rounds of meetings; scouts — who I like to refer to as the “special-ops” of the book business — have been busy prepping their  recommendations, and perhaps of more importance,  compiling lists of books publishers should not buy not matter what the agents might say; and the publishers have take a few spare moments to X-out the non-essential meetings from their agendas in order to preserve enough energy and attention for what really matters . . . drinks and dinner.

. . . .

It’s easy to overlook that publishing is a form of communication and not, as in this context, primarily a form of business. The book remains to this day that magical medium that facilitates how a writer from the 17th or 18th or 19th centuries can still whisper in the ear of a reader in the 21st.

But why, in the digital age which makes publishing seamless and frictionless and instant, to we need publishing conferences and events? Well, it’s simple: human contact.

These gatherings too too are about connecting people in points of time and the serendipitous or surprising or (even) ineffable things that can happen when you get thousands of like-minded book people together. Humans, even ones passionately devoted to the solitary occupation of reading, still feel the need to meet face-to-face, to talk, discuss, debate, gossip and exchange recommendations.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says this sounds like a journalist’s experience with a big conference.

Without discounting the higher-order interactions that can, but not necessarily do happen at large conferences, PG will add that anyone who has ever sold a big-ticket product or service knows that you usually want to get face-to-face with your potential customers to close sales. A sales rep will often say, “Are you going to be at XYZ conference? Lets have a lunch.”

Without the sales element, a lot of trade shows would go bust for lack of sponsors and attendees.

Amazon’s Vision for the Future of Self-Publishing

8 April 2014

From Digital Book World:

The term “self-publishing” may have outlived its usefulness, according to Jon Fine, director of author and publishing relations at Amazon, speaking at the Publishing for Digital Minds conference this week in London.

When asked at a recent past conference what “self-publishing” looked like in ten years, Fine, who is intimately involved in that business at Amazon, said that it probably won’t be called that anymore. In the future, authors will publish in a number of ways.

“If you’re an author in ten years, you’re going to have an array of options,” said Fine. “What we’ve done is provide the tools that make it possible to take a story and make it available to hundreds of millions of people around the world…and do it in multiple formats.”

. . . .

“Do you want to be a small business owner or work for a corporation?” asked [Hugh] Howey, referring to the difference between self-publishing, where authors are also entrepreneurs (the former) and traditional publishing, adding, “and there are advantages and disadvantages for both.”

In a typical example of the flexibility afforded authors today, Orna Ross, a hybrid author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, who was also on the conference panel mentioned that she is publishing nine short books this year, about one every month, “and that’s not something a publisher would ever do.”

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Star authors take to the road to counter fall in bookshop sales

6 April 2014

From The Guardian:

Authors on rock star-style tours, animations of famous fictional characters, merchandise based on children’s stories – all these are now in the armoury of Britain’s biggest publisher as it fights back against the decline of the high-street bookseller.

. . . .

Tom Weldon,UK chief executive of Penguin Random House, said that, as traditional ways of reaching book-buyers disappear, the company is looking to build a closer relationship with readers, to tell them about “books they might fall in love with”.

“It is a sad fact of life that there are fewer physical bookshops than there were. And traditional media is declining – including, sadly, newspaper books pages,” said Weldon.

. . . .

Speaking in his first national newspaper interview since Penguin and Random House completed a merger last July that brought 15,000 authors under one roof, Weldon said his industry had responded better to digital disruption than either film or television, which had struggled to control intellectual property rights. “The challenge isn’t digital; it’s how you tell people about the next great book. Because anyone can get published now, but how do you capture the readers’ attention?”

. . . .

Jo Twist, of the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, said the £3bn games industry was complementary to traditional publishing and brought “an innovative and creative edge to stories” to suit a growing population of people who love playing.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Some things I will be looking to learn more about at London Book Fair

3 April 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The London Book Fair is an every-second-or-third-year thing for me, going back many decades. From an English-centric perspective, it is like a mini-Frankfurt. All the UK players are there and a lot of US senior executives. But because it is so accessible to the Continent, you can get a taste of how things look to the rest of the world.

In the US, we look to me to be in a period when two dominant giants — Amazon for online bookselling and Penguin Random House for general trade publishing — are consolidating their positions. Amazon’s enormous market share is growing, both for print and ebooks. It is too early to draw the same conclusion about PRH, but my guess is that a year or two from now we’ll have seen them taking share from their biggest competitors just like Amazon is from theirs.

. . . .

In a recent conversation, an executive at a Big Five company told me of a recent development. His company had licensed a few titles for Russian language rights to a publisher in Moscow. But by which retailers would most of those ebooks be sold? The answer is Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo and Barnes & Noble! And the Russian publisher, really just breaking into the ebook business, has far more limited access to these retailing giants than the US publisher which had licensed them the rights.

So the US publisher, in a suggestion that seemed in everybody’s interests, offered to be the “distributor” of those Russian ebooks to the major accounts. The deal was made and it worked. I said to the executive who explained this to me, “You could be helpful in distributing all their books, not just the ones you licensed them.” “Exactly,” he said.

But then we took the conversation a little further. This house is wondering whether, in an ebook-dominant world, it wouldn’t make more sense for them to publish books themselves in Spanish, Mandarin, and French (the first three languages they are thinking about). After all, the translations are done by freelancers. Anybody can hire them no matter where they are. And if most of the books sold are ebooks, and if the publishers of English, especially those in the US, have multiple daily contacts with the big ebook retailers and others don’t, then what is the point to licensing away those rights?

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

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