Big Publishing

Publishing’s Problem with Plastic

22 September 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

I write environmental nonfiction books that call kids to action. I want children to feel empowered to save our planet from past generations’ hubris. Endangered species, trophic cascades, and marine debris are just a few of the topics I’ve tackled. Now, I’d like to motivate a different audience to act: the publishing industry.

I attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in June to receive a Robert F. Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. In my free time, I explored the exhibit hall for books. I returned home with some amazing finds, but also a feeling of unease due to the inclusion of plastic marketing materials in many giveaways.

Ever since Annie Crawley and I collaborated on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, my plastic radar operates on overdrive. In the ALA exhibit hall, more than 900 exhibitors offered a dizzying array of gifts—magnets, bags, headphones, microfiber cloths, postcards with kites attached, beaded necklaces, water bottles—all in the name of selling books.

On behalf of my fellow authors, we thank you for these efforts. But the gifts are often made of unrecyclable plastic encased in single-use plastic bags. With over eight million metric tons of plastic thrown into the ocean annually, I believe an industry that generates almost $30 billion in revenue can do better in limiting the use of throwaway plastics.

. . . .

I know many publishers use recycled paper; it’s an admirable step that doesn’t go far enough. Annie and I regularly receive notes from kids making a difference in the fight against plastic. We’ve educated friends and colleagues about the evils of marine debris. As a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators regional advisor, I asked conference attendees to bring reusable water bottles, and I provided an urn of water for fill-ups. That practice is still in effect today, even though I’ve retired as RA.

. . . .

1. Those free tote bags are appreciated, but consider ones made from natural fibers rather than plastic (which can’t be recycled when they wear out).

2. Rethink giveaways. Consider candy wrapped in foil or paper rather than plastic. Ditch plastic items such as necklaces and microfiber cloths (which, when washed, release tiny plastic fibers into our watersheds). Instead, consider beeswax wraps or bamboo cloths sans plastic packaging.

3. Send review copies of books in cardboard mailers rather than plastic-lined envelopes.

4. Use paper packing tape for mailings and shipments. Replace polystyrene peanuts or plastic air-filled bags with biodegradable corn starch peanuts or shredded newspaper.

5. Consider using paper straps instead of sending sets of books shrink-wrapped in plastic.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The OP failed to mention the environmental benefits of ebooks.

Can traditional publishers do anything right?

Big Publishing and Its Small-Town Syndrome

21 September 2018

Urban Dictionary has this to say about Small-Town Syndrome:

When someone has lived for so long in a small town that they form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town.

Someone with small-town syndrome usually is majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town and let their life revolve around such meaningless rumors. They act as if life is high school. Parents/Adults and children all engage in cliquey behavior.

People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out.

People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world (wherever they move to out of the comfort of their family/friends also from same town)

Link to the rest at Urban Dictionary

While PG was reading yet another author account about being mistreated by a major publisher in a way that was likely to harm the author’s writing career, if not destroy it, he started thinking about all the self-destructive idiocy in Big Publishing he has observed. He’s observed some of the stupidity directly while working for author-clients and has seen some imbecility through the eyes of authors who have experienced it.

In the United States, Big Publishing effectively means publishers that are headquartered in New York City.

As a prelude to his thoughts, PG has lived in Chicago and Los Angeles and, at one time, almost all his friends lived in New York City. At another time, he spent several days each month in New York City on business. Each of these large cities included groups of individuals that manifested symptoms of Small-Town Syndrome. No location were exempt from this social/psychological phenomenon. Someone once said a city is really an amalgamation of a lot of small towns.

For many people, one of the pleasures of living in a large and active city is a feeling of shared cosmopolitan sophistication and a sense of a higher status than people who live in places without such advantages. If many people around you are considered sophisticated (or consider themselves sophisticated), you might feel like you’ve grown sophisticated yourself.

The mirror of this is sometimes found among those who live in much smaller places, where the perceived differences between their environment and the environment in which they imagine big-city residents live are stark. PG graduated from high school in a town with 636 inhabitants. One of the common phrases shared by his classmates was, “Good enough for a town this size” meaning not very good at all. Anyplace bigger had to be better.

Back to Big Publishing and Small-Town Syndrome.

Publishing employees and managers work in a sophisticated city and are part of an industry with an elevated cultural status in New York. Along with music, art, museums and the theater, books are very much a part of the New York media and arts environment. New York is like no place else when it comes to commercial publishing. This confers a higher social status on publishing, its managers and employees than would be the case if they worked for an insurance company.

Absent substantial family wealth, however, there is more than a little status anxiety associated with the low pay that predominates at all levels of publishing. College classmates and friends of publishing’s employees who work in New York’s large financial sector enjoy enormously higher incomes.

According to Glassdoor, an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House earns about $37,000 per year. An associate editor earns about $48,000 per year. A senior editor will earn about $84,000 per year. A vice-president earns $168,266-$182,180 per year. A substantial piece of each of those salaries will go to pay New York City taxes (6.45% city income tax, 8.875% city and state sales tax), state and federal taxes.

In contrast, at a Manhattan investment bank, a first-year analyst straight out of business school will earn a base salary of $85,000-$90,000 per year plus a bonus of about $60,000. Third year analysts who perform well can expect total compensation of $200,000 or more. A summer intern will earn $5,000-$6,000 per month, a higher monthly salary than an associate editor at PRH.

The overall cost of living in New York City is almost 70% higher than elsewhere in the US. The cost of living in Manhattan is more than twice the cost of living anywhere else.

Back to Big Publishing. We have employees who have some social status but, by New York City standards, are scraping by financially. They can get good seats at book signings, but the doorman in their apartment building may earn more than the publisher pays them. Their financial limitations are a little easier to live with if they spend a lot of time with other people in the publishing business. Agents are great because they’ll buy lunch and understand the stresses and unfairness of the business.

There is one part of the life of a Big Publishing employee where she/he is close to an absolute ruler and commands obeisance – dealing with would-be and non-bestselling authors. Finally, people who are desperate to impress someone who works in publishing and will do anything to gain favor.

Emails and phone calls from aspiring authors don’t need to be returned. In the case of an already-published author, sales figures determine how easily an editorial assistant can ignore questions or concerns. Some authors can be so annoying with their Wichita concerns. They’re just so needy.

Unless an author has demonstrated substantial best-seller potential, nobody higher in the publisher’s hierarchy cares how an underling treats the author. Whether the author sends in another manuscript or not won’t move the publisher’s financial needle in a meaningful fashion. The employee knows hordes of authors will always be knocking on the door no matter how she responds to one author’s concerns.

No promotions will result from an employee treating all authors courteously and with respect. Impressing the people higher in the corporate hierarchy is what will lead to raises and promotions. No one need ever know if the employee alienated an author who later hits the New York Times bestseller list. Indeed, amid all the rejection slips, the employee himself will probably not remember any author who was rejected.

Back to the Small-Town Syndrome as potentially applicable to Big Publishing:

  • People with small-town syndrome form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town
  • People with small-town syndrome are majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town
  • People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out
  • People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world

PG has worked in a lot of different types of businesses, either directly or as a legal representative of clients in those businesses. In his experience, he has never seen another industry that treats its suppliers and would-be suppliers worse than traditional publishing does.

UPDATE: PG’s thoughts about this subject originated as he read the latest post from Kris Rusch.

Surviving The Stupid

21 September 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Imagine my surprise, as I scanned through Twitter a few weeks ago, to see a writer I follow go after Tor for its library policies. Um…what?

Turns out that Tor, through its parent company Macmillan has started a program in which libraries cannot get ebooks of the latest Tor releases until four months after the book is released.

Remember this is traditional publishing, so velocity is important. How fast a book sells has an impact on whether or not that writer’s next book will even get an offer from the publisher. And here—stupidly—is a publisher that has decided that library ebook sales aren’t worthwhile.

Tor/Macmillan’s reasoning? To see if library ebook sales are the reason that the company’s ebook sales are so low. That thinking is so damn stupid that I can barely type the words.

Rather than go into the reasons Macmillan’s ebook sales are low which I can digress on for hours, let me share what Nate Hoffelder said on The Digital Reader in July, when this news initially broke:

Macmillan  has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit,  its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.

Apparently, corporate think has decided that it’s better to decrease sales to increase sales. (How Orwellian.) They’ve also got on the bandwagon of punishing people with budgets and limited income. The enthusiastic readers on a book budget—folks who provide great word of mouth during that crucial velocity period—are not worth Macmillan’s time.

The problem is that these enthusiastic readers aren’t going to be able to purchase the books themselves. Many library users are unable to make regular ebook purchases, especially if the ebooks are priced at $9.99 and up, like the Tor books. I’ve seen arguments that the libraries will still get the paper books, but that doesn’t mean that these readers want paper books.

Tor/Macmillan believes that these readers can and should wait. Which is risky on the one hand—there are always new books to read—and idiotic on the other. The readers who want a book now are the book’s most dedicated consumers. Word of mouth has become even more important in 2018 than it was ten years ago, thanks to the advent of social media, online book sites, and all kinds of blogging.

. . . .

Let me tell you, as someone whose novels were traditionally published for decades, it sucks when your publisher makes a totally stupid decision that’s going to have a negative impact on your career.

If you’re a smart author, you’ll know what the impact will be. Most traditionally published writers happily know nothing about the business of publishing, so when they get their royalty statements and their sales are down yet again, or when they are unable to sell the next book in the series, or when their publisher cancels their fat multi-book contract because sales are down, those writers are surprised. (See my blog post on “Learned Helplessness”  to understand some of this.)

. . . .

This comes at a perilous time for Tor. Their founder, Tom Doherty, moved upstairs into an honorary position in March, and was replaced as President and Publisher by a long-time corporate middle management guy who might or might not do a good job. If this library thing is any indication… well, you already know how I feel.

I feel somewhat bad for the writers stuck in this library situation. Not entirely bad, mind you, because if they had learned business, they would know that their publisher has a habit of chewing up and spitting out writers like crazy, and has for decades. Three books and out, usually, unless something takes off. And it used to be that awards and award-nominations were enough to save a writer at that company. That changed as the bean counters rose to the top of the business, and will probably get worse now that Tom is gone. He loves science fiction, and would occasionally swoop in to save a great voice that wasn’t selling well.

I doubt that will happen anymore.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Nothing in Capitalism is Clean: On Making Art in Empire

16 September 2018

From T. Thorn Coyle:

Under capitalism we are all for sale, and most labor is grossly underpaid.” –– Maggie Mayhem

Nothing in this world is clean. Everything supports, depends on, tears down, or eats something else. Sometimes these cycles feel useful and nourishing, like soldier fly larvae in their wriggling, pale masses, slowly eating compost scraps, and making soil.

Other times? The cycles feel as if the jaws of death have us in their crushing grip and we can no longer breathe.


When I was nineteen, I, a young anarchist with a blue, flat top mohawk and gold Dr. Martens boots, got a job on the Pacific Stock Options Exchange. I did so to learn more about the US economic system and to feed myself and pay my rent. My previous jobs didn’t pay nearly enough to live on.

It was as I suspected: our economic system was very bad, and based on gambling. In more recent years, that view expanded, as it became more and more clear that the system of “shareholders” meant that profit was the only motive, crushing workers, choking sky, and poisoning soil and water as it sought its own sick life of making billionaires.

One day, in that late-80s world, I took my lunch out to a long, low wall where the ultra punk-rock bicycle messengers hung out sometimes. One of them asked for my sandwich. I gave him half.

These messengers were rebels. Free spirits. They careened through the streets of downtown San Francisco, through traffic, up and down harrowing hills, chains clanking, hair wild. They were mercenaries who could not be bought or sold.

Except, one day it hit me: they delivered packages to Shell Oil Corporation and to other crushers of soil and souls. Any money that changed hands within the system of capitalism was not clean.

There was blood on it.

There was blood and suffering everywhere.


I’m an author and a small, independent publisher. It’s a cottage industry. I have no workers but myself, hiring other independent people to edit books and design series covers.

And I sell those books in the marketplace.

Many people ask if they can buy my books in places other than Amazon. Because Amazon, they say, is evil. Considered a monopoly by some, and run by an infamous multi-billionaire, Amazon doesn’t pay its workers nearly enough, and by all reports, treats them very badly.*

Now, as an independent publisher, I could work out how to sell both ebooks and paper copies from my website. And I am working up to the latter, and may eventually do the former with some of my books, at least.

But here’s the thing: I want my books to reach as many people as possible. I also want to make money because, you see, I need to eat, and money is the most direct route to that. Even maintaining a food garden ––which my family does–– requires some money, plus no small amount of effort.

I could sell books to 100 ––maybe 1000–– people from my website and get a job elsewhere, likely working for some other place connected to a large, oppressive corporation somewhere.

No money is clean in these systems, remember?

And I do sell e-books in other places, it is only my current novel series that is Amazon exclusive for the e-books only. And that’s a temporary business experiment.

What are those other places I sell e-books?

Kobo. A young, Canadian upstart that some authors sell pretty well on, though my books haven’t so far. Oh, and they are now working in partnership with Walmart. As you may know, the Walton family are the wealthiest people in the United States, and by all reports, also pay poorly and treat their workers very badly. Many Walmart workers resort to food stamps and food banks in order to survive.

iBooks. Owned by Apple. You know, the mega corporation that –– like every single computer and phone maker–– is tainted by terrible factory conditions, suicides, and the mining of coltan gained by the suffering of indentured people, a process that has decimated the only home of the mountain gorilla. I type my essays and books on one of their computers.

Barnes and Noble. Barely a player anymore, and a company that, not so long ago, lovers of independent booksellers hated. Rumor has it that they may soon be on their way out of business.

The truth is that Amazon, being the first successful e-book peddler ––smaller companies took a stab at e-books early on, before the world was ready–– holds 80% of the market share. Currently, if you want to sell e-books in any quantity, you have to be on Amazon.

. . . .

I am also traditionally published, by both a very large house, and a small to medium sized publisher. The large house, Tarcher/Penguin, is now Penguin Random House. It is owned by the massive media conglomerate Bertelsmann ––run by the Mohn family–– and by the multinational British corporation Pearson.

These corporations own or license a lot of “intellectual property” which, if you follow such things, is a great way to amass huge amounts of capital, so much so that people who formerly had no interest novels or comic books are taking note and buying up IP not to send it out into the world, but to hoard as assets.

I have friends who are traditionally published, too. Some of them write for Tor, a small SF/F house that is lately doing its level best to publish more diverse voices. Another thing they’ve been doing lately? Placing an embargo on libraries.

Tor is owned by MacMillan, which is owned by the larger company Holtzbrink. Why is MacMillan placing an embargo on e-books in libraries? They fear it undercuts sales.

These books for lend –– despite being sold to libraries at higher prices than to bookstores –– just may cut into their bottom line.

So, while traditionally published authors may have their books available in all retailers (except now, perhaps, in libraries), books coming from them are no better than books being sold exclusively on Amazon.

I’m using only two examples, but could go on about the Big 5 publishing houses, including the ways these publishing houses treat writers –– not paying the majority of authors a living wage, for one thing. Also, in traditional publishing ––like most corporate systems and institutions–– racism runs rampant. Just look at who gets published in the first place, then look at who gets promotional support. Look at who has garnered awards for the past sixty years.

Ask any Black or Brown or Indigenous (or frankly, any disabled, or queer, or trans…) author how big publishing has treated them. Even the “successful” ones have stories. Ask how many Black editors there are. Ask about tokenism. Ask about misogyny, while you’re at it. You’ll be told of myriad problems including the common phrase, “We already have a South Asian author.” Or “Your books belong in our African American imprint.”

Despite dedicated editors still championing the written word, in my opinion, the traditional publishing model itself is not designed to support authors. I don’t have time to detail all of the issues with a 19th century publishing model trying to operate under 21st century global corporate capitalism.

Link to the rest at T. Thorn Coyle

Penguin Random House Is Building the Perfect Publishing House

14 September 2018

From The New Republic:

When Penguin and Random House announced in the fall of 2012 that they intended to merge, Hurricane Sandy was barreling toward New York City, America’s publishing capital. It was an instant metaphor for headline writers: “As Sandy Loomed, the Publishing Industry Panicked.” People inside both companies worried about their jobs; people outside the companies worried about the market power of a new conglomerate comprised of the country’s two largest trade publishers. Agents and authors, meanwhile, worried that the consolidation would further drive down advances.

Random House’s top brass insisted that there was no need to panic. “The continuity will far outweigh the change,” Markus Dohle, the CEO of what would become Penguin Random House, told The New York Times when the merger was completed the following summer. “We have the luxury to take the time before we make any strategic decisions. There is no need to rush.”

This has been the story of Penguin Random House these past five years. Privately owned, the company has moved deliberately, while publicly traded competitors like HarperCollins (which is owned by News Corp) and Simon & Schuster (CBS) have had to fend off pressures from shareholders. It has not used its gargantuan size—it controls more than half of the traditional literary marketplace according to many estimates—to take back territory from Amazon. Instead, it has focused on building equity and ensuring that it publishes the next generation of bestsellers. In so doing, Penguin Random House has built what may be the perfect corporate publishing house. There’s just one problem: Thanks to Amazon, the age of the imperious corporate publishing house is coming to an end.

. . . .

The point of a Penguin Random House is to create scale. It is larger than its four biggest rivals combined, and its sheer size gives it leverage to promote and sell books. “We are able to leverage scale in direct marketing to consumers and in our supply chain to support our retailers and to get our books into the hands of readers quickly,” Penguin Random House spokesperson Claire Von Schilling told me in an email. “We have the largest book sales force in the world, with unparalleled reach into every different kind of bookseller globally.”

Penguin Random House’s digital marketing and data efforts are the envy of the industry, which in many ways still publishes books way the same way that it did 50 years ago. Penguin Random House uses consumer data and information from Goodreads to help acquire prospective bestsellers, which then get the promotional benefits of Penguin Random House’s size and influence. Corporate publishing in the 21st century is driven by bestsellers—both the backlist (older books) and the midlist (non-bestsellers) have never had less impact, making it all the more important to score big hits.

. . . .

Amazon is the most important subject in the publishing industry in 2018, as it has been for the last fifteen years, but Penguin Random House has consistently downplayed the Amazon threat. Asked if additional size has benefited the publisher in its dealings with retailers, Von Schilling responded, “That was not a purpose of the merger.”

Even before the merger, Random House treated Amazon more conservatively than its rivals. While the other five, for instance, were sued for antitrust violations for joining forces with Apple to fight Amazon’s e-book dominance, Random House kept its hands clean (Penguin settled with the Department of Justice less than two months after the merger was announced). To many, this was a savvy play. Penguin Random House’s remit, after all, is to sell books, not to go to war with its retail partners.

But others have expressed frustration with Penguin Random House’s timidity. The point of market share, they argue, is to exert influence over retailers and there is little evidence that Penguin Random House has done this in a meaningful way (though it’s possible that it does receive slightly better terms than its rivals). Still, Amazon has spent the past several years accruing significant power in the industry. It has further cemented its hold over bookselling. It has feuded with other conglomerate publishers, notably Hachette, while building up its own disruptive publishing arms. These include the Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service, which has taken over genre publishing, and Audible, which has a stranglehold on audiobooks, the industry’s most important growth sector. When it comes to publishing, Amazon has arguably never been more powerful.

It’s possible that some master plan is afoot in the inner sanctum of Penguin Random House to bend Amazon to its will. In the meantime, Penguin Random House has spent the last five years perfecting the corporate publishing house, shoring up its ability to publish bestsellers. The problem is that in the age of Amazon that may not be enough. In the long term, perhaps the wisest move isn’t to build an organism that blends seamlessly with an aggressive retailer, but one that fights against it.

Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to DM for the tip.

PG says getting into a fight with your largest customer is a less than optimal business strategy especially when several hundred bookstores operated by your second-largest customer are increasingly likely to close.

“Bending Amazon” to Randy Penguin’s will would be an interesting exercise to watch. However, PG wonders if Amazon would even notice what the benders were trying to do.

Simply put, Amazon doesn’t need to sell books. Randy Penguin does.

PG is continually amazed that anyone in the book business thinks Amazon is anything less than the best thing that has ever happened to traditional publishers and authors of all stripes. Despite all the platitudes staggering around physical bookstores and literary bars, there is absolutely nothing inevitable about the traditional publishing business in the digital age.

Publishers Puzzled, Frustrated by Parneros Lawsuit

2 September 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

The revelations disclosed in former Barnes & Noble CEO Demos Parneros’s lawsuit, filed Tuesdayand charging the company with defamation and breach of contract, left publishers mystified at how the nation’s largest bookstore chain will turn around its financial fortunes.

“Indecipherable” was the one-word email response from the president of an independent publisher when asked about the recent events at B&N. “I don’t know what to make of the news,” another executive at a publisher said. “It’s still unsettled over there.”

. . . .

Whatever the merits of the case, publishers said it is clear that the time has come for B&N to find new leadership, either by a sale of the company or finding a CEO with a new vision for the company. Since Parneros’s dismissal, the company has been run by the trio of Allen Lindstrom, chief financial officer; Tim Mantel, chief merchandising officer; and Carl Hauch, v-p, stores. Riggio remains executive chairman and will be involved in its management until a new CEO is found.

“B&N needs to take action and needs capital to do it,” one publishing executive told PW. “Clearly being acquired is one way to get that done. There are other ways, but something needs to happen.”

An independent publisher who viewed some of the charges in the lawsuit being made “by a guy who is really pissed off and wants his severance,” nonetheless agreed that B&N “needs to create a smooth transition for Len.”

. . . .

“I think it’s time {B&N} gets a new owner,” the head of an independent publisher said. “One that’s interested in being in the book business and has a proper management team. Someone like Indigo would be great.”

. . . .

Several publishers said the frustrating part of Parneros’s departure is that it finally looked like B&N had a plan in place to move forward. Parneros was “candid about the issues B&N faces,” one executive said, adding that the plan he laid out seemed workable if given some time. All publishers would like to see the next B&N CEO have book experience. And there is one other characteristic they would like to see—a CEO who is actually running the company.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Germany’s Bertelsmann Reports a Half-Year Decline at PRH

30 August 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its report arriving overnight from Gütersloh, Bertelsmann—parent of Penguin Random House—is reporting that its overall 2018 first-half revenues rose to €8.2 billion (US$9.6 billion), its highest result, the company says, in 11 years, with a group profit of €501 million (US$584.4 million).

The news on Penguin Random House, however, is different, recording “declines in sales and earnings” in the same period, the first half of 2018.

And in a letter to staff dated today (August 30), Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle writes, “I’d like to give you some context and perspective on those numbers, highlight some of our key global achievements so far this year, and, especially, thank you for all you are doing on behalf of our books.”

. . . .

To Penguin Random House staffers, Dohle writes, “Even though the reported Bertelsmann headline numbers were down for its book division in euros, the underlying operating revenue and profit numbers for Penguin Random House in US dollars have been stable year-over-year.

“This means that the quality of our business and our earnings have been on the same—high—level as in the prior year. Our core business remains very strong globally.”

. . . .

Dohle’s message is, in essence, better things are ahead. “We have a terrific publishing lineup worldwide to carry us to this year’s finish line,” he writes, ” with new potential national and local bestsellers on the schedule from now through December.

. . . .

Overall, Dohle’s messaging asserts, all is well and getting better, despite disappointing financial reportage from Germany. “In this year of ongoing unrest and anxiety worldwide, our authors’ books across categories are needed more than ever,” writes Markus Dohle.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says the Bertelsmann report that prompted Dohle’s pep talk letter to PRH employees said the first-half revenues of PRH were down 3.3% from last year. Operating EBITDA fell by 17.0 percent.

What interested PG even more was another section of the Bertlesmann report was the following:

“In the United States, Penguin Random House had 178 titles on The New York Times bestseller lists in the first half of the year, 25 of them at No. 1. The biggest bestsellers of the reporting period [included] … Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, which served as the basis for the eponymous Steven Spielberg movie, and was also very successful as an audiobook.

“In the United Kingdom, 41 percent of all books on the The Sunday Times bestseller lists were Penguin Random House titles. In addition to the above-mentioned works that were successful in the United States, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and Still Me by Jojo Moyes sold particularly well in the United Kingdom.

. . . .

“In Germany, Verlagsgruppe Random House had 251 titles on Der Spiegel bestseller lists, 11 of them at number one.”

Unless PG has missed something in recent months, Amazon doesn’t share its book sales data with The New York Times, The Sunday Times, etc., for purposes of those publications’ bestseller lists.

A few months back, Mike Shatzkin said that 69% of book sales (print, ebooks and audio) are happening online and only 31% in physical bookstores. The online number for adult fiction and non-fiction is now about 75%.

Let’s put things together:

  1. PRH is killing it on the traditional bestsller lists.
  2. PRH revenues are down.
  3. Amazon sales aren’t reflected in the bestseller lists.

PG admits other factors come into play, but if he combines these reported facts, he suspects that PRH is underperforming on Amazon. PRH books compete quite successfully in the traditional bookstore world, but they can’t compete on Amazon.

Bertelsmann says PRH’s declining sales and earnings are “due to exchange rate effects, among other factors.” PG suggests that among the “other factors,” not being able to sell very effectively on Amazon might be significant.

Of course, whether Barnes & Noble continues to circle the drain or actually goes down the drain, sales on Amazon will become even more important to Big Publishing’s financial performance.

When Digital Platforms Become Censors

17 August 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Call 2018 the “Year of Deplatforming.” The internet was once celebrated for allowing fresh new voices to escape the control of gatekeepers. But this year, the internet giants decided to slam the gates on a number of people and ideas they don’t like. If you rely on someone else’s platform to express unpopular ideas, especially ideas on the right, you’re now at risk. This raises troubling questions, not only for free speech but for the future of American politics and media.

The most famous victim of deplatforming is, not coincidentally, the least popular: Alex Jones, the radio host known for promoting outrageous conspiracy theories about everything from vaccinations to the Sandy Hook massacre. In a concerted action earlier this month aimed at loosely defined “hate speech,” Facebook , Apple , Spotify and YouTube removed from their services most of the material by Mr. Jones and his InfoWars network.Twitter recently followed suit with a seven-day suspension.

Apple cited its “terms of use” in removing InfoWars from its iTunes podcast listings but couldn’t explain why it didn’t remove the InfoWars app, which shares the same content, from its App Store. YouTube made general reference to its “terms of service and community guidelines,” but didn’t say what Mr. Jones had done wrong. Facebook’s reasons were similarly vague.

Their evasiveness isn’t hard to explain. After all, Mr. Jones isn’t doing anything different from what he has been doing for years. The real reason for his removal is that technology companies don’t like his views and have come under increasing pressure to deny him the use of their platforms.

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This week, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes was suspended from Twitter along with his far-right Proud Boys organization, who call themselves “Western chauvinists,” though they say they oppose white supremacy. Twitter doesn’t like them, and it doesn’t like their politics. But even a mainstream conservative figure like radio host and author Dennis Prager has complained that YouTube placed age restrictions on some of the videos he produced. Facebook blocked an advertisement for Republican Congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng, ostensibly because her video mentioned the Cambodian genocide, which her family survived. Microsoft even threatened to shut down the web services used by conservative Twitter-competitor Gab because a single user on the network had posted anti-Semitic content.

If internet megaplatforms like YouTube and Facebook were publishers, none of this would be especially problematic. One of the essential duties of a publisher is deciding what to publish and what not to publish. The Supreme Court has even held, in Miami Herald v. Tornillo (1974), that the law can’t compel newspapers to print replies to their articles, because it would interfere with their choice of what to publish.

But internet platforms don’t want to be treated as publishers, because publishers are also responsible for their decisions. If a newspaper publishes a libelous story, it can be sued. If it infringes someone’s copyright, it can be held liable for damages. And everything it chooses to publish or not to publish is a reflection on its reputation.

Today, the big internet companies are treated not as publishers but as conduits—tools that other people use to spread their own ideas. That’s why the “safe harbor provision” of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a landmark in internet regulation, states that platforms aren’t legally responsible for what other people publish on their sites. The law was originally intended to protect things like newspaper comment sections, but its application has become very broad, encompassing virtually all of the content on social media and sharing sites.

Now these companies are trying to have it both ways. They take advantage of the fact that they are not publishers to escape responsibility for the endless amounts of problematic material on their sites, from libel to revenge porn. But at the same time, they are increasingly acting like publishers in deciding which views and people are permitted on their platforms and which are not. As a narrow matter of First Amendment law, what these companies are doing will probably pass muster, unless some federal court decides, as in Marsh v. Alabama (1946), that their platforms are functionally equivalent to “company towns,” where the public square is privately owned.

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The notion that Silicon Valley megabillionaires are actively limiting what ordinary Americans can talk and write about is likely to produce a backlash. The tech industry’s image has already suffered over revelations about Facebook’s experiments aimed at manipulating users’ newsfeeds to test their emotional states, as well as various cases of invasion of privacy and data mishandling. Twenty years ago, most Americans saw Silicon Valley as liberating; now it seems to have gone from the hammer-wielding woman in that famous “1984” Apple commercial to the Big Brother figure up on the screen.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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