Big Publishing

More thinking about how author and publisher marketing collaboration should change

14 April 2015

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

Because of our Logical Marketing work and our interest in author websites(admittedly just a corner of the author-marketing world, even if we think it is a cornerstone), I did a couple of recent posts, the basic thrust of which was that publishers needed to rethink marketing and the author interaction around it.

. . . .

Now, British author Harry Bingham and American consultant and indie-publishing expert Jane Friedman have published the results of a survey they did asking authors what they think of their publishers. What Bingham and Friedman found suggests strongly that the topic of the author-publisher relationship around marketing will be the subject of attention from a lot more people in the months and years to come.

. . . .

Significantly more felt their books “weren’t really marketed at all” (28 percent) than felt that the publisher made “full use of” their “skills, passion, contacts, and digital presence” (17 percent).

Although half of the respondents were satisfied with the communication they got from publishers, only 20 percent thought they got the “systematic guidance” they needed so they could “add most value” to the overall effort. It is precisely that challenge that my prior posts, in perhaps an unneccesarily roundabout way, sought to address.

. . . .

At the end of last week, we conducted a survey of our own among agents and editors, trying to discern whether self-publishing is a useful tool to get a deal. Much to my surprise, the consensus is that it is not useful. We got far more answers from agents than we did from editors, but the clear prevailing opinion is that publishers don’t know how to interpret independent publishing efforts and, most of the time, trying it does an author’s chances of selling that book to a publisher much more harm than good. Most agents responding said they really don’t want to try to peddle a book that has already been self-published unless it has achieved pretty extraordinary success.

(What’s “extraordinary”? One UK agent suggested that it would take at least 50,000 sales to get the attention of a British publisher. An American agent said in that market the number is about 100,000.)

Agents are less negative about whether self-publishing might be helpful selling anext or different book to a publisher, but, even there, they are far less than enthusiastic about the help it provides. One agent said that publishers care about the quality of the writing and very little about the author platform. (To me, this reflects the same lack of grasp of the importance of the author’s online presence that I was writing about in those recent posts. And whatever failures of understanding there are, they are more widespread among editors in publishing houses than they are among marketers.)

. . . .

So, here are a few conclusions from all of this.

1. Agents are driving the bus. They control the authors; the publishers don’t. That’s not to say that publishers don’t know this; most of them surely do. But this reality — that publisher behavior is channeled by trading partners more powerful than they are — is definitely not appreciated by indie authors and it appeared not to have entered the DoJ’s calculations when they saw collusion in the marketplace a few years ago.

. . . .

4. There are really simple things a publisher could do that would be very evident to authors and helpful to sales. Why aren’t publishers putting some lower-level marketing staff on the task of “retweeting” and “liking” author efforts online? At a slightly higher level of effort, why aren’t publishers evaluating author websites that already exist to make SEO suggestions? The author survey results suggest that doing even little things like this would help a publisher with author loyalty, which should be an objective for every publisher. Publishers should see virtue in the idea that providing authors with knowhow would make them more effective advocates for their own work. It would be very cheap to transfer that knowhow (once it was thought through) and publishers would effectively acquire enthusiastic, energetic and FREE marketing resources.

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

Amazon, HarperCollins Reach Multiyear Publishing Deal

14 April 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. and HarperCollins Publishers have reached agreement on a new multiyear publishing pact that covers both print and digital titles, HarperCollins said.

The agreement calls for HarperCollins to set the retail prices of its digital books, with incentives for HarperCollins to provide lower prices to consumers, according to a person familiar with the situation.

. . . .

The move benefits HarperCollins and its authors, because it means their titles will continue to be promoted and sold without interruption by Amazon, which dominates the sale of physical books online as well as e-book sales.

. . . .

The deal also benefits Amazon because it assures the retailer of a profit on HarperCollins digital titles. Under the so-called agency pricing model, publishers keep roughly 70% of the revenue from each individual sale, with retailers receiving an estimated 30% as their fee. Discounting is done only with approval of the publisher.

The pact with HarperCollins, which like The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires is owned by News Corp, appears to be similar in scope to those struck with three other major publishers in 2014.

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

Traditional books on paper open a new chapter of success

13 April 2015

From The Guardian:

A former tannery has been magicked into an arts venue, the lights have been dimmed, and a roomful of publishing executives are sitting on creaky wooden floors, cross-legged or knees scrunched up, school-assembly style. The canapes can wait: the group has gathered to listen to writers reading their latest, soon-to-be-published works – a heart-rending family memoir, a Jazz Age tale, the gangs of Los Angeles.

These are some of the stories publishing house Picador hopes will enthral readers this summer – and almost every writer reads from a paperback. One, poet Kate Tempest, speaks from memory, electrifying the room. No Kindles, Nooks or iPads in sight.

Public affection for print runs deeper than some had thought. On the eve of the London Book Fair, a three-day trade extravaganza that starts on Tuesday, optimism is rippling through the industry that it can weather the digital age. The idea that the ebook will kill the paperback seems increasingly like a tall tale.

Total spending on print and electronic books increased by 4% to £2.2bn in 2014, according to market data firm Nielsen. Ebooks now account for around 30% of all books published, including almost 50% of adult fiction. But the decline in print is levelling off as migration to ebooks declines. For some in the industry, it is a sign the dust is beginning to settle after the great digital shake-up.

. . . .

Nigel Newton, chief executive of independent publisher Bloomsbury, whose catalogue spans Margaret Atwood and the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, sees the future of bookselling as finely balanced. Publishing itself was in a robust state, he stressed, but the outlook for booksellers is less certain.

. . . .

The publisher is also experimenting with multiple editions. In October, it will publish PJ Harvey’s debut at several price points. The Hollow of the Hand, a volume of poetry in collaboration with photographer Seamus Murphy, chronicles their journeys to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington. A paperback and ebook will be available for £16.99, dedicated fans can splash out £45 for a lavish hardback, while the most hardcore can get a limited signed edition for £400.

. . . .

It is just one example of how publishing, which has always judged a book by its cover, is fighting back against pixels with more lavish printed objects. Shelves are filled with ever more beautiful books: classics bound in Victorian-style cloth covers with dyed print edges, or cookbooks with expensive gloss finishes reminiscent of bar-room tiles, such as Martin Morales’s Ceviche. “Print has become the luxury model,” Rentzenbrink observed. “There is almost a festishisation of the print book.”

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

Her Stinging Critiques Propel Young Adult Best Sellers

13 April 2015

From The New York Times:

John Green still vividly recalls the opening line of a stinging critique that his editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, delivered after reading an early draft of his novel “The Fault in Our Stars.”

“The first sentence was, ‘I really enjoyed reading the first draft of this promising and ambitious novel,’ and the rest was 20 pages of her tearing it apart,” Mr. Green said. “Her editorial letters are famous for their ability to make you cry and feel anxious. They’re very long, very detailed and very intimidating.”

One of her more memorable barbs described an overwrought climactic scene as reading “like bad John Green fan fiction,” Mr. Green recalled. He changed the ending.

Mr. Green didn’t suffer an ego bashing in vain, at least. In its revised and polished final form, “The Fault in Our Stars,” a novel about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love, became a monster hit.

. . . .

In the cosseted world of children’s book publishing, getting an editorial letter from Ms. Strauss-Gabel, the publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, is the literary equivalent of winning a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It virtually guarantees critical or commercial success, and often brings both.

She doesn’t hand out many of them. “I am naturally exceedingly picky,” she said. “If I’m not in love with someone’s writing at the sentence level, then I’m not going to sign up the book.”

Her knack for spotting and developing talent is apparent on this week’s New York Times young adult best-seller list, where novels that she edited hold five of the top 10 spots. She has edited 22 New York Times best sellers.

. . . .

Over the last decade or so, as publishers have been battered by sagging print sales, shrinking retail space and e-book pricing wars, children’s books have become one of the industry’s last bastions of sustained growth. Eight of the top 10 best-selling print books were children’s and young adult titles, with Bill O’Reilly and Gillian Flynn standing out as the anomalous authors of adult books. In 2014, revenue from young adult and children’s books rose by 21 percent over the previous year, while adult fiction and nonfiction fell by 1.4 percent, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Ms. Strauss-Gabel’s unconventional taste and eye for idiosyncratic literary voices have helped her identify and build up some of young adult fiction’s biggest breakout stars.

In addition to Mr. Green’s books, which have more than 30 million copies in print worldwide, she’s shepherded best sellers like Ally Condie’s “Matched” series, which has 3.3 million copies in print in North America. She has shaped the careers of emerging stars like Nina LaCour, Stephanie Perkins and Andrew Smith, whose surreal novel, “Grasshopper Jungle,” won comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut.

. . . .

 In its latest financial earnings report, Penguin Random House, which operates nearly 250 imprints globally, cited “The Fault in Our Stars” as the company’s biggest hit last year, and said that “major best sellers, especially in the field of children’s books” had helped produce a 25 percent increase in revenue in 2014.

Link to the rest at The New York Times 

Grumbling, but not quitting: what authors really think of publishers

10 April 2015

From Agent Hunter:

At the start of March, Jane Friedman and I launched the English-speaking world’s most comprehensive survey of what authors think of the firms that publish them. We invited the views of traditionally published authors only, whether or not they had also self-published. We sought to create a survey that was both balanced and incisive: one that wouldn’t shirk the questions that matter most to authors.

Our results are in. We’ve had 812 responses all told and the data makes for very interesting reading indeed.

. . . .

Who responded to our survey?

Our authors were typically highly experienced: almost 50% had published 6 or more books. Almost 80% had had something published within the last 12 months. More than 60% had the services of a literary agent.

Our group were also typically allied to Big Publishing: 56% of our respondents were published by a ‘Big 5′ firm or by one of the industry’s larger independents (such as Bloomsbury in the UK, or Perseus in the US.)

. . . .

Conclusion #1: Authors respect their publishers’ editorial and design skills

There’s no doubt about it: authors rate their publishers’ editorial, copyediting, cover design and copy writing skills very highly.

. . . .

Some 71% of authors thought their publishers’ editorial skills were good or excellent. On copyediting, the proportion was 73%. On cover design and cover copy, the proportions were 81% and 80% respectively. These results are equally strong when we consider only the smaller, indie publishers, implying that standards remain high right across the industry.

. . . .

Conclusion #2: Authors have serious reservations when it comes to their publishers’ marketing skills and philosophy

There’s no kind way to say this. Authors are unimpressed by their publishers’ marketing campaigns and the methods by which those campaigns are developed.

. . . .

If the top two responses can be taken as broadly equivalent to the “Excellent or good” categories we were looking at before, the 70-80% satisfaction rate has now dropped to less than 40%. Adding the “significant gaps” and “not marketed at all” answers together, we have a Poor/Non-existent rating that’s nudging 50%.

Needless to say, any author would like a splashy launch with lots of consumer advertising and all those other lovely, expensive things. But note that our questionexplicitly calls attention to budgetary limitations and simply asks about whether the author’s own skills and connections have been properly used – an area where any cost implications are small to minimal.

I would also note that if we look at the responses only of those (400+) authors who have published 5 or more books, the distribution of answers is essentially identical – and it would seem highly implausible that these experienced authors continue to have misguided expectations as to the scale of publisher marketing spend. In short, our survey offers no support for the hypothesis that authors only grumble about marketing because they are unrealistic about budgets.

. . . .

Here’s our data on the extent to which authors felt involved in their publishers’ marketing strategy.

. . . .

Over 60% of authors felt marginalised or worse by their publisher when it came to marketing strategy. A scant 20% felt closely involved and informed.

. . . .

Conclusion #3: Publishers are poor at communicating with their authors

. . . .

A full three-quarters of authors are not asked for feedback by their publishers. That proportion is essentially the same if we look at authors publishing with a major publisher, or authors on large advances (defined for the purposes of this post as any advance of $30,000 or more.) British publishers were a little less likely to invite feedback than American ones, but only somewhat and within a plausible margin of error.

This failure to ask authors about their overall experience of the publishing process doesn’t appear to be a one-off glitch in a generally strong and communicative relationship.

. . . .

Conclusion #4: A clear majority of authors are unimpressed by their publishers

The single most important question in our survey was also the simplest. We asked, “For your next book, if a different, reputable publisher were to offer you the same advance as your current one, would you move to the new house or stay where you are?”

. . . .

[M]ore people would quit their current firm than would choose to stay. The move/don’t knows together emphatically outnumber the stays, by almost exactly 2:1.

If we look only at authors working with major trade publishers, the results look distinctly better – the “Stay” group now nudges up to 42% – but that still leaves almost 60% of authors who would, or might, choose to switch. The same effect is apparent if we look only at authors with large advances: the “Stay” category is now 44%, but a clear 31% of such authors would choose to move.

Link to the rest at Agent Hunter

Does Agency Pricing Hurt Reading Consumers?

10 April 2015

From GoodEreader:

Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and a long-time supporter of the agency model, spoke to Good e-Reader about why this model is good for authors and publishers–the two stakeholders who must secure a profit in order to continue providing books–and good for smaller retailers who otherwise couldn’t compete with a corporate behemoth in terms of pricing. More importantly, Coke addressed one often overlooked concern:does the agency pricing model hurt consumers?

. . . .

“If an author or publisher is trying to screw them over with a price that is just outrageous, readers can say no. And publishers will hear that. Authors will hear that. Readers can put pressure on authors…if a reader feels like an author’s book is priced too high by the publisher, you can bet that all they have to do is tweet at that author about the book being priced too high, and the publisher’s going to be hearing that customers are angry. The marketplace has a lot of power. If readers can accept that it’s important that authors and publishers profit from the sale of a book since it’s their profit that allows them to continue this great service of providing books, then everyone can be happy. If readers think everything should be free, that’s obviously an attitude that is not sustainable.”

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

PG says price competition is a fundamental fact of life for most consumer products in most of the prosperous nations of the world.

The argument that books are special and shouldn’t be exposed to the horribleness of price competition is designed to protect traditional publishers and physical bookstores. PG doesn’t see that authors as a group have received great benefits from publisher-enforced pricing for books.

And why would anyone believe that Big Publishing knows enough to set the optimum prices for books? The last retail store owned by a publisher closed decades ago. Tradpub’s lame direct sales attempts are a joke.

For all of its attractions, New York is a fiendishly expensive place to live and the concentration of publishing headquarters in that metro area means publishing executives have no experience with how the rest of the country responds to pricing.

OTOH, from the viewpoint of indie authors, PG says choosing legacy publishing prices on the forty-first floor will mean more readers buy indie books and indie authors make more money.

 

My Biggest Failure

8 April 2015

From author Lyda Morehouse via Kurtis Scalleta’s Site:

There are a lot of reasons to be bitter about the state of publishing. My personal story of heartache has a lot in common with Iblis’s, at least in my own mind. I actually got into Paradise, which is to say that a prominent publishing house picked up my first novel. That book came out to a moderate amount of fanfare. From there on out, I tried to be a perfect angel. I never missed a deadline. When my editor called and said, “So, this Twilight book is hot. You think you could do something similar?” I happily said yes, even though maybe a tiny part of my soul died a little. I never fought editorial changes to my book. NEVER. “It’s their book,” I told myself. “They paid for it.”

Except once.

And then I was cast out.

I spent a lot of time brooding about this since. Was it just my time and was this the excuse they were looking for? I know that can happen because I narrowly avoided being “quietly shown the door” earlier because I met and bonded with my previous editor. My science fiction numbers hadn’t been what the publisher was hoping for, but we chatted at a convention and he, bless his soul, decided he’d tell me what his bosses had in store for me and helped me switch from science fiction to romance. So, I’d gotten some awesome breaks in the past.

Truthfully, I got fourteen published books out of my run; I was probably simply due for a fall.

But you would not believe the amount of time I have spent turning over details and events around that final moment. Who’s fault was it? Was it fair? Who could I blame? Should I have fought over creative differences earlier? Would that have helped my books be better, and thus improve my numbers? Or, was it a mistake to fight? Should I have continued to capitulate in hopes that things would get better and so that would have yet another book to write under contract?

. . . .

I always believed that I could never not write, and that’s been true. I’ve been writing ever since my publishing career crumbled beneath my feet, but I gave up striving for publication. There are so many new avenues for writers these days and instead of exploring self or small press publishing, I have stared at the doors of heaven and shaken my fists.

This is a mistake—it’s a failure of resilience, a loss of hope that I’m finally beginning to recover from. I’ve been trying my hand at new ways of writing: a comic book script, collaboration, self-publishing, etc.

And I’m here to tell you that writing can still make me happy. It’s still the greatest job on earth.

Link to the rest at Kurtis Scalleta’s Site and thanks to Glinda for the tip.

Here’s a link to Lyda Morehouse’s books

The Sad Story of Bookish, When Book Publishers Tried to Do Tidal but Failed

6 April 2015

From The Street:

With music streaming service Tidal, stylish mega-star and music mogul Jay-Z is following the path of boring, tweed-wearing book publishers. And if you know anything about how book publishers have fared in the age of Amazon, you know it’s not a path to success.

In 2011, three of the world’s largest book publishers — Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, which is now part of Penguin Random House — banded together to create an online book retail site called Bookish, which they hoped would counter Amazon. At the time, the companies said the site was created for “engaging and informing readers about authors and books,” essentially, giving them smarter, more useful recommendations on books. But most observers clearly understood that the actual goal was to challenge Amazon’s growing hegemony in book retail.

. . . .

Two years and two CEOs after it was initially announced, Bookish launched as a book retail site, as suspected. Publishers cheered. They were upset that Amazon was selling their books and e-books for less, devaluing their products.

. . . .

Less than two years later, Bookish, widely considered a failure, was sold for what was rumored to be a pittance to another online book retail start-up, Zola, which basically stripped it for parts (the recommendation engine, the editorial presence and some of the staff).

Why did Bookish fail?

It turns out consumers really care far more about price and convenience than all the other stuff Bookish threw at them. Amazon kept on doing what it does well: making sure consumers are happy, regardless of how suppliers (and shareholders) feel. The start-up never had a chance.

. . . .

Bookish claimed a differentiator from the competition that consumers don’t really care about: a recommendation engine.

Link to the rest at The Street

Hachette Livre’s Nourry discusses Amazon and e-books

3 April 2015

From The Bookseller:

For a year, while you were negotiating with Amazon in the United States, you did not speak in public. Was this very tough conflict worthwhile? 

It took up most of my time during that period. I did not express myself in public in order not to exacerbate the situation. Yes, it was worthwhile, as always when essential questions are involved. In this case, the question was whether the publisher or the retailer should fix selling prices for electronic books, and take account of the fact that many decisions taken in the United States have an impact elsewhere. I regret that this discussion took the form of a conflict, and I am delighted that we have resolved it. But if it were to be done again, I would do it again. All media industries that have not maintained control over their production in the electronic sphere are in great difficulty. If e-books were sold for $5 a copy, it would only take a few years for everything to change, creating a market without booksellers and a general public accustomed to paying almost nothing. Through huge mergers, the music business is now centred on three major world players. Diversity has been hard hit. Innovation in the sound sector is nothing like what it was 30 years ago. We do not have to the right to let this happen to books, which is the medium for creation, education, culture and democracy.
Your agreement with Amazon calls for improved sales conditions when you reduce your prices: have you reduced them?

No, or at least only when we have wanted to. The principle is not to keep the same prices all the time. So, we reduce them, raise them, test them. This is a marketing technique, and has nothing to do with relations with any distributor.
The conflict revealed  an unexpected desire for price regulation in the United States. With its experience of fixed prices in France, how does Hachette Livre explain the fact that it was at the front of Amazon’s firing line? 

Hachette Livre has played a special role since 2009-2010, when the agency contract was introduced. But I have no answer to the question as to why Amazon opened sales negotiations with us first. In fact, I hear more and more American publishers and booksellers point out the merits of the (French fixed price) Lang Law. But thinking it might be possible to replicate it over there is another thing ! It is not at all in the American culture.
What lessons do you draw from this conflict for your relations with Amazon and the world’s other major digital operators?

First of all, these large companies contribute to the market for books. We must forget the moments of conflict and realize that these companies enable us to reach different customers. Amazon has been a driving force. The same goes for Apple and Google. We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Secondly, in terms of relations, even if they are infinitely larger than we are, our creative capacity through our authors gives us a symbolic strength and consequently bargaining power. Last year, I was impressed by the number of authors who mobilized to push us to resolve the conflict. The situation is the same in France when we negotiate with a partner, which makes me confident and optimistic for the future of this (publishing) profession. But we must be able to control prices. If not, holding exclusive rights of our authors’ work will do nothing for us.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

New Hachette HQ will be ‘talent magnet’

3 April 2015

From The Bookseller:

Hachette’s new London headquarters Carmelite House will become a “talent magnet” for authors and publishers, but the move will not compromise competition between the adult divisions, c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson has said.

. . . .

“You have to go back to what’s right for the authors,” said Hely Hutchinson. “I believe authors really like the focus of being looked after by their publisher – be that Orion, Hodder or Quercus – and having an editor and a marketing and PR team concentrating on them, with the intimacy that this focus brings. But it is good and reassuring for them that they are allied with a group that can sit at the top table with those big customers.”

. . . .

On authors, Hely Hutchinson said he envisaged different types of author contracts in the future; one low advance, higher royalty, paying more often; another traditional high advance, lower royalty, paying less often. “I’d like to be able to offer those packages and within three years or so we will be able to – if there is demand,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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