Big Publishing

This is not a love song…

3 March 2015

From publishing consultant Chris McVeigh:

On my last visit to London I caught up with some old friends and as I’ve worked in publishing for over 23 years I guess  it’s not too surprising that many of my friends are fellow travelers in the publishing industry – lots of them authors, lots of them publishers.

What struck me most on this visit was that nowmore than ever both the authors and the publishers I spent time with seemed tobe sharing a feeling of deep unease about where the publishing industry washeaded and what their part in it might end up being.

The thing that was so surprising was that the same sentiments seemed to be being shared by almost everyone I spoke to during my visit, like some stuff that has been bubbling up for a while was beginning to break the surface all at once.

. . . .

My thoughts about all this coalesced on the day I had lunch with a marketing director friend of mine and then drinks later the same day with a mate who’s an author – nothing unusual in that particularly but the surprising thing was both of them were almost in tears with frustration as they talked about the way things were going in the industry they both loved.

The marketing director was frustrated because she felt like she was consistently letting down the authors under her care. The sheer relentless weight of books coming through the pipeline had all but overwhelmed her and her staff some time ago – and from where she was standing things were only getting worse.

“We just don’t have the time to do anything properly, we’re just ticking boxes”

The author was frustrated because despite being consistently in print for the last 20 odd years and always being able to earn a (modest) living, she now felt increasingly powerless in the face of her dwindling royalty statements. (This despite the fact that her publishers have clearly not lost faith in her as they’ve just offered her another two book contract).

“No-one seems to take ownership of anything any more, they’re just ticking boxes”

I promise you that wasn’t just a rhetorical flourish of mine – that same phrase ‘just ticking boxes’ was used by both marketing director and author in separate conversations, only a few hours apart and both were equally upset by it.

. . . .

I think we’ve reached a point where (on the whole) the needs of authors and the needs of the corporate publishing industry are no longer aligned and therefore the relationship between publisher and author has to be re-drafted.

The larger publishers have developed a fairly robust business model that relies on turnover, economies of scale and margin efficiency. As long as they have enough product coming through the doors and that product generates enough turnover across the board, they can apply their ‘margin based’ business model to deliver relatively predictable profits to their parent corporations. Perhaps not the double-digit growth that was normal when I first came into the industry in the 1990’s but robust enough that no-one needs to get fired.

In practice this means that as the size of each publishers’ list increases, each individual book has less importance in the general scheme of things and as a result each author has ‘less importance’ on an individual level.

These larger publishers feed their business models’ insatiable hunger for content by a mixture of consolidation, acquisition and increasingly the acquiescence of an almost inexhaustible supply of authors (most of who have dreamed of getting a publishing deal their whole lives).

In addition publishers increasingly play it safe, they don’t risk massive amounts of money per title on marketing or promotion and they keep their cost base low by employing well-educated, highly motivated staff – who love books & love publishing – on frankly embarrassingly low salaries.

And there’s the rub – ‘love’ and ‘dreams’.

The truth is that at its’ heart publishing is an industry that runs on love and dreams, the love of words, the love of books, the dream of writing or publishing a book that touches someone’s heart.

. . . .

We were blinded by our love of books at an early age and the dreams that made us want to get involved in this business in the first place have endured whether we want to admit it or not.

And that love that blinds us is the same love that holds us together. It’s that love that keeps us both – publishers and authors – bound into a business model that increasingly doesn’t meet our competing needs – the needs of the publishing corporations to feed their content machines, the needs of the publishing staff to feel like they’re doing their honorable best at a job they love, and the needs of authors to make a decent living.

The biggest lie The Beatles ever told was ‘Love is all you need’ – I wish it were true but we’re all adults here and we all know that you need much more than just love to make a relationship work.

. . . .

Publishers are trying to win authors’ confidence with promises of marketing and promotion that often simply do not materialize.

Authors in good standing, often with many years more experience than the publishing staff they’re dealing with, know that the service they’re receiving isn’t anything like the service they received in years gone by.

And at the same time these authors are looking around at the self-publishing success stories that fly around and think ‘well, if they can do it, I can do it too’.

Link to the rest at @4fifty1 and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Accounting for Authors, Publishing’s Forgotten Customers

25 February 2015

From Digital Book World:

One issue I hear talked about a lot lately among publishers is the need to figure out who their customers are.

. . . .

The customers publishers typically identify first are their readers, the individuals who buy their books. And rightfully so, as those are the people who drive a huge share of revenue in the publishing business.

. . . .

Other customers that publishers tend to keep well in view are organizations like libraries and traditional or smaller online book stores. These, too, have been and remain major customers for most publishers.

A third category of customer includes the distributors and large online retailers that in today’s world often drive a major portion of publishers’ revenue as well, especially those that are both distributors and retailers (you all know who I’m talking about here).

But there’s yet another customer few publishers usually identify when prompted.

. . . .

I ask the question, “What about your authors?”

And I usually get a blank stare.

I will then ask something along the lines of, “How much is an author worth to your business?”

The stare usually gets blanker.

The truth is that authors are one of publishers’ most important customers, but I’ve only once heard a publisher actually list them as one.

That particular publisher was also the only one that could put a dollar figure to its authors. When I asked the CEO how he had arrived at it, he told me:

It’s fairly simple. You take the back-list revenue and divide it by the number of back-list authors. That gives you an average value over the long term. And then you take the expected front-list revenue and divide it by the number of front-list authors for the first year. That gives you what a new author is worth to the organization. Add the two together and you have what a new author is worth to us over the short and long terms. If that number is getting higher, we are doing a good job.

. . . .

Authors are a major component in determining publishers’ success when building out a direct-to-consumer program. They provide not only the content that you sell to all your other channels but also the content that you use to help drive your direct marketing endeavors, not to mention the audiences they generate and sustain. If each author can bring 1,000 followers to a publisher’s program, the audience numbers get really big, really fast.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Ryan for the tip.

Alternative paths to publishing proliferate but the path for authors most likely to be lucrative is still the oldest one

24 February 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The Guardian reports that Big Five British publishers are aggressively courting authors to come directly to them rather than through agents. The specifics cited make this sound more like “toes in the water” than “a change in the value chain”.The Tinder Press division of Hachette is holding an “open submissions fortnight”. The editorial director of Random House imprint Jonathan Cape tweeted a request for submissions one time and got 5,000 of them. And HarperCollins’s new Borough Press imprint is holding its second annual “open submission”. They got a single publication out of 400 submissions last year.

The same story also acknowledges that agents are changing their processes too (and have been, as we’ve noted, back in 2011), specifically pointing to a creative writing program operated by the Curtis Brown agency which has “found 15 debut novelists” (presumably meaning they got them publishing deals) “in two and a half years”. It is also true that many self-publishing successes, including Hugh Howey, use literary agents to help them reach publishers outside their home market or language.

. . . .

The publishers quoted in the story, not surprisingly, indicated that their interest was in getting to promising talent that the agents might be weeding out. But with one of the houses working its way through 5,000 submissions (“three have real promise”, the publisher says, and I have no idea if they see the irony in that statement that I do) and another repeating the exercise when last year they published one out of 400, the data suggests that the curation the agents are doing is a valuable service for the publishers.

Of course, there is a compensating financial element for publishers who do the work to find unagented books worth publishing. They can almost certainly make a more advantageous deal than they’d make with an agent. Not only can they almost certainly secure the book for a smaller advance (a point amply made in the piece), they are also more likely to get world rights.

. . . .

An unagented author is not without cost and complication to a publisher, who would have to take on the agent’s function of explaining the lengthy and sometimes complex process of publishing to the author every step of the way.

. . . .

But even if a house would process its “slush pile” (the long-standing term for the unagented and unsolicited submissions) efficiently, and few, if any, do, it couldn’t be a big winner for the publisher to spend much time with it.

Nothing in the Guardian piece suggests to me that my advice to aspiring authors should change. I always tell them to get an agent if they possibly can. (And I also tell them to use the deal database in Publishers Marketplace to find the right agent.) No agent works with odds as long as 1 in 400 or 3 in 5000 with their submissions. Some of the submissions that got lost in those numbers might have been looked at differently if they’d come from an established agent. It is also extremely likely that those submissions that were agented would have been improved somewhat by the agent before submission. Agents don’t just curate. They also edit.

Even the lead author in the Guardian story doesn’t prove the case. Yes, she got a deal with HarperCollins after having had a few agents reject her. But might another handful of agent submissions have gotten her representation that would have resulted in a better deal than the one she got? Or, put another way, what are the chances that a competent agent would have failed to submit to HarperCollins? And then, what are the chances that as an agented author she would have gotten a better offer than what she got?

. . . .

But even an exponential increase in the number of self-publishing successes or, now, in the number of authors going directly to publishers without an agent, doesn’t change the realities of book publishing. The big money almost always goes to the agented author whose work is sold to a big house. The rest of it is, from an overall industry perspective, still a sideshow.

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

Publishers bypass literary agents to discover bestseller talent

23 February 2015

From The Guardian:

Publishers are playing literary agents at their own game, seeking out new talent for themselves and cutting out the industry’s powerful middlemen.

Executives within HarperCollins, Jonathan Cape, Little, Brown, and Tinder Press are inviting “un-agented submissions”, marking a dramatic cultural shift for an industry having to readjust to developments such as self-publishing, as well as the often huge advances demanded by agents for coveted titles.

Next month Tinder Press, Headline publishing group’s literary imprint with authors such as Andrea Levy and Patrick Gale, is holding an “open submission” fortnight. Although its publisher, Mary-Anne Harrington, said the company was not abandoning agents, she added: “It could be that, between us, we’re perhaps drowning out other fresher voices.”

Acknowledging that publishers have suddenly become proactive, she added: “We all feel that it’s incumbent on us not just to sit waiting for agents to send us things. We have to take the initiative.”

. . . .

Katie Espiner, publisher of HarperCollins’s new imprint, Borough Press, held an open submission after wondering why she was allowing other people to make decisions for her: “I wouldn’t do that in any other part of my life.”

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

Big Publishing and Me

19 February 2015

From author Harry Bingham via The Writers’ Workshop:

I always wanted to be an author. Even as a very small child, I was passionately attached to the written word. When my parents read me Beau Geste, I was so overcome by the ending that I cried for the entire evening. When my father read me Sherlock Holmes, I was as transported as it was possible for any listener to be.

My childhood was divided between London and Wales, and our Welsh cottage lay just a few miles from Hay-on-Wye, a small country town then as now given over entirely to the written word. The shop which dominated the trade was Richard Booth’s Old Cinema: a vast building, castled with books. There was no other bookshop like it in the country, except perhaps the same entrepreneur’s Old Fire Station (equally eccentric, but less child-friendly, at least back then.) Rather than operate the way second-hand booksellers had always operated in the past – handpicking one or two titles from the boxloads offered – Booth had gone industrial. When he got started, a lot of libraries were closing and he simply bought up container loads of books. Good books, bad books, collapsing books, strange books. He didn’t even know what he bought. Didn’t care, so long as it was cheap.

The Old Cinema was crammed with the fruits of those raids. Anyone who calls themselves a bibliophile would have been tested, I think, by that bookshop. I mean, yes, there were treasures present, but in a way the dross was more striking. Edwardian medical almanacks. Old copies of Wisden. Tedious memoirs, authored by nobodies. Gazetteers of countries that history had long scrubbed from the map. Prewar scientific handbooks, that somehow still managed to smell of pipe smoke and tweed. Novels, lauded by reviewers of the day, but whose titles and authors had long vanished from memory.

. . . .

I devoured books. I loved them. I was going to be a writer.

A writer who, however, first needed to make a couple of detours. The first detour was Oxford University, where I learned to write long sentences, replete with qualifiers and anything else which could get in the way of good, plain meaning.

. . . .

And one important thing did happen in that first decade of my working life. I got an idea for a story. The idea was jewel-like in its simplicity. A rich man – very rich – would die, leaving three sons, whom he despised for being lazy and without ambition. So his will, rather than simply dividing up the money in equal thirds, would set them a test. The first son to make a million pounds – by himself, without the assistance or support of the others – would scoop the entire jackpot. If, after three years, none of the brothers had achieved that feat, all the money, every penny of it, would go to charity.

. . . .

I left work, cared for my wife, and wrote my first novel.

That novel was The Money Makers, the race-to-make-a-million romp that I had conceived some years before. The novel wasn’t high art, by any means, but it was fun, the way Jeffrey Archer would be if reading his prose didn’t make your gums hurt.

It took me nine months to write that beast of a book. My writing time was spent, often enough, at my wife’s bedside, she half-dozing, me typing as quietly as I could in the half-light. Strangely, though, the strange and frightening circumstances of the book’s creation show through not at all in the reading of it. The opposite indeed, as though ordinary life, jubilant and irrepressible, was forced burst through the constrictions of that sickened life.

. . . .

I didn’t know the statistics of success (roughly speaking, a literary agent will reject 999 manuscripts for every one they agree to represent) but nor did I care. My story was a decently written adventure story with a strong concept and a proper ending. How could it not sell? Feeling confident, I bought the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (the British equivalent of the American Writer’s Market) and chose six agents, more or less at random.

. . . .

At the time, I was serenely confident that my material would soon secure an offer of representation. With hindsight, I realise I had probably compiled just about the worst submission package in history. The letter was pushy, brash, arrogant. The chapters were a mess, the text all but unreadable for anyone over the age of thirty-five. I waited four weeks, accumulated a handful of rejection letters, then chose another half dozen agents and repeated the process.

. . . .

Within weeks, I had two offers of representation, one from the CEO of a large and well-known literary agency, the other from the co-owner of a two-woman agency, which operated out of a West London basement.

. . . .

We wanted big and we got lucky. Plenty of literary auctions can last weeks, even months. This one was a whirlwind. We got our first offer very quickly. Felicity instantly transmitted the existence of the offer to all other participants. The bidding rose very fast, so that some interested parties were blitzed out of the auction before they’d really had a chance to figure out their maximum price. Bids sailed through that magical ‘six figure sum’ threshold and continued on up. Finally, we were left with two bidders – Hodder and HarperCollins – each offering the exact same sum: £160,000 ($265,000) for a two book deal.

. . . .

HarperCollins largely managed to maintain that air of confidence and swagger, exemplified, not least, by one of the happiest occasions in my publishing life, a meet-the-trade shindig organised by the firm’s sales team.

That shindig looked, I suppose, like countless other corporate entertainment gigs. A large hotel is booked. Various trade types are assembled, given plastic badges, told to mingle. A flock of HarperCollins types grab authors and thrust them at buyers. Everyone feels a little awkward, and our hosts – the only people who know both groups of people – work hard to keep the mood bright and focused.

But then the booze flowed and the nerves wore off. There were perhaps half a dozen authors present: a wee handful of new or up-and-coming talent that the firm particularly wanted to promote. Each author had their own table to charm and delight, and I do remember being particularly delightful to one character, who I later realised had a marginal role at a minor retailer. Hot damn! I’d been launching my best charm missiles at the wrong target, and we were on pudding already!

I needn’t have worried. The real business of the evening began once the puddings had been cleared. The alcohol, which had flowed generously before, flowed prodigiously now. We mingled, we drank, we talked, we moved on.

. . . .

In those far-off days, publishers still had money with which to market books – and agents had the power to make them spend it. The last clause of my first contract reads:

’29. GUARANTEED MARKETING SPEND.
It is understood that the Publishers will promote [The Money Makers] by way of marketing to the value of £50,000.’

That sounds good, though should you look at that clause with a lawyer’s eye, you’ll find something a little curious about it. ‘GUARANTEED MARKETING SPEND’ – that sounds, does it not, like a guarantee? A commitment to spend money. But then the clause itself sounds more hesitant: ‘it is understood that …’ Contracts don’t normally shilly-shally. If something’s agreed, they say so: ‘The publishers will spend a minimum of £50,000 on marketing The Money Makers,’ or something like that.

I was still more of an investment banker than an author, so I queried that clause with my agent. She told me to regard the clause as more of a statement of intent than an actual commitment, saying that in practice no publisher was actually likely to spend £50,000 on advertising a new book by a debut author – but then again what was marketing spend anyway? If we chose to query the spend, the firm would be able to find enough overheads-necessary-to-the-functioning-of-the-marketing-department that they’d be able to clamber their way to any sum we cared to name, no matter how contrived their reasoning.

. . . .

In all, I believe we sold about 70,000 copies.

. . . .

I wrote a terrible book.

Partly, the problem is simply one that afflicts many new writers: the dreaded second novel syndrome, a disease that often proves fatal. First novels don’t arrive the way all the others do. They just fly in through the window and settle in your head. First novels say to you, write me, it would be fun.

. . . .

I got a new editor – Susan – who took a deep breath and invited me to come in for a chat. That meeting was, I think, handled as perfectly as any such thing can be. Susan and Nick were patient, and calm, and non-accusatory, but in the nicest possible way they pointed out that the novel I had placed in their hands was a steaming dungheap of a book, a literary carcrash, an insult to language, a stain on all that the gods of literature held holy.

. . . .

Although HarperCollins had indeed had around 60,000 copies of my book out with retailers, those books were ‘sold’ on a sale-or-return basis. If a retailer couldn’t shift the books, they could simply return them to the publisher, for a full refund.

Which is precisely what happened. About half the books that left HarperCollins’s warehouses came back again. I think final sales of that title amounted to around 35,000 copies, or about half what we had sold of The Money Makers. HarperCollins, having approximately broken even on the first half of our two book deal, had now made an out-and-out loss on the second.

. . . .

We sent the manuscript off to HarperCollins and awaited their verdict.

The answer came back: they loved the book. They liked its scale, liked my dip back into history, liked the fact that my second novel wobbles had been thoroughly overcome. But the plain truth is that it’s probably better to be a debut writer with no sales record, than to be an experienced pro with a horrible one. Retailers, when choosing whether to stock a particular book, have to consider the debut novelist’s work on its own merits, because they’ve got no alternative. When it comes to considering a new work by an established author, they don’t need to care about the book – they can just check the stats.

And my sales experience – that sharp downward curve – gave HarperCollins pause.

Link to the rest at The Writers’ Workshop and thanks to Thomas for the tip.

Here’s a link to Harry Bingham’s books

To Go Direct, Publishers Must Mean Business

19 February 2015

From Digital Book World:

The arithmetic of publishing is fairly straightforward: Sell plenty of books at as high a margin as you can manage, and don’t spend all that margin on overheads.

To make that sum work, there are a number of levers a business can pull in order to improve its fortunes. You can increase the retail price to the point at which demand drops off. You can pay less for your stock by negotiating with suppliers. You can pay your authors less. You can provide a lower discount to your customers.

But back in the real world, Amazon isn’t going to bat an eyelid if you attempt to negotiate their discount down. Readers aren’t going to pay $30 for a debut novel in paperback. Printers aren’t going to charge less than their paper costs. Authors are going to revolt if you cut their royalties. While in theory you can tinker with the parameters of your business, more often than not, you’ll find yourself constrained by the habits of the industry.

So what can publishers do to make a difference to their titles’ performance? If the norms of the contemporary publishing model constrain you, then don’t work within the constraints. Approach things from a different angle.

One area where publishers blindly follow the blind is in their websites. Biztegra’s Murray Izenwasser has written recently about how crucial it is for publishers to develop a web presence for fostering strong relationships with readers. He’s absolutely right. But while that customer connection is indeed essential, it’s still a means to the ultimate goal of direct-to-consumer retail—which is retail.

It seems that as an industry we’ve given up on trying to make money through our own websites. ‘Everyone just goes to Amazon, right?’ Well, Amazon doesn’t just sell books. They sell watches, clothes, garden tools, luggage, movies and bikes. Other industries have had to face down Amazon, not just book publishers—and they’re succeeding, building online stores that do a decent job of both cultivating a brand identity and making money.

. . . .

You are being defeatist if you think your website is just about building your brand—even though it’s certainly about that, too. It’s also your most effective, most controllable, least costly means of selling books at a dramatically higher margin than you can ever hope to achieve through online resellers and bricks-and-mortar retailers.

You are being inefficient if you commission a custom-built site for thousands of dollars, with exactly the same functionality as every other publisher who also felt they needed a hand-crafted solution.

You are wasting money if you hand over 20% of every sale to a third-party plugin because you think delivering digital content is just too difficult in the year 2015.

You are deluding yourself if you blame the merciless merchant class and their exorbitant discounts and returns for stopping you from making any money.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

One item that PG didn’t see mentioned in the article was the necessity of completely changing corporate culture and management if a publisher wants to successfully sell direct.

And spending millions and millions of dollars that will take several years to generate any meaningful returns. Without any guarantee such returns would ever happen.

The Two Sides of SEO for Book Publishers

18 February 2015

From Digital Book World:

Here’s a scenario: A reader hears about a book you publish from someone they trust. They decide they want to buy it and read it. So how do they find it? It’s possible they go directly to their favorite bookseller (let’s assume this is all happening online), find it there and buy it. Awesome, you just sold a book.

However, many other readers will go to their favorite search engine and search for the title, the author’s name or both. The question I have for you is this: Where does your book page show up in the search results when that happens?

. . . .

If links to your pages aren’t in the first couple of positions on the first page of the search results, the chances of someone clicking on them are pretty slim. And if you’re not on the first page, you have basically zero chance of getting the click.

. . . .

I’ve heard publishers say it’s impossible to compete with the bigger sites whose pages come up at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) in book searches—like those belonging to Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes & Noble. I’ve heard that they are just too big and popular. I’ve heard that their search engine optimization (SEO) is just too good, if not perfect. And I’ve heard these things lots of times.

But none of that is true. You can compete with the bigger sites. They are not too big or too popular. And contrary to perhaps the biggest misconception of all, their SEO is far from perfect.

. . . .

SEO has two sides to it: what I call the ‘mechanicals’—on-site elements that search engines look for—and the ‘content envelope’—all the available off-site content about your site and your products, like book reviews, blog posts, videos, social media posts and all the other content that envelopes your site.

You don’t have full control of the content envelope. If you had a really outstanding content generation and social media program you might gain a little more. But you really can’t control everything that happens outside of your site.

On the other hand, you have complete control over your site—after all, it’s yours.

That means you can shape the mechanicals entirely as you wish. Search engines are fairly explicit about what they are looking for when they crawl and index your site. Of course, they don’t tell us everything, but we know enough to be able to ensure your site itself is highly optimized. And just by focusing a little effort on the mechanicals you can start showing up at the top of the search results. Above Amazon, above Goodreads and above Barnes & Noble.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG is always interested to read SEO articles directed at publishers. Like this one, they are kindergarten level discussions — for 2002.

PG would love to see some quality studies of the online habits of those who purchase books regularly. He would bet that Amazon, not Google, is the most popular search engine for books.

Google is king of almost everything in the search world, but if someone is purchasing books on a regular basis, it’s difficult to believe that they wouldn’t prefer Amazon where you can find the book and buy the book at a low price instantly.

If publishers are not going to spend significant money to build a really good ecommerce experience with good prices — a mini-Amazon that directly competes with Amazon and all the other online and offline booksellers — PG wonders why they care about search traffic when readers search for the title of a book.

If publishers are doing SEO to send search traffic to their retailers, that’s fine, but they’re going to run into complaints from retailers who aren’t included in the SEO program. Plus, it’s hard enough to do successful SEO when you directly control all the online content. Putting together an SEO program that involves multiple third-party retailers and actually competes with Amazon is a really, really difficult challenge.

Finally, if you want to beat Amazon in the Google search rankings, you have to spend serious cash to hire real SEO executive talent and pay substantial amounts of money to one or more outside SEO service providers. And even then, you might not be able to do it.

UPDATE: PG just took a tour of the websites of the major New York publishers. They’re about two trillion miles away from platforms that would support successful SEO.

Sales and profit dip at S&S

16 February 2015

From The Bookseller:

Sales and profit both dropped year-on-year at Simon & Schuster’s global operations in 2014.

The publisher’s parent company CBS released its fourth quarter and end-of-year results yesterday (12th February) revealing a sales drop of 3.8% to $778m in the 12 months to the end of December 2014. Meanwhile operating profit dropped 5.6% to $101m.

In the fourth quarter, sales were also down to $215m from $225m compared with the same period in 2013, and operating income was down 30%, with publishing OIBDA $27m for the fourth quarter, compared with $37m for the same prior-year, which the company attributed to “lower revenues and higher advertising costs.”

CBS also reported that e-book sales accounted for 24% of S&S’s total publishing revenues for the fourth quarter.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

eBook Revenues are Down at Hachette

11 February 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

We’ll never have complete data on the ebook market, but if we had to judge by the reports from the major publishers then the news would not be good.

Both HarperCollins and Hachette have released quarterly reports this past week which show flat or declining revenues for the publishers.

According to PW, Hachette parent company Lagardère announced that its publishing revenues had dipped in the US, UK, and France:

Revenue at the Hachette Book Group USA fell 8.4% in the fourth quarter, and was down 4.8% for the year, parent company Lagardere reported. The drop, Lagardere said, was thanks to a stronger publishing lineup in 2013, as well as problems stemming from the publisher’s standoff with Amazon over sales terms. Total revenue for Lagardere dropped 5.5%, to 2.00 billion euros for the year, and declined 3% in the final quarter, to 537 million euros.

E-book sales took a big hit at HBG in the fourth quarter, comprising 19% of trade sales in 2014 down from 27% in the fourth quarter of 2013. Once again, Lagardere blamed a stronger publishing schedule in 2013 and the Amazon dispute for the drop in e-book sales. For the full year, e-book sales accounted for 26% of all trade revenue, down from 30% in 2013.

While the unresolved contract dispute with Amazon might be to blame for the dip in US revenues, Hachette Livre also saw similar dips in the UK (4.6%) and in France (8.6%).

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels

After Harper Lee Novel Surfaces, Plots Arise

10 February 2015

From the New York Times:

One morning late last summer, Tonja B. Carter was doing some legal work for her prized client, Harper Lee, when she found herself thumbing through an old manuscript of what she assumed was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The characters were familiar, as they would be to millions of readers — the crusading lawyer, Atticus Finch, and his feisty daughter, Scout. But the passages were different. Atticus was much older. Scout was grown up. The story unfolded in Alabama during the racial turmoil of the 1950s, not the Depression of the 1930s.

Confused, Ms. Carter scanned the text, trying to figure out what she was holding. It was a novel titled “Go Set a Watchman.” It may be one of the most monumental discoveries in contemporary American literature.

. . . .

The recovered manuscript has ignited fierce debate — much of it speculative — about why Ms. Lee waited so long to publish again, whether the book will stand up to her beloved first novel, and whether the author, who has long shied away from public attention, might have been pressured or manipulated into publishing it.

And as word of the new book spread in her hometown, the fog that long shrouded the enigmatic, publicity-shy author — known to most as Nelle — has only deepened.

. . . .

What should have been a triumphant literary discovery — a find that could significantly add to the legacy of one of the country’s most cherished authors — quickly morphed into a puzzling controversy. While there have often been debates about works that were discovered and published posthumously, including unfinished novels by masters like Vladimir Nabokov and David Foster Wallace, it is rare for a living writer’s literary intentions to be cloaked in so much uncertainty.

Residents of Monroeville gossip that Ms. Lee is mentally infirm these days, does not recognize old friends, could not possibly have signed off on the publication, never wanted to do a second book. But those who are closest to her scoff at such conspiratorial theories, saying Harper Lee, now 88 and admittedly frail, remains fully capable of making up her own mind.

The woman who has ignited such frenzied speculation remains tucked away in the Meadows, an assisted-living center, largely cut off from the prying public except for statements delivered through Ms. Carter, her lawyer, friend and gatekeeper.

. . . .

Answering questions on Saturday through both emails and text messages, Ms. Carter said that Ms. Lee is “extremely hurt and humiliated” at the suggestion that she had been duped.

“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Ms. Carter said. “Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”

. . . .

 The author’s reticence may have fueled the scrutiny over the new book, compounded by the silence, until this weekend, of Ms. Carter, and the dearth of information from Ms. Lee’s publisher, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. The vacuum left Harper scrambling to rebuff suggestions that Ms. Lee had been cajoled into agreeing to do something she had resisted for 50 years.

. . . .

 Much of the scrutiny has settled on Ms. Carter, once an assistant at the law firm here where Harper Lee’s father and sister also worked, and where she is now a lawyer herself. Since her admission to the bar in 2006, Ms. Carter has increasingly been in charge of Ms. Lee’s affairs, offending some in town who feel she has restricted access to the author.

. . . .

 Ms. Carter appears to have won the trust of Ms. Lee’s publisher, too. She was a key contact for HarperCollins as the deal for the new book was negotiated. “We talked to her through her lawyer and friend Tonja Carter,” said Jonathan Burnham, the senior vice president and publisher of Harper, adding that speaking with Ms. Lee directly “wasn’t necessary.”

Link to the rest at the New York Times

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