Big Publishing

Our book launch was botched and it’s been crazy at work trying to fix it

18 November 2018

From Medium:

I’m trying to remember when it was last this crazy at work. Before we spent a month fighting poor planning and terrible execution on the publication of our new book It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. Was it when we got DDoS’ed over two days and were fighting to keep Basecamp on the internet? Was it when we touched the third rail and spoke about customer data in public? Or do we have to go all the way back to the early days when Basecamp went down whenever I, as the only technical person at the time, would get on an airplane?

Whenever it was, it’s been so long that I had almost forgotten the cocktail of feelings that go with it. That mix of frustration, exhaustion, exasperation, and, perhaps for a fleeting moment, even disbelief. Why is this happening! How could we be this stupid?

But now it’s back. Oh it’s back. Publishing It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Workhas been the most frustrated, exhausting, exasperated, and even unbelievable process. For the dumbest reasons too.

It started with the design. When we signed on with our new publisher, the shared intent was to publish a new book in the same format as REWORK and REMOTE. So we designed a powerful new cover to the same dimensions, and felt really proud about how clean and clear we managed to make it. We were so invested in the impact of the cover that we didn’t even put our names on it!

But when we saw the final book, our hearts sank. This wasn’t right. The book wasn’t the same format. It was taller, so the dimensions were off. And the translation of our design was a complete hack job. It wasn’t even centered on the page!

Yeah, nobody else is likely to notice. Nobody else knows what it was supposed to look like. But we did. We noticed. And when you pour your heart into a book like this, which we’ve been thinking about in some form or another for almost a decade, it hurts.

Okay. Mistakes happen. We were partly to blame. We could have triple checked. We fell for the illusion of agreement, because we weren’t looking at the final thing. Whatever. The second printing would get it right. Bygones.

Forgiving what happened next proved to be much harder.

Harper Business bought the rights to publish It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work with a mid six-figure offer. They outbid another publisher who were in the final running for the rights by a fair margin. Awesome, we thought. This means they’re really invested in blowing this out! This is going to be great.

It was not great.

Despite paying top dollar for the book, Harper Business decided to only print 14,000 copies in the first run. That 14,000 was based on the first orders from retailers. Barnes & Noble wanted 4,000 copies. Amazon wanted 3,300. The rest went largely to independents and wholesalers, and a few for overseas. Once everyone had gotten what they had ordered, Harper Business had no books left. The whole first run was spoken for.

This is where I kick myself. You think when you’re dealing with a major publisher like Harper that you’re safe to leave the details of the printing and the publishing in their hands. This isn’t some upstart publisher. They’ve been around forever. They publish so many books. They’re the professionals, right?

But if we had dared to question that premise — that they’re the professionals, they know what they’re doing — we’d have remembered that we printed 34,000 copies of REWORK. Our first book! The one that went on to sell more than half a million copies around the world. So why were we printing so few books this time around? We’d soon try to in vain to answer that question.

. . . .

But this book got off to a roaring start. We flew up the Amazon best seller list, making it to #24 one of the first days. Then we sold out their entire stock in less than 5 days. What joy! What celebration!

If only. Amazon selling out their stock right away was a disaster. Not because of the copies sold, but because Harper seemed to be taken completely by surprise. They had no books ready to restock, because they printed so few in the first place. The first reprint wasn’t even set to go, because they dillydallied fixing the busted cover design. And worse, the remaining 11,000 books that had gone to Barnes & Nobles and wholesalers and independents could barely be accounted for. We couldn’t get straight answers on who had the books, or whether any of them could be sent to Amazon, since that was clearly where people wanted to buy the book.

The bookscan numbers for the first week hammered this point home. While Amazon had sold 3,300 books, Barnes & Noble — who had ordered even more than Amazon for their first order! — had sold a pathetic 240 copies. And at least 10% of those sales were either us or friends or family excited to see the book in a physical bookstore.

Here’s what worse: Harper knew this would happen. They had told us that Amazon on some titles were 70–90% of sales! In our case, Amazon was over 90% of hardcover books sold the first week, despite the fact that we had gone out of our way to guide sales to B&N during the pre-order phase.

So let’s do the math here: You print 14,000 books for the first printing. You know that Amazon is going to be up to 90% of sales. Wouldn’t you then reserve a good 10,000+ books for Amazon? Harper’s excuse? Amazon’s buyer just said they wanted 3,300 copies, so that’s all we gave them, and we held nothing back for a restock…

And that’s even accepting the premise that 14,000 copies is a good number of books to print for a title you’ve paid mid six figures to acquire. It costs less than $2 to print a book. So Harper spent less than $30,000 to print books, because their planning department didn’t want to risk sitting with $10,000 worth of unsold inventory if the book should bomb.

That’s what the team at Harper literally told us.

. . . .

All of this would just have been a funny anecdote about how dysfunctional large bureaucracies can be, if it wasn’t for what happened next. Taken aback that the book was selling(?!), Harper then had to scramble to get the second printing together. That took a month. Today is the first day that Amazon actually have books in stock ready for delivery tomorrow. They sold out on October 6th.

In that month, all our sales momentum for the hardcover book died out. We had all this publicity lined up. An incredible review by The Economist. Wonderful write-ups in WSJ and The Times UK. Podcast appearances coming out the wazoo. All the built-up excitement for a book that’s hitting right in an industry-wide discussion about toxic work environments and the cost of burning people out. It’s hard to have timed all this better, or, I suppose worse.

Because what good is having a wonderful launch campaign, if you have no books to sell? After Amazon sold out, our book page would scare away potential readers away with a 2–4 week delivery time notice. One time it even said it might be 2 months before the book was back in stock!

. . . .

So why did it take Harper Business a month to get our newly released book back in stock? Because of Trump. Because of tariffs. Because of paper shortages. Because there were a lot of other big books being published at the same time. Because of consolidation in the book printing business. I kid you not, these were all excuses pitched by Harper as to why there were no books.

. . . .

But no one else at our scale had their launch quite this spectacularly botched by the publisher not doing the due diligence to account for these challenges. Out of all the other new releases that broke into the top 50 on Amazon, we were the only title out of stock for a long time.

We’d get these long serenades about how they too were really frustrated. How these things just happen! How it was going to get fixed any day now, but they just weren’t exactly sure when. How mad they were and what loud noises they were making when talking to the departments in charge.

Every possible excuse except for “the dog ate my homework”. Which, really, would have been a more compelling excuse than “tariffs”. Because that’s really what it comes down to. We botched our launch because someone didn’t do the homework. They didn’t print an appropriate amount of books to the scale of the book, they had no solid plans for a second printing when the first one ran out, and they had no capacity for anticipating that all the factors that had been in play for months (like paper shortages or tariffs or, ffs, Trump) would impact the process.

They were unprepared for and proved incapable of doing the one job you absolutely must do as a book publisher: Print. The. Books.

. . . .

Anyway. It’s been crazy at work. Needlessly so. Painfully so. Frustratingly so. But, like all moments of crazy, it also held a buffet of lessons for us to take. Like, never work with Harper Business on another book again… kidding… sorta… maybe… 😂

No really. We went for the publisher who bid the highest, and we assumed this meant they had real skin in the game. We went with a major publisher, so we assumed they all knew what they were doing, and we didn’t have to double check every publishing decision. We made a deal with a single acquiring editor without meeting the rest of the team, because that played to our bias that someone entrusted to write a mid six-figure check on their own would have the authority to call the shots that mattered, but we still ended up haggling over $10,000 in costs to print books.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

PG will note that the book has 43 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.6 stars.

Why Do Authors Feel Hard Done By?

14 November 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

I was struck by a comment on my last column about measuring commercial success in publishing. It came from Ryan Jones who is, I imagine, an author. He wrote: “Publishers pull in billions of dollars yearly and yet few writers can even make a living. What’s wrong with that picture?”

I thought it might be worth examining this widely held sentiment.

Of course he has a point, and I’m sure the various organizations supporting and representing authors would agree. There was a recent spat between the UK’s Society of Authors, the Authors Licensing & Collecting Society, and the Publishers Association, about this very subject.

. . . .

Per Saugman was a distinguished medical publisher, the force behind Blackwell Scientific Publications, the sale of which to Wiley is the reason that the UK still has a high-quality academic and trade bookselling chain, Blackwell Retail, in spite of the many challenges. Saugman explained to an author why he would not increase his royalty rate: “I’m not paying you the royalty, the purchasers of the book are. The higher the royalty rate, the more we shall have to charge and the less enthusiastic they will be to reward you.”

The royalty system is a fair one. It links an author’s income not to any abstract notion of worth but to how much the reading market will pay for the author’s efforts. Successful authors are hugely well rewarded and I’m sure would prefer the current system to any other. JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, Stephen King, and many others have built fortunes from their books and frequently are able to deploy those fortunes generously and properly.

And then one should consider why writers write. It’s not always (or even usually) for money. There are many motivations.

For instance, a lawyer might want to write the ultimate book on her subject of expertise. It’s a way of establishing her credibility and hence the value of her professional practice. A few hundred or thousand dollars either way will be of little consequence but what she wants is a publisher whose brand carries weight, whose editorial support systems and marketing reach are first rate.

. . . .

The main complaints seem to come usually from so-called midlist authors whose income is almost certainly in decline. But that’s not from publishers taking more. It’s simply the case that general fiction (the bulk of this sector) is more widely split than ever between the bestsellers and the not-so-good sellers. Public library sales, which were the bedrock of midlist hardback sustainability, are in decline. Paperback sales have been eroded by lower-price ebooks. Fewer retailers are willing to dedicate space to any but the top 100 or so novelists. Self-publishing has created a tsunami of digital fiction, thus deflecting sales from the traditional market.

None of that is of any comfort to the professional writer seeing his or her income decline. Nor does it help that publishers seem willing to pay large advances to unknown new authors in the hope of finding the next big thing after a massive twelve-way auction. The trouble is that every now again the next big thing is the next big thing and it is the big things that keep general publishers in business.

. . . .

Yes, the publishing industry is big. A survey conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Publishers Association estimated total global sales of US$41.9 billion in 2016.

. . . .

The industry also employs many millions of people worldwide. And pays taxes. And creates markets.

But as I said in my previous column, sales don’t represent profits.

Publishing is highly competitive. Margins in certain sectors at certain times can be high. An unexpected bestseller can transform a business. Finding a new niche or a new market can generate profit and cash, but in the normal course of events, a publisher is happy to make a 10-percent return on sales (trade authors typically receive 10 to 20 percent of the publisher’s sales) and to generate enough cash to stay in business.

Publishing is a good business and an important one for all sorts of reasons, but publishers are not the greedy sharks they’re sometimes portrayed to be, nor are their companies out to prosper at the expense of authors. If authors’ incomes are in decline, the solution is to find a larger cake, not to argue about the size of the slices.

And Stanley Unwin’s famous quotation still holds true: “The first duty of any publisher to their authors is to remain solvent.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

.

Lighter release schedule hampers Hachette UK in third quarter

8 November 2018

From The Bookseller:

Hachette UK’s revenues were down 6.7% in the third quarter of 2018, due to a lighter release schedule and decline in sales in its education segment, its parent company Lagardere has reported. The fall in sales in the UK has been attributed “mainly” to an absence of curriculum reform, which also affected France and Spain’s performance.

David Shelley, Hachette UK’s c.e.o., conceded overall the third quarter had “fewer major releases for HUK”, but pointed to “some unexpected bestsellers and strong backlist and e-book sales”. He also said Hodder Education’s results “tracked the market, which was muted in September due to distance from the last curriculum change”.

The dip is comparably better than it was in the third quarter of 2017, when sales dropped 13.5% following the success of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Little, Brown) the previous year.

. . . .

Of the publisher’s performance in third quarter 2018, Shelley commented that digital publisher Bookouture had enjoyed “a very good summer with sales in the UK up year on year and significant growth coming from the UK and Australia” while John Murray Press enjoyed its second best ever month in August.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bowker’s ISBN SIte Has Been Hacked, and Credit Card Numbers Have Been Stolen

4 November 2018

From The Digital Reader:

When I reported 3 days ago about MyIdentifiers.com’s extended downtime, I made an offhand reference to a report about credit cards being stolen on the site. I didn’t really trust that unconfirmed story, but it was later confirmed by another author, and now Bowker admitted that due to their sloppy website security, they were indeed hacked.

From Bowker:

Bowker was recently made aware by the payment card networks of patterns of unauthorized charges occurring on cards after they were legitimately used on Bowker’s website, www.myidentifiers.com. We immediately launched an investigation and engaged a leading forensic firm to assist. Our investigation has identified unauthorized code that was added to the checkout page on our website. Based on currently available evidence, our investigation is focused on determining if the code was active from May 1, 2018 through October 23, 2018. However, because our investigation is continuing, complete findings are not available and it is too early to provide further details on the investigation. We anticipate providing notification to any affected customers as we get further clarity about the specific timeframes and orders that may have been affected.

Bowker has not said when their site will be online again, but they did say that you can still buy a single ISBN through a different site. You can also buy a block of ISBNs by downloading an order form and faxing it in.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG suggests that a one-time credit card number may be prudent for dealing with Bowker in the future (if you feel an irresistable craving for an ISBN number).

From MarketWatch:

Capital One last month announced a new feature for its credit cards called “virtual numbers.” They are one-time numbers consumers can use while shopping online so they don’t have to give their actual Capital One credit-card number to an online retailer.

To get the virtual number, card holders must visit their Capital One online profile, through the Capital One website. There, they can find a tool called “Virtual Numbers from Eno,” named after Capital One’s virtual assistant Eno. The tool creates unique, virtual numbers for each merchant, linked to their Capital One credit card account. But the online retailers don’t receive the actual number printed on consumer’s physical credit card.

. . . .

It’s Capital One’s latest answer to combatting online credit card fraud. Several banks, including Bank of America and Citi have started similar systems.

When fraud is detected on credit cards, “I have to go through and update my card everywhere I’ve ever put it,” said Tom Poole, the senior vice president of digital payments and identity at Capital One. “But if you’re like me, you don’t know where you put your card.”

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

What’s the Matter with Fiction Sales?

4 November 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

According to 2017 estimates released this summer by the Association of American Publishers, sales of adult fiction fell 16% between 2013 and 2017, from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion. The numbers, though not a major worry, raise questions about the books the industry is publishing and what consumers want to read.

Since 2013, fiction sales fell every year with the exception of 2015. That year they rose 1%, helped by Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and three other novels that topped one million print copies sold. (The AAP tracks all major formats—print, digital, and audio—in its sales estimates.) Interviews and discussions with various industry members uncovered different theories about why there’s been a downturn in fiction.

The most commonly shared view is that it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels. Fiction, more than nonfiction, depends on readers discovering new books by browsing. Now, with the number of physical stores down from five years ago (despite a rise in ABA membership), publishers cannot rely on bricks-and-mortar stores providing customers with access to new books.

Nor can publishers depend on media outlets to make up for the gap left by the shrinking footprint of physical bookstores. Review space in mainstream media has been slashed, cutting off another possibility for readers to learn about new fiction.

The upshot of those developments is that publishers have found breaking out new writers—never mind developing new franchise authors—increasingly difficult.

Creating authors who can draw readers via name recognition alone is crucial to selling novels. Research done by the Codex Group shows that the author is the most important factor in a person’s decision to buy a novel. Codex founder Peter Hildick-Smith says that with so much inexpensive genre fiction now available at “subprime price points under $5” (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.

That process can require a multiple-book commitment. It can also require a type of commitment that’s difficult for publishers: sticking with authors who don’t produce instant bestsellers.

Based on Codex research, a person typically reads an average of three books by an author before becoming hooked on his or her books. Publishers, however, as Hildick-Smith and others interviewed noted, seem increasingly reluctant to support authors whose books don’t immediately sell. “Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence,” Hildick-Smith said. “It’s not a one-and-done launch.”

The difficulty publishers have recently had in creating brand name authors can be seen in BookScan numbers. The service, which tracks only print sales, shows that fiction sales continue to be soft. Moreover, the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service. In 2015, the only year in the past five when fiction sales rose over the previous year, four novels sold more than one million print copies each, according to BookScan: Watchman (1.6 million), Grey by E.L. James (1.4 million), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (1.3 million), and Anthony Doer’s All The Light We Cannot See (one million).

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Attentive readers will note the single mention of Amazon – Kindle Unlimited, associated with “subprime price points under $5”. Traditional publishers can’t and won’t compete in that market, preferring authors and books with “premium-price loyalty”.

PG suggests that category title is not properly worded. Instead, he believes that traditional publishers are trying to promote authors and books that attempt to command “over-priced loyalty” from readers.

As readers come to understand that most of the money they pay for traditionally-published books goes to middle-folk like bookstores and publishers with very little trickling down to authors, their loyalty to premium pricing may erode.

Imprint consolidation at big houses is a sign of changed times

26 October 2018

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

I had reason to learn recently that Ingram has 16 million individual titles loaded in their Lightning Source database ready to be delivered as a bound book to you within 24 hours, if not sooner. So every book coming into the world today is competing against 16 million other books that you might buy.

That number — the number of individual book titles available to any consumer, bookstore, or library — has exploded in my working lifetime. As recently as 25 years ago, the potential titles  available — in print and on a warehouse shelf ready to be ordered, or even to be backordered until a next printing — was numbered in the hundreds of thousands. So it has grown by 20 or 30 or 40 times. That’s between 2000 percent and 4000 percent in the last quarter century.

This has, like the Internet or CO2 in the atmosphere, changed everything. And it seems like the organizing structure of the major publishers is also changing in response.

On Monday morning, Simon & Schuster became the second major house in a week to announce that it was consolidating two imprints, effectively reducing by one the number of discrete publishing units within the conglomerate empowered to decide what to publish and how to promote it. They folded the Touchstone imprint into Atria and Gallery; last week Penguin Random House collapsed their Crown imprint into Random House (sometimes referred to as “Little Random”.)

The title explosion is part of a sea change in the world of book publishing that has taken place over the past quarter century. At the same time, sales have shifted in two dimensions: a big chunk of the books now bought and consumed are digital, not printed, and more than half the books consumers buy are not bought in brick-and-mortar stores. And the share for physical stores continues to shrink. Indeed, these trends are linked. The fact that books can now be delivered without inventory, without a sales force, and without a warehouse has made it possible for just about anybody to publish a book.

. . . .

Commercial publishers bring books to market to make money for themselves and their authors. But today, book publishing is a idea-dissemination or brand-extension tool for many originators, and making money on the publication is a secondary consideration.

That means that commercial viability is no longer an effective check on the number of titles. One wealthy and digitally-smart author we know is reluctant to engage with a publisher because he wants to be free to give away his content. And in another case we found and discussed in a recent post, because the originator was so enamored of the idea of giving it away through web streaming, they ignored the opportunities through commercial ebooks that would have required setting some price a bit higher than zero to work in that channel. Anybody doing this more than once will figure out ways to increase their distribution.

It wasn’t very long ago that nobody would think seriously about publishing a book unless they had the infrastructure — a sales force, a warehouse, a way to process shipments and returns — to put books on many bookstore shelves. Now those services are ubiquitously available for variable, not fixed, costs (you can reach the whole world through Ingram Spark or a big chunk of the world through Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace).

. . . .

In the new marketplace, where most of the sales don’t require the expensive-to-engage distributed bookstore infrastructure, established publishers no longer automatically dominate. So we’ve gone from a marketplace where only truly professional publishers could effectively get books to customers to one where their size, their lists, their sales forces, and their operational efficiencies give them much less competitive advantage. That new marketplace and the competitive set means that publishers can no longer count on a reasonably substantial minimum sale for every title they publish.

. . . .

For as long as I’ve been in the industry, I have heard publishers complain “there are too many titles” while the smartest ones also saw that their own profitability was improved by increasing their own company’s title output. But over the past two decades, the title glut has hit home and even the biggest and most powerful publishers need to exercise restraint about what they try to publish profitably. Because they really can lose money publishing a book, which two decades ago was actually a rare occurrence in a major house unless they had wildly overpaid for the rights.

Publishers have also found it sensible to redeploy resources from “sales” — working with intermediaries to reach a book’s customers — to “digital marketing”, which often leads to a direct sales appeal from the publisher to the consumer. (Although the sales themselves might be executed through Amazon or another retailer, the publisher’s effort is driving the specific sale to the specific customer.)

This has, inevitably, made publishers more “audience centric”. They build topic- or genre-specific websites, apps, and — critically — email lists. The email lists of book purchasers are of increasing value, if the publisher can continue to feed it choices from which it will find things to buy.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG suggests that, not long ago, publishers would not have considered direct sales efforts to readers via mailing lists, etc., because bookstore owners would have objected. The OP suggests to PG that publishers have mentally written off Leonard Riggio/Barnes & Noble and no other bookstore chain is big enough to intimidate them.

At a time when real digital marketing talent is widely recognized as a valuable skill, PG also wonders what sorts of digital marketers are willing to go to work for a publisher instead of a tech startup or digital marketing agency with potential for some real upside.

For authors, signing a standard contract with a traditional publisher looks like something akin to an extraordinarily expensive exclusive contract with a digital marketing agency which you can’t fire for incompetence or failure to respond to your emails.

And where’s the nurturing in that sort of relationship?

Publisher Revenue for Trade Books Increases in August 2018 and Year-to-Date

18 October 2018

From The Association of American Publishers:

Publishers’ revenue for trade (consumer) books and PreK-12 Instructional Materials increased in August 2018 compared to August 2017, continuing the trends from the July data which also saw growth in these categories. The increases added $26 million in revenue (+1.2%) for publishers in August 2018, offsetting slight declines in other categories.

For the first eight months of 2018 (Jan. – Aug.) trade publishers saw growth in all tracked categories – Adult Books, Children’s/YA and Religious Presses – compared to the same timeframe in 2017. Adult Books added $153 million (+5.2%) for the year-to-date compared to 2017. Overall book publisher revenues were down slightly (-0.6%) through August 2018.

. . . .

Print books generally saw revenue growth, with strong gains in both hardback and paperback books in August 2018 vs. August 2017. Publisher revenue also increased +45.2% for downloaded audio compared to August 2017. Revenues for eBooks and board books were flat at +0.2% and -0.2% respectively.

Link to the rest at The Association of American Publishers

‘Up-lit’ gives hope to publishers at Frankfurt book fair

13 October 2018

From The Guardian:

A debut novel about a lonely old woman who has fallen through the cracks of society has wowed publishers at this week’s Frankfurt book fair, with 10 presses fighting to win a book that is being compared to the smash hit Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

The television producer Beth Morrey’s first novel, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, has emerged as one of the biggest titles among a deluge of fiction following the trend for uplifting literature, or “up-lit”. Selling to HarperCollins for a six-figure sum after a 10-way auction, the novel finds elderly Missy Carmichael living alone with her husband gone, her daughter not speaking to her and her son in Australia – until she adopts a dog.

Morrey, who works three days a week for RDF, wrote the novel while on maternity leave with her son at the end of 2016. “My husband suggested we put him in nursery two days a week so I could write a book,” she said. “It took me three months. I basically emptied it out, and enjoyed it more than anything I’ve ever done.”

After a terrible year “with all those celebrities dying, Brexit and Trump,” she continued, “I wanted to write a book that could make people cry, but with happiness, not sadness. I felt like we needed a bit of catharsis. It’s what I wanted for myself – that washed-out crying feeling. Everyone wants to know things will be OK on a micro level. Obviously on a macro level we’re all doomed but if you can read a book and feel a bit happier then that’s no bad thing.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Next Page »