Big Publishing

America’s Literary Hotshots Once Shunned TV, Now They Want to Run the Show

14 July 2018

From Vanity Fair:

At the turn of the 21st century, New York literati would often shut down attempts to discuss the latest television shows with the sniffy refrain “I don’t even own a TV.” I remember one particular book party at which a cluster of hot young novelists collectively agreed that they wouldn’t mind having their books optioned for the small screen—as long as no one ever got around to making them. TV in those days was still scorned as a distraction factory churning out bland entertainment in standardized 30- or 60-minute chunks punctuated by Pavlovian laugh lines and pre-commercial-break cliff-hangers.

That snobbery gradually turned inside out as the medium evolved from delivering conventional network fare aimed at the broadest possible audience into a vehicle for the much-hyped new golden age. Prestige dramas and idiosyncratic comedies put a premium on nuance and experimentation, on complex characterization and scintillating dialogue. In other words, all the things for which literary fiction is known. So utterly has the literati’s disdain for the small screen dissolved that nowadays novelists are lining up to have their books adapted. If you eavesdrop on any gathering of serious writers, they’re as likely to be discussing Killing Eve or Better Call Saul as they are the latest book by Zadie Smith or Rachel Kushner. Even the University of Iowa is launching TV-writing programs this fall.

“I see everybody talking about TV like they would talk about books,” says Megan Abbott, author of 10 novels (including Dare Me, which she is developing into a series) and a writer on the HBO series The Deuce. “[The writers I know] take the shows they watch very seriously.”

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair

The departing CEO reminds us that Barnes and Noble is of interest and a source of concern for all publishers

13 July 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

When Barnes & Noble interrupted Holiday week day-dreaming to announce that recently elevated CEO Demos Parneros had been abruptly dismissed for a contract violation that also eliminated his severance, it not only ignited a minor industry of speculation about “what happened?” but it also called attention to the commercial situation at Barnes & Noble.

And that, in a couple of words, is “not good”.

There are two inexorable and unrelenting shifts taking place in the book businiess, and while neither of them are B&N’s fault, it is also true that neither work in B&N’s favor. One is that more and more book purchasing is taking place online and less and less in physical stores. And the other is that more and more books are being published and sold, or distributed, from outside the commercial realm. That is, the entities publishing books to make money on them are seeing their share being sliced away by countless cuts from independent authors and various corporate and cause organizations that want to put books into people’s hands and devices to increase their fame or promote a message, not primarily to make a profit.

Since Barnes & Noble’s great expertise centers around promoting and selling books to consumers in physical stores working with publisher trading partners who are trying to make a profit, that means that their part of the book market is just getting smaller in ways that could only be addressed by selling more online and being a more effective conduit for non-commercial distribution. They’ve failed miserably for two decades at the former and there isn’t big money in the latter.

But commercial book publishing — especially the Big Five with their high-volume flow of commercial new titles and deep backlists but also a diminishing but still long tail of university presses, smaller general trade houses, and specialty publishers — really needs B&N. They’re needed for the hundreds of bookstores they maintain and because they present the one significant alternative to the retailing giant that is growing on the back of the larger trends: Amazon.

. . . .

Just before the Parneros announcement, I had lunch with an industry expert who expressed mild surprise that “the publishers haven’t just bought B&N and fixed it”. This same seer thinks Amazon may be teetering on the edge of vulnerability because they have taken the tactic of steering customers to their own product too far for their own health in the book business.

And on the day that Parneros’s firing was announced, I had met with a publishing veteran from just-smaller-than-Big-5 publishing. He does commercial books, but the ones that don’t usually command six-figure advances. He finds it hard to imagine how publishers will navigate a world without B&N in it and is quite candid about how difficult negotiations with the already-nearly-hegemonic Amazon already are with the B&N counterweight still alive and active.

. . . .

The suggestion that publishers buy and fix B&N surprised me a bit. There was talk about publishers setting up their own online book sales competitor to Amazon 20 years ago and it is evident now why that wouldn’t have worked. Amazon’s significant competitive advantage came from the fact that making money from the book business wasn’t their primary objective: building a customer base on the back of the book business to create a bigger marketplace and ultimately a cloud computing behemoth was where they were going. No publisher or consortium of publishers was going to adopt a vision like that.

But the suggestion does have logical elements. Publishers have the most to gain from a prosperous Barnes & Noble and the most to lose if it goes away. Publishers are, along with store lease-holders, B&N’s most significant trading partners and creditors. And Amazon competes as a publisher, Barnes & Noble still owns a publisher, and major publishers owned the Brentano’s and Doubleday bookstore chains in decades past, so publishers and booksellers have owned each other over the years.

. . . .

Yes, it is a correct analysis that the super-sized bookstore is a dinosaur; massive in-store selection with many titles that hardly ever sell is a relic of the pre-Internet age. And the “curation” that makes a small selection work effectively is more easily delivered by Amazon’s massive supply chain and highly localized market knowledge, not to mention their ability to “promote” by email the existence of a store or anything in it to a large percentage of purchasers in any locale. Similarly, Amazon will find it easy to sell “home goods”, or whatever else is the right thing for any particular location because they probably already do. And while B&N is being urged to ditch the money-demanding Nook ebook line, Amazon would be using Kindle as a springboard to the extent that is relevant at all to a store-shopping audience.

And I’m going to admit to a bit of a chuckle when I read “build a community”. A community? One  community? Does that mean one community for people who read Civil War history and romance fiction? No, that’s a silly idea. A bookstore actually needs to foster many communities. You can be pretty confident that Amazon knows that.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG says very smart retailers are worried about competition from Amazon. The idea that some big publishers (which are not very big at all compared to Amazon) know how to sell books at retail better than Amazon does is ludicrous.

Besides, none of the large US publishers are independent entities. They are all owned by large conglomerates in Europe or the US. PG suggests that these conglomerates (which are themselves much smaller than Amazon) have no appetite to fund a bunch of retail bookstores that are very unlikely to be any more profitable than Barnes & Noble has been for several years.

Print Unit Sales Rose 2% in First Half of 2018

7 July 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

With unit sales of print books rising 4% in the adult nonfiction segment—the industry’s largest major category—total unit sales for the first half of 2018 increased 2% over the comparable period in 2017 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The gain follows a 3% increase in six-month unit sales in the first half of 2017 over 2016. The strength in adult nonfiction offset a 4% decline in sales in the adult fiction segment. Overall, total units in the first half of 2018 were 316.8 million, up from 310.7 million in the first half of 2017.

Adult nonfiction benefited from strong sales of two political books both published by Macmillan divisions: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff and released by Holt, sold nearly 1 million print copies, according to BookScan, while James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty sold more than 577,000 copies for Flatiron. A third new adult nonfiction title, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines, sold almost 676,000 copies in the first half of the year, putting it in second place overall.

Adult fiction sales suffered from yet another period where no new novel broke out in print. (Though several did sell briskly in e-book). The top-selling new novel in the first half of 2018 was The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, which sold nearly 384,000 copies in the first six months of 2018. Stephen King’s The Outsider was the second-most popular new adult fiction title in the first six months of the year, selling over 275,000 copies. In the first six months of 2017, two backlist novels led the adult fiction chart—A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman sold 451,000 copies, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale sold 325,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Author Earnings Sliding Fast in U.K.

29 June 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Median annual income of professional writers in the U.K. is now under £10,500, down by 15% since 2013, according to ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) research. That figure puts authors’ hourly rate well below minimum wage

The earnings figure of £10,500 compares to the figure of £17,900 defined last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living for a single person.

. . . .

At £3,000 a year, the typical median earnings of ‘all writers’—which includes occasional and part-time writers in addition to professional writers as defined above—are also declining steeply, falling in real terms by 49% since 2005 and 33% since 2013.

As earnings have fallen, so have the number of full-time writers. In 2005, 40% of professional writers earned their income solely from writing. By last year, that figure had fallen to 13.7%. As writing earnings decline, most writers are following portfolio careers, supplementing their writing income with other activities such as teaching.

The findings in the U.K. are generally in line with the salary survey the Authors Guild did in 2015that found a steady decline in authors earnings between 2009 and 2015.

The fall in writer incomes comes against the backdrop of the expansion of the U.K.’s creative industries, now valued at £92 billion and growing at twice the rate of the rest of the U.K. economy.

The gender pay gap is widening, with the average earnings of female professional authors only about 75% of those of the average male professional writer, down slightly from 78% in 2005.

. . . .

At the Society of Authors, chief executive Nicola Solomon said: “This decline is extremely disturbing. With average earnings down by 42% in real terms since 2005 and now falling well below the minimum wage, it is worrying news for the profession.” She went on to say that “if authors can no longer afford to make a living from their work, the supply of new and innovative writing will simply dry up.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Publishers are paying writers a pittance, say bestselling authors

27 June 2018

From The Guardian:

Philip Pullman, Antony Beevor and Sally Gardner are calling on publishers to increase payments to authors, after a survey of more than 5,500 professional writers revealed a dramatic fall in the number able to make a living from their work.

The latest report by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), due to be published on Thursday, shows median earnings for professional writers have plummeted by 42% since 2005 to under £10,500 a year, well below the minimum annual income of £17,900 recommended by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Women fare worse, according to the survey, earning 75% of what their male counterparts do, a 3% drop since 2013 when the last ALCS survey was conducted.

Based on a standard 35-hour week, the average full-time writer earns only £5.73 per hour, £2 less than the UK minimum wage for those over 25. As a result, the number of professional writers whose income comes solely from writing has plummeted to just 13%, down from 40% in 2005.

The median income of the writers surveyed – including part-time and occasional authors – has declined in real terms to £3,000 a year, down 33% since the last survey in 2013, and 49% since the first ALCS report in 2005. Professional writers are defined as those who dedicate more than half their working hours to writing.

. . . .

“The word exploitation comes to mind,” said Pullman, bestselling author of the His Dark Materials series and president of the Society of Authors. “Many of us are being treated badly because some of those who bring our books to the public are acting without conscience and with no thought for the future of the ecology of the trade as a whole … This matters because the intellectual, emotional and artistic health of the nation matters, and those who write contribute to the task of sustaining it.”

. . . .

He added that the decline in earnings threatened the diversity among writers and would favour economic advantage over talent. “We need professional writers, because otherwise only those with other sources of income will be able to write.”

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, criticises publishers and Amazon for not sharing a greater percentage of their booming profits with the people who supply their raw material. “What concerns us is that during the same period that we see authors’ earnings plummet, the large publishers are seeing their sales rocket,” she said.

Solomon estimates that payment of authors accounted for a mere 3% of publishers’ turnover in 2016.

. . . .

“When I started you could still make an okay living from writing. You can’t do that now,” said Sally Gardner, whose bestselling novel Maggot Moon won the Carnegie medal and Costa children’s book award, but came 20 years after her first book.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

S&S Launches New Book Club Initiative

26 June 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Simon & Schuster has announced the launch of “Book Club Favorites,” a new direct-to-consumer initiative intended to promote titles from imprints across the company deemed of particular interest to book clubs. The first pick will be Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, which goes on sale June 26.

The publisher will select a new book—primarily paperback fiction—each month and invite readers to join a digitally-organized book club. The club will consist of a free monthly newsletter, a website, a Facebook group, and monthly sweepstakes held in conjunction with Bright Cellars (a monthly wine club partnering with the publisher on the program).

Customers can buy the book club selection from retailers listed on the book club site. Throughout each month, discussion questions and exclusive content will be housed on the website and Facebook Group.

“We are thrilled to be showcasing Simon & Schuster titles in this new way, which expands on our existing book club efforts and provides readers with a new way to engage with our books and authors,” Wendy Sheanin, v-p and director of marketing at Simon & Schuster, said in a statement. “We are equally excited to see the Book Club Favorites program bring readers together for thought-provoking and lively conversations about some of our favorite books.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders how indie authors can possibly keep up with the marketing geniuses in Big Publishing.

A Facebook group! A website! Where do they come up with all these brilliant ideas?

BookExpo and BookCon Announce Preliminary 2018 Attendance Figures

21 June 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its release today (June 20) of the preliminary attendance figures for BookExpo 2018 and BookCon, the organizers at Reed Exhibitions cite 7,732 attendees, including members of the press but not including the consumer-oriented BookCon, as the total headcount for BookExpo, compared to last year’s 7,425.

The trade show has provided its numbers in the form of an upbeat infographic that indicates that 54 percent of the overall attendance was at BookExpo for the first time. At first blush, that might sound great. But a moment of thought makes you remember that BookExpo is an annual trade event, a true fixture of the American book publishing industry that’s been in place for decades. If more than half your crowd is new—and if your year-to-year numbers go from 7,425 to 7,732, it means that a lot of people aren’t coming back: are longtime regulars disappearing?

On the other hand, that notion is unsurprising to anyone who has been going to BookExpo (formerly BookExpo America) for many years and watched as the exhibitor-space footprint has been shrinking relentlessly.

. . . .

And terming this its “reimagined” approach, the BookExpo team says it saw an increase in bookstore representatives’ attendance of 8 percent—a turnout of 1,073 booksellers and retailers. But Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch is reporting that last year’s bookseller-and-retail headcount was actually higher, at 1,289.

. . . .

There were, the company says, 1,300 librarians in attendance at BookExpo—notice that this may have surpassed the bookseller number—and of that group, Reed says that 34 percent were first-timers.

Alas, here, too, Cader reports that this year’s figure is lower, not higher, than the previous year’s. To this year’s 1,300 librarians, Cader cites 1,597 from BookExpo’s figures in 2016.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Test your way to bestseller success

20 June 2018

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is risky. It takes years to write, produce and market a book with only slim chance of success. Instead of racing up the bestseller charts, most books are on a fast track to the high street discounter.

Traditionally, publishers have mitigated risk with professional expertise – commissioning editors with rockstar author contacts, sales reps with a track record of smashed sales targets, booksellers with local market knowledge, and reviewers with the power to make or break a title. But in the age of Amazon these experts are being edged out.

Technology has disintermediated publishing, but tech startups, as well as disrupting the established ways of working, can offer alternative ways of working.

. . . .

In The Startup Way, Eric Ries – author of The Lean Startup and a champion of lean product development – shows how conventional businesses can implement approaches used by startups. His case study about publishing sparked my interest and got me asking: why a publisher was chosen to represent the old, established ways of working? And why, in a book crammed full of named businesses, this is the only anonymous example? Ries wrote:

‘In the past, the publisher didn’t seek out much of any feedback from test groups or from author communities. “Beforehand we kind of just trusted ourselves,” explained the executive. “We trusted our individual biases and the hubris that we actually knew more than the customer.” But as the publishing market has shifted … the company has had to pivot to adapt to the buyer’s habits.’

All power to our plucky publisher who set out to disrupt ‘everything’ in the traditional publishing process. Our anon executive took startup methodology to heart, creating a feedback loop, so that book buyers’ opinions were integrated into the publishing cycle. Their approach strikes horror into every publisher I know: they tested an entire manuscript – once the book was already in production!

It’s such a late stage to get user feedback – once the book has been written, edited, typeset, the cover designed, the sales and marketing planned – all those people and processes, a huge investment of time and money to find out if anyone is interested in reading it.

Book production resembles the much derided ‘waterfall’ development, which takes a linear, step by step approach to building software. It can lead to a sunk cost, where we continue forward on a path because we’ve gone so far down it. This approach can become the norm for a sector, baked into the way we do things, and is why publishing is an all too easy straw man for Ries.

. . . .

Testing takes courage and in a long production cycle there might not be time, but it improves products and decreases the risk of failure. There are three principles of testing to bear in mind:

  1. Test early
  2. Test often
  3. Test with end users

Testing early saves time and money as you validate decisions earlier, and testing often enables you to ‘iterate’ and improve so you keep going in the right direction. It also builds a habit of testing, creating smaller feedback loops within a production cycle, so when you make changes they are less disruptive.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suggests that an ebook has an inherently shorter development and production cycle than a printed book (under current publishing practices).

He thinks a better business approach for a publisher would be to create and release the ebook first to test the market for the book. If readers were drawn to the ebook in sufficient quantities, then the publisher could invest in a printed version of the book.

An intermediate step between the ebook and rolling big presses overseas is print-on-demand or short-run printing. Short run could be used to further test the market to see if a large print run were justified.

Publishers’ marketing departments would require a substantial upgrade to do something other than large country-by-country releases to all bookstores in a country.

All of this would require a significant retooling in most traditional publishers with a big upgrade in the quality and skills of publishers’ manufacturing management departments.

Doing away with bookstores’ right to return unsold copies would also improve the management of print books. At a minimum, if a bookstore wanted to participate in early short-run book releases, it would have to do away with its right to return printed books.

Ideally, publishers would evolve past the idea that big stacks of books in bookstores are ideal advertising and marketing tools. PG suggests that most potential book purchasers are more likely to learn about new books online or via word-of-mouth rather than walking into bookstores. This will be even more true when Barnes & Noble finally files for Chapter 11 relief.

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