Isaac Asimov wrote almost 500 books in his lifetime—these are the six ways he did it

20 January 2017

From Quartz:

If there’s one word to describe Isaac Asimov, it’s “prolific.”

To match the number of novels, letters, essays, and other scribblings Asimov produced in his lifetime, you would have to write a full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.

Why was Asimov able to have so many good ideas when the rest of us seem to only have one or two in a lifetime? To find out, I looked into Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.

. . . .

Growing up, Asimov read everything:

All this incredibly miscellaneous reading, the result of lack of guidance, left its indelible mark. My interest was aroused in twenty different directions and all those interests remained. I have written books on mythology, on the Bible, on Shakespeare, on history, on science, and so on.

. . . .

It’s refreshing to know that, like myself, Asimov often got stuck:

Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel, I find myself heartily sick of it and unable to write another word.

Getting stuck is normal. It’s what happens next, our reaction, that separates the professional from the amateur.

Asimov didn’t let getting stuck stop him. Over the years, he developed a strategy:

I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.

Link to the rest at Quartz

Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the numbers

20 January 2017

DataGuy’s slides from his presentation at Digital Book World have just been posted at Author Earnings.

Following are a few slides from a much longer presentation.

 

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

It is clear

20 January 2017

It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.

Agatha Christie, The Clocks

Booksellers Wonder if Booze Will Save Them

20 January 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

At a Digital Book World panel called “Will Bars Save Bookstores?”, panelists, among them, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher, bookseller Jessica Bagnulo and IPG CEO Joe Matthew, cracked jokes (“retailers turn to drink”) but used the opportunity to examine a wave of new strategies behind a resurgent independent bookselling sector.

Teicher called the booze in bookstores theme, “a euphemism for all things smart entrepreneurial spaces are doing to attract consumers.” And it’s not just beverages, Teicher said. Bookstores, he said, are running summer camps, offering dance classes, hosting travel events, “hundreds of innovative things that are helping stores thrive in a very competitive environment.”

. . . .

 In an environment where e-books, online retailing and less time for reading is challenging business of physical bookstores, Matthews said, “we need experimentation. This is an effort to drive traffic and keep consumers in the store. You can’t download a cocktail.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Nielsen Sells BookScan, Other U.S. Book Industry Services to NPD Group

20 January 2017

From the American Booksellers Association:

Nielsen has sold its U.S. market information and research services for the book industry to the NPD Group. The sale, announced on January 20, includes U.S.-based BookScan, PubTrack™ Digital, PubTrack™ Higher Education, PubTrack™ Christian, Books & Consumers™, PubEasy®, and PubNet®, all of which will become NPD-branded services in the U.S.

Nielsen will provide operations support for NPD BookScan and related U.S. services during a transition period, and no immediate changes are expected in the way American Booksellers Association member stores report to the Indie Bestseller Lists via BookScan.

NPD,  which has been in business for more than 50 years, provides market information and analytic solutions for over 20 industries and partners with more than 1,200 retailers, representing over 165,000 stores worldwide.

Link to the rest at American Booksellers Association

What We Would Miss in an All-Amazon-Shopping World

20 January 2017

From The New Yorker:

A few Saturdays back, I stopped to visit my friends John and Miriam at Mellah, a Moroccan rug shop they opened last spring in Toronto. Mellah is a small store in the city’s West End, set in a neighborhood that’s rich in coffee shops, young families, and dive bars, but not home to a lot of high-end home retailers. Still, the space they leased has one big advantage: a huge south-facing window, which allows pedestrians to glance in and pretty much see every single rug and textile for sale.

Though they are adept at social-media marketing on Instagram and Facebook, the majority of their sales come in through that window, by people who walk by, stop, and enter their shop. A few days before I visited, a lawyer who lives nearby stopped in on his way home from a Christmas party, pointed at a thirty-five-hundred-dollar rug he’d seen through the window, and handed John his credit card, telling him to “charge me now, before I change my mind.”

The story was good for a laugh, but it left me thinking about two big trends in retail today, which predict that sales like these could become increasingly rare. The first is the continued rise of online shopping in America. Online sales during Thanksgiving weekend broke all previous records, garnering more than five billion dollars (up eighteen per cent from last year), according to Adobe data cited in a Bloomberg article, while sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores declined by one per cent.

Though online retail still represents a relatively small percentage of total retail sales (8.4 per cent, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures), e-commerce continues to expand. While the prediction that the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen made three years ago—that traditional retail stores would soon be extinct—still seems overblown, there is a brutal logic behind the popularity of online shopping. It is efficient and succeeds because it brings goods to consumers, often at the cheapest possible price, in a convenient way. No matter how nice the selection at Mellah, there are more Moroccan rugs, at a lower price, just a few clicks away—and you don’t even have to leave your warm bed to buy them.

Now digital commerce is ready to infiltrate the world of brick-and-mortar stores. The physical retail of groceries and food products has remained robust in the digital age, but that may change with the arrival of Amazon Go, a new concept from the leader in e-commerce, which recently opened a demonstration grocery store in Seattle. Customers can fill their shopping carts and simply walk out of the store, as the eggs, milk, and Cheerios they have selected are instantly charged to an Amazon app on their phones. Good-bye to long checkout lines and pesky, eye-rolling cashiers. Hello to the Uber of shopping!

. . . .

Alison Medina, the executive editor of the trade publication design:retail, told me that no one should be worried about the death of physical retailers, and she cited a number of convincing reasons why stores, and the humans who tend them, have a bright future, thanks in large part to the unique way they sell goods.

First, there’s the obvious tactile satisfaction that comes from physical shopping. In a store where you can touch the products, you know exactly what you are buying. Online stores can only provide you photos, descriptions, and a snake pit of questionable reviews. “You can’t touch a dress on an iPad” or smell a cantaloupe to tell whether it’s ripe, Medina said. There’s an unimpeachable trust when you walk out with the product you’ve just bought, but also instant gratification, in a way that even the fastest drone can’t deliver.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are also better suited to generating impulse purchases. The tipsy lawyer was unlikely to wander home and buy a thirty-five-hundred-dollar rug on his phone, but the sight of it in Mellah’s window, and the fact that he was there to see it, made his purchase seem almost inevitable. “In part, it’s the distinction between browsing and searching,” Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing at N.Y.U., said. “You can’t browse online very well. There isn’t room for serendipity online.”

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

PG finds tons of serendipity online, far more than in a physical bookstore. As he looks around his cluttered desk, he sees all sorts of things he didn’t know existed before he found them online.

Examples?

Gear Ties have done wonderful things for the rat’s nest of various and sundry computer, cell phone and photo cables that accompany him when he travels and multiply like rabbits in his photo bags.

Absolute War is the best account of the Soviet Union’s battle with Nazi Germany he’s found, based in large part upon documents released only after Glasnost. This is a much-neglected part of most World War II histories. The book was published in 2008 and PG is certain he’s never seen it in the military history section of any bookstore.

Much of PG’s “browsing” takes place as he reads different types of articles online. He’s not consciously “shopping”,  but if he sees an interesting product hyperlink, he’ll check it out.

2016 Disappointments

20 January 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

As I write this in early January, fourth quarter numbers for all big businesses are just starting to trickle in. The whining about 2016 has commenced, some of it justified, some of it not.

The numbers aren’t just in for the major publishers; the numbers are in for indie writers as well. And the writers who crunch numbers are having varied reactions, often depending on years of business expertise.

I have a hunch that when all of the numbers arrive toward the end of this month or so, we’ll find out that 2016 was truly a mixed bag.

Which is what we should expect from a healthy publishing environment in transition.

. . . .

Self-published writers who remain in the business have become independent publishers in their own right. Which is why from now on in this post, I’ll call it indie publishing.

Even though ebooks have existed for decades, the Kindle made them a viable career path. Indeed, the Kindle and Amazon itself began a major disruption of the traditional publishing industry, a disruption all of us are living through.

Changes still happen almost daily. But a lot of us have worked on the indie side long enough now to take some things for granted. We’ve also worked in it long enough to have actual numbers. We can project this year’s earnings based on last year’s behaviors—kinda sorta.

I add the “kinda sorta” because, as I said, changes still happen daily.

As this blog goes live on my website (some of you got it early on my Patreon page), the Digital Book World conference is going on in New York. Data Guy is making a presentation that I’m sure will become public a week or two after the conference.

. . . .

Data Guy will be analyzing the digital market based on genre. But some of his findings have already gone public. He found—to the delight of traditional publishers everywhere—that indie book sales took a dramatic fall in the summer and early fall of 2016. (Writers have experienced this from the beginning.)

In the white paper, he notes:

In May 2016, verified self-published indie authors were taking home nearly 50 percent of all US Kindle author earnings. Now, as of early October 2016, the indie share has fallen below 40 percent.

As Porter Anderson writes in his introduction to the white paper, this rather steep decline brings indie sales back to their 2015 share of the digital marketplace. He adds,

No more can cordial skeptics like myself say that everything is always coming up indie roses at Author Earnings. The news of a downturn isn’t what the project’s chief admirers, the indie author corps, would prefer, obviously. But it helps lend a kind of real-world credibility to the effort: what goes up does not always keep going up in life as we know it.

Anderson is right: the downturn does show skeptics that Data Guy’s numbers are real and not just the product of indie “cheerleading” to use Anderson’s term.

Data Guy’s October numbers also show something that writers have been saying all summer: for many, their sales fell off a cliff. That cliff is composed of many things—the contentious U.S. election, the changes in Kindle Unlimited, a general overall retail downturn in the fall, and more.

I examined some of this in “Third Quarter Blues,” because as I learned when I wrote that post, that election downturns happen every four years in the United States—and some downturns are more prolonged than others.

However, the research told me (and the numbers later bore it out) that the U.S. retail economy would rebound after the election. The holiday season would set in with a vengeance, and consumers would buy more than they usually did in the last few weeks of the year to make up for time lost.

. . . .

Data Guy’s numbers are from October, before the holiday sales happened and during the election effect. I can’t wait to see his conclusions, because I suspect his spider, crawling through the various databases, will catch things we can’t see with the naked eye.

What we can see, though, is—I’m sorry to say—unsurprising in this kind of maturing traditional marketplace.

Some balance is coming back into the system. Consumers are getting used to a new way of doing things. Readers are getting used to a new way of doing things.

Readers still go to bookstores, yes, and some readers will go to the brick-and-mortar store first. But most readers go online first, even if they choose not to order the book there.

There’s an interesting piece from The International Council of Shopping Centers (which I found through the Marketing Land article). On January 3, the International Council of Shopping Centers released the results of a survey conducted after the holiday season ended. The survey had a relatively small sample size (1030 adults) , but the findings seemed to be backed up by the other data that’s coming in.

The survey found that 70% of the shoppers surveyed preferred shopping at a place with an online and a physical presence. That number was even higher for Millennials—81%. Part of the reason was the ability to compare prices, but some of it was—again—convenience. Since most shoppers waited until the last minute in 2016 to shop, they ended up looking online to see if what they wanted was at a store, and then they went to the store to pick it up.

Sixty-one percent of the people who went to the store to pick up the item they purchased online bought something else at that store (75% of Millennials.) Why am I harping on Millennials? Because they are the future of the next decade or so of retailing.

. . . .

What happened to books in 2016?

You’ve seen the traditional publishing headlines, right? Traditional Publishing Needs A Blockbuster, one newspaper wrote. And it’s true. There was no breakout book in the last part of 2016. The breakout books of 2016 were pretty small potatoes compared with previous years. In fact, single title sales were unbelievably tiny compared with…ahem…the 1980s or even the early part of this century. The week before Christmas, for example, John Grisham’s new hardcover sold “only” 71,000 copies.

Why do I say “only”? Because traditional publishing is set up so that the hardcover bestsellers sell best during the holiday season, and should rake in the bulk of the book’s profits by then. I quickly tried a like-to-like comparison with Grisham, using Google, and here’s what I found.

In 2002, Grisham released two novels—one in February (which I’m not using) and a non-traditional Grisham title, Skipping Christmas, which released on November 1. By the end of the year, Skipping Christmas had sold (shipped) 1,225,000 units.

Eight weeks left in the year when Skipping Christmas was released meant the book had to sell about 150,000 units per week. Clearly sales didn’t work that way—some weeks the book probably sold more than others. But book sales around the holidays are pretty consistent, and sometimes rise rather than fall.

In 2016, Grisham released a new traditional (legal thriller) Grisham title, The Whistler, and the hardcover “only” sold 71,000 copies in week seven after release. Of course, competing with that was the $14.99 ebook which—when I looked it up on the night of January 8—was #27 in the paid Kindle store. Price be damned.

. . . .

Mass market has declined because there are fewer mass market retail outlets. Most grocery stores have gotten rid of their mass market slots, many big box stores no longer carry mass market paperbacks, and many of the chain bookstores have closed. Mass market is dying from a lack of oxygen and shelf space, not because people dislike the format. Trad pub is killing mass market all on its own.

So what’s fueling the rise in print book sales? Availability. Traditional publishers never had a clue about what some of us called the book desert. There were large swaths of the United States where you couldn’t find a new hardcover book for sale on any shelf. Rural towns had mass market racks (sometimes) and libraries (often) but no bookstores. So rural readers were stuck buying books when they went “to town” or buying mass market off the truck stop rack or buying no books at all.

Now there is no book desert. Any rural reader with a mailbox and a debit card can order a book online and have that book delivered in any format in which the book is available.

. . . .

Perhaps the biggest retail story of 2016 came out last June where study after study showed that shoppers now make more than half of their purchases online. Remember when you knew a lot of people who refused to buy something online? Now, try to find someone who hasn’t ordered at least one thing online in the past year. If you’re dealing with people who have some disposable income (and aren’t living near the poverty line), then you’ll have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t ever bought anything online.

Consumers are moving between the digital world and the brick-and-mortar world with incredible ease. The transition is happening, folks, and we’re getting used to the new world.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Don’t follow

19 January 2017

Don’t follow trends, start trends.

Frank Capra

Paul McCartney is suing Sony to finally obtain ownership of The Beatles’ catalog

19 January 2017

From COS:

Last March, it was reported that Paul McCartney had begun the process that would allow him to legally regain the rights to his portion of The Beatles’ catalog from Sony/ATV. Facing resistance from the music publishing company, McCartney has now filed a lawsuit in a New York court seeking a judgement affirming that he’ll regain ownership to the songs he co-wrote with John Lennon by the end of 2018.

McCartney is invoking the US Copyright Act of 1976 in his argument. The legislation allows for songwriters to reclaim copyrights 56 years after a legal transfer by filing a termination notice. With the earliest Lennon-McCartney compositions hitting that mark on October 18th, 2018, Macca has issued numerous such notices to Sony/ATV over the last decade. However, the company has refused to acknowledge his rights, hence the new lawsuit. “For years following service of the first Termination Notices, Defendants gave no indication to Paul McCartney that they contested the efficacy of Paul McCartney’s Termination Notices,” reads the complaint.

. . . .

For their [part], Sony may be hoping to employ a legal tactic currently being used against Duran Duran in a similar legal situation. In that case, an English court ruled that British interpretations of contract law supersede the US termination law. Essentially, if a British contract says an artist promises not to transfer its stake in a copyright, the artist can’t then try to issue a termination without breaching the original agreement.

. . . .

This whole mess started in the 1980s when McCartney famously advised Michael Jackson to invest in song publishing rights. Jackson then went out and bought ATV, which owned the Lennon-McCartney catalog. A decade late, Jackson agreed to a merger between ATV and Sony in which the latter gained half his stack. The publishing company acquired the other half from Jackson’s estate in early 2016.

Link to the rest at COS and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Here’s a copy of the complaint:

.



Pearson to Sell Stake in Penguin Random House

19 January 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Faced with worse-than-expected results in its North American higher education publishing business, Pearson said this morning that it is putting its 47% stake in Penguin Random House up for sale. Pearson has held its share in PRH since it merged Penguin with Bertelsmann’s Random House in 2013, with Bertelsmann controlling a 53% stake in the giant trade publisher.

Pearson had been expected to sell its stake in PRH at some point, but the announcement of its decision today came as a surprise, as did the reason why it was putting its share on the market: Pearson’s acknowledgement that operating profits for 2016 will be below expectations and it will not hit is goal of £800 million in operating profits for 2018, the year Pearson said it expected its turnaround efforts to start bearing fruit.

Instead, Pearson reported that sales in the North American higher education market in 2016 were much worse than forecast, particularly in the fourth quarter, when revenue dropped 30% compared to the final period of 2015, leading to an 18% decline in the North American higher education group for 2016. Pearson added that while earlier it had anticipated that the North American higher education market would stabilize in 2017, it now expects further revenue declines in the year.

To meet the lower demand, Pearson said it will accelerate a number of efforts to meet the higher demand for digital products and textbook rentals. The company has already eliminated about 4,000 jobs as part of its effort to create a more streamlined company.

. . . .

Following the Pearson announcement, Bertelsmann chief executive Thomas Rabe issued a statement saying the company is “open to increasing our stake in Penguin Random House, provided the financial terms are fair.”

. . . .

It is not clear if Bertelsmann would be interested in acquiring the full stake or only part of Pearson’s share of PRH. Pearson said it wants to divest the full stake.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG’s analysis is as follows:

a. Pearson is having big problems in the educational publishing market.

b. Pearson has decided to get out of the trade publishing market.

c. Pearson plans to stay in the educational publishing market

d. As (almost) half-owner of Penguin Random House, Pearson has access to top PRH executives, highly-detailed financial information about PRH, etc., etc.

e. A huge public announcement like Pearson’s would not have been made without Pearson first talking to Bertelsmann, the other half-owner of PRH, since Bertelsmann would be the obvious purchaser.

f. Bertelsmann has access to top PRH executives, highly-detailed financial information about PRH, etc., etc.

g. Bertelsmann is not anxious to pay very much money to own the rest of PRH.

h. PRH is the largest trade publisher in the world.

From these facts, what can we conclude about the insiders’ view of the future of PRH and, by extension, the future of traditional trade publishing?

Happy talk to the public from top executives and the PR departments are one thing. Words are, of course, cheap.

But when one owner of the largest trade publisher in the world wants to sell out and the other owner isn’t particularly anxious to buy, what does that tell us about what smart money thinks about the future of trade publishing?

From the Guardian:

Books world alarmed by Pearson’s sale of stake in Penguin Random House

Authors and staff have reacted cautiously to news that Pearson is to sell its stake in Penguin Random House (PRH), the world’s biggest publisher and home to some of the most successful brands in books, among them Fifty Shades of Grey, Jamie Oliver and The Girl on the Train.

PRH moved quickly to address fears among staff that the sale of the 47% share to German-owned Bertelsmann would affect jobs. In a statement, global chief executive Markus Dohle promised it would be “business as usual for us”. He added: “Both Pearson and Bertelsmann continue to be very supportive of our strategy and our success, and both have been valued shareholders for us.”

. . . .

Authors and staff told the Guardian of fears that the takeover by the German-owned media corporation could lead to further consolidation at the publishing house, which is responsible for one in four books sold and the sale of 800m paper, digital and audiobooks every year.

One bestselling author, who asked not to be named, said the company was “in pretty good shape” but: “You always worry that any added pressure to streamline the business will narrow its publishing focus further.”

Echoing the concerns of other writers the Guardian spoke to, she added: “For any author, you are only as good as your last book, so it’s a worry you could be vulnerable when things like this happen.”

. . . .

Staff remained jumpy, according to insiders. “We knew it was going to happen,” said one senior executive. “But we don’t know what will happen now. Hopefully we will be OK.” Another said: “This sort of thing always makes people nervous, but especially so after what happened.”

Link to the rest at the Guardian

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