S&S removes distribution for cop’s book

From Nathan Bransford:

Simon & Schuster came under fire this week because one of the publishers it distributes, Post Hill Press, acquired a book by one of the cops who shot Breonna Taylor. After a major outcry (and some confusion among people who weren’t splitting hairs between publishing and distributing), Simon & Schuster announced that it wouldn’t be involved in the distribution of the book (no word as of this writing on whether that means they have severed their relationship with Post Hill Press entirely).

Just for the record since this is a publishing blog, a publisher is the entity that acquires, edits, and publishes a book. In this case Simon & Schuster was not the publisher, nor is Post Hill Press one of its imprints. Post Hill Press is its own separate entity. A publisher, particularly a mid-size or small one, will often engage a distributor, an entity (sometimes one that is also a publisher, hence the confusion) that provides sales infrastructure and sometimes printing/warehousing/shipping on behalf of the publisher. An analogy would be like if the New York Times rented out its spare sales, printing, and shipping capacity to other newspapers, but they’re not the ones writing and editing what’s in that other paper.

I’m not sure the distinction matters all that much to those who think publishers should be pressured to divest from amplifying and profiting from these types of books entirely, but just FYI. 

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

From The New York Times:

A children’s graphic novel by the creator of the popular “Captain Underpants” series was pulled from circulation last week by its publisher, which said that it “perpetuates passive racism.”

Scholastic said last week that it had halted distribution of the book, “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future,” originally published in 2010. The decision was made with “the full support” of its author, Dav Pilkey, the company said, adding that it had removed the book from its website and had stopped fulfilling orders for it.

“Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism,” the publisher said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake.”

The graphic novel, which purports to have been written and illustrated by characters from the “Captain Underpants” series, follows Ook and Gluk, who live in the fictional town of Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 B.C. The characters are pulled through a time portal to the year 2222, where they meet Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who teaches them kung fu.

. . . .

Mr. Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books, featuring a superhero in briefs and a red cape, have been on The New York Times children’s series best-seller list for 240 weeks. In a letter posted on his YouTube channel on Thursday, Mr. Pilkey said he had “intended to showcase diversity, equality and nonviolent conflict resolution” with “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk,” about “a group of friends who save the world using kung fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy.”

“But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery,” Mr. Pilkey wrote. “I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.”

. . . .

Mr. Kim said he contacted Scholastic and spoke with a senior executive there, and he later spoke with Mr. Pilkey by videoconference for about 40 minutes. Mr. Pilkey, he said, apologized to him and his older son.

While Mr. Kim was glad the book was being pulled, he wrote that “the damage has been done.”

“Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as ‘OK’ or even funny,” he wrote.

Cristina Rhodes, an English professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, said that Scholastic should have been aware of the racially insensitive imagery in the book a decade ago.

Stereotypical images and tropes can give young readers a distorted view of certain groups, Professor Rhodes said — as with Asians in this case. “Children see themselves reflected in books,” she said.

Lara Saguisag, an English professor specializing in children’s and young adult literature at the College of Staten Island, said she was surprised to see these images from Mr. Pilkey, who she said had energized children and appealed to “reluctant readers” by teaching them to love books and reading.

“I think it’s part of the alarm about these books because it’s been going under the radar,” she said.

Professor Saguisag said she hoped that Scholastic and other publishers would evaluate other books for racially insensitive imagery.

. . . .

“As long as profit is at the center, I feel like these such acts of pulling books from bookshelves will be the exception rather than the rule,” she added. “I hope I’m proven wrong.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Another screw-up by one of the curators of our literary culture. With a book that was published just 11 years ago.

Is it possible we need an entirely different group of curators?

Given their domination of children’s books sold in traditional bookstores, are we endangering children by allowing large publishers like Scholastic and other giant New York publishers to continue their careless and damaging corporate ways?

The Emotional Cost of the Book Deal

From Publishers Weekly:

For years, at writers conferences, I kept hearing the same well-meaning pieces of advice: keep writing, keep submitting, your book(s) will eventually find a home.

Though it’s meant to encourage writers to push through rejection, the advice doubles as a toxic literary theory of bootstrapping (bookstrapping?), which suggests that hard work and persistence will yield the reward of a book deal. That isn’t necessarily true. Through my 11 years of submitting multiple books, I wish one person had taken me aside and said, “Look, it’s a brutal business that oftentimes has nothing to do with talent. If it doesn’t work out for you, know you are not alone.” It might have saved me from years of self-blame for what I deemed my own shortcomings as a writer.

“The right agent is out there for you” was another common refrain. What isn’t as commonly known is how many agents some authors go through before they find one who is the right fit. Over 11 years, I signed with two agents from two top agencies. The first worked her tail off to sell one of my books but didn’t succeed. We parted ways, amicably, when she wasn’t interested in representing my third book. The second agent represented two of my friends. We hit it off. A few months after signing me, he disappeared. I fired him two years later, though he didn’t know it for a while because he rarely ever opened my emails.

I had been querying agents for more than three years for one of my seven books—my novel, The Parted Earth—when I received yet another racist rejection from a Big Agent at a Big Agency. “This book isn’t as strong as other books coming out of India,” I was told—as if “India” is some kind of genre and there is a quota for books set there. I had also received a string of rejections from agents explaining that they couldn’t “connect with the voice”—a painful reminder that so much about getting published depends on an agent’s familiarity with the protagonist’s experiences, not necessarily the quality of the writing or the significance of the story.

These rejections were the last straw. Aside from replying to the occasional random request from an agent to see my work—a few months after publishing an essay in the Atlantic detailing a decade’s worth of rejections—I quit looking for an agent. But then, the following summer, my nearly nonexistent publishing journey had an unexpected twist. A book contract appeared in my mailbox, in response to a proposal (unagented) that I submitted a year earlier to the University of Georgia Press for an essay collection. Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change would eventually make its way out into the world. My confidence returned full force, which led me to submit The Parted Earth (unagented) during Hub City Press’s open-reading period. Seven months later, I had my second book contract. Both books will be out this spring.

But let me be transparent. My advances from both books total less than what some writers earn from writing a single article. Subtract my out-of-pocket expenses for authenticity editing, line editing, page proofing, and hiring an independent publicist, and I’m considerably in the hole (though the sale of the audiobook for The Parted Earth has helped me dig part of the way out). My ability to go into this kind of debt is a privilege—one that most writers can’t afford. I only hope that both books sell well enough that my nonprofit presses can continue to publish minority authors like me, because if I’d had to rely on the Big Five houses, these books would never have seen the light of day.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Trade Publishing Segments Have Fast Start to 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

A 29.2% sales increase in adult trade titles and a gain of 11.8% in sales in the children’s/young adult segment led to a 10.3% increase in January industry sales over January 2020 for the 1,359 publishers who report results to AAP’s StatShot program.

Sales in the professional publishing category rose 8% in the month, while university press sales increased 4%. K-12 instructional materials sales inched up by 1.6%. Sales of higher educational course materials fell 2.6%, and sales in the religion segment slipped 0.5%.

Within adult trade, all print and digital formats had double-digit sales increases over January 2020. Hardcovers had the largest increase, 51.5%, followed by mass market paperback (41.1%) and trade paperback (20.7%).

The sales growth of digital audio showed no signs of slowing down, jumping 35.1%. E-book sales increased by 16% in the month.

The digital formats did well in the children’s/YA segment, with e-book sales soaring 75.2% and audio rising to 25.9%. Paperback sales rose 15.3% and hardcover sales were up 7.9%. Sales of board books fell 3.4%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

News Corp to Buy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Consumer-Publishing Arm

From The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp has agreed to buy the consumer arm of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. for $349 million, marking the media company’s second deal in less than a week.

The deal adds a portfolio of high-profile novels from authors such as George Orwell, Philip Roth and J.R.R. Tolkien to News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers division. The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that the companies were nearing a deal.

The sale would allow Boston-based Houghton to pay down debt and focus on its digital-first strategy in education, goals that the company had set when it put HMH Books & Media on the block last fall.

The deal indicates that New York-based News Corp, which in addition to HarperCollins owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and news organizations in the U.K. and Australia, among other assets, is looking to expand through select acquisitions after a period of slimming down through sales of noncore businesses.

. . . .

“Timeless writing is a timely source of revenue and the potential to create highly profitable audio and video works flourishes with each passing digital day,” News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson said.

News Corp is focusing investments on growth areas including books, digital real estate, and the Dow Jones unit, a person familiar with the situation said.

In an interview, HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray described Houghton’s catalog of children’s and adult titles as a “crown jewel.” The unit’s children portfolio includes the “Little Blue Truck” and “Curious George” series, and other favorites such as “The Polar Express” and “Jumanji.”

Mr. Murray also cited Houghton’s focus on transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities. “They have a good team and it should help us accelerate our own children’s activities on that front,” he said.

. . . .

HarperCollins has been a strong performer during the pandemic, which helped propel book sales. In its most recent quarter, the unit posted a 23% growth in revenue to $544 million and 65% jump in profitability to $104 million.

Houghton’s consumer-publishing unit generated revenue of $191.7 million in 2020, accounting for approximately 19% of Houghton’s net sales. Other core properties of HMH Books & Media include the Peterson Field Guides, which cover topics ranging from birds to fish to wildflowers; lifestyle titles from Martha Stewart ; and the Carmen Sandiego franchise.

HMH Books & Media also boasts a strong line of cookbooks that includes titles by Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman and Priya Krishna.

. . . .

The deal marks the second sale of a well-known publisher in less than six months. German media giant Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, last November agreed to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. for almost $2.18 billion.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

For PG, the key information bit was “transforming its children’s titles and brands into streaming and interactive-gaming opportunities.”

Perhaps he’s biased, but this didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of books on paper. Again, he wondered whether the buyer or the seller is going to look like it got the best out of this deal in 5-10 years.

UK watchdog investigates Penguin owner’s Simon & Schuster takeover

From The Guardian:

The UK competition watchdog has launched an investigation into Penguin Random House’s $2bn (£1.45bn) takeover of Simon & Schuster, a deal rivals have warned will create a “behemoth of books” with too much power in the global publishing industry.

The deal would bring together a who’s who of starry authors from Dan Brown, Hillary Clinton and Stephen King to Barack Obama, Bob Woodward and John Grisham. An equally impressive combined back catalogue spans titles and authors including Gone With the Wind, Catch-22 and the works of Ernest Hemingway.

On Monday, the Competition and Markets Authority said it was considering whether the deal, which cements PRH’s position as the world’s biggest book publisher, would result in a “substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services”.

German media group Bertelsmann triumphed in a bidding war against rivals including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns the book publisher HarperCollins, sealing the deal less than a year after it took full control of PRH.

The News Corp chief executive, Robert Thomson, subsequently said the deal showed “anti-market logic” and would lead to an anti-competitive “behemoth of books” that would control one-third of the US book market. Bertelsmann has said the merged entity would have a US market share of less than 20%, making the deal clearly “approvable”.

. . . .

In the US, the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union, along with four other writers’ groups and the nonprofit Open Markets Institute, sent a letter in January urging the Department of Justice to block the deal.

. . . .

Concerns raised include that the scale of Bertelsmann’s book empire would be such that it could gazump rivals in deals to secure prime book rights. Shrinking the amount of competition in the market, reducing the global “big five” book publishers to four, could also mean that smaller writers will have fewer imprints to pitch to and bid for their work. On the high street, Bertelsmann will have more muscle to negotiate terms with book sellers.

“The deal will make Penguin Random House the biggest publisher by quite a long way, and it already is the biggest,” said Nicola Solomon, the chief executive of the Society of Authors. “We have nothing against the practices of either company but combined there is that potential for market dominance. Our concern is just that it isn’t in anyone’s interest to have someone in a monopoly position.”

Simon & Schuster publishes about 2,000 books a year, on top of a catalogue of 35,000 titles, and employs about 1,350 staff. Penguin Random House publishes 15,000 titles a year, and has a workforce of about 10,000 people globally.

As with many areas disrupted by the rise of Silicon Valley giants, global consolidation has been a hallmark of the industry in recent years. In the era of Amazon, which dominates ebook, audio book and print sales, as well as the growth of self-publishing, the major players have sought scale to drive cost efficiencies and profits. In an interview last year Thomas Rabe, the chief executive of Bertelsmann, said that swallowing S&S would not change the fundamental power dynamic of Amazon’s dominance of the market. “We need them more than they need us,” he said. “And the transaction doesn’t change that.”

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

One question PG didn’t see discussed in the OP is, “Who’s smarter, the seller or the buyer?”

Beware of Books!

From Persuasion:

Literature used to be a place for transgressive ideas, a place to question taboos, and seek naked insights into humanity. It no longer is.

Critics, writers and publishers are today enforcing a new vision that treats books less as a vehicle for artistic expression than as a product to be inspected for safety and wholesomeness. In the past few years, this has only gained momentum, with much of what is written about literature, old and new, becoming a series of moral pronouncements.

The new literary moralism made early appearances in young-adult fiction, or YA. Back in 2017, the industry magazine Kirkus Reviews revoked a prestigious starred review of the YA novel American Heart after online denunciations. The chastened critic posted a revised review, now deeming it “problematic” that the author had written of a Muslim girl from the point of view of a white protagonist. Other young-adult authors have since withdrawn books from publication for the self-confessed sin of writing about marginalized characters without belonging to the same identity group. 

Perhaps it’s understandable that those in YA publishing would feel a duty of care: Children are vulnerable and unformed, and kids’ books have always been a place for didactic storytelling and safe themes. The problem is that many in the book world—often with a sincere wish to address inequality—have expanded both the notion of what is “offensive” and whose reading must be morally patrolled: It’s the adults too.

Take the reaction last year to Jeanine Cummins’ bestselling novel American Dirt, about a Mexican woman and her son who escape a cartel and find themselves among the migrants and refugees trying to reach the United States. Major publications were fulsome with praise, many suggesting that the novel’s value lay in its potential to humanize immigrants. The writer Sandra Cisneros said in a blurb, “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel!” Attention only increased when Oprah Winfrey announced that she would feature it in her book club.

But a scathing blog post emerged from the writer and activist Myriam Gurba: “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature.” Gurba reported that simply reading a publisher’s letter for American Dirt had made her so angry her “blood became carbonated.” She went on to argue that Cummins, a white American woman with some Puerto Rican background, had no business writing about a culture and identity group to which she didn’t belong.

The critical consensus soon flipped.

Already, the novelist Lauren Groff—writing in the New York Times Book Review in January 2020—seemed uneasy about her assignment. “I was sure I was the wrong person to review this book,” Groff wrote, noting that neither she nor the author were Mexican migrants. “In contemporary literary circles, there is a serious and legitimate sensitivity to people writing about heritages that are not their own because, at its worst, this practice perpetuates the evils of colonization, stealing the stories of oppressed people for the profit of the dominant.”

Some 142 writers signed an open letter imploring Winfrey to rescind her book-club selection, citing “harm this book can and will do,” arguing that it engaged in “trauma fetishization.” Apparently, the book was no longer an urgent remedy to American xenophobia. Rather, Cummins was a cultural appropriator, and her book a collection of harmful stereotypes.

. . . .

This mindset isn’t confined to writers and critics. Increasingly, literary agents and editors are nervously evaluating the kinds of authors and stories they are comfortable with, and publishers seek to protect themselves by employing “sensitivity readers,” who scour unpublished fiction for offensive themes, characterizations or language. This moral, rather than artistic, gatekeeping means that some books never even get close enough to publication to be canceled.

The writer Bruce Wagner—a successful author of numerous novels and screenplays, such as Maps to the Starssays that his editor at Counterpoint Press objected to his latest novel due to “problematic language” regarding a protagonist who weighs over 500 pounds and refers to herself as “fat.”  Wagner chose instead to publish his book, The Marvel Universe: Origin Stories, for free online. (Counterpoint did not respond to my requests for comment.)

Link to the rest at Persuasion

Reason # (PG lost track of the number. It’s a big one) to stay away from traditional publishing and run your own show.

Real people don’t live in the same universe or speak the same language as the NYC Publicans.

There are millions of avid and intelligent readers who never pay attention to the name of the publisher before they purchase a book. (At least 90% of the time, PG doesn’t pay attention, either, even though he may have a smidge of interest due to his day job.)

Traditional publishing is a relic of a past generation. MFA professors talk about it because they still think it has a bit of glamor. People living in parts of Manhattan and within commuting distance to parts of Manhattan pay attention to it.

People who read the New York Times book reviews pay attention to traditional publishing.

(PG just checked and the New York Times has a circulation of 831,000 for its print edition. That is .025% of the current estimated US population of 330 million. That’s 25 people out of every 1,000 people in the country. And only a fraction of the subscribers to the Times read the book reviews or books sections. The digital circulation of the NYT is larger, but anyone who has been online for more than five minutes knows that the number of people who regularly read a digital publication beyond the headlines is a tiny percentage of the total number of subscribers.)

For the country at large, traditional publishing is irrelevant. What the New York Times says about anything, particularly books, is irrelevant.

Making the huge compromises necessary to get your manuscript published by a major or even bush-league traditional publisher is, in PG’s childlike, yet totally cynical opinion, a giant waste of time and effort.

Interested in discoverability? Write a good book, edit it well (get help if needed and pay for it – it doesn’t have to cost a fortune), pay for a good cover (lots of good indie designers are happy to assist), put together a good description, price it for the best royalty rate available and post it on Amazon, by far the biggest bookstore (at least selling books in English) in the world. Get a bunch of good reviews (don’t try paying for those) and a good sales rank on Amazon.

Is that easy? Not really. It takes some work and you may have to climb a learning curve on some of the items, but you, the author, are in control of the whole business. You don’t have to enter a beauty contest to snag an agent who may or may not know what she/he is doing. You don’t have to wait for the agent to (perhaps) sell your manuscript to an editor (who may or may not have a job in a year) working for a publisher (which may or may not be in business in a year), then wait and wait and wait to hear anything.

You’ll wait a lot if you go the tradpub route, then wait some more. Once your manuscript falls into the belly of the beast, you, the author, are not particularly important or interesting most of the time.

Yes, when it’s finally published (not a certain thing), you’ll have the marketing experience of the publisher behind your book (maybe) (unless an Oprah or an Obama title is in the works, in which case, your book will be #3,872 on everybody’s to-do list).

And the quality of the publisher’s marketing muscle? Think cutting-edge 1973 stuff.

People with a fragment of an ounce of marketing and sales talent can make a bazillion percent more money working almost anywhere outside of publishing. And not have to deal with idiots.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong.

Perhaps Big Publishing is about to enter a new golden age during which billions of people will be happy to pay $25 for the latest hard cover book just like they pay for a print subscription to the New York Times.

France’s Publishers and Reed Announce Cancellation of Livre Paris 2021

From Publishing Perspectives:

Citing “the uncertainties of the coming months” and “the health measures in force which don’t allow the organization of a public event of this magnitude,” the Syndicat national de l’édition (France’s publishers association, SNE) and Reed Expositions France have today (March 18) announced a no-go for Salon du Livre Paris.

This is the second year of cancellation for Paris, the announcement last year coming on March 2.

The annual public-facing book fair–which does have a robust professional program attached–had been holding dates of May 28 to 31 at the Porte de Versailles, after moving its dates from its normal berth in March shortly after what is customarily London Book Fair’s early-to-mid-March run.

“The decision to cancel this year’s show was finally made because it was considered unfeasible to mobilize thousands of people–exhibitors, publishers, authors, speakers, communities and ministries, partners from more than 50 countries–at a later date in the fall, which is still very uncertain.”

“The many exhibitors who had chosen to participate in the 2021 edition,” the announcement says–no mention of how many–will be reimbursed for their advance payments.”

The program, of course, is hardly alone in making such a move, another of the most recent events being the cancellation in February of the Leipzig Book Fair.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suspects that, after Covid goes away, more than a few traditional trade shows like the one described in the OP may not be able to restart.

During this shutdown, more than a few vendors (who usually pay most of the tab for a show) may have decided that they were able to do OK during the lockdown without the expense and burden on staff involved in putting together an exhibit and that they can spend their money more intelligently elsewhere.

Ditto for attendees, particularly those who don’t get free tickets and/or have to pay their own travel expenses.

Large numbers of vendors and large numbers of attendees go together. If the number of either falls off, a show can swing into a death spiral that’s hard to pull out of. One or two failed shows and the brand can be seriously tainted.

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

With the levelling off of e-book sales, many have begun to wonder whether the book publishing industry will be spared the kinds of disruption experienced by other sectors of the media industries. But the digital transformation of the book publishing industry was never fundamentally about e-books anyway: e-books turned out to be just another format by which publishers could deliver their content to readers, not the game-changer that many thought (or feared) it would be. The big question that the digital revolution posed to book publishers is just as pressing today as it was a decade ago: it’s the question of how publishers understand who their ‘customers’ are, and how they relate to and interact with them. 

For most of the 500-year history of the book publishing industry, publishers understood their customers to be retailers: publishers were a B2B business, selling books to retailers, and they knew very little about the ultimate customers of their books, the readers. The digital revolution has forced publishers to think again about this model and to consider whether there might be something to be gained by becoming more reader-centric. This fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding is likely to be one of the most significant and enduring consequences of the digital revolution in publishing. 

But how does a publisher actually become more reader-centric? Over the last decade or so, many publishers have come to realize that one of the most effective ways to make their businesses more reader-centric is to build their own dedicated databases of readers so that they can interact directly with readers via email. Building a customer database can be a slow and laborious process, but with focus and creativity, a publisher can grow a list remarkably quickly: one senior manager I interviewed at a large US trade publisher explained that they had decided to build a customer database in a particular area of their publishing programme and, using a combination of paid ads, partnerships and sweepstakes, they succeeded in getting half a million people to sign up in the first year alone.  Having these email addresses and customer information in your own database is much more effective than relying on social media and gives you much more control, as you are not reliant on the algorithms of social media companies to determine which posts get fed through to people’s news feeds. Moreover, with emails to readers, you can get a much higher level of engagement than with many other retail goods, in part because many readers have an emotional connection with authors whose books they enjoy and they want to know more about any new books written by their favourite authors.  The benchmark for email open rates is 20%, but the open rate for emails relating to books by brand-name authors can be as high as 60%.

But it’s not just mainstream pubishers who are using digital technologies to establish direct relationships with readers: some start-ups on the margins of the publishing field have taken this much further and are pioneering new kinds of publishing that integrate reader input into their decision-making processes. One example that will be familiar to many in the publishing world are the crowdfunding publishers, Unbound in the UK and Inkshares in the US.  While many people think of crowdfunding as an innovative way of raising capital (and it is), the real genius of crowdfunding is that it is an audience-building machine. The crowdfunding model means that every new author brings a few hundred new readers into the system – their friends and family members and the people who have a particular interest in the book they’re proposing to write, and the book goes ahead only when enough readers have pledged their support for the project. Crowdfunding models like Unbound and Inkshares are creating a new kind of relationship between authors and readers in which readers are not simply the buyers of books but, rather, their co-creators. At the same time, they are building networks of engaged readers that enable them to capture customer data rather than leaving it for Amazon to hoover up. By using crowdfunding to create a system of reader curation, they are turning the traditional model of publishing on its head.

. . . .

The real opportunity that the digital revolution opens up for publishers is that, for the first time in the long history of the book, it is now possible for publishers to do something they could never do before: build direct channels of communication with readers and do it at scale. This is a central feature of the digital transformation in publishing, and those publishers that succeed in making their businesses more reader-centric, learning not just how to market more effectively to readers but how to listen to them too, are likely to be the ones that will ride the wave of the digital revolution most successfully in the years to come.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Leveling off of ebook sales? Email lists? Reader-centric? Crowdfunding?

PG is certain that the author of the OP (and the book shown below), an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge is an intelligent and probably likeable guy, but PG was a bit surprised while reading the OP that The Bookseller (and, presumably, its readers) will think that anything described is actually new information or insight about the book business these days.

A bit of ebook history for those who may not know or remember it:

  • While ebooks predated Amazon ebooks, for all intents and purposes, as a meaningful segment of publishing, ebooks didn’t exist until Amazon started selling ebooks and inexpensive ebook readers. (Widespread adoption of small digital screens on phones definitely helped as well.)
  • As a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, the creative executives and companies that drove the dynamism, growth and profitability of print publishing, bookstores, newspapers and magazines during the second half of the twentieth century didn’t understand how important electronic media would become and how quickly electronics, including digital electronics and digital networks, would replace print as a means of written communication to audiences large and small.
  • Jeff Bezos moved to Bellevue, Washington, rented a house with a garage and became entranced with the potential of web commerce in 1995. He decided that books were a great product to sell online because of the large worldwide demand for literature, the low unit price for books, and the huge number of titles available in print. That decision started a business that would upend the business empires of the great publishers of New York, then move on to disrupt traditional bookselling and publishing around the developed world.
  • At the same time Amazon was going public in 1997, Barnes & Noble sued the company, claiming it wasn’t the the world’s largest bookstore, but was, instead, a book broker. Bezos settled out of court and kept going.
  • Barnes & Noble CEO Leonard Riggio would have been much smarter to use the money he paid his lawyers to buy Amazon stock because $100,000 invested in Amazon on the day it went public would have been worth more than $120 million as of May 2020.
  • Sometime in the summer of 2009, executives at the highest levels of Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster started meeting secretly in the private dining room of a Manhattan restaurant to develop a strategy to prevent Amazon and other ebook retailers selling their ebooks at a discount from list price.
  • At the time, these five publishers were producing 48% of the ebooks sold in the United States.
  • In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services contacted these New York publishers to set up secret meetings for the purpose of discussing ebook pricing.
  • Apple planned to unveil the iPad on January 27, 2010, and start shipping iPads in April. As part of the launch, Apple wanted to announce its new iBookstore that would include ebooks from the major publishers.
  • The Apple VP told the five publishers that Apple would sell the majority of e-books for prices between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, substantially more than Amazon was charging.
  • Apple planned to use the same “agency” model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. Apple would be a sales agent and the Publishers would control the price of their e-books in the iBookstore. Publishers would pay Apple a 30% commission on each sale.
  • Apple didn’t want Amazon to be able to sell ebooks at a lower price. The agreement between Apple and each of the big publishers would include a so-called “most-favored-nation” or “MFN” clause which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price. If the big publishers allowed Amazon to discount prices, Apple could discount them an equal amount and take its 30% commission from that price.
  • The Big Publishers concluded that, if Amazon didn’t play ball, their ebook customers would simply buy iPads and buy their ebooks at the iBookstore. Finally, there was a powerful enough tech company to take on Amazon in the ebook game.
  • On the day of the iPad launch and the announcement of the iBookstore, including an announcement of Apple’s ebook pricing, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. Jobs replied that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”
  • This public statement expressed the terms of the agreement. The big publishers, acting in concert, would jointly force Amazon to increase its e-book prices with the threat to cut off Amazon’s ebook supply. If Amazon refused to increase prices, Apple would be the only place to buy ebooks from the major publishers that controlled most of the book marked. If Amazon knuckled under and raised its prices, Apple would face no price competition.
  • The United States Justice Department and 31 states filed suit against Apple and the five conspiring publishers for violating longstanding US antitrust laws. Three of the publishers settled the claims on the date the suit was filed, admitting they had violated the law. The other two publishers settled the case prior to trial, also admitting wrongdoing.
  • News reports stated that the publishing executives had not consulted their own attorneys about whether their actions were legal or not. (PG notes that any law student who had completed more than three weeks of a one-semester law school antitrust course would have known that this scheme was a clear-cut violation of the law. No legal gray areas available for this hot mess.)
  • After a trial, Apple was found to have wrongfully violated US antitrust laws. Apple appealed the decision as far as it could go and lost. Apple was forced to pay $450 million in damages for its wrongful actions.

And the OP describes ebooks as “the wave of digital revolution” as if this is new information.

PG believes that no one would dispute that Amazon is by far the largest outlet for independently-published ebooks anywhere in the world. Amazon does not break out indie ebook sales in its own accounting reports.

Veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin, estimated that, between 2011 and 2013, self-published books grew from nothing to almost 30% of the book units sold in the US. This growth coincided with a period during which ebook sales also increased rapidly.

The Alliance of Independent Authors estimated that in 2016, in the US, fewer than 1200 trade-published authors who debuted in the last ten years earned $25,000 a year or more, compared to over 1,600 indie authors who earned $25,000 per year or more.

In 2020, ALLi reported that 8% its members had sold more than 50,000 books in the prior two years.

An Enders Analysis in 2016 found that 40% of the top-selling ebooks on Amazon were self-published.

PG won’t say the ebook and indie revolutions are over, but will say that the trends of the last ten years have undeniably been moving towards more ebooks and more money for indie authors. Any industry statistics that limit themselves to ebooks sold by traditional publishers are missing the majority of the overall market.

PG further suggests that for most authors, indie or traditionally-published, a dozen legitimate positive reviews on Amazon are worth more than a signing at your local Barnes & Noble.

The author of the OP is promoting a book he recently published.

Diversity in Romance Books Still Lags

From Publishers Weekly:

In 2016, we had been open for one intense and educational year as the only romance-focused bookstore in the country. After one year of building a community of romance-loving customers, it became abundantly clear to us that readers were looking for more racial diversity in their romance novels. But when we told publishers this, they were quick to tell us two things: “diverse” books didn’t sell well, and, at the same time, the problem wasn’t as big as we were making it out to be and they were “going to do better.”

At the time, there was already so much fantastic advocacy work being done by authors and readers of color to show publishers the market they were ignoring, and we wanted to find a way to contribute something new to the conversation. We had a hunch that hard data would prove that even as publishers promised over and over again that they were “working on it,” the numbers would not reflect that. We pledged to count the numbers of romance novels published by major publishers in the U.S. each year, and then count the number that were written by people of color. The “Ripped Bodice State of Racial Diversity in Romance” report was born.

2020 was the fifth year we collected this data, giving us an opportunity to carefully examine the authors publishers have signed and published over the past five years. We encourage you to view the full report (as well as those covering the previous four years) at therippedbodicela.com. Looking at the data, we see bright spots, but the overall trend is one of sluggish and inconsistent commitment by publishers to publishing more romance books by authors of color.

Kensington has consistently published the most books by authors of color over the past five years. In an interview with PW last year, commenting on the release of our fourth annual survey, Kensington assistant editor Norma Perez-Hernandez said that “the current numbers show we still have a long way to go.” It is noteworthy to us that the publisher with the strongest track record of publishing romances by diverse authors is able to publicly recognize the work they still have to do, while the vast majority of publishers—who publish a fraction of the number of works by people of color compared to Kensington—are so assiduously absent from this conversation.

On June 1, 2020, seven days after the death of George Floyd , HarperCollins tweeted: “We stand with all of our colleagues, authors, readers, and partners who experience racism and oppression. Black Stories Matter, Black Lives Matter.” Across five imprints, HarperCollins released more than 1,000 romance titles in 2020, and 8% of those books were written by authors of color. This year was the first time HarperCollins even acknowledged our requests to participate in the report, but the new v-p for diversity, equity and inclusion declined to participate on behalf of the company, so we once again collected the data by going through the company’s catalogs.

In 2020, only Carina, Forever Romance, Kensington, and St. Martin’s had at least 15% of their romance titles written by people of color. Berkley Books, the romance imprint of Penguin Random House, had a steady increase in racial diversity over four years, only to see a decrease in 2020. Christian romance publisher Bethany House hasn’t published a single romance written by a person of color in the past five years. Montlake Romance, which is owned by Amazon Publishing, is the only other publisher where the percentage of authors of color of its romances has been 5% or less every single year we have conducted the report.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost every time you look into your inbox, another invitation has arrived to a publishing industry event online, right? And as you may have noticed, the specialized rights sessions appear to be gaining on many of the other types of programs vying for your attention.

As the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more niche rights events are being produced, and they’re drawing increasing levels of participation among agents, scouts, editors, and even rights-savvy authors.

Today, for example, Finland’s Oulu Writers Association has opened its two-day event for rights professionals, focused on northern Finnish writers and their works. We were alerted to this one by Urtė Liepuoniūtė at the Helsinki Literary Agency the program, Black Hole: Books Meet Rights, offers one-on-one business meetings Saturday (February 20).

What we’ll do today is hear from some industry players about how these programs work for them—and how they compare to the physical book fair, rights center, and trade show experiences made impossible for a year now by the pandemic. And we’ll look at several other events coming up this spring.

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

Giunti Editore international rights manager LeeAnn Bortolussi in Milan says that in her experience, smaller events online seem to be working better than the larger ones.

“They’re more personal,” she tells us, “and I’ve actually met new people this way.”

These digital events, Bortolussi says, “can never replace physical events, but I’m thinking that in the future if one is busy and a long trip to a far-away event is not possible, then a virtual trip can be an excellent way to participate.”

When asked what the key difference is for her between a physical in-person event and a digital one, she says, “We’re all saying that online is not good for meeting new people and making new contacts and that the serendipity of a physical fair can be lost; on the other hand, we’ve had some great, long and in-depth meetings via video chat that would not have been possible during a chaotic fair.”

And her verdict? Bortolussi sees a place for both kinds of events once the physical fairs are re-engaged. “We’ll find a perfect balance and blend of both methods as they both have positive qualities.”

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

In London, Pan Macmillan Children’s Books rights director Michele Young tells us that her team “responded quickly to the changing circumstances brought on by the coronavirus.” Her comments are quite indicative of what we hear from many, and Young parses the pros and cons succinctly.

“We immediately embarked on the virtual Bologna book fair in March 2020,” she says, “followed in the year by virtual sales trips to assorted markets undertaken by different members of the team, and then the virtual Frankfurt 2020—by which time our meetings had more than doubled compared to the virtual Bologna across every time zone. We’re now preparing for a virtual Bologna 2021, and virtual fairs have now become business as usual for us.

“We’ve worked closely with the publishers to develop new-style digital sales materials, including video content to showcase our preschool and novelty offering.

“We’ve also expanded into celebratory online events with our international partners,” Young says, “We marked our bestselling picture book The Gruffalo reaching 105 translations.

“We were joined by 115 guests who participated enthusiastically in online chat. Some of these guests would most likely not have been able to join in on a physical celebration, so this virtual moment gave us the opportunity to reach more customers and to stay in touch.

“Our online meetings are less hectic than the 30-minute-or-less rushed meetings at a physical book fair,” she points out, “and we can have more in-depth conversations. But physical fairs allow for chance meetings in exhibition halls or at social events after the fair with new or old customers—or an opportune sighting of a book on a stand which a customer falls in love with.

“Digital fairs can never replicate this,” Young says. “While we’ve adapted and embraced this new virtual way of working, we know that our business thrives on our close relationships and that there will always be a place for face-to-face contact.

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that human beings as a group are very adaptable. He also notes that methods of doing business that were efficient fifty years ago may not be terribly efficient by today’s standards.

In past lives, PG enjoyed getting on a plane at someone else’s expense and flying to an entertaining location where he ate and drank and slept at someone else’s expense. The experience was very nice and he typically had a good time, particularly if the destination had collected a lot of lawyers in one place. (Having attended quite a few gatherings peopled by individuals in various occupational/professional groups, PG will assure one and all that lawyers have the most fun and are the most fun.)

That said, from the standpoint of operating a well-run business enterprise (which automatically eliminates all traditional publishers), if you can get a job done with a series of phone calls or video conferences while sitting somewhere that is a reasonable commuting distance from your home, more of the money generated from your efforts will fall to the bottom line, either yours or your employers’.

If it’s your bottom line, you can use some of the money to travel to a location entirely of your choosing at the time of your choosing with the person/people of your choosing and spend your time there doing or not doing whatever you like.

PG recommends Florence or Venice, but not everyone will agree with him, which is one of the delights of being a member of humanity.

How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Book Deal

From The New York Times:

When Simon & Schuster dropped Senator Josh Hawley’s book a day after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the news caused an explosion of attention, condemnation and praise.

Amid the cries of censorship and cancel culture, however, the way the publisher backed out of the deal got relatively little attention. Simon & Schuster invoked part of its contract typically referred to as a morals clause, which allows a publisher to drop a book if the author does something that is likely to seriously damage sales.

Widely detested by agents and authors, these clauses have become commonplace in mainstream publishing over the last few years. The clauses are rarely used to sever a relationship, but at a time when an online posting can wreak havoc on a writer’s reputation, most major publishing houses have come to insist upon them.

“They’re just something you have to deal with now,” said Gail Ross, a media lawyer and the president of the Ross Yoon Agency, whose clients include Senator Sherrod Brown, former Attorney General Eric Holder and the CNN contributor Van Jones, among dozens of other political figures and journalists. “Because you’re not going to be able to sign a contract without them in some form.”

. . . .

Morals clauses do not require authors to be upstanding citizens. Used in contracts across many industries, such clauses are designed to protect companies’ financial interests if somebody they’ve invested in — be it a chief executive or a football star being paid to wear a logo — does something that harms their reputation. But since the point of these clauses is to protect a company from damaging behavior it doesn’t yet know about, morals clauses are, by their nature, vague.

. . . .

“They’re squishy,” Ms. Ross said. “An agent’s job or a lawyer’s job is to make them as objective as possible.”

The clauses vary from publisher to publisher, and even from one literary agency to the next — every agency strikes its own deal with each publishing house — but the general principle is that they take aim at conduct that would invite widespread public condemnation or significantly diminish sales among the book’s intended audience, and that the publisher didn’t previously know about when it signed the deal. If an author has a propensity for getting in fistfights, for example, the book cannot be dropped because he or she gets in another one.

. . . .

“It diametrically changes the premise between a publisher and an author, which traditionally always meant that the author’s words in the book were what was promised to the publisher, not the behavior beyond it,” said the literary agent Janis Donnaud. “The fact that the publisher can be judge, jury, executioner and, in fact, beneficiary of these clauses seems incredibly outlandish.”

. . . .

Regnery, the conservative publisher that signed Mr. Hawley after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, also has a morals clause — what Thomas Spence, its president and publisher, described as the “infamous 5F of our contract.” Regnery will not take it out.

“This is the one thing in our contract that I have virtually no discretion over,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s got to be in there.” The morals clause in Mr. Hawley’s new contract was not a contentious issue, Mr. Spence added.

. . . .

In the book world, executives say these clauses were a part of Christian publishing agreements before they became fixtures in mainstream deals. The televangelist Benny Hinn was dropped by his publisher, Strang Communications, for violating its “moral turpitude provision” in 2010, after he was caught in a relationship with another minister before his divorce was finalized.

. . . .

The clauses began proliferating more quickly after the #MeToo movement revealed allegations of misconduct against many public figures, including Mark Halperin, a journalist and author whose book contract was canceled by Penguin Random House in 2017 under its conduct clause.

Today, Penguin Random House requires conduct clauses in all its contracts — that way, according to the company, the publisher isn’t implying that it trusts author A but not author B.

. . . .

Agents generally consider Penguin Random House’s clause to be less onerous than others, in part because the company states that authors will not have to repay any money they’ve already received; the publisher just wants the right to walk away. Simon & Schuster, on the other hand, typically includes a clause that says it can demand its money back. (Penguin Random House said last year that it plans to buy Simon & Schuster.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG will observe that morals clauses are massively squishy sorts of things wherever they’re used.

As the OP suggested, some of them are effectively punitive damages clauses when they require an author to repay all the money she/he has received from the publisher, regardless of whether a publisher could prove to a judge or jury that it actually suffered any financial damages due to the author’s misbehavior. As a general proposition, courts tend to look askance at contract provisions that are unduly punitive, but that involves spending the money to get the matter before a judge.

In an era when Woke culture apparently has the power to turn business executives of all sorts into quivering and spineless pools of goo, a morals clause can be dangerous to a traditionally-published author’s financial and emotional health, both presently and in the future.

PG’s three potential responses for an author:

  1. Provide in the publishing agreement that, if the publisher invokes the morals clause to terminate the publishing agreement, neither the publisher nor any of its employees, agents or representatives will make any public announcement or other disclosure that states or implies that the publishing agreement was terminated due to the author’s alleged violation of the Morals Clause. “The parties have agreed to an amicable termination of their publishing agreement” or something boringly similar announcement of the termination of the publishing contract might be specified in the publishing agreement. The purpose is to make certain that the termination of the publishing contract doesn’t bring any attention to the author or publisher. This gives the publisher the protections it seeks via the Morals Clause without publicly tarring the author’s reputation.

2. Write under a pen name, then live in meatspace and politically under your real name. Demand a clause in your publishing contract that requires the publisher never to disclose your real name and include a substantial financial penalty if they do – 3X the amount of money they have already paid you plus any unpaid portion of your advance if the publisher or any past or present employee ever connects your pen name with your real name. Require that a model be used if the publisher wants an author photo and an agreement that any media interviews be conducted remotely without video. Make certain the publisher’s obligations and penalty for failing to maintain your anonymity continue for the full term of the publishing agreement, e.g., the full term of your copyright.

3. Require that the Morals Clause be reciprocal. Under the publishing agreement, the publisher together with its executives, employees and representatives, will be held the same standards of behavior that apply to the author pursuant to the Morals Clause. In the event of the publisher, etc., violates the morals clause, the author is entitled to exact similar penalties as the publisher can exact if the author violates the morals clause.

Libby is stuck between libraries and publishers in the e-book war

From Protocol:

On the surface, there couldn’t be a more wholesome story than the meteoric rise of the Libby app. A user-friendly reading app becomes popular during the pandemic, making books cool again for young readers, multiplying e-book circulation and saving public libraries from sudden obsolescence.

But the Libby story is also a parable for how the best-intentioned people can build a beloved technological tool and accidentally create a financial crisis for those who need the tech most. Public librarians depend on Libby, but they also worry that its newfound popularity could seriously strain their budgets.

Before 2017, e-books were still pretty niche, and checking out library e-books was torture. In 2016, just over a quarter of Americans had read an e-book within the previous year, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Not many people even knew their libraries offered digital books. Overdrive — the digital marketplace for publishers and libraries, and the creator of Libby — was (and still is) clunky, slow and unintuitive. Overdrive hit just under 200 million checkouts in 2016; in 2020, that number more than doubled, surpassing 430 million.

Few noticed when the cute, friendly virtual library app launched in 2017. Libraries are never very good at selling themselves, and neither is Overdrive. But the app’s seamless, user-friendly experience was so exceptional that it spoke for itself. Libby became a cult favorite for book lovers and dedicated librarygoers, and almost every public library in the country, already dependent on Overdrive for their growing digital collections, loved that they could make reading online a little bit easier. It was the public library’s best-kept secret.

And then in March 2020, when libraries closed their doors and books sat gathering dust, the Libby app became so much more than a cute reading tool. People turned to digital books and were delighted to discover they were so much simpler than remembered. You could access the web app anywhere on any computer, and everything synced to a phone app as well. You could download library books to Kindle. You never needed a password. You could use more than one library card. Libby downloads increased three times their usual amount beginning in late March. E-book checkout growth and new users on Overdrive both increased more than 50%.

Libby had helped to save libraries.

It had also accelerated a funding crisis. Public library budgets have never been luxe, and book acquisition budgets in particular have always been tight. Though it may seem counterintuitive to readers, e-books cost far more than physical books for libraries, meaning that increased demand for digital editions put libraries in a financial bind.

Because e-books are not regulated under the same laws that govern physical books, publishers can price them however they choose. Rather than emulate the physical model, where libraries pay a fixed cost for a certain number of books, they instead offer digital editions through a license that usually includes a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out, the length of time a library holds an edition, or both. Just like with movies, music and software, book publishers have moved from an ownership model to a subscription model for their digital products (none of the major publishing houses responded to multiple requests for comment for this story). Librarians sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to circulate one copy of an e-book for a two-year period, a number that could theoretically add up to thousands for one book over decades, according to a 2019 American Library Association report to Congress.

The librarians I spoke with celebrate Libby. They love that more people are reading digital books. But they can’t help but quietly curse the technological problem that brought them here.

“It is definitely problematic,” said Michelle Jeske, the city librarian for the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “You’re buying it in print, you’re buying it in e-book, and in audio e-book, CD, and in Spanish. With either a steady or decreasing collection development budget, it’s a serious problem.”

Despite Overdrive’s dominance, the company has escaped criticism for the funding crisis. Overdrive makes good money on the digital book-lending business; it’s the largest marketplace for publishers to sell to public libraries in the U.S., is expanding rapidly in other major publishing powerhouse countries like Germany and China, and offers a popular school reading app called Sora. More than 23,000 new schools and libraries joined Overdrive in 2020 alone.

“It’s important for us to have the same values and standards that the libraries do, protecting privacy and confidentiality, making information accessible in as broad a ways as possible,” said David Burleigh, the communications director for Overdrive. Overdrive also became a Certified B Corporation the same year it launched the Libby app, and it now leverages that status to avoid getting mucked up in the financial fight.

The ALA lobbying arm has been pushing Congress to consider regulating digital media to address this problem, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads Publishers Weekly that tensions between librarians and publishers have spilled over into public animosity. “Publishing is a tough tough world, and it sometimes has felt like librarians and publishers have been pitted against each other. They need to make money, and we need to be able to serve our public. There has got to be some place in the middle,” Jeske said.

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

And though librarians like Jeske and Eileen Ybarra, the e-book coordinator for the largest digital collection in the country at the LA Public Library, vehemently disagree — they believe it’s still too hard for people to access digital books — they say that in one respect, the publishers are absolutely correct: Overdrive wants to make the e-reading experience as frictionless as possible.

“That’s the idea. It’s to make it as easy as possible for people to read as much as they like,” Burleigh said. “Ease,” “accessibility” and “efficiency” are his keywords: He repeats them over and over again in every conversation about his company’s app.

Overdrive doesn’t believe that frictionless library lending hurts publishers. In fact, Burleigh said, it actually can help.

While Burleigh wouldn’t directly answer questions about Overdrive’s role in reducing the friction — it would be awkward for business if he did, given that Overdrive mostly makes money through a cut of what publishers sell on its platform — he pointed to research that shows that increased library lending actually helps book sales. (Overdrive funds Panorama, the independent group that conducted the research.)

“Libraries are part of the ecosystem. They’re not competing necessarily with booksellers,” Burleigh said, adding that the research shows that when people read more, it creates a channel of discovery for lesser-known books.

. . . .

Burleigh said that Overdrive advocates for a wide range of funding models and the best deals for libraries, but he also hesitated to describe an “ideal” solution for e-book pricing that would satisfy everyone. “It’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. Publishers have different strategies. Libraries have different strategies.”

Link to the rest at Protocol and thanks to DM for the tip.

The OP constitutes PG’s Exhibit 723,467 in support of his proposition that major publishers are run by idiots.

  1. You hate Amazon because it’s too successful at selling books because it knows how to price books optimally to generate the largest number of sales to optimize profits from those sales.
  2. Once again, demonstrating the stupidity of groupthink you put all your ebook lending eggs into one basket and give the entire business to Overdrive, mainly because it’s not Amazon.
  3. PG doesn’t know if Overdrive is run by smart people or not, but it recognizes a great opportunity for a quasi-monopoly-scale profit that a mind-blown ex-hippie drug dealer could see. To whit (or, to wit (PG is old-style on this topic)), that it can deliver organized groups of electrons that it receives from publishers to libraries almost for free.
  4. There is no technological reason that each major publisher could not put together its own version of Overdrive’s system and deal with libraries directly. (Yes, the publishers would have to hire some outside technology experts to build the system, but graduates from the computer science departments of any number of major and minor universities could handle the job providing that they graduated in the top half of their class. (LexisNexis has been doing the same thing for thousands of years. (PG knows this because he worked there when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (and it was not rocket science then))))

PG is in an uncharacteristically-charitable mood (probably an unannounced side effect of the covid vaccine), so he will lay out a plan for Big Publishing to extricate itself from this self-made car-crash.

  • Fly to Seattle (you can share a chartered jet to save money because you love private meetings with no one listening in)
  • Enter Bezos Mansion dressed in sackcloth on bended knees
  • Beg the Jeffster to please, please, please forgive you of your follies and save you from your stupidity
  • Explain that you know the smart folks at Amazon can put together their own version of Overdrive over a long weekend (you might offer to reimburse any overtime expenses Amazon accrues and provide food and Jolt Cola for all concerned)
  • Change back into New York business attire on the plane flying back. Imbibe freely because you aren’t going to be fired after all. Glance out the window to view terra incognita.
  • A week later, send a joint letter (more Big Publishing “cooperation”) to all libraries in America announcing that they have an alternative to Overdrive that will cost them less and is coming to them from (through gritted teeth) Amazon.

PG feels much better now. For a moment, it was almost like he wasn’t sheltering in place.

PG is familiar with Libby because his local library uses it for ebook lending. Libby works, sort of, and reminds him of the 80’s.

Amazon’s discovery, lending and check-out systems for books are light-years better than Libby (Libby even uses Amazon to deliver ebooks to PG’s Kindle Fire). Amazon may already have the bones of an ebook lending reporting system for publishers in the KDP reporting system.

Making a deal with Amazon could solve Big Publishing’s Overdrive problem and make them more money with one flight to Seattle.

In PG’s limited view, only one potential cloud my be on Big Publishing’s ebook lending horizon – the possibility that each of the major publishers signed an exclusive contract with Overdrive.

There’s only so much PG can do for really stupid people.

One of his rules for practicing law is “Don’t do business with fools.”

One of PG’s observations on the practice of law is “Fools can be so ingenious.”

But, if everything always worked out as expected, life would get boring pretty quickly.

PG is feeling rather wise, which is a sure sign he’s acting stupidly.

Big Publishing Pushes Out Trump’s Last Fan

From The New York Times:

If you were a certain kind of distinctly Trumpy public figure — say Donald Trump Jr. or Corey Lewandowski — looking to sell a book over the last four years, there were surprisingly few options. The Big Five publishing companies in New York, and even their dedicated conservative imprints, had become squeamish about the genre known as MAGA books, with its divisive politics and relaxed approach to facts. And small conservative publishers probably couldn’t afford you.

So if, like the younger Mr. Trump in 2018, you found yourself rejected by most New York publishers, there was one last stop: a corner cubicle in the fifth-floor offices of the Hachette Book Group in Midtown Manhattan. There, Kate Hartson, the editorial director of the conservative Center Street imprint, was the one mainstream editor who would buy what no one else would — and make a tidy profit for her employer.

Ms. Hartson, a fit 67-year-old who once ran a small press specializing in dogs, had all the trappings of a liberal book editor, including an apartment on the Upper East Side and a place in Hampton Bays. But she also seemed to be that rarest of figures in New York media: a true believer in Donald J. Trump, people who worked with her said. She published “Triggered” by Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Lewandowski’s “Trump: America First: The President Succeeds Against All Odds” and the work of other Trump die-hards like the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro and Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.

But Hachette, like The New York Times and other media companies, has been torn in recent years between the politics of its staff and its historic commitment to publishing conservative speech. Its liberal proprietors, of course, always abhorred the conservative content while cashing the checks. At Hachette, this meant employees having their salaries paid by Donald Trump Jr. while objecting to publishing liberals who had fallen out of favor, like Woody Allen or J.K. Rowling.

Ms. Hartson’s list was a somewhat more direct attack on her colleagues’ politics. The last book she bought was the forthcoming “Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” by Vivek Ramaswamy. And so last month, even as Ms. Hartson was riding high with the best-selling political book on Amazon, “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy,” Hachette fired her.

The official reasons for Ms. Hartson’s termination, two people familiar with it said, were mundane. But she told associates that she believed she’d been fired for her politics. In a Zoom meeting with employees on Jan. 26, the chief executive of Hachette Book Group, Michael Pietsch, and Daisy Hutton, the executive who oversees Center Street, didn’t mention Ms. Hartson. But they reassured employees that they had learned the lessons of the Capitol siege of Jan. 6: no hate speech, no incitement to violence, no false narratives. And they’ve separately made clear to both editors and agents that they’re shifting back toward think tank conservatives, and away from fire-breathing politicians. (Ms. Hartson didn’t respond to questions about her views and her firing.)

“The conservative movement is in a state of flux, and the next few years will be a particularly rich time for conversation about the future of conservatism in America,” Ms. Hutton, who is based in Nashville and whose background is primarily in Christian publishing, said in an email. “Center Street will continue to publish thoughtful, provocative, lively and informative books that contribute meaningfully to the shaping of that conversation.”

Hachette is hardly the only mainstream publisher steering away from MAGA books. Simon & Schuster invoked its “morals” clause to cancel the publication of a book by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, after he objected to the results of the November election and cheered the protests right before violence broke out. Simon & Schuster, two sources familiar with its plans said, will also stop publishing the right-wing activist Candace Owens.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

It appears to PG that Hachette and other members of Big Publishing have decided that some things are just more important than publishing books that a great many Americans enjoy buying and reading.

“Not our sort of customers, you know.”

Large advances notwithstanding, PG suggests this is yet another shot in the arm for Amazon’s sales.

And one more reason to reopen fewer physical bookstores when the lockdowns in various locations lift enough to allow for most individuals to think about whether they want to go to a local bookstore and look at books for old times sake.

Perhaps combining bookstores with antique stores might be a good marketing move.

As PG mentioned a day or two ago, he and the French language began a difficult relationship when he was a fainéant during an introductory French class in college, but he didn’t recall that hachette was a synonym for belette.

That said, PG needs to leave off using his French language skills to trash others.

A Role for Publishing in the Healing of our Nation

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers has announced this afternoon (January 27) that its directors have reelected Wiley president and CEO Brian Napack as AAP’s chair, with Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch chosen as vice-chair.

The board’s actions coincide, of course, with a sea-change in Washington, where the AAP is seated. With the American publishing industry for the most part having weathered the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic better than some thought it might, the coming months of political and public health challenges include uncertainty at many levels.

. . . .

“A vibrant, independent publishing industry plays an essential role in our democracy,” Napack says, “and this year, more than most, it will play critical role in the healing of our nation.

“It’s a privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with AAP and its member companies to pursue our critical mission, one that enables discovery, learning, creative expression and, overall, the advancement of society worldwide.”

. . . .

“We look forward to collaborating closely with the administration in the years ahead as we work to ensure that the publishing industry continues to make major contributions to our culture and economy, and that our members can fulfill their missions, promoting literature and poetry as engines of enlightened understanding, supporting education as a proven road to prosperity, and advancing scholarship and science as means of expanding our understanding of the world around us, and effectively addressing issues ranging from the current pandemic to climate change, in the process uniting our country.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that Wiley is largely a scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals publisher, a member of a group that, per several of PG’s prior posts, is well-known for charging very high prices for journal access to the colleges/universities that comprise a significant portion of its market. Such publishers typically don’t pay anything most of the authors who write the books/articles/etc. because those authors are often working in a publish or perish environment where the publication of their works in scholarly journals is vital to their continued employment.

PG suggests there’s not much that sounds independent to him about Wiley and its counterparts. They’re part of the establishment and, arguably, part of the problem.

The new vice-chair is, of course, the head of a subsidiary of a large French holding company, headquartered in Paris, which means the US subsidiary is anything but independent.

As far as healing the nation goes, PG would not advise counting on these two for much. They’re mostly into PR speak.

PG is, of course, hiding out from Covid and hoping he doesn’t need any healing from anything in the foreseeable future.

Three Authors’ Associations Address Status of Audible.com Talks

From Publishing Perspectives:

As we reported in late November, Audible‘s initial response to what writers called #Audiblegate was soundly rejected as inadequate by authors’ organizations.

Originally, Audible had allowed a subscriber to return or exchange an audiobook within 365 days—and had deducted an author’s royalties from her or his account when that happened if the audiobook was distributed through ACX, the Amazon-owned Audiobook Creation Exchange. This and a lack of an accounting for authors as to unit purchases and returns, the author corps stressed, was unacceptable, with some writers saying they’d seen between 15 and 50 percent of their anticipated ACX revenue withdrawn this way.

What Audible came back with was a reduction from 365 days for returns to seven days, pledging, “Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than seven days following purchase.”

The writers were less than fully impressed, and a strong coalition of international author advocacy organizations and programs has continued putting pressure on the audiobook giant.

. . . .

It was in early February last year that the Association of American Publishers led an effort by seven major publishing houses to stop the company’s deployment of “Audible Captions” without a publisher’s permission.

In the current question about returns and transparency at Audible, an update arrived on January 20. In that statement, Audible’s ACX unit wrote that starting in March, its producing authors will be able to see details on returns, “including returned units by title” on their sales dashboards and in monthly financial statements, beginning with that month.

. . . .

The three organizations write that “at the heart” of the authors’ coalition’s complaints has been “a lack of transparency—around the implications for authors of key contract terms and in opaque accounting practices which make it impossible for any author to get a true picture of how their income is being calculated.”

. . . .

The original ask, the coalition reiterates, was:

  • “Provide a full and complete accounting of returns made pursuant to this policy since it was first implemented
  • “Limit the time period of returns and exchanges that could be deducted from royalty counts from 365 days to a reasonable period, such as 48 hours, and allow only ‘true returns’ (e.g., where less than 25 percent of the book has been read) to be deducted from royalty accounts
  • “Show the total number of unit purchases and returns on the author dashboards, not just the “net sales” already adjusted for any returns; and
  • “Take action against abuse of the ‘return and exchange’ terms by listeners”

Conceding that Audible “has made progress on some of these demands and other subsequent ones,” the coalition says, “our reasonable demands for a full and complete accounting of returns made to date—to recompense authors and narrators for returns unfairly charged back to their accounts, and to stop charging back returns when more than 25 percent has been read—have not been met.”

. . . .

Ability to Terminate Audible Distribution

Quoting the coalition:

“Starting February 1, all ACX rights holders (including authors who self-publish audiobooks through ACX, as well as independent publishers that rely on ACX services to create audiobooks)—both exclusive and non-exclusive—may, with notice, terminate distribution of any title that has been in distribution for at least 90 days. To withdraw titles created using a royalty share option with the producer, however, the ACX rights holder will need to obtain consent from the producer.

“Titles for which distribution is terminated will be removed from all sales and distribution through ACX including Audible, Amazon, and Apple. Audible will share details about the process for termination in the January payments letter, including details about how termination requests will be processed.”

The State of Play: ‘An Important Step Toward Fairness’

The coalition of three leading authors’ advocacy organizations in its summation, is indicating to the groups’ respective memberships exactly what good diplomacy dictates—an outlook that there is more progress yet to be made but that cooperation to date is worthwhile and to be appreciated. There are politicians working in many countries at this moment who could learn something from this.

What’s encouraging here is the bargaining efficacy these long-running authors’ organizations are able to show as they work through this thicket of rights holders’ and content providers’ issues with Audible. Even the leading writers’ trade associations in the field have been too easily dismissed at one time or another by some players—by no means all—in the publishing industry.

. . . .

“With input from independent authors,” the coalition writes, “we raised other issues, including the one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term in Audible contracts, and are pleased to see that progress was made on these demands.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is always happy for anyone to lobby for authors and other creators to be treated better by publishers of all sorts.

PG thinks that it would be great for authors’ organization to approach traditional print publishers to negotiate “a one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term” in order to give authors of printed and ebooks the ability to move away from publishers who aren’t treating them right.

PG suggests there’s nothing special about what’s fair in audiobooks that should not also be considered for all the different formats for books that authors create.

PG will look forward to soon reading reports that the Authors Guild, the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors are pressuring traditional publishers, large and small, for freedom from the onerous terms of typical print and ebook terms, such as exclusive contracts that are binding for the life of the author plus 70 years, twice-yearly royalty reports and payments, opaque reserves for returns provisions and practices that give authors no real information or rights to understand how such reserves are calculated and how long they will be held by publishers, etc., the ability to book sellers to return unsold printed books for full credit weeks or months after ordering and receiving them from publishers, etc.

Traditional publishing would be far fairer and more invested in the financial well-being of authors if it changed its publishing agreements in the same way these large authors groups, dominated by traditionally-published authors, are insisting Audible, an Amazon subsidiary, change its contract terms.

A wake-up call for western publishers who still don’t “get” online reading

From The New Publishing Standard:

Print? Check. Ebooks? Check. Audiobooks? Check. Podcasts? We’re getting there. Online reading? As in Wattpad? Be serious. That’s for preteen girls who don’t mind reading unedited drivel from talentless wannabe authors. There’s no money to be made here!

Well, except when there is. That $600 million South Korea’s Naver is dropping to buy Canada-based Wattpad is not loose change. This is a serious business investment few could match and even fewer would squander on a business that had no profit potential.

As for preteen girls and talentless wannabe authors… Only in the eyes of those who have never looked too loosely at what Wattpad has morphed into.

Yet the western industry coverage of the year’s biggest deal so far has been mostly little more than a press-release recital, and no coverage seems to have looked at the bigger picture unfolding.

Here’s the thing: online reading is a massive and lucrative business in Asia, but western publishers struggle with the concept. It’s not print books. It’s not imitation print books on a screen as most ebooks are. It’s not subscription, unlimited or otherwise. Nor is it the western industry’s current darling, audiobooks. It’s just… well, reading online. The thin end of a very unhealthy wedge for western publishers fixated on the analogue model that treats digital as an afterthought or, in the current pandemic era, a safety-net.

But the Naver acquisition blows out of the water the notion that online reading is not a potential revenue spinner. Dropping over a half billion bucks on a platform is something few companies could even think about, and per previous TNPS discussion about the Wattpad sale, the most likely candidates appeared to be either Amazon or Tencent.

. . . .

The combined online-reading base of Tencent (China Literature), Alibaba and other players mean the online reading market is likely substantially over a half billion.

And that’s before we start to factor in the spin-off properties and audiences.

Wattpad for example has turned a platform for adolescent girls and wannabe writers (a pretty fair description of its earliest years) into a book publishing, film and TV operation while expanding online reading into niche multi-media apps like Tap, and even having its own innovation factory, WattpadLabs.

At which point throw in Naver’s empire: Webtoon (animation) has over 72 million monthly users, mostly across Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, but with obvious synergies with Wattpad content and IPs.

Webtoon creates its own content and draws on content from professional publishers as well as offering a self-publishing platform, Webtoon Canvas, where creators can earn cash (US$) through the Webtoon Canvas Creator Rewards Programme (credits are paid through Patreon so no major issues for creators to receive payments).

. . . .

My position is that this is another seismic shift that will go largely unnoticed and unremarked for now, but will send ripples across the global publishing arena for years to come.

Because the thing with online reading is that it is potentially the emerging markets’ alternative to subscription, where a fixed monthly rate is a commitment most consumers won’t make, but where “sachet-marketing” (micro-payments in time and in line with consumption) is the norm.

Underestimate the significance of this deal at your peril. Online reading won’t challenge the western retail and subscription model any time soon, if ever, but it has, is and will open up new markets and opportunities for publishers quite unimaginable back when digital reading began to take off in the late 2000s.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suggests that traditional Western publishers and technology-based information consumption live in two different galaxies, far away from one another.

One galaxy is expanding rapidly, the other is on the brink of a sudden collapse.

In PG’s highly-limited understanding of the cosmos, when a star collapses, all that remains is a black hole. He doesn’t know what happens when a whole bunch of stars in a galaxy collapse, but seems to recall that when two black holes collide, a single larger black hole is all that’s left afterwards.

PG further understand that no light is emitted from black holes. He expects that no royalty payments or rights reversions can be expected to be emitted from black holes either.

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

In 2020, BookExpo finally died. BookExpo was, once upon a time, a convention for booksellers, put on by the publishing industry. Back then, it was called The American Booksellers Association Convention, and honestly, it was marvelous. If you were a book person, it was like the best place ever.

Books everywhere. So many books in such large convention halls that you couldn’t see everything. You couldn’t even try.

Dean and I went as authors a few times, and always hoped to go back with our bookseller friends. If you had a bookseller badge, you got free everything. Free books. Free posters. Free autographs from famous writers. Free admission into fascinating talks. Everything but free shipping—because you got so much free stuff that you had to ship it back home, where you would finally have time to look at it, sort it out, and maybe make purchases.

In one long hallway at the convention, foreign publishers sat and discussed rights sales with agents and a handful of savvy writers. A lot of deals got made right there. And in a separate building, the small and specialty and regional presses lived. On the way, you could run into the new technology wing…which was filled with things that almost never came to fruition.

It was loud and exhausting and fascination. I remember watching a few of my out-of-shape bookseller friends treating their bodies like Christmas trees, hanging book bags off arms, shoulders, around their necks, and waists, staggering out of the convention hall to the even bigger parking lot to drop off the bags, then go back and get even more piles and piles of stuff.

No one does this anymore. In fact, no one has done this in…oh, maybe 10 to 15 years. BookExpo got sold to Reed Exhibitions in 1995, and the convention declined from there. Of course, bookselling changed too. There was too much consolidation in the 1990s, the book distribution system collapsed, and Barnes & Noble and the other chain stores took over. The small booksellers remained, hanging on by their fingertips.

Attendance at BookExpo got smaller and the freebies rarer. Publishers found other ways to introduce new books to the “trade.” And then in the past few years, Reed spun off the rights fair, which was, really the only reason to go. You could meet foreign publishers face to face and actually sell a few things, if you felt so inclined.

Ah, but let’s face it. The rise of the internet meant that all of the information that used to be shared in person could be shared quicker and in more depth over the internet. And it wasn’t as tiring as using your body like a Christmas tree or spending hundreds on shipping freebies that you probably didn’t even want.

For years, everyone in the industry complained about BookExpo, calling it a shadow of its former self. Reed Exhibitions moved BookExpo to the pop culture part of its organization and added BookCon, hoping to bring in “readers” (forgetting, I guess, that booksellers are readers). That didn’t work.

They canceled the convention in the spring, like damn near every other convention, and held a virtual convention on the usual dates, a convention that made little news or impact. And so, in December, ReedPop, the organization that now manages BookExpo announced there would be no BookExpo in 2021 or maybe ever again. BookExpo was “retired.”

The event director, Jenny Martin, issued a surprisingly candid (for this kind of business) statement:

The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs. This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.

I don’t really expect to see anything like this again. The annual meeting of a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers made sense when there were a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers, thirty or so years ago. Now, though, in the traditional publishing arena, there just aren’t a lot of big traditional publishers.

And after this year, maybe not that many booksellers. The American Booksellers Association reported that 35 member bookstores had closed due to the pandemic as of October. Another 20% are in danger of closing.

Even those that are managing are struggling. They’re holding on through a combination of cost-cutting, online sales, crowdfunding, and PPP loans—which are (as of this writing) no longer available. Between April and June, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation issued $2.7 million in grants, and has given 443% more in grants than last year.

. . . .

Bookstore owners all say they’re working harder for less money. The stores that are open are spending on cleaning and PPE, as well as dealing with the stress of ordering customers to mask. Some stores have gone to curbside pickup and what used to be called special ordering. Others have done fundraisers and are linking with other businesses. They’re hanging on, but just barely.

And they’re all worrying about the supply chain. They are smaller, so they often don’t get the bigger books as early as say, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because of the limitations in the supply chain.

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.

PG notes that, during a major catastrophe that substantially disrupts the personal, family, social and business lives of many people at the same time, a great many people make predictions about what life will be like after the disruption is complete.

After the disruption is complete, some predictions are wrong and some are right. For PG, the most interesting post-disruption happenings are those that few or no one predicted.

One thing that often occurs is that business enterprises that were in poor or marginal condition prior to the disruption are more likely to be destroyed or, if they survive, substantially changed from their prior form. Often and unfortunately, a great many people employed by those businesses have to find another line of work through no fault of their own.

Examples of many such disappeared businesses will come to mind for most visitors to TPV, so PG will not list examples.

PG will, however, make one prediction that will surprise no one who hangs around these environs very often – the parts of the traditional book business that deal in the now-expensive process of creating and selling physical books will be much-diminished after the economy opens up again.

Traditional publishing and selling physical books are, in the 21st century, narrow-margin operations without a lot of room for error or financial difficulties.

Some may continue because they are owned or funded by those not overly reliant upon the book business for their ongoing financial welfare, but the status of an organization that is an expensive hobby, business or personal, is fraught. It is difficult for such organizations to attract and retain talent or intelligence when other opportunities look like a much better bet.

Morale among the employees of such organizations becomes lower and lower, to the detriment of the organization’s business operations and financial results. Those who can get out, leave.

Perhaps the owners of a business in a declining sector hope to find a greater fool to whom to sell the business, but even fools can often recognize a death spiral.

Considering the future, traditional bookstores are essentially just another retail business. They may sell something regarded as of more cultural worth than a load of gravel, but, ultimately, to quote an old phrase, when their outgo exceeds their income, their upkeep will be their downfall.

A traditional publisher is somewhat different in that its principle assets consist of intangible intellectual property, essentially long-term licenses that permit them to use the words contained in the works licensed to them by authors in a wide variety of ways. Much of the time, the author has only retained the right to be paid by the publisher for “sales” or licenses of the author’s work.

The author may hold the copyright to a book or story, but the publisher has exclusive control over all of the means by which that book or story can be used to generate money.

If someone acquired the assets of a publisher for a good price and that new owner of rights under the typical publishing contracts of hundreds or thousands of authors, if the new owner wanted to maximize its revenue from such contract rights, the owner has a variety of ways of doing so.

Under the provisions of typical publishing contracts used by large publishers and a lot of medium-sized or small publishers, PG opines that an unscrupulous owner could game those contracts in a manner that would minimize or eliminate royalty payments to some or all of its authors.

PG is not going to provide any details because he doesn’t want to see any author being treated poorly or cheated out of income she/he reasonably expects to receive from their art and labors.

He will only say that he has not reviewed a publishing contract that he could not game to the author’s financial detriment if he were suddenly had ownership and control of the publisher’s rights to that contract.

PG has reviewed more contracts of different types and used in different businesses during the centuries of his legal career than he can remember. He has reviewed and negotiated extremely well-written contracts prepared by highly-competent attorneys working for very, very wealthy organizations owned and operated by very, very talented and intelligent individuals. He has also reviewed and negotiated contracts prepared by incompetents and idiots on the other side of the deal.

Based upon that experience, he can say that traditional publishing contracts are close to the bottom in terms of precision, enforceability and a lack of ways a publisher could avoid its expected financial obligations to its authors without the author ever knowing about it. In the event the author discovered what the publisher was doing, if the publisher was careful and willing to game the provisions of the publishing agreement in its financial favor, it might be difficult or impossible for an author to persuade a court to help the author out of the mess.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong or, given the current world situation, have been driven crazy by Covid and its attendant distortions of nearly everything.

(However, through some sort of minor miracle, PG and Mrs. PG did receive their first of two anti-Covid vaccinations earlier today, so PG’s thoughts may be muddled by unreported vaccine side effects in addition to the usual causes.)

Are publishers leaving billions on the table by fixating on well-heeled readers?

From TeleRead:

Much of the news is cheery in “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021,” a free 50-page report from three seasoned industry consultants, Cliff Guren of Syntopical, Thad McIlroy of The Future of Publishing, and Steven Sieck of SKS Advisors.

True, the coronavirus has bankrupted some brick-and-mortar stories, and libraries will have to compete at budget time with other agencies the virus is battering. But publishers themselves have fared surprisingly well.

Working at home to avoid the contagion, millions have ditched their commutes and are now ordering books online from Amazon and other big retailers. Many Americans, at least those not saddled with new childcare burdens, enjoy more reading time.

Savvy publishers also will be able to sell directly to consumers directly, including those home-schooling their children. Print on demand should make all kinds of things possible. Same for electronic books, whose September sales grew 22 percent year over year. And the “online first” publishing model may become increasingly attractive.

. . . .

The report covers plenty of territory, but one observation in particular leapt out at me—how publishers have stayed afloat partly because they are so focused on affluent consumers, who tend to be less affected by the virus than America at large.

Backing up their claims, the authors reached back to some 2015 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing in their words that “the top 10% of earners spent nearly 8½ times more on reading than the bottom 10%. And so while the pandemic is hitting lower earners financially more heavily than the more prosperous, this is at worst a minor negative indicator for publishing’s bottom line.”

On the surface, that tidbit would seem to delight. Hooray! Publishers so far have been more virus-proof than, say, restaurants or brick-and-mortar bookstores in malls.

But the ultimate message is a downer in a certain way, and not just in regard to the threat to democracy if financial and cultural gaps grow between rich and poor Americans. Unwittingly, between the lines, the report is implying that major publishers, at least, are leaving a lot of money on the table by focusing on the well-heeled at the expense of the masses.

Ebook prices from them have been too high, as I see it, to tempt many consumers, and publishers should not take the status quo for granted or even be happy with it if they look ahead.

“Consumer discretionary spending should rise with the economy’s anticipated growth in 2021, a positive note for consumer book sales,” the report itself says while citing widely accepted forecasts of six percent for such spending as a whole. “But there are clear signs of demand elasticity in, for example, consumer willingness to add or cancel video streaming services to lower cost, and resistance to paying high prices for home rental of first-run movies; and in the high demand for library ebook lending.”

Too many publishers, in my opinion, would rather protect their infrastructure for paper books than assure their digital titles maximum distribution by pricing them reasonably. There is also the issue of editorial content of the books. Small publishers and self-publishers are dominating category fiction such as romance.

Even with that factored in, the entire publishing business is still leaving billions on the table. Household expenditures for books are just a fraction of the several thousand dollars a year that the typical American household spends on other forms of entertainment.

Such is the bad news, worsened by the virus, which if anything is exacerbating income and wealth differences. And the good news? Lots and lots of potential upside for publishers of all sizes. The industry simply needs to think more about expanding the universe of readers and less about such short-sighted strategies as overpricing ebooks and and in the future especially jacking up prices for library ebooks.

I know. Some publishers complain that library borrowing steals from retail sales. But despite the willingness of many consumers to check out books rather than buy when prices are too high, the truth is more complex.

Borrowing of library ebooks has surged during the epidemic, but print book sales have risen, too—8.2 percent in 2020. The message here is that publishers can be both pro-library and solvent. And pro-library is really pro-publisher since today’s borrower may be tomorrow’s buyer even if direct correlations may not be evident. It’s the book habit that we need to encourage among the many millions who are now spending either a pittance or nothing at all on books.

Asked for his thoughts on the demographic differences in book-buying, especially during the pandemic, Thad McIlroy emailed me: “I feel there’s a major study to be done on this issue. The book publishing industry largely sells to the same well-heeled audience, year after year. The audience increases slightly as additional literate graduates enter the reading world—then declines with the deaths of the heavy-reading seniors.

. . . .

As noted in our report, the pandemic has led to a lift in ebook sales and lending. I suspect the increases in sales and borrowing will last beyond the pandemic. Familiarity breeds contentment. And, as you note, we are all getting used to doing more and more online and on our phones. Convenience is addictive.

“With regard to libraries and discovery—I agree that libraries have an increasingly important role in driving discovery, but discovery doesn’t automatically (or uniformly) drive sales. It’s relatively easy to assess the impact of specific events (such as author readings) on sales—much harder to assess the long-term impact of library promotion and availability of a specific title on sales. The Panorama Project is working on this, but it’s going to take time and significant industry cooperation/coordination to get to authoritative results.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG says (again) that when you combine too little business and marketing savvy at major publishers with an obstinate refusal to spend money to build the size of the overall market and market share on the part of the primeval management of the large international holding companies that own most of the US traditional publishing business, you’re likely to wait a long, long time for any sort of innovation in pricing, business practices, more focus on innovation in ebook marketing and sales activities, etc. to occur.

Innovation for this group usually involves long discussions about how much higher the prices for books can be increased this year.

Traditional publishing has a highly-conflicted view of libraries. They have the idea that a high percentage of borrowers would buy their books if it were unable to conveniently borrow them from a library.

Publishers don’t understand (or are unwilling to accept) that readers don’t live in an information-consumption box that only contains books (and traditionally-published books at that). Consumers can find entertainment and education from all over the place, including from online sources besides libraries.

PG spends far more time during the day reading text that comes to him via email and web browser than he does reading text that arrives on his ereader (and he’s a regular reader of books on his ereader). PG hasn’t purchased a physical book for himself in years. Ditto for Mrs. PG.

Something PG hasn’t seen discussed by traditional publishers or journalists who cover that beat is that more than a handful of avid readers of hardcopy books automatically put their physical books up for sale as used books as soon as they finish reading them. This includes readers of printed books that they purchase new from Amazon as well as readers who have purchased used books from local or online bookstores.

These types of readers want to help fund their physical book reading habit, so any amount of money they can generate from selling their once-used or many-times-used books help fund the purchase of additional books.

PG just checked on eBay and over 35 million books were for sale. All the ones he looked at were used and selling for a small fraction of their original retail price. PG includes a handful of eBay screen shots at the end of this post.

PG notes that most of the eBay screen-clips he made were sponsored posts – paid advertisements – not just a bunch of amateurs selling their books. A would-be reader could spend ten minutes and ten dollars and buy at least a couple of weeks of reading on eBay (with free shipping). And there was no mention of any sales tax the purchaser would have to pay.

Looking at the overall book market with a hard-eyed view not limited to only wealthy readers, a business-savvy publisher would sell ebooks direct to readers, keeping virtually all the money the ebooks generate for their first sale and rely on off-the-shelf copy-protection systems to discourage most purchasers from re-selling the ebooks to their friends.

Speaking of high ebook prices, this “strategy” encourages tech-savvy individuals to circumvent copy protection. If you compare the likelihood that a non-techie reader will look outside of traditional sales channels for an illicit ebook that carries a retail price of $2.99 from Amazon vs. one that carries a $10.99 price on Amazon, more than a few people will seek a way around paying $10.99 to Amazon than will spend the time and effort to get a free or lower-priced $2.99 ebook.

(PG notes that the last eBay ad he clipped and pasted at the end of this post offered 300,000+ ebooks in PDF format with “Master Resell Rights” for 99 cents)

Low prices sell more consumer products of every kind. That’s why Amazon sells so much of everything. That’s why Walmart sells so much of everything.

That’s why higher-priced physical retailers who don’t sell primarily to rich people have closed most of their doors during Covid and are unlikely to open them after Covid goes away.

Covid has continued for long enough that, for many people, the changes involved with Covid aren’t all going to reset themselves after everyone is vaccinated.

As an example, the PG’s are likely to continue to order a lot of their groceries online, then drive to the store and have someone put their purchases in their trunk instead of wasting time pushing a cart around the store, making impulse purchases (more of a problem for PG than Mrs. PG), waiting in line to check out, then wheeling a filled grocery cart across a large parking lot, then putting their grocery items into their trunk and driving home to unload the groceries once more. Since PG does most of the grocery lugging, he’s going to opt to touch his purchases once when he takes the groceries out of the trunk to carry them into the house.

If PG had used the grocery pickup service for a couple of weeks then the Covid lockdown had ended, he would be likely to go back to his normal pre-Covid practice of going into the grocery store to shop. After several months of grocery store pickup experience, the pickup service has become his habit.

There are a lot of readers who have purchased physical books in the past who have experimented with ebooks or have learned that they get a much wider selection of physical books from Amazon at lower prices if they stay in their home rather than follow their habitual behavior of making a mental note to stop by the bookstore the next time they go out shopping.

PG predicts that this going-on-line-to-find-and-purchase-books habit is not going to change after the Covid storm passes. It’s going to be a life-long habit for enough people to change traditional bookselling forever.

Here are some of the eBay used books listings PG found in less than ten minutes:

George Saunders: ‘These trenches we’re in are so deep’

From The Guardian:

George Saunders was born in Texas in 1958 and raised in Illinois. Before his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, won the 2017 Booker prize, he was best known as a writer of short stories, publishing four collections since 1996 and winning a slew of awards. In 2006, he was awarded both a Guggenheim and a MacArthur fellowship. His latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, draws on two decades of teaching a creative writing class on the Russian short story in translation at Syracuse University, where he is a professor.

. . . .

What prompted you to turn your creative writing class into a book?
I was on the road for a long time with Lincoln in the Bardo. When I came back to teaching, I just thought, man, after 20 years of this, I really know a lot about these stories. There was also that late-life realisation that if I go, all that knowledge goes too. I thought it would be just a matter of typing up the notes, but of course it turned out to be a lot more.

The book focuses on stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol. What is it about Russian writers that has held your interest for so long?
I tried to teach a similar class on the American story, and it wasn’t as good. I just have a connection with [these Russian writers] – with the simplicity and also the moral-ethical core of the stories. They’re all pretty much about: will this guy live? Did this person do right or wrong? And that resonates with my mind.

This is more than just a how-to-write book: there are lessons here, too, about how to live and what fiction can teach us about being nicer, more empathic people.
I think the main thing that it [fiction] teaches us about is the process of projection that we’re constantly doing. I’m a Buddhist, and we believe you really do make the world with your mind. So a story is like a laboratory to help you identify your own habits and projections. Also, it’s about being in connection with that other human being who wrote it. Working on this book made me realise that when you’re reading a story and analysing it, you’re really reassuring yourself that connection is possible, and that even though this person looks like my enemy, there is – maybe, not always – a way to temper that a bit. So I got a little more confident that connection prevails. Until it doesn’t. And then you’re in America in 2020.

You write about the virtues of revision and that slow, incremental process that is vital to telling good and truthful stories. With that in mind, what are your feelings about social media, which thrives off instantaneous reaction?
There’s something wonderful about the spontaneity of social media, but I think at this point it’s becoming 100% toxic for people to be firing off the top of their brains. One of the things this book says is that the deeper parts of our brain are actually more empathic. If you revise something 20 times, for a mysterious reason, it becomes more social, empathic and compassionate. With Chekhov, you feel he’s always saying: “Well, what else?”, “Is there anything else I should know?”, or “Maybe I’m wrong.” And all of that seems to be designed to foster love, or at least some kind of relation to the other that’s got possibility. So I’m not a fan of social media. I’m not on it. And I won’t be, because I think it’s killing us, actually. I really do.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Per typical Big Publishing sloppiness, there’s no look-inside showing on the Amazon listing for Saunders’ latest release.

Want to Change the Book Biz? Organize.

From Publishers Weekly:

In December, Verso Books’ management voluntarily recognized our union. After several years of informally organizing our workplace and seeing some successes, we realized that to make significant progress we would need formal representation, so we joined the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. We have identified our core issues and demands—closing the gender pay gap, job security, increasing staff leverage, and raising wages across the board—and intend to make them cornerstones of our collective bargaining process in 2021.

What we realized through talking to fellow book workers during this organizing process is that our situation is far from unique. In recent years, and in 2020 in particular, a series of decisions has underscored publishing’s already-shaky foundation and its wresting of power from workers into the hands of—quite literally—a powerful few. Here’s why we think other publishing workers should consider unionizing their workplaces, too.

Unions are an essential safeguard in an industry that benefits from workers being divided, and a union can help raise wages for its members as well as for nonmembers. With even a few medium to large publishers unionized, we could see salaries across the industry rise significantly as a result of competition to match union wages.

We believe we’re already seeing inspiring movement in this regard: after several publishers raised entry-level wages this year as a result of increased pressure to pay workers a living wage, the HarperCollins union is using this leverage to push for across-the-board raises for everyone in its bargaining unit as part of ongoing negotiations.

Furthermore, the publishing industry will only be able to recruit and retain workers from different backgrounds if it starts to offer living, sustainable wages to all employees. As we see it, there’s no future for publishing without a workforce that reflects the demographics of its readership, and unions are the best guarantor of the fair pay, dignified labor conditions, and meaningful opportunities for growth that can bring true diversity. If stipulated in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), unions can help create leaders across various levels of a house by requiring employers to promote from within and abide by diversity clauses, producing opportunities for junior employees—a small but still significant percentage of whom are people of color—to actively shape the future of these companies.

For workers at small publishers, Penguin Random House’s recent announcement that it intends to buy Simon & Schuster for a whopping $2.175 billion was not a surprise. And while unions can’t prevent mergers, they can help with job security in the event of corporate restructuring or economic downturns like the one we saw in 2020. Introducing protective language into CBAs—such as seniority clauses, recall provisions, or even measures that would bar layoffs in lieu of other payroll-meeting measures—can provide a modicum of safety amid much uncertainty.

Publishing is not immune from the abuses that sometimes emerge when managers enjoy unaccountable power; it is not uncommon for junior workers to suffer verbal and sexual harassment by managers on and off the job. Unions can introduce meaningful measures to help workers resist abuse and, if necessary, fight back. In short, they reduce the authority of managers by tipping the balance of power in the workplace. And when workers have more power, we can act more boldly in everything we do.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG is quite skeptical about whether unionizing publishers will benefit authors. He suspects not.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

From The New York Times:

Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.

Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.

“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”

Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.

In fact, the manuscripts do not appear to wind up on the black market at all, or anywhere on the dark web, and no ransoms have been demanded. When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?

“The real mystery is the endgame,” said Daniel Halpern, the founder of Ecco, who has been the recipient of these emails and has also been impersonated in them. “It seems like no one knows anything beyond the fact of it, and that, I guess you could say, is alarming.”

Whoever the thief is, he or she knows how publishing works, and has mapped out the connections between authors and the constellation of agents, publishers and editors who would have access to their material. This person understands the path a manuscript takes from submission to publication, and is at ease with insider lingo like “ms” instead of manuscript.

Emails are tailored so they appear to be sent by a particular agent writing to one of her authors, or an editor contacting a scout, with tiny changes made to the domain names — like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, an “rn” in place of an “m” — that are masked, and so only visible when the target hits reply.

“They know who our clients are, they know how we interact with our clients, where sub-agents fit in and where primary agents fit in,” said Catherine Eccles, owner of a literary scouting agency in London.

“They’re very, very good.”

. . . .

Often, these phishing emails make use of public information, like book deals announced online, including on social media. Ms. Sweeney’s second book, however, hadn’t yet been announced anywhere, but the phisher knew about it in detail, down to Ms. Sweeney’s deadline and the names of the novel’s main characters.

“Hi Cynthia,” the email began. “I loved the partial and I can’t wait to know what happens next to Flora, Julian and Margot. You told me you would have a draft around this time. Can you share it?”

It was signed, “Henry.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A team of independent publishing consultants with broad and deep experience in the industry have produced an excellent report on the effects of the past year’s pandemic on the book publishing business called “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021”. Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck are real pros and they have been systematic and rigorous in their methodology. The report is free (here) and is bound to be among the most widely-read papers in our industry very quickly.

The notion was to look at the changes that have taken place in the worlds publishing lives in and work back to the impact on the publishers. This approach makes sense. You can’t analyze or predict the future about trade publishing without looking at what is happening in the world of retail. You need to understand what the impact of change is on schools and colleges to gain insight into how publishers will have to adjust. Indeed, that’s how publishers themselves will approach the challenge: they will try to understand the environments they have to live in to formulate their go-forward strategies.

And the authors have captured the reality that the pandemic was not really bad for the book business. In fact, for many publishers it has been a boon. The authors amply document that most book sales have been sustained and that most book publishing operations have managed to shift staff to working remotely and are still able to continue to produce effectively.

One impact of the pandemic on retailing that was thoroughly appreciated by Guren, McIlroy, and Sieck (and seldom remarked on elsewhere) is the rise in importance of the brick-and-mortar “equivalents” to Amazon: like Target, Walmart, and Costco. Those stores have long had the in-store presence of a limited number of book titles but in the online environment, with Ingram in the background, they can sell just about any book except some proprietary Amazon titles. Online non-book consumers can put books in their grocery basket with these retailers as readily as they can with Amazon and more and more of them appear to be doing that. Although it is more likely that many of these new book customers for them were filched from local brick and mortar retail rather than from Amazon, the net effect has been to really grow books in importance to them.

. . . .

Discovery that shifts from bookstores to online favors backlist. And publishers have been challenged to deliver new titles with the same marketplace impact in the readjusted book marketplace. Some new title production has continued, to be sure. But there are anecdotal reports of postponements with some publishers choosing to hold back quite a bit until things change.

. . . .

“Covid Impacts and Insights” discusses the relative ease with which publishers have maintained their operations without using their offices. Discovering how to work this way is bound to have implications on the future of offices — where they’ll be, how full they’ll be, and what percentage of each employee’s time will be spent in them — in our business. The report notes the fact that a lot of publishers spend big money on Manhattan real estate. In a margin-challenged business like ours, that is bound to come under closer scrutiny as the pandemic fades.

. . . .

One is touched on in the Executive Summary at the top and not returned to: the efforts by publishers to compensate for a declining infrastructure of intermediaries (particularly bookstores) with more D2C — direct to consumer — efforts. For well over a decade, even the most general of the general trade publishers have been building those efforts. They all have databases with millions of consumer names that they are able to use with varying amounts of success. This creates subtle distinctions between the sales capabilities of the houses based on their different abilities to reach direct audiences.

So when Penguin Random House acquires Simon & Schuster (assuming the sale is allowed to proceed), the chances are that they will both get some new books that are appropriate for some of their “captive” audiences and, conversely, that they will acquire some D2C reach that S&S developed that can now be applied to PRH books. Not much is known about the specific proprietary D2C capabilities the houses have, but those sales assets, however slowly they grow, become increasingly important as bookstore opportunities shrink. Both the publisher marketing efforts and the brick-and-mortar erosion are accelerated by the pandemic.

There is another change that has been slow and inexorable over the past decade or more and which the pandemic can only exacerbate. Since the center of gravity has shifted away from bookstores, a domain publishers “controlled” and which shielded them from competition from books that had no powerful publisher, it has become increasingly difficult for publishers to make new books “work”.

. . . .

How does new title production of the established trade houses today compare to what they issued ten or twenty years ago? (One hint: it is almost certain that the combined new title output of PRH and S&S will be less after the merger than it was before.) And how do sales of new titles compare to sales of backlist? And how much of the new title output survives to become contributing backlist?

This is a tough set of facts to compile, but it is almost certain they’d show that big publishers are living off their backlist and not making it grow like they did in past decades. The “moat” around established publishers was always the bookstores; real publishers could put inventory into them and mere aspirants could not. When there were thousands of bookstores carrying tens of thousands of titles (or even hundreds of thousands) and almost all the books were sold through brick-and-mortar retailers (a fair description of the world before 1995, or even before 2005), the big publishers had an advantage that no number of D2C names can win back for them.

. . . .

In pandemic times, when output is constrained in many ways, the ability to print at the point of distribution changes everything. The striking example of how much this matters was a NY Times paperback bestseller list at the end of June which had a majority of the titles being printed and distributed by Ingram.

Having learned the many benefits of being able to meet substantial demand without inventory in place, the publishers aren’t likely to forget it. The fact that a unit costs more to deliver when you print one was always well understood; now it can also be seen that shipping and handling and returns costs are avoided so the difference in profits is not as great as the difference in unit cost. Publishers know this now. It will change things going forward.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Mike points out that the ability of traditional publishers to put product into physical bookstores (and the larger publishers could do this more successfully than most small publishers) was important for their success and prosperity. Fundamentally, traditional publishers controlled this retail channel and large publishers paid a lot of attention to large bookstores and even more to large bookstore chains.

However, Barnes & Noble is about the only large bookstore chain still in business. The latest pre-Covid data PG could find was that there were 633 BN physical stores in the US. Books-a-Million was second with 260 stores in 32 states and store numbers dropped quickly farther down the list. These numbers are almost certain to decline when the retail sector can finally open up and have a reasonable expectation of customers entering their stores. PG’s bet is that there will be a lot fewer physical bookstores after Covid than there were before.

A whole lot of readers who purchased their books from physical bookstores pre-Covid have learned that Amazon has everything and can deliver a physical book to their home tomorrow or the next day if they order it as soon as they leave Barnes & Noble. Even early books by current bestsellers may be a special-order item in a physical bookstore. And those readers will quite possibly pay less than if they waited for a BN special order to arrive in a week or two. Smaller bookstore chains may require an even longer wait.

PG was interested in Mike’s observations that publishers’ back list had become a larger contributor to revenue and sales than it had been prior to Covid. He rightly pointed out that the migration of sales from physical bookstores to Amazon and other online bookstores had been a primary cause of this rebalancing.

PG suspects that some veteran authors who were/are traditionally-published may wonder whether it’s fair for their publishers to be harvesting the large majority of the money from these backlist sales when the author’s advance has long been spent and the publishers haven’t devoted any significant amounts of money or effort promoting the author or her books for a very long time, particularly if the publisher isn’t providing much in the way of advances for new books the author has written lately.

You can download the complete COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021 HERE. While Mike focuses mostly on the trade publishing business (which is likely the most interesting part of for most visitors to TPV), the complete report includes some information about academic and research publishing which is under pressure because its primary customers – academic institutions – has been severely stressed by Covid.

Spooky Phishing Scam Targets Traditionally-Published Writers

From Writer Beware:

The New York Times has published the story of a strange international phishing scam: unknown actors targeting traditionally-published writers, posing as their agents or editors to obtain copies of their unpublished manuscripts.

Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.

Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.

“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”

Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.

The phisher, or phishers, employ clever tactics like transposing letters in official-looking email addresses (like “penguinrandornhouse.com” instead of “penguinrandomhouse.com”) and masking the addresses so they only show when the recipient hits “Reply”. They know how publishing works and appear to have access to inside information, utilizing not just public sources like acquisition announcements in trade publications, but details that are harder to uncover: writers’ email addresses, their relationships with agents and editors, delivery and deadline dates, even details of the manuscripts themselves. 
And they are ramping up their operations. According to the Times, the scam began appearing “at least” three years ago, but in the past year “the volume of these emails has exploded in the United States.”
So what’s the endgame? Publishing people are stumped. Manuscripts by high-profile authors have been targeted, but also less obviously commercial works: debut novels by unknowns, short story collections, experimental fiction. The manuscripts don’t wind up on the black market, as far as anyone can tell, and don’t seem to be published online. There have been no ransom demands or other attempts at monetization. 

One of the leading theories in the publishing world, which is rife with speculation over the thefts, is that they are the work of someone in the literary scouting community. Scouts arrange for the sale of book rights to international publishers as well as to film and television producers, and what their clients pay for is early access to information — so an unedited manuscript, for example, would have value to them.

I heard about the scam a couple of months ago, from an author who was targeted after their forthcoming book was announced on Publishers Marketplace. What they reported to me tracks with the information above, including the credible approach by the writer’s own editor or agent (complete with authentic-looking email signature), a credible excuse for why they wanted the writer to send the manuscript again, and the altered sending address. The writer did send the ms., and didn’t discover until they talked to their agent that they’d been tricked.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Year’s End Surprise: Spiegel & Grau, a Once-and-Future Publisher

From Publishing Perspectives:

With the clock ticking down on a year that’s seemed interminable at many points, many in the United States’ publishing industry have been cheered by today’s news (December 18) that Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau are back as Spiegel & Grau.

In social channels, you can feel the smiles as the news gets around among a quarter-century’s fans of their work.

Grau and Spiegel’s work in the past has included:

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Orange Is the New Black by Piper  Kerman
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • 21 Questions for the 21st Century by  Yuval Noah Harari
  • Women and Money by Suze Orman
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

When this reporter—then at CNN—first spoke with Grau in her office, she was talking about editing Kurt Cobain’s Journals, which would be published in November 2003, less than a year before Cobain’s suicide. At that point, the duo was at Penguin Group’s Riverhead Books (founded by Susan Petersen Kennedy) and there were enough photos of Suze Orman around to make visitors leave deeply concerned about their finances.

Two years after our interview, it was announced that Grau and Spiegel were moving to Doubleday because, as Spiegel told The New York Times’ Edward Wyatt in 2005, “We love running Riverhead, but we know how to run Riverhead. It was time for us to see if we can start something like this on our own.” That “something like this” would become Penguin Random House’s imprint Spiegel & Grau—which was closed by PRH in 2019.

And now, Grau and Spiegel are “starting something like this on our own”—again—in reviving Spiegel & Grau as an independent press founded on their 25 years of experience working together.

The new company, according to its media messaging, will “keep our list,” says Grau, “to no more  than 20 books a year. We’ll be able to devote meaningful editorial attention and care to each title, and, with our team of experts, provide writers with coordinated support and integrated opportunities from the very beginning of the publishing process.”

That great sighing sound you just heard is from authors reading about a house designed to cap its own output for maximum focus and support. And in her astute coverage today at The New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes: “The resurrection of Spiegel & Grau comes at a moment of growing consolidation and homogenization in the publishing industry.

“After a wave of mergers in the last decade, the biggest houses are increasingly dependent on blockbuster titles and often plow more of their marketing and publicity budgets into books and authors with built-in audiences. Some in the industry worry that there are dwindling opportunities for new writers and that debut and midlist authors may get passed over.”

Noting that the move by PRH to acquire Simon & Schuster is doing nothing to quell such concerns about consolidation, Alter adds, “In a literary landscape dominated by the biggest players, Spiegel and Grau are among a handful of well-known editors who are rejecting the corporate publishing model and instead starting their own companies.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG instinctively cheers on underdogs in almost every field (his undergraduate education was at an institution whose football team likely had a higher average IQ than many of its competitors, but was substantially slower and smaller than those same competitors with predictable results).

Unless Ms. Spiegel and Ms. Grau are going to substantially change the business model that has characterized New York publishing for their entire business careers, he has doubts that their new venture will be highly successful.

In PG’s oft-repeated opinion, the fundamental problem with the traditional publishing model is that, regardless of whether it operates with a corporate or personal touch, it has been overtaken and made obsolete by the Amazon model and indie authors who run their own show.

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press:

Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.

“A lot of what has happened this year — if it were a novel, I would say that it had a little too much plot,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.

Three narratives ran through the book world for much of the year: an industry pressed to acknowledge that the status quo was unacceptable, an industry offering comfort and enlightenment during traumatic times, and an industry ever more consolidated around the power of Penguin Random House and Amazon.com.

. . . .

To its benefit and to its dismay, publishing was drawn into the events of the moment. The pandemic halted and threatened to wipe out a decade of growth for independent bookstores, forced the postponement of countless new releases and led to countless others being forgotten. The annual national convention, BookExpo, was called off and may be gone permanently after show organizers Reed Exhibitions announced they were “retiring” it.

. . . .

The industry had long regarded itself as a facilitator of open expression and high ideals, but in 2020 debates over diversity and #MeToo highlighted blind spots about race and gender and challenged the reputations of everyone from poetry publishers to Oprah Winfrey, from book critics to the late editor of Ernest Hemingway. Employees themselves helped take the lead: They staged protests in support of Black Lives Matters and walked off the job at Hachette Book Group after the publisher announced it had acquired Woody Allen’s memoir, which Hachette soon dropped. ( Skyhorse Publishing eventually released it.)

. . . .

“My main takeaways from 2020 are that books are resilient and that the industry has indicated a willingness to change (about diversity) and to make opening gestures towards sufficient, industry-wide change,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, who next year will take over at two prestigious Penguin Random House imprints, Pantheon and Schocken Books.

. . . .

An alarm bell rang early in the new year. Jeanine Cummins’ novel about Mexican immigrants, “American Dirt,” had been widely cited as a top seller and critical favorite for 2020 and was likened by “The Cartel” author Don Winslow to John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” In January, Oprah Winfrey announced she had chosen it for her book club and Cummins began a nationwide tour.

. . . .

But to the surprise of the publisher, Macmillan, and Winfrey, Latino authors and critics alleged that Cummins had reinforced stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican immigrants. Along with Cummins, Winfrey invited a panel of detractors who faulted an industry that is an estimated 75 percent white, and the talk show host herself for choosing few works by Latino writers. Cummins’ tour was called off after Macmillan cited threats of violence, even as her book remained on bestseller lists.

. . . .

In the following months, leaders at the National Book Critics Circle, the Poetry Foundation and International Thriller Writers resigned or were forced out amid allegations they had failed to address issues of diversity and racial justice. The Center for Fiction removed the late Maxwell Perkins’ name from its award for editorial excellence, noting that besides working with Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald he published books by eugenicists supporting white supremacy.

. . . .

Saraciea J. Fennell, who leads the advocacy group of book professionals Latinx in Publishing, worries that the wave of new hirings and imprints is simply cyclical and asked, “How long are they going to last? Is all this going to be around in 10-15 years?”

Macmillan CEO Don Weisberg, who cited a wide range of diversity programs at the publishing house that began before “American Dirt,” said he “understands the skepticism.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Weisberg said. ”You’ve got to build an entire infrastructure that makes it part of the norm.”

. . . .

As Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt acknowledged to the AP: “This was Amazon’s year,” when the online retailer was ideally positioned for a public turn toward the internet not just for convenience but for safety. Daunt said Barnes & Noble managed better than he had expected, but still results were “spotty.” The superstore chain ended 2020 with fewer employees than when the year began, he said.

. . . .

For independent stores and publishers, the pandemic amplified the divide between the industry’s biggest players and everyone else. At the same time Penguin Random House was preparing to buy Simon & Schuster, a transaction that if approved would create the largest publishing entity in U.S. history, smaller companies such as Archipelago and Cinco Puntos Press were starting GoFundMe campaigns.

“It’s been very hard to survive,” said Archipalego publisher Jill Schoolman. “The cash flow is really tough and we owe our printers.”

Link to the rest at the Associated Press

PG notes that the author of the OP managed to write the entire summary of US publishing in 2020 without mentioning ebooks. If any of the major players in the US publishing business had mentioned ebooks, PG would have expected such a mention to have appeared in the OP.

Dead trees and more dead trees, as far into the future as the traditional publishing eye can see.

Just How White Is the Book Industry?

From The New York Times:

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah had just turned 26 when he got the call in 2017 that Mariner Books wanted to publish his short-story collection, “Friday Black.”
Mr. Adjei-Brenyah suspected that the contract he signed — a $10,000 advance for “Friday Black” and $40,000 for an unfinished second book — wasn’t ideal. But his father had cancer and the money provided a modicum of security.

Mr. Adjei-Brenyah’s uneasiness over his book deal became more acute last summer. Using the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, writers had begun to share their advances on Twitter with the goal of exposing racial pay disparities in publishing. Some white authors disclosed that they had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their debut books.

. . . .

Mr. Adjei-Brenyah wanted to share his contract. But he knew that doing so could make his publisher look bad and hurt his career. “It’s scary when it’s your life,” he said.

. . . .

As #PublishingPaidMe spread online, more than a thousand people in the publishing industry signed up for a day of action to support the Black community.
Publishing executives responded by releasing statements expressing support for racial justice, announcing antiracism training and promising to put out more books by writers of color. If they follow through, last summer’s activism could diversify the range of voices that American readers encounter for years to come.

. . . .

How many current authors are people of color? As far as we could tell, that data didn’t exist.

So we set out to collect it. First, we gathered a list of English-language fiction books published between 1950 and 2018. 

. . . .

We also constrained our search to books released by some of the most prolific publishing houses during the period of our analysis: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Doubleday (a major publisher before it merged with Random House in 1998), HarperCollins and Macmillan. After all that we were left with a dataset containing 8,004 books, written by 4,010 authors.

To identify those authors’ races and ethnicities, we worked alongside three research assistants, reading through biographies, interviews and social media posts. Each author was reviewed independently by two researchers. If the team couldn’t come to an agreement about an author’s race, or there simply wasn’t enough information to feel confident, we omitted those authors’ books from our analysis. By the end, we had identified the race or ethnicity of 3,471 authors.

We guessed that most of the authors would be white, but we were shocked by the extent of the inequality once we analyzed the data. Of the 7,124 books for which we identified the author’s race, 95 percent were written by white people.

Author diversity at major publishing houses has increased in recent years, but white writers still dominate. Non-Hispanic white people account for 60 percent of the U.S. population; in 2018, they wrote 89 percent of the books in our sample.

. . . .

This broad imbalance is likely linked to the people who work in publishing. The heads of the “big five” publishing houses (soon, perhaps, to become the “big four”) are white. So are 85 percent of the people who acquire and edit books, according to a 2019 survey.

“There’s a correlation between the number of people of color who work in publishing and the number of books that are published by authors of color,” said Tracy Sherrod, the editorial director of Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins that is focused on Black literature.

That correlation is visible in our data, exemplified by Toni Morrison’s career as an editor at Random House from 1967 to 1983. Random House’s first female Black editor, Ms. Morrison championed writers such as Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Dumas and Gayl Jones. During her tenure, 3.3 percent of the 806 books published by Random House in our data were written by Black authors.

The number of Black authors dropped sharply at Random House after Ms. Morrison left. Of the 512 books published by Random House between 1984 and 1990 in our data, just two were written by Black authors: Ms. Morrison’s “Beloved” (through Knopf, which was owned by Random House) and “Sarah Phillips,” by Andrea Lee.

. . . .

In 1967, the same year that Ms. Morrison joined Random House, Marie Dutton Brown started as an intern at Doubleday and eventually rose to the rank of senior editor. Now a literary agent, Ms. Brown said that she witnessed how ephemeral gains for Black writers can be.

“Black life and Black culture are rediscovered every 10 to 15 years,” said Ms. Brown. “Publishing reflects that.”

. . . .

Ms. Brown attributed the fluctuation in publishers’ support for Black writers to the news cycle, which periodically directs the nation’s attention to acts of brutality against Black people. Publishers’ interest in amplifying Black voices wanes as media coverage peters out because “many white editors are not exposed to Black life beyond the headlines,” Ms. Brown said.

The lack of diversity among authors might be obscured by a small number of high-profile nonfiction books written by athletes, celebrities and politicians of color, according to Ms. Brown. “It gives the appearance that there are a lot of Black books published,” while publishers’ less famous “mid-list” authors are overwhelmingly white, she said.

. . . .

Look at the books that appeared on The New York Times’s best-seller list for fiction, though, and a different picture emerges: Only 22 of the 220 books on the list this year were written by people of color.

L.L. McKinney, an author of young-adult novels who started the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, wasn’t surprised by the statistics on how few Black authors have been published relative to white authors.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We already have our Black girl book for the year,’” said Ms. McKinney. She also remembered comments suggesting books wouldn’t sell well if they had a Black person on the cover.

In a 1950 essay titled “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” Zora Neale Hurston identified the chicken-or-egg dilemma at the heart of publishers’ conservatism. White people, she wrote, cannot conceive of Black people outside of racial stereotypes. And because publishers want to sell books, they publish stories that conform to those stereotypes, reinforcing white readers’ expectations and appetites.

“It’s amusing to me when publishers say that they follow the market,” said Ms. McKinney. “They’re doing it because of tradition. And the tradition is racism.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, as indicated, this story is from The New York Times, in the Opinion section.

Every major US publisher is located in New York City. The number of management personnel in Big Publishing that read a newspaper other than The New York Times on a regular basis could likely be counted on one hand.

The New York Times Best-Seller list is regarded as the gold standard by traditional publishing rates a book’s performance regardless of how much the NYT bestsellers diverge from Amazon bestseller lists.

Speaking of Amazon, the next time a traditionally-published author or agent talks about Amazon ruining the book business, some might be tempted to say that the New York book business deserves to be ruined.

PG has mentioned previously that the major US publishers are all owned by large international media conglomerates. PG was going to spend some time checking to see if he could determine whether the top management or boards of directors of those conglomerates included anyone other than purely white individuals, but realized that it would be a waste of time because he already knew the answer to that question.

The Talented Ms. Calloway

From The Los Angeles Review of Books;

CAROLINE CALLOWAY’S CAREER so far has been indicative of many publishing trends. With help from her parents, she paid to develop her craft as a writer, studying at NYU and then art history at Cambridge. She started building her online presence by purchasing an initial bank of Instagram followers. From there she earned a large audience (some 684,000 followers at present), using the platform as an outlet for a significant quantity of self-published writing in the form of relatively lengthy, witty, discursive photo captions. With her followers in place, she was then able to secure an agent and a book deal with Flatiron Books, receiving a reputed $375,000 advance for a memoir. After failing to deliver the manuscript, she is now self-publishing the book under the title Scammer; the release date keeps getting pushed back. In addition to Instagram, she is on Twitter and Patreon, where she has offered her “closest friends,” at $100 per month subscription, a private conversation; and until just a few days ago she was producing literary-themed erotica for subscribers on OnlyFans, a self-described adult entertainment site. She sold her content as “softcore cosplay of hardcore literary heroines,” and added: “you’re cultured as f*** if you subscribe.” Some might call this an “aesthetic of bookishness.”

During her creative writing training at NYU, where she worked with David Lipsky, she met another talented young writer, Natalie Beach. In 2019, Beach chronicled their difficult friendship in an exposé that reveals how susceptible she was to Calloway exploiting her. As Calloway was breaking into Instagram, the friends traveled together in Sicily, where they took glamorous travel shots — mostly of Calloway — and worked together to write the captions and stitch together the overall narrative that made up the account Calloway named #Adventuregrams. Beach reports to have enjoyed the idea that she was participating in making an important cultural artifact, feeling close to beauty and greatness that she could not hope to touch on her own. She writes of those initial Instagram posts, “I began to believe that what we were making mattered to my career (for the first time I was being paid to write) and to our readers around the world. It was 2013, and the internet felt like the future of writing, at least for girls.” She continues:

I believed Caroline and I were busting open the form of nonfiction. Instagram is memoir in real timeIt’s memoir without the act of rememberingIt’s collapsing the distance between writer and reader and critic, which is why it’s true feminist storytelling, I’d argue to Caroline, trying to convince her that a white girl learning to believe in herself could be the height of radicalism (convenient, as I too was a white girl learning to believe in herself).

When their time in Europe was over, Beach used this experience in her effort to secure work: “I placed #Adventuregrams at the top of my résumé, describing myself as an editor, or if the listing called for it, the personal assistant to Ms. Calloway.” Meanwhile Calloway enrolled at Cambridge and moved to England, where she continued to grow her fan base, now branding herself as the beautiful young American abroad. The friendship strained when Calloway tried to underpay Beach to manage her apartment as an Airbnb rental. After failing to secure anything meaningfully better, Beach agreed to work with Calloway again, this time as an editor for her book manuscript, expecting 35 percent of any profits. She ended up being more of a ghostwriter. “The Caroline character we created together was a fantastic YA protagonist,” Beach reports: “she loved and was loved, looked good crying, stomped around an idealized New York in her ‘I-deserve-to-be-here boots.’” When Calloway’s agent praised the proposal, for a memoir “of a life that wasn’t mine, adapted from Instagram captions,” Beach could not help but feel proud.

For a time, then, “Caroline Calloway” was not a solo act but rather a co-production, as Beach was a key writer of Calloway’s content. That Calloway did not properly credit her work is worth noting. 

. . . .

Calloway in fact sits at an important crossroads: between the self-branding social media influencer economy and an evolving book publishing world. Calloway told Beach that “she took a series of meetings with literary professionals who informed her that no one would buy a memoir from a girl with no claim to fame and no fan base.” She was probably right: it increases your chances of getting a book contract if you are already famous on the internet. We know that the mainstream industry would rather not take risks on books that won’t sell. If they are going to offer advances to secure potentially hot titles, why wouldn’t they want to acquire books that come with a pre-made audience?

Long before COVID-19 hit, bookstore sales of literature have been trending downward; big chains have been closing branches. Advances have been shrinking. It has become harder to make a living as a writer. Marketing resources are dedicated to a dwindling crop of stars. Narratives about publishing’s yesteryear tend to be a bit pastoral, but there are truths to be gleaned from this lore. It was once more possible that an author could get published on the strength of their work — perhaps the editor even came upon it in the slush pile, and recognized a raw talent and so undertook to cultivate and mold that talent through substantive editing, followed by a marketing push trying to appeal to the right readers. No doubt on occasion this kind of gamble is still possible. But the best way to arrive at an editor’s door is with an army of social media followers already in place, or even better with a following and a viral story that will be spun out into the manuscript. A prospective publisher will want you to produce a book consistent with your brand, and they will want you to use the social media following that you already have in order to maximize the work’s sales. Taylor Swift put it as well as anybody: these days artists get record deals because they have fans, not the other way around.

. . . .

Self-publishing is one of the book industry’s gig economies, as individuals seeking to earn must increasingly be “exposed more directly to external markets” rather than working with traditional firms. There is no value added from an official editor, only behind-the-scenes help from whoever you hire temporarily or convince to work for you for free. There is no advance, and no marketing budget except what you can front yourself. This is not an easy way to make money. Many more authors earn a pittance doing this work than make a livable wage. To up your chances at success, if you have the money or social power you can get a ghostwriter or a freelance editor to work with you behind the scenes, as well as an expert in market share optimization. You need the resources to do this; many people are excluded from even trying. Calloway has been fortunate in this respect. Still, having come to book publishing with a marketable brand, she has to do the daily work of maintaining it. Even if her book is never published, that failure is content for her social media platforms, where one primary source of her self-branding activity is the idea that she’s an inveterate con artist who is just fooling around. Her book is called Scammer for a reason.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG suggests the OP demonstrates how intellectually shallow traditional publishing has become. If Instagram followers are the target market for a book, how much more lighter-than-air can an industry become?

And, of course, self-published authors all belong in the same down-market bucket.

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More

From Publishers Weekly:

U.S. book publishing’s biggest trade show is being “retired,” show organizer ReedPop announced today. BookExpo, along with BookCon and Unbound, will not be held in 2021 after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

ReedPop, the pop culture event–focused subdivision of Reed Exhibitions, said that, given the “continued uncertainty surrounding in-person events at this time,” the company has decided “that the best way forward is to retire the current iteration of events as they explore new ways to meet the community’s needs through a fusion of in-person and virtual events.”

In order to try to hold the event earlier this year, Reed moved the date from its usual spot at New York City’s Javits Center in late May to late July, but as the coronavirus continued to make larger meetings impossible, Reed cancelled the live conference and held six days of free virtual programming from May 26-31, the original dates of BookExpo and BookCon.

Event director Jenny Martin said that ReedPop is talking to publishers, booksellers, and other partners to investigate how to rebuild the events.

“The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs,” Martin said in a statement. “This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.”

. . . .

Reed Exhibitions’ convention business has been hammered by Covid-19. Through the first nine months of 2020, revenue was down 70%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests this represents a sea change.

Big industry conventions, often referred to as “trade shows” in the United States, can be serious money-makers for those who sponsor and organize these events.

A business like Reed is retained by an association of businesses or professionals (The American Bar Association is one with which PG is familiar).

Dates and locations for large trade shows are usually established for several years into the future. In the US, New York and Chicago are major convention destinations due to good national and international transportation infrastructure, lots of hotels and restaurants, a variety of large and medium-sized spaces that will accommodate the number of attendees, exhibitors, etc.

Depending on the size of the convention and what the market will bear for registration fees for attendees and exhibitor’s fees, money may flow from the from the company, like Reed, that actually makes the trade show happen to the nominal sponsor of the show, e.g., The American Bar Association, a group of business associations involved in manufacturing and selling heavy construction equipment, parts, supplies, etc. (CONEXPO), The Consumer Electronics Show for technology products, etc., etc., etc.

In other cases, the organization sponsoring the show won’t receive much money or any money from a company like Reed, but will benefit from member dues from existing and new members which a successful conference generates.

There is often an educational component to a trade show – “Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support”, “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”, “Cybersecurity Best Practices in Elections”, etc., etc., etc.

PG has gone on too long. In short, the overall business of putting on trade shows is a large one and Reed is one of the major players in that business. Building interest and attendance in a trade show usually requires at least several years of hard work, promotion, etc., on the part of those involved in facilitating the show.

Reed’s seeming permanent abandonment of BookExpo and BookCon is communicating Reed’s assessment of the future of traditional publishing as a major industry.

ABA to Call on Justice Department to Challenge Penguin Random House Purchase of Simon & Schuster

From Allison Hill, CEO of The American Booksellers Association:

On November 17, I sent a letter to the Honorable Joseph Simons, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, to express ABA’s concern about the antitrust implications of a potential Simon & Schuster sale to Ingram, Amazon, or any of the “Big 5” publishers. I explained that the consolidation of publishing that this sale could represent threatens to undermine competition in the book industry, harm the interests of American consumers, and put bookstores and authors at risk.

The announcement today that Penguin Random House, the biggest of the “Big 5” publishers, is buying Simon & Schuster is alarming. As the dominant player in the publishing industry, PRH’s purchase of another “Big 5” publisher, further reducing the market to the “Big 4,” will mean too much power over authors and readers in the hands of a single corporation.

ABA will be calling on the Justice Department to challenge this deal and to ensure that no further consolidation of power be allowed in the U.S. book publishing industry.

Similarly, Open Markets Institute Executive Director Barry Lynn issued a statement following the announcement of the potential sale of S&S to PRH.

“Bertelsmann’s plan to take control of Simon & Schuster poses multiple dangers to American democracy and to the interests of America’s authors and readers. By bringing three of the big six publishers under one roof, the deal will concentrate vastly too much power over the U.S. book market in the hands of a single, foreign-owned corporation. The deal will make it harder for authors and editors to attract the support they need to research, write, and prepare the sorts of books Americans need to address the many serious political and economic crises we now face. It will also threaten the ability of independent booksellers — who are already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressures — to stay in business,” said Lynn.

“Antitrust enforcers should block this deal. There’s ample evidence that concentration in the book industry is already harming readers and authors. Allowing more consolidation among the big publishers will further reduce the range of books and ideas that find their way into print and into the hands of readers,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “There is a growing consensus among the public and lawmakers that concentrated economic power is a serious threat to the nation’s well-being and that our antitrust laws must be strongly enforced. This proposed merger will be a test of whether the antitrust agencies have gotten that message.”

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

PG received an “A” in an antitrust law during law school. Since then, he has not spent a great deal of time thinking about the topic.

PG does remember that the United States Department of Justice can take steps to stop or delay the sale of Simon & Schuster by ViacomCBS to Bertelsmann. If Justice takes some of the more extreme steps available to it, there’s a good chance of a long court battle.

How will S&S fare during such a battle? PG won’t predict the outcome of any antitrust review or lawsuit involving the Justice Department, but, since the announcement of the deal, job pressure on S&S employees has increased substantially and the company’s well-being has already been impaired.

Will anyone want to go to work for S&S if they have any sort of reasonable alternative? Is anyone closing in on retirement age going to consider jumping ship early? Is any literary agent with a brain going to take an attractive manuscript to S&S first or second or third? Is any intelligent new or old author going to sign a publishing contract with S&S unless there is absolutely, positively not any other alternative?

S&S is not an independent entity that can have any influence on what happens next. S&S is owned entirely by ViacomCBS and the people working for S&S have no control over their future occupational destinies. Presumably, the agreement the current owner has made to sell S&S to Bertelsmann includes a provision to the effect that, “Seller will continue to operate S&S in a normal manner until transfer to Buyer is complete.”

But things are anything but normal inside of S&S.

PG is generally aware that some Buy/Sell deals in other industries have included a provision to the effect that the Seller will fire enough people to reduce payroll and associated costs by X amount prior to the conclusion of the deal so the new owner doesn’t have to look like the bad guy/gal/monolith. This may include a list of people/positions to be terminated and/or a list of people not to be fired.

One of the benefits arising from the purchase that Bertelsmann may anticipate is a savings in people costs after the acquisition. If S&S is merged with another Bertelsmann entity, the resulting organization will likely not need two CEO’s, two CFO’s, two general counsels, etc., etc.

Usually, the redundant people are those working in the company to be acquired, but that is not always a sure thing, so people at S&S and people at PRH may all be a little nervous.

A whole lot of people will be freshening up their résumés over the next few months and trying to answer questions like, “Should I pitch myself as a replacement for XX at HarperCollins?” or “Where in the world other than in New York publishing can I find someone who might want to hire somebody like me with XX years of experience at S&S?”

While PG may not like the way some large publishers treat authors, he takes no joy in seeing individuals being fired or demoted for no fault of their own. For more than a few people at S&S, an already dismal Covid Christmas is going to be anything but merry and bright.

The Monster Publishing Merger Is About Amazon

From The Atlantic:

In 1960, Dwight Eisenhower’s attorney general, William Rogers, read the paper with alarm. He learned that Random House intended to purchase the venerable publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Rogers began making calls to prod his antitrust division into blocking the sale. In those days, monopoly loomed as a central concern of government—and a competitive book business was widely seen as essential to preserving both intellectual life and democracy. After checking with his sources, Rogers discovered that the merger would yield a company that controlled a mere 1 percent of the book market, and he let the matter drop.

Not so long ago, Democratic and Republican administrations alike wouldn’t hesitate to block a merger like the one proposed today, which intends to fold the giant publisher Simon & Schuster into the even more gigantic Penguin Random House. How big would the combined company be? By one estimate, it might publish a third of all books in the U.S. This deal is so expansive that it’s hard to find an author to write about it who isn’t somehow implicated. Based on the odds, I suppose, it’s not terribly surprising to reveal that I’m published by Penguin Random House.

. . . .

On paper, this merger is deplorable and should be blocked. As book publishing consolidates, the author tends to lose—and, therefore, so does the life of the mind. With diminished competition to sign writers, the size of advances is likely to shrink, making it harder for authors to justify the time required to produce a lengthy work. In becoming a leviathan, the business becomes ever more corporate. Publishing may lose its sense of higher purpose. The bean counters who rule over sprawling businesses will tend to treat books as just another commodity. Publishers will grow hesitant to take risks on new authors and new ideas. Like the movie industry, they will prefer sequels and established stars. What’s worse, a giant corporation starts to worry about the prospect of regulators messing with its well-being, a condition that tends to induce political caution in deciding which writers to publish.

But this merger is not the gravest danger to the publishing business. The deal is transpiring in a larger context—and that context is Amazon. The rise of Amazon accelerated the demise of Borders and the diminishment of Barnes & Noble. If it’s correct to worry about a merged company that publishes perhaps 33 percent of new books, then surely it’s correct to worry more about the fact that Amazon now sells 49 percent of them.

In the face of Amazon’s dominance, book publishers have huddled together in search of safety. Amazon’s size gives it terrifying leverage over the industry. Amazon, with its heavily visited home page, its emails to consumers, and its control of the search box on its site, has the power to make or break a title. To counter Amazon, publishers have sought to increase their bargaining power. They believe that they can match Amazon’s size only by growing their own.

When the government intervenes in a market, its actions are never neutral. One of the greatest mistakes of the Obama administration was the 2012 suit it brought against book publishers for working in concert to cut an e-book deal with Apple. The issue is not that the publishers were acting virtuously: They behaved like a cartel, which is illegal. It’s that the publishers were hardly the worst offenders. The government flogged the publishers for a technical violation of antitrust laws rather than constraining the most egregious monopolist, in spirit if not in letter.

It must not repeat the same mistake. The arrival of a new administration represents a moment to finally address Amazon’s lock on the book business; it’s a moment to focus on the core of the problem. Yes, publishers are oligopolistic and hardly sympathetic, but their continued health is essential to the survival of the book business, and thus the intellectual life of this country. If the government constrains publishers without constraining Amazon, then the government will merely accelerate the accumulation of untenable power in one single company.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to DM for the tip

PG will limit himself to a short rant.

The attempt of all but one of the largest publishers in the United States to combine with Apple in order to take down Amazon’s books business was comically inept and stupid, a black-letter violation of US antitrust law. Once outside attorneys were hired (and presumably told their clients they would lose if they tried to fight the charges), each of the publishers promptly caved, plead guilty to antitrust charges and received punishment for their misdeeds.

Apple fought the antitrust charges and lost at every level from trial to the US Supreme Court. Under US law, you can’t lose in any more places than those.

The OP includes the following:

On paper, this merger is deplorable and should be blocked. As book publishing consolidates, the author tends to lose—and, therefore, so does the life of the mind. With diminished competition to sign writers, the size of advances is likely to shrink, making it harder for authors to justify the time required to produce a lengthy work. In becoming a leviathan, the business becomes ever more corporate. Publishing may lose its sense of higher purpose.

PG agrees that consolidation is a lose-lose situation for the large majority of traditionally-published authors. James Patterson will survive. JK will be OK.

Concerning the diminishment of “the life of the mind,” and “Publishing may lose its sense of higher purpose,” if you listen carefully, you may hear PG guffawing.

When a publisher is owned by a large international conglomerate, its sense of higher purpose is focused on what the big boys higher up the ladder (and they are mostly boys in this case) will think in Gütersloh, the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Gaensheidestrasse 26 Stuttgart, and wherever Rupert Murdoch happens to be at any given moment.

The OP also includes:

Yes, publishers are oligopolistic and hardly sympathetic, but their continued health is essential to the survival of the book business, and thus the intellectual life of this country.

PG says, “Yes, they’re oligopolistic and not the least sympathetic and a lot of other nasty things, but no, they’re not essential for anything. They are anachronistic tools that have lost their utility. Edsels.

“In the early to middle part of the last century, traditional publishers did make significant contributions to the intellectual life of the United States, but they stopped doing that quite a long time ago. This stoppage began with the arrival of corporate drones and poseurs in high positions and has only gotten worse over time.”

End of rant. PG feels much better now.

Penguin Random House Parent to Buy Simon & Schuster

From The Wall Street Journal:

ViacomCBS Inc. is selling book publisher Simon & Schuster to German media giant Bertelsmann SE for almost $2.18 billion, ViacomCBS said Wednesday, in a deal that would create a publishing behemoth accounting for about a third of all books sold in the U.S.

The transaction would put the publishers of some of the world’s bestselling authors including Stephen King, Bob Woodward, Dan Brown and John Grisham under the same corporate umbrella. Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House already is the U.S.’s largest publisher by books sold, while Simon & Schuster is the third largest, behind News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers.

ViacomCBS put Simon & Schuster up for sale in March, saying it would use the cash proceeds to further invest in its streaming-video efforts.

. . . .

Markus Dohle, chief executive of Penguin Random House, said the deal shouldn’t raise competition concerns. “If you look at the book market, it is unconcentrated,” he said, adding that over the past decade many small new publishers emerged. “There have been a lot of new successful entrants in the market.”

Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, which owns HarperCollins Publishers, said the deal would harm distributors, retailers, authors and readers. “There is clearly no market logic to a bid of that size—only anti-market logic,” he said in a statement. “Bertelsmann is not just buying a book publisher, but buying market dominance as a book behemoth.” News Corp also owns The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

Including Simon & Schuster, that U.S. market share would rise to about 34%. HarperCollins Publishers, the second largest publisher by unit sales, accounted for about 11% of print books sold in the U.S. during the same period.

Richard Pine, a well-known New York literary agent, said he is concerned the creation of such a large publishing house would “lead to an unhealthy obsession with publishing mega bestsellers.”

“It’s like baseball, you need the minor leagues,” Mr. Pine said. “Authors need to be nurtured. If you have a system of one book and done when the magic didn’t happen, then those writers will be left behind.”

Lorraine Shanley, president of the industry consultants Market Partners International Inc., said adding Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House’s portfolio “would make it increasingly difficult to compete, not just for the other big publishers but for the smaller publishers. Penguin Random House is also a major distributor, as is Simon & Schuster. Between the two they’d have a very large segment of the market when it comes to distribution.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Germany’s Bertelsmann To Buy Simon & Schuster for US$2.175 Billion

From Publishing Perspectives:

In news just released this morning (November 25) from Gütersloh and New York City, Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House (PRH)—already the world’s largest publisher—has announced that PRH intends to purchase ViacomCBS’ Simon & Schuster for US$2.175 billion.

Of course, industry response will quickly include speculation about how regulators will look at a question of the largest Big Five publishers buying another Big Five house.

Among write-ups in the overnight drumbeat before the announcement, Benjamin Mullin and Jeffrey A. Trachtenburg at the Wall Street Journal wrote, “The deal could draw attention from the US Justice Department, [according to] David Meyer, a Washington antitrust attorney who served at the Justice Department as a deputy assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush. ‘Their combined share would be sufficient to motivate a close look at the transaction,’ he said.”

This echoes comments from News Corp CEO Robert Thomson who, at his stockholders’ annual meeting on November 18, said, “I would make one observation about Simon & Schuster. It will clearly be a serious antitrust issue if Bertelsmann acquires Simon & Schuster. However cute and clever the structure, if Bertelsmann is their beneficiary, it will be a book behemoth. And this will certainly be a profound antitrust issue for the entire book industry and, no doubt, for authors around the world.”

. . . .

Jonathan Karp, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster says, in a message to his staff members just provided to Publishing Perspectives, “We expect the transaction will likely close in the second half of 2021 at the earliest, subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval.

“I understand that many of you will have questions about how this transition to new ownership will affect your work, and your benefits. I assure you that as this process unfolds we will share information with you, but understand that this will be a long process.

“Expect no sudden changes beyond the normal decisions we make in our regular course of business.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

One in Four Books Is Purchased in the USA During the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Just to clarify the importance of the decorative season we’re entering, the NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean is clarifying today (November 23) that the United States’ book market is dependent on the winter holiday season for 25 percent of its annual print sales.

Almost 173 million books were sold in November and December last year, the company’s data shows.

McLean, who’s the lead books industry analyst for NPD, is bullish on the chances for the American industry to end this strange year strongly, telling the news media, “Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.

“Historically,” she says, “the uptick in sales begins in the first week of November, but as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are watching closely to see if we see the same book shopping patterns as in previous years.”

. . . .

“With volume 20 percent higher than the same week in 2019, this week marks the highest week of unit sales for the print market so far this year. The volume of 15.5 million units signals the start of the seasonal climb.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How Do We Market Books Now?

From Publishers Weekly:

Covid-19 has greatly affected the publishing industry across all divisions and markets, and the marketing and publicity divisions of trade publishers have required particularly swift and frequent changes to their ways of doing business. In the opening panel of PubTech Connect 2020, which was copresented by PW and NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing and was held virtually this year through Zoom on November 17, the topic of the hour was new marketing strategies.

. . . .

The panel focused on how to capture consumer interest in a marketplace that has shifted to digital sales, the benefits of virtual events, the importance of fleshing out direct-to-consumer marketing, and how libraries are adapting to an emphasis on digital resources.

The word of the day was “nimble,” and Fassler opened the discussion with an emphasis on adaptation in the marketplace. “We’ve learned a lot this year during a time of distraction and disruption,” she said. “I think one of the biggest challenges has been how to conduct effective outreach when we’re hampered by the way we used to do things, like galley mailings. I used to do a lot of creative partnership work at conferences, pitching our books and explaining how our products are aligned. It’s been necessary to be creative even earlier.”

LaDelle was quick to point out that “consumers are holding publishers more accountable” for their marketing plans and execution. It is no longer enough to share pull quotes or cover reveals, she said: “There’s a need to be present and intentional with our marketing content.”

Martinez stressed the importance of direct-to-consumer interactions. “Now is a great time to build a great consumer list. People are hungry to feel connected to the book community, especially at a time when they can’t go to book events or book clubs.” This is even more the case, Martinez said, for independent presses like Soho, adding that developing a vast and effective email campaign is imperative in making sure a book is successful.

“We really have to be nimble and flexible,” Seyfried said, pointing to the shrinking holiday shopping window as a direct example of the sorts of marketing and publicity tools Covid-19 has affected. Penguin Random House’s internal insights team, she added, conducted a marketing study that revealed that 25% or more of book consumers are doing their Christmas shopping early this year due to Covid-related worries like shipping delays. “We pivoted to launching our gift-giving messaging in mid-October,” she said. “Usually we’re still in planning phase in October, but we’ve had to rush it and be more adaptive.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“Nimble” is not an adjective PG would apply to traditional publishers and their marketing.

Perhaps the “senior v-p and director of integrated marketing strategy” was speaking in comparative terms. “More nimble than usual.”

Sort of like the winner in a nursing home’s annual wheelchair gymnastics tournament for its over-90 residents.

PG suggests the answer to the question posed in the headline is clear – You market books where people are buying books. Today and for at least several more months (and maybe forever) that would be online.

Based on unstructured observations, PG suspects that Amazon’s ad sales in its book department have skyrocketed. Big publishers and not-so-big publishers are paying the Zon a lot of money to move books. If the reading habits of the PG household and the households of the Friends of PG are any indication, this is a good time to be in the book business if you’re a good marketer and can stand out from the crowd. (It’s a good time to be in the streaming video business as well.)

PG also suggests that traditional publishers might consider lowering their obscenely-high licensing fees for ebooks in libraries so libraries can afford to purchase more licenses. (PG’s online library projects some of the ebooks he has been perusing won’t be available for 3-4 months.)

This is a perfect time for intelligent publishers to build a reader base for their promising authors via greatly expanding their presence in library ebook departments.

But, (Heaven forfend!), that might upset Barnes & Noble!

Speaking of Barnes & Noble:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Bids for Simon & Schuster

From The New York Times:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is making a play for Simon & Schuster, the venerable home to best-selling authors like Stephen King and Hillary Clinton that raised a ruckus this year after releasing a string of hit titles critical of President Trump.

The powerhouse publisher was put up for sale by its owner, ViacomCBS, in March, and the company has since fielded more than half a dozen inquiries, according to three people familiar with the process who declined to be named because the matter remains confidential.

In addition to News Corp, which already owns HarperCollins, a leading bidder is Penguin Random House, according to the people. Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, is owned by the German media giant Bertelsmann. The French firm Vivendi, a minority owner of Hachette through the publisher Lagardère, has also made a bid.

. . . .

Publishing has become a winner-takes-all business, a circumstance brought on by Amazon’s aggressive pricing, and now a publisher needs size to survive. Tent-pole titles can better offset losses from weaker books. A bigger inventory can generate more data on the habits and interests of book buyers.

Those dynamics underpin the wave of consolidation that has swept the business in the last decade. Penguin and Random House merged, Hachette Book Group acquired Perseus Books, and News Corp bought the romance publisher Harlequin.

. . . .

Should a major publisher win the auction, Simon & Schuster is likely to undergo staff cuts. Departments such as human resources and finance are often slimmed down after a big merger. It is not clear how a deal might affect high-level positions at the company. Jonathan Karp, who was named Simon & Schuster’s chief executive this year after the sudden death of Carolyn Reidy, could be relegated to a lower role or be forced out. Not long after he took over, Mr. Karp named Dana Canedy, a former journalist and administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, as publisher of its namesake imprint, putting a Black woman in charge of one of the biggest publishing houses.

. . . .

Any merger agreement would also have to undergo regulatory scrutiny. A combination with either Penguin Random House or HarperCollins, the two largest book publishers in the country, could raise questions in Washington. Penguin Random House’s sales exceeded $4 billion last year. Annual sales at HarperCollins, which reports its fiscal year at the end of June, were about $1.7 billion.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Seeing the Book Biz from Both Sides Now

From Publishers Weekly:

Elisabeth Sifton, who edited three of my books and died a year ago, used to put a big X in the margin whenever I mentioned a book that a writer had published. “Writers don’t publish books!” she’d say. “Publishers publish books.” I would dutifully change the wording, but I have to confess that I didn’t understand exactly what she meant—as, indeed, most authors don’t understand what publishers do, other than give them material to complain about.

Well, now I know. Five years ago, with a small group of colleagues, I started a publishing enterprise called Columbia Global Reports. We bring out novella-length works of serious nonfiction—26 thus far—on a wide variety of topics. We began with a charge, and financial support, from Columbia University’s president, Lee Bollinger, who was concerned about the severe contraction of the American press at a time when the immediacy of large international challenges was increasing. Our books are paperbacks, attractively designed and produced in a uniform format, usually based on original on-site reporting that we pay for rather than asking our authors to cover expenses out of their advances.

Doing this work has given me a view of publishing from the other side—the publishers’ side—even as I have continued to write books of my own for other publishers. What is it that publishers know, and do, that writers don’t fully grasp? I can answer that, at least to some extent.

A quick word, though, from where authors are coming from. Authors are like actors, perpetually aware that many more people want to do what we do than the world has room for. Editors and publishers have jobs. We don’t. We feel our status to be eternally provisional.

Being a publisher has changed my attitude about the writer’s place in the world, and it may be useful and encouraging to know what it is that gives a writer real value to publishers. At Columbia Global Reports, we are looking for writers who can do firsthand reporting in faraway places, make original arguments about major issues, and write prose that is a pleasure to read. That combination of skills is very, very difficult to find; anybody who has all three, or even two out of three, is a rare talent, for whose time and energy we always find ourselves competing against others who also want them.

Journalists who write books—that’s most of our authors at Columbia Global Reports—often complain that book publishers edit and fact-check their work far less than a traditional news organization would. As a publisher, it’s easy for me to see where this evidently odd feature of book publishing comes from. Though book publishing is famously dominated by five big companies, the actual work of getting a book out is strikingly decentralized. Small publishers like us have access to an amazing array of service providers who aren’t publishers themselves—such as, in our case, Publishers Group West, which functions as our sales force, and Strick & Williams, which designs our books. As a nonprofit publisher, we can afford to invest in editing and fact-checking, but the one essential function that can’t be outsourced is establishing the identity of the house and drawing attention to its work. Seeing that firsthand has cleared up the mystery (for an author like me) of why acquiring and marketing are the primary tasks for publishers.

. . . .

Are you active on social media? Great. Can you produce an op-ed-length version of the core argument of your book? Even better. Are you adept at being interviewed? Will you turn in a very complete version of your author questionnaire?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When PG read the last paragraph of the excerpt above, the first thought that came to his mind was, “Now what is it that traditional publishers actually bring to the table for an author?”

UK: Ebooks and audiobooks head for all-time high in 2020. So much for “screen fatigue”

From The New Publishing Standard:

The head of the UK’s Publishers Association puts a brave face on the latest numbers from Nielsen, which show digital heading for an all-time high as this year winds down.

Despite a significant drop in print sales, as we’d expect with the country’s “nations” (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) in varying stages of lockdown, UK publishers have been doing surprisingly well this year, and that is in large part due to online print sales, and to sales of ebooks and audiobooks.

Per the UK’s The Guardian, summarising the latest Nielsen stats,

The pandemic has revived the fortunes of the consumer ebook. The format once touted as the future of reading has suffered six straight years of sales declines since peaking in 2014 but this year has been different, with sales home and abroad up 17% to £144m in the first half. UK publishers can now expect consumer ebooks to enjoy their best year since 2015, when sales were just under £300m.

The UK Publishers Association CEO Stephen Lotinga explained,

In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases. These figures really emphasise the enduring nature of books and reading – and that readers continue to embrace books in all their forms.

So let’s get this straight. With people confined to their homes, with endless time to spend on their screens on social media or playing mobile games or watching Netflix… The enduring nature of books and reading prevails, says Lotinga.

That’s great. Nothing to disagree with there. Only… Whatever happened to screen fatigue, Stephen?

Screen fatigue? That was the buzzword in the publishing industry a few years ago when the digital naysayers were eager to explain slowing ebook sales without admitting publishers had artificially warped the market against the format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Print Unit Sales Rose 9.5% At the End of October

From Publishers Weekly:

With sales up in all categories, unit sales of print books rose 9.5% in the week ended Oct. 31, 2020, over the comparable week in 2019, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The top-selling book was The Deep End (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #15) by Jeff Kinney, which sold more than 171,000 copies and helped to drive up sales in the juvenile fiction category by 15.5%. A second new release that landed high on the category list was Jimmy Fallon’s 5 More Sleeps ’til Christmas, which sold more than 21,000 copies. For most categories, sales increases over the week ended Nov. 2, 2019, weren’t driven by hot new bestsellers but by solid sales overall. The #1 title in the juvenile nonfiction category, for example, was Big Preschool Workbook, which sold a modest 7,200 copes. The YA fiction category, which had a 25.7% increase, was once again led by Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun, which sold more than 17,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

At Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Consolidation Carousel Continues

From Publishers Weekly:

While the industry waits to see who the new owner of Simon & Schuster will be, another large trade publisher has been put up for sale: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it is exploring the sale of its trade division. Though not one of the Big Five trade publishers, HMH Books & Media is in the next tier, with sales in 2019 of $180 million.

Those sales, however, represented only 13% of HMH total revenue, with the much larger educational publishing division having reported sales of $1.21 billion last year. The trade division’s share of revenue will likely increase this year: while it reported $129.2 million in sales through the end of September, a 1% sales gain over the comparable period in 2019, the education group’s revenue plunged 46.3% to $698 million.

The struggles that HMH’s education group has encountered in transitioning from being a print-based publisher to a digital-focused publisher drove the company’s leadership to look for a buyer for the trade group. The pandemic has led to a big drop in sales of K–12 instructional materials—the Association of American Publishers put the decline at 21.4% through the first nine months of 2020—while accelerating the demand for digital content.

HMH explained the planned divestiture of the trade group by noting that the sale is part of its effort to make HMH “a pure-play technology learning company.” To achieve that goal, it implemented a restructuring in early October to cut costs and focus its energies on digital products. The action eliminated 525 jobs in the educational group, though the trade division was not affected.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Metazoa

From The Wall Street Journal:

Life undersea has a mesmerizing strangeness, from glass sponges—lacy matrices draped with cellular nets—to rococo sea dragons and soft corals like trees in a slow wind. It’s the stuff of a thousand documentaries, but for Peter Godfrey-Smith the spectacle is a curtain-raiser to a profound scientific drama, in which the lives of quite un-human creatures illuminate deep mysteries about the nature of sentience, and what it means to possess a mind.

In “Metazoa,” the scuba-diving historian and philosopher of science tackles these questions with eloquent boldness, reminding us that “life and mind began in water.” Mr. Godfrey-Smith continues the journey he began in “Other Minds” (2016), which focused on the octopus, the closest we have to an “intelligent alien”: an invertebrate with a big, complex nervous system and capacities for play and adaptation. Now he expands the exploration to multicellular animals as a group—the Metazoa of the title—homing in on those marking key transitions in the evolution of mind.

As a biological materialist, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees consciousness as an evolutionary product emerging from the organization of a “universe of processes that are not themselves mental.” He makes no claim to having cracked the conundrum of how meat gives rise to mind. Instead, to get under the skins of his slithering, bobbing subjects, he builds evidence from the evolutionary record to create a picture of the “different forms of subjectivity around us now.” “Metazoa” sweeps readers from Aristotle through the Darwinian revolution and on to current research into the origins of life, spider cognition, the evolution of warm-bloodedness and beyond. He also revisits philosopher Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” the 1974 essay that famously probed the primal difficulties of understanding subjective experience in other organisms.

. . . .

From sponges and corals, “remnants and relatives of early forms of animal action,” Mr. Godfrey-Smith glides on through arthropods, cephalopods, fish and the creatures that eventually clambered onto land. In each group, he probes the complex effects of evolutionary innovations. Nervous systems, which probably first emerged as simpler neural nets more than 600 million years ago, tie “the body together in new ways”: Neurons have thousands of synapses, enabling vast interconnectivity. The emergence of bilaterally symmetrical bodies allowed movement with direction and traction—a big step.

. . . .

As nervous systems evolved further, other kinds of activity and integration arose. Octopuses, revisited here, are a compelling case. Two-thirds of the cephalopod’s half-billion neurons are lodged in its eight arms, part of a “distributed brain’” that may help in controlling its shape-shifting body. Combining his observations with findings on the animals’ behavioral complexity and sensitivity, engagement with novelty, play and problem-solving, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees octopuses as conscious, although their perspective is probably “protean and perhaps sometimes chaotic.”

. . . .

In fish we meet vertebrates with muscle, motion, jaws—and another sensory paradigm. The special cells called neuromasts that form their “lateral line” system sense pressure and vibration, and together act, in Mr. Godfrey-Smith’s evocative phrase, as a “giant pressure-sensitive ear.” In the lab, carp have distinguished between classical music and blues, and even between artists such as John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Mr. Godfrey-Smith speculates that this capacity for pattern recognition might emerge from gregariousness—the complexity of fishes’ social environments giving rise to memory and recognition skills.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG was going to insert a WordPress Block for Amazon Kindle which allows you to look through a few pages of the ebook like the Look Inside feature on the Amazon website. However, the publisher of Metazoa, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, like a number of other members of the traditional publishing artisans’ guild seldom offers Look Inside which, PG suspects, also disables the Free Preview function of the WordPress Kindle Block.

PG wonders if the sharp minds of the artisans’ guild have ever thought that offering Free Preview as a routine part of a book launch might increase ebook sales or online sales of printed books? After all, the single most common act of someone who wants to find a book in a physical bookstore is to open a copy of a prospective purchase and read a few pages.

PG suspects Amazon has data on what percentage of potential ebook browsers use Look Inside and can statistically ascertain what impact the Look Inside feature has on ebook purchases. If anyone has seen or heard of what appears to be reliable information on this topic, PG would appreciate a note through the Contact page so he can read it as well.

PG suspects ham-handedness is behind the no-Look-Inside for newly-released traditionally-published ebooks.

Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Ham-Hand/Brain-Dead Reason #1 – No Amazon Look Inside feature will send droves of prospective purchasers to physical bookstores so they can look at the book and buy it there. No extra charge for virus exposure.
  • Ham-Hand/Brain-Dead Reason #2 – Some smart and evil person will figure out how to hack through the Look-Inside view to the entire underlying ebook file and make illegal copies. Of course, at least some smart and evil persons have enough money to buy access to an ebook from Amazon, hack through any copy protection, make a copy, then return the ebook to Amazon for a refund. If PG were such a person, he would probably automate the entire buy-the-ebook-make-a-copy-return-to-Amazon-for-a-refund-with-the-reason-for-return-chosen-on-a-random-basis. The processing of purchasing different ebook titles via a large variety of different IP addresses, customer names and credit card numbers so such purchases and returns don’t look like they’re coming from the same customer is, to the best of PG’s knowledge, already part of the craft of stealing ebooks and other digital products.

For the record, PG has absolutely no sympathy or concern for those who would steal books, electronic or physical. A book isn’t a loaf of bread required to sustain life in a desperate human. Stealing a book is stealing from whoever wrote the book.

If PG were king for the day, he might concoct a particularly gruesome penalty for anyone who steals from an author, hacker, crooked publisher, crooked literary agent, etc.

That said, “shrinkage” is regarded as a regrettable expense of doing business by almost every retailer selling goods ranging from peaches to socks to screwdrivers. Business plans for new retailers almost always include a provision for shrinkage.

Physical books have been stolen forever. Allowing customers to roam around bookstores looking at any book they like is fundamental to the business of such bookstores. Minimizing theft is one of the many reasons smart bookstore owners and employees watch customers carefully. Providing attentive service can increase store profits in many different ways.

End of harangue. PG blames Covid. Have a nice day.

HarperNorth in Manchester

From Publishing Perspectives:

Editor’s note: In recent years, a strong pushback against the London-centric structure of publishing and other creative industries has gathered energy in the United Kingdom. That dynamic is, in part, behind the creation of HarperCollins UK’s new HarperNorth division in Manchester–a development that has found itself arriving in a most challenging year for the business.

. . . .

On January 21, HarperCollins UK announced that it was launching a new publishing division in one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, Manchester. The next day, Public Health England raised the coronavirus risk level from very low to low. Two months later, the United Kingdom was in lockdown.

“I’ve always talked about trying to do things differently, but I never imagined just how different it would be,” Genevieve Pegg says with a laugh. She’s the publishing director for HarperNorth and a former editorial director of Orion.

Despite the twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, HarperNorth’s editorial and marketing team was recruited and offices were acquired. The division opened for submissions at the end of June and made its first acquisition a month later, Melissa Reddy’s Believe Us, which is scheduled to be published on November 12. Reddy is a senior football correspondent for The Independent.

“HarperCollins was moving at pace and keen to make it happen,” Pegg says. “I’m all the more grateful for that now, because if we’d been operating at the glacial pace that can happen in parts of this business, we wouldn’t have got over the starting line before lockdown.

. . . .

The question for cynics is how much North is there actually in HarperNorth. When the BBC opened its studios in the city of Salford, near Manchester, so many of its presenters commuted from London rather than live in Manchester that it became something of a joke.

“We’re not slingshotting people from London to a strange and unknown land” at HarperNorth, Pegg says. “It was about finding a bunch of people who feel connected to the place and were either already living here or were in the process of moving anyway.”

Pegg was born in Liverpool and grew up in North Wales. She gave up her job at Orion in London five years ago to move back to the North of England with her family and begin a new stage of her career, this time as a freelance editorial consultant.

“I kept having conversations with people like, ‘Oh, you live up in Cheshire now. One day publishing will catch up.’ It was only at the start of this year that the conversation felt different, like there was a sort of commercial aspiration to it, as well.”

“Publishing in the North has its own traditions,” she says. “There’s already an amazing tradition of the university presses and a bevy of really bold and inventive independents who are blazing a trail. There are also a lot of indie authors who’ve not gone down the traditional publishing route. There’s a lot of artistic energy here.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG recommends Des Moines as New York Publishing’s Manchester. PG has a number of relatives living in Iowa, so he visits from time to time.

He finds many Iowans to be intelligent, well-educated (Iowa has a long tradition of a lot of small colleges, some of which are very innovative, plus a couple of large state universities) plus you can live in a decent house in Des Moines for less than a cheesy apartment with roommates and rats would cost in NYC.

PG hasn’t seen any statistics, but he would bet that Iowans on average have a higher literacy rate than the the citizens of NYC. They certainly commit far fewer crimes and are much friendlier to strangers.

PG understands that an English Lit major from Wellesley might not find Des Moines an attractive location at which to intern with a publisher, but, on the whole, that might not be a bad thing.

A Des Moines publisher would find a lot of graduates of Grinnell, Drake, Coe and Cornell (the real one in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, not the poser in New York) who would work harder, perform just as well and not have that entitlement attitude going on.

Sargent Leaving Macmillan

From Publishers Weekly:

In a surprise announcement this morning, Holtzbrinck announced that John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, will leave Macmillan and its parent, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, on January 1. Don Weisberg, president of Macmillan US Trade, has been named to succeed Sargent as CEO of Macmillan Publishers, while Susan Winslow, general manager of Macmillan Learning, will head that division as president. In addition to overseeing all of Macmillan, Sargent was an executive v-p of Holtzbrinck.

In making the announcement, Holtzbrinck said Sargent’s departure is due to “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice,” Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of the Holtizbrinck Publishing Group, said in a statement. “John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

In case anyone harbored any misconceptions about who the real bosses of Macmillan are.

As PG has said before, the CEOs of Big Publishing are nicely-tailored middle managers. “The family shareholders” and similar groups and entities are the real bosses.

PG suspects “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” translates from the original German as “Mr. Sargent didn’t make his numbers. We want to see more sales and much higher profits.”

However, since PG doesn’t speak German and his last name is not von Holtzbrinck, all this is idle speculation.

However, in the midst of this little dust-up, you must never forget that, first and foremost, traditional publishers are Curators of Our Culture or, more specifically, Kuratoren unserer Kultur.

Why Can’t Publishers Handle the Truth?

From Publishers Weekly:

When Carmen recounted waking up to the prodding batons of U.S. border guards after fainting from exhaustion during her third attempt to enter the United States from Mexico via the Rio Grande River, I remained speechless.

By 2012, I’d spent seven years and hundreds of hours interviewing women like Carmen who survived unimaginable horrors, followed by another two years helping flesh out, fact-check, and proofread their perseverance narratives for the 50 Women anthology series, two books of testimonies told by 50 women from 30 countries, who mostly survived inconceivable acts: female genital mutilation, assault, genocides, armed conflict, and fleeing dangerous regions on foot, to name a few.

Despite the series’ impressive endorsement list and the breadth of world issues it brings to life, agents and publishers repeatedly told me the books had “no market” and relegated them to “ethnic” categories.

Their responses baffled me then and they baffle me now, especially after witnessing the bidding war, film option, and Oprah Winfrey support Jeanine Cummins received for American Dirt. Her “privilege” is common in publishing. The characters of American Dirt have experiences like those of real people I have interviewed and whose stories of treacherous migrations fill the daily news cycle. Yet the story receiving accolades, money, and attention is a work of fiction, written by a woman lacking personal experience with these issues or the Latinx diaspora.

This is partially because publishing industry leaders do not reflect the people and the consumers that they serve. Earlier this year, independent children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books released its 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that 76% of respondent publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are white.

And even with the advent of the #MeToo movement, we still focus about how women have sex, their beauty products, and their wardrobes, but we’re still not willing to listen to survivor narratives unless they’re through a polished filter. Unless women are a sellable, sensationalized package, we will still be shooed away, ridiculed, or picked apart for speaking out. It is discouraging that, as the case of American Dirt illustrates, people care more about a fictional story or a white savior narrative than about real stories of parent-child border separations and draconian orders against those attempting to migrate. No one to my knowledge offered the immigrant women I interviewed from Mexico and Central America who underwent treacherous migrations a seven-figure advance to tell their stories. As migrants, they don’t represent our familiar privileged lenses. They are an inconvenient truth.

We relate to privileged women or fictional characters more than immigrant women because survivor narratives are uncomfortable. They are more evidence that pervasive inequality persists. Their stories are not entertaining or sensual but painful and shocking, and that is why privileged narratives prevail in our culture. With fictional characters, we can similarly avoid digesting reality’s discomforts, but in doing so our perspectives of controversial issues are shaped by either privilege or fabrication, and, sadly, real women’s voices at the heart of crucial matters are extinguished.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Don’t be evil. Self-publish.

Switching authors on to book fairs

From The Bookseller:

Back in March, I was watching Twitter like it was a countdown, waiting like so many others for the inevitable to happen and for the London Book Fair to be cancelled.

And so it was. Covid-19 hit the world and unleashed disruption like no other. The cancellation of physical events at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair comes as another sad but expected result. However, Frankfurt will push forward with an extensive digital programme, as many other book fairs have begun to across the world. The loss of the physical events has been tragic for both organisers and attendees, but as a writer, I think the enforced move towards more digital content is an overdue and welcome development.

The value of book fairs has long been accepted by publishers, agents and booksellers. For writers, not so much. Bookfairs are driven by their marketplace nature, full of business wrangling that revolves around writers but in practice doesn’t directly involve us. Despite this, fairs present a brilliant opportunity for writers to get a behind-the-veil look at how the cogs of the industry turn.

When I first attended LBF, I was awestruck by the sheer size of it all. Thanks to the dedicated Author HQ area, I attended numerous seminars that gave me an insight into the industry’s preoccupations and processes, networked with other writers, and met with representatives of book organisations such as the Society of Authors (which I joined) and BookTrust (which introduced me to BookTrust Represents, an initiative which promotes and supports authors and illustrators of colour).

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A question occurred to PG while he read this – Does Amazon ever show up for book fairs?

PRH Opens ‘The Conversation’ To ‘Sustain Antiracist Engagement’

From Publishing Perspectives:

Described as a site “to support families, educators, communities, organizations, and readers who are working to combat racism and end racial inequities in our daily lives,” Penguin Random House in New York today (September 22) has announced an online hub of resources.

The Conversation is an extensive curated aggregation of “programming for readers, including discussion guides, title lists, and special content” with “a strong focus on family reading and community engagement,” the publishing house says in its media messaging.

Its core resource, of course, is the many relevant lists of titles that a publisher the size and international reach of PRH can bring to bear on a topic. But the site also features “resources to facilitate dialogue about books by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and other iconic writers,” the company says.

“It will also provide toolkits, inspired by the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Jennifer L. Eberhardt, for creating antiracist workplaces. The site will feature books and content from all of Penguin Random House’s publishing divisions, and the company is creating book bundles and materials for independent bookstores to help these businesses with their outreach to local schools and libraries.”

As might be expected, children’s interests are “a primary focus,” featuring information for parents “for raising antiracist children” with titles from Jacqueline Woodson and Nic Stone and others. Coming later in the autumn, a family-reading initiative is to be added, with reading guides “for the adult and young-reader editions of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, along with video content and other resources to facilitate meaningful family conversations.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Is Employing Men Over Women a Nefarious Plot?

From Digital Pubbing:

Publishing is often considered to be a female job. It revolves around emotional intelligence and creativity. There are a lot of soft skills necessary to work with authors and their pieces of writing. Unfortunately, when the statistics get broken down, the numbers paint a different picture. While there’s a majority of women in the editorial department, the executive positions see fewer women involved.

In 2017, there were only two female CEOs among the top 30 publishers. The pay gap also exists, and it’s a reflection of men taking on higher-level roles. That only proves that even though women are pillars of the publishing industry, men will find their way to the top.

Gender Inequality Among Authors

It’s not the gender inequality burden per se that’s been placed on the authors—it’s a fear of recognition. Many female authors decide to use the male pseudonym to explore what it’s like to publish as a man. That way, they could experience anonymity, reach a male audience, and publish without prejudice.

It seems that nothing has changed since the 19th century when the Bronte sisters published their works under male names. Today, J.K. Rowling is just one example. She used the pen name Robert Galbraith to publish Cormoran Strike novels. However, there seems to be a difference. While female authors of the past feared public judgment and used the new identity as an escape, female authors of today use male pen names to distance themselves from their previous work. Today’s reason seems a tad bit better.

Unconscious Bias and Books

Many female authors felt the pressure of unconscious bias on their skin. Some have sent their manuscript to publishers and received a meager number of responses, but the numbers increased when they used male pen names. Books written by women are also priced 45% less than those written by men.

Fewer women are featured in publications than men, which can be considered strange since women generally buy and read more books. When it comes to purchasing, people are usually inclined to buy books written by their gender. This only means that the readership also expresses unconscious bias.

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

PG notes the bio of the author:

As the SEO manager of TeamStage, Tina also relies on her degree in Modern English & Literature to write about the importance of project and team management in executing a successful strategy, top to bottom. Off work, she likes to look for the perfect green curry spots, explore temples in Southeast Asia, and treat herself to cheesecake and matcha latte, in that order.

PG also suggests that J.K. Rowling used the pen name Robert Galbraith for branding and marketing purposes.

J.K.’s name was and is gold in the childrens/YA market. PG suspects that she was likely concerned that, if parents and others automatically purchased the newest J.K. book because their kids loved the last one, book stores would have been inundated with returns as soon as Little Susi/Little Johnnie realized that Hermione and Harry were nowhere to be found. Plus, after listening to Susi and Johnnie’s heartbroken wails of disappointment, the adult book purchaser might have hesitated before picking up the next book with J.K.’s name on the cover.

What is described in the OP as J.K. “distancing” herself from her previous work, a plight that is “a tad bit better” from whatever hellhole to which she would have been condemned in some other, even less-enlightened age is simply additional evidence that J.K. is a very intelligent woman who is smart about managing her publishing career.

As far as the antediluvian nature of the power structure of Big Publishing, PG agrees in a broad sense but points out that female publishing CEOs show no sign of being any less blinkered than their male peers and no reasonably-intelligent 2020 female college graduate is likely to go to work in publishing and suffer through Twentieth-Century wages and working conditions. A degree in Modern English and Literature might possibly condemn one to such a fate, however.

Traditional Publishing Enjoys Its Best Sales in a Decade—Despite Supply Chain Problems

From Jane Friedman:

Recently you may have heard about book publishing’s printing problems from outlets such as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly. In the US and UK, spring and summer titles were delayed until fall, making for a crowded season. Not only is it challenging to get media attention for new releases right now, but it’s also leading to a “printer jam”—a tight printing market.

Meanwhile, a surge in print book sales during the pandemic, with a volume increase of about 12 percent over the summer, has made things worse. In fact, for the year print book sales are up by nearly 6 percent versus 2019; traditional publishing is expected to have its strongest performing year since 2010. But it has come at a cost: reprints that normally take two weeks now sometimes take more than a month. Some publishers have now pushed back release dates to 2021 as a result of low printing capacity.

So what’s caused this tight print market?

Printing delays are problematic—but the problem has little to do with the health of book publishing.

Book publishing is just a fraction of the overall printing and paper business in the US, and it will continue to be at the mercy of bigger marketplace changes. The printing market has been tight since at least 2018 for various reasons, all complicated by issues such as tariffs on paper. Even pre-pandemic, there wasn’t any slack in the system.

We talked to industry veteran Bo Sacks about the current environment and how we reached this point. Sacks has observed the evolution, growth, and decline of printers for the last 50 years. “They’re in serious debt, which is part of the problem,” he said. That’s because of the long, ongoing battle between the two largest printers in the United States—LSC Communications and Quad—to buy up market share. Sacks says sometimes the printers would buy a company just to get the clients, then shut down plants. Quad, in fact, only entered the book-printing business in 2010, and through just that type of scenario. But these decisions were made in another era, Sacks said: “2010 seems a lot longer than 10 years ago. The difference from that moment until now is unbelievable.”

Sacks said that Quad built the company on the expectation that long-run magazines would go on forever. (Long-run magazines are titles that get printed in extremely high quantities.) But that’s not a business model that works today. “The long-run [magazine] titles are diminishing and dying left and right,” Sacks said. “So what they’ve done in the last decade is buy plants that focus on short-run printing.” He says that getting quality workers—productivity—has also been part of the problem. And indeed, at the Book Industry Study Group annual meeting this year, an industry expert on book manufacturing said that a tight labor market is one of the industry’s biggest problems, and perhaps only automation can solve it.

. . . .

Ingram is helping publishers (of all sizes) meet increased demand for books as the supply chain gets tighter and uncertain.

Due to the pandemic and current events (see: political books related to the US election), some books are more in demand than ever, exacerbating the supply problem and creating order backups.

Industry vet Mike Shatzkin wrote about how publishers’ ability to keep fulfilling orders during the pandemic has relied heavily on Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program, which uses print-on-demand to ship books to accounts within 24 hours. This program makes it possible to deliver “just about any quantity of books to just about any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package,” Shatzkin writes.

Indeed, Ingram is critical in the US market as the biggest wholesaler and distributor of print books; its operations include Lightning Source, a print-on-demand printer used by small and Big Five publishers alike, as well as IngramSpark, its self-publishing arm. Turnaround times for print-on-demand through Ingram have become significant: 22 business days, not counting shipping. Before the pandemic, typical turnaround time was a few days.

As Shatzkin notes, five of the top 10 New York Times nonfiction bestsellers in June 2020—related to social justice and antiracism—were supplied by Ingram’s Lightning Source division and benefited from the GAP program. If publishers had waited even two or three weeks for supply, those sales would’ve been completely lost.

However, one group is not so happy with Ingram: authors using IngramSpark. Print turnaround times for self-publishing authors using the service have been 22 to 24 business days (plus shipping time) since May. Author Andrew Shaffer said, “I’ve been working on a new self-published book, and a five–six week turnaround to get a single proof copy is unworkable. Then when I make a change to the cover or whatever, I have to wait five–six more weeks to see how it prints.”

Ingram announced earlier this year they’re investing in their print-on-demand operations across the globe and will hire hundreds of new employees to run new equipment now being installed. In an August 12 presentation, Ingram representatives spoke directly to publishers’ concerns about managing inventory and making books available as buying patterns keep shifting. Matt Mullin, senior key accounts sales manager at Ingram Content Group, advocated that publishers move as many backlist titles as possible to print-on-demand and consider using Ingram programs like GAP, which keep titles available via print-on-demand if conventional supply runs out.

. . . .

Publishers haven’t been great at predicting which books or categories will spike in demand. In February and March, book publishers realized the scope of the pandemic and made the decision to stock up on pandemic and dystopian literature, Mullin said. But people don’t, in fact, want to read about the end of the world while stuck at home. In fact, one UK study found such literature rated at the bottom of what consumers’ stated preferences are. Of course, we now know what did sell and continues to sell: home-education materials. While some trends might be predictable, like gardening in summer, “What’s amazing is how widespread the [sales] uncertainty is. It really goes across every category,” Mullin said.

In a Publishing Trends article looking at the recent increase of digital and POD printing, Lorraine Shanley writes, “The old model of looking at the unit cost of a manufactured book has morphed into looking at the cost per unit sold. And, as printers close and consolidate, … flexibility becomes more important, forcing publishers to look at ‘total cost of ownership.’ How do the advantages of having inventory on hand in your own warehouse weigh against the carrying costs—or the possibility that the warehouse closes or the inventory can’t get to the end user?” That is the calculation that publishers must make during the pandemic, and it’s the kind of uncertainty that will carry through 2020, and into much of 2021.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Macmillan: Don Weisberg To Succeed John Sargent as CEO

From Publishing Perspectives:

Many in world publishing are surprised this morning (September 17) as a series of top roles at Big Five publisher Macmillan undergo fast change.

Holtzbrinck in Stuttgart has announced “with great regret” that John Sargent will depart both Macmillan and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group as of January 1.

The reason for Sargent’s departure is described by the German corporation’s statement as “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

Don Weisberg, who currently is president of Macmillan US trade, has been named to succeed Sargent. And Susan Winslow, until now the company’s general manager, becomes president of Macmillan Learning, effective immediately.

In a prepared statement, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group CEO Stefan von Holtzbrinck says, “The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice.

“John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of  speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.”

. . . .

To many following issues of diversity and equity in publishing, Susan Winslow’s promotion to president of Macmillan Learning is of special interest. The new role makes her one of only a small number of women who lead educational publishing and ed-tech companies.

She has been general manager of the division for three years and has more than three decades of experience in educational publishing across the business.

. . . .

It’s impossible to know from the Holtzbrinck announcement today what “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” means. It’s not clear that that line or Sargent’s impending departure can be seen as related to that quite radical management-model adjustment of the summer.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG does not (of course) have any insights into the inner workings of Macmillan or any other large US traditional publisher. To be fair, PG has not attempted to penetrate the cone of silence that surrounds most of what happens in large publishers, but expects he would be firmly rebuffed should he ever attempt to do so.

However, it is not unusual for respected and competent leaders of organizations owned by large international media conglomerates like Holtzbrinck to be terminated for not making their numbers (that is, the revenue and profit numbers demanded by the real bosses). With these folks, it’s all about the Benjamins (einhundert Euro or eine Million Euro). Achieve your targets and, absent criminal charges, you’re gold. Miss and you’re geschichte.

Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten.

Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Announce Diversity Roles

From Publishing Perspectives:

Within an hour of each other today (September 15), two Big Five publishers in New York City have announced newly created diversity-focused directorial positions.

At Simon & Schuster, president and CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to the workforce, introducing Amanda Armstrong-Frank in the role of director of workplace culture and diversity initiatives.

And at HarperCollins, senior vice-president in human resources Diane Bailey has named Gisselda Nuñez to the role of vice-president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Both companies, of course, carry major influence on the international stage.

And both appointments are being made amid intensifying international focus on how publishing’s output–and its companies’ employees and leadership–can better reflect the complex and deeply multicultural nature of contemporary society and the consumer base.

. . . .

In her new role, Karp writes to Simon & Schuster’s staff, Armstrong-Frank is to report both to him and to Marva Smalls, the executive vice-president and global head of inclusion for S&S’ parent corporation ViacomCBS.

Armstrong-Frank, he writes, “will have the benefit of direct access to the many resources of the office of global inclusion under Marva, bringing to Simon & Schuster a wealth of perspective and expertise to combine with her own deep understanding of Simon & Schuster’s employees, our culture, and challenges particular to the publishing industry.

“Amanda will be an agent for change,” Karp writes, “who will advise, advocate, and act to improve workplace culture, including diverse representation at all levels. She will partner with me in helping to facilitate conversations and access to senior management, building targeted development programming and expanding management participation in our extensive recruitment outreach to pools of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] talent.”

Armstrong-Frank’s brief includes developing with human resources “much-anticipated diversity and inclusion training” for “all Simon & Schuster employees annually,” Karp writes, “and as part of new-hire onboarding to support a culture of awareness, inclusion, and psychological safety from Day One.

“Of course,” he writes, Armstrong-Frank “will ensure that our very active diversity council continues to play an important role in the life of the company by encouraging the engagement of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other employees from diverse backgrounds, and by drawing the attention of senior management to critical issues of concern.”

Armstrong-Frank’s background includes service on the publisher’s diversity council since 2005, management of the company’s “associates program,” which Karp calls “an important pipeline of diverse talent, and mentoring. She has been with the company since joining sales in 1994 and has worked in managerial roles in business operations, customer programs, and advertising.

“She has long been a reliable sounding board,” Karp writes, “and in recent months has generously shared her insights and wise counsel, helping us gain valuable perspective and envision a better way forward for Simon & Schuster, with a workplace culture befitting our place as an industry leader.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG wonders if S&S included an adequate number of buzzwords in its announcement or whether Ms. Armstrong-Frank should have been consulted to make certain there were enough.

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t notice anything in the OP that suggested these changes were going to provide copious benefits to authors.