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.

Trainwreck Fall Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

I adore a good gothic and a somewhat creepy novel (but not too creepy, mind you), so in June, when a reliable friend recommended Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel, I ordered a copy immediately, and read it the moment it arrived. Loved it. It’s in my recommended reading list for July.

As soon as I finished, I ordered a copy for my sister, who also likes this type of book. Immediately, a notice flashed on my screen: she wouldn’t get the book until September. I was stunned. I looked at the publisher, thinking I was dealing with a specialty press, but no. I wasn’t. How odd.

That was my entire reaction: How odd. The book had released in February, so I should have been able to get my hands on a copy quickly. But I couldn’t.

That same thing had happened with a couple of other books I had ordered for my sister back in May. They were backlist for an author I knew my sister hadn’t tried, but would love. It took six weeks for her to get the books, with the shipment getting delayed more than once.

Because so many other things were going on, I hadn’t put my experiences together with something I wrote about at the end of April. Traditional publishing was headed for a trainwreck, and I was worried about it.

Part of the trainwreck was—and is—the closed bookstores. Many are still closed. But a lot of that trainwreck had to do with publisher panic, old systems, supply chains, and more.

When the pandemic hit, everyone thought we would get through the damn thing in a few months. We’d club that virus into submission, and return to normal life—or close to normal—by summer.

. . . .

Some industries aren’t very nimble. They can’t just shuffle one thing to accommodate something else. Traditional publishing is like that.

(This is where a handful of my indie-writer readers usually check out. I suggest you don’t, because I’ll be talking to you below. We’re part of an industry and a large part of the industry is mismanaging a crisis, which will have an impact on you. So, breathe, and dive back in.)

With the bookstores closed, some companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that all would be better by then. There was some wiggle room, because traditional publishers had tried to avoid publishing anything important in November since it is a presidential election year. So there were some empty weeks.

But not enough of them. The schedule got shuffled, then reshuffled, then shuffled again. I know some books got canceled entirely, but many have just been moved to the next available slot on the schedule.

That is, they got moved to an available slot on the schedule, if the book is expected to do well. If it was a standard midlist book, it got shoved somewhere random, so that it can be printed, shipped, and sent to bookstores—who ordered their copies pre-pandemic.

Yeah, even if the book doesn’t come out now until fall of 2021, many of those orders remain exactly as they were. Even if the bookstore isn’t selling as many copies in its brick-and-mortar store. Or if the bookstore has shuttered its brick-and-mortar store—or closed entirely.

Here’s what a lot of readers don’t know—consciously anyway. Traditional publishing is built on velocity—that is, how many books sell in a short period of time.

The system that traditional publishing is using was designed post-World War II (or as I said to a friend yesterday, after the World War II generation survived its once-in-a-lifetime crisis). Back then, there were very few bookstores, and those that existed had limited space. Most books were sold in other retail venues—drug stores, department stores, magazine stands, and the like—which again, had limited space. In other words, there was only so much room for books in those places. Rather than keep old inventory on the shelf, retailers who sold books churned them—getting rid of those that were still on the racks after a month or two, and replacing them with new inventory.

This was easy to do, because in the Great Depression, the publishing companies subsidized anyone who sold a book by removing cost of excess inventory. Retailers could return books for full credit within a specific window. Which meant that retailers could make bad decision after bad decision, and not lose a heck of a lot of money.

They could also churn at no cost to them, replacing the old inventory with the new.

That practice created the idea that books were like bananas; they spoiled if they didn’t sell within a few weeks. And, indeed, there are horrid photos from the 1990s of Dumpsters filled with books behind shopping malls, because many publishers allowed retailers to strip the cover off books (and toss the rest of the book away) and still get full credit. Saves shipping costs, doncha know.

Even though it’s a stupid 75-year-old business model, traditional publishing still banks on velocity. And traditional publishing is fairly stupid about velocity. If an author’s sales numbers go down, no matter what the reason (y’know, like closed bookstores and a pandemic), that author will be offered a smaller advance next time—or will be cut loose. It’s brutal and unrealistic, and it’s on the horizon for so many writers.

. . . .

In addition to the messing up of the schedule, there were supply chain problems and the bankruptcy and auction of the two remaining major web press printers here in the States.

. . . .

The best way to sell books (as demonstrated by study after study) is word of mouth. My sister is at the end of a recommendation chain that went from my friend to me to my sister. My sister hasn’t even had a chance to read and recommend yet. By the time I wanted to give a copy to my sister, the book was out of print. The reason for the nearly three-month delay was because there were no copies of the hardcover in the warehouse—and no printing scheduled until September.

That September printing was probably ordered in May, which meant that the May numbers might not reflect the actual interest. The Times noted that one of the hot political books of August, which I had actually forgotten about (because so many hot political books have followed) had a similar problem:

The CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s new book “Hoax,” about the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox, was out of stock on Amazon this week shortly after its August 25 publication date, and showed a ship time of one to two months. Mr. Stelter’s publisher, One Signal, a Simon & Schuster imprint, which initially printed 50,000 copies, has ordered another 100,000 copies.

Two-month delay from August 25 on a political book places that 100,000 copy rerelease at the end of October, a week from the November election. 

. . . .

Ah, I hear you all now. What about the ebooks?

This is where traditional publishers have—pardon my crudity—fucked themselves blue. Stelter’s ebook costs $14.99. The ebook for the St. James that I mentioned above is $13.99.

Ridiculous, right? But it’s part of traditional publishing think. They want readers to buy the hardcovers, so they’ve priced ebooks unbelievably high, which is causing another problem. From that same New York Times article:

Some worry that the current crunch could reverse the yearlong trend of stable and sometimes rising print sales, sending readers back to digital books, which are less lucrative for publishers and authors, and especially brick and mortar retailers.Sa

Less lucrative for authors? On what planet? Oh, yeah, right. The traditional publishing planet. I’ve seen article after article that talks about how ebooks are a bust, that they don’t make money, and that sales of ebooks are “depressed.”

Yeah, if you overcharge for them.

. . . .

So, if the reader can’t get the novel that caught their attention this week by ordering it online, and if the reader won’t pay over $10 for an ebook, and if the reader can’t get the book from their library, what does the reader do?

The reader moves on to a different writer, another book, something new and different. Sales—and fans—aren’t allowed to build.

At all.

. . . .

As The Guardian noted, the blockbusters will make it into the retail stores. But those midlisters won’t. There just isn’t room. And with overpriced ebooks and no library access, there’s no way to discover these writers.

So many writers have gone to traditional publishing because those writers believe traditional is better at getting books into stores (really?) and is better at promotion. Let’s ignore the first part, shall we, and assume that some poor traditionally published writer was actually slated to get promotion on their book.

First, as The Guardian notes, there’s not enough room in the literary press to cover all 600 books that were released on September 3. There isn’t enough room to cover the books that will be released after September 3.

And if you were lucky enough to get a rave review from a reputable publication? Well, you better hope your publication date remained the same. Because review copies were mailed months in advance, and the review was written months in advance and published to time with your original release.

The Times quotes Sasha Issenberg whose book The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage was slated to release in June for Pride Month. He got a stellar review in Publisher’s Weekly. Only his book got pushed to early September, then late September, and now won’t come out until June of 2021.

Will the bookstores that ordered the book even open the boxes when it arrives? Remember the order at all? Will the bookstore even be in existence when the book arrives? Will readers remember that they wanted the book in June of 2020? Will the publishing company redo their promotional efforts for the book?

Oh, wait. I can answer that last one. No, they won’t. They’ll expect Issenberg to do it, and maybe he might be able to finagle some interviews and additional reviews on his own, the way an indie writer would do things. But his book is going to tank, unless someone does an intervention. And believe me, there will be a lot of other things that will have grabbed our attention by Pride Month 2021, and none of them will be his book.

. . . .

[N]ewly published traditional writers? They’re screwed. They really are.

A handful of them will be resilient enough—and smart enough—to learn how to indie publish their next books. But most of these traditional writers won’t be that resilient. Their dreams are going to die a horrid, horrid death.

I empathize…up to a point. If they want to learn how to publish books, point them to our Publishing 101 class, and then stay out of their way. They’ve had years of warning to stay away from traditional publishing, and they didn’t listen. They’re probably not going to listen now. You know the rules about drowning victims, right? Send them a lifeline. Don’t get close enough to let them grab you and pull you down.

After I published the first Trainwreck piece, I heard from indie writers who panicked. They asked if they should stay away from the crowded fall schedule. I said no.

Because the real business model for publishing in the 21st century is this: readers will discover books over years, not weeks. Put your book out there. Yeah, maybe some reader won’t find it until 2022. That’s okay. Then they get to read your entire backlist.

Indie writers aren’t dependent on velocity. To have a successful career, we need widespread availability. We need to be in all the possible markets we can. We want our readers to find reasonably priced ebooks from all the major vendors

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This is a first-class Kris Rusch analysis of traditional publishing and PG strongly suggests reading the entire OP (which is substantially longer than this excerpt).

PG will add only a bit of reinforcement for the main point Kris makes in the OP: Traditional publishing is a very poorly-run business. It might be compared to that great restaurant you used to enjoy, but don’t think about much any more because the prices are steep and the last time you went, the kitchen wasn’t doing the job it used to.

The other factor PG has mentioned before is that even if the New York top brass was inclined to really innovate and make aggressive changes, the companies that own the large New York publishers – large European media conglomerates plus CBS (Simon & Schuster) are not going to be receptive to innovative changes, particularly if such changes might possibly result in lower short-term profits.

The CEOs of the major New York trade publishers are really middle-management in their business organizations. From PG’s prior personal experience with large European media conglomerates, he is 99.99% confident that cutting ebook prices to potentially goose sales numbers is a non-starter. The people who own the NYC publishers are just as locked into traditional strategies and practices as the NYC underlings Kris describes.

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.

If you want to make a contribution directly to Kris for her insights, here’s a link to her Patreon page.

Book Tours – Analyzed

The post that appeared immediately prior to this one included a video in which the author was performing a video substitute for a physical book tour. When PG posted the video from YouTube, it had received 2,594 views.

PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

Typically, the bookstore staff sets up some chairs for the audience, has several stacks of the book being promoted spread around the store and provides the author a table and a chair.

Thereafter, the author makes a short speech about her/his book designed (almost always by the author) to induce members of the audience to buy a copy of the author’s book. After completing the pitch, the author sits at the table and autographs books that members of the audience have purchased, often with a trite phrase, “I hope you enjoy my book!” or something the purchaser requests, “For Lurlene from her loving granddaughter, MaryJoJean.”

After chatting with strangers and signing all the books that are purchased, the author packs up, thanks the bookstore staff (perhaps leaving them some candy) and exits the store to travel to the next bookstore on the tour schedule. On a large tour across the US, airplane travel and hotels are involved.

For a really, really, really bestselling author, the publisher might send a minder to help schlep the author around from place to place.

To PG, this sounds like a mid-Twentieth-Century marketing strategy. (“Housewives! Have we got something new to brighten your humdrum day! The latest scientific innovation in kitchen cleaners!”)

Let’s break the thinking behind what passes for the marketing strategy behind a book tour.

  1. The author’s time costs the publisher nothing.
  2. We will send one of our authors to a physical bookstore. We’ll have the bookstore create some sort of poster announcing a book signing by Arthur Author for his latest book.
  3. If the publisher is feeling really generous, it might pay to have some cheap promotional brochures printed and shipped to the bookstore so the store will have something for an employee to sprinkle around for most of its customers to ignore. If it’s colorful, children might pick up a brochure to leave in the back seat of the car when they get home.
  4. The bookstore will have its employees set up chairs and a signing table, unpack a couple of boxes of books, place a few books around the store and stack a bunch on the signing table.
  5. In advance of the designated time, the author will leave an inexpensive hotel room, drive a rental car to the store after cruising around a strange city for awhile, walk into the store and start meeting total strangers.
  6. The introverted author who hates speaking to groups of people will thereafter speak to a crowd of strangers which will always be smaller than the author expected to show up.
  7. After trying to be interesting and entertaining for 15-20 minutes, the introverted author will then have to talk to a stream of strangers for about 60 seconds each, try to appear to be enjoying the process of acting like a homecoming queen, and write something trite in each copy of the book.
  8. Emotionally exhausted, after the last customer has left, the author will then effusively thank the book store manager and staff for their efforts, glance at the large stack of unsold books, and stumble out to their means of transportation and try to remember where the next book-signing is scheduled and when she’s supposed to be there.
  9. If the author is sufficiently depressed, she may estimate how many copies of her book were sold at the book-signing, calculate the royalties she will receive from those sales and realize that each of the store employees earned more on a per-hour basis than the author did for the time she put into preparation, travel, getting dressed up, undergoing the introvert’s torture of talking to a bunch of strange people (including some who were stranger than others) in the store, then more travel.

Perhaps PG is missing some giant financial or psychological benefit that accrues to a typical author as a result of a traditional book-signing or series of book-signings, but he doesn’t think so.

Then, let’s consider that Amazon sells more books than any bookstore or chain of bookstores in the world.

And, the author earns a higher royalty when Amazon sells an ebook than when Joe’s Books and Bait Shop sells a paperback.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

The art of the normal

From The Bookseller:

Super Thursday has arrived early this year. Thanks to some overexcited reporting, the annual media frenzy that follows the yearly revelation that a lot of new hardback books are published in the autumn, has been focused on early September, rather than October, as we used to know it.

For numbers people, here are a few. Yesterday (3rd September) around 260 trade hardbacks were released.

. . . .

Come “real” Super Thursday on 1st October, we go again with some 450 trade hardbacks, a healthy increase on 2019, but mercifully down on 2018’s record.

This is not new, of course. For as long as there have been books, there appear to have been more of them than there are readers. Overproduction has often been denounced as a plague, but rarely have we done much about it. For publishers, a book is the thing that can cure all of our ills—just one more, as I’ve been known to say while on my way to the bar. It is easy to scoff, but the media’s fascination with this subject should not be taken too lightly, not least because for all of the smart campaigns that will be launched between now and December, this one costs us not a jot (except perhaps in reputation). In fact, we ought to be revelling in this big moment for books, just as we can take solace from how books kept us entertained and informed during the lockdown.

The trade is not just about big books (though we might like them), but also about the people who write and sell them. As the author Joanne Harris argues, for writers these weeks will likely just be “confusing, stressful and culminating in annihilation”. For booksellers, as pictures circulating on social media of stacks of as-yet-unopened deliveries suggest, it is both a physical and mental assault course.

This time around there is the added spice of having to contend with the new normal. We are often accused, in this sector, of denying the obvious. This year we cannot. In his half-year results address, Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle talked about a world in which online book sales have become more important. He is not wrong; Covid has shown us all how fragile a supply chain can be when it is reliant on customers wanting to visit physical locations together.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG wonders if traditionally-published authors ever question whether it’s a good idea for their books to be released on the same day as hundreds of other books are released.

PG also wonders how good a job underpaid publicity people and unpaid interns do with providing excellent support for a massive launch of so many books at once.

PG will note that the OP is focused on the British book business, but large US publishers have similar and often synchronized book release schedules.

If your debut novel is released on the same day as Delia Owens’ second novel is released and JK Rowling’s US publisher releases a new Harry Potter sequel, guess how much attention your book will receive.

For publishers, building up enthusiasm among the literati and press might be a great idea.

For an individual author’s book dumped onto the market along with a bunch of other new books, maybe not so much.

PublisHer Opens Its New Initiative

From Publishing Perspectives:

Today (September 3), the PublisHer professional network committed to working for gender equality in world publishing opens a new series of video interviews.

In the first of these interviews–the series is called #Unmasked, and is now available on the organization’s YouTube channel–the Nairobi journalist and storyteller Maïmouna Jallow interviews Angela Wachuka, who with Wanjiru Koinange has co-founded the nonprofit Book Bunk Trust.

. . . .

Angela Wachuka’s work is familiar for Book Bunk’s centerpiece project of restoring the McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi’s city center. She talks with Jallow about how “One of the things that really bothered us from the beginning” was that the McMillan facility was originally opened in 1931 as a feature of what Wachuka calls “an ode to colonial opulence,” second only in age in Kenya to Mombasa’s Seif bin Salim Library.

“The thinking at the time was that Africans would not use” the McMillan Library “at any point.” Its restoration today is thus as much a redirection of the facility’s mission and availability as it is a redevelopment of a valuable physical property.

. . . .

The new #Unmasked series of interviews is part of a wider initiative from PublisHer, an effort to equip women in publishing with outlooks and approaches that may help them gain traction in the international industry, particularly once travel and more nearly normal business activity is permitted in our vaccinated future.

. . . .

The wisdom of PublisHer’s approach is that it’s capturing some of the remaining time under the brunt of the contagion’s threat to create a multi-pronged strategy that women in publishing can access and develop now, with an eye to positioning themselves for making new ground in publishing’s leadership when the world’s commercial engines rev back up to speed.

You’ll noticed, too, that the organization is beginning to use the useful term bookwomen, more frequently found in British-English dictionaries than in American-English references.

. . . .

While the mentors announced today are all women, it’s interesting to note that one of them–PublisHer board member Tracey Armstrong, president and CEO of Copyright Clearance Center–has said in past interviews with Publishing Perspectives that women should be mentored by men as well as by other women.

“I do think that mentoring is important,” Armstrong said to us in a 2017 interview. “But I think it’s as important for men to mentor women as it is for women to mentor women emerging in their careers. How those men made achievements in their careers, I think it’s important for them to impart that” to women.

As the mentoring program develops, it will be interesting to see if that logic plays out in participation by male leadership in the industry.

The program is set up as “a deliberately uncomplicated” plan that offers a confidential, one-hour meeting on a video conferencing platform. Mentors and mentees agree whether to continue to meet and how often. The program is free of charge.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

This sounds to PG like traditional publishing is a difficult misogynist nut to crack.

Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It?

From Esquire:

When I set out to write my first book, I wanted to write a book that examined the very nature of facts and how we turn them into stories. To do this, I knew, I would have to get every fact that was verifiable correct. The more you want to ask the big, shifty questions, the more your foundation must be rock solid.

My book, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, concerns the deaths of two people who have many living family members, the incarceration of a living man, and a protracted emotional and social trauma of enormous meaning to a great many real and living people in a region with enormous (rightful) distrust of media and journalists. I’d done my best to get the facts correct as I wrote, but I had thousands of pages of archival documents, photos, trial transcripts, and newspaper clippings, as well as hours of interviews. The text had been through too many revisions, both large and sentence-level, for me to count. In quiet moments, I felt the anxiety of getting something wrong grip my stomach. I could hurt someone, open myself up to lawsuits, or just make a reader lose confidence in everything I had to say. Getting my book fact checked was not optional.

Fact checking is a comprehensive process in which, according to the definitive book on the subject, a trained checker does the following: “Read for accuracy”; “Research the facts”; “Assess sources: people, newspapers and magazines, books, the Internet, etc”; “Check quotations”; and “Look out for and avoid plagiarism.” Though I had worked as a fact checker in two small newsrooms, did I trust myself to do the exhaustive and detailed work of checking my own nonfiction book? I did not.

From reading up on the subject and talking to friends who had published books of nonfiction, I knew that I would be responsible for hiring and paying a freelance fact checker myself. This is the norm, not the exception; in almost all book contracts, it is the writer’s legal responsibility, not the publisher’s, to deliver a factually accurate text.

As a result, most nonfiction books are not fact checked; if they are, it is at the author’s expense. Publishers have said for years that it would be cost-prohibitive for them to provide fact checking for every nonfiction book; they tend to speak publicly about a book’s facts only if a book includes errors that lead to a public scandal and threaten their bottom line. Recent controversies over books containing factual errors by Jill Abramson, Naomi Wolf, and, further back, James Frey, come to mind.

Editors who acquire nonfiction books and work closely with authors subscribe to ideas of factual accuracy, but are usually not trained journalists, meaning that they might be unfamiliar with the fundamentals of reporting and fact checking (there are some exceptions to this norm, including recently named publisher of Simon & Schuster and former New York Times writer Dana Canedy). Despite the common sense idea that books are the longer and more permanent version of magazine articles, there is an informal division of church and state between the worlds of book publishing and magazine journalism. The latter is subjected to rigorous fact checking, while the former is not.

. . . .

A spokesperson for Hachette Book Group, one of the “Big Five” publishing houses and the publisher of my book, shared this statement with me: “We do have procedures in place to ensure that certain nonfiction books and some fiction books are vetted for libel and other legal issues. Relevant facts may be reviewed during the vetting process as necessary.” But ultimately, the spokesperson emphasized, “The responsibility for the accuracy of the text does rest on the author; we do rely on their expertise or research for accuracy.” (Inquiries to Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan went unanswered).

Yet readers and some editors often mistakenly believe that the fact checking of nonfiction books happens somewhere in the typical copyediting process, and in the case of more news-heavy or potentially controversial books, the legal process. But this is not so. These processes may catch contradictions of date and season, name misspellings, or, depending on the copyeditor, glaring errors in research, but they are fundamentally designed to make sure that the book is readable and won’t open the publisher up to lawsuits—not to ensure rigorous accuracy.

. . . .

Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, bought my book in October 2017. They paid me $50,000 in the first of three installments constituting an advance against royalties. That first payment netted to around $29,000 after agent commission and taxes. This money was supposed to cover the cost of the time it would take me to write the book, as well as all additional research and reporting—to say nothing of the years of research and reporting conducted on my own dime before the book’s sale. I spent about $2,500 on the trial transcript of the case spotlighted in my book, and about $2,000 on travel and reporting. I have no children or adult dependents, and I am in reasonably good health without major medical bills, so I was able to live relatively frugally on the remainder during the period between sale and “delivery” of the completed manuscript to my editor.

My contract stipulated, “The Author warrants, represents and covenants… all statements contained in the Work as published are true or based on reasonable research for accuracy,” and that my book could not plagiarize any other work, “or give rise to a claim of libel or defamation, or invasion of the rights of privacy or of publicity of any party, or violate any law or regulation.” My wonderful editor at Hachette understood from the beginning that it was my intention to get the book fact checked, but confirmed to me that I would have to pay for the checker myself; a legal read to protect Hachette and I from potential lawsuits would, however, be covered.

. . . .

Just as we entered the small window inside which my editor had told me we needed to fact check so as not to delay the book’s publicity plan, the fact checker I had hired needed to bow out of the project. I turned to acquaintances and to Twitter.

I received about thirty quotes from freelance fact checkers, most of them young reporters who did freelance fact checking on the side to gain experience and to pay the bills, as well as a few more experienced checkers who had worked for magazines like The Atlantic and The New Yorker. Some gave me payment quotes by the hour, and others by lump sum. My book was 110K words, about a third of which were memoir and about two-thirds of which were heavily reported material with extensive interviews and archival material. The quotes to check it ranged from $1,500 to $20,000. Ultimately, I chose a very capable young journalist and freelance fact checker named Maia Hibbett, who had just gone through the The Nation‘s renowned fact-checking internship program and was interested in the subject matter of my book. I paid her $4,000 in three installments to check my book in about six weeks.

Hibbett was excellent—and she found mistakes. Lots of them. A few examples: using more updated census data than had been available when I started writing the book, she corrected 24,170 square miles that make up West Virginia to 24,230. She inserted the word “before” into the sentence “Small-scale coal mining had been happening sustainably in pockets of the state since before the Civil War,” noting in the margin that the coal industry in West Virginia was active by 1840. She pointed out that a quote I attributed to a police statement was not ever written down, only said in court. And on and on. But not just small errors—also major errors in timeline, law, and geography. She pointed out mistakes in my presentation of cause and effect, and in my logic of interpreting the meaning of events and statements. “The larger the mistake,” the author Susannah Cahalan told me, “the harder it is for the writer to see it.”

. . . .

There is no industry standard for which books get fact checked—the ones that are checked get checked because someone (almost always the author) cared a more than average amount about the truth. There is no industry standard for what it means for a book to be “fact checked.” There is no industry standard for where the fact check should go in the production process of a book. And finally, there is no industry standard for how to hire a fact checker, nor how she should be paid or by whom, nor what should happen if the fact checker’s work isn’t good quality or the author refuses to pay for work already completed.

Of the 18 authors I spoke to, half had not hired a fact checker, but had instead relied on some combination of their own diligence, their publisher’s copy editing process and/or legal vetting process, as well as correcting mistakes in the paperback brought to their attention by readers of the hardback.

Literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb cites money as the main reason writers decline to fact check their books. My research suggests that this is partly true, but not the whole story. I spoke to writers publishing across the genres of memoir, essays, cultural criticism, and reported nonfiction; their reasons for not hiring a checker broke down along lines of both money and publishing experience. Regardless of genre, all of those who did not hire a checker were debut authors publishing their first book, or those who could not afford to pay a checker due to the size of their advance or other reasonable financial reasons—moving, illness in the family, a child’s school costs, etc.

. . . .

One of the authors I spoke to, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, hired a fact checker recommended to her publisher by another of their authors at an agreed-upon rate of $5,000.

“It looked pretty good when it first came back to me, but then I started noticing some things that I had corrected before, which she had changed to incorrect things,” the author told me by email. “Or I noticed that she had caught some errors, but she had corrected them in a way that was still wrong. And she didn’t make any notes about how she had sourced her corrections, so it was nearly impossible for me to retrace her steps. And then there were all these things I’d specifically asked her to check, which she completely skipped over. It was a total mess.”

. . . .

“Fact checking was unexpectedly the most stressful part of the whole book process.”

. . . .

On the opposite end of the spectrum for publishers offering fact checking services lies the two original content imprints at corporate behemoth Amazon: Little A and Audible. Like Bold Type, Little A hires and pays the fact checker, while authors receive fact check edits simultaneously with copy edits. In 2018, in an unconventional move, Audible began acquiring the audio rights to the works of prominent nonfiction writers like Michael Lewis and Ada Calhoun. The goal was to produce audio books that would drop in advance of their hardback counterparts. Calhoun told me that Audible suggested and paid for the fact checking of her book; it’s no surprise that Amazon has the money.

. . . .

But the reason why the publishing industry has been slow to implement such guidelines for fact checking may lie further down in the foundation of the whole system. Without widespread consumer awareness that most books are not fact checked, or about which imprints publish which books, there’s no real reason for publishers to care about fact checking. If it comes to light that a book contains major errors, it’s the author, not the publisher, whose reputation takes the hit.

“No one looks at the publishing house’s name on the book they bought four years ago when Newsweek exposes it as inaccurate and says, ‘I’ll never buy a book published by them again!’” Scott Rosenberg of the now-defunct service MediaBugs told The Atlantic in 2014.

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

PG feels that a most salient fact was not included in the OP – If someone claims injury and hires a lawyer (likely on a contingency fee basis), the lawyer will want to make certain there is a deep pocket available from which to extract a large settlement payment or court award of damages.

PG thinks it highly unlikely that any contingency fee law firm would accept a case unless there was a publisher (and, preferably, a large publisher) on the other side of the suit. Why sue an author, who probably doesn’t have a lot of money and who is much more capable of hiding assets than a large publisher owned by a major multinational publishing conglomerate?

The answer will be exactly the same as it would be for an attorney taking a claim by a person injured in an auto accident. “Is there insurance? How much?”

Debbie Driver who works at the local Walmart all week, then goes out and gets together with her girlfriends on Friday night to talk about what jerks their ex-husbands are and get drunk together is not likely to be able to pay a jury verdict when she slams into a school bus bringing the band home from a football game. (Ditto for Darrell Driver).

Debbie or Darrell may well be able to file for bankruptcy, discharge the claims of all their creditors, including the people in the car they ran into on their way home from the bar, and go on with their lives, likely keeping most or all of their personal property.

If the band members want any money, they’d better hope there’s a big auto liability policy floating around somewhere. Unless there is, even if some of the parents of the band members have enough money to pay an attorney to sue Debbie, they’re unlikely to collect enough to pay their attorney’s fees, let alone damages for their children’s injuries, medical bills, etc.

In a former life, when PG practiced retail law, on more than one occasion, he had to tell a prospective client not to hire him to sue someone who had carelessly done something that harmed them because whatever he was able to collect wouldn’t be worth his client’s money or PG’s time.

Back to the calculus of someone suing an author for damaging their reputation, causing them emotional distress, etc. While it is possible to purchase liability insurance for this type of claim (an author’s home or auto policy won’t cover it), such insurance is expensive and only J.K. Rowling can afford to buy it.

Who’s the deep pocket that makes a lawsuit worth while? Hachette, Penguin Random House, et al. Since they published the book, it is quite likely they will bear responsibility for any damages their publication caused.

A concept usually described as “joint and several liability” means that if more than one person or entity harmed someone by their act, it’s not up to the person harmed to figure out who to sue for how much. The individual who was harmed is able to sue everybody and collect some or all of any judgment the court grants from any of the defendants who have the bucks or the property to pay the judgment. It’s up to the defendants to fight among themselves if one defendant is required to pay more damages than might be the case if a lot of the fault for the damaging act was really caused by something someone else did.

So, the bottom line is that, if a book is factually wrong regardless of whose fault the error is or what the publishing contract between the author and the publisher says, a lawsuit that would likely never be filed at all if the author had self-published the erroneous book will be filed if Simon & Schuster is on the hook for damages.

Additionally, it’s quite likely that Simon & Schuster, etc., has liability insurance to cover such claims, albeit with a very large deductible. It is not unusual for commercial liability policies to include a provision and permits the insurance company to sue anybody (Hello, again, author!) to recoup part or all of the money the insurance company paid to resolve a claim against the insured.

But, of course, everyone knows that smart and talented authors always work with a traditional publisher, the bigger, the better. The only reason not to do so is if they can’t write well enough to catch the fancy of an agent who, in turn, catches the fancy of an acquiring editor, etc., etc.

PG apologizes for going into full blather mode. He blames Covid.

A number of intelligent and experienced attorneys visit TPV on a regular basis. In addition to the comments of anyone else, PG invites those attorneys to clarify, expand upon, correct, etc., etc., any of PG’s thoughts or simply share their own thoughts on the OP.

Printer Jam: Serious Supply Issues Disrupt the Book Industry’s Fall Season

From The New York Times:

This spring, when the pandemic forced bookstores across the country to close and authors to cancel their tours, many editors and publishers made a gamble. They postponed the publication of dozens of titles, betting that things would be back to normal by the fall.

Now, with September approaching, things are far from normal. Books that were bumped from spring and early summer are landing all at once, colliding with long-planned fall releases and making this one of the most crowded fall publishing seasons ever. And now publishers are confronting a new hurdle: how to print all those books.

The two largest printing companies in the United States, Quad and LSC Communications, have been under intense financial strain, a situation that has grown worse during the pandemic. LSC declared bankruptcy in April, and the company’s sales fell nearly 40 percent in the fiscal quarter that ended June 30, a drop that the company attributed partly to the closure of retailers during the pandemic and the steep fall of educational book sales. In September, LSC’s assets will be put up for auction. Quad’s book printing business is also up for sale; this spring, the company had to temporarily shut down its printers at three plants due to the pandemic.

At the same time, there has been a surprising spike in sales for print books, a development that would normally be cause for celebration, but is now forcing publishers to scramble to meet surging demand. Unit sales of print books are up more than 5 percent over last year, and sales have accelerated over the summer. From early June to mid-August, print sales were up more than 12 percent over the previous 10 weeks, according to NPD BookScan. The surge has been driven by several new blockbuster titles, including books by Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, John Bolton and Mary Trump. Publishers have also seen an unexpected demand for older titles, particularly books about race and racism, children’s educational workbooks and fiction.

“The infinite printer capacity hasn’t been there for a while, now enter Covid and a huge surge in demand, and you have an even more complex situation,” said Sue Malone-Barber, senior vice president and director of Publishing Operations for Penguin Random House, which is delaying titles at several of its imprints as a result of the crunch.

The backlog at the printers is creating havoc for authors and publishers. Reprints for books that are selling well, which normally take two weeks, are sometimes taking more than a month.

. . . .

Print runs for new titles are getting squeezed and pushed back. Carefully calibrated publication schedules are being blown up as books are moved into late fall and even next year.

Knopf and Pantheon are shifting the release of more than a dozen fall titles, including a memoir by the cookbook author Deborah Madison and a biography of Sylvia Plath, due to “severe capacity issues with our printing partners.” The imprints are also delaying fiction by Robert Harris, Martin Amis, Jo Nesbo, Alexander McCall Smith and Tom Bissell, whose story collection, “Creative Types,” is being bumped to 2021.

The reshuffling is impacting prominent, award-winning authors and first-time novelists alike. Doubleday has postponed the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joby Warrick’s forthcoming book, “Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and

America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World,” until February of next year.

St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan, pushed back “Tsarina,” a debut novel by Ellen Alpsten, from October to November, a month many publishers had been avoiding because of the election.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to DM for the tip.

Powell’s ditches Amazon, and says quitting the tech giant is like kicking a smoking habit

From Business Insider:

Powell’s, one of the largest and most iconic independent bookstores in the US, is ditching Amazon. 

CEO Emily Powell wrote in a letter to customers on Wednesday that the bookstore would no longer be selling its wares on Amazon’s marketplace. Powell’s was founded in 1971 and takes up an entire city block in Portland, Oregon. 

“For too long, we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world. We understand that in many communities, Amazon — and big box retail chains — have become the only option,” Powell wrote.

“And yet when it comes to our local community and the community of independent bookstores around the U.S., we must take a stand. The vitality of our neighbors and neighborhoods depends on the ability of local businesses to thrive. We will not participate in undermining that vitality.”

. . . .

Like many retailers that primarily rely on in-person shoppers, independent bookstores have struggled in recent months. Early on in the pandemic, prominent bookstores — including Powell’s — were forced to lay off or furlough employees as they fought to stay in business. 

At the same time, Amazon prioritized shipments of essential goods like medical supplies and household cleaning products that were in high demand due to pandemic concerns. To make up for lost sales on Amazon, Powell’s began refocusing on customers coming to its own website, Powell told CNBC. 

Powell said that Amazon’s marketplace was “hard to give up, sort of like smoking” given that the e-commerce giant has historically been a “big sales generator” for the bookstore.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG notes that, if Powell’s was dissatisfied with Amazon, the Portland bookstore could have stopped selling books through the Big A without a huffy public announcement.

Anyone is free to stop doing business with Amazon for any reason or no reason, but cutting ties and trashing Amazon doesn’t strike PG as a particularly classy move.

As PG has mentioned before, Amazon is very popular with a great many people, particularly when Amazon has provided important products during Covid when, in many places, Amazon was the only source for such products because physical retail outlets were closed.

If you hang with Big Publishing and its crew long enough, you’re liable to catch a bad case of stupid.

Vivian Stephens Helped Turn Romance Writing Into a Billion-Dollar Industry. Then She Got Pushed Out.

From Texas Monthly:

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the near impossibility of visiting Vivian Stephens in person, I’m not sure I would have been so attuned to her voice. It is gay and mellifluous; she always sounded delighted to hear from me, a reaction most reporters are not accustomed to. But there was something else: she answers questions about herself not in sentences or paragraphs but in pages, and sometimes even chapters, as if she’s been keeping the whole story of her life in her head, just waiting for someone to ask about it.

. . . .

Stephens is 87 now, under self-imposed lockdown in one of those amenity-rich mid-rise apartment complexes that have sprouted all over Houston, this one just north of Hermann Park, in the Binz area. Her one-bedroom unit is cluttered with papers and stacks of books on nearly every surface. There are many romance novels, yes, as well as more-cerebral tomes such as A Nervous Splendor, a history of Vienna in the late 1880s. Family photographs, some dating back almost to that time, populate a small table in a living room corner.

The most captivating photo, though, is the black-and-white one Stephens has pushpinned to the wall above her computer. Taken in 1964, it shows her poised on the steps of New York’s Lincoln Center wearing a sleeveless sheath dress, hands on her hips, ready to take on the world. 

. . . .

I was calling about the past, not the future. Specifically, an email she had received in May from Alyssa Day, the president of the Romance Writers of America, an organization based in northwest Houston, not too far from the white and wealthy exurb of Champions. Stephens had been instrumental in founding that group back in 1980.

What is this? Stephens thought to herself when she saw the email, which asked, politely and respectfully, if it would be okay to name the RWA’s highest writing award after her because her “trailblazing efforts created a more inclusive publishing landscape and helped bring romance novels to the masses,” as the press release would later put it.

Well, this is interesting, was Stephens’s next thought.

She wouldn’t put it this way, but it was kind of like getting an email from an old boyfriend who was now trying to make amends. It wasn’t that there was bad blood between Stephens and the RWA—she’d never admit to that, anyway—but there was some hurt that dated back to when she had felt disappeared by the organization.

The timing of Day’s email wasn’t incidental. The RWA had been embroiled in a bitter, and at times very public, racism scandal for much of the previous year. A skeptic might suggest that, good intentions aside—and there were good intentions—the Vivian award could be viewed as just another way to sanitize prior bad behavior on the part of the RWA. Stephens had to decide—again—whether to let bygones be bygones after a forty-year relationship that had been, in its way, a romance, albeit a difficult one.

So Stephens was uncharacteristically ambivalent about the RWA’s offer. After some thought, however, she wrote back to say that she would be honored. And then, being Vivian Stephens, she couldn’t resist adding a metaphorical flourish to the statement they requested. She cited an astrophysicist who explained that as stars explode, they produce the magical, mystical remnant that is stardust. “Since we all live in the universe it is well worth remembering that underneath the outer dressing of ethnicity, color and gender, we are all the same,” she wrote. “Showered with the gift of stars.”

. . . .

Romance writing has always been easy to laugh at, at least for the uninformed. You might imagine that these stories mostly involve a castle on the Scottish Highlands, inhabited by a restless warrior wearing nothing under his kilt. Or maybe you picture the broad and bare-chested phenom Fabio, taking time out from piloting his Viking ship on the high seas to attend to a buxom and bound captive down below.

But if this is your vision of the romance-writing world, you might have missed its evolution into a billion-dollar-a-year business. In 2016 romance made up 23 percent of the overall U.S. fiction market, and the net worth of some of its writers exceeds that of John Grisham (see Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel). According to Christine Larson, a romance expert and journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, 45 percent of the romance writers she surveyed made enough to support themselves without a day job—“that is shocking for any group of writers,” she said—and thanks mainly to their embrace of digital publishing, 17 percent make more than $100,000 a year. Not Mark Zuckerberg money, but far more than the $45,000 median income of American working women.

That legitimacy is due in many ways to the vast social changes of the past several decades. Once upon a time, many romance writers—and their readers—were middle-aged, white stay-at-home moms who got their hair done in beauty parlors. But those women, who were often looking for relief from the doldrums of vacuuming and child-rearing, were more recently joined in the field by trial lawyers and anthropologists and social workers—professional women of all races and creeds—who were themselves looking for a creative outlet away from the pressures of family and career.

As more women joined the workforce, earned their own money, put off marriage (or dumped their loser husbands), and got on the Pill, a different kind of romance writer emerged, one less interested in emotional, sexual, and financial rescue than in self-respect and free will. The books they wrote reflected their world, even if writers set their works in Victorian England or the antebellum South. “If you look at romance now, it’s very much reflective of the current moment,” said Steve Ammidown, an archivist at Bowling Green State University’s Browne Popular Culture Library, which houses an enormous romance collection, including many papers from the RWA and more than forty romance authors.

Whatever controversies are being sorted out in the larger world have also been grappled with in romance novels, sometimes even before the larger world knew what was coming. “The RWA is a microcosm,” said the romance writer LaQuette, one of many who voiced this opinion.

Today, romance novels involve just about any combination of protagonists imaginable. There are books for every color of the human rainbow, every ethnicity and sexual orientation, every religious affiliation—and not just Jewish or Muslim, but Amish too. There are erotic romances for those who are gay, straight, and transgender. There are paranormal romances. Cowboy romances. Romances between humans and space aliens. Romances for those with autism.

Romance is a whole industry, with its own academicians, like Laura Vivanco (Pursuing Happiness: Reading American Romance as Political Fiction), and its alternative historians, as evidenced by Maya Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained. There are influential blogs with names like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and popular podcasts like Fated Mates, which, according to its Apple Podcasts description, “highlight[s] the romance novel as a powerful tool in fighting patriarchy . . . with absolutely no kink shaming.”

Despite all the changes, the foundation of romance writing remains the same, perpetuating the fantasy that women can find true love, at least for a while (if not an HEA—Happily Ever After, in Romancespeak—then an HFN, Happy for Now). “This type of narrative, by women for women, is the only space where women can seek joy and triumph on the page,” explained Rodale. “We don’t get these stories from Hollywood; they are not in the news; we don’t get them in literary fiction. In literary fiction women have sex and die. In romance they have good sex and live happily ever after.”

Of course, the inhabitants of Romancelandia, as they call their imaginary homeland, still suffer plenty of contempt at the hands of outsiders. The source of this contempt, they say, is that (1) women are still not taken seriously by men and, often, one another; (2) women writers are not taken as seriously as men writers; (3) women who write expressly about romance are not taken seriously unless they’re named Jane Austen; and (4) women who write about sex are really not taken seriously, because that would be way too scary for a lot of men and women.

Those backward ideas help explain why, when a public scandal rocked the RWA late last year, major news outlets were only too happy to cover the story. “Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group,” declared the New York Times. The feminist website Jezebel weighed in with “Inside the Spectacular Implosion at the Romance Writers of America.” The Houston Chronicle: “As racism scandal escalates, Romance Writers of America board president resigns.” Vox: “The influential trade organization Romance Writers of America is tangled in a web of racism accusations, power grabs, and shadow plots.”

But this news wasn’t really news. It has long been an open secret—certainly among women of color—that romance publishing has a race problem. A 2014 survey of four thousand romance writers conducted by Larson revealed that authors of color earned about 60 percent less than white writers. In 2019, research conducted by the Ripped Bodice, in Los Angeles, one of the few bookstores in America to sell romance exclusively, revealed that only 8 percent of leading romance publishers had released novels by women of color. And, not incidentally or coincidentally, the membership of the RWA is 86 percent white, according to the latest data. No Black writer had won a RITA—formerly the RWA’s highest honor—until 2019, and not for want of trying.

Of course, it has also long been an open secret that publishing in general has a race problem. A 2019 diversity survey found that the industry—publishing companies, book reviewers, agents—is 76 percent non-Latino white (compared with 60 percent of the total U.S. population). The self-examination that started years ago with young adult fiction has spread, after the killing of George Floyd in May, to far more esoteric and elitist groups like the Poetry Foundation and the National Book Critics Circle. Over the summer, some concrete changes occurred, with the appointment of two women of color, Dana Canedy and Lisa Lucas, to head the major publishing houses Simon & Schuster and Pantheon Books.

But by that time, the romance industry had already had its own reckoning—several, in fact. This spring, the RWA emerged from the ashes of its 2019 scandal with a new board dedicated to diversity and inclusivity and righting the wrongs of the past. Shortly thereafter, the email arrived in Vivian Stephens’s in-box.

The promise of transformative change leaves Stephens understandably dubious. No one knows better than she that the issues that threatened to destroy the RWA go all the way back to its beginning.

The first newsletter from the Romance Writers of America, featuring Stephens’s headshot, published February 15, 1981.
Romantic Times Collection/Browne Popular Culture Library/Bowling Green State University

Link to the rest at Texas Monthly and thanks to Krista for the tip.

PG found the OP to be a very interesting and informative read. The subject of the article, Vivian Stephens, had many accomplishments, but one PG hadn’t known about was that she was one of the main forces behind the creation of the RWA.

Reading the OP is highly recommended.

Supply issues will disrupt the fall season

From Nathan Bransford:

Pandemic-related capacity issues at printing companies are wreaking havoc on publishers’ fall schedules. The crunch has, ironically enough, been exacerbated by a surge in print sales and underinvestment in printing infrastructure in anticipation of increasing adoption of e-books. Reprints for hot-selling books now take a month or more and publishers are pushing back publication dates.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

A Place at the Table

From Publishers Weekly:

Chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Marcus Samuelsson began working on his latest cookbook, The Rise (Voracious, Nov.), three years ago. A celebration of Black cooking, the book brings together chefs, food writers, and activists to share their stories and recipes, and emphasizes the diversity of the Black American experience. “There wouldn’t be American food without the contributions of Black people,” Samuelsson says. “[This book] is an opportunity to give authorship and recognition.”

The Rise arrives at a moment of racial reckoning in the U.S. more broadly, and in food media specifically. In May, cookbook author and Instagram star Alison Roman was placed on temporary hiatus from her New York Times column after mocking the achievements of Marie Kondo and fellow cookbook author Chrissy Teigen, both women of color. Weeks later, Adam Rapoport resigned from his position as editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit after a 2004 photo of him in brownface surfaced, which in turn opened up a public discussion about pay inequity in the magazine’s test kitchen. Subsequently, four on-screen personalities of color declined to participate in the brand’s popular video series, and the magazine’s only two Black editorial staff members quit.

“This moment is important; the world is watching,” says Samuelsson, who on August 17 was named Bon Appétit’s first brand advisor. “To be able to uplift Black stories of craftsmanship is important. I feel honored and privileged.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Aspen Institute Looks at a Publishing Industry Challenged to Embrace Diversity

From Publishing Perspectives:

As discussion in the world publishing industry accelerates around issues of diversity and inclusivity, the Aspen Institute has included a publishing-specific session in its series of “Changing the Narrative” programs.

. . . .

“There are few people of color who serve as publishing staff or literary agents, and even fewer who operate at decision-making levels.

“The recent Twitter protest #PublishingPaidMe exposed the major pay disparities in the industry between Black and other authors. As a result, Black writers struggle to receive the same marketing exposure, even as readers continue to find and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the titles that do get published.”

. . . .

In June, for example, we reported on the quite remarkable statement issued by the Association of University Presses, in which the organization denounced “the white supremacist structure upon which so many of our presses were built”—still perhaps the most searing self-indictment by a major sector made yet.

Many inequities during the peak of the reactions to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were brought into focus around a “Publishing Day of Action” in early June, when many of the findings of the Lee and Low study on the overall industry’s diversification status came into play.

Another profound moment of change was signaled when John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, established a company-guiding Trade Management Committee to lead the Big Five house’s efforts in diversity and inclusion.

. . . .

In Tuesday’s program, some of the issues under consideration are expected to involve ways the book publishing industry can use this moment of what many hope is a racial reckoning to bring more racial diversity to the field. How can the industry employ and publish more books by—and for—people of color?

Many are convinced that such changes have to come from the inside out. If the industry can’t offer the content that a consumer base that looks like its market needs and wants, there’s every chance that the staffing traditions—as the Association of University Presses courageously said—simply aren’t drawing on a workforce that reflects a way forward.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Racism – Yet another reason to avoid doing business with Big Publishing.

Amazon wasn’t the first

Per yesterday’s post, US Publishers, Authors, Booksellers Call Out Amazon’s ‘Concentrated Power’ in the Book Market, one of the contentions of the coven of Big Publishers and Company was:

“as the subcommittee’s hearings have laid bare, the competitive framework of the publishing industry has been fundamentally altered in recent years—and remains at serious risk of further diminishment—because of the concentrated power and influence of one company in particular: Amazon.”

In response to a comment to that post, PG went off on a frolic in mid-20th Century book history and produced the following:

The contemporary framework of publishing was in the process of fundamental alteration before Bezos sold his first book.

Big publishers were sucking up small and mid-sized publishers like minnows on a trout farm. In the 1950’s and 60’s, there were dozens of independent publishers in New York and elsewhere, some of which were discovering important authors and different voices.

Here are a handful of books published by organizations no longer in existence:

Catcher in the Rye was first published by Little, Brown
Fahrenheit 451 – Ballantine Books
Lord of the Flies – Faber and Faber
Lolita – Olympia Press – in French (after the book was turned down by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday)
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Geoffrey Bles (UK)
On the Road – Viking Press
To Kill a Mockingbird – J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Slaughterhouse-Five – ‎Delacorte
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Viking Press & Signet Books
The Bell Jar – ‎Heinemann
A Wrinkle in Time – Ariel Books
The Godfather – G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner, #1) – Doubleday
Dune – Chilton Book Company

US Publishers, Authors, Booksellers Call Out Amazon’s ‘Concentrated Power’ in the Book Market

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a letter provided to Publishing Perspectives this morning (August 17), three leading American publishing industry professional organizations tell the House of Representatives’ Antitrust Subcommittee that “a few tech platforms in the digital marketplace” wield “extraordinary leverage over their competitors, suppliers, customers, the government, and the public.

“Regrettably,” they write, “as the subcommittee’s hearings have laid bare, the competitive framework of the publishing industry has been fundamentally altered in recent years—and remains at serious risk of further diminishment—because of the concentrated power and influence of one company in particular: Amazon.”

The letter is written to Rep. David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, who chairs the subcommittee, which is housed under the House Judiciary Committee.

The hearings referenced in the letter brought Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai into the line of fire. And as Joe Nocera wrote in his commentary for Bloomberg on the hearings, “Preventing abusive monopoly practices by today’s dominant technology companies has proved to be difficult in part because antitrust law never anticipated the business models that have made Google, Facebook and others so powerful.” And Amazon, which of course famously based some of its retail development originally in book sales, has been the main target for years of many in publishing.

“Together,” the letter dated today reads, “our organizations—the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association—represent thousands of authors, publishers, and booksellers in the United States who serve the democratic exchange of ideas by creating, publishing, and selling books. Our members rely upon a level playing field in the marketplace of ideas to reach, inform, and transact with customers for the delivery of books, whether in physical or digital form.”

. . . .

The Seattle-based giant sells more books than any other single retail outlet in history. In December, analyst Benedict Evans saw Amazon controlling some 35 percent of US e-commerce. But in adding in the fact that the company competes with physical retailers, not just with online rivals, he wrote, “Amazon’s real market share of its real target market is closer to 6 percent.”

In print books, however, Amazon has a generally recognized 50 percent or more of the American market “and at least three quarters of publishers’ ebook sales,” Evans wrote.

In ebooks, it sells “at least three-quarters of publishers’ ebooks” and “also has its own ebook publishing business, for which it has never disclosed any data.”

. . . .

[from the letter]

“Amazon’s scale of operation and share of the market for book distribution has reached the point that no publisher can afford to be absent from its online store.

“A year ago, The New York Times reported that Amazon controlled 50 percent of all book distribution, but for some industry suppliers, the actual figure may be much higher, with Amazon accounting for more than 70 or 80 percent of sales. Whether it is the negative impact on booksellers of Amazon forcing publishers to predominantly use its platform, the hostile environment for booksellers on Amazon who see no choice but to sell there, or Amazon’s predatory pricing, the point is that Amazon’s concomitant market dominance allows it to engage in systematic below-cost pricing of books to squash competition in the book selling industry as a whole.

“Remarkably, what this means is that even booksellers that avoid selling on Amazon cannot avoid suffering the consequences of Amazon’s market dominance.

“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating the problem: it continues to threaten the financial well-being of authors, publishers, and booksellers, some of whom will not survive the year.

“Amazon, by contrast, with its ever-extensive operation and data network, has grown only more dominant, enjoying its largest-ever quarterly profits during April, May and June.”

The organizations go on to criticize “the astonishing level of data that it collects across its entire platform,” writing. “The result is that Amazon no longer competes on a level playing field when it comes to book distribution, but, rather, owns and manipulates the playing field, leveraging practices from across its platform that appear to be well outside of fair and transparent competition.”

. . . .

“Amazon employs non-transparent data algorithms and recommendation engines to steer consumers toward Amazon’s own products, or even toward infringing products without disclosing to consumers that it is doing so. It has required suppliers to agree to most-favored-nation provisions (MFNs) that stifle the emergence and growth of competitive alternatives in the book distribution marketplace.  And it manipulates suppliers and rivals by tying the purchase of distribution services to the purchase of its advertising services.”

. . . .

  • Prohibit Amazon from leveraging data from the operation of its online platform to compete with and disadvantage the suppliers doing business there
  • Prohibit Amazon from tying distribution services to the purchase of advertising services
  • Prohibit Amazon from imposing Most Favored Nation and other parity provisions
  • Prohibit Amazon from using loss-leader pricing to harm competition

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will summarize/criticize the OP:

  1. Amazon has disrupted the traditional publishing establishment and caused problems for publishers, bookstores, agents, associations comprised of the aforementioned parties and various other hangers-on. Amazon has disrupted the world of physical retailing as well. You can add competitive cloud computing companies to this group (although they’re not psychotic about Amazon). These people don’t like Amazon because, in the form of a question, “Whose goose is Amazon cooking?”
  2. Other than those people and compulsive cranks, everybody else loves, loves, loves Amazon.
  3. Particularly when things get tough because of Covid, everybody loves Amazon because they can shelter in place and still get the stuff they want, including, in many places, food.
  4. Per the OP, English majors are complaining because Amazon uses math. That’s inherently unfair. If English majors understood how good cloud computing is at math, they’d complain about that, too.
  5. Is there any retailer on the planet that does not watch the sales of its goods, note purchaser behavior and adjust placement and pricing based upon the behavior of its customers? Does Random House keep track of what books Barnes & Noble is buying? (Note that PG did not ask, “Does Random House do a good job of keeping track of what Barnes & Noble is buying?)
  6. Is there any retailer or manufacturer that doesn’t offer some of its products below cost in order to incentivize prospective purchasers to acquire them? See Remaindered Book, Barnes & Noble Seasonal Promotions and 50% Off Thousands of Items in Stores.
  7. See also, Loss Leader Strategy and Customer Lifetime Value, but those are business school strategies which constitute unfair competition when used to harm English majors.
  8. It’s not antitrust, but, in 2020, the overall quality (and social virtue) of a business organization usually includes an assessment of how it treats its employees, particularly those on the lower rungs of the organization chart.
    1. Amazon starts its warehouse workers at $15 per hour with fringe benefits, including “comprehensive healthcare from day one, 401(k) with 50 percent match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and a flexible Ramp Back Program and Leave Share Program that allows employees to share their paid leave with their spouse or partner. For associates reaching their one-year employment mark, Amazon offers warehouse employees a Career Choice Program, which pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses in high-demand fields.
    2. What’s the starting salary of worker bees at a publisher? Do those stats include unpaid interns?What are their fringe benefits? Ditto for a bookstore?

Let’s take a moment to consider the underlying memes that pop up in complaints from traditional publishing and its enablers, outliers and posse members.

!!!!Evil Big Company!!!!

Amazon is a really big company. However, such was not always the case.

Concerning evil and illegal behavior, eight years ago, in 2012, when Amazon was a little fish who wasn’t behaving itself, most prominently, by selling ebooks at way too low a price, and discounting printed books, five evil big publishers and Apple got together to force Amazon out of the ebook business.

Starting some time in 2011, the CEO’s of Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, had been secretly meeting for dinner on a regular basis in a private dining room in Manhattan to discuss a common problem: Amazon. Amazon’s sin was selling books to readers at a price that was too low. Readers loved Amazon’s prices and were buying more and more books. Barnes & Noble and other bookstores were complaining that readers were buying too many books from Amazon.

Apple was getting ready to introduce a new iPad with a new feature, iBooks, an online bookstore.

Apple didn’t like it when anyone tried to discount its products and kept a tight rein on non-Apple retailers and anyone else to prevent price discounts. Steve Jobs and his executives did not like Amazon’s discounting of ebooks because discounts were not the Apple Way. Premium prices for premium products was the Apple Way and Apple had made a lot of money with this policy.

Jobs sent Eddy Cue, his right-hand guy, to New York City, to take care of the Amazon pricing problem. After meetings with Cue and (PG thinks) one or two more private dinners between the publishing bigshots, the deal was made. The publishers would use a joint boycott to force Amazon to raise its prices for their books to the suggested retail price, the same price Apple would charge on iBooks.

After the launch of the new iPad and iBooks, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Jobs how Apple was going to deal with the lower prices Amazon was charging for ebooks. Jobs gave a short answer to the effect that there wouldn’t be a problem because ebook prices on iBooks and Amazon would be the same.

Apple and the Price-Fix Five were guilty as hell. This was not a gray area in the antitrust and related laws. It was straight-out price-fixing, a criminal offense under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Amazon’s net sales for F2011 were $48 billion, but its net income was only $631 million.

Apple’s net sales for F2011 were $108 billion and its net income was $25 billion, almost 400 times the size of Amazon’s net income at the time. There was no question which company was financially more powerful.

The United States Department of Justice sued Apple and the five large publishers for illegally conspiring to fix prices for ebooks. At the time the suit was filed, the US Attorney General said, “As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles.”

Each of the publishers fessed up to violating the law and paid a big fine. Apple appealed its losses all the way the the U.S Supreme Court, lost and paid a $450 million fine.

PG concludes in the Evil Big Companies competition, Big Publishing has admitted to being far more evil than Amazon.

Speaking of Big Companies

Big Amazon vs. little New York publishers is not quite right, either.

Each of the current five largest trade publishers in New York is owned by a very large parent company with deep pockets.

PublisherOwnerOwner’s Annual Revenue
(most recent year available)
Owner’s Annual Profit
(most recent year available)
Penguin Random HouseBertelsmannPrivately held. In 2019, the company reported “Revenues exceed €18 billion” – approximately $21.41 billionPrivately held. In 2019, the company reported “€1.1 billion” in Group profit.
Hachette Book GroupLagardère Publishing€6.936 billion in 2019 – approximately $8.251 billionProfit before finance costs and tax was €411 million
Harper CollinsNews Corp,$10.07 billion in 20192019 Net Income – $228 million
Simon& SchusterViacomCBS Corporation$27.812 billion in 20192019 Operating Income – $4.273 billion
MacmillanGeorg von Holtzbrinck GmbH & Co.Privately held. Releases almost no financial data.
2005 estimate of €2.1 billion – approximately $2.48 billion – by an unrelated third party.
2018 estimate of €1.494 billion – approximately $1.79 billion – by an unrelated third party
Privately held. Releases almost no financial data.

Amazon is a Big Bully That Exploits the Peons

As long as we are discussing allegedly shameful corporate behavior, let us consider the way the major publishers (which effectively control the Association of American Publishers) treat their small independent contractors AKA authors as compared with Amazon’s treatment of this same group. PG posits that Amazon treats 99.9% of authors much better than traditional publishers do. (James Patterson is a special case.)

Big PublishingAmazon
Royalty CalculationsOpaque to the max. You have to hire an accountant to conduct an audit if you have any concerns or even want to find out what’s really going on. If the principal publisher has entered into agreements for the publication of the book in other countries, opacity is doubled (at least, sometimes tripled or quadrupled).Straightforward and easy to understand. Calculations are laid out in detail in online terms and conditions. Author Dashboard shows daily reports of units ordered overall and as broken down by 13 different country sites. For ebooks enrolled in KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library), the author can see how many pages were read each day. (This is for the legacy dashboard. The beta version of the new dashboard is even more informative and easier to understand.)
Royalty PaymentsTwo times per year with payments delayed for a period of time following the close of the 6-month period for which royalties are to be paid. Amount of payment may be reduced by a reserve for returned books as determined solely by the publisher and calculated in a manner unknown to the author. The size of the royalty payment is always a surprise to the author. No interest is paid to the author to compensate for the use of funds belonging to the author for a half-year.Monthly. The Author Dashboard shows how much the payment will be.
Costs Deducted from Author’s Royalties15% (occasionally higher) for an agent’s fee. Submission of a manuscript without an agent means a virtually certain rejection.No agency fee. Plus, no lost time waiting for traditional publishing contracts, production, etc. When you finish your book, format it yourself or hire someone to format it, the book goes up to Amazon and is on sale worldwide within a day or two.
How Often Can You Publish?Unless you are James Patterson, likely no more than one book every year or two.No lost time waiting for traditional publishing contracts, production, etc. When you finish your book, format it yourself or hire someone to format it for you, and get a cover, the book goes up to Amazon and is on sale worldwide within a day or two.
Ebook Royalties25% of publisher’s net receipts70% of list price if price is $2.99-9.99 in a long list of countries, including all major English-speaking countries.
35% of list price is price is below $2.99 or above $9.99. For 70% royalty, a small digital delivery fee is subtracted from royalty (PG thinks it’s usually 10-25 cents, but the size of the ebook will impact that.)
Amazon ebooks can also participate in other Amazon programs that will pay the author and provide additional online promotion tools under KDP Select.
Trade Paperback7.5% of cover price (may vary, but almost never over 10%)60% of the list price for books sold on Amazon, less printing costs (which depend upon the number of pages in the book, the market in which it is sold and whether colored inks are necessary). Amazon offers an online calculator to determine actual royalties paid based upon the number of pages in the book. Suffice to say, PG has never seen Amazon POD royalties as low as those paid by traditional publishers.

Literary world overwhelmed by 600 books to be published on one day

From The Guardian:

Over the summer, novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls has been something of a hero. With a humorous nod to the less glamorous aspects of publishing life – hastily defrosted canapés and eked-out warm white wine – the author of One Day and adaptor of the Patrick Melrose novels has thrown a series of Twitter book launches, amplifying new releases from writers including (but far beyond) the big names who will automatically elicit review space and window displays. The responses from the authors, especially the debutants, to gaining the imprimatur of a much-loved and huge-selling colleague, and from readers to discovering books to connect with in a time of such immense disconnection, has been powerful and touching. It’s a particularly nice example of someone paying it forward.

Nicholls’s virtual launches have been held every Thursday, the day new books are traditionally published in the UK, but this week’s will be his last. Quite possibly, his publishers have reminded him that the paperback edition of his own book, Sweet Sorrow, needs some love, or perhaps he wants to get on with writing another.

It’s fortunate for him – although arguably less so for the world of books – that he’s bowing out before 3 September. On that day, in a development that has provoked anguish among booksellers, editors, reviewers and readers, almost 600 new books will be published, an increase of about a third from last year. There is such a thing as a crowded market, and then there is this: an avalanche of words that no retailer or media outlet could hope to accommodate. Even Waterstones Piccadilly, the chain’s flagship London store, is feeling the strain, one of the team writing on Twitter: “We are big and I doubt we’ll stock them all. No one has enough space for this.” They added: “We’ll do what we always do. Choose the books we think our Piccadilly customers will love most and those that we can honestly recommend.”

Why the surge? Largely, of course, it’s the pandemic: with bookshops closed and literary festivals and events cancelled or significantly shrunk and moved online, publishers moved swaths of their publication dates to later in the year. Festivals are still in abeyance, albeit with virtual events, but publishing houses – and their authors, many in extreme need of their publication payments, which usually represent a third of their advance against royalties – had to do something. To shift entire programmes to next year, its landscape still highly uncertain, would be to kick the can down a highly congested road.

But 3 September – just the first of a series of similar days throughout the autumn – is a problem. Waterstones Piccadilly has vast premises, but others – including the independent bookshops attempting to weather 2020’s storm – must rely on heavily curated selections and hard choices. For an industry that has suffered a series of shocks – including the collapse of wholesaler Bertrams, owing £25m to its creditors – autumn will be tough. For literary editors presiding over fewer pages for book reviews the issues are similarly intractable.

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

Perhaps PG didn’t read the OP carefully enough, but he doesn’t see a lot of author nurturing going on with this plan.

Emma Cline’s Brilliant, Dark Mind

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the winter of 2018, the novelist Emma Cline flew from New York City to Los Angeles to see a friend for what was supposed to be a three-day trip. A few months earlier, a judge had thrown out a plagiarism lawsuit against her. She kept putting off returning to New York, moving her plane ticket until, she says, “it was just like, oh, I think I’m here, and I rented a place.” She’s been living in L.A. ever since.

“I like that it has no context, really,” Cline says of the city, via a Zoom call from her home in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood. “I think New York is all about context. L.A. doesn’t have that cohesion, which can be freeing in its way.”

New York had been a lot for Cline. Now 31, she achieved literary fame at a breakneck pace. Five years after graduating from Middlebury College, she became one of the highest-paid debut authors in history when she sold The Girls, a novel about a Manson-style cult, to Random House in a three-book deal, reportedly for $2 million. (Hulu is currently adapting it as a limited series; originally snapped up by Scott Rudin before the manuscript was submitted to publishers, it’s now being produced by Cline and Helen Estabrook.) Upon the book’s publication in 2016, critic James Wood noted that Cline had been “apparently fast-tracked by the Muses.” The bestselling novel went on to win a Shirley Jackson Award and is now available in over 40 countries.

. . . .

In hindsight, although Cline seemed in many ways cut out for literary stardom—she’s young, photogenic and disarmingly charming—she says she wasn’t entirely prepared for the spotlight. “I understood wanting to write a book,” she says. “I didn’t understand what that would mean in the broader sense.” Her success was complicated by a lawsuit filed in 2017, in which a former boyfriend accused her of plagiarism. Although the judge dismissed the case a little less than a year later, the episode took a toll on her. “It was obviously immensely painful,” Cline says, choosing her words carefully. “I felt like I wouldn’t be able to write again because it was so difficult.”

Cline’s fiction is full of binaries pressing up against one another: youthful promise and life’s realities; success and failure; darkness and humor; external beauty and internal rot. A typical way she begins a story is to describe a place that seems initially perfect, until a character quickly, sometimes shockingly, realizes otherwise.

. . . .

As one of seven children growing up in Sonoma, California, in what she calls a “hothouse environment,” Cline stood out from her siblings by becoming a professional child actress, appearing in a short film called Flashcards and a TV movie, When Billie Beat Bobby. On one of her yearbook pages, she declared her life goal: to become a movie star.

When she was 13, she met Rodney Bingenheimer, a then-55-year-old deejay, with whom she says she maintained a yearlong correspondence. “I wrote down my mailing address, vibrating with pleasure. Some girls, even at thirteen, probably knew not to do things like that. I wasn’t one of them,” Cline wrote in a first-person essay for The Paris Review Daily in 2014. “When I was offered any attention, I took it, eagerly. I look at pictures of myself at that age and wonder how plainly it was encoded in my face, the flash of a message: see me.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

“The strongest digital sales performance in years” – HarperCollins. “Robust growth in digital formats” – Hachette

From The New Publishing Standard:

The HarperCollins fiscal year runs to June 30, and this year fiscal Q4 (2020 Q2) saw a 3% drop in revenue from $419 million to $407 million. But profits were up 9%, to $47 million. As reported by parent company News Corp, for the full fiscal year revenue of $1.67 billion was down 5% on 2019, with profits down 15% to $214 million.

Bookstore closures of course played a role, but News Corp CFO Susan Panuccio reported a strong showing from the ebook and audiobook sector, describing it as “the strongest digital sale performance in years”, that helped offset the bookstore closures.

Compared to the same period 2019, digital sales were up 26%, with ebook performing best with a 31% rise, while audiobooks rose 17%. Together the two digital sectors made up 29% of HarperCollins revenue in Q2 2020.

. . . .

Meanwhile Hachette UK’s H2 2020 performance has been described as “sterling” by parent company Lagardère, with revenue down only 2.8% despite the  severe UK lockdown, with Hachette UK CEO David Shelley adding it was an “extremely strong” performance.

. . . .

Lagardère added that Hachette UK had seen,

robust growth in digital formats.

. . . .

The US by contrast performed well in difficult circumstance, leading Lagardère to observe the English language markets had better digital and e-commerce infrastructure.

. . . .

“Fast-paced growth in digital formats” also got a mention, with ebooks totalling 10.6% of Lagardère Publishing’s H2 2020 revenue, up from 8.2% in first-half 2019, with digital audio accounting for 5.3% of revenue, up from 3.4% in same period 2019.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Self-Publishing Is a Gamble. Why Is Donald Trump Jr. Doing It?

From The New York Times:

There is a lot about Donald Trump Jr.’s second book that is unusual.

One of his father’s most effective surrogates, Donald Trump Jr. plans to release “Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defense of the Indefensible” in early September, during the final fevered weeks of the presidential campaign. His last book sold well. The Republican National Committee can use the new one for fund-raising, as it did with the last.

His plans to self-publish, however, along with the book’s unconventional rollout and distribution plan, make it something of a curiosity in publishing circles.

“It’s a risk,” said Jane Dystel, a literary agent. “And it’s your time.”

Mr. Trump’s first book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” was published last November. It has sold 286,000 copies, according to NPD BookScan, and is still selling steadily. But when the coronavirus pandemic grounded him in New York in March, he decided to write another.

. . . .

Center Street, an imprint of Hachette, published his first book, and it made an offer on the second one. Mr. Trump turned it down.

There are a few key differences between going through a traditional publishing house and doing it yourself. One of the big ones is money. Authors who sign with a publisher typically receive an advance payment before the book goes on sale, then about 10 to 15 percent of hardcover sales after they earn back their advance. If the book is self-published, there is no advance but an author can generally walk away with anywhere from 35 percent to as much as 70 percent of the sales. Because Mr. Trump has his own platform — and the promise of bulk purchases from the R.N.C. — he doesn’t need the publicity arm of a major publisher.

. . . .

But those big percentages don’t factor in expenses, which add up quickly. There are lawyers to pay, printed copies that need to be delivered to stores and warehouses, book jackets that need to be designed. There are fussy little details, like registering an ISBN number, filing for copyright, proofreading and more proofreading. Indeed, a typo on the cover of “Liberal Privilege” when Mr. Trump first posted it on Twitter was met with see-how-it-goes-without-us giggles in much of the publishing world. (That typo, an errant apostrophe, has been fixed, but another remained on his personal website this week, after a quote about the book from “Laura Ingraham, Host of The Ingram Angle.”)

So writing and releasing a book on your own is not only a gamble, it is also an unwieldy, complicated project, which is why the biggest-name authors generally don’t bother to do it.

One thing that is guaranteed when self-publishing is greater autonomy. While there’s no reason to think Mr. Trump was held back when he wrote “Triggered,” self-published authors hire their editors and can fire them if they don’t like their advice. This time, Mr. Trump can say truly whatever he wants.

. . . .

The R.N.C. said it raised nearly $1 million from signed copies of “Triggered.” The book was a New York Times No. 1 best seller last year, but it appeared on the list with a dagger symbol next to it, signifying that bulk sales — which came from the R.N.C. and other conservative groups — helped to boost its ranking. The R.N.C. said it has bought several thousand copies of “Liberal Privilege” so far and plans to buy more on a rolling basis.

“Don Jr.’s first book was a fund-raising powerhouse for the party, and we have no doubt this book will be the same,” Mandi Merritt, the press secretary for the R.N.C., said in an email.

Unlike Mr. Hannity’s book, “Liberal Privilege” will not be in bookstores. A person with knowledge of the project said that it will be $29.99 on Mr. Trump’s website, where presales are being handled, and on Amazon, along with an e-book and an audiobook narrated by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign adviser and Mr. Trump’s girlfriend. It’s unclear if any major retailers will carry the book, though managers at some traditional distribution channels said last week that they hadn’t heard anything about it.

. . . .

Another unusual aspect of the book is Mr. Trump’s collaborator, Sergio Gor, who has acted as his literary agent, consulted on the content of the book and has overseen the team managing everything from the editing to the print run.

. . . .

“It’s a big job to self-publish,” Ms. Dystel, the literary agent, said, “and it takes your attention away from other things.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Big Shot Publishers? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Publishers!

Big Shot Agent? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Agent!

Big Shot Barnes & Noble? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Barnes & Noble!

Big Shot New York Times? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot New York Times, but thanks anyway for the giant sales boost from your snarky article!

Do-it Yourself takes your Attention?

No Attention paid to Big Shot Agent, No Attention paid to Big Shot Publisher, No Attention paid to Big Shot Barnes & Noble, No Attention paid to Big Shot New York Times.

My Attention? Getting the book out the door and into the hands of a zillion readers!

Big Job to self-publish?

Big Shot Agent, Big Shot Publisher, Big Shot Barnes & Noble and Big Shot New York Times? That’s your Really Big Job!

Big Publisher, Big Shot Agent, Wait until Barnes & Noble gets copies out to all its stores, New York Times article? Impossible Job before November if your name is Trump?

Ya think?

Do-it Yourself is the Ultimate Big Cinch!

Plus Big Fast is Amazon’s middle name!

Anybody going to be dumb enough to use Big Shot Publisher for election-year written book ever again?

There’s your Big Gamble!

Nigel Roby Sells the UK’s ‘The Bookseller’ to Stage Media Company

From Publishing Perspectives:

The United Kingdom’s longstanding news medium of record for book publishing, The Bookseller, has announced this morning in London (August 7) that it has been acquired by Stage Media Co., publisher of The Stage–the counterpart trade medium to The Bookseller for the British theater and performing arts industry.

Terms of the deal have not been made public, and media messaging from The Bookseller says that the new ownership is effective immediately, a result of talks that began in the autumn.

While The Bookseller is only being sold for the third time–a remarkable thing in itself for a an operation more than 150 years old–some may feel it’s had too short a time under the leadership of Nigel Roby, who bought the publication 10 years ago when Nielsen was divesting itself of its magazines, which included  The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

. . . .

“This is a bittersweet moment,” Roby says in a prepared statement for today’s news. “Owning and running The Bookseller has been the greatest privilege of my working life.

“I have put all of my care and energy into The Bookseller so leaving was never going to be easy. And it isn’t.”

. . . .

The Bookseller staff is expected to relocate, physically, to The Stage office space in Southwark’s brick-solid Bermondsey Street in the autumn.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

When PG first saw the headline of the OP, his initial thought was that The Bookseller is another victim of the Coronavirus.

If negotiations for the sale began last Autumn, that would seem to scotch questions about the victim narrative. However, finally coming to terms during the pandemic might imply tight finances at the publication helped move sales negotiations forward when they otherwise might have stopped.

All conjecture, however, on PG’s part.

Both the supply chain and book marketing are forever changed by Coronavirus

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

Just before the world changed, about five months ago on February 18th, we wrote in this space about two initiatives that made sense for all publishers to employ to raise revenues and profits.

One was Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program (GAP), which connects their Lightning print-on-demand capability to their ability to ship within 24 hours, delivering just about any quantity of books to justabout any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package. By mid-April, it was clear that the supply chain was already adjusting.

The other was Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program, a highly automated way to sharply improve the performance of ebook titles. The tactics employed include metadata improvements, pricing adjustments, search-optimized discovery that brings in tens of thousands of new readers every day, 8 unique newsletters touching millions of consumers (about whom more and more is known every day), and an array of genre-specific websites that funnel readers to books they love. Building this capability involved many thousands of ebooks tracked across millions of consumers for more than five years.

Both of these capabilities required tens of thousands of titles, millions of dollars of focused investment, and laboriously constructed system support to build. Ignition required a commitment to build an automated marketing effort that works across many thousands of titles. This is not a good fit with a publishing business model that has always focused on a few new titles, not the thousands on the backlist, with dedicated efforts that are largely driven by hands-on human marketers.

It is not likely that any publisher, even the very biggest ones, could build what Ingram and Open Road have created. But beyond whether they could, it is even less likely that they would.  It took Ingram seven years to make Lightning Print efficient and tie it to “third party distribution”, the ability to ship the book “as” coming from somebody else. And Open Road, by dedicating massive marketing resources to build an automated capability that hardly connects at all to the marketing that publishers have always done, built something that it is almost impossible to imagine any of the biggest publishers shifting their focus to attempt.

The timing of the February 18 piece was accidentally prophetic. The world of publishing pretty much shut down less than a month after it was written. It is evident to many publishers that Ingram’s GAP capability has been a lifesaver. In a recent week, five of the top ten New York Times paperback bestsellers were being printed by Lightning. Those publishers know that they wouldn’t have been able to grab those sales with the normal book supply chain.

. . . .

Indeed, sales at Ignition are up 75% in the four months since we published that first piece. Forced lockdowns are good for online sales, and especially good for ebook sales.

. . . .

Publishers market manually. They use humans to examine their metadata and change it. They assign titles to marketers, who are charged with making them more visible to buyers and today that means online visibility for online buyers. They are experts at “publicity”, which means getting their titles featured to other people’s audiences. They have, to varying degrees, built lists of book consumers they can address directly with newsletters and emails. Some have “vertical” websites that give them billboards to feature their books.

But all of those devices are applied book-by-book by human marketers who are directed, intentional, intelligent, and extremely limited in how many moves they can make and how many titles they can touch. And, therefore, very expensive.

This is a very poor match even for a publisher with 5,000 or 10,000 titles on their backlist. The publishers’ standard approach is not at all useful for lists of 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 titles. And that’s why what Open Road has created, the only truly automated book marketing program in the industry, is of such extraordinary value. And unless two or three very big publishers get together to build something that will require millions of dollars and years of work as a joint effort, that will not change.

. . . .

For a variety of reasons, the biggest publishers have been the slowest to join the party. For one thing, Ignition is designed for large and difficult-to-manage backlists. Even though it works for new titles as well, it performs a function — marketing backlist — that publishers with enormous lists built over decades always got along without. The reflex reaction of a publisher seeing the virtue in marketing backlist (and, in the online sales era, everybody does) is to do it the time-honored way: allocating scarce (for backlist) marketing resources where they would seem to provide the most benefit.

Link to the rest at The Idea Logical Company blog

PG will lay out the problem with big publishers.

They don’t really want to change.

And, if a Big Publishing CEO takes a wiggle toward change that costs any significant amount of money, the large international conglomerates that own four out of the five largest US publishers (ViacomCBS, which is all about TV and video, owns the fifth), will shut down that foolishness in a New York Minute or a Gütersloh Minute (Bertelsmann), Paris Minute (Lagardère), Stuttgart Minute (Holtzbrinck) or a New York Minute with an Australian accent (News Corp).

In these conglomerates, publishers play the strategic role of cash cows (not terribly fat cash cows, but, still cash cows). If conglomerate management wants to take a flyer on risky booming growth and capital appreciation, it will invest in something in Silicon Valley through its separate venture capital investment arm. No book persons will be involved.

Furthermore, to the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the five conglomerates which own the Big Five US publishers have made even baby waves in the tech world. The founders of next Google or next Amazon are not looking for money in Stuttgart. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Jose are just a few freeway exits away and everybody there is already fluent in geekspeak and moving very fast is how those investors thrive and survive.

PG hadn’t heard about Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program as mentioned in the OP.

However a quick look gave him the impression that the organization is primarily a collection of book-oriented e-newsletters – see Our Portfolio.

The company touts:

Ebook Promotions

Feature your books in a newsletter that reaches over 1 million book lovers looking for their next favorite read.

Content Marketing

Showcase your brand, product or creator on one of our targeted digital properties. Smart, search-first, audience-focused opportunities.

Maybe there’s some magic juice happening behind the scenes, but Early Bird Books, the company’s largest email newsletter with a claimed circulation of 2.6 million doesn’t seem too special:

Early Bird Books provides a great service to ebook aficionados looking for free and discounted ebooks written by authors they love—and by others that they’re willing to try at a special price.

The Early Bird Books web and social channels provide fun articles, book lists, product recommendations, and other highly relevant content to keep consumers engaged on all of their devices.

Email newsletters, social media marketing and search-engine optimization are standard vanilla services, provided by any number of internet marketing agencies. Analyzing the results of such activities typically comes with the package as well.

But this may be news for New York publishers.

Amazon Publishing on Wooing Dean Koontz

From Publishing Perspectives:

Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news Publishing Perspectives reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.

For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”

And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.

. . . .

Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Radical Fiction or “Are We There Yet?”

From SWFA:

In much the way too many crows is a murder, I have what is effectively an embarrassment of a TBR pile. It sits in various stacks atop my dining room table and beside the box containing the tall bookcase I have yet to put together, brimming with the promise of new, interesting adventures from dozens of unique voices from every continent on the planet. So it’s odd in my everlasting search for more things to add to it—for new covers to stare at lustily before putting them aside in favor of yet another project— that I can find a dearth of anything to complain about.

And yet. 

I am aware that the voices in my stacks are filtered through the English-speaking, pro-colonial lens of the global north. It means the stories responsible for forming the literary canon, and thus the concept of valuable or marketable literature, are reflective of the same lens responsible for a number of societal ills. It means that of the millions of books available to me in the traditionally published market, I will primarily find works that are mild in their radicality, beholden as they are to the ancient, archaic systems only recently put to the test by new and emerging talents, writers, readers, and critics.

The volume of works by and about people from an unprecedented spectrum of perspectives, of cultural backgrounds, and story-telling traditions is broader than it has ever been. We have new writers, more diverse stories, better in-text representation of marginalized groups than the industry has ever seen. But we have not radicalized our decolonization of our stories.

It is a failure of our industry that we have not been more keen to publish or amplify those works which turn the genre on its ear, instead choosing to lean on our tropes, acquiring mainly the stories which compare to other stories for the sake of their promised sales potential as set by a colonialist standard. 

Traditionally published SF/F is still beholden to its archetypes, its oft-tread narratives treated as universal if only because they are familiar: a native population endures some oppressive or genocidal experience with a settler group only to have an “awakened” or progressive protagonist of the settler class emerge as the empathetic rebel, a hero for standing against the status quo. That hero knows through their organic goodness or learns through participation in or observation of the horrors suffered by the marginalized class that they are indeed fruit of the poisonous tree.

By and large, these stories still—to varying degrees—rely on the systems and prejudices inherent in the world we inhabit. But there is no reason secondary worlds—SF/F’s defining element, its raison d’etre in many ways—should adhere to them. 

. . . .

These rote narratives have become difficult to read without seeing centuries of an entire civilization refusing to reconcile or reckon with its history. Instead, it is re-lived, the mistakes and missteps replicated over and over again in re-skinned versions with protagonists who are brown or ethnic or disabled or queer, but only along a single axis at once (we can’t be too different, you see, for the market’s sake), as if we haven’t all gotten the point. As if we don’t know that the idea is to be the compassionate protagonist.

Many haven’t. But we don’t speak to them.

Link to the rest at SWFA

PG is reminded of a quote from Haruki Murakami:

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.

Waiting for a while is the byword of the would-be author of any race, background or gender in the world of traditional publishing.

PG suggests that traditional publishing will always be a lagging indicator of social and cultural change, not only because of its dominant practice of copycatting what’s gone before, but also because of the ponderous process of taking a book from manuscript to public sale (unless it’s a scandalous tell-all about a sitting president facing reelection).

Slow, slower, slowest.

So last-century.

US Book Market: NPD Sees Unit Sales Up 2.8 Percent in Q2

From Publishing Perspectives:

The top-line information from the NPD BookScan report today (July 20) includes information for the second quarter of 2020 and finds that year-to-date American book unit sales tracked by the program grew 2.8 percent through Q2, with 322 million units sold in 2020 compared to 313 million units in 2019.

The print book market was in negative year-to-date territory from March 15 to May 30, as a result of store closures in coronavirus COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

In NPD’s assessment, however, the print market has since recovered and has posted five weeks of consecutive positive year-to-date growth.

. . . .

NPD sees adult nonfiction as having encountered the sharpest downturn during the mitigation shutdowns period of mid-March through May, but the adult nonfiction category that posted the highest unit gains in Q2 included biography and memoir, up 35 percent compared to the first quarter of this year.

Here we see politically charged content in play, with gains credited to new releases including The Room Where It Happened (John Bolton) as well as Untamed (Glennon Doyle). There also was an increase in biographies tied to the race-relations dynamics in the States, including Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates); Born A Crime (Trevor Noah); and Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson). The category saw double-digit gains over performance in the first quarter.

Travel books took the biggest hit, dropping 44 percent in the second quarter compared to the first.

. . . .

Adult fiction rose 3 percent year-to-date through the second quarter.

General fiction saw the most gains over the first quarter, up a healthy 25 percent on the strength of unit sales in titles including Where The Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) and books behind recently released book-to-screen adaptations such as Normal People (Sally Rooney) and Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng). 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Trump Tell-All Breaks S&S Record

From Publishing Perspectives:

Another demonstration of the “bookseller in chief” at work: Simon & Schuster announces this morning (July 16) that Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump, the niece of Donald Trump, sold more than 950,000 copies through its release date Tuesday (July 14).

That combined sales figure includes pre-orders and first-day sales of print books, ebooks, and downloaded audiobooks in the United States market, and is a company record.

The publisher has ordered a 14th printing of the book that, when completed, will bring the number of hardcover copies in print to more than 1,150,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says if Simon & Schuster had any sense of decency, they would at least name a conference room after the President.

May Publishing Sales Fell 12.1%

From Publishers Weekly:

Net sales fell 12.1% in May, compared to May 2019, for the 1,360 publishers who report to AAP’s monthly StatShot program. Similar to the April report, the net sales figure was heavily influenced by a steep drop in returns, which offset a decline in gross sales in the month. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.)

Total gross sales fell 17.4% in May, but returns dropped 45.2%, leading to the 12.1% decline in net sales. Religion was the only category to have an increase in gross sales in the month, of 0.2%, and combined with a 38.9% drop in returns, the category had a 7% increase in net sales.

In the trade segments, adult book gross sales fell 17.5%, but a 41.8% decline in returns kept the net sales loss to 11%.The May report did show the first big jump in e-book sales since the pandemic struck, with sales up 30.6% over May 2019, an increase that helped to offset print declines. The gain lifted sales of e-books up by 4.3% for the first five months of 2020. Downloadable audio sales rose 18.6% in the month.

In the children’s/young adult category, gross sales were off 12%, but returns plunged 46.2%, resulting in a 4.9% decline in net sales. E-book sales at the reporting publishers spiked nearly 140% over May 2019, but still accounted for only 3% of total sales.

Publishers have been bracing for the possibility of heavy returns as bookstores start to reopen and send back books they didn’t have a chance to sell, but even as some trade bookstores began opening their doors in May, returns still fell noticeably compared to a year ago.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Gardners to reopen Bertrams’ Norwich warehouse

From The Bookseller:

Gardners will reopen the Bertrams warehouse in Norwich after buying the assets of the stricken business. Gardners said the move would give it extra warehouse capacity in addition to the Eastbourne operation and allow it to continue to expand its range and stockholding.

However, the move won’t help those owed money by the now defunct Bertrams business, with publishers still advised to petition the administrator for the payment of their debts; it is also as yet unclear how many of the staff made redundant will be taken on by Gardners, as it works to reopen the operation. Nevertheless, the move is a positive one for the trade, as it increases the capacity of the Gardners wholesaling business, and re-establishes a second operation in the middle of the country.

The wholesaler and distributor purchased the assets of Bertram Trading Limited, which includes the assets of Bertram Books, Bertrams Library Services, and Dawson Books–including the physical building for five years on the lease and some machinery–though it has not bought the trading company and will not trade in Norwich as Bertrams using its name or brand.

. . . .

Nigel Wyman, head of sales and marketing at Gardners, confirmed that although the company had acquired Bertrams’ assets, it had not taken on any of its liabilities. 

He said in a statement: “We strongly believe this will further enhance the opportunity to work even closer with retailers and publishers to grow sales in all channels at home and abroad in these very changing and varied times.

“For our suppliers and customers there will be little visible operational change and all will continue to interact, communicate and order with their established Gardners contacts and departments from the Eastbourne operation as they do now.”

He also said: “We have been looking to expand for some time and ultimately, by having an additional warehouse in Norwich, this gives us the capacity, especially going into Q4.

“Our main driver behind that purchase was to enable us to support the industry over the coming six months and beyond and make sure we have the stock range and availability to support booksellers, whether they’re an independent or an online seller or any type of bookseller really.

“We have purchased the assets, so what we have built is a ready-made warehouse, which we have to bring into line with our own business. This is a positive message: it is to support that growth and to support the industry.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Lots of bargains in many business bankruptcies if the purchaser has cash.

PG predicts more bargains in the future from the traditional publishing business.

Ingram Upgrades Printing

From Publishers Weekly:

Citing industry shifts as well as disruptions in the publishing supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ingram Content Group said it is investing millions of dollars in an upgrade to its global printing and distribution network.

In the U.S., Ingram said it is investing “millions of dollars” to increase capacity in its print-on-demand manufacturing plants located in Allentown, Pa., Jackson, Tenn., and La Vergne, Tenn. New printing, binding, trimming, and shipping/sortation equipment will be installed now through October, which the company said will increase U.S. capacity “by double-digit percentages,” adding that it expects to “hire hundreds of new associates in these facilities.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

If this pans out, PG suspects the number of people in the business of acquiring, distributing, selling and reselling remaindered books is likely to decline steeply.

Publishers may be the last people on the planet to realize it’s bad business to consistently generate more inventory than you can profitably sell and that books sitting in warehouses are engendering real expenses in all sorts of ways.

Who knows where this will end? Perhaps with recruiting mathematicians instead of literature majors from the Little Ivies.

Dear black publishers and creatives…

From The Bookseller:

I have been writing children’s books for over 10 years now. I have worked as an editor in children’s publishing houses for 15. For the last 18 months, I have been mentoring writers and illustrators of colour, and doing my best to try and explain how publishing works. How to navigate this industry whilst sharing my experiences of being an author and editor who is black. Thing is, this navigator is on new terrain now!

Publishing as I have always known it is changing. The honest conversations I am having with industry professionals around race and the marginalization of certain voices is unprecedented. Often, these conservations feel raw and personal and even exhausting – but they are all necessary.

The letter from the Black British Writers’ Guild, which I was proud to sign, and the recent Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report are forcing a long-overdue examination around the lack of equality when it comes to the careers of black creatives and publishing professionals.

It is an exhilarating time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are pushing for parity and it feels like the industry aren’t just listening – they are actually taking action.

It is an uncomfortable time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are in the spotlight and the focus is intense.

The door to opportunity seems to be wide open. Offers of work and amazing prospects may well be pouring in for you as the industry looks inwards and realizes that they have got to reflect the whole of society. That’s their job.

Do you hover at the threshold of that door? You remember when it was most definitely shut and you were left knocking. You wonder how long it will really remain open. Does it bother you that opportunities that seemed impossible weeks ago are now in your inbox? That they are born of the epiphanies of a mostly white industry? That some opportunities perhaps come from a place of fear and anxiety? That it has taken this long?

I dwell in this place between exhilaration and uncomfortableness. I am eager to champion and showcase the talent from marginalized communities that I work with, but I still fear this industry might let them down. 

I am excited for my future as a creator in a way I have never allowed myself to feel before. Yet, I remember what it felt like to encounter that shut door. To find success in other countries but not my own.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bertrams goes into administration

From The Bookseller:

Bertrams is confirmed to have gone into administration as of this afternoon (19th June) and will be making company-wide redundancies.

Administrator Turpin Barker Armstrong said in a statement: “We can confirm that Bertram Trading Limited, the global book wholesaler, has entered administration along with Education Umbrella Limited, a supplier of textbooks and digital education resources and Dawson Books Limited, an academic and professional library supplier. Book wholesalers have suffered from falling demand in recent years due to changes in the distribution model for literature and the rising popularity of e-books.  These factors, combined with the Covid-19-related closure of many public libraries and educational facilities, meant these businesses could no longer operate viably.

“Sales have been agreed in principle with two unconnected parties for the tangible assets and unencumbered stock of Bertram Trading Limited and for the intangible assets of Education Umbrella Limited and it is hoped that these will be completed shortly.

“Unfortunately, the majority of employees have been made redundant with immediate effect with a small number retained to manage the winding down of operations. We are liaising with all employees impacted regarding their statutory rights and to direct them to support from the relevant government agencies.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG notes The Bookseller is an overflowing fountain of positive joy today.

Publishing must decolonise

From The Bookseller:

The movement of protests, riots and direct action that has sparked across the globe following the death of George Floyd has now entered the offices of creative industries such as publishing, and been swallowed up by the yawn-inducing language of “diversity and inclusion” that is all too familiar to those of us working within the industry.

While calls for reflection are being made, “anti-racist” reading lists are being circulated and the mantra of “we will do better” rolls of the tongue of our White publishing friends, it is unclear why anyone should expect meaningful change from an industry that has already spent decades bemoaning the diversity problem. It is difficult to view these statements of support as anything but performative zeitgeist from an industry keen to present itself as well-meaning and socially conscious without divesting from its imperial roots.

What does “inclusion” in this industry, as currently conceived, offer people of colour? The publishing industry does not need to be diversified; it needs to be decolonised.

Of all the creative industries, publishing is the most explicitly imperial. An open letter from the Publisher’s Association in 2018 argued without irony or acknowledgement of its own imperial history that “UK publishing is world-leading and a cornerstone of Britain’s cultural and economic influence.” Books have always been an important propaganda tool and the flow of writing and information from West to East has been central to the colonial project.

Little has changed to this day. Multinational publishing companies work in an explicitly colonial framework; they distribute books acquired in the UK wherever they have rights, but rarely would a book published first by a division in South Africa or India, say, be picked up by the UK head office. The few books that do make it over traffic in exploitative tropes, pushing a singular narrative and feeding into a limiting and caricaturish portrayal of people in the global South.

The foundations of the publishing industry are white, male and middle class and a simple look at the demographic of an average mainstream UK white publishing house makes it clear how closely the industry is still tied to these roots, albeit now with more women. A recent survey found that only 13% of respondents identified as BAME, and that a disproportionate number of respondents were from the South East, and had been to fee-paying schools.

This has created an industry that not only caters wholly to that target group but refuses to embrace even the diversity inherent within itself, let alone those it considers external to it. Bookshops judge what books to acquire based on reviews in newspapers, written by similarly white and middle-class reviewers and selected by literary editors who believe that their readers won’t want to read books about Africa because it is too “niche”, as one such editor informed me. As long as the gatekeepers of the industry remain invested in this white supremacist and elitist framing, where only white narratives are mainstream and everything else is ghettoed (with a few miraculous exceptions held up as proof of the publishing industry’s diversity), this will remain the case.

For those books by writers of colour that do make it to publication in mainstream UK publishing, that imagined middle-class white reader is still seen as the target audience. Writers are told that their work is not universal enough, code for “it does not centre whiteness”, which often means narratives about black and brown characters angsting over their identity. Similarly, anthologies abound – about immigrants, Black men, Muslim women – all unwittingly explaining their otherness to an unnamed white audience. These anthologies also prove that there is an abundance of talented writers from the margins, and yet the only way for many of these writers to be published is as part of a collection with 20 other writers, writing about experience of racism or other “isms.”  When writers of colour are championed by the media, they are invariably published by large multinationals or medium-sized publishing houses who are always on the first tiers for reviewing, again as revealed by a book editor at a major newspaper.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Sounds like an industry that deserves to die. PG will formalize the de facto boycott he has been conducting for years.

Global Association of Literary Festivals Holds First Online Webinar

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our regular readers will remember the formal establishment we reported on May 12 of the Global Association of Literary Festivals.

. . . .

And in a way, the development of the new association may well have come at a surprisingly good moment during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. With festivals driven to consider online evocations of their usual offers, there’s temporarily less organizational burden on them, a chance to reflect and strategize.

The downside, of course, is that revenue has also come to a standstill for many if not most festivals, and while we’ve seen one sterling example of a huge success on the ether this spring—the UK’s Hay Festival with its 490,000 streams served out in a two-week offer of sessions—few festivals start with the heft of the Hay and the fundraising capacity that program was able to mount so it could stage its digital presentation.

Wednesday’s session, then, is a consideration of the issues and the imperative faced by many faces during the pandemic–which health officials caution is still in its first wave, and not subsiding.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that the timing of the creation of the Global Association of Literary Festivals is sadly ironic because, as indicated in the OP, literary festivals have stopped happening since last spring.

After sheltering in place and avoiding airline travel for several months (and likely several more to follow) PG wonders how many people who are not traveling on corporate expense accounts will be interested in flying to book festivals.

In the US, the National Football League, the source of more television and ticket revenue than any other sport, may well be operating under rules that will keep 50% or more of the seats in NFL stadiums empty. Both the pre-season, which attracts both fans and viewers, as well as the season itself are likely to have many fewer games than is normally the case.

PG wonders how many exhibitors, typically a large source of revenue for commercial gatherings, such as literary festivals, will be willing to pay the necessary exhibitor’s fees, pay for the creation and shipping of exhibits and pay travel, food and lodging costs for publisher’s personnel to staff and mingle, etc., with sales of traditionally-published books entirely in the tank (other than via Amazon).

As far as attendees are concerned, PG can’t help but believe that numbers will be impacted by the absence of a great many retiree readers who are likely to be extra-cautious about venturing forth prematurely.

If the Association of Literary Festivals is holding a webinar, why not webinars to introduce big books from traditional publishers? Or webinars for sci-fi or fantasy fans?

PG is not an expert on the world of romance and authors and fans, but why not a Romance webinar?

A commercial webinar need not consist only of individuals sitting at their desks peering into the screen. Nothing precludes a festival that features authors in local professionally-operated studios speaking about their books or being interviewed, perhaps from a distance, by an expert and experienced interviewer?

With a Plunge in Returns, Net Sales Fell 3.5% in April

From Publishers Weekly:

Net publishing sales fell 3.5% in April compared to April 2019 for the 1,361 publishers who report revenue to AAP’s StatShot program. The small decline, however, is deceiving. Gross sales fell in the monthly comparison, dropping 16%, but were offset by a nearly 49% drop in returns. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.) Returns were down in every category and point to an issue that many publishers are keeping an eye on—the possibility of heavy returns when bookstores reopen after closing because of the pandemic.

Nearly all college stores were closed in April, leading to a 57.9% decline in returns to publishers of higher educational course materials in the month compared to 2019. And even though gross sales fell 30.8% in the month, the plunge in returns led to a 139.8% increase in net sales in the category. The AAP said it expects an increase in returns in the category in future months as stores, distributors, colleges, and universities reopen.

. . . .

The same, but less extreme, pattern was seen in the two trade categories. Gross sales of adult books fell 16.4% in April, but returns dropped by 46.3%, resulting in a 7% decline in net sales. Many chain and independent bookstores were closed in April and unable to return books, but they are now slowly reopening and may soon start shipping back unsold copies. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Can Rivals Take Advantage of Amazon’s Pandemic Woes?

From The Wall Street Journal:

When coronavirus lockdowns sent Americans into a frenzy of panic buying, the bad news came almost as quickly as the good for online organic grocer Thrive Market.

In March, the company that aims to compete with Amazon.com Inc. in the health-food sector suddenly found customers flocking to its site as its giant rival struggled to handle its own pandemic business surge. Thrive notched record sales and membership sign-ups.

Then it buckled. Orders ballooned to five times what Thrive could handle. Delivery times for some customers reached two weeks. About 30% of items were out of stock on some days. To keep delivery times from slipping further, Thrive made the previously unimaginable decision to throttle demand by limiting shopping hours.

“It was excruciating,” recalled co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Green. “It felt like a pick-your-poison moment.”

Thrive Market, based in Los Angeles, is one of a host of retailers that have spent years trying to compete against the Amazon retail juggernaut. The coronavirus pandemic provided a fleeting window of opportunity. Amazon, overwhelmed by a wave of orders, temporarily reoriented its business toward essential items, leading consumers to begin looking elsewhere.

But capturing that opportunity—and trying to ensure it is more than a temporary blip—brought extraordinary challenges for Thrive and others, demonstrating the difficulty of competing with even a weakened Amazon.

. . . .

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping and devastated traditional retailers, including Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.Crew Group Inc., which have filed for bankruptcy protection. Financial-services firm UBS Group AG recently predicted the percentage of groceries sold online will rise from 3% this year to 15% by 2025.

. . . .

Mr. Green calls Thrive the “un-Amazon” because, he says, it offers a curated selection of merchandise. Early on, many reluctant investors had the same question: How would it compete with Amazon or Whole Foods Market?

Mr. Green was betting that consumers would try it out for its carefully selected inventory and competitive prices and stick around because they feel good about shopping there. He also billed the company as socially conscious by adhering to such practices as not offering genetically modified products.

Thrive, which is privately held, eventually raised more than $160 million. It now has more than 800,000 members who pay $60 a year. Although Thrive doesn’t disclose sales, Mr. Green said they were in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

On March 11, Mr. Green was preparing to leave work when he glanced at a computer monitor showing the company’s financial metrics. That day’s revenue line shot up like the handle of a hockey stick.

He messaged an executive to make sure there wasn’t a bug in the system. There wasn’t. Checking CNN’s website, he learned the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic. People were buying in a panic.

. . . .

Days later, the country shifted into lockdown mode. Within a week, Amazon was struggling to meet orders promptly. On March 17, it said it was prioritizing the shipments of medical supplies, household staples and other high-demand products. Toilet paper and many cleaning supplies became unavailable, and shipping was taking weeks for some products. Amazon retooled its website to encourage shoppers to buy fewer items.

A survey by investment bank Jefferies Group LLC showed that almost one-third of respondents said they turned to non-Amazon sites during the pandemic because of delivery and inventory problems.

At Thrive, new paid membership sign-ups in March and April were up threefold from the prior year. But the same problems that plagued Amazon ravaged Thrive. Customers rushed to buy cleaning supplies, canned food and other essentials. A six-month supply of toilet paper ran out in three days. Mr. Green wasn’t sure how quickly the company could address the backlog.

Earlier in March, Chief Financial Officer Karen Cate had asked Thrive’s supply-chain director to order five times the usual amount of canned goods and cleaning supplies. She left out toilet paper. “If I could go back, I would change that one,” she said.

. . . .

To some, limiting online store hours seemed a sensible middle ground. Ms. Cate, the CFO, was skeptical. She said she felt Thrive could gain control of its order backlog without limiting members to ordering during working hours. She worried that members who worked during the day—including her daughter, a nurse at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif.—would be shut out.

She relented after seeing internal metrics that showed delivery times would only increase. “OK, I surrender,” she recalled thinking.

On a midnight call, Mr. Green and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Sasha Siddhartha decided to move forward with limiting the hours. They told other executives the next day and instituted the new policies on March 25.

. . . .

The stress mounted for Mr. Green, whose wife had just given birth to their second child. He was getting a handful of hours of sleep per night and didn’t shave for a month. He stopped working out. Outside of work hours, his time was consumed by his newborn son and late-night emails and calls with executives.

It was difficult to concentrate from his setup in the family’s guest bedroom. He took two monitors and his MacBook Pro and set up an office in his closet, placing the equipment on shelves near his T-shirts and jeans. He scrapped a strategic plan and built a new one, staying up one night until 3 a.m. to finish it. The plan re-examined hiring goals and when the company should expand its fulfillment network, among other things, to ramp up faster.

. . . .

Holding on to customers became harder as Thrive struggled to handle the order influx. Online, customers were threatening to leave over the delays. Members were frustrated and questioned why Thrive was taking on new customers.

. . . .

By early April, Thrive Market was hiring as many as 30 warehouse workers a day. Using several recruiting agencies, it hired more than 300 warehouse workers in less than two months, adding to the roughly 500 it had. Labor costs jumped 20%.

The company also removed nonessential items such as water bottles and yoga mats from its website to concentrate on delivering essentials like food and cleaning supplies. It tinkered with its fulfillment processes, processing orders for high-demand products in one section of warehouses. It prioritized orders with the longest delivery times. It stopped selling low-demand items in the back of the warehouses, partly so workers wouldn’t have to waste time fetching them.

. . . .

Higher costs have reduced the percentage of profit made on orders, Mr. Green said. And the store has had to dip into its cash reserves to pay for a spike in inventory expenses. But the year’s revenue projections have risen, and the company is in a strong cash position, he said, although he declined to provide details.

Thrive’s goal to reach profitability by the end of 2022 hasn’t changed, he said. “With our growth accelerated,” he said, “we expect to get profitable even faster.”

. . . .

The lessons from the pandemic have changed its fulfillment processes. Mr. Green said the company will hold 20% more inventory and will work with a larger number of suppliers. Its technology team plans to roll out improved recommendation functions on the website for when items are out of stock.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG has a soft spot for scrappy young tech startups and was heartened by the apparent survival of Thrive as depicted in the OP. For PG, a couple of smart young gals/guys who put it all on the line to start their own internet business is the cutest thing since puppies. That’s one reasons why he appreciates indie authors.

PG remembers when he first heard about Amazon from a friend and read an interview with Jeff Bezos. Later, PG created quite a few posts as the illegal Apple/Big Five Publishers scheme to kill Amazon fell apart.

Of course, Amazon has probably been the best single thing to happen to authors and readers in the last twenty years. Gatekeepers of dubious ability knocked back on their heels. Talented authors who want to move fast and write a lot of books unchained. Indie authors who know their readers because they pretty much are their readers instead of believing most people are more like their classmates at Swarthmore and Princeton than anything else.

Literati will go to their graves without admitting it, but Amazon has also helped Big Publishing to avoid becoming Semi-Big or Largish-Medium Publishing during the same time-frame. Since a great many publishing executives fall into the category of smartish, Amazon may have even prevented Big Publishing from becoming Chapter 11 Publishing.

Based upon a whole bunch of authors that he knows and carefully monitoring of what authors, particularly indie authors, are sharing about the business side of their art, PG feels comfortable in stating that Amazon’s self-publishing programs have made it more possible for many, many more authors to quit their day jobs than any other organization or collection of organizations on the planet.

As he has mentioned before, PG hopes JB’s style and savvy doesn’t slowly fade away at Amazon since he’s becoming less and less involved in the management of the company. Amazon works in a tough neighborhood. The list of huge, well-known retailers that have lost their mojo and disappeared into Chapter 11 or, at best, irrelevance is a long one and if Amazon ever starts taking its customers for granted, it might join the Wikipedia throng of giant retailers that are no more.

Ten Publishing Things That Will Never Be The Same

From Publishing Perspectives:

In Publishing’s Post-Pandemic Future

No longer will we print 200 copies of an academic monograph, ship 150 to warehouses around the world, then on to university libraries, and hope the remaining 50 will evaporate somehow over time. Should any library actually want a print copy for archival or other reasons it’s perfectly easy to produce one on a print-on-demand basis and that single copy will cost less in money and damage to the environment.

  • As it happens, the same technology and attitude will pervade the thinking of general as well as academic publishers when maintaining the availability of backlist titles.
  • This will of course lead to a complete revision and rethinking of reversion clauses.

Scientific publishers will abandon any semblance of print production including the age-old tradition of printed offprints of an author’s article.

  • Print in the new world is akin to the old French tradition of delivering the mail by postmen on stilts—charming but ridiculous.

And how about the absurdity of sending printed copies to media for review?

  • During the lockdown, newspaper mailrooms have been empty and it has been pointless to send printed books. It turns out that for the purposes of review and criticism, a PDF is perfectly adequate in all but heavily illustrated art, lifestyle, and children’s books.
  • Of course the reviewer will find it hard to sell the PDF on eBay as a way of supplementing the paltry reviewer’s fee but perhaps it’s about time that reviewers were paid properly for their important function.

. . . .

Can anyone imagine any learning environment without a significant digital dimension? From the library to the lecture theater or classroom, the buzzword in educational publishing for schools and colleges has been “blended learning”–essentially a teacher, a book, and some digital supplements.

  • This will be reversed and will become a digital course supplemented by a teacher and the very occasional printed textbook.
  • It will still be blended learning but as in any blend everything depends on the proportions of the ingredients. In education, these proportions will never be the same again.

. . . .

With more people working from home, how can our industry justify typical midtown offices? How can senior executives justify large offices for themselves and battery-hen cubicles for lower-level staffers?

  • Old-fashioned offices and structures will not survive to be replaced by more employee-friendly work spaces and work practices.
  • Adieu, 9-to-5 work schedules. I’m very glad I haven’t invested heavily in big-city commercial property, and I’m pretty certain that most publishers will be looking to reduce their rent bills by taking less space and renegotiating leases.

. . . .

No more sales conferences in exotic places.

  • No more teeming academic conferences.
  • No more all-company rallies.
  • No more flying around the world when a phone call would suffice.
  • Leaving parties will be sadly frequent but less grand.

And finally, of course, the parties.

  • No more book launches in lovely but pokey independent bookshops.
  • No more cheap white wine.
  • No more self-serving speeches by the publisher.
  • No more shushing in order to hear the author’s speech or reading.
  • No more air kisses and mwah mwah.
  • No more trying to persuade staffers to mingle.
  • No more sucking up to journalists in the hope of a one-line mention in a diary column.
  • No more bundling up the unsold books to return to the warehouse.
  • The post-COVID-19 launch parties will be digital. Many more people can and will attend. The wine and refreshments will be top-notch. The author can be heard and seen. The event can be recorded and shared universally.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Book Promotion 2020

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

They worked in Manhattan, which was too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. They didn’t make enough money to buy their own apartments downtown, but they’d never think of moving to Brooklyn or Queens or any of the outer boroughs. Mummy and Daddy had the money, boatloads of it in many cases, and Mummy and Daddy believed in appearances. So, if Second Son needed a place to live, well, then let’s just buy him something in the right neighborhood, so that he can live in relative comfort.

Second Son had use of the summer house upstate or in the Hamptons (before, y’know, it got discovered by [sniff] celebrities) and in due time, Second Son and the wife would move to Connecticut to raise the kids, commute into the City to do Important Work.

What Important Work? Publishing, of course. Perfect work for the Second Son or the Third Son or the Fourth. Perfect way to use that expensive education without really going into Trade or soiling the hands on something a little less…dignified.

Most of the people running publishing companies in those days were the children of old money who were not expected to make a profit at what they did. They were expected to do good work, to influence the culture, to put their minds and hearts behind good (or at least the right sort of) causes.

The people who started or ran the companies were, for the most part, male. All of them were white. And only a handful—the most innovative (and the most underrated)—were not from old money. Ian and Betty Ballantine, for instance, started Ballantine Books in their apartment in 1952, which was not the way most publishing houses started in those times. Ian and Betty were the anomalies.

The children of old money were not anomalies. Their influence pervades publishing even now, when all that remains of their companies are dusty old names that have long since been sold to corporations.

When I came into the business, though, handshake agreements were common, particularly with agents, who talked about things like “gentlemen’s agreements,” and “honor,” even though most of them had as much honor as any thief.

The publishers, though, the publishers truly were not interested in making a profit. They wanted enough money to keep their Manhattan offices, and to publish prestige products. They liked bestsellers, although they often manipulated the lists so that the worthy books could be considered bestsellers, and they really liked dominating the conversation around the entire country.

The books that made profits for the publishing houses—well, we don’t discuss those much. The “trashy” novels. Science fiction. Mystery. Romance. The [sniff] genre titles, they funded the literary titles, and made the prestige books possible.

But, long about sixty years ago, the culture was changing. The masses—always a problem when it came to prestige products—had a lot of disposable income, and wanted—not the most prestigious book—but something fun to read. Sure, they bought the prestige book, and displayed it on the coffee table so that their neighbors thought they were erudite, but the books they read lurked in the bedroom closet or the enclosed end table or the basement, and those had lurid covers and shocking subheadings.

The problem was that a lot of the racks around the nation that handled books wanted books to sell, not books to impress. The handful of bookstores weren’t enough to make the requisite amount of sales, so somehow, these publishers had to convince the department store book departments and the grocery stores and drug stores and the truck stops to take prestige books.

Truck stops never did, and neither did drug stores, but department stores…they could be lured by prestige. Just like university bookstores and libraries—with the right promotion.

What was the right promotion? Well, that was the question, wasn’t it, in a mass market world. How to make books that are good for you, or at least books written by the right sort (our kind of people) sell better than they naturally would.

The editors who actually believed in the product, and the sales force who were, in those days, an actual force, unique to the company, had the job of making those books profitable. And sometimes, that was impossible. 

. . . .

A lot of things were tried, and a lot of things failed. But the successful things, well, some were done utilizing the Right People Who Had Jobs in the Right Places, things such as:

  • Convincing that one reviewer to read the book and maybe, in exchange for a lovely lunch, write a slightly more positive review than usual.
  • Planting interviews in the right magazines and newspapers, read by the right people
  • Sending copies to the influential bookstores ahead of publication, so that the store owner felt involved in the process and might encourage the influential in the community (including the reviewer at the local paper) to cover the book.
  • Sending the author to universities, to talk to professors and other influencers (although that term wasn’t used then).
  • Sending the author, and copies of the book, to the influential bookstores. Initially, the authors gave lectures there as well, but most authors are dull as dishwater even when someone poured a lot of liquor into them, so the talks evolved into signings only, and more than one per day.

. . . .

But for the most part, the book publicity you still see today started around 1955 or so, and changed only as book buying changed. The sales force went away—why have a sales force when all you had to do was sell to the single buyer for the nationwide chain? And then the right magazines became shadows of themselves, the struggling newspapers cut their book sections, and the author tour became a way to get bookstores around the country to order enough copies of the book to get on the New York Times list.

But that was that.

Ads on television, still in its infancy in 1960, didn’t really work, especially with Our Sort, because television by its very nature appealed to the masses. Jaqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls, revolutionized book publicity, but it was commonly accepted that she wrote trash, and the techniques she used were unique to her.

(They weren’t. They were the same techniques most companies used at the time to sell any brand name item. Techniques all snubbed by traditional publishers at the time because of the whiff of the masses…snubbed until they actually needed those techniques to get their books on the shelves.)

Book publishing rolled in a few more techniques—the book fairs, like the LA Book Fair and a few other “accepted” methods of promotion—but for the most part, until January 2020, the promotion done for books by traditional publishers was the same kind of promotion done by traditional publishers 60 years ago.

. . . .

Only now, the Right People don’t control the media. Corporations do. And there’s too many diverse voices and too many influencers not under the control of Our Sort.

The right magazines are gone. The newspaper book sections are gone or styled back to one review.

But that doesn’t matter. The booksellers…they’re Our Sort. They will come through. We can market to them, support them against the Big Evil Amazon, and our books will sell enough to make a decent profit, enough to keep our little division of our books in the black.

Let the authors handle the online promotion. We’ll set up a book tour, and maybe some direct-to-bookstore marketing, and all will be well.

But problems lurked on the horizon.

Bookstores were struggling. Big or little, it doesn’t matter. Barnes & Noble, the last big store, was being mismanaged into oblivion. The little stores were hanging on by finding their niche, but that niche wasn’t always The Right Book. Some of the most successful stores were genre—mystery, science fiction, and quite often, romance.

Even so, they weren’t making a big profit, and it had become a sad ironic joke in the industry that book buyers would use the stores to pick up a book, maybe read the opening, and then order the ebook online. Or the hardcover from Amazon, where the price was half of what the bookstore was doing.

Still, the book tours continued and the promotion wheel geared up, and writers occasionally appeared on the Today show (but not on Ellen or any of the talk shows, which were more focused on performing than ever).

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG keeps thinking one day he’ll disagree with one of the posts Kris writes about the book business, but he’s probably wrong.

The “business” end of the traditional book business is full of people who would have a difficult time being hired by any revenue-generating employer other than a publisher. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, they genuinely believe they are good business people despite growing evidence to the contrary.

Jeff Bezos knows how to sell books. Random House, not so much.

For visitors to TPV who may be aghast at PG’s opinion, he would ask how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books a traditional publisher sells each year.

Ditto for how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books Barnes & Noble sells each year.

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.

Canada’s publishers face deluge of returns as bookstores re-open after eight weeks lockdown and a 63% drop in sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Canada’s book publishing trade association Booknet is warning that as bookstores open their doors there will be even more books than usual being sent back unsold and unwanted.

While some bookstores have managed to maintain curbside sales, overall bricks & mortar sales are down about 63% and bookstores are sitting on case after case of unsold books that there is unlikely to be sufficient demand for as high street trade gradually resumes.

Canada’s The Star quotes Booknet Canada’s Noah Genner as saying:

If we just look at physical bookstores, so not online retailers, but mostly physical bookstores, they’re down almost 63 per cent year over year for the period. So 63 per cent in unit sales. That is hugely significant.

. . . .

The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.

But now publishers face not only the loss of sales for the lockdown duration (and however long it takes for some degree of normal trading to resume) but also an exceptional excess of unsold titles that will end up being pulped or more likely sold off to remaindered operations for re-sale.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG says that the book returns system is a twist on vendor financing, which, outside of the book business, typically happens when the retailer can’t qualify for conventional financing in order to pay for its purchases from a bank or other financial institution.

In the reality-based business world, vendor financing is often regarded as an indication that the customer isn’t in very good financial shape and doesn’t have enough working capital to operate its business. It can also be regarded as an indication that the vendor has a hard time selling its inventory unless it becomes what is, in effect, a bank or finance company for its customers.

Vendors often offer a price discount if the purchaser pays within X time period. This may be structured as follows: The Seller offers a 2% discount on an invoice due in 30 days if the buyer pays within the first 10 days of receiving the invoice. This usually doesn’t carry the same taint as vendor financing over a much longer period of time.

Can There Be Book Deals Without Meals?

From Publishers Weekly:

It was week four of coronavirus shelter-in-place. Going on 2 p.m.; I’m at my desk at home, answering emails, filtering submissions, contemplating a forthcoming edit. But wait, what’s that sound? Oh, right, it’s my stomach growling. I’m hungry. Must be time for a can of that chicken noodle soup I’ve been hoarding.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Before the lockdown orders came down in New York City, no self-respecting publishing person could forget about lunch. We all knew the drill. At 12:30 or 1 p.m.—occasionally as early as 12:15 or as late as 1:15—the office exodus would begin. We’d gather our coats and bags and wits and head out to meet with agents and authors at restaurants where reservations had been scheduled two, three, six, or eight weeks in advance. The mission: start or continue relationships that might lead to new submissions from said agents and authors, which in turn would lead to new acquisitions to be announced at future in-house editorial meetings.

While we might have shared sushi at Nobu, everybody knew lunch wasn’t really about food. No, it was about gossip, shop talk, and bringing brand new projects to fruition. Lunch, in other words, literally meant business.

So it should come as no surprise that among the questions, and there were many, that a lot of us asked when this whole work-from-home thing started was what would happen to the publishing lunch. 

. . . .

We have now had 10 weeks of sheltering in place, and I am happy to report that while I haven’t met anyone in a restaurant for what feels like forever, I, and most of my colleagues, are still making and publishing books and signing up titles for forthcoming seasons. I’m on the phone constantly, checking in with agents and authors about how they’re doing with kids at home and a bunch of new worries—but also about the projects they’re shepherding. I’ve been in a couple of major auctions and have won and lost several books, both fiction and non.

Will those books “work”? Who knows? Determining what the future reading world will embrace… well, that’s been a problem endemic to our industry forever; we’ve asked the question before (most recently during the 2008 recession, and before that after 9/11) and we’ve always survived. Sorry to paraphrase the over-paraphrased Mark Twain, but despite bookstore consolidation, the rise of e-books and audiobooks, and the explosion of interest in streaming TV, publishing’s death has been greatly exaggerated—many times. So what if now we’re talking books over Zoom, or WhatsApp, or maybe just in a plain old-fashioned phone call instead of across a two-top? We’re still publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

While PG believes and ardently hopes there will always be an England, he can’t say the same thing about the traditional publishing business.

There will always be books, albeit in evolving forms, and books require authors (AI is lurking, but PG needs a bit more convincing that AI is capable of creating good fiction.) but printers used to do much of what publishers do today.

Publishers are an example of a classic middleman (or middleperson if you prefer, agents are as well) receiving products created by somebody else and funneling them to the organization or person who will actually sell those books to readers.

PG concedes that editors (whether they are called agents or not) can and do add value to the end product. However, this function can be outsourced to nice people working from their home office in Kansas where (for the benefit of those New Yorkers who have never visited), the costs of a comfortable life are much, much lower than on that skinny island hanging off the eastern part of the United States. The restaurants may be of a different type than Manhattan’s were before the plague, but with all the newly rich indie Kansas authors, Nobu may find greener pastures in Wichita.

If authors and booksellers (online or off) can work without the middlepersons, they both will probably make more money from their respective businesses.

From whatever New York restaurants survive the current disruption, the decline and fall of traditional publishing may cause an occasional tear to be shed, but there will be more-prosperous authors and booksellers who may make up the difference.

Coronavirus Lockdowns Trigger Rapid Drop in Retail Sales

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic prompted record monthly drops in retail spending and industrial output, as consumers pulled back sharply on shopping and eating out and factories suffered a sharp drop in demand.

The Commerce Department on Friday said retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, fell a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April from a month earlier. The drop eclipsed a revised 8.3% drop in March sales, and marked the steepest month-over-month decline in records dating to 1992.

The Federal Reserve separately said industrial production dropped 11.2% in April, its steepest monthly fall on records dating back more than a century, as the coronavirus response closed factories, sapped demand and froze supply chains.

“They’re just dramatically weak numbers,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities. “We’re obviously in this big hole now.” He said a key question is how long it takes to climb out of it, which depends in part on the speed of reopening.

Social distancing, business closures, travel restrictions and other disruptions that started in mid-March have taken a particularly heavy toll on retail stores and restaurants, many of which remain closed or are opening gradually as states begin to reopen their economies.

Consumer spending in April was down more than 20% from the same month last year, and certain categories posted dramatic declines. Clothing-store sales in April were nearly 90% lower than a year earlier, while sales at department stores, bars and restaurants, and sporting goods stores were all down nearly half. By contrast, sales were up over 20% on the year for online retailers and up 12% at food and beverage stores.

Lower vehicle sales and spending at bars and restaurants drove last month’s decline in retail sales, but nearly every other category suffered too as commuters worked from home and malls remained shut.

The exception were sales at nonstore retailers, a category that includes internet merchants such as Amazon.com Inc. and which grew 8.4% month-over-month.

. . . .

Sales were weak across a range of categories, but nonessential businesses were particularly hard hit. Sales at furniture stores dropped 58.7% and electronics fell 60.6%. Clothing sales plummeted 78.8% from March.

. . . .

Consumer spending is the main driver of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of economic output, and retail sales account for about a quarter of all consumer spending.

. . . .

Workers also are losing jobs in record numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic, another factor hitting consumer spending. And declining consumer sentiment has economists worried about how quickly people will return to spending, as the economy opens back up.

. . . .

Some retailers are also unlikely to weather the pandemic and face permanent closures.

“2020 is going to be a year of rebalancing,” said Under Armour Chief Executive Patrik Frisk during an earnings call Monday. The athletic-apparel retailer reported that about 80% of global business has been at a standstill since mid-March, and revenue may drop as much as 60% in the second quarter.

Retailers on both sides of the Atlantic are “trying to figure out how fast they can open and how fast the consumer is going to come back,” Mr. Frisk said.

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

PG hasn’t seen any information from major business publications about Big Publishing, Barnes & Noble and other parts of the publishing establishment.

His guess, as mentioned previously on TPV, is that Barnes & Noble will experience a substantial financial impact and that its online business won’t be nearly large enough to materially offset the costs of cutting off its retail arm for an extended period of time.

At least some B&N stores located in malls will have problems if major mall tenants close and/or the foot traffic they generate is substantially diminished. If a mall shuts down, as many malls have done in the recent past, there is likely to be one fewer Barnes & Noble store in the vicinity.

A year from now, PG believes there will be substantially fewer Barnes & Noble stores than their were pre-corona. Ditto for a great many other physical bookstores. He suspects this is the type of major societal and financial upheaval that changes some habits and institutions on a permanent basis.

Unfortunately, PG believes a number of small traditional publishers won’t be able to reopen or will reopen with substantially reduced staff and much-reduced advances.

PG suspects that traditional publishing will see mixed results with bookstore declines offset to some extent by improved Amazon sales. It’s pure speculation on PG’s part, but he would guess that Amazon sales of ebooks from traditional publishing will have seen an uptick while the market share of hardcopy books may decline.

In the short run, an increased proportion of ebook sales, which involve no costs for warehousing, shipping or returns of unsold hardcopy books from physical bookstores may well increase the profit margins of traditional publishers even as, if PG is correct, gross sales revenues suffer steep declines.

Over a longer period of time, if readers under lockdown have sampled ebooks from Amazon or their local libraries to read on their own electronic devices (or devices purchased from Amazon for the purpose), PG suspects some proportion of this group will become permanent ebook aficionados.

It may be too much to expect, but PG would hope that those in traditional publishing with any business sense would put a stop to the childishly petulant attitude displayed toward Amazon by so many New York publishing drones and their associated literati. Absent Amazon or someone like Amazon, traditional publishing’s future would look a lot more like Barnes & Noble’s than is the present case.

PG predicts that, ten or twenty years from now, intelligent and informed individuals will have concluded that Amazon saved literature (and a bunch of jobs in the literature biz that don’t involve writing books) during this difficult time.

Coronavirus Has Shut Stores, and Retailers Are Running Out of Time

From The Wall Street Journal:

First, the store doors shut. Now, the walls are closing in.

Retailers have furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers, cut executive pay and stopped paying rent, all to conserve cash. For the most indebted retailers, particularly those already struggling before the crisis began, those measures may not be enough.

Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., both of which have looming debt payments, have been reaching out to creditors in the hopes of buying more time, according to people familiar with the situation. Representatives for Neiman Marcus and Penney declined to comment.

. . . .

The retail industry was going through a shakeout before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As shoppers migrated away from malls and bought more online, specialty-apparel retailers and department stores were among the hardest hit. A record number of chains have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, and others have closed hundreds of stores. As the virus keeps American businesses temporarily closed, the weak will only get weaker, analysts said.

“Companies we weren’t that concerned about a month ago, we are now concerned about,” said Mickey Chadha, a senior analyst with Moody’s Investors Service. Mr. Chadha estimated that operating income for department stores, which have been losing market share to fast-fashion retailers and discounters, will fall 20% this year. He predicted operating profit for the retail sector overall will fall by 2% to 5%, a drop not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

. . . .

The National Retail Federation has been lobbying the government to ensure that companies with credit ratings that fall below investment grade have access to loans. “We want them to design these programs to be broad enough to tackle the significant problems of distressed industries such as retailing, which employs a large chunk of the population,” said David French, the trade group’s senior vice president of government relations.

. . . .

Retailers are cutting every cost they can, including delaying payments to suppliers and canceling orders. “In this environment in which 90% of our stores are closed to the public, we are forced to make difficult decisions,” wrote an executive of Harmon Stores Inc., a health and beauty-products chain that is owned by Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., in a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The letter notified suppliers that payments would be delayed by an additional 60 days.

“Retailers have cut variable costs, but there are a lot of fixed costs that they can’t reduce,” said James Gellert, CEO of RapidRatings, which analyzes the financial health of companies.

. . . .

“Retail bankruptcies are coming, but not necessarily immediately,” said Deborah Newman, a lawyer in the bankruptcy and restructuring practice of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. She said there are public-relations and economic ramifications when companies are forced into bankruptcy during the pandemic. “Now is not a good time to find buyers for assets,” she added. “It’s also hard to get a true sense of a company’s value.”

. . . .

Chains that survive will have to grapple with consumer demand that may not snap back quickly. Consumer spending had buoyed chains before the crisis, but now many shoppers are facing reduced income and they may be skittish about rushing back to public spaces.

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

PG reluctantly suggests that a great many independent bookstores, often thinly capitalized, relying on the effective equivalent to no-interest loans from publishers in the form of books shipped to stores at no charge with payments for those books happening later as the books are sold.

If there are bookstore bankruptcies on a widespread basis, not only will traditional publishers lose a significant portion of their distribution systems, but their financials will be hit with a lot of debts that will never be paid.

For publishers which are public companies with publicly-traded stock, PG suggests that those stock prices will drop like a rock. If some Wall Street financial engineers leveraged the assets of the publishers to the hilt in some complex financing scheme, the survival of such publishers, even with radical downsizing of their staffs, will be in doubt.

Advertising and publicity budgets that support new releases by these publishers will see a very sharp knife.

For traditionally-published authors, PG is afraid that advances will be hit hard. Those who live from advance to advance will be particularly stressed. When five-figure advances become four-figure advances, maximal mental stress may not have a positive impact on artistic output.

New authors striving to get into traditional publishing will find rejection slips arriving in repeating waves may force those who would have managed to snag a first contract in earlier times into alternate employment.

PG suggests that a substantial portion of traditionally-published authors who desperately want to continue their careers will be sheepishly contacting the handful of indie authors that are casual acquaintances for tips on how to make money on Amazon.

Very few major companies will exit from the current world-wide panic without picking up some bruises. Amazon has become such a complex skein of businesses that what sort of company will come out the other side of the current maelstrom is difficult for experts (and impossible for PG) to predict.

However, in the face of closed stores, Amazon has gained a great many new customers. PG suggests a meaningful number of those who didn’t use Amazon in their past lives or used it on rare occasions will be more enthusiastic Amazon customers in the future, particularly if physical retail stores continue to be hit hard.

Lots of people who are self-isolating in their homes are doing a lot of reading these days. Care to guess where they’re buying their books of access to physical book outlets is prohibited by executive orders from various public officials?

And when you’re stuck in your home and need a good book quickly, where do you point your iPad? Kindle ebooks are always ready to serve.

Why publishing is in so much trouble right now

From Beth Meacham via Facebook:

I want to talk for a minute about why publishing is in so much trouble right now.

It’s way more complicated than most people seem to think.

First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies, physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third.

Selling books is a very long and complicated supply chain. Ignore editorial — writers and editors can work at a distance and electronically. It really starts with the paper. Storing paper for the big presses takes an enormous amount of warehouse space, which costs money. Printers don’t store a lot — they rely on a “just in time” supply chain so that when a book is scheduled to go to press, the paper is delivered to the printer. Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China? Anything, for the last three months. Some of it comes from Canada. Guess what the Trump administration put a big tariff on at the beginning of the year?

So, we don’t have adequate paper supplies. Then consider, big printing plants are not “essential businesses”. There are only a couple printers in the US that can handle the book manufacturing business. One of them shut down last week. Covid-19. We started rescheduling books like mad to deal with that.

But supposing we had paper, and a printer and bindery, the books have to be shipped to the warehouse. Again, non-essential movement. The freight drivers moving books? Staying home, as they should. Not all of them. I hope they remain healthy, because dying to get the latest bestseller to the warehouse doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Now then, our warehouse. We have a gigantic facility in Virginia. Lots of people are working there, bless them, but it’s putting them at risk. There they are, filling orders, packing boxes, running invoices. Giving those boxes to the freight drivers who take the books to the bookstores and distributors. Again, truck drivers risking their lives to bring books to the bookstores.

But think again. The bookstores are closed. The distributors are closed . No place open to deliver the books to. Some bookstores are doing mail order business, bless them, but they aren’t ordering very many books from our warehouse. Amazon isn’t ordering very many, either — because they have (correctly) stopped shipping books and are using their reduced staff to ship medical supplies and food.

Link to the rest at Facebook

The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

From The New York Times:

In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.

As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.

“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”

. . . .

The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.

. . . .

Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.

“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.

. . . .

Some independent booksellers, including Powell’s, have already begun cutting staff. On Monday, Powell’s announced to employees that it will begin involuntary layoffs after determining the minimum number of employees it needs to keep the online store functioning. A representative of the local union that represents 400 Powell’s workers said that about 85 percent of them had already been affected by temporary layoffs, and that the company has signaled that permanent layoffs are likely to follow.

McNally Jackson, an independent chain in New York, let a substantial number of its employees go after deciding to shutter its stores for the time being. On Twitter, the company said it had temporarily laid off many of its staffers while “facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue,” and added that “we intend to hire back our employees as soon as we can.” A note on the company’s website said that it is still accepting phone and online orders while the stores are closed, and offering delivery.

. . . .

The American Booksellers Association said it has been lobbying publishers to support independent stores by offering discounts, free shipping to customers and a removal of the cap on returns of unsold titles, among other measures. Other groups have been raising money to donate to hard-hit independent stores. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which gives financial support to independent stores, released a statement offering potential assistance to stores that have been impacted by the epidemic and are unable to pay their rent or utilities bills as a result of lost sales.

Still, many in the industry worry that financial losses stemming from the outbreak will cripple a significant number of stores and cause them to close permanently. Others fear that the lockdowns and government guidelines mandating social distancing will give an even greater advantage to Amazon as more homebound customers turn to internet shopping.

. . . .

The art critic Jerry Saltz was scheduled to launch his new book, “How to Be An Artist,” at the Strand in New York on Tuesday, but will instead appear in a livestream conversation broadcast on the store’s Instagram account, which has 225,000 followers.

Some stores see virtual events as the best alternative for the foreseeable future, and perhaps the only way to stay connected with readers and their communities as more physical spaces are forced to close.

Politics and Prose, in Washington, is aiming to turn all of its scheduled author appearances into virtual events, with writers hosting a conversation about their books remotely by web video through the platform Crowdcast. “Authors are self-isolating along with the rest of us,” said Liz Hottel, the director of events and marketing at Politics and Prose. “I’m sure they are as starved for meaningful dialogue as readers are.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG notes that there is nothing that prevents indie authors from using web video to promote their books in the same manner as described in the OP.