The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry

From Book Riot:

“I often look up lists made by users on Goodreads, [and] has a resource page with links to various sites or LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia Adler. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to naturally find such books, as they are often published by smaller publishers with not enough advertising resources. That’s why it’s important to take some time each year to look for books by authors you wouldn’t normally see on a shelf in your favorite bookstore,” says Denis Ristić, a reader and a business owner.

The book publishing industry has been historically white, and it continues to be so.

In a 2019 blog post, Lee and Low Books published their Diversity Baseline Survey in which it was revealed that 76% of publishing is still white. This includes publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. The blog initially conducted this survey in 2015, and in the 2019 edition, it concluded that “the field is just as white today as it was four years ago.”

The survey also showed that 74% of people in publishing are cis woman but that about 38% of executives and board members are cis men, which indicates that men continue to rise to positions of power more quickly than women. Further findings showed 81% are straight and 89% are non-disabled. One of the most concerning results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey is the conclusion that “editorial is even more white than before” despite the efforts of publishers to provoke change.

In that same year, Publishers Weekly released its Publishing Industry Salary Survey, which only corroborated this statement. According to the survey, 84% of the workforce is white and publishing is still primarily a “white business.” This didn’t change much in the most recent edition of said survey, wherein the results show only a 1% difference.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG remembered a visit of long ago to the headquarters of the publisher of Ebony and a number of other publications focused on those of African-American heritage. At the time, PG worked at the world’s largest advertising agency.

The president’s office was the largest PG had ever seen and very strikingly furnished and decorated.

This gentleman was not asking for any charity or donations and was not seeking special treatment for himself or his publications. He just presented the the spending power of his African-American readers in a very persuasive manner and pointed out that if the clients of the ad agency weren’t including those consumers in their advertising plans, they were missing out on a large number of additional sales.

Thereafter, the ad agency pitched its clients on including African-American publications in their media plans and the clients PG was working with all signed up.

The Sensitive Question of Sensitivity Readers

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Under book publishing’s trending best practices, historical authenticity can be secondary to appeasing people’s sensitivities. I’m qualified to say this based on my recent experience as a literary agent on behalf of a client.

The events in question began happily: my client received a Big Five contract for a book about his time as a Marine sniper during the Vietnam War, when he was 17. The original manuscript (written with the assistance of a coauthor) told his story in the context of its time and place, including florid verbatim language and descriptions that wouldn’t be appropriate in other settings, then or now. Historical authenticity and truthfulness were the author’s priorities.

The manuscript passed the publisher’s editorial and legal protocols with relatively few revisions, and no additional hurdles were expected. In fairness, the editor’s good news email included a brief statement that the manuscript still needed to pass a so-called sensitivity read, but we weren’t told what that was or given any reason for concern. I had never heard of it and didn’t give it a second thought. Instead, I asked the editor to request the second advance payment due upon acceptance for publication. But my assumptions were wrong.

I’ve since learned that sensitivity reads are a recent and potentially powerful layer of scrutiny some books are subjected to. Evidently, they have been in use by some children’s publishers for several years. I don’t know which adult publishers may have adapted them, if they are uniformly structured and empowered, or if any written mission statements or guidelines exist. I can only write about my experience.

If properly conceived and used, sensitivity reads can be beneficial for all stakeholders, especially authors. Any manuscript can be potentially infected with inadvertently offensive content that serves no meaningful purpose. For instance, I represent many older backlist titles that possess unacceptable language by current standards but that, when written, seemed innocent. We make an effort to discover and rewrite those segments without distorting the (often deceased) author’s meaning. The key is trying to remain as true as possible to the author’s original intent.

Under the threat of having his book deal terminated, my client was forced to meaningfully modify his manuscript to accommodate a five-page document full of subjective complaints about how the Vietnam War was fought by the author and his co-combatants, the unfiltered descriptions of his horrific experiences, and the unsavory language used by the mostly very young men who were there on behalf of their country. The sensitivity review was written by one person. This person was hired by the publisher, and no information about their qualifications, or who might have reviewed their review, was provided. No appeals or rebuttals were allowed. My author reluctantly complied in full.

I actually agree with many of the sensitivity reader’s sentiments. Everything about that war was appalling. But why sanitize it? It should be depicted exactly as it happened. Following the publisher’s logic would be equal to transforming the M˜y Lai Massacre into a misunderstanding with unpleasant consequences that shouldn’t be discussed because it’s too upsetting for some people.

I felt the publisher endowed the sensitivity reader’s report with the unilateral power to censor my client’s book, which raises serious questions. How are sensitivity readers recruited and what qualifies them? Are their personal views and experiences taken into account? More problematically, how can a person’s feelings qualify as objective or open-minded? How is it possible to oppose a person’s feelings without at least partially invalidating them? Should the need for accuracy be enmeshed with feelings? What outcomes are publishers looking for?

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Reason # 7,523,091 to self-publish.

If any of the regular visitors to TPV need a Sensitivity Reader or a Counter-Sensitivity-Reader, PG is available. Traditional publishers are not welcome.

More seriously, if any of those visiting TPV have a report from an actual sensitivity reader, PG would love to see such a document.

CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., Country’s Largest Book Publisher, Steps Down

From The Wall Street Journal:

Madeline McIntosh said she is stepping down as chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., the third senior executive to leave the country’s largest consumer book publisher in the past two months.

Ms. McIntosh will remain in place until Nihar Malaviya, interim CEO of Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House, establishes a new corporate leadership structure, she said in an interview.

Ms. McIntosh, a popular figure in publishing circles who steered Penguin Random House U.S. through the recent Covid-19 pandemic and championed a more inclusive company, is leaving as the publisher has seen its U.S. market share decline.

Penguin Random House commanded 20.7% of the U.S. book market in 2022, far ahead of No. 2 HarperCollins Publishers, which had 10.8%, according to book tracker NPD BookScan. Five years ago, Penguin Random House’s market share was 22.2%. HarperCollins Publishers, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

When asked about market share, Ms. McIntosh said barriers to entry have gone down as online bookselling has increased, leading to more competitors. “That’s healthy,” she said.

A veteran publishing figure, Ms. McIntosh joined the company that became Penguin Random House in 1994. She later left in 2008 to work for Inc. in Luxembourg, returning after 18 months as president of sales, operations and digital at what was then Random House Inc. She was named to her current post in April 2018.

“I’ve been in this job longer than any single job since college,” said Ms. McIntosh, 53 years old. “I’ve packed in a lot, and it’s the right time for me and for the company to have a change. I’m eager to learn new things and challenge myself in different ways.”

In a memo she plans to send to staffers on Tuesday morning, Ms. McIntosh said she had decided that the time was right for a break. “I don’t think CEOs should stay in their seats forever,” she wrote.

. . . .

Penguin Random House . . . lost a highly publicized trial last fall when a federal judge blocked it from acquiring rival Simon & Schuster on competitive grounds.

. . . .

Markus Dohle resigned as chief executive of Penguin Random House, stating in a memo to staffers that he had decided to step down following the antitrust decision after 15 years in the role.

“I’ve been frustrated with our market share development,” Mr. Dohle testified during the trial. “We lost market share almost of the size of Simon & Schuster since the merger,” referring to Random House’s merger with Penguin in 2013. Mr. Dohle couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Dohle was succeeded by Mr. Malaviya, then president and chief operating officer of Penguin Random House U.S., as interim chief executive. Until his promotion, Mr. Malaviya had reported to Ms. McIntosh.

Following Mr. Dohle’s departure, Gina Centrello, president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, announced her retirement. The 63-year-old Ms. Centrello, whose group publishes such authors as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Glennon Doyle and Ina Garten, was named head of the group in 2003. Ms. Centrello will serve as strategic adviser to a board consisting of senior Penguin Random House U.S. executives, the company said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes the point that Ms. McIntosh is third top executive to leave company in past two months. He opines that this is not a sign of a healthy company of any size.

Defamation of a Public Figure vs. Private Figure Explained

From Minc Law:

The difficulty of proving your defamation case, and if you even have a valid claim at all, may depend on if the court considers you a public figure or a private figure.

In the context of defamation, a public figure is generally defined as an individual who has assumed a role of prominence in society or voluntarily or involuntarily thrust themselves into the public spotlight, like a government official, a celebrity, or even a person at the heart of a controversy. Public figures have a higher burden of proof when bringing a defamation claim; they must show that the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth when publishing a false statement.

A private figure, on the other hand, is generally defined as anyone who does not qualify as a public figure and is not in the public spotlight. Private figures must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence when publishing a false statement.

. . . .

Who Are Public Figures in the Defamation Arena?

The distinction between public figures and private individuals matters in defamation law because it changes the burden of proof in bringing a lawsuit.

To succeed in a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the statement was untrue and harmful to their reputation. On top of these factors, a public figure must also demonstrate that the defamer made the statement with malice (or malicious intent to harm them).

Definition of Public Figures in Defamation Law

In legal terms, a public figure is an individual who is at the forefront of public issues or performs a prominent role in society. Those with a certain amount of fame or renown can also be considered public figures. For example, the following people would be considered public figures in a defamation law case:

  • Government officials and politicians,
  • Prominent business leaders,
  • Celebrities, and
  • Famous sports figures and athletes.

. . . .

Most U.S. states take the idea of public figures one step further by expanding the public figure classifications into three types: public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials

Public officials are not just elected officials or politicians. They include any individual whose role has a major influence over government and societal events, as well as those who work for elected representatives. 

However, not every government official would be considered a public figure in a defamation case. The difference is generally in how prominent and influential the individual is in their role. For example, while an elected prosecutor may be considered a public official, an administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office may not be.

What is the Difference Between All-Purpose Public Figures & Limited-Purpose Public Figures?

Aside from public officials, other public figures are split into two categories: all-purpose and limited-purpose. An all-purpose public figure has achieved “pervasive fame or notoriety,” like a traditional celebrity.

On the other hand, a limited-purpose public figure is injected into “a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues.

A limited-purpose public figure can be voluntarily or involuntarily drawn into the public eye. Examples of voluntary limited-purpose public figures include minor athletes or actors, social activists, or those who enter into the public debate about a controversial topic. An involuntary limited-purpose public figure did not choose to become involved in a controversy or important event.

In the significant court case of Dameron vs. Washington Magazine, the plaintiff Merle Dameron was the sole air traffic controller on duty the day of a plane crash near Dulles airport in 1974. While he was never found at fault for the crash, local magazine The Washingtonian issued claims that he was partly to blame for the passengers’ deaths.

The court found that while Dameron did not “inject” himself into the public debate, he did become involved in this public affair without his consent. He was, therefore, considered a limited-purpose public figure. 

This case established a three-part framework for determining whether an individual is a limited-purpose public figure:

  • There is a public controversy,
  • The plaintiff played a central role in the controversy, and
  • The defamation was pertinent to the plaintiff’s involvement in the controversy.

What Are Some Examples of Public Figures?

The following list gives real-world examples of public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures:

  • President Joe Biden (public official);
  • First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (all-purpose public figure);
  • Chris Evans, a well-known actor (all-purpose public figure);
  • Jeff Bezos, billionaire and CEO of Amazon (all-purpose public figure);
  • LeBron James, NBA all-star (all-purpose public figure);
  • Minor-league baseball player with limited name recognition (limited-purpose public figure);
  • A previously unknown activist who generates news at a Black Lives Matter protest (limited-purpose public figure).

Why Are Public Figures Considered to Have Significant Ability to Counteract Defamation?

It is not necessarily true that public figures are considered to have a significant ability to counteract defamation—at least in the legal sense. The legal standard is tougher for public figures to counteract defamation because our society values free speech, uninhibited debate, and public information about those of pervasive influence.

For example, if John Smith publishes a blog post falsely claiming his neighbor was convicted of armed robbery 10 years ago, the neighbor will likely win a defamation case against him. But if John makes the same claims about his senator, it would be much more difficult for the senator to win a case. John simply needs to show that he had a “good faith belief” in the negative claim (meaning he acted with negligence, not actual malice).

Courts usually hold that public figures do not need as much reputational protection because they have placed themselves in the spotlight and must expect some level of negative attention. Public figures tend to have a greater ability to use the media or an online platform to counteract a narrative about them.

Because public figures usually have a larger social media following and better access to the media than private citizens, they have other means of making the truth known without involving the courts. For example, a celebrity who is the subject of false rumors can give an interview with a magazine, discuss the truth on a talk show or podcast, or post their side of the story on social media.

What Are the Requirements For Proving Defamation of a Public Figure?

In all defamation cases for both public and private persons, the plaintiff must prove that a statement was:

  • A false statement of fact (i.e., not an opinion) about the plaintiff,
  • Communicated to a third party,
  • Made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • Harmful to the plaintiff’s reputation.

For public figures, there is an additional requirement to bring a defamation claim. They must prove that the defamer acted with actual malice. In other words, the defamer knew that the statement was false—or they acted with reckless disregard for whether the statement was true or false. 

This requirement can be broken down even further for public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials’ Burden of Proof

Public officials must demonstrate that the defamer acted with actual malice for both public and private matters. Regardless of if the defamatory statement referred to the official’s private life or public record, they must have acted with actual malice or reckless disregard.

All-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

Similarly, the actual malice standard for all-purpose public figures applies to nearly all facets of their lives.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

For limited-purpose public figures, however, the standard of actual malice only applies to the area(s) that make the individual a public figure.

For example, a minor-league athlete falsely accused of doping would need to prove actual malice—but not if the defamatory statement pertains to his private life instead.

. . . .

What is a Private Figure in the Context of Defamation?

Public figures are those in the public spotlight, whether due to their occupation, celebrity, or participation in a controversy or public conversation. But the existence of public figures necessitates private figuresIn this section, we define a private figure and how they should prove their case in a defamation lawsuit.

Definition of a Private Figure in Terms of Defamation Law

A private figure is not in the public eye. Unlike public figures, they have not been drawn into a public controversy—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—and they are not a public official or a celebrity.

What Are Some Examples Of Private Figures?

Listed below are a few general examples of individuals that would be considered private figures in a defamation case:

  • A high school principal. 
  • A private guardian accused of sleeping with a client’s father. 
  • A local news reporter who left their job at a local television station. 
  • A company that does not advertise extensively. 

How Must Private Individuals Prove Defamation?

Since private figures have not entered the public spotlight through their career or role in a public controversy, the law aims to protect their privacy. Private individuals, therefore, have a less strict burden of proof in a defamation matter.

A private figure plaintiff must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence—not actual malice or reckless disregard. “Ordinary negligence” means the defendant did not act with the caution an ordinary person would take in a similar situation.

However, some states still require private figures to show actual malice if they expect to recover punitive damages in a defamation claim.

How Should a Claim Show Fault on the Part of the Defamer?

Though the specific standard can vary from state to state, the plaintiff must prove the core elements of defamation to succeed in a claim:

  • An unprivileged, false statement of fact was made about the plaintiff,
  • It was communicated to a third party,
  • It was made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • It damaged the plaintiff’s reputation.

What is Negligence in Terms of Defamation Law?

A defendant may be found negligent if a reasonable person would take the time to research the truth of the statement before publishing it. If they did not act with the reasonable prudence an ordinary person would take in a similar situation, they acted with at least a negligent level of intent.

Link to the rest at Minc Law

PG notes that there are lots of links to additional materials, definitions, cases, etc., in the OP that PG, as is his usual practice, omitted.

With respect to the adjacent post regarding former President Trump filing a defamation suit against Simon & Schuster and a former prosecutor who is the author of the book Trump claims is defamatory, PG notes that Mr. Trump is on the highest perch of public figurehood.

That said, PG has no knowledge of the suit other than the OP and is in no position to comment on the merits of the suit.

He does hope the author of the offending book was intelligent to change the standard New York publishing contract to provide that the publisher would pay all of the author’s legal fees and court costs if Trump sued the author (with or without suing the publisher).

In the standard New York publishing boilerplate, in the event of a defamation suit against the publisher (the author is almost always named as a defendant as well) the author will not only be responsible for her/his own legal fees, but is also obligated to pay the publisher’s legal fees and damages assessed against the publisher as well.

PG expects that in the Trump suit, Simon & Schuster will employ excellent and expensive litigation counsel. PG is not as familiar with New York City litigation costs as he used to be, but he would be very surprised if S&S’s legal fees for handling this matter would total less than seven figures. High seven figures is a possibility that crossed PG’s mind.

As far as insurance to cover legal expenses of a publisher, PG is doubtful that any sane insurance company would agree to cover this sort of risk. But he could be wrong.

AAP’s November StatShot: US Revenues Down 6 Percent Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its November 2022 StatShot report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites total revenues across all categories down 14.4 percent over November 2021, at US$1.0 billion. As happened throughout 2022, of course, observers look at these comparisons carefully, mindful that 2021 was the second year of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic‘s effects on the marketplace, both in the States and abroad.

Year-to-date revenues, the AAP reports, were down 6 percent at US$11.6 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

. . . .

Year-Over-Year Numbers

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 22.4 percent, coming in at $355.2 million
  • Paperbacks were down 5.4 percent, with $274.2 million in revenue
  • Mass market was 14.9 percent to $19.5 million
  • Special bindings were down 15.9 percent, with $20.0 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 10.4 percent for the month as compared to November 2021 for a total of $83.1 million
  • The closely watched downloaded audio format was up 5.6 percent for November 2022, coming in at $73.9 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 33.7 percent, coming in at $1.7 million. . . .


  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were down 6.1 percent, at $8.4 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were 14.1 percent, coming in at $3.0 billion
  • Paperbacks were up 1.3 percent, with $3.0 billion in revenue
  • Mass market was down 23.8 percent to $170.9 million
  • Special bindings were down 4.3 percent, with $185.7 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 6.3 percent as compared to the first 11 months of 2022, for a total $928.0 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 7.2 percent, at $767,0 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 30.5 percent, coming in at $14.5 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Future of AI Writing and Audio

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on publishing innovation, offered insight into how technologists, and some publishers, are planning to implement AI into their workflow. Asked about AI and the use of ChatGPT, which automates writing, Mary McAveeney, CEO of Abrams, was skeptical of its ability to write books. She conceded, “It might be good for catalog copy.”

Earlier in the conference, organizer Bradley Metrock asked publishers Laini Brown, director of Publicity for the Nashville office of Hachette Book Group, and Lisa Lucas, senior vice president and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books, what they thought of the news that the next iteration of Chat GPT will be able to produce a 60,000 word book in 20 seconds. Neither publisher chose to respond.

Others warned against relying too heavily on AI without human intervention. For example, Madeleine Rothberg, senior subject matter expert for WGBH National Center for Accessible Media in Boston, warned against posting AI-generated subtitles for YouTube videos without first reviewing them. “It’s not a good idea, because we have found the AI doesn’t always get the words right and makes mistakes,” she said, citing instances of unintended vulgarity. Or, as Ashok Giri, CEO of Page Magik put it, “primary research human beings are [still] needed.” Giri’s company offers automation tools and data to help streamline editorial and production workflow.

Others are more skeptical. One attendee, who wished to remain anonymous so as not to offend others in the room, noted that Chat GPT and AI is limited by what is put into it and, for this, it needs to absorb vast swaths of existing information. Much of that comes from print books, e-books, and internet writing protected by copyright. “It sounds exactly like that Google hoped to accomplish with the Google Books program,” they said.“ What happened there? Lawsuits.”

Bradley Metrock, conference organizer, acknowledged that the owners of copyrighted material incorporated will likely challenge the use of their content by AI. “There are going to be a lot of lawsuits before this is sorted out,” said Metrock, who owns several companies that invest in various AI and voice related projects. “The point here is that good technology challenges,” citing the lack of innovation in the ebook space over the past 15 years, he said. “Everything stays the same,” he added, ‘“until it doesn’t.”

. . . .

Audiobooks are now a $5 billion market worldwide, and they continue to experience double digit growth. According to the Association of Audiobook Publishers, the U.S. market is growing at a rate of 25% per year ,and reached $1.6 billion in sales for 2021. “The increasing availability of titles is the biggest driver of audiobook growth,” said Videl Bar-Kar, global head of audio for Frankfurt-based Bookwire. “The best way to grow the catalog of available titles is through backlist.”

Here, the use of AI generated voices to narrate audiobooks offers publishers who cannot afford human narrators the opportunity to turn backlist into audiobooks for low cost. “And if the book sells and becomes a success,” Bar-Kar added, “they can always go back and re-record the book with a human narrator.”

Bar-Kar called the audiobook market a “once in a generation opportunity,” noting: “There are new people discovering audio for the first time year-on-year, not because of the heavy consumers, but because there are new people coming into the market.” He described it as a business opportunity, and one that needs to be demystified: “Have the courage and confidence to stop selling your audiobook rights and develop your own audio program,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Digital Book World Focuses on Data and Accessibility

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on innovation in publishing, returned to New York City for the first time since 2016 and runs through Wednesday. The event drew several hundred attendees to the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square for an opening talk by Karine Pansa, Brazilian children’s book publisher and new president of the International Publishers Association. In her remarks, Pansa said that the main areas of focus for her two-year term, which started January 1, will be on collecting data to get an objective baseline of the what is happening in the industry. “We will have a new beginning, driven by data,” said Pansa.

As Pansa noted, the adoption of digital publishing practices, both in production and retailing, vary wildly. In Japan, for example, digital audiobooks account for 35.8% of the total revenue of the book market, while they represent less than 1% of sales in other countries with large book markets, such as Mexico and Colombia. In Spain, digital publishing is growing in popularity, but fully 50% of the material being consumed by readers are being downloaded for free, suggesting piracy is rampant. Piracy also continues to vex Middle Eastern and Africa publishers, which has stalled digitization in the region.

Digitization also impacted retailing, said Pansa, with online bookselling now dominating in Italy, Korea and the U.K. Meanwhile, some regions of the world, such as Africa and the Arabic-speaking countries, remain reticent to engage with digital publishing due to the prevalence of digital piracy in the region.

Part of the IPA’s mission is to educate publishers globally and sometimes this comes down to a simple reminder: not everyone is wealthy enough to afford an e-reader, high-speed internet or even consistent access to books. In the U.K. for example, “75% of people are using e-readers or tablets to access digital material,” said Pansa, “while for many people, like those in my part of the world–Latin America– purchasing a dedicated e-reader is not possible with their salaries.”

Part of Pansa’s message was about making books more accessible to a broader demographic of people. She noted that with its population growth, Africa “offers a big opportunity for publishers to reach a growing audience” while to reach the disabled community, publishers need to make their books “born accessible.” Pansa noted that with the passage of the European Accessibility Act, publishers will be required as of June 2023 to make all of their digital books accessible should they want to sell them in Europe.

. . . .

Accessibility was also the subject of a panel on the first day. On the subject of making print and books accessible, Benetech’s Michael Johnson, v-p of content, said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He noted, “There are more people in the world who are blind than have red hair. There are more people who are dyslexic than are left handed. So this is a huge group of of people who cannot read your books unless they are accessible.” He said that it may be as much as 20% of the population. “When we talk about DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] efforts, you cannot leave out the letter, A, for accessible.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

US HarperCollins Union to host second rally outside News Corp marking 50 days of strike action 

FromThe Bookseller:

The HarperCollins Union in the US has announced plans to host another rally outside parent company News Corp’s Manhattan office to mark the 50th business day of the strike.

Taking place at 12:30 p.m. on 18th January, it follows an initial rally held on 16th December. Negotiations between management and the union began in December 2021 and in October 2022 union members overwhelmingly voted for another strike, following a one-day walk-out in July, to take place from 10th November.

In November, more than 150 literary agents signed an open letter pledging not to submit new projects to HarperCollins US in support of workers at the company who are on strike.

In December, HarperCollins president and c.e.o. Brian Murray issued an open letter to the agents and authors who had contacted the company calling for better pay and working conditions, noting that the company was, “with the entire industry”, having to “contend with ongoing challenges to publishing and its underlying economics”. He said the financial requests made by the union “which are many and far reaching, fail to account for the market dynamics of the publishing industry and our responsibility to meet the financial demands of all our business stakeholders – including all employees, authors, and booksellers”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball: Publishing Predictions for 2023

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Well, to say a lot happened in publishing last year is a severe understatement.

Simon and Schuster Merger that Wasn’t

Among the legal news, the biggest merger in publishing history — Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster, aka the antitrust trial — got nixed by the courts. And PRH ended any speculation that a merger would happen after that, basically taking it off the table.

S&S’s parent company reinforced that they are still looking for a buyer. HarperCollins and Hachette are being thrown around as potential suitors. But S&S may also end up with a private equity firm who sells off parts of the business to turn a profit (man, I hope this doesn’t happen!).

Digital Content Law

Publishers successfully challenged Maryland’s Digital Content Law that sought to force publishers to license ebooks and audiobooks on “reasonable terms” for library lending. And two longshot lawsuits against Amazon and the Big Five for price fixing were thrown out (mostly) by a judge.

Book Banning

And book banning went into overdrive, no pun intended, in 2022. I don’t understand it. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what I can or cannot read. If you don’t like what your kid’s teacher is assigning, talk to the teacher.

But to statewide ban a book because its ideas scare you or it has a picture of a naked comic animal (yes, Maus was banned because of that), the problem might be you instead of the book. Ahem.

Good News

But there was good news as well. Sales for print books, digital books and audiobooks continued on pace with the great sales of the prior two years. With an especially long week before Christmas, sales skyrocketed to end the year on an up note. In the final sales week of the year, NPD BookScan recorded print sales of approximately 16.3 million units, which was well ahead of previous years.

However hardcover sales declined more than 10% to just below 2020 figures, and print books in total were down 6.5% from the prior year, so that might affect the total revenue for publishers. (Note that these figures only go up until October 2022, so we might still end the year even or down a bit from the previous year’s sales. I’m not worried, however.)

. . . .

Now on to my Publishing Predictions for 2023:

Book sales will stay even or just a bit less than prior years. I don’t see a lot of changes happening in 2023 as compared to 2024.


Audiobooks will continue to sell well. People like them. They both read and listen to books. I see tremendous upside still in this market.

Supply chain issues will level out as new solutions are found, so that will cease to be as much of a problem for publishing as it has been since 2020. If this happens, publishing will not be so nervous about slipping publication dates and the inability to resupply if a title sells surprisingly well.

Paper Prices Advance Digital Sales

Paper prices are still rising, so publishers might finally start looking at digital books (ebooks) as a profit center rather than another format. I mean, c’mon. Why can’t we have several versions of a book in digital form: an author’s cut with extra material at a premium price, a quick-read simple version for less money, a kid’s version of the adult book. It’s all possible for very little effort or money if the parties are willing. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Self-Publishing Thrives

Self-publishing authors, take heart! Readers are finding your books. And since you own all the rights and subrights, you can experiment by changing covers, fixing copyediting mistakes, adding a sequel or prequel to your series, etc., etc. Build your fan base through meaningful conversations with your readers and they will reward you by buying everything you write.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG notes that the self-published authors he hears from continued to do just fine in 2022 and intend to have another successful year during 2023.

Markus Dohle’s Big Flop: What Penguin Random House’s Failed Bid to Eat S&S Means for Publishing

From New York Magazine:

he National Book Awards are the Oscars of the publishing industry, although nobody who attended the ceremony on November 16 at Cipriani Wall Street would likely confuse the two. Still, it wasn’t without its glamour and drama. That night, Padma Lakshmi, best-selling author and former wife of Salman Rushdie — who only a few months before had been nearly murdered for his writing — was the host. Her yellow strapless dress was conspicuously adorned with a union button in solidarity with the striking HarperCollins staffers picketing out on the sidewalk. But all eyes were on Markus Dohle, the tuxedo-clad CEO of Penguin Random House who had for 14 years been the most powerful and successful publishing warlord in the room.

PRH had become the biggest publisher in the game after a 2013 merger, led by Dohle, that saw Random House gobble up Penguin. The combined company had cast a long shadow over its four smaller rivals — Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — but Dohle wanted more and had spent much of the past two years fighting to buy S&S in order to create a world-spanning leviathan.

Few in the room had wanted the $2.175 billion S&S merger to happen. Already most felt that PRH had become too bureaucratic, too unwieldy, and they worried that competition among book buyers would be hobbled further if it went through. Many had cheered on the antitrust hawks of President Biden’s Department of Justice who sued to block the deal’s consummation. After a bruising, and in some ways humiliating, trial, Dohle had been denied his ambitions by the court. But more importantly, in the process, his imperial publishing house’s weaknesses had been laid bare for all to see.

“People were trying to decide if they still needed to kiss the ring,” recalls one top executive who was at the dinner that night, “or if there was even a ring left to kiss.”

Though Dohle had declared his intention to appeal the court’s decision, it was looking like a long shot, and Cipriani was humming with Schadenfreude. And then, sure enough, come Monday, the deal was officially pronounced dead after S&S was yanked off the table by its parent company, Paramount. Three weeks later, on December 9, Dohle resigned.

Whether the demolition of the S&S deal was going to be good or bad for the actual making of books remains another question entirely. And whoever does end up getting S&S — it’s back on the market — won’t be as well known or as well liked as Dohle.

“He brought an optimism and energy to the business during fragile moments,” said book agent and Dohle pal Elyse Cheney, “but, you know, the last year and a half has been very tough.” Paul Bogaards, the well-known book publicist who worked for 32 years at Knopf (which is part of PRH) before striking out on his own, told me that “many of the suits in publishing are tone-deaf to the needs and wants of the people who help make the business run. Markus has had a great, historic career in publishing. But he failed to read the room when it came to the merger.”

. . . .

Random House, the most storied of American publishing houses, had been acquired by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann in 1998 and merged with Bantam Doubleday Dell. It was the era of corporate consolidation in books, accompanied by much grumbling at the time about the perceived lack of competition and a fear of a creeping cultural blandness. Still, publishing adapted.

In 2008, Bertelsmann put Dohle in charge of Random House. Nobody was quite sure what to make of him. Markets were tanking and people were declaring the end of print. (Remember that brave new world of Kindles and Nooks?) Dohle, then 39, was not a book editor. He had trained as an engineer and had been running Bertelsmann’s highly profitable printing division, which was so far from any sort of glamour that it was nicknamed “Siberia” within Bertelsmann.

But he soon proved to have an intuitive understanding of the business, and his mechanical background allowed him to grow out a muscular distribution infrastructure that became the envy of other publishers. He counterintuitively championed the physical book. And once he achieved the 2013 deal that combined Random House with Penguin, he found himself ruling over a global juggernaut with 11 branch CEOs reporting to him from midtown to Madrid. He became the figurehead of the industry, and he turned out to be a larger-than-life character in a contracting industry that had been wanting for them. Even the most jaded New York editor found it hard not to be at least a little charmed. “He’s like our Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said one.

Dohle, now 54, grew into the job. His house is up in Scarsdale, but he would make it a point to drop in on book parties around the city. He sat on the board of PEN America alongside Masha Gessen and Jennifer Egan, became tight with Dan Brown and Andrew Solomon, and personally negotiated Barack Obama’s book deal.

The guy had banked a lot of goodwill. But before long, there were whispers that Dohle had made PRH so big that it was inefficient. It was losing market share to more nimble competitors. When Paramount put S&S on the market — a book publisher doesn’t exactly fit into a corporate vision predicated on streaming services — Dohle seemed to see a potential merger as a way to make up for market-share loss through brute-force consolidation.

After announcing his intent to buy S&S, things started to go wrong for him straightaway. Organizations such as the American Booksellers Association that ordinarily have good relationships with PRH generally and Dohle personally began publicly trashing the merger. On the eve of the trial, the president of the Authors Guild, Douglas Preston, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times slamming the merger.

. . . .

The DOJ sued to block the deal, arguing that the big five being reduced to a big four would leave too much buying power in the hands of too few, screwing over authors. (PRH, ready to defend the deal, hired the same legal team that had successfully shepherded the AT&T and TimeWarner merger to completion.) The case was handled by Judge Florence Y. Pan, a Biden appointee; this would be the first case in her new role.

The trial finally began in August 2022. It lasted only three weeks, but for Dohle it was about as long and unhappy as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The DOJ hinged its case around a tiny sliver of top book deals — the kind that pretty much only the big five can compete on — to show how concentrated power in publishing already is. “Freelance writer” Stephen King took the stand to support the government’s point.

Dohle and his executives were made to explain a lot about how PRH had been operating since the 2013 merger.

Like the other publishing houses, PRH consists of many imprints, each with its own flavor and identity. The imprints are grouped into divisions. (PRH is so dense it consists of 94 imprints — 37 being children’s imprints — spread across seven divisions.) The different divisions operate like separate companies, even though they’re all plugged in to the same corporate infrastructure, jockeying for resources. The main three divisions within PRH are Penguin Publishing Group (imprints include Riverhead, Penguin Classic, Viking, etc.); Random House (its got Ballantine Books, Bantam, Crown Trade, etc.), and the vaunted Knopf Doubleday Group (Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, and Pantheon, among others).

The imprints compete for book deals against one another, even if they’re part of the same division. That keeps things hot and competitive and individualistic and creative. Supposedly.

But then the trial revealed that all the different tentacles within PRH were being tangled up to create some kind of publishing kraken. Madeline McIntosh, the CEO whom Dohle had appointed to run the U.S. operation, started to encourage the separate divisions inside PRH to get on the same page while competing against one another for the same book at auction. There was a 2018 document, written by McIntosh, that talked about “increased background coordination in auctions to leverage internal demand information better and avoid internal upbidding.” Such a practice might sound simply like how a corporation would work to you, but book publishing thinks of itself as being on a sort of genteel old-school honor-system version of capitalism. This division coordination that McIntosh was torquing up inside PRH posed a couple of problems.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine

US Bestsellers and Book Sales in 2022: Second-Highest at NPD

From Publishing Perspectives:

In her final report from 2022, NPD Books executive director and industry analyst Kristen McLean writes, “This holiday season was another reminder that we remain in uncharted territory in the United States’ consumer market, and that it’s important to take each week as it comes.”

In fact, she reports, the US market had print sales for 2022 at 3 percent of 2020, and 12-percent ahead of 2019 on a unit basis. That qualifies last year as the second-highest in print performance since NPD BookScan began tracking the market.

The irony, she points out, is that by comparison to 2021’s holiday season, the closing 13 weeks in 2022 dropped by 8 percent. This, despite the fact that December’s performance was better, she says, “because of deferred buying and a relatively strong last two weeks.

“This held the overall year-to-date performance to 5.8-percent lower on a unit basis, and 5-percent lower on an $MSRP basis, with volumes of 780 million units and $14 billion, respectively.”

McLean—whose point-of-sale data service focuses on print, remember, rather than on other formats—says, “A good deal of the buying and reading behavior that started in the pandemic is still with us, although not every area of the business is benefiting equally.”

And in terms of that comment she makes about “uncharted territory,” she writes, “Big questions remain about book consumers’ appetites as we look ahead.”

Illustrating the 8-percent drop in the 2022 holiday season as compared to the 2021 season in volume, McLean writes, “The kids’ market made up half of the year-over-year declines. Holiday shopping shifted later—the last two weeks of the year were the only in the 2022 holiday season to post gains over the same time in 2021.”

In her description of the course of the 2022 market in the States, McLean notes that during the holidays, “Sales plateaued at 29 million units for two weeks in a row. Weeks 51 and 52 were the only two that overperformed 2021 in last year’s holidays. “As a result,” she says, “the market regained 1 percent of year-to-date performance, ending 6-percent under 2021, and 12-percent ahead of 2019.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Man pleads guilty to stealing more than 1,000 manuscripts

From The Guardian:

An Italian man has admitted to stealing more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts, including from distinguished authors, solving a mystery that had puzzled the literary world for years.

Filippo Bernardini, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, federal prosecutors in New York announced in a statement.

Bernardini, who worked in London for the publisher Simon & Schuster, impersonated agents and publishers over email to obtain novels and other works from writers and their representatives.

The scam had been known in literary circles for several years, with Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney among the novelists reportedly targeted. It became public knowledge in January last year when Bernardini was arrested by FBI agents at New York’s JFK airport.

Beginning in August 2016, and continuing up to his arrest, the Italian impersonated hundreds of people in the world of publishing by sending emails from fake accounts. The addresses resembled the domain names of legitimate publishers but with some letters changed. Prosecutors say he registered more than 160 fraudulent domains.

“Filippo Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the publishing industry to create a scheme that stole precious works from authors and menaced the publishing industry,” said Damian Williams, the US attorney for the southern district of New York (SDNY).

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

Richard Charkin: A Selective Year-End Assessment

From Publishing Perspectives:

Each year, The Economist publishes a special edition in which it encapsulates the state of the world as expressed by numbers. These articles are authoritative, accurate, well-researched, and comprehensive. I couldn’t hope to emulate them in a review of the world in publishing. But a few numbers, randomly chosen and sometimes more approximate than precise, may serve to illustrate some elements of our industry in 2022.

After having only one woman—Argentina’s Ana Maria Cabanellas—among the 35 presidents of the International Publishers Association (IPA), we’re enjoying a run of three female presidents in a row. The United Arab Emirates‘ Bodour Al Qasimi‘s two-year term ends with 2022; Brazil’s Karine Pansa opens her term with the new year; and the Republic of Georgia’s Gvantsa Jobava is starting her term as vice-president, traditionally a role that leads to the presidency. It’s taken a long time for women to play significant roles in our industry, and we should celebrate them.

Thinking of diversity, there are any number of audits being issued by major publishers, either to prove their commitment to a good cause or at least to answer potentially difficult questions.

Here are some positive and practical numbers from the IPA, our international trade association. In the last decade, the number of countries represented by the association has risen from 51 to 76, thus increasing the markets represented—per the IPA’s estimates—from 52 to 83 percent of the world’s population. The remaining 17 percent may be hard to land while Russia pursues its war against Ukraine.

. . . .

Here’s a number from the Publishers Association in London for the United Kingdom’s publishers to think about. The British market’s export sales are some £3.8 billion (US$4.6 billion) out of a total £6.7 billion (US$8.8 billion). That’s to say that roughly 57 percent of all sales are not made in the UK.

In addition, a material portion of the sales in the United Kingdom are then exported by UK booksellers, and export discounts are typically higher, in order to take account of freight and double warehousing, likely putting the total level of sales outside the home market in excess of 70 percent of British publishers’ output of books, journals, and databases. To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, 25 makes a girl think–70 percent should make us think even harder.

. . . .

Inflation and Pricing

And now turning to inflation, one of the scourges of 2022 in many countries, the UK’s inflation stands at above 10 percent, according to some estimates, for example those reflected in Richard Partington’s reporting at The Guardian. That 10 percent is a shock in recent times, but inflation levels even higher than this have plagued my publishing life.

. . . .

What has changed is the pricing. The book, on release, cost £3.25 for a 300-page hardback (US$3.92). The average discount granted was 40 percent—more for WH Smith, less for independent bookshops, of which there were many. To maintain the same income in 2022 for the publisher, and thus the author, the book would have to be priced above £50. Not a chance.

. . . .

Numbers and Numeracy

My next set of numbers also encompasses a perennial and personal grump. When I started in publishing I was astonished by the lofty contempt shown to the concept of numeracy. It was as if literacy and numeracy were mutually incompatible. An accountant could never have a valid opinion about a book and an editor could not be expected to perform simple arithmetic calculations. Statistical analysis is not always simple but it’s extraordinary, to me, at least, how happily some publishers and journalists almost willfully misinterpret numbers.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“I’m a bigshot publisher and you expect me to analyze numbers? I have people who do that sort of thing for me, but not one of them has ever been able to identify a future best-seller by looking at a manuscript. Publishing is an intuition business – you either have it or you don’t – not a numbers business.”

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It is something of an understatement to say that Colleen Hoover dominated the 2022 overall bestsellers list. Hoover had the top three books of the year, and her novels sold 14.3 million print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Of the 25 books on the list, eight were Hoover titles, and two, It Ends with Us and Verity, sold more than two million copies each.

Last year was a very good year for adult fiction overall, as evidenced by the 8.5% annual sales increase posted by the category . . . and by its prevalence at the top of the overall bestsellers list. Fifteen of the 25 top-selling books were adult fiction, and another five titles were either juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. The top-selling nonfiction book was James Clear’s Atomic Habits,at #6.

The only other author besides Hoover to place more than one title on the top 25 list was Emily Henry, who scored with Book Lovers and People We Meet on Vacation,at #21 and #25, respectively. The strong showing by Hoover also crowded out some perennial chart toppers, including James Patterson, whose Run, Rose, Run (written with Dolly Parton) was at #26 (with about 515,000 copies sold), and John Grisham, whose The Boys from Biloxi sold about 495,000 copies, landing it at #29 on the overall list.

The list clearly shows that readers were ready for some escapism in 2022, after nearly three years of pandemic concerns and an ever more divisive political environment. The bestselling title related to politics last year was Red Handed: How American Elites Get Rich by Helping China Win by Peter Schweizer, which sold about 245,000 copies. The top-performing book critical of former president Trump was Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, which sold about 127,000 copies; former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir sold approximately 112,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

How Shall I Reject Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

From Electric Lit:

Oh, rejection, rejection, wherefore art thou rejection? Deny my genius and refuse my praise?

Or if thou wilt, take all myself and I’ll no longer be a writer.

At the end of the day, all writers must ask themselves: to query or not to query?

You know what they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider Romeo and Juliet, I appreciate it, and apologies for taking so long to get back to you!

While at the beginning I was pulled into the story, which you did a nice job setting up, I had trouble staying connected with the main characters of Romeo and Juliet. I also got a bit lost during the infighting between the Montagues and Capulets. I was hoping for more of a focus on the love story, rather than the family drama.


Romance Lover

Dear Will,

Thanks again for following up and giving me the chance to read your work. The dialogue is working really well in your writing, but even so, I only got through the first two acts before skipping to the end.

In your work, too much happens, too quickly. Also, Tybalt, Mercutio, and the main characters ALL die? It was too much for me, so I’m going to pass.

—Not a Fan

Hi Billy,

First, thank you for being patient with me while I took eighteen months to read your submission. Sorry for leaving you hanging!

I love the premise of this story and its unconventional take on marriage. There is also a lot to admire about your facility with language, especially the rhyme scheme, it’s impressive 

Romeo is such a fun character, but he’s a little too conflicted for my taste, I mean he’s a lover and a murderer? I know he had his reasons, but still. However, I’m sure the right agent will connect with him on some level, keep the faith!

Kind regards,

In Your Corner

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Bob Gottlieb Is the Last of the Publishing Giants – The 91-year-old editor waits for his 87-year-old star writer, Robert Caro, to turn in his book.

From Vulture:

The life of the editor Bob Gottlieb, at a spry 91 years old, is nowadays largely limited to a single room on the second floor of his East 48th Street townhouse — by choice, not necessity. He can bound up Second Avenue just fine to the diner that he considers an extension of his home, where the waitress knows he takes his chocolate milkshakes extra thick. But everything he needs, his library and his pencils, is right here, so why go farther? To receive guests like this one, he didn’t even have to put on shoes or tame the gull’s-wing sweep of his silver hair. Burbling away in a leather club chair in his book-lined office (they are arranged according to a system, he says with a point to his head, that’s “up here”), with piles of more books on the floor and in the corners, beneath giant MGM publicity posters of Marion Davies, Clark Gable, and Norma Shearer from the early 1930s, he is a man in his element. “I don’t want to go anywhere because there’s nowhere I want to go,” he says in his fluty register. “My life is very calm, just the way I like.”

It is here that he waits for one of his most famous writers — and he has edited many of the past century’s most famous ones, including Cheever, Rushdie, Lessing, and Naipaul — to turn in a long-awaited manuscript. Assuming, that is, the pair beat what Gottlieb notes dryly are the “actuarial odds.” Robert Caro, 87, whom Gottlieb has edited since his first book, The Power Broker, published in 1974, is at work on the fifth and final volume of his Lyndon B. Johnson biography. Their long relationship is the subject of a documentary, Turn Every Page, directed by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie, which arrives (well before the Johnson book) on December 30.

Gottlieb is perhaps the longest-serving man in publishing, a living link to those days when a successful book editor and his stage-actress wife could buy themselves an entire Manhattan townhouse like this one and stuff it full of books. Their house, and his office, looks out onto the private, semi-communal Turtle Bay Gardens, shared with their neighbors on the block. “Bob never goes into the garden, you have to understand,” says Gottlieb’s wife, Maria Tucci, who has come home with lunch. “He says real Jews don’t like nature.”

Among their fellow Turtle Bay Gardeners over the years were Janet Malcolm and Gardner Botsford, the late New Yorker writer-editor couple, whose teenage daughter, Anne, became their babysitter. Katharine Hepburn lived along there, too (next door to Stephen Sondheim), and when Gottlieb was editing her book, he’d nip across to her house for meetings, entering through her back door.

Gottlieb joined Simon & Schuster in 1955 and eventually became editor-in-chief, then ran Alfred A. Knopf. In 1987, S. I. Newhouse hired him to take over The New Yorker from William Shawn and then fired him a few years later in favor of Tina Brown (Newhouse must’ve felt guilty because he promised him his New Yorker salary for life). Then it was back to Knopf. Even at 91, he continues to work on occasional projects as an editor-at-large. (His next, Flora Macdonald: “Pretty Young Rebel,” out in January, is by Flora Fraser, whose mother and grandmother he has also edited.) What Gottlieb does, what he has always done, is read — widely and voraciously, if not, he says, as quickly as he once did. At the moment, he is making his way through a recent biography of George III, the essays of V. S. Pritchett, and the work of the Soviet novelist and journalist Vasily Grossman, though I also spot copies of Janet Evanovich and Colleen Hoover, the currently best-selling romance writer. An editor, he notes modestly, is really just a reader — although he also likened the editing process to psychoanalysis, including the occasional transference.

Editors, as any editor can tell you, live in the shadow of their writers, reacting quietly behind the scenes, unheralded and little known. This is, evidently, how Gottlieb prefers it. “This glorification of editors, of which I have been an extreme example, is not a wholesome thing,” he once told The Paris Review. “The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one,” he said then and believes today. “The last thing anyone reading Jane Eyre would want to know, for example, is that I had convinced Charlotte Brontë that the first Mrs. Rochester should go up in flames.” He insists editing is neither an art nor a craft. It’s just “what I do,” he says. “I’m not an abstract thinker. I don’t think, really — I just react, which is what editors are supposed to do.” When I tried to press him further, he waved me away. “Don’t you feel like an idiot having to ask questions like that?”

Turn Every Page attempts to answer some of them. The film is a tender portrait of the two men that is saved from schmaltz by their occasional testiness, Caro’s in particular. According to Gottlieb, it has always been thus. “He was very wary about revealing himself,” he says of Caro. “I used to joke when we first met each other — I felt that if I said to him, ‘How are you?’ that was too invasive a question.” Fifty years later, and thanks in part to the film, he adds, “he’s finally acknowledged that we are friends.” Until making it, Lizzie Gottlieb had barely met Caro, and it took some persistence to wear down his resolve. Her father was easier to crack. “Anything she wants is hers by definition,” he says.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG says file this item under Publishing, Death of.

Vulture is the perfect deliverer for the OP.

Proof of Life

PG is still around, taking the occasional breath and unable to stop being a smarty-pants when he makes blog posts about traditional publishing in all of its multi-faceted shortcomings.

Over the past several days, Casa PG has been invaded by a fast-moving flock of small offspring who are unable to prevent themselves from being irresistibly cute and displaying the exceptional intelligence they inherited from Mrs. PG.

PG hopes one and all had an enjoyable Christmas or other holiday of their choice. Extended exposure to cute offspring may stun PG’s sarcasm gene for a bit, but it will soon be pricked to attention by something stupid a publisher says or does.

And agents! How could PG forget about the schoolmarmish Miss Mannersessesses of the publishing world – dot this i just so and cross that t you missed crossing, keep your hands on your lap and your knees together and don’t forget to say pretty please whenever you disturb my professional slumbers with a phone call or letter. (Remember, no emails! Letters are required and must be in block printed form with absolutely no cursive allowed!!)

The Pandemic Still Made Its Presence Felt in Publishing in 2022

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Given all of the attention that the Department of Justice’s successful trial to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster drew, it can be hard to remember what other trends, challenges, and issues confronted the publishing industry in 2022.

In many ways, last year the industry was still dealing with the fallout caused by the pandemic. For one thing, return-to-office policies remained in flux throughout the year; just when a publisher would announce plans to bring back employees to the office for a few days a week, another surge would come along and scuttle those plans. In addition, executives at the big publishers were meeting stiff resistance from employees on any sort of mandate to return to the office. In PW’s most recent salary and jobs survey, respondents said that the creation of work-from-home policies was the most important benefit their company established during the height of the pandemic, and the overwhelming majority of respondents were concerned that their company would soon be requiring employees to be in the office for a certain number of days each week.

The supply chain problems that were prevalent for much of 2021 continued into 2022, though conditions did improve. Price increases for printing, paper, and shipping eased in 2022, though, as the highest inflation in decades set in, production costs still remained well above 2019 levels, squeezing profit margins. The printing capacity crunch also eased a bit, albeit not for a good reason—printers received fewer orders as book sales declined.

When the pandemic began, consumers moved more of their spending toward online retailers and away from bricks-and-mortar stores in 2020 and 2021. That shift led Amazon to place big orders for all items, including books, over the last few years. As consumers began returning to stores in greater numbers in 2022, increases in online spending slowed—a trend that hit Amazon hard. To work down the amount of book inventory it had accumulated, Amazon drastically cut back on new orders it placed over the summer, with some publishers reporting sales declines as deep as 70% with Amazon in the summer months. HarperCollins cited the plunge in orders from Amazon as the key reason why sales in its quarter ended September 30 fell 11%. The dramatic decline of orders from Amazon, along with the news that Amazon had cut some jobs in its Books group, led some industry members to wonder if the company was losing interest in the book market, speculation that Amazon firmly denied. Publishers did report orders from the e-tailer improved in the early fall.

The return of shoppers to physical retailers was good news for bookstores. ABA reported a record number of members, while Barnes & Noble began opening new outlets in the year and expects to open 30 new stores in 2023. Total bookstore sales through October were up 7.5% over the comparable period in 2021 and, following two years of declines, could return to 2019 levels in 2022. The improving retail environment didn’t lift all boats, however. In the spring, Amazon announced it was closing all 24 of its physical bookstores; Amazon opened its first bookstore in November 2015 to tremendous fanfare.

. . . .

With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions, the publishing calendar returned to a more normal pattern. In the U.S., the fall regional bookseller shows had solid attendance as they returned to in-person events. All of the primary international book fairs also held in-person events, though many still saw reduced foot traffic from pre-pandemic levels in the shadow of inflation, the ongoing threat of Covid, and the war in Ukraine.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Changes In Publishing With Jane Friedman

From The Creative Penn:

What has changed in the publishing industry over the last few years? What can authors learn from the DOJ vs PRH court case? How can mid-list authors thrive in uncertain times? Jane Friedman talks about these things and more.

Joanna Penn: How has the pandemic and increasing online sales changed the more traditional publishing industry? Because I feel like indies, like myself, we were already doing everything online. But I feel like the pandemic has really shifted traditional. So what are your thoughts on that?

Jane Friedman: Yes, I mean, first of all, the pandemic was great for traditional publishing, generally. I mean, there are supply chain issues, of course, which are still affecting everyone. But print book sales were up 9% in 2021, and for a mature industry that is astonishing. And they’re still doing pretty well in 2022. Comparatively, I think they’re down maybe 5% versus last year, which is still great. It’s above where we were in 2019.

Something interesting that happened too, is that and independent bookstores are in a better position — Bookshop being the online retailer that competes against Amazon. They’re very flexible, they’re more focused on the things that only they can do well, and they’re benefiting from people who want to consume more conscientiously. I think the Bookshop founder said ‘virtuous shopping’, a virtuous alternative to Amazon is what he was hoping for. And they have, they’ve succeeded.

There’s now a UK version of Bookshop. I think there might be one in Spain. So, yeah, I think the pandemic really helped the launch of that because they were established in January 2020, having no idea what was about to happen.

The other thing that was very positive, for novelists in particular, is that adult fiction sales came back after many years of decline. So at first, it was believed this was driven by comfort reads. But now I would say it’s probably more TikTok driven. Sales are also more backlist oriented. Part of that is the shift to online sales, but TikTok is also, again, driving some of that.

And I think the other piece of good news for maybe all, well, I think it’s good news for all authors, is that The Big 5 aren’t actually selling as much combined as everyone else. So I do see that it’s a very diverse market. And I know we’ll talk about some concerns about the market a little later. But I think generally, books have done really well the past few years, no matter where you’re sitting in the industry.

. . . .

Joanna: So you mentioned The Big 5 there, and one of the things I really wanted to talk to you about is what’s shocked the publishing industry, or a lot of authors anyway. In September 2022, the US Department of Justice took Penguin Random House to court over the potential acquisition of Simon and Schuster.

And the proceedings of the trial brought to light a lot of surprising things, or perhaps only surprising to authors and people who didn’t know much about the industry. So I wanted to hear what were some of the things that stood out for you because you did a ton of commentary around this.

Jane: Yes, so the things that shocked the average person and even a lot of authors, frankly, that have been in the industry a while, the big CEOs of these enormous companies saying they don’t know what will sell. You know, portraying the industry as just a lot of random bets.

People have casually said that for many, many years that it’s a ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ sort of industry.

But I guess there was this assumption that if you put a big CEO on the stand, and you ask them questions under oath, that they would show more business acumen than they did. So I think that was very shocking to people and discouraging. Like, they were denying they had any responsibility over what books would do well. 

I think the other reality that was thrown into stark relief, is that most books aren’t getting a lot of marketing investment.

Unless there are already clear indicators after the book releases that it’s going to do well, then the publisher will funnel more support toward it. But unless the book is getting one of these really big advances, there is just a lot of waiting and seeing, rather than proactive marketing and promotion.

The other thing that came out is that — and again, if you study the industry closely like I do, this was not a surprise, but I think for the general public, it was shocking — that most books don’t earn out their advances. And publishers knowingly pay more to get the books they want, knowing the advance won’t earn out, rather than negotiate on anything else.

They don’t want to give up their eBook rights, their audiobook rights, they don’t want to really mess around with the royalty rates. They are really just paying a lot more upfront to run their business. And obviously, only The Big 5 are able to play that sort of game, the smaller publishers can’t. And that’s part of what the trial was about.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Your Zoom Camera Is Not a Mirror

From Electric Lit:

At the beginning of her reading, this lifestyle memoirist announced that she was struggling to quit vaping and, thus, would be chewing nicotine gum that evening. It was clear that her efforts were not going well, however, and during the presentation she fondled her blister pack of Nicorette like it was an opium pipe. When she began chewing her fourth piece, she also lit a yellowing cigarette she said she found beneath a couch cushion. Her final act of transcendence, however, came during the Q&A when a participant asked a question about her mother’s storied political career. The author stood up, disappeared from view, returned with her vaping device, and then smashed it to pieces with a bronze statuette of the Eiffel Tower.

. . . .

In an astounding example of online disorientation, this so-called language poet forgot that his monitor was not, in fact, a mirror, and picked his teeth on screen for ten minutes as an author discussed her new biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Interestingly, three months later, the Hopkins scholar published a somewhat influential article advancing an idea she was labeling “Obligational Privacy,” or the notion that readers have a fundamental right not to know about the personal lives of poets.

This poet surprised everyone by giving himself a manicure during his lecture on enjambments. His fastidious nail care was mesmerizing to all of us, but the bigger surprise came at the end when he swept the clippings off his desk and onto the rug below. There was a clear gasp from the invitees and, remarkably, when he realized the origins of the reaction, he attended to the problem by stepping on the clippings and rubbing them deeper into the rug with his foot.

. . . .

At the book-talk of a colleague, this YA novelist spent the entire hour lighting things on fire. He seemed extremely curious about the flammability of the objects on his desk and tested everything from his computer keyboard to a Saul Bellow novel. After he ran out of objects, he turned to his body, performing what seemed to be a meticulous examination of pain thresholds of different parts of his hand. His upper wrists, just where they met the hand, couldn’t endure a second of the flame. His fingers, however, seemed impervious to the pain of fire, even when, at one, point, one of his fingers began to smoke.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

These episodes reminded PG that he hadn’t bowed toward New York City recently to show his appreciation for Big Publishing’s never-failing devotion to continuing to be curators of our culture.

NPD Books: US Market Underperforming in the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following Monday’s report (December 5) on the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) September 2022 StatShot report, we look today at the new report on the United States’ market conditions in November from NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean.

As you’ll remember, the NPD BookScan track runs much closer to date than StatShot, and McLean is looking this time at the month of November. What she sees prompts her to write, “It’s now clear” that the 2022 holiday book sales season “is underperforming 2021—and not just due to a later start.

“In the latest retail numbers from our macroeconomic team, the 2022 Black Friday week underperformed compared to the past three years, only exceeding the sales revenue results during the same week in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. While increases in foot traffic were reported widely in the press, that didn’t necessarily translate into more sales on either a revenue or a unit basis.”

. . . .

Turning back to books, McLean writes in her report to the news media, “The book market was right in line with these trends. At the top line, the United States’ book market finished November at 6 percent below 2021, on a monthly volume of 61.8 million units. That’s 8.5 million units higher than October, but 10.4 million units under November 2021.

“In the book market, the overall numbers are still within historic norms, but key categories like adult nonfiction and juvenile fiction are definitely underperforming so far this season. Nothing seems to be breaking out this year compared to what we’ve been seeing in adult fiction.

“There are still five more weeks left in the year. It’s hard to remember it now, but in 2018 and 2019, we spent a lot of time talking about how the peak of holiday shopping was slipping later and later in the year as consumers came to depend on just-in-time shipping from online retailers. It will be interesting to see whether this kind of pattern reemerges in 2022.

“As I said in last month’s update, I believe the lower level of spending this year is fundamentally about consumer economics and sentiment. I also still believe the most likely scenario for the total market finish is exactly where we are now: 6 percent below 2021.”

And in an interesting parallel, we’ll just note that while the American market is showing those November sales at 6 percent behind last year, the United Kingdom’s market is neck-and-neck, with a 7-percent slowdown compared to November of last year, per Nielsen data, as The Bookseller editor Philip Jones discusses in his Friday edition leader piece.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why 250 book industry workers are on strike at a publishing giant

From Fast Company:

With the air getting colder and the holidays approaching, it feels like a perfect time to curl up with a good book. But instead of cozying up for a well-deserved break, hundreds of publishing workers in New York City have been braving the cold and walking the picket line.

The HarperCollins Union, which represents more than 250 employees, has been on strike since November 10. HarperCollins is the only one of the Big Five publishers (which also include Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan) with a unionized workforce, which it’s had for more than 80 years.

There are a number of university presses and smaller publishers who have unionized in recent years, and a small crop of unionized bookstores (including the Strand and McNally Jackson) in New York City. But the HarperCollins Union, with its decades of history and big-fish status, is the only one of its kind for now. The challenges its workers face are endemic throughout the publishing industry, which has long relied on workers’ passion for books to offset low pay and crushing schedules.

While some are working to change the status quo, the industry also remains glaringly lacking in racial diversity. Workers of color who lack the financial support that their more privileged peers enjoy can’t sustain themselves with low-paying jobs and are therefore pushed out. These wider concerns are reflected in the union’s demands. The HarperCollins Union’s major ask is a raise in wages that would hike the company’s salary minimum to just $50,000.

As striker Rye White wrote in a strike dispatch for n+1, the workers are also fighting to win a greater commitment to diversity from the publisher, as well as union security, an agreement which would require all eligible workers to join the union, and which was originally present in the contract prior to the 1980s (today roughly 6% of the company remains in the union).

Their last union contract expired in April 2021, and the workers entered negotiations with the company in December of that year. The HarperCollins Union went out on a one-day warning strike on July 20 to demand “fair wages, stronger diversity commitments, and union rights.” Nearly a month later, its members have made little headway.

The last time the company saw a strike was 1974, when workers walked out for 17 days to win a new contract. As of December 5, the current strike has surpassed that record, and the picket line is still running daily outside of HarperCollins’s offices on 195 Broadway. “The union’s position is clear: If this industry wants to retain the love and passion it runs on, something (the corporate powers that be) has gotta give (us more money),” White wrote.

Management has shown no signs of budging. In fact, as unit chair Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor for HarperCollins Children’s Books, told Fast Company, it seems as though they have no intention of meeting their workers at the bargaining table. “What we’ve been hearing from the inside is that Brian Murray [Harper’s CEO] is hoping that our strike fund runs out of money soon and that we’ll be desperate to return to work with no changes to our contract,” she said.

. . . .

Public shows of support have also helped boost worker morale. HarperCollins authors like Ibram X. Kendi, Barbara Kingsolver, and Padma Lakshmi have all sent solidarity statements (and sometimes pizza) to the picket line, while others say they plan to march with the workers in person later this month.

In November, more than 150 literary agents from top firms signed an open letter in support of the strikers and pledged not to submit any new books to HarperCollins until the strike is resolved. “A successful HarperCollins, and a successful publishing industry, relies on our friends on the picket line, and so we stand in solidarity with them and ask that HarperCollins return to the bargaining table and grant them a fair contract. In the meantime, we will omit HarperCollins editors from our submission lists,” the letter read in part.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

“The HarperCollins Union’s major ask is a raise in wages that would hike the company’s salary minimum to just $50,000.”

For those who are not familiar with the cost of living in New York City or its suburbs, $50,000 is quite a small salary, especially if a worker has dependents to support.

The average salary of a New York City firefighter is $74,482. The starting salary for a New York City police officer is $42,500. The average salary of a New York City police officer after 5 ½ years is $85,292. A police officer who works some overtime earns more than $100,000 per year.

In January, 2022, Reuters published a story titled, “N.Y. law firms raise starting salaries to $215,000 as lawyer pay race continues.”

PG did locate one group of New York City workers who earn less than the $50,000 minimum annual salary HarperCollins workers are striking to receive. New York City Street sweepers earn an average of $46,728 per year.

In addition to all the other transgressions of traditional publishing, you can add oppression of their employees to the list.

PRH CEO Markus Dohle Stepping Down, End of Year

From Publishing Perspectives:

Emphasizing that the news from Gütersloh and New York City arrives “on the best of mutual terms,” Germany’s Bertelsmann has announced today (December 9) that Markus Dohle is stepping down as worldwide CEO of Penguin Random House and as a member of Bertelsmann’s executive board. It’s being made clear that this is Dohle’s decision and that Bertelsmann regrets it.

The news will surprise many in world publishing. Dohle, 54, has come to be seen as perhaps the industry’s most energetic and expressive public advocate in the executive ranks. He refers to this himself today, referring to his “enthusiasm and passion.”

NPD Books’ Kristen McLean, familiar for her analysis to our Publishing Perspectives readers, confirms to Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter at The New York Times that this is hardly a convenient moment for Dohle to feel he must make this move. “There are unknowns at every level,” McLean says. “There are unknowns with consumer behavior, unknowns with what retailers are doing, and unknowns at the publisher level about what to invest in right now.”

Dohle’s role in the leadership of the largest trade publishing company–”a community of 325 imprints,” as he calls it, spanning many countries–has given his messages immediate attention. He has taken this seriously. He’s an outsized and welcoming personality, big enough to embrace the sheer expanse of PRH. He has leveraged his position as a bully pulpit to project an upbeat, boisterous can-do tone during some of contemporary publishing’s most sophisticated challenges.

Dohle was appointed the first CEO to lead the world’s largest trade book publishing company on July 1, 2013, when the publishing group was founded. He had become CEO of Random House in 2008.

Nihar Malaviya, currently a PRH vice-president and director of strategy and operations, is to become interim CEO at the start of the new year.

. . . .

Dohle has been outspoken about the crucial need for the freedom to publish and about book publishing’s place in the world’s democratic order, particularly in the current era of authoritarian dynamics. Demonstrating the kind of personal commitment to his work that’s one of his trademarks, he personally seeded the US$500,000 Dohle Book Defense Fund with PEN America in February amid myriad book-banning attempts in the States and in other world markets.

In October 2021, Dohle had opened Frankfurter Buchmesse’s new Frankfurt Studio facility in a live hour-long conversation with Publishing Perspectives. During our discussion, he talked about the profound value he sees in immersive, long-form reading.

“It helps you to actually see the world from other points of view,” he said, “and we know it creates empathy and human values, especially in young people. That’s what the world needs right now if we want to help defend our democracy, based on human values.”

. . . .

Professional industry attendees at this year’s 12th Sharjah Publishers Conference in the United Arab Emirates could see clearly Dohle’s bitter disappointment on November 1, the morning after Judge Florence Yu Pan’s order was made public.

Dohle, going through with a scheduled appearance at the conference, told Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) onstage, that the court’s decision was “utterly wrong.” If the S&S acquisition had not been blocked by the Biden administration’s Justice Department, “Readers would have benefited from this merger because we sell our books through more retailers than anybody else in 20,000 retail locations in the US, 160,000 retail locations globally.

“Authors would have been benefiting because of more royalties, because of more sales, and their agents [would benefit], of course, too,” he said. “And ultimately, because of our synergies, we would have paid more taxes, so the taxpayer would have been benefiting. So it was good for our constituencies. And, by the way, we’ve lost some market share. So Simon & Schuster is basically refilling lost market share for us. And after the merger, we would have been less than 20 percent of the United States’ trade [book publishing] market, less than 20 percent—while Amazon is 50 percent of the retail side.”

“I am biased,” Dohle said onstage, “and I’m very disappointed.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says there is definitely a story behind this story.

Too much happy talk is the principal reason for PG’s suspicions.

As PG has opined before, he can’t imagine that PRH outside counsel having not waved a big red flag, telling their client that the acquisition would attract a great deal of antitrust attention and a legal challenge would be likely.

From Wikipedia:

Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/; from Ancient Greek ὕβρις (húbris) ‘pride, insolence, outrage’), or less frequently hybris (/ˈhaɪbrɪs/),describes a personality quality of extreme or excessive pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance. The term arrogance comes from the Latin adrogare, meaning “to feel that one has a right to demand certain attitudes and behaviors from other people”. To arrogate means “to claim or seize without justification… To make undue claims to having”, or “to claim or seize without right… to ascribe or attribute without reason”. The term pretension is also associated with the term hubris, but is not synonymous with it.

According to studies, hubris, arrogance, and pretension are related to the need for victory (even if it does not always mean winning) instead of reconciliation, which “friendly” groups might promote. Hubris is usually perceived as a characteristic of an individual rather than a group, although the group the offender belongs to may suffer collateral consequences from wrongful acts. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments, or capabilities. The adjectival form of the noun hubris/hybris is hubristic/hybristic.

The term hubris originated in Ancient Greek, where it had several different meanings depending on the context. In legal usage, it meant assault or sexual crimes and theft of public property, and in religious usage it meant transgression against a god.

. . . .

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride combined with arrogance. Hubris is often associated with a lack of humility. Sometimes a person’s hubris is also associated with ignorance. The accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek mythology. The proverb “pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought to sum up the modern use of hubris. Hubris is also referred to as “pride that blinds” because it often causes a committer of hubris to act in foolish ways that belie common sense. In other words, the modern definition may be thought of as, “that pride that goes just before the fall.” (annotations in the original omitted)

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The Year in Review Part 3: Bestsellers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In my Pocket Reader app, I stored a September article from BBC News as much for the article’s title as its content. That title? “When Is A Bestseller Not Necessarily A Bestseller?”

I think that’s been the burning question in publishing for the past ten years. Bestsellers haven’t entirely lost their meaning, but they’re not relevant the way that they were twenty years ago. Back in the day when traditional publishing controlled 99% of the books that we saw on shelves (before ebooks), a bestseller was the book that sold the best out of the myriad of bookstores.

Even then, those bestseller lists were rigged. I can’t tell you how many times I had colleagues who gamed The New York Times list (the easiest one to buy your way onto, if you had the list of “acceptable” bookstores). It was a relief to have USA Today base its list on actual reported sales across all stores, including the chains. Even those numbers were flawed, though, because they were self-reported by most of the publishers.

Data has never been traditional publishing’s strong suit.

Last week, I examined traditional publishing and the mess that it has become, a mess that has led at least one industry expert to conclude that the services traditional publishers provide are essentially meaningless.

The anecdotal evidence has existed for years. I know several Big Name romance writers who can no longer live off their royalties like they did twenty years ago. Fortunately, a lot of them were good at money management, so they have cash stashed away and their homes are paid for.

Last year, Kat Martin, at 20Booksto50K here in Las Vegas, stated,

I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self-publishing.

. . . .

Because everyone comes to Vegas at one point or another, Dean and I had a lot of opportunities to talk with writer friends who are (or were) traditionally published bestsellers. Dean had lunch with a person whose work would be considered a major (mega) bestseller. That person expressed shock that the backlist, which once earned a tidy income, earned little more than a trickle now.

That person could no longer sell their books to the Big Five, despite the continuing good numbers on the backlist. The small publisher the person went with is going belly-up, and the author was looking at other ways to publish.

I can’t tell you how many conversations we have with writers in a similar position.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG started TPV nearly twelve years ago to talk about the book business with an emphasis on self-publishing.

For those with long memories, PG blogged about the 2012 antitrust litigation brought by the US Justice Department and 33 state attorneys general against Apple, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Book Group, Inc., alleging that the defendants conspired to fix prices in the sale of e-books, primarily motivated by the challenge presented by Amazon’s price discounting of books to their traditional business model and agreement to keep ebook prices high to support their print book business and their close-to-exclusive access to prime shelf space in traditional bookstores.

Some of the major publishers caved and settled charges against them by paying large fines. Apple Penguin, and Macmillan didn’t settle and ended up losing at the trial level and in the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Apple tried to take its appeal the the US Supreme Court, but that court declined to accept the case, meaning that Apple, Penguin and Macmillan ended up losing and paying large fines to the US and the 33 states that joined in the antitrust suit.

In essence, Apple and Big Publishing tried to crush Amazon’s book business and, especially, its ebook business, an effort that flamed out in spectacular fashion. Amazon kept doing its thing and grew into one of the largest tech companies around, including selling more books than anyone else by a large margin.

Traditional publishers continued their long decline as self-publishing through Amazon kept growing. Unfortunately, Covid shutdowns finished off more than a few bookstores and nobody pays much attention to Barnes & Noble any more.

PG hasn’t seen anything about the physical bookstore business in the UK or Europe recently, but would be surprised if ebooks weren’t steadily increasing their market share in those places as well.

As for himself, PG reads about 98% of his book pages electronically. He has a hard time finishing the occasional physical book that comes into his hands because his Kindle allows him to read while his creaking spinal column is in a far more comfortable position.

NPD Books: US Market Underperforming in the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following Monday’s report (December 5) on the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) September 2022 StatShot report, we look today at the new report on the United States’ market conditions in November from NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean.

As you’ll remember, the NPD BookScan track runs much closer to date than StatShot, and McLean is looking this time at the month of November. What she sees prompts her to write, “It’s now clear” that the 2022 holiday book sales season “is underperforming 2021—and not just due to a later start.

“In the latest retail numbers from our macroeconomic team, the 2022 Black Friday week underperformed compared to the past three years, only exceeding the sales revenue results during the same week in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. While increases in foot traffic were reported widely in the press, that didn’t necessarily translate into more sales on either a revenue or a unit basis.”

. . . .

“Black Friday week marked the sixth consecutive week of in-store sales revenue declines for US discretionary general merchandise.”

. . . .

Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief retail industry advisor, a colleague of McLean’s, writes, “Black Friday appears to have brought more shoppers out to the stores, but that traffic clearly didn’t amount to more spending. Retailers and manufacturers need to find new ways to engage the consumer in making purchases, converting consumers from social browsers to active buyers.”

. . . .

Turning back to books, McLean writes in her report to the news media, “The book market was right in line with these trends. At the top line, the United States’ book market finished November at 6 percent below 2021, on a monthly volume of 61.8 million units. That’s 8.5 million units higher than October, but 10.4 million units under November 2021.

“In the book market, the overall numbers are still within historic norms, but key categories like adult nonfiction and juvenile fiction are definitely underperforming so far this season. Nothing seems to be breaking out this year compared to what we’ve been seeing in adult fiction.”

. . . .

“As I said in last month’s update, I believe the lower level of spending this year is fundamentally about consumer economics and sentiment. I also still believe the most likely scenario for the total market finish is exactly where we are now: 6 percent below 2021.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

In Praise of the Worker-Owned Company (OR: What to Do About Simon and Schuster)

From The Literary Hub:

Well, Simon & Schuster is not going to be sold, for now. A federal judge ruled in October that Penguin Random House couldn’t buy the publisher, and since then, Simon & Schuster’s parent company has decided against mounting an appeal. That said, the future of America’s third-largest publisher still remains uncertain. Simon & Schuster’s owner seems intent on selling, with potential buyers reportedly including HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, or—gulp—an unnamed private equity firm. As a new author with Atria Books (a Simon & Schuster imprint) none of these options seem especially great. What will happen to Atria? To my wonderful editor? My first book?

Following mergers between major publishing houses in the past, corporate executives have cut jobs, folded imprints, and canceled author contracts. My novel is scheduled to debut next August. My wonderful editor assures me that things will be fine, and I trust him. He is, after all, wonderful. Unfortunately, these kinds of things aren’t up to him. Even the most wonderful editors get no say when it comes to major decisions regarding the future of the “Big Five” publishing houses.

In publishing, as with far too many industries, democracy is all but absent in the workplace. The people who do the day-to-day work of running Simon & Schuster—the editors, marketers, publicists, cover artists, copyeditors, accountants, and so on—don’t get a vote on whether their company should be sold, or to whom. We tend to think of this structure as the natural capitalist order—employees do the work, corporate executives and investors call the shots—but it doesn’t need to be this way.

Our nation’s third-largest publisher doesn’t have to be owned by a mass media conglomerate or a private equity firm. There exists another option, one that would bring much-needed democracy to publishing by putting decision-making power into the hands of the very people who know books best: let the employees of Simon & Schuster purchase Simon & Schuster. They do the work, after all. Let them own their company. Let them call the damn shots.

Worker-owned cooperatives are so rare in America that it’s difficult for us to imagine the sense of pride and ownership that comes when we work for ourselves, participating actively in major company decisions, sharing equally in profits and losses.

But the idea of employees buying and running their own company—even here in America, even in publishing—isn’t as utopian as it sounds: the workforce of WW Norton has successfully owned and managed the venerable publishing house since shortly after World War II, when Mary Norton sold her stock to the company’s editors and managers. They drew up a Joint Stockholders Agreement that still remains in effect, allowing active Norton employees to elect leadership, participate in decisions affecting the company’s future, and share profits. Anyone who leaves Norton must sell back their shares, ensuring that no outside market exists for ownership of the company. There is no risk of a hostile takeover, no fear of an unexpected sale. The employees are free and independent to do what they have done so well for decades: publish kickass books, from classics like the Feminine Mystique and Clockwork Orange to newly released knockouts like The Immortal King Rao and Activities of Daily Living.

By comparison, four of the Big Five publishing houses are subsidiaries of global media conglomerates which are, in turn, majority-owned by four billionaire families from Germany, Australia, and the United States. (Hachette Books, the outlier, is a subsidiary of a global media conglomerate that is minority-owned by a billionaire family). Simon & Schuster is owned by Paramount Global, which is operated and owned by a private “mass media holding company” called National Amusements, which is based in Massachusetts and owned by the billionaire Redstone family. Paramount Global, in an official 2020 press release, gave three reasons for selling the “non-core asset” that we writers and readers refer to as Simon & Schuster:

  1. to fund Paramount’s new streaming services
  2. to pay down debt
  3. to “fund the dividend”

It would be inconceivable for the owners of WW Norton to make such a decision, or even to face such a dilemma, precisely because Norton is owned by its employees. Presumably they would choose not to cannibalize themselves to make wealthy stockholders a little wealthier. Presumably they would not refer to themselves as a “non-core asset.”

But Simon & Schuster, with approximately 1,500 employees, is a far larger company than WW Norton. Could America’s third-largest publisher seriously operate as a cooperative? For inspiration, let’s zip across the Atlantic; the Mondragon Corporation, founded in Spain in the 1950s, is a federation of over 200 cooperatives and organizations that together employ over 80,000 people who collectively own and manage every aspect of their many businesses.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Color PG skeptical about this proposal.

The reason that Simon & Schuster is for sale is that its owner, Paramount Global, wants a big check. Paramount Global wants a big check because, after going through a hierarchy of companies, the wealthy family that ultimately owns and controls S&S wants a big check. In this case, the wealthy family is the Redstones.

PG doubts that the employees of Simon & Schuster collectively, have enough money to satisfy the Redstones. After all, traditional publishing is noted for not paying its employees very well. PG doubts the Redstones would agree to set up a payment plan with the employees. If the Redstones want to sell, PG suspects it’s because they want a big check.

Would a bank or another rich family want to buy Simon & Schuster? PG has his doubts because the traditional publishing business doesn’t earn much money any more. S&S is worth something, but likely not enough to induce anyone responsible to loan the employees the money to pay the Redstones. But, as usual, PG could be wrong.

Paramount scraps deal to sell Simon & Schuster to Penguin after weeks after judge rejected merger

From CNBC:

Paramount Global said Monday it scrapped its $2.2 billion deal to sell book publisher Simon & Schuster to rival Penguin Random House, weeks after a federal judge rejected the merger.

Penguin, which is owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, said it still believes Simon & Schuster is a good fit for its business, but that it accepted Paramount’s decision.

“We believe the judge’s ruling is wrong and planned to appeal the decision, confident we could make a compelling and persuasive argument to reverse the lower court ruling on appeal,” Penguin said in a statement Monday afternoon. “However, we have to accept Paramount’s decision not to move forward.”

Paramount’s decision to pull the plug on the deal came more than a year after the Justice Department sued to block the deal, saying it would hurt competition for books in the publishing world. On Halloween, after a trial that included testimony from bestselling horror author Stephen King, U.S. District Court Judge Florence Y. Pan on Halloween ruled against the deal, delivering a major victory for the Biden administration’s antitrust agenda.

King, who writes books for Simon & Schuster, said he was “delighted” by the ruling. “The proposed merger was never about readers and writers; it was about preserving (and growing) PRH’s market share. In other words: $$$,” he tweeted.

In its announcement Monday, Paramount said Penguin is on the hook for a $200 million termination fee.

Paramount also indicated that it would still seek to unload Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at CNBC and thanks to J. for the tip.


Part 1: Yes, this is the actual CNBC headline. PG checked it on Grammarly, expecting a mild digital uproar over the two “afters”, but Grammarly simply suggested that “judge” and “merger” needed appropriate articles.

Part 2: PG wonders if either side of this deal has decided to move to a different law firm, at least for antitrust matters. In PG’s enormously outsized opinion, this deal screamed of antitrust problems from the first time he read about it and the screaming never stopped until the District Judge put an arrow in its heart.

Of course, there’s no appeal because each party finally consulted adult antitrust lawyers, who likely delivered the news that the case was a loser up and down the legal line and had been since the start.

Part 3: If PG had a financial interest in Penguin, PG would scream bloody murder over a $200 million termination fee. Which officer of Penguin approved this provision? Did the board of directors actually vote to put Penguin on the hook for a busted deal that was dodgy from the very beginning?

Part 4: PG assumes that someone at Bertelsmann, the sole owner of Penguin, approved this transaction. Surely, someone in Gütersloh or several someones in this small German city will be sending out the German equivalent to resumes, résumés or resumés to the entire world.

(PG just learned that the German word for this sort of document is Lebenslauf. Apparently Lebenslauf doesn’t have versions with accent marks.)

Part 5: How are the Mohn family and the managers of various Mohn stiftungs that really own and control Bertlesmann feeling these days? PG doesn’t know whether $200 million is pocket change for these folks or not. He hasn’t looked up the German translation for “You’re Fired!” but expect there is an equivalent term. (He did learn that the German term for “Hit the road!” is Sich auf den Weg machen! or simply, Losfahren!)

(PG apologizes if there is supposed to be an upside-down exclamation point anywhere in all this German. He wasn’t exactly certain how to look that up.)

Print Book Sales Are Slipping

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Unit sales of print books fell 4.8% through the first nine months of 2022, from the comparable period in 2021. Unit sales dropped from 570 million copies sold in the January through September period in 2021 to 542.6 million in 2022 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The sales decline slowed during the third quarter, falling from a drop of 6.6% in the first half of 2021. The decline also follows a year in which unit sales for the full year rose 8.9% over 2020.

Adult fiction has been the strongest category all year, and that was particularly true in the third quarter, when sales jumped 38.5% over the third quarter of 2021, leading to a 9.2% sales increase through the first nine months of the year. To date, all four books that have sold more than one million copies were novels, and two of the three books that have sold more than 900,000 copies are in the adult fiction category. To no one’s surprise, Colleen Hoover has been the bestselling author so far this year, with sales of It Ends with Us nearing two million copies sold, while her Verity and Ugly Love have also posted sales of more than one million copies each. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the fourth title to have sold more than one million copies through September, with sales just over 1.6 million.

. . . .

The top-selling adult nonfiction book in the first nine months of 2022 was Atomic Habits by James Clear, which sold more than 933,000 copies, higher than the 902,000 copies that American Marxism by Mark Levin, the #1 adult nonfiction book at this point in 2021, sold. (Atomic Habits sold about 610,000 copies through September 2021.) The 933,000 copies sold of Atomic Habits was just about double that of the second-bestselling adult nonfiction title so far in 2022, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Among the adult nonfiction subcategories that dragged down sales were history/law/political science, where sales fell 16.8% from last year, as well as general nonfiction (down 15.1%), and reference (off 13.7%). The travel area continued to bounce back from a few down years, with unit sales up 18.3%.

The only other major category to post an increase in sales besides adult fiction was young adult fiction, where sales inched up 0.4%, helped by a good third quarter. Jenny Han was the category star, with four of her books tied to the streaming service hit The Summer I Turned Pretty selling about 1.1 million copies.

Sales in juvenile fiction and nonfiction were down 8% and 9.9%, respectively. All juvenile fiction subcategories had declines through September, with general juvenile sales down 15.1%, and sales of classics fell 12.3%. In juvenile nonfiction, unit sales in the social situations/family/health segment had the largest decline, falling 19.5%, while biography/autobiography sales dropped 13.6%. The only subcategory to have an increase in the nine-month period was holidays/festivals/religion, where sales increased 4.8%.

All print formats had declines in unit sales in the period, with the struggling mass market segment having an 18.4% sales drop. Hardcover unit sales fell 8.9%, much higher than the 1.8% drop reported by the cheaper trade paperback format.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Are Entry-Level Jobs Disappearing in Publishing?

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

You’re a recent literature graduate or someone pivoting in their career who wants to acquire an entry level publishing position. However, entry level publishing position requirements far exceed entry-level. You continuously encounter entry-level positions, with meagre pay, that require or implicitly request previous experience. Phrases like ‘3-5 years of publishing experience required’ or ‘contracts experience is not necessary but highly valued’ are a familiar advert.

Unfortunately, this job advertising strategy is commonplace in both the US and UK, and indicates that despite its low pay and entry level categorization, genuine entry-level is rapidly disappearing within publishing. A recent analysis of over 95,000 job postings found that 61 percent of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees required at least three years or more of experience. Even in 2014, economic studies showed that employers were raising experience requirements for entry-level positions within the US in response to the Great Recession that made entry-level positions scarce. Today, the acceleration of this employment tactic is apparent in many advertised publishing positions, requiring not just a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but equivalent experience to boot.

Many struggle to enter the publishing industry as ‘organizations transfer the competitiveness of the industry into the selection and hiring process of entry-level talent, which can be seen as unrealistic and limiting,’ says Lọ́lá Béjidé, an early careers strategist and founder of the Soluman Consultancy. Interindustry competitiveness produces a Catch-22 scenario; people struggling to enter the publishing sector must do so by obtaining work experience, but cannot gain work experience as they are unable to enter the industry without it.

. . . .

Internships are one avenue through which many try to obtain publishing work experience. But publishing internships are scarce, many unpaid, impeding lower socio-economic people from obtaining work experience to enter the industry. A 2021 Publisher’s Association report indicated the socio-economic demographic within publishing remained largely middle-class and continued ‘to represent major barriers to inclusion’. 74 percent of respondents had a ‘middle class’ determinant, compared to only 55 percent in the UK population. The persistence of unpaid internships or poverty wages within publishing not only exploits its workers, but bars ‘graduates from poorer backgrounds, whose parents [could not] afford to subsidize their experience’. Consequently, the publishing landscape is manufactured to produce an inequitable playing field that prohibits, as Béjidé describes, ‘individuals from ethnically diverse communities as well as those from social economically challenging environments’ from entering the industry at all, despite publisher’s woefully insufficient diversity schemes.

One could argue that if the industry allowed only paid work experience, it would decrease the amount of work experience aspiring publishers could obtain. It is a pervasive industry myth that while many publishers cannot afford to pay interns, the experience interns gain is sufficient enough to get their foot in the door. However, this assessment does not consider that unpaid labour does not increase the likelihood of work experience for the average person looking to enter publishing, but rather produces a socio-economic stratification. Publishers reliance upon unpaid labour under the guise of creating a proliferation of industry ‘opportunities’ is more exploitative than it is altruistic as companies can save money by using interns to do that work without having to pay junior employees…the more interns a company has, the fewer entry-level jobs it’s likely to open’. When asked if they had ever felt overwhelmed by the workload of their unpaid internship, a Scottish interviewee, 23, replied:

Yeah 100%. Because they didn’t give us set working days or hard deadlines it was difficult to balance the many tasks we had to do. They told me I’d have to commit to 12 hours a week but it wasn’t set days. And also they gave us multiple tasks so some weeks two would be like expected of you so there’d be weeks I spent more time or less time at the internship and that overwhelmed me, it would’ve been easier to go into an office two days a week to do as much work as possible in your 6-hour shifts then come home and that was it, done with till the next week.

The interviewee knew their tasks were beyond the scope of internship work, stating that they were involved in multiple lead roles such as lead editor for a book, proofreader for two novels, representative for two authors as well as their events coordinator and a stage reporter for multiple books. A 20 hour job, dissertation and extracurriculars precluded marketing duties.

Even in contexts in which interns are paid, many have reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work demanded of them. An American interviewee, who has been struggling to break into publishing beyond entry-level work for three years, described how their initial internship was more than they knew they were getting into, especially for the pay provided. They were offered a full-time position, however, a previous employee of the company discouraged them from taking it due to the exploitative nature of the press.

I didn’t end up taking the position with [publisher] but even as an intern…I didn’t think minimum wage was enough; after the person I was reporting to left I was basically the only editor that was working full-time. There was another intern working with me but she only worked full-time two days a week. I was doing the work of an intern and of the editor and most of the time it was completely overwhelming; I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I were to have taken the position.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

What the ruling against the PRH-S&S merger means for the publishing business

From Mike Shatzkin:

Judge Florence Y. Pan ruled . . . that the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House could not go forward. The ruling was explicitly to protect the “competition” for the “anticipated top-selling books”. In other words, the big books by big authors for which only the Big Five can compete regularly (with occasional bids coming in from a couple of other next-tier houses) will continue to have five well-funded suitors. The judge ruled that cutting that number from five to four would reduce the spend among that cohort of books, which is almost certainly true. (I comment on the fact of it; I have no idea about the law.)

What this decision says to me is:

  1. None of the Big Five can merge with each other without triggering the same concern Judge Pan cited in making this decision. That will not be good news to Hachette and HarperCollins, both of which opposed the PRH-S&S merger but probably hoped they could pursue S&S if the publisher remained independent.
  2. The five biggest publishers are probably at their high water mark for market share. The only way to expand a publishing house is to have a larger number of active titles. Publishing new titles profitably has become exceedingly difficult. But publishers can increasingly milk sales out of the long tail of backlist, thanks to the new digital marketing world we live in. So the biggest publishers have grown their title base by acquisition. This decision would appear to cut off that avenue, or at least cut publishers off from the biggest potential additions.
  3. The biggest winner with today’s decision is Ingram. The list of titles distributed and managed under their auspices can continue to grow, because Ingram doesn’t buy the companies or own the titles under their umbrella. Instead, they provide services that require scale to publishers without the publisher needing to finance the overhead. They can pay “by the drink”. So Ingram’s steady growth in title count and sales volume can continue.
  4. The expectation here had been that publishing would continue to consolidate until sometime later this decade PRH would be the only one left. Thanks to this decision, that won’t be. The Big Five will continue to operate as shrinking but very profitable entities for a long time. In fact, one would expect over time that they too, one by one, will give up maintaining overheads in favor of using Ingram themselves. So there won’t be One Big Publisher in ten years, but there very well might be One Big Distributor.

The one part of all that which probably requires more explanation is the second point, that publishers can’t reliably publish new titles profitably anymore.

When I (and most of today’s senior executives) were coming up in the business, almost all books sold were sold in bookstores. So only publishers with a selling relationship with the stores and the operations capability to deliver to them could play. There was a moat around their activity that prevented interlopers or amateurs (or “self-publishers”) from being truly competitive. For that reason, for many years, established publishers could reliably push out some thousands of copies of every title they issued and, in fact, achieved positive cash flow on a very high percentage of them. And then some stuck around to become longterm backlist.

In those halcyon days, three decades ago (or shortly before the arrival of Amazon and then ebooks), there were no more than 500,000 individual titles available in English in the world. So each new book from publishers competed against 500,000 existing books and was assured a minimal exposure through bookstores.

Today Ingram has nearly 20 million titles set up for printing on demand, which means they can ship a copy you order today to you tomorrow even if it isn’t printed at the moment. So each new title is competing against 40 times as many competitive titles as one did back then. And there is no assured distribution at all. Bookstores have shrunk in number and in size so that perhaps as little as 20-25 percent (or perhaps as much as 30-35 percent, but no more…) of print book sales are made at actual retail stores. All the rest of it, print and (of course) ebooks, is transacted online. There are advantages to being a big publisher in that context; you have more digital marketers on your staff and more digital tools and information to apply to selling what you have. And anything you have can be sold anytime. No need to get “inventory in place” in order to capitalize on a marketing break.

But the moat is gone. The inherently advantaged position of a title issued by an established publisher is diluted to near meaninglessness.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG hasn’t posted anything by Mike Shatzkin for a long time.

For those who are not familiar with him, Mike is a long-time participant in New York publishing. His father was also in the publishing business, so traditional New York publishing is in Mike’s bones.

During the early years of TPV, Mike’s posts were very helpful to PG’s understanding about the ins and outs, traditions and folkways of the traditional publishing business.

Mike described a time when there were lots of different publishers in New York, small, medium-sized and large. But even the large publishers were small compared to the dinosaurs of today’s publishing world. The publishing world Mike wrote about was innovative and peopled with more than a few characters who went their own way and did things differently.

Mike also told of an era when there were many more printers than Ingram. He tracked the growth of Ingram to pretty much a trade publishing printing and distribution monopoly. Ingram replaced another bevy of small printers, distribution warehouses, etc., who couldn’t compete because they were too small.

When PG first read about the actions of the U.S. Justice Department to stop Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster, he wondered whether Justice would take a look at Ingram as another potential for an antitrust action in the book business.

PG found a partial list of Ingram’s publishing clients on their website. Observant visitors to TPV will note the absence of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House and any of the the other remaining US publishing conglomerates on Ingram’s client list so the list is much longer than the one Ingram published.

When PG first found the list, the thought came across his mind that, if he were Ingram’s corporate counsel, he would advise taking down any list of a whole bunch of Ingram customers so as to not wave a red flag toward antitrust authorities.

I Don’t Care! I Really, Really Don’t…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I constantly get letters from people talking about traditional publishing in one fashion or another, assuming, I suppose, that I still care about the buggy-whip factories of publishing. And sometimes, like a few days ago, I post about something going on in traditional publishing that just makes me laugh.I do posts like that to entertain myself because I had to live in that traditional publishing world for decades. I can make snorting noises at it now if I want.

I do have interest when copyright issues are being hammered out in court by a traditional publisher, or a trademark issues. But past that legal interest, or a watching-the-car-wreck enjoyment, I flat don’t care one bit about traditional publishing.

I do care that so many beginning writers spend their dreams that way, but as the old saying goes, you can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t get them to think.

So I honestly wish the big five would collapse even faster to save writers from themselves. But past that, I just don’t care.. This is almost 2023 and it is not my issue some writers and a lot of other pundits in publishing want to stay anchored in 1990.

The big industry of publishing has so gone past the old methods of traditional publishers, it is amazing. And so many writers in traditional come to me about not making any money anymore, or not being able to “sell” a book to a publisher, when there are thousands and thousands of writers making fantastic money indie publishing their own work and having total control of it.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Penguin Seeks Simon & Schuster’s Support to Fight for Imperiled Book Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

Book-publishing giant Penguin Random House wants to appeal a federal judge’s decision blocking its acquisition of Simon & Schuster, but the first step is to ensure its would-be deal partner stays in the legal fight.

Penguin parent Bertelsmann SE has had talks with Simon & Schuster owner Paramount Global about offering inducements, including cash, that would lead Paramount to support an appeal and continue pursuing the transaction, according to people familiar with the situation.

Paramount now has a variety of factors to consider, including whether an appeal can be successful. The company could choose to walk away from the deal and put Simon & Schuster back up for sale, but there is no guarantee it would fetch a price as high as the $2.18 billion offered by Penguin Random House.

The companies don’t have much time to come to an agreement. Under the terms of their 2020 deal, Bertelsmann agreed it would pay Paramount a termination fee of $200 million if the acquisition was “completely prohibited or if the termination date is reached,” according to the Bertelsmann 2021 annual report. The termination date is Nov. 21, say people familiar with the deal.

. . . .

On Oct. 31, U.S. District Judge Florence Pan blocked Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster on the grounds that the deal would lessen competition. The judge accepted the Justice Department’s argument that the agreement would lead to lower compensation for writers because there would be less competition between publishers of anticipated bestsellers.

Penguin Random House said it would request an expedited appeal. In a quarterly filing on Wednesday, Paramount Global said the company is “discussing next steps with Bertelsmann and Penguin Random House, including seeking an expedited appeal.”

Together, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would have accounted for slightly more than 27% of all print books sold in the U.S. through the 52-week period ended Oct. 24, according to book tracker NPD BookScan. HarperCollins Publishers would be the next largest player, accounting for an 11.1% share.

HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray expressed interest in Simon & Schuster during the trial over the Justice Department’s challenge to the deal. HarperCollins parent News Corp, which also owns The Wall Street Journal, is considering a proposal from Rupert Murdoch that it merge with Fox Corp., the other wing of the media baron’s empire.

Michael Pietsch, chief executive of Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group, also said at trial that Hachette Livre, which includes all of Lagardere’s global book-publishing interests, would be a potential buyer. KKR & Co. has expressed interest in Simon & Schuster and could emerge as a potential buyer, according to people familiar with the situation.

One issue for Paramount and potential bidders to consider is whether the judge’s ruling could make it difficult to pursue any merger between major book publishers. Some people close to the situation said the full details of the judge’s ruling could shed light on that question. A redacted, public version of the judge’s decision is expected in coming days.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

To give traditionally-published authors a sense of their relative importance in the world of Big Publishing, PG hasn’t seen any news story about this merger that has included the opinion of any author who might well be impacted by such a merger/acquisition.

S&S Sales Up 10% in Q3, but Profits Are Flat

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Simon & Schuster couldn’t defy gravity forever: The publisher’s soaring results in the first half of 2022 slowed in the third quarter. Still, sales rose 10% in the quarter ended September 30, 2022, over last year’s comparable period to $353 million, while profits were flat at $93 million. For the first nine months of 2022, sales were up 19%, to $863 million, and earnings increased 29%, to $223 million. CEO Jonathan Karp said the nation’s third largest trade publisher is on track for another record year.

Karp credited the continued success of S&S, despite being for sale of more than two years, to “having the right books and at the right time,” as well as “great execution” by all S&S divisions.

In the most recent quarter, higher costs finally caught up to S&S as it has with its major competitors, but Karp commended the company’s operations teams for “surmounting the challenges presented by economic headwinds.” The 10% sales gain in the quarter was led by S&S’s adult, audio, and international divisions, as well as its distribution business, which officially opened a new facility in Jackson, Tenn., in the quarter.

S&S has benefitted from four Colleen Hoover bestsellers, with the newest blockbuster It Starts with Us, released October 18, hitting #1 across S&S’s international territories and providing a great start to the publisher’s fourth quarter. The adult publishing group also had a major nonfiction hit in Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died, which has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in August. On the international front, S&S U.K. is having a record year and has new hits with A Pocketful of Happiness by Richard E. Grant and The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Penguin Random House Stands by Plan to Publish Amy Coney Barrett’s Book

From The Wall Street Journal:

Penguin Random House on Monday said it is committed to publishing a coming book by Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett despite a dissenting online open letter that has garnered more than 600 signatures, including many from the publishing world.

The letter, which asks Penguin Random House to re-evaluate its decision to publish the book, argues that Justice Barrett’s vote in June in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade represented an attack on human rights, including the rights to “privacy, self determination, and bodily autonomy along with the federal right to an abortion in the United States.”

By Monday afternoon, the letter had attracted more than 625 signatures from authors, translators and agents. The signatories included more than 75 who identified themselves as Penguin Random House employees. The publisher employs approximately 11,000 globally, including more than 5,000 in the U.S., according to the company.

The book is being published by the Sentinel imprint of Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House. “We remain fully committed to publishing authors who, like Justice Barrett, substantively shape today’s most important conversations,” said Adrian Zackheim, publisher of Sentinel, a leading conservative house, in the publisher’s first public comments on the situation.

Mr. Zackheim said Justice Barrett’s book is still being written and would likely be published in 2024. Although he declined to provide details about the work’s content, Politico in April 2021 described it as focused on why judges shouldn’t allow their decisions to be shaped by personal feelings.

A Penguin Random House spokeswoman said Mr. Zackheim was speaking on behalf of Penguin Random House U.S. On Monday, PEN America issued a statement rejecting calls to cancel the book. Penguin Random House is the world’s largest consumer book publisher.

Efforts to reach Justice Barrett were unsuccessful.

The dispute comes at a time of heightened political differences nationwide, creating division within the country’s largest publishers as employees have felt more emboldened to speak their minds on sensitive subjects. General-interest publishers such as Penguin Random House see it as their core mission to publish the ideas and opinions of a variety of leading political and intellectual leaders, arguing readers need to understand the views of those in power.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


The Hill, a Washington newspaper had an article about Justice Barrett’s publishing contract. That article included the following:

(Justice Sonia) Sotomayor previously received a $1.175 million advance for her memoir published in 2013.

Justice Clarence Thomas has secured the highest book advance apart from Barrett’s, a sum of $1.5 million for his memoir published in 2007.

Penguin Random House Blocked From Acquiring Rival Publisher Simon & Schuster

From The Wall Street Journal:

A federal judge on Monday blocked Penguin Random House from acquiring rival book publisher Simon & Schuster for about $2.18 billion, agreeing with the Justice Department that the planned merger would unlawfully lessen competition.

U.S. District Judge Florence Pan accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that some writers would likely be harmed if Penguin Random House, the world’s largest consumer-book publisher, was allowed to acquire another of the five largest book publishers in the U.S.

“The Court finds that the United States has shown that the effect of the proposed merger may be substantially to lessen competition in the market for the U.S. publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books,” Judge Pan wrote in a two-page order.

The ruling, which follows an August trial in Washington, D.C., provided a long-awaited court victory for Biden-era antitrust enforcers who had lost a series of recent cases after pledging to take a more aggressive approach against corporate deal making, especially in industries that have become more consolidated.

The losses, including in the healthcare and agriculture industries, had served as a reminder that much of the administration’s antitrust agenda is dependent on persuading the federal judiciary. Justice Department officials were looking to the publishing case as a chance to build fresh, favorable court precedent.

. . . .

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, the Justice Department’s top antitrust official, said the publishing merger would have decreased author compensation and “diminished the breadth, depth and diversity of our stories and ideas.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

In Defense of Library Lending

From Publishers Weekly:

The Hachette v. Internet Archive case has been in the press lately following the parties’ filing of summary judgment motions. But the case is not about the end of copyright as we know it, as Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid implied in his July 18 PW Soapbox, “Standing Up for Copyright.” Nor is it a “torpedo” aimed at the Copyright Act, as AAP CEO Maria Pallante said in a recent PW q&a. Rather, the case concerns the special role of libraries to provide open, nondiscriminatory access to books.

At issue in the publishers’ lawsuit is a practice called controlled digital lending, the principles of which my colleague Dave Hansen and I codified in a 2018 white paper. Under CDL, libraries (including the Internet Archive) make scans of their legally acquired physical books and loan the scans in lieu of the print under rules that mimic physical lending: only one person can borrow a scan at a time; the scans are DRM-protected; and only one format can circulate at a time to maintain a one-to-one “owned-to-loan” ratio. In other words, if the scan is checked out, its print counterpart cannot circulate, and vice versa.

As librarians see it, CDL is a traditional checkout function adapted for the needs of the modern library user. Under the Copyright Act, libraries have always been free to lend the books they have legally acquired without permission or having to pay additional fees. So why are these major publishers suing over CDL?

Because some publishers want to force libraries into a world in which digital books can’t be owned and can only be licensed (through services like OverDrive, for example), usually at significantly higher prices and under restrictive terms. Central to their lawsuit, the publishers argue that a library loan via CDL represents a lost license fee. And while I understand why these large corporate publishers would like to force libraries into an expensive, limited, non-negotiated, and highly profitable licensed access market for e-books, libraries should not have to buy (and rebuy) expensive, time-limited licenses to provide digital access to the physical books they have already purchased.

In her PW q&a, Pallante claimed that CDL will “irrevocably weaken the ability of authors to license their works.” In fact, a scan of a legally acquired print library book loaned under CDL does not negatively impact the market for publishers or authors. To the extent that a library loan has any impact on the marketplace, a digital loan under CDL is no different than the loan of the print book. Look at it this way: no one disputes that a library can mail a print book it owns to a patron. With CDL, libraries can now deliver access to their physical books using a more efficient means: the internet. And if a book’s digital checkout under CDL is controlled to function just like the physical checkout, what difference does it make whether a patron borrows the library’s physical book or the library’s scan of that book?

Pallante suggests such efficiency is a bad thing, citing the publishers’ long expressed desire for “friction” in digital library lending. But having legally purchased their physical books, the IA and its partner libraries are entitled under copyright law to lend them. Nothing in the Copyright Act requires there be any amount of friction in the lending process. Copyright law does not protect friction.

It is time for the major publishers to stop treating each library loan as a lost consumer sale. In his Soapbox, Kupferschmid complained that the IA has “amassed a collection without paying the rights holders a cent.” In fact, the books were paid for. These are the books that sit on our libraries’ shelves or in our off-site repositories. They were all purchased by a library or otherwise legally acquired, and the authors were all paid in accordance with their publishing contracts. Furthermore, this is what libraries do: amass and preserve collections that serve an important, fundamental purpose in society long recognized and valued by the public, courts, Congress, as well as by publishers and authors.

Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding this case, CDL is not some form of library-sanctioned piracy. CDL is based in copyright law to respect rights holders while broadening access to the books that library systems spend billions of dollars to collect and maintain for the public—including long-neglected, out-of-print books with enormous social and scholarly value and books for which commercial e-book licenses are not available.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon KDP & Kindle Unlimited: What It Means for Authors and Publishers

From Written Word Media:

Kindle Unlimited (KU), a subscription service through Amazon that allowed readers unlimited access to books for just $10 a month, was unveiled by Amazon in July 2014. The reception by readers was mostly positive, finally a Netflix for Books! The reaction from authors and publishers was mixed. Kindle Unlimited was doing to independent authors what Spotify did to musicians. By offering their work for free to subscribers, they were potentially lowering the revenue that an author or publisher could make from each book. In this article we explore how KU has evolved over the past 5 years and its current impact on authors.

Kindle Unlimited & KDP Select: A History

Since the inception of KDP Select, there has always been a KDP Select Global Fund, which is a pot of money that goes to authors whose books are downloaded for free through Amazon’s eBook programs. Authors who enrolled their eBooks in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select prior to the launch of KU could have their books downloaded for free by Kindle owners who were allotted one free eBook per month through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. In the days prior to KU, the Global Fund totaled around $1 million, and was divided proportionally amongst the authors who had their books downloaded.

In July 2014 with the introduction of KU, the Global Fund increased to $2.4 M, and over the next year as more readers signed up for KU and more authors enrolled in KDP Select, that Global Fund increased to $11.5 M by July 2015, and today sits right around $25 M.

A whopping $267.9 M was paid out to authors through the KDP Select Global Fund in 2018. If the pot stays at its current size ($25.6 million per month) for the rest of 2019, Amazon will pay out $299.4 M to authors this year. It is possible that the Global Fund will continue to grow in the remaining months of 2019, which would make the total Global Fund payout for 2019 north of $299.4 M.

For the first year of KU, the payouts were simple: Each author was paid every time someone downloaded and read at least 10% of their book.

When KU was a year old, in June 2015, Amazon announced that they would begin paying participating authors by pages read, instead of by the number of books downloaded. At the same time, they introduced KENPC (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count), which accounted for type size and line spacing to prevent anyone from cheating the system and artificially making their books longer. Amazon calculated the payout per page by beginning with their monthly KDP Select Global Fund and dividing it by the total number of (KENP) pages read. That first month it was decreed that each page was worth $0.005779.

As more readers and more authors entered into the KU system, the Global Fund size did not compensate for the increasing number of pages read every month, so the payout per page read dropped steadily in 2015.

In January of 2016, Amazon announced yet another change in how they were going to pay authors with the introduction of KENPC v2.0 (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count). This was supposed to standardize for additional spacing and text features. Some authors saw their page counts, and thus their total potential payout per book, drop, while others saw them rise. Amazon claimed that the average change across all KDP titles would be under 5%, but individual authors saw up to 10% changes in page length.

An additional change implemented in V2.0 was the capping of payouts at page 3,000 for longer titles. This affected mostly dictionaries and large reference books but did have some implications for larger boxed sets as well. Since these changes, the payout per page has increased back up toward $0.005 per page.

Take a look at how these changes have affected payouts from the past year:

Calculating Payout by Book

Under KU, using July 2019’s payout numbers, these are the maximum payouts per book based on total pages read:

KENP Pages ReadPayout Per Page*Max Payout

*based on payout numbers from July 2019

Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see why many authors were upset by the change to pay per page. Before KU, if you wrote a 150 page eBook, and priced it at $2.99 you would make $2.09 (after Amazon’s 30% royalty) off of a sale of that book and you would realize that revenue as soon as a reader downloaded the book. Under KU, that same book nets you $0.75, and that is only once a reader completes the entire book, which may happen within 24 hours or 6 months of the reader borrowing the book. Additionally, as an author, you do not know what the payout per page will be until the following month, so it’s hard to determine what the max. value of your book in KU is in any given month.

Authors do have a choice of whether or not their book is included in KU. An author can simply opt-out of KU altogether by not enrolling their book in KDP Select. This decision proves agonizing for many authors, and there are authors who make good arguments for both sides.

Hugh Howey, a successful indie author, offers some perspective in his blog post Why KU Short Fiction Still Makes Sense. He argues that the KENP system is leveling the playing field among indie authors. The amount of work that goes into writing 60,000 words is the same, regardless of whether or not you publish those 60,000 words as one novel or six, 10,000 word short stories. Under the KENP system, both scenarios are compensated equally, instead of being skewed in favor of short stories, which were often priced the same as full-length novels before. Howey is supportive of Amazon, and sung their praises in a recent interview with Digital Book World:

“Kindle Unlimited is just one example of the enormous sums of money an author misses out on by going with a major publisher. We’re talking $150,000,000 a year going directly to authors, and if you sign with a major publisher, you are taking yourself out of that pool.” – Hugh Howey

However, some authors argue that inclusion in KDP Select (and by extension, KU) authors are losing out on other revenue streams and becoming increasingly more reliant on Amazon.

Link to the rest at Written Word Media

PG says, “Do what you want. Whatever floats your boat.”

One of PG’s major problems with traditional publishing is that everything . . . goes . . . so . . . slowly.

It takes forever between when you finish a polished draft to deal with your agent reading and pitching it to the year-long process of the book going through all the stages (and people) traditional publishers use to ensure “quality.” Then, there’s a lot of busywork the publisher assigns the author to do in order to market the book.

PG’s not a guy who suffers inefficient organizations quietly. “We will sell no book before its time,” drives him crazy, just like waiting in long lines to get in anywhere does.

Plus Mrs. PG likes being the boss of her own writing career. That career has gone forward much faster and better and been far more profitable than it would have been had she stuck with traditional publishers.

PG suggests that a writing career should depend on how many stories you have inside you instead of how many corporate drones need to say yes before one of your stories finds its readers.

And he doesn’t mind it one bit that Amazon provides authors lots of different ways to make money from their books.


Additional PG comment the day following his posting: He apologizes for not noticing the date the OP was published. His excuse is that he was pulling together numbers for his accountant for the Covid-delayed income tax deadline. Doing that kind of thing kicks his OCD into high gear and he can’t multitask in the same manner he’s accustomed to doing.

“Get Big Fast.” How Amazon Accelerated the Commodification of Literature

From The Literary Hub:

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos came up with the slogan “Get Big Fast” because he knew size was crucial to exacting ever lower prices from suppliers. Publishers have tried to respond to Amazon’s power by doing the exact same thing, accelerating their decades-long campaign of mergers and acquisitions to consolidate into an ever smaller number of bigger firms all trying to publish ever bigger books (like the memoirs of Barack and Michelle Obama, for which Penguin Random House advanced an astonishing $65 million).

The push towards “big” explains Penguin Random House’s play to absorb Simon & Schuster. Matt Stoller describes the merger as “defensive, an attempt to gain bargaining power against a monopolist bookseller.” This kind of producer integration is an understandable response to overly powerful buyers, especially since antitrust law prevents separate companies from banding together to create countervailing power.

But it causes knock-on problems for suppliers and workers downstream. As Stoller puts it, “it’s not fair that authors must sell on the terms laid down by increasingly powerful publishers, but this dynamic is driven by the far more unfair situation whereby publishers are dealing with the utterly ruthless trillion dollar powerhouse Amazon.”

An increasing “bestseller” mentality contributes to the vulnerability of independent presses to being absorbed. Mass-market retailers only stock the titles they predict will be hits, and online marketplaces amplify the books that are shifting fastest. This results in “a cycle so self-fulfilling it’s nearly tautological: Best sellers sell the best because they are best sellers.” As a result, according to book analyst Mike Shatzkin, “the medium-sized publishers can’t sustain themselves anymore. They can’t compete for the really big titles, so they get bought.”

Even the very biggest publishers are merging with one another. Incredibly, Penguin and Random House (the world’s two biggest trade publishers) were permitted to merge in 2013, creating a behemoth of unimaginable scale, now fully owned by private German conglomerate Bertelsmann. That giant is now persuading regulators to let it gulp down Simon & Schuster, one of the world’s biggest remaining publishers.

As publishers go around gobbling up others and being gobbled up themselves, they have sought to recover losses to Amazon with gains exacted from writers and libraries. Writers have found themselves with less power to negotiate the terms of their contracts than perhaps ever before, regularly being obliged to sign away their worldwide English-language rights, audio rights, even graphic novel rights all in one go. Libraries, meanwhile, have seen mounting costs and onerous conditions for the electronic materials they buy from major publishers, even as electronic materials account for an ever larger share of their collections.

Amazon long refused to license the titles it publishes to libraries on any terms at all. In 2020, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the crucial importance of remote access to books, some US states passed legislation to require publishers to license titles to libraries on reasonable terms, and Amazon was finally forced to bend. Some publishers, like Hachette, make their books available to North American libraries but refuse to license them to libraries throughout the UK, Australia, and New Zealand on any terms at all. In other words, as more and more value gets siphoned further up the food chain, there’s less and less for everyone else.

While Amazon started with books, that was never its main game. Right from the beginning it planned to use books we searched for and bought to gather data on us in order to sell us more stuff and, ideally, take over the world. Ebooks were a perfect fit for Amazon’s extractive mindset, because they cost us more in terms of privacy than physical titles ever could. Amazon knows what we search for, what we read, and what we listen to—when and for how long. This “actionable market intelligence” allows it to poach authors, market its own titles to readers, and cross-sell non-book items to readers. The combination of surveillance and vertical integration means that Amazon vastly out-powers both publishers and other retailers, cementing its dominance, and giving it more opportunities to spy on readers.

This is the true heart of “surveillance capitalism”—not the idea that Big Tech uses data-mining and machine learning to create mind-control systems that bypass our critical faculties and trick us into buying whatever they want to sell us. Rather, Big Tech abuses monopoly power to deprive us of choice by limiting what we can buy, redirecting our searches to hide rivals’ products, and locking us into its ecosystem with technologies we can’t alter without risking a lengthy prison sentence.

Amazon tracks the phrases we highlight, the words we look up, who else is reading from the same address. All this allows it to deduce the most intimate information about our lives: whether we’re struggling with our gender identity or sexual orientation, if we think our partner is cheating or that we might be depressed, if we’re having money problems or struggling to get pregnant or considering leaving our jobs. Public libraries have some of this same information, and they guard it fiercely. But Amazon feeds it into an insatiable machine designed to extract maximum profit. If you, as a reader, feel uncomfortable with this, that’s too bad: DRM makes it illegal for you to read or listen to the books you’ve purchased on surveillance-free platforms.

But our individual exposure and commoditization is just the beginning of the harm that was wrought. Amazon used books to extract data on consumers and used that data to slowly subsume all else. The data that came out of physical books and later ebooks and audiobooks all fed into that flywheel that gave it ever more information, which enabled it to attract ever more customers and ever more products, and which has ultimately ended up giving it the power to squeeze its suppliers and workers to near asphyxiation.

There’s no reason to believe this flywheel will slow down without intervention. The money Amazon squeezes out all along the supply chain funds its famous “kill zone.” Anyone who enters Amazon’s territory (or that of Facebook, Google, and other giants) knows they’ll be bought or destroyed. Amazon threw away $200 million in a single month when it went after the company behind, first weakening it by bribing away its customers with impossibly low prices, then acquiring it for a fraction of its previous value. At that point Amazon shut down its new acquisition and put its own prices back up.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Where Is All the Book Data?

From Public Books:

Culture industries increasingly use our data to sell us their products. It’s time to use their data to study them. To that end, we created the Post45 Data Collective, an open access site that peer reviews and publishes literary and cultural data. This a partnership between the Data Collective and Public Books, a series called Hacking the Culture Industries, brings you data-driven essays that change how we understand audiobooks, bestselling books, streaming music, video games, influential literary institutions such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, and more. Together, they show a new way of understanding how culture is made, and how we can make it better.

—Laura McGrath and Dan Sinykin

. . . .

After the first lockdown in March 2020, I went looking for book sales data. I’m a data scientist and a literary scholar, and I wanted to know what books people were turning to in the early days of the pandemic for comfort, distraction, hope, guidance. How many copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s pandemic novel Station Eleven were being sold in COVID-19 times compared to when the novel debuted in 2014? And what about Giovanni Boccaccio’s much older—14th-century—plague stories, The Decameron? Were people clinging to or fleeing from pandemic tales during peak coronavirus panic? You might think, as I naively did, that a researcher would be able to find out exactly how many copies of a book were sold in certain months or years. But you, like me, would be wrong.

I went looking for book sales data, only to find that most of it is proprietary and purposefully locked away. What I learned was that the single most influential data in the publishing industry—which, every day, determines book contracts and authors’ lives—is basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry. And I learned that this is a big problem.

The problem with book sales data may not, at first, be apparent. Every week, the New York Times of course releases its famous list of “bestselling” books, but this list does not include individual sales numbers. Moreover, select book sales figures are often reported to journalists—like the fact that Station Eleven has sold more than 1.5 million copies overall—and also shared through outlets like Publishers Weekly. However, the underlying source for all these sales figures is typically an exclusive subscription service called BookScan: the most granular, comprehensive, and influential book sales data in the industry (though it still has significant holes—more on that to come).

Since its launch in 2001, BookScan has grown in authority. All the major publishing houses now rely on BookScan data, as do many other publishing professionals and authors. But, as I found to my surprise, pretty much everybody else is explicitly banned from using BookScan data, including academics. The toxic combination of this data’s power in the industry and its secretive inaccessibility to those beyond the industry reveals a broader problem. If we want to understand the contemporary literary world, we need better book data. And we need this data to be free, open, and interoperable.

Fortunately, there are a number of forward-thinking people who are already leading the charge for open book data. The Seattle Public Library is one of the few libraries in the country that releases (anonymized) book checkout data online, enabling anyone to download it from the internet for free. It isn’t book sales data, but it’s close. And such data might help us understand how the popularity of certain books fluctuates over time and in response to historical events like the COVID-19 pandemic (especially if more libraries around the country join the open data effort). Literary scholars have also begun to compile “counterdata” about the publishing industry. Richard So, a professor of English and cultural analytics at McGill University, and Laura McGrath, an English professor at Temple University, have respectively collected data about the race and ethnicity of authors published by mainstream publishing houses. Through their work, So and McGrath each prove that the Big Five houses have historically been dominated by white authors and that they continue to systematically reinforce whiteness today.

While all of this data is powerful in its own right, it becomes even more powerful if we can combine it all together: if we can merge author demographic data with library checkout data or with other literary trends. This promise anchors the Post45 Data Collective, an open-access repository for literary and cultural data that was founded by McGrath and Emory professor Dan Sinykin, and that I now lead as a coeditor with Sinykin. One of the goals of the repository is to help researchers get credit for the data that they painstakingly collect, clean, and share. But a broader goal is to share free cultural data with anybody who wants to reuse and recombine it to better understand contemporary literature, music, art, and more.

. . . .

BookScan’s influence in the publishing world is clear and far-reaching. To an editor, BookScan numbers offer two crucial data points: (1) the sales history of the potential author, if it exists, and (2) the sales history of comparable, or “comp,” titles. These data points, if deemed unfavorable, can mean a book is dead in the water.

Take it from freelance editor Christina Boys, whom I spoke with over email, and who worked for 20 years as an editor at two of the Big Five publishing houses (Simon & Schuster and Hachette Book Group). Boys told me that BookScan data is “very important” for deciding whether to acquire or pass on a book; BookScan is also used to determine the size of an advance, to dictate the scale of a marketing campaign or book tour, and to help sell subsidiary rights like translation rights or book club rights. “A poor sales history on BookScan often results in an immediate pass,” Boys said.

Clayton Childress, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, came to similar conclusions in his 2012 study of BookScan data, in which he interviewed and observed more than 40 acquisition editors from across the country. Bad book sales numbers can haunt an author “like a bad credit score,” Childress reported, and they can “caus[e] others to be hesitant to do business with them because of past failures.”

According to editors like Boys, the sway of book sales figures has siphoned much of the creativity and originality out of contemporary book publishing. “There’s less opportunity to acquire or promote a book based on things like gut instinct, quality of the writing, uniqueness of an idea, or literary or societal merit,” Boys claimed. “While passion—arguing that a book should be published—still matters, using that as a justification when it’s contrary to BookScan data has become increasingly challenging.” In a similar vein, Anne Trubek, the founder and publisher of the independent press Belt Publishing, told me that BookScan data is a strong conservative force in the industry—one of the reasons, though not the only reason, that Belt Publishing stopped subscribing after only one year. Trubek says that BookScan data encourages publishers to keep recycling the same kinds of books that sold well in the past. “I didn’t want to be a publisher who was working that way,” she elaborated. “That was not interesting. I think a lot of Big Five publishing is driven by data, and I think that things end up much more unimaginative as a result.”

Despite these claims, other publishing professionals maintain that BookScan data has not changed their work quite as dramatically. Childress interviewed one editor who explained that he manages to use BookScan data in creative ways to support his own independent choices. Yet even when editors find inventive ways to use BookScan data and to preserve their own aesthetic judgment, it is striking that they must still use and reckon with BookScan data in some form.

Perhaps most importantly, however, it is likely that books end up much more racially homogenous—that is, white—as a result of BookScan data, too. For example, in McGrath’s pioneering research on “comp” titles (the books that agents and editors claim are “comparable” to a pitched book), she found that 96 percent of the most frequently used comps were written by white authors. Because one of the most important features of a good comp title is a promising sales history, it is likely that comp titles and BookScan data work together to reinforce conservative white hegemony in the industry.

. . . .

For all of its extensive influence, most of us outside the publishing industry know surprisingly little about BookScan data: how much it costs, what it looks like, or what exactly it includes and measures. According to a 2009 business study, publishing house licenses for BookScan data cost somewhere between $350,000 and $750,000 a year at that time. Literary agents, scouts, and other publishing professionals can subscribe to NPD Publishers Marketplace for the humbler baseline price of $2,500 a year, and many authors can view their own BookScan data for free via Amazon.

But academics and almost everyone else are out of luck. When I inquired about getting access to BookScan data directly through NPD Group (the market research company that bought US BookScan from Nielsen in 2017), a sales specialist told me: “There are some limitations to who we are permitted to license our BookScan data to. This includes publishers, retailers, book distributors, publishing arms of universities, university presses and author agents. Do you fall within one of these categories?” When I reached out to NPD Publishers Marketplace, they told me the same thing. David Walter, executive director of NPD Books, confirmed that NPD does not license data to academic researchers: “We only license to publishers and related businesses, and … our license terms preclude sharing of any data publicly, which conflicts with the need to publish academic research. That is why we do not license data for the purposes of academic research.”

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG notes that the OP continues to delve into the details and problems of excluded data in BookScan and he recommends reading the article in its entirety.

PG has written about BookScan on several prior occasions. BookScan is presently owned by Hellman & Friedman, a private equity investment firm headquartered in San Francisco with offices in New York City and London.

This structure means that BookScan’s activities and finances are watched carefully by a group of numbers guys and numbers gals (although all the big bosses appear to be guys).

A quick look at H&F’s portfolio companies reveal 77 present and past subsidiaries that are all over the board. Insurance, cloud computing, home décor products, home security, customer experience management, energy and metals research, etc., etc.

H&F’s description of the companies it formerly owned/invested in shows more than a few that the company purchased, rehabbed and resold.

While sampling H&F’s past and present portfolio companies, an old term floated into PG’s mind, Pump and Dump. Pump and Dump involves acquiring shares in a publicly-held company, then fraudulently inflating the price of shares of stock of that company and selling out while the share prices are high. Such activity was often followed by a decline in the price of the company’s shares.

Pump and Dump is illegal and PG is not suggesting that H&F’s activities with its past or present portfolio companies constitutes an illegal Pump and Dump scheme.

However, the company does list former portfolio companies it acquired and later sold presumably for a higher price after increasing the health and value of the company.

The traditional publishing industry’s reliance on BookScan for a whole lot of decisions that impact authors is, as the OP implies, close to a religion.

If anyone in the traditional publishing business asked PG for his opinion regarding the tracking of book sales (pigs flying is more likely to occur), he would advise developing an analytics system that sliced and diced sales on Amazon in a large variety of ways.

While not ignoring BookScan completely, PG suspects that publishers would gain more actionable data from watching sales (and returns) of their ebook and print editions in close to real-time from the world’s largest bookstore instead of a collection of traditional retail outlets that have been losing market share in books for a very long time.

In PG’s monumentally humble opinion, those people who regularly purchase books from a physical bookstore are not representative of the book-buying public as a whole.

The books world is much tougher now

From The Guardian:

William Boyd, 70, is the author of 26 books, including Any Human Heart (2002) – adapted for television in 2010 with three actors playing the lead role of Logan Mountstuart – and Restless, the Costa novel of the year in 2006. His new book, The Romantic, is set in the 19th century and presents itself as a biographical fiction inspired by the personal papers of one Cashel Greville Ross, a Scots-born Irishman who fought at Waterloo, met Shelley, smuggled Greek antiquities and set out in search of the source of the Nile, among other adventures. Boyd, whom Sebastian Faulks has called “the finest storyteller of his generation”, grew up in Ghana and Nigeria and lives in London and the Dordogne, from where he spoke over Zoom.

Where did this novel begin?
My mid-20s were steeped in Romantic poetry because I spent eight years at Oxford not finishing a PhD on Shelley. I’ve always felt that nothing is wasted, and I was asking myself how I could recycle this material when I read The Life of Henry Brulard, the fantastically modern-feeling autobiography by [the 19th-century French writer] Stendhal, who I don’t think is much read in UK literary circles. He called himself a romantic because he kept falling in love – he felt it was a curse – and I decided that this store of knowledge I had about Romantic poets could gel with writing about someone with that kind of temperament.

How does writing a “whole life” novel – this is your fourth – compare with writing your thrillers?
It’s more challenging. In a tightly structured spy novel like Restless, the plot machinery is part of the allure. Here, the narrative has to seem like it’s happening randomly, like life, yet it can’t flag: Cashel is 82 when he dies, and you can’t write a 5,000-page novel with every month and every year. My other three whole-life novels are told in the first person, so nothing can happen and it’s still interesting because of the voice. I was conscious that writing The Romantic in the third person meant that things had to keep happening, even at the end of Cashel’s life. What I came to understand was that 19th-century lives were incredibly crowded; Anthony Trollope went to Australia twice and America six times.

. . . .

What about your use of faux-real framing devices – what attracts you to those?
When I published my novel The New Confessions in 1987, it was reviewed in the Times by Bernard Levin, who said he was so convinced by the novel’s autobiographical form that he found himself riffling through looking for the photographs. That was where the idea of Any Human Heart was born. I had a kind of test drive for that novel when I used anonymous photographs of real people in my art hoax, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960, a biography of this nonexistent painter, where I got people like [David] Bowie to join the conspiracy. In [Boyd’s 2015 novel] Sweet Caress the photos telling the story of the main character’s life all come from junk shops and websites. It’s an old trope – Daniel Defoe pretended Moll Flanders was a real person – but I want people to think, God, did Logan Mountstuart really exist? I’m trying to show that fiction can grip you in a way that reportage and history can’t.

How has the writing life changed since you began publishing?
The 1980s was a kind of boom period but the challenge for a literary novelist now is to just keep the show on the road. It used to be you could write a novel every couple of years or so and have a perfectly nice bourgeois life. Now the mid-list has gone. The brutal fact is you either sell or you don’t. Friends of mine who’ve written 12 novels can’t get published or their advances have dropped by 80%. It’s a much tougher world.

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


The OP describes a currently secret method/process for serializing traditionally-published books and making money from sales of such serials. It’s focused on traditional publishers and is, potentially, a different way of monetizing their backlists.

It is a long-standing practice in traditional publishing to put most titles out to pasture a few years after their initial release. They’ll keep some copies in a warehouse in case someone or someone’s friendly local book seller, contacts the publisher Agatha Christie and similar evergreen authors are among the rare exceptions to this habit.

It is pretty clear to PG that Publishing Perspectives was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with some teeth in it before being briefed on this method/process, so the OP includes a lot of dancing around, presumably to work around the requirements of the NDA.

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

But as a final note, it’s interesting to remember that a strong dynamic in backlist sales was observed in many markets during the deepest periods of the world’s coronavirus-related lockdowns. In some markets and demographics, that backlist interest has persisted well beyond the spread-mitigation measures of the early pandemic.

If the new app being described to us can take advantage of that trend, it may arrive with a wind at its back as a new and attractive way for readers to consume backlist as well as new content.

. . . .

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

Webtoon has some user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A New App For Serializing Backlist

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an unusual instance for us here at Publishing Perspectives, we have first news today of a potentially important publishing app currently in development—and our sources on this exclusive story have spoken to us on condition of anonymity, in advance of a public release of the information. 

They are describing to us an app that has the potential to be a bridge between traditional trade publishers—based in any market in world publishing—and the popular framework of serialization as a way of presenting valuable backlist titles, often otherwise overlooked by consumers.

Those who are working on this new app are being characterized by these persons-familiar as teams that “effectively built the serialized storytelling category,” which, as many of our readers know, has found vast, faithful audiences particularly in Asian markets.

In providing our audience of publishing executives and rights specialists with this next bit of information, we’d like to get ahead of one potential misconception: our sources are telling us that this new app will not be for user-generated content (UGC), as many high-visibility serialization platforms are.

Instead, this property will be professionally curated and designed as a market resource for professionally published books.

Our readership will recall that in May 2021, a US$600 million merger was completed between Naver’s Webtoon, based in a suburb of Seoul, and Toronto’s Wattpad.

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

  • Webtoon has some  user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
  • The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

We’re being told that people behind the development of that professionally driven part of Webtoon’s offerings are behind the forthcoming app.

. . . .

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Gen Z is driving sales of romance books to the top of bestseller lists

From National Public Radio:

Ask a Gen Z woman what she’s read recently, and there’s a good chance two names will come up: Colleen Hoover and Emily Henry.

“Gen Z is my favorite of all generations for so many reasons, and their love for reading is just one of the many,” Hoover said. “I love that they are consuming books and sharing books and recommending books. They’re reading so much – not only my books, but books across genres.”

For months, Hoover and Henry have occupied multiple spots on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestsellers list. The success of these contemporary romance writers has been driven in large part by Gen Z readers – and social media.

“It’s the right person finding the book at the right time and then sharing it with the right people,” said Henry. Her novels Beach ReadPeople We Meet on Vacation, and Book Lovers are all bestsellers.

Hoover’s upcoming book, It Starts With Us – the highly anticipated sequel to It Ends With Us from 2016 – has more pre-orders than any novel in Simon & Schuster history – and there are still seven weeks to publication. Its pre-orders have surpassed Stephen King’s Dr. Sleep, which went on sale in 2013 – the publishing company’s previous leader.

What makes a romance novel a Gen Z hit

A decade ago, the main demographic for romance was women ages 35 to 54. But in the past several years, that has widened to include women 18 to 54, according to Colleen Hoover’s publicist Ariele Fredman.

“Gen Z is a huge audience for romance,” she said. “If you think about it, like millennials, their youth has been marked by global and social upset and unrest in many ways, so looking for a happy ever after or an emotional outlet in a book seems like a healthy way of coping.”

Kaileigh Klein, a 19-year-old college student in Ontario, Canada said she loves Hoover’s books for just this reason – for the big emotions she writes about.

“People [my age] gravitate towards her novels because they’re really emotional. I feel like even if you can’t express emotion in real life, reading it on paper, it’s really easy to connect to it and relate to it,” she said.

Sahar Kariem, a 22-year-old stylist from Maryland, said Emily Henry’s “balance of romance and life lessons,” as well as themes of coming of age, have cemented Henry as one of her favorite authors.

Meanwhile, marketing trends, like covering contemporary romance novel jackets with cartoon figures and bright colors, has also helped pull in a younger audience, according to Leah Koch, who co-owns The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever have a grasp on it, but I’d like to think they’re responding to the entertainment factor,” Hoover said. “The last few years have been wild in the best way, and I’m very grateful to readers who continue to share my books and the books of other authors on their social platforms.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

In search of Agatha Christie. Misperception and mystery cling to the life of the elusive novelist

From The Guardian:

If Agatha Christie remains elusive, it’s not for the want of those trying to find her. Janet Morgan’s official biography of 1984 and Laura Thompson’s equally detailed but ultimately more impressionistic portrait of 2007 have both been updated and reissued; and there are numerous other analyses that try to understand how the woman who routinely described herself as a housewife became Britain’s bestselling novelist of all time. Enter historian Lucy Worsley, whose declared intention is to rescue Christie, who died in 1976 at the age of 85, from the misperceptions that cling to her life and her works of fiction.

In service of the former, she revisits the most notorious episode of Christie’s life: her disappearance for 11 days in December 1926, prompting blanket media coverage, an extensive police search and, after she had resurfaced at a hydropathic hotel in Harrogate, widespread suspicion that her tale of memory loss was an elaborate publicity stunt. In terms of the novels, Worsley’s focus is on debunking the assumption that Christie invented and epitomised what has become known as “cosy” crime fiction, pointing to the darker elements of her work, its modernity, and its increasing interest in psychological themes.

Is she convincing? Up to a point. These ways of thinking about Christie are not entirely new or unfamiliar, and although Worsley has evidently done due diligence among her subject’s correspondence and personal records, there are no major revelations. It’s more, perhaps, that she brings a clear-eyed empathy that allows her to acknowledge Christie’s limitations and prejudices without consigning her to the silos of mass-market populist and absentee mother.

Sometimes, this is a stretch. Worsley is correct to argue that dismissing the books as formulaic – algebraic, indeed – is a way of diminishing Christie’s power to graft an apparently impenetrable mystery on to an evocatively imagined and interestingly peopled setting, and to repeat the trick over and over again; such reductive ways of characterising the work of popular writers are still very much in evidence. Her gift for dialogue and for manipulating social stereotypes, as Worsley demonstrates, was formidable, keenly attuned to the proliferating class anxieties of the 20th century; numerous characters are, interestingly, transitional or dispossessed in some way, at odds with one view of her as a writer of the country-house elite. (This approach gets only so far when it comes to discussing her reliance on racist tropes, and particularly antisemitic slurs, on which Worsley maintains that we must accept her as a product of her class and time, but also that we must squarely face the reality of what she writes and not try to excuse it. The issue here is that, fundamentally, the circle cannot be squared and rests largely on whether one believes bigotry is, at some level, historically inescapable.)

This doesn’t quite amount to the claims made in one eyebrow-raising passage in the biography, in which Worsley appears to argue that Christie has common ground with the modernists whose defining moment came as her first novels were published: “What if the middlebrow and the modernist could actually be the same thing?” she writes. “A more inclusive definition of modernism might mean that you can also find it in works that don’t necessarily bludgeon you in the face with the shock of the new in the manner of Ulysses.” If you are going to rescue one writer from misunderstanding, it’s as well not to visit the same ignominy on another. And as much as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’s ingenuity relies on the disruption of accepted narrative convention, I don’t think it has a lot in common with Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Once again, PG notes that the publisher, Pegasus Books, has a release date of September 8, but makes it impossible for enthusiastic readers to look inside the book.

Kindle Unlimited paid out over $250 million to indie authors in H1 as APA reports total H1 ebook market of $500 million

From The New Publishing Standard:

The industry journals are reporting the latest APA figures, summing up June and the first six months of 2022, painting a bleak picture for the ebook format, down 6.3% in June to $83 million compared to 2021, and down 8.5% to $500.4 million for the first six months of 2022.

By value ebooks accounted for just 12.7% of the trade market.

Except that it didn’t. At least not the total market. These figures are just those from the publishers reporting to the APA, and to be clear the APA itself makes no claim to be reporting the whole market. Not that you’d know that from some reportage, which treats the APA numbers as a definitive statement on the US ebook market.

What isn’t the APA counting? Essentially any publishers that do not report to the APA – which means all indie authors, APub, and countless small presses.

Indies of course are famously digital-first publishers, and many are solely ebook focussed. Many non-reporting small publishers are digital first or have a strong digital portfolio. APub publishes ebooks, audio and print, but given Amazon owns the Kindle store it’s a given that its titles own the Kindle store charts, as any glance at the ebook charts will confirm.

Given none of these report to the APA it’s also a given – but not one many in the industry want to say out loud – that the APA statistics only show us part of the picture.

But just how much more in trade value might the APA be missing?

We cannot know for sure, but we can be sure APub is the single biggest player in this uncounted field, and that it won’t be sharing its numbers any time soon.

But Amazon does share the amount it pays out to indie authors through the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription platform. This doesn’t tell us total revenue, but the “royalty” paid through the “pot”.

To be clear, the pot is paid out only to indie authors and small presses loading to the Kindle store via KDP and that are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited programme.

Bigger publishers with titles in Kindle Unlimited are paid à la carte quite separate from the pot. The same applies to APub authors.

But what we do know is how much Amazon paid out to indie authors as “royalties” in June – the same month the APA reported a total of $80 million in cold ebook revenue.

In June Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited pot totaled $43.4 million.

That’s more than half as much again as the total APA reported ebook revenue, and again this figure does not include à la carte sales from indies.

Over the first six months of 2022?

The Kindle Unlimited pot value has risen every single month except February. Here’s the running count:

• $42.2 million in January
• $39.4 million in February
• $41.4 million in March
• $41.5 million in April
• $43.3 million in May
• $43.4 million in June
• $251.2 million = H1 total

Yes, read that again, In the first six months of 2022 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service paid out a quarter million in ”royalties” to participating indie authors and small presses, quite separate from its pay-out to APub authors and to bigger publishers with titles in the programme.

That’s more than half as much again of the total ebook revenue – not royalties but hard revenue – reported by the APA, that has not been counted.

Subscription services notoriously do not pay much to authors/publishers – the June rate for indie authors was $0.00458496 per page read, equivalent to a royalty of $1.37 for a 300 page book assuming all pages parsed.

. . . .

Let me end with this thought: if we take the APA’s June count and add only the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out we know of, and still exclude all other Kindle Unlimited revenue and all other ebook revenue, that alone takes the ebook total to $123.4 million, compared to the $80 million the APA tells us.

And if we take the H1 APA numbers and the H1 Kindle Unlimited indie pot pay-out together we are looking at a revised ebook value of $751.6 million, compared to the $500.4 million the APA numbers alone tell us.

And of course we are still nowhere near counting all ebook revenue.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Book trade’s next generation fear burnout and low pay will force their departure

From The Bookseller:

Young people in the book trade are experiencing widespread burnout and dissatisfaction about pay and progression, a survey by The Bookseller has revealed. The results also indicated that more needs to be done to make the industry accessible and that, though most respondents are largely satisfied in their current roles and hoping to stay in the industry, retention is a rising concern.  

The bulk of the 238 people who completed the survey, which was aimed at book trade staff aged 25 and under, worked in publishing (86.5%), with agents accounting for just over 10% of respondents and booksellers accounting for just over 2%. The remainder hailed from the distribution, library and freelance sectors. When asked why they pursued a job in the industry, the vast majority cited a love of books and a desire to work in a creative field. Others highlighted the opportunity to make a cultural impact, with one distribution worker wanting to “be part of making a change with [regards to] diversity in the book world”. 

In terms of entering the industry, more than half of the survey respondents found it “fairly easy” to find out information about the trade and the job roles available, but more than 40% had found this either “fairly” or “very” difficult. Furthermore, it was “fairly” or “very” difficult for over 80% to actually get a job in the book world. Common reasons for this included: huge competition for vacancies, unrealistically high expectations for “entry-level” roles, a lack of transparency about the industry, geographical constraints and the pandemic. 

One respondent shared: “Even when you have transferable experience, you could be applying to entry-level, low-paid roles and hearing nothing back for well over a year… It can feel impossible.” The pandemic compounded this, as some companies paused hiring or internship schemes, while competition increased as experienced candidates who had been made redundant were also going for junior positions. 

The first step

Several responses highlighted that “entry-level” roles regularly require applicants to have extensive work experience. According to one agent, publishers “expect more and more every year—now, even for junior positions, you often have to do two interviews and time-intensive tasks”. One publishing staffer felt that “the job hunt is harder than the job itself”, which was echoed by someone with a Masters in Publishing who confessed of their qualification: “I don’t need this to do my job at all in practical terms, it just adds to my CV.”  

Several comments suggested that the barriers to entry are even higher for those who are working class, not white, not British, disabled and/or living outside of London. An agent described it as “near impossible” to find a good job outside London. One publisher who entered the trade via a dedicated scheme said they would have “struggled to get a job through a CV and cover letter, having no connections to the industry and not knowing what to highlight”. “The publishing industry is riddled with classism,” wrote another respondent, who felt judged for being working-class. A couple of answers touched on the application process for immigrants, with one person feeling they “had to jump through even more hoops to show my commitment” compared to British candidates. 

. . . .

Reflecting on how their experiences within the industry have differed from their expectations, many found it friendlier than anticipated, but also less forward-thinking and glamorous. One person said: “Working for a large publisher was more corporate than I expected… I moved into working for smaller independents and I have really enjoyed that.” An agent was surprised by how “gossipy” the industry is and also by “the sheer amount of extra work people do outside of working hours and how this is very openly expected”. 

Meanwhile, a Big Five publishing staffer had found that “in many ways, it’s been better” than their preconceptions, as “overwhelmingly, staff are kind, generous and super-creative”. However, they noted low morale in more senior colleagues, expanding: “Low pay, over-working, slow or no progression seem to be common themes. I’m at the very start of my publishing career and it makes me nervous for the future.” 

This was echoed in the survey results, with similar topics arising in answer to a question about the key issues young workers face in their jobs. Many argued that they could not afford to live comfortably in London, with a Big Five staffer sharing: “Sometimes I have to skip meals to pay my bills.” Others confessed that they would not be able to support themselves without a secondary income or partner’s financial help.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Trial Ends in Government Challenge to Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster Merger

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Justice Department lawyer delivered closing arguments Friday in an antitrust challenge to Penguin Random House’s planned acquisition of rival publisher Simon & Schuster, a test for the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to challenging corporate mergers.

“The merger will reduce the number of players in this market,” Justice Department lawyer John Read said, “and will clearly exacerbate the risk of coordination in the market.”

Lawyers for the publishers countered that the merger would benefit authors and consumers and that the government has failed to prove its case.

“It’s a good deal for all involved, including authors,” said Stephen Fishbein, a lawyer for Simon & Schuster, during closing remarks on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Florence Pan in Washington oversaw the three-week nonjury trial. She hasn’t said when she will rule on whether the publishing merger, valued at more than $2 billion, should proceed.

German media company Bertelsmann SE, which owns Penguin Random House, agreed in November 2020 to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS, now called Paramount Global.

The Justice Department sued a year later to block the deal, saying it would give Penguin Random House—itself the result of a 2013 merger—too much control over the industry.

Penguin Random House is the country’s largest consumer book publisher; Simon & Schuster is the fourth largest as measured by total sales.

In a pretrial brief, the Justice Department said the combined company would have a market share of 49% of what it described as “anticipated top-selling books,” which the government defines as titles that command advances of at least $250,000.

In his closing argument, Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer for Penguin Random House, said no one in the industry views “anticipated top-selling books” as a distinct market. The government is focusing on this narrow slice of the industry because it can’t show the acquisition would harm consumers, Mr. Petrocelli said.

The defendants, in their pretrial brief, estimated that only 1,200 books a year, or 2% of the books published by commercial publishers, sell for advances of $250,000 or more.

Famed horror writer Stephen King testified during the first week of the trial, saying he opposed the sale of his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to Penguin Random House.

“Consolidation is bad for competition,” Mr. King said. “That’s my understanding of the book business. And I have been around it for 50 years.”

Mr. King testified that years of consolidation in the publishing industry and the failures of other independent publishers had combined to make it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” He cited a 2018 survey that found full-time writers were earning an average of slightly more than $20,000 annually, which he described as “below the poverty line.” Mr. King has had a highly successful publishing career, having testified that he has written between 60 and 65 bestsellers.

Mr. King also said writers enjoyed specific benefits by signing with one of the country’s five largest publishers, a group that includes Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Mr. King noted that the largest publishers can pay huge advances, raise awareness of new titles by sending out advanced copies to reviewers and orchestrate sophisticated media campaigns.

“Not every book is successful because of that, but when a publisher really gets behind a book, particularly a big publisher, the chances are that that book is going to probably succeed on some level,” he said.

Mr. King wasn’t cross-examined by an attorney for Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How an Antitrust Trial Could Reshape the Books We Read — and Who Writes Them

From The Authors Guild:

The outcome of an antitrust trial currently underway in Washington could reshape the kind of books Americans read — and who writes them.

Last November, the Department of Justice sued to stop the proposed merger of two of the country’s largest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. At the time, U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said: “If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry.” The consolidated company, according to Garland, would control half the market for top-selling books.

The Authors Guild, America’s oldest and largest association of published writers, opposes this merger. As we argued to the Justice Department in January 2021 — a position it adopted in its complaint — less competition in the industry, particularly allowing one publishing house to dominate all others, will be bad for authors and readers in general, and it could harm the free flow of ideas in our democracy.

Agents seeking a publisher for a book by one of their authors, especially those with commercial or other potential, often offer the manuscript up for auction to publishing houses, which bid against each other to acquire the right to publish it. When I first entered the publishing world 30 years ago, an auction might attract bidding from eight or nine major publishers.

Over the years, consolidation and mergers have reduced the pool of dominant bidders to five — known to insiders as “the Big Five.” The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would not only reduce that to four, it would create a company larger than the other three publishers in the Big Five combined. This could lead to further mergers, as publishing houses consolidate in reaction to their growing competitors in a kind of self-reinforcing cycle.

Fewer bidders for books, and fewer books that attract more than one bid, will likely drive down advances for authors. As Macmillan Chief Executive Don Weisberg testified: “Less competition is going to change the dynamic. Two of the major players becoming one — the prices, the advances, the type of competition at the auctions — I think it’ll have impact across the board.”

As an example, an author advance of $250,000 or more — which is higher than the majority of advances offered — often represents the total compensation for a book that took several years to write and usually has to cover the writer’s research, travel costs and other expenses. The Justice Department’s attorney asserted in his opening statement that testimony would show the average advance for top-selling authors would go down $40,000 to $100,000 should the merger go through. As bestselling writer Stephen King pointed out in his testimony, book authors have already experienced severe declines in writing income, partly due to fewer publishers bidding for books.

But what should concern all Americans — not just authors — is the potential harm the merger might do to diversity in the marketplace of ideas. Fewer publishers would mean fewer voices — including marginalized voices — being published. It means a reduction in political and cultural viewpoints, which especially can have an impact on authors with unusual, unpopular or controversial ideas, whose books tend to be more of a financial risk for publishers.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Is Publishing About Art or Commerce?

From The New Yorker:

On the afternoon of August 10th, in the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, the Department of Justice trial to block Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon & Schuster had hit a midweek lull. The courtroom itself—as well as the overflow room, where journalists were permitted Internet access—was a few booksellers shy of crowded. But the first witness for the defense, the mega-agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, was intensely present, and seemed thrilled to be testifying. (Penguin Random House was paying her a quarter of a million dollars.) In a rippling cream-colored blouse and gold jewelry, her hair loose around her shoulders, Walsh painted a picture of publishing as a labor of love. Agents, she said, are in the business of fairy-tale matches between author and editor—mind meldings that span decades, shape careers, and win prizes. Walsh even had a magic wand, she added, that was given to her by the novelist Sue Monk Kidd. When the judge Florence Y. Pan asked if agents had a fiduciary duty to secure their writers the highest possible advances, Walsh responded in the negative. “More isn’t always more,” she said. “We’re not always looking to take every single dollar out of an editor’s pocket.”

The exchange exposed the core question of the day, and of every day in a trial that has riveted the publishing industry since proceedings began on August 1st: Is publishing about art or commerce? The answer, of course, is “Both”—as with any creative business—but watching each side wrestle with that ambiguity has been instructive. Penguin Random House, itself the product of a merger between Penguin and Random House in 2013, is the biggest of publishing’s so-called Big Five. (The others are HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.) If the acquisition goes through, the new company will dwarf its nearest rivals. This is one of the first high-profile antitrust suits to be brought by President Biden’s Department of Justice. It may, along with the recent appointment of Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, indicate a new direction for the country’s regulatory climate. But, to people who care about books, what’s gone most conspicuously on trial is publishing itself. In the course of two weeks, an image of publishers as savvy and data-driven has vied with a tenderly drawn (auto-)portrait of gamblers, guessers, and dreamers. At times it has felt reasonable to wonder whether the industry should be characterized as an industry at all.

The spectacle has been curiously entertaining. Publishing executives have had to initiate federal employees into a dialect of “backlists,” “advance copies,” and “BookTok influencers.” Onlookers have been treated to piquant performances, from the cheeky verve of Simon & Schuster’s Jonathan Karp to the C-suite solidity of Brian Murray, of HarperCollins, who seemed to quietly deflate under a round of pointed questioning. On Tuesday, the horror maestro Stephen King popped up to testify that “consolidation is bad for competition” and that the disappearance of “idiosyncratic” imprints from the publishing landscape has made it “tougher and tougher for writers to find enough money to live on.” King, who wore sneakers and introduced himself as a “freelance writer,” wanted to advocate for younger and less established peers—those for whom a book deal might mean the difference between creating art and waiting tables.

And yet King’s championing of struggling artists felt tangential to the specifics of the trial.

Government lawyers have built the heart of their case around a relatively narrow category—“anticipated top sellers”—where the threat of monopsony is greatest. The plaintiff defines these as the small fraction of books for which authors receive advances of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or higher. They are also the books that tend to fly off shelves and the books with which publishing houses pay their bills. The Justice Department is claiming that a Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster merger would suppress competition for top sellers, driving down advances and ultimately lessening both the number and the diversity of the titles. The defense has countered that “anticipated top seller” does not designate a real market—merely a “price segment.” One cannot “anticipate” a blockbuster, lawyers have implied; the publishing gods are fickle, and whether a book will sell at all—much less go supernova—is anyone’s guess. Moreover, Simon & Schuster’s authors would benefit from access to Penguin Random House’s superior distribution and sales teams. Other houses would need to compete even harder to lure them away.

One by one, soberly dressed executives mounted the dais to frame publishing as a game of chance—a “business of passion,” in the words of the departing Macmillan C.E.O., Don Weisberg. “Everything is random in publishing,” Markus Dohle, the C.E.O. of Penguin Random House, testified on August 4th. “Success is random. Best-sellers are random. That is why we are the Random House!” Acquiring books, Brian Tart, the president of Viking, testified on August 3rd, “is as much an art as a science.” To illustrate his point, he described passing on Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the current No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. Judge Pan observed that profit-and-loss statements “are really fake.” Tart enthusiastically agreed. On August 2nd, Karp, the C.E.O. of Simon & Schuster, testified that gloating over a best-seller is like “taking credit for the weather,” and wryly recalled the eagerness with which he’d promoted a manuscript by a prominent spiritual guru. “Unfortunately,” he said, “his followers didn’t follow him to the bookstore.”

The rogue’s gallery of industry figures presented a stark contrast to the government’s expert witness, the economist Nicholas Hill. Soft-voiced and physically imposing, with broad shoulders, thick silver hair, and a square chin, he was there to reinforce the idea of an “anticipated top seller” market. Writers behave differently around the two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar threshold, Hill alleged. They’re “making different choices.” His most memorable contribution, though, was a series of Gross Upward Pricing Pressure Index (guppi) models, which he’d crafted to theorize about the market share that a joint Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster might capture.

The guppis proved a matter of tense dispute. If Hill embodied the Justice Department’s academic approach, Mark Oppenheimer, an attorney in the defense, appeared intent on casting him as the Casaubon of economic consultants. A meandering cross-examination summoned impressions of mystifying esoterica, as Oppenheimer’s attempt to refute Hill’s methodology morphed into a ritual hypnosis, a ceremony to stupefy the courtroom. The lawyer, gentle and avuncular, dramatized his own inability to keep “monopoly” and “monopsony” straight; he paused to rifle through his notes, asked repetitive questions, and referred Hill to such destinations as a table’s “last column, fifth line”—or was it the “sixth line”? Several times, Judge Pan challenged Oppenheimer’s path of inquiry, and at one point pleaded with him to move on. When the court recessed, a clutch of ashen reporters staggered out of the overflow room. “Guppies,” Publishers Weekly’s news editor John Maher, who’d been valiantly live-tweeting the trial, whispered. “All I see are guppies.”

The entertainment value of Hill’s models aside, his larger case was persuasive. Big Five publishers possess advantages that render them uniquely attractive to literary stars: reputation, breadth of distribution, breadth of marketing, and—perhaps most important–extensive backlists that generate enough revenue to offset potential losses. New companies, such as the bantling publisher Zando, “can’t expand to mitigate the anticompetitive effects of the merger,” Hill said, because they lack such backlists, which grow over decades, like oaks. Yes, publishing is a risky endeavor; yes, the elusiveness of a good formula for success means that small presses and self-published authors all have a shot at producing a best-seller. But, year after year, the Big Five churn out the vast majority of profitable books—and this is precisely due to their ability to manage risk. Success in the publishing industry is not being able to publish a single hit; it’s being able to publish many hits over a long period of time. Here, the larger publishers eat their competitors’ lunch.

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

The Weirdest Quotes From the Penguin Random House Trial

From Book Riot:

As you may or may not know, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing to prevent Penguin Random House (PRH) from acquiring/merging with Simon & Schuster, on the grounds that it will lose authors money. Unlike many antitrust suits, it is not concerned with monopoly (not enough sellers) but monospony (not enough buyers). I explained in more detail when the trial was first announced.

. . . .

Right out the gate, while defining terms, PRH’s lawyer described “backlist” as meaning “Books that were published a very long time ago.” (Backlist is anything more than a year old by most definitions, but it can mean anything that isn’t brand new.)

. . . .

“My name is Stephen King. I’m a freelance writer.”

This is the tweet heard round the world, isn’t it? First a brief explanation: all witnesses are asked to identify themselves this way, by name and (relevant) occupation. So he didn’t do anything wrong here.

Now back to snark. Imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself this way. Actually, imagine being Stephen King and introducing yourself the way “freelance writer” suggests. “My name is Stephen King. I can’t afford health insurance.” “My name is Stephen King and I work in coffee shops.” “My name is Stephen King. Will do novels for food.” “My name is Stephen King and last month I made negative 73 dollars.”

. . . .

Simon & Schuster CEO Jon Karp said quite a few outrageous things, most of which involve his testimony contradicting his earlier deposition. None of them are particularly quote-worthy without context (read the thread!) but I was delighted that the DOJ lawyer apparently hurt his feelings by saying, “I should have guessed you’d have a big vocabulary, as head of a publishing house.”

Karp also called self-publishing “more of a threat than I thought” in reference to Brandon Sanderson’s $50 million Kickstarter — something that literally no other self-published author is capable of achieving, yay — and, in defending the idea that publishers don’t guarantee a marketing budget, said, “It’s like taking credit for the weather. You can’t promise success to the author.”

. . . .

The quote heard round the world, part two: $100,000 is, according to Karp, a “fairly small advance.” Lilith Saintcrow breaks down why that is a lie — and the implications.

. . . .

Actual Jon Karp quote: “I’m not a game theorist, but….” Honestly, the man is hilarious. Asked if he has calculated Amazon’s market share: “I haven’t. I wish somebody would!” Govt isn’t taking the bait, but Karp is definitely pushing buttons.

. . . .

From PRH CEO Markus Dohle: “Everything is random in publishing. Success is random. Bestsellers are random. So that is why we are the Random House!”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG thinks the CEO’s didn’t listen to what their lawyers told them about their demeanor on the stand and how to answer a question. Judges tend to become upset at witnesses that can’t restrain themselves from being flippant in court. Among other things, the judge is constantly assessing whether these guys are telling the truth or not and whether their opinions are reliable.

PG reminds one and all that, although Karp and Dohle carry CEO titles, their companies are owned by very large business interests which strongly desire for this merger to be approved. If the big bosses decide their hired hands contributed to losing this antitrust case, Karp and Dohle will be out on the street tout de suite.