BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From TeleRead:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at TeleRead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

Want to Change the Book Biz? Organize.

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re very, very good.”

. . . .

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

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

It was signed, “Henry.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky Phishing Scam Targets Traditionally-Published Writers

From Writer Beware:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at the Associated Press

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

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

Just How White Is the Book Industry?

From The New York Times:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

The Talented Ms. Calloway

From The Los Angeles Review of Books;

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

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

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

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests this represents a sea change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Allison Hill, CEO of The American Booksellers Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Monster Publishing Merger Is About Amazon

From The Atlantic:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

PG will limit himself to a short rant.

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

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

The OP includes the following:

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

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

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

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

The OP also includes:

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

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

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

End of rant. PG feels much better now.

Penguin Random House Parent to Buy Simon & Schuster

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How Do We Market Books Now?

From Publishers Weekly:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Barnes & Noble:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Bids for Simon & Schuster

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Seeing the Book Biz from Both Sides Now

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

The UK Publishers Association CEO Stephen Lotinga explained,

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Print Unit Sales Rose 9.5% At the End of October

From Publishers Weekly:

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

At Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Consolidation Carousel Continues

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Metazoa

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

HarperNorth in Manchester

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

Sargent Leaving Macmillan

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

Why Can’t Publishers Handle the Truth?

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Don’t be evil. Self-publish.

Switching authors on to book fairs

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Is Employing Men Over Women a Nefarious Plot?

From Digital Pubbing:

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

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

Gender Inequality Among Authors

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

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

Unconscious Bias and Books

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

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

Link to the rest at Digital Pubbing

PG notes the bio of the author:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Jane Friedman:

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

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

So what’s caused this tight print market?

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Macmillan: Don Weisberg To Succeed John Sargent as CEO

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten.

Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Announce Diversity Roles

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

Trainwreck Fall Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, if you overcharge for them.

. . . .

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

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

At all.

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Tours – Analyzed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

The art of the normal

From The Bookseller:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

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

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

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

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

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

PublisHer Opens Its New Initiative

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

From Esquire:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Business Insider:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Business Insider

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

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

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

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

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

From Texas Monthly:

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading the OP is highly recommended.

Supply issues will disrupt the fall season

From Nathan Bransford:

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

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

A Place at the Table

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Aspen Institute Looks at a Publishing Industry Challenged to Embrace Diversity

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

Amazon wasn’t the first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

[from the letter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will summarize/criticize the OP:

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

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

!!!!Evil Big Company!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Big Companies

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

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

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

Amazon is a Big Bully That Exploits the Peons

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

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

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

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Cline’s Brilliant, Dark Mind

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

Lagardère added that Hachette UK had seen,

robust growth in digital formats.

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

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

Do-it Yourself takes your Attention?

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

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

Big Job to self-publish?

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

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

Ya think?

Do-it Yourself is the Ultimate Big Cinch!

Plus Big Fast is Amazon’s middle name!

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

There’s your Big Gamble!