Saluting HMH, a Storied Trade Publisher

From Publishers Weekly:

I came to the trade division at Houghton Mifflin in fall 2003 as senior v-p of trade sales, at the tail end of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The French conglomerate Vivendi had purchased Houghton a few years earlier, taken it private, and had sold it to a consortium of bankers and investors at a huge loss. Vivendi was the first, but it wouldn’t be the last disastrous foreign investor in what had historically been the highly profitable U.S. education business. Meanwhile, the trade division was coming off an outstanding three-year run thanks to Tolkien—perhaps the best in its long and storied history.

The longevity of HM (founded in 1832) isn’t unique among publishing houses, but it was certainly a source of pride inside the division and within the larger corporation. There was a deep respect for the history, close attention to the present, and a vision for the future. In other words, it was a company that knew what it was about: educating and entertaining children and adults. But dark clouds were forming on the horizon.

The education marketplace had been a cash-rich business for decades, with much higher margins than those in the consumer business. Educational spending was slowly but steadily rising in these years, which attracted investor attention. In short, the industry was ripe for takeover and consolidation. Investors began leveraging these cash-rich businesses, taking on what they thought was manageable debt and looking for synergies across their acquisitions.

In December 2006, Riverdeep Holdings purchased Houghton Mifflin. One year later, Riverdeep purchased the educational and consumer publisher Harcourt Education and created Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Both purchases were highly leveraged. In need of cash to service its enormous debt, Riverdeep sold the trade imprint Kingfisher to Macmillan, and shortly after, sold the college division to Thompson Learning (now Cengage).

It was in this environment that I was asked to take over as president of the trade division in fall 2007. A year later, the Great Recession roiled the economy and educational spending plummeted. After a tumultuous and difficult year of painful cost cutting, the trade division was put up for sale in 2009. Offers were made, but a deal was never struck. Through several debt restructurings, and a few turnovers in the corner office, the company went public in 2013.

In 2015 HMH made a cash purchase of Scholastic’s EdTech business, but the financial pressures in the education business continued. In 2018, the standardized testing division, Riverside, was sold. In fall 2020, more than 500 employees were laid off. Once HMH made the decision to transition into a primarily digital company, it was only a matter of time before what was called HMH Books and Media (Trade) was sold to continue paying down the debt.

. . . .

And now, it’s gone. Yes, the HMH logo will appear on the spines and copyright pages of books and audios for a short while, but the proud and feisty trade publisher we all loved and adored is no more, with the brand to be used by the digital technology company. HMH is now part of history, another merger story, among so many in publishing.

During my 40-plus years in the book business, I’ve experienced my share of mergers and acquisitions, but this one especially hurts.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Greater Fool Theory

From Investopedia:

What Is the Greater Fool Theory?

The greater fool theory argues that prices go up because people are able to sell overpriced securities to a “greater fool,” whether or not they are overvalued. That is, of course, until there are no greater fools left.

Investing, according to the greater fool theory, means ignoring valuations, earnings reports, and all the other data. Ignoring the fundamentals is, of course, risky; and so people subscribing to the greater fool theory could be left holding the bag after a correction.

Understanding the Greater Fool Theory

If acting in accordance with the greater fool theory, an investor will purchase questionably priced securities without any regard to their quality. If the theory holds, the investor will still be able to quickly sell them off to another “greater fool,” who could also be hoping to flip them quickly.

Unfortunately, speculative bubbles burst eventually, leading to a rapid depreciation in share prices. The greater fool theory breaks down in other circumstances, as well, including during economic recessions and depressions. In 2008, when investors purchased faulty mortgage-backed securities (MBS), it was difficult to find buyers when the market collapsed.

. . . .

Greater Fool Theory and Intrinsic Valuation

One of the reasons that it was difficult to find buyers for MBS during the 2008 financial crisis was that these securities were built on debt that was of very poor quality. It is important in any situation to conduct thorough due diligence on an investment, including a valuation model in some circumstances, to determine its fundamental worth.

Due diligence is a broad term that encompasses a range of qualitative and quantitative analyses. Some aspects of due diligence can include calculating a company’s capitalization or total value; identifying revenue, profit, and margin trends; researching competitors and industry trends; as well as putting the investment in a broader market context—crunching certain multiples such as price-to-earnings (PE), price-to-sales (P/S), and price/earnings-to-growth (PEG).

Link to the rest at Investopedia

Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?

From The New York Times:

The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie, are gone. Their wings, fluttery confections of rhinestones and feathers that could weigh almost 30 pounds, are gathering dust in storage. The “Fantasy Bra,” dangling real diamonds and other gems, is no more.

In their place are seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.

They will be spearheading what may be the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory: an effort to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells) to the masses. For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves epitomized a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of step with the broader culture and Victoria’s Secret facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.

Will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer.

. . . .

“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”

. . . .

Founded in 1977 as a store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, even the name referred to male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who became naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s view of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to its ethos were the “Angels” — supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks who posed exclusively for the brand, often in G-strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, it introduced the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a sort of cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

. . . .

“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy,’” Mr. Waters said. While that sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompted it to sell push-up sports bras (sexy, but not so popular). It also meant, he said, “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day.” (Not sexy.)

There are plenty of people who do, in fact, find motherhood seductive, but the myopia of the Victoria’s Secret lens was such that they were never acknowledged, let alone listened to.

. . . .

Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.

As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For PG, the NYT’s key quote (and one of relevance for the book business and everybody else) is, “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond.”

For PG, traditional publishing is the epitome of not changing when the world has changed.

He won’t go on a rant to prove his point, but there’s a good rant hanging in the back of closet of his mind if he ever needs one.

Amplified Publishing

From Publishing Perspectives:

While one of the main tenets of Amplified Publishing at this point is that we don’t yet know exactly what we mean when we say the phrase, Kate Pullinger does know what her key interest is in this, her latest project in exploring creativity and technology.

“Creative work, yes,” she says, “but also the bottom line. I’m interested in helping creators in the broad publishing sector figure out how to earn a living.”

. . . .

What Amplified Publishing is trying to discern is how creative forms could be developed to reach audiences through technologically enriched means. What has the emergence of Zoom and Teams and other platforms during the pandemic meant in terms of a potential for creativity and its search for audience? Has that “digital acceleration” ended? Or is there more to be found once the world of conference calls and panel discussions stops owning the Zoom world?

Is there more—better yet, isn’t there more—that we could do with these communications technologies?

Where she starts to look at the issue is by turning around, if you will, not to face the creator but to face the people the creator is looking for: “How to find an audience” is, as her writing on the project points out, the common denominator.

“We live in a world where everyone with access to technology can publish,” the opening backgrounder says. “From YouTubers to Instagram-influencers, from gamers watching each other play online to writers self-publishing, content is everywhere. And yet, the biggest company with its most promising title and the podcaster putting their first episode online share the same problem: how to find an audience?”

. . . .

The Amplified Publishing program’s background materials tell us:

“Digital technologies have fostered the proliferation of new platforms for publishing as well as new platforms for broadcasting, and the rise of video streaming has further dissolved the boundaries between these two modes.

“The music and games sectors include publishing as part of their workflows, though what publishing means in practice varies widely across these sectors. New models of content creation in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality environments further adds to the possibilities for blue sky research. The rise of audio along with voice activation via smart speakers in the home also provide multiple opportunities for R&D.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has delivered rapid change, increasing our use of video conferencing tools, pushing teaching and learning online, boosting sales for some sectors, while decimating delivery models for others, we are asking big questions: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalization offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG’s initial reaction to the story and, especially to the quotes from Ms. Pullinger is that she is seeking gigs as a paid consultant or a paid speaker in the publishing world.

But he could be wrong.

You Won’t Find the Hardcover of Dave Eggers’s Next Novel on Amazon

From The New York Times:

Dave Eggers has a new novel coming out in the fall called “The Every.” But you won’t be able to buy it in all the usual places — at least not right away.

The hardcover of “The Every” will be published by McSweeney’s, which Eggers founded in 1998, and will be released on Oct. 5, but only in independent bookstores. The novel will have at least 32 different covers randomly distributed.

Six weeks later, Vintage will publish the e-book and paperback, which will have only one cover. They will be available everywhere, as will the audiobook edition, which comes out the same day.

But you still won’t be able to buy the hardcover on Amazon; that version will only be available at independent stores, and on the McSweeney’s website.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Eggers said that even distributing the book in a way that excluded Amazon was a challenge, because McSweeney’s usual agreement with its distributor, Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, prevented it from circumventing the retail giant. Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, would not be in a position to skip around them either.

“We’re retail-agnostic,” said Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher and executive director of communications at Knopf and Pantheon. But this arrangement, he said, is good for all parties involved. “They go out and they’re supporting indies,” Bogaards said of the hardcover plan, “and then six weeks later we get the trade paperback, which is great for us.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Awwww. How precious.

This will impress about 1% of the literate population of New York City and .000000001% of the rest of the world’s population.

PG says that, to support Dave, you should only purchase anything he writes from an indie bookstore that also sells strictly vegan food and snacks, recycles the entire store every week and donates 90% of its gross revenues to saving endangered furry lobsters wherever they may be.

Any store employee who takes a selfie after egging Jeff Bezos’ car qualifies for a free winter living in a commune outside of Yellowknife while providing volunteer snow-shoveling services for members of indigenous tribes and providing support services and counseling to needy musk oxen.

Urban Publishing Myths: Bookstore closures hurt frontlist sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.


Mixed headlines this past week as Publishers Weekly acknowledged backlist sales could be sustained even after high street bookstores re-opened, while The Bookseller focused on how lockdown supposedly hurt frontlist sales due to less discoverability of debut authors.

Of course there are elements of truth on both sides, but the key point that publishers chose to offer fewer new titles during the pandemic and therefore fewer books were available to be sold is barely acknowledged.

It’s the same kind of self-defeating argument we see about ebook and audiobook subscription, where frontlist titles and big name authors are kept off these sites and publishers then point to low engagement as a self-fulfilling prophecy that subscription cannot deliver.

But let’s stick with the issue of backlist, by which we mean books first published at least a year previously. Books that therefore no longer receive any publisher love and promo-cash and are left to wither on the vine.

At PW’s US Book Show in May representatives from four major houses discussed,

strategies on how to continue to build a publisher’s backlist revenue.

PW explained:

Panelists agreed that the pandemic was the major reason backlist sales have soared as more buying shifted online, an environment that tends to favor backlist titles over new releases.

Well, yes and no.

Here’s the problem with this argument. Bookstores are great for discovery, no question. I can (if I were in a country that had such an option) walk into a well-stocked bookstore and with a sweeping glance see literally thousands upon thousands of books, and I can move down an aisle and have books to the right of me, books to the left of me, all full size, tangible and within a hand’s reach.

Online I’m faced with at best a page of thumbnail images. I go to another page and the previous page is out of sight. I narrow down to a particular book and I have to search again to find my next promising title.

Recommendations will be flung at me that are either paid ads or algorithm driven.

But what does a bookstore offer in terms of discovering a new debut author, which seems to be the concern of The Bookseller?

The reality is, very little, unless the publisher is paying the bookstore to showcase the title. And if that’s the case, what exactly is stopping the publisher putting the same energy and money into showcasing the title online?

The answer is that the publisher generally is print focused and will not give equal promotional efforts to the bookstore and to the online retailer, perpetuating the myth that frontlist titles perform better in high street stores than online.

Publishers might, then, want to ask themselves how so many indie authors manage to sell books when they are almost totally digitally-focussed.

Per past TNPS posts, the volume of ebooks being sold that are not tracked by Nielsen or the AAP runs to tens of millions of dollars worth each month. Said books being by digital-first/POD online publisher and seller APub, and by digital-first indie authors.

Since Jan 2018 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service has paid out over $1 billion in royalties to indie authors

Somehow said indie authors managed to bring in over one billion dollars in royalties over the past three years – just from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service, where absolutely no bricks and mortar stores are involved.

. . . .

The Bookseller, meanwhile offered some revealing statistics. For example, that,

As a proportion of the (UK) market as a whole, backlist accounted for 57% in volume (in spring 2020), compared to spring 2019’s 50%.

The Bookseller goes on to say, using Enders Analysis data, that sales initially crashed as lockdown first arrived,

With publication dates moving and events cancelled, before they more than recovered, with annual growth rates “much higher than would be expected in a good but ‘normal year’”.

One more unhelpful admission that bricks and mortar bookstores are not as indispensable as previously believed, and that in fact book sales rose, as more booklovers went online, which almost begs the heretical question, might bricks and mortar stores actually stifle sales to some extent?

The reality is both bricks and mortar and online sales are invaluable sales channels for publishers, but of course online tends to mean Amazon, and that presents a whole range of issues for publishers who have traditionally demonised the Everything Store while simultaneously milking it for all it’s worth to sell ebooks, audiobooks and of course print.

. . . .

Jeremy Trevathan at Pan Macmillan, talking about rising backlist sales, said:

It was more of a blip than a massive change in what we do. It did focus our minds on the increased possibility of backlist sales. There’s no diminution in the appetite of launching new authors or doing new things. What has changed is the possibility of online marketing and things like events, which I suspect will go hybrid as much as hybrid working [will].

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

AAP Vows to Protect Copyright from All Challengers

From Publishers Weekly:

(The Association of American Publishers held its annual meeting via Zoom.)

[Maria Pallante, CEO of AAP] said that the financial results of publishers, particularly for trade publishers, during the pandemic proved that readers have never lost interest in good stories, and that the importance of books to people was highlighted during the lockdown. That publishers were able to quickly meet the increased demand for books reflects the resiliency of the industry, Pallante said, and also shows that “there has never been a better or more important time to be in publishing.”

To make sure that publishing remains a good business to be in, AAP’s job, Pallante said, “is to ensure that you can compete fairly in the modern marketplace.” Regrettably, she continued, “there are actors who seek to weaken your legal protections in order to advance their business interests, whether that interest is in bloating the fair use doctrine to illogical boundaries or, more blatantly, appropriating and monetizing your works without permission.”

In Pallante’s view, the exclusive rights delineated in the Copyright Act are under assault, as is an effective enforcement framework, and she said the DMCA, which governs how infringing content on websites can be taken down, “is badly in need of updating.” She also lamented the lack of a competitive marketplace in which authors’ works can be discovered and publishers can compete “without unfair control or manipulation from dominant tech giants.”

Challenges to copyright protection are also happening at the state level, Pallante warned, where library lobbyists and “tech-funded” special interest groups are working to “divert copyright protection away from Congress to state assemblies,” an apparent reference to Maryland’s passage of a law late last week that would force publishers to make any digital content they license to consumers available as “an electronic literary product” to public libraries in the state “on reasonable terms.” The AAP opposed the law, and in her remarks, Pallante argued that these state efforts “are clearly preempted by the express language of the federal Copyright Act,” while also spinning a “false narrative.”

Pallante said libraries are an important part of the publishing ecosystem, but added that, “authors, publishers, and bookstores also have policy equities, which is why Congress enacted a singular cohesive federal copyright system that has address the ownership and sale of books since 1790.” She also hit back against what she said are lobbyists pushing states to fund open educational resources “through ugly misinformation campaigns aimed at publishers” and designed to replace publishers’ materials.

In a final point about copyright, Pallante said that the lawsuit the association filed a year ago against the Internet Archive for copying 1.3 million scans of books is still in discovery, but said the IA’s activities “are well outside the boundaries of both the law and copyright commerce, and ultimately pose an existential threat to the copyright framework on which authors and publishers rely.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

AAP’s StatShot: US Publishing up 40.2 Percent in March, Year-Over-Year

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the StatShot report released Thursday (May 27) by the Association of American Publishers, the United States’ total revenues across all categories monitored by the system were up in March 40.2 percent as compared to March 2020. That brings the monetary figure to US$896.1 million.

. . . .

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

Trade Revenues

The trade’s sales are being reported up 34.2 percent in March, coming in at $743.9 million, and up 24.9 percent year-to-date, with $2.1 billion in revenue.

Year-Over-Year Numbers

In terms of physical paper format revenues during the month of March, in the trade category–remember, this is consumer books):

  • Hardback revenues were up 50.9 percent, coming in at $293.7 million
  • Paperbacks were up 27.7 percent, with $239.9 million in revenue
  • Mass market was up 34.6 percent to $20.6 million
  • Board books were up 46.5 percent, with $15.3 million in revenue
  • Ebook revenues were up 21.0 percent for the month as compared to March of 2020 for a total of $88 million
  • The downloaded audio format–about which so many in the industry are enthusiastic–was up 16.7 percent for March, coming in at $58.5 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 16.1 percent coming in at $1.6 million, the ongoing downward glide of formats now overtaken by digital

Year-to-Date Numbers

In Q1 2021:

  • Hardback revenues were up 34.0 percent, at $765.3 million
  • Paperbacks were up 19.3 percent, with $651.2 million in revenue
  • Mass market was up 36.6 percent to $61.8 million
  • Board books were up 9.8 percent, with $44.9 million in revenue
  • Ebook revenues were up 20.7 percent as compared to the first three months of 2020 for a total of $278.2 million
  • Downloaded audio was up 21.0 percent, at $189.4 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 5.3 percent, at $4.8 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says if anyone sees any stats for Amazon’s year-over-year book sales for Q1 2021, he would appreciate it if you would forward him a link or message the Contact PG button toward the top of the blog.

Rethinking and Book Wars

PG wishes he could say that he carefully positioned the prior two posts, Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry and Dohle and Grant ‘Rethink’ the Book Business.

He didn’t. He just happened to read one shortly after the other last night and posted them when he had a bit of time today.

For PG, the Book Wars excerpt didn’t include much news or original insight. Regarding the OP comment, “commercially successful indie authors still represent a tiny fraction of the total,” the OP doesn’t mention that commercially successful traditionally-published authors also represent a tiny fraction of the total.

Additionally, PG doesn’t think that traditional publishing has shown any real signs of becoming more reader-centric. Look at the comments made by Dohle. Perhaps PG missed something, but Dohle’s remarks seemed to be exclusively focused on the industry and sounded like rehashed statements in corporatespeak that could have been made by any other publishing executive during the last thirty years.

“The Key Performance Indicators of this industry are all going in the right direction.”

PG will note that he first learned about and used Key Performance Indicators well over thirty years ago. Tailfins and flashy chrome hood ornaments are also going to be the big news coming out of Detroit this year.

Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry

From Writers Digest:

The new book Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing documents in detail the changes in the book publishing industry in recent years. Author John B. Thompson gives a glimpse of three crucial changes.

When I set out, around 10 years ago, to study the impact of the digital revolution on the world of books, there was a great deal of uncertainty—and, in some quarters, considerable apprehension—about what might happen when digitization took hold in the oldest of our media industries. Many people in publishing were looking over their shoulders anxiously at what had happened in the music industry and thinking: This could happen to us too. The print-on-paper book could suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP—why not? The textual content of books could be digitized just as easily as music could, and the physical book could be swept aside by cheaper and more efficient forms of content delivery. Like the vinyl LP, the old-fashioned print-on-paper book could become a collector’s item, still cherished by the aficionado but banished to the margins of the industry.

In the years immediately following the launch of the Kindle in 2007, it looked to many like the physical book could indeed suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP, as e-book sales surged. But it soon became clear that the e-book surge was going to be short-lived: By 2012, the rapid growth of e-books had come to an abrupt halt. For some kinds of books, especially genre fiction like romance, mystery, and sci-fi, e-books were by then accounting for a sizable proportion of sales—as much as 40–50 percent. But in other genres, like nonfiction and children’s books, e-books represented a much smaller percentage of sales, and that percentage was either leveling off or declining. If the digital revolution in publishing was about e-books, then it seemed that this was, at best, a stalled revolution. In any case, it certainly didn’t look like a re-run of what had happened in the music industry.

However, the digital revolution in publishing was never only, or even primarily, about e-books: E-books were just one aspect of a much more complex and varied series of transformations that were disrupting the publishing world. In Book Wars, I take the reader on a journey through the decades of disruption that began around 2000 and continues unabated today, a period that has witnessed an enormous proliferation of new ventures and initiatives which, taken together, have radically altered the landscape of contemporary publishing. The world of books today looks very different from the way it looked 30 or 40 years ago. Among the many changes, three stand out as particularly significant.

. . . .

1. Amazon Online Retail

First was the rise of Amazon and the transformation of the retail side of the book business. Amazon was a child of the digital revolution—it wouldn’t have existed without digitization and the internet. In an astonishingly short time period, Amazon grew from its humble origins as a small tech startup in a Seattle garage to become the most powerful organization the world of books had ever known. Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all e-book sales, and for many publishers, around half—in some cases, more—of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon. Never before in the 500-year history of book publishing has there been a retailer with this kind of market share, and with market share comes power, including the power to negotiate favorable terms with suppliers and to command the attention of readers. It’s hard to over-state the significance of this development: Its consequences are profound, not only for publishers and for other booksellers who struggle to compete with Amazon but also for the whole ecology of the publishing world, including the ways in which books are made visible to readers and discovered by them.

. . . .

2. Self-Publishing Boom

A second enormous change has been the explosion of self-publishing. Of course, self-publishing is not new: It can be traced back to the so-called vanity presses that emerged in the early and mid-twentieth century. But the new age of self-publishing that was ushered in by the digital revolution is very different from the old vanity presses. The key idea that underpins this new age is the idea that authors who want to self-publish their work should not have to pay for the privilege, and the organizations that facilitate self-publishing should not be making money by charging fees to authors. On the contrary, self-publishing organizations or platforms should be there to help authors publish their work, and these platforms would pay authors if and when their work sells, taking a commission on sales to cover their costs. It was this simple but fundamental idea, turning on its head the relationship between author and self-publishing organization, that underpinned the explosion in self-publishing that occurred from the early 2000s on, starting with pioneering organizations like Lulu and Smashwords and continuing through the establishment of Amazon’s self-publishing platforms, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, and including many other platforms and services. The world of self-publishing is now an enormously complicated world in its own right—a parallel universe that exists alongside the world of traditional publishing and that has grown enormously in recent years. Quite apart from the sheer volume of self-publishing output, the growth of this sector has altered the traditional power structures of the publishing world. The established publishers and agents who have long acted as gatekeepers in the publishing world, deciding which authors and projects should be published and on what terms, could now be bypassed by following entirely new pathways to publication that had been opened up by the digital revolution. Of course, publishing a book is one thing, getting people to notice and buy it is quite another, and traditional publishers continue to have much more marketing and sales clout than most self-published authors. But there are many indie authors who have managed to earn appreciable amounts of money from their writing, even if the commercially successful indie authors still represent a tiny fraction of the total. Apart from the financial rewards, the growth of self-publishing has massively increased the range of options available to writers, creating a more varied publishing environment in which authors can move back and forth between traditional publishing and self-publishing, depending on what they want to achieve and the options available to them at the time.

. . . .

3. Reader-Centric Business Model

The third change is in many ways the most fundamental: the digital revolution transformed the broader information and communication environment within which publishing existed, thereby creating both the necessity and the opportunity for publishers to adapt to a new and rapidly changing world of information and communication flows. For centuries, publishers had thought of themselves primarily as B2B businesses: They produced books and sold them to intermediaries in the book supply chain—to retailers and wholesalers. Publishers didn’t have a direct relationship with readers and they didn’t know much about them: The job of dealing with readers was left to the booksellers. But this traditional model of the publishing business was radically disrupted by the digital revolution. As competition from Amazon led to more and more bookstore closures, publishers realized that they could no longer count on physical bookstore to do what intermediaries in the traditional book supply chain had always done: make books visible and available to readers. They realized that they had to jettison the old model of the publisher as a bookseller-focused business and become more reader-centric: in other words, they had to re-orient their businesses in such a way that readers were not an afterthought but rather a central focus of their concern. And just as the digital revolution forced this shift upon publishers, it also made available to them a variety of new tools with which they could build direct channels of communication with readers and do so at scale. It is this fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding that is likely to be one of the most significant consequences of the digital revolution in publishing, one that will continue to play itself out in the years to come. 

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Dohle and Grant ‘Rethink’ the Book Business

From Publishers Weekly:

Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle was joined by PRH author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant . . . on Monday in a live online conversation entitled “Rethinking Our New ‘Old’ Business: Why Books and Publishing are Flourishing.”

Presented as a combination of personal and managerial reflections on life and the book business under a pandemic, Grant and Dohle traded pandemic anecdotes and responded to a range of concerns about the current state of the book publishing industry. The two touched on such topics as the pandemic-driven demand for books, digital publishing, e-commerce and Amazon, the challenges facing physical retail, and PRH’s growing size, as well as the enduring importance of the physical book. The conversation closed with Dohle’s optimistic projections for the book industry as it warily emerges into a new and uncertain post-pandemic economic reality.

. . . .

Grant asked Dohle if book professionals thought the industry would grind to a halt and languish because of the pandemic.

But while Dohle was quick to acknowledge that it has been “a tough year for everyone,” he said, in fact, “business went through the roof last year,” and growth has continued into 2021, with print unit sales up about 25% into mid-May over the comparable period last year. Rather than grinding to a halt under the pandemic, the book industry was flourishing. Indeed, Dohle continued, looking back over the last 25 years, he emphasized that the book industry has fared better than any other media category.

“That’s not what the public thinks, and, unfortunately, it’s not what publishing people think,” he said. Indeed, Dohle noted that, in 2017, he decided to go on a “global road show,” to impress on the industry and others that “this is the best time in publishing ever since Gutenberg,” highlighting the fact that “the vast majority of the growth comes from the printed format.”

Dohle offered six reasons why this is the best time in publishing, backed, he said, by data: 1. the continued growth of the global book market year over year; 2. the industry’s robust model for print and digital distribution; 3. the continuing strength of physical books and its coexistence (80% print, 20% e-books) with digital in the market; 4. world population growth and spiking literacy rates, creating new readers; 5. the especially fast growth of children’s books, producing even more new readers; and 6. the boom in audiobook sales, which is not cannibalizing other formats.

Grant continued to question Dohle’s rosy depiction of the business, citing the mounting size of PRH (and its pending acquisition of S&S) and asking if his best-of-times characterization simply “supports your efforts to build monopoly power.”

“The Key Performance Indicators of this industry are all going in the right direction,” Dohle said, noting that revenue is growing for publishers and retailers, while author royalties also have increased. Addressing PRH’s size, Dohle asserted that the publisher represented about 20% of the book markets in each of the 25 countries in which it operates. He added that the publishing sector is fragmented, characterizing a 20% market share as “not that big.” (When told by Dohle of PRH’s current market share, Grant said that didn’t sound like a monopoly). Dohle also argued that, over the last 10 years, small and independent publishers have “outperformed the big houses,” particularly those who are strong in a niche.

Dohle said that while publishing is fragmented, “Amazon has accumulated a lot of market share” on the retail side, noting that four of every 10 units sold by PRH are bought through Amazon. Having said that, Dohle said, PRH can work with the e-tailing giant. “They innovate, and they present challenges as well as a lot of opportunities,” he said, adding, “perhaps more opportunities than threat. Why fight our biggest customer? Complaining is not a strategy.”

While online sales jumped last year, Dohle promised that PRH will support both e-commerce and physical bookstores. “We want to grow in all channels,” he said, adding that the publisher has just extended payment terms for bookstores again to give them more financial flexibility and help their cash flow. In response to a question from Grant, Dohle said he hoped the industry would one day solve the question of bundling print and digital copies of books, noting that one challenge there is the pressure bundling could pose on author royalties. He even discussed the ability of PRH imprints to compete for book acquisitions as PRH waits for governmental authority to acquire S&S. (It’s allowed, Dohle said, as long as non-PRH publishers are involved.)

Dohle also hit back against the thinking that, as the lockdowns fade and people return to more normal routines, reading and book buying will decline. He said that the industry has a great opportunity to keep people who made reading a habit over the last year in the book-buying ecosystem and to raise the baseline of readers. His answer for how to achieve that? “Publish good books.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Who deserves a book deal?

From Vox:

Book publishing is having an existential crisis. The industry is finding itself saddled with deals by polarizing political figures, and no idea how to handle them. Which, in turn, gives rise to some fundamental questions about the purpose of publishing.

Is the industry’s purpose to make the widest array of viewpoints available to the largest audience possible? Is it to curate only the most truthful, accurate, and high-quality books to the public? Or is it to sell as many books as possible, and to try to stay out of the spotlight while doing so? Should a publisher ever care about any part of an author’s life besides their ability to write a book?

These questions are becoming more and more urgent within the private realms of publishing, amid debates over which authors deserve the enormous platform and resources that publishers can offer — and when it’s acceptable for publishers to decide to take those resources away.

Within the media watering hole of Twitter, it can look as though these concerns are being imposed from the outside: by progressive authors calling on their publishers to abstain from signing right-wing writers; by angry YA fans and Goodreads readers; by petitions and boycotts and special interest groups. But the conversation about who deserves a publishing deal is also happening within the glass-and-steel walls of the industry itself.

Insiders describe recurring generational battles, with young and junior staffers flagging the work of certain authors as potential publicity risks, and then struggling to get older and more conservative executives to take their worries seriously. “It’s like a relationship you really want to work,” says one young staffer, “but your partner is not making it easy for you.”

This April, Simon & Schuster announced two new book deals that left its staff polarized and furious: one with former Vice President Mike Pence, and one with former Trump administration official Kellyanne Conway. More than 200 staffers at Simon & Schuster signed a petition calling on the company to cancel the deals. (As in literally cancel their contracts — though this does overlap with the idea of “cancel culture.”) More than 3,500 figures outside the company added their support, including two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

That very public show of internal outrage from Simon & Schuster staffers was only the latest iteration of this larger generational fight, one that usually takes place behind closed doors. In 2019, Penguin Random House imprint Dutton quietly dropped its author Linda Fairstein, who oversaw the 1989 prosecution of the Exonerated Five, in the wake of a public outcry following the Ava DuVernay series When They See Us. Dutton never made so much as a public statement about its decision to part ways with Fairstein, but former Dutton employees described to Vox an internal dynamic similar to the one playing out publicly at Simon & Schuster. At Dutton, junior staffers repeatedly sounded the alarm over an author they considered a liability for the imprint, a former employee says, only to have their concerns brushed aside by senior executives invested in maintaining the status quo, right up until the status quo became untenable.

American culture is changing rapidly right now, and publishing is changing along with it. The stories of Mike Pence’s book deal and Linda Fairstein’s contract speak to the struggle in which publishing is enmeshed: determining what it stands for and what its purpose is.

. . . .

“Your decision-making is only guided by profit right now”: The fight over Mike Pence’s book deal
On April 7, Simon & Schuster announced that it had reached a two-book deal with Mike Pence and that it planned to publish his autobiography in 2023 through the company’s flagship imprint.

Within days, angry staffers began circulating a petition urging Simon & Schuster management to cancel the Pence deal, to commit to refusing to sign any other members of the Trump administration, and to end all association with Mattingly’s publisher, Post Hill Books. When they delivered the petition to CEO Jonathan Karp on April 26, they had signatures from about 14 percent of the company.

“Editors exercise subjective judgement every day at S&S—we put our trust in them,” a group of organized employees wrote in a cover email delivering the petition to management. “When S&S chose to sign Mike Pence, we broke the public’s trust in our editorial process, and blatantly contradicted previous public claims in support of Black and other lives made vulnerable by structural oppression.”

Karp wrote a letter in response maintaining that Pence’s book deal would go forward. “We come to work each day to publish, not cancel,” he wrote, “which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

. . . .

To the Simon & Schuster staff members who signed the petition, the central issue was one of hypocrisy and normalization. No one is owed a book deal, and editors turn down prospective authors every day without anyone crying censorship. So why, they asked, was Simon & Schuster offering deals to Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence, after spending the previous summer putting out statements declaring its support for Black Lives Matter? Why, they asked, was it willing to say that Josh Hawley’s support of the Capitol rioters was a bridge too far, but not the Trump administration’s failure to protect Americans during the pandemic?

“There are innumerable ways in which Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ, racist, anti-immigrant agenda has and will continue to pose a threat to many people, including those who work for your company,” the group said in another email on May 4. “So, our question remains: Why was the distribution deal with Jonathan Mattingly and the book deals with Josh Hawley and Milo Yiannopoulos canceled, but not Pence’s deal? If a standard of truth in publishing is important, how will that possibly be executed in a project with Kellyanne Conway, who proudly coined the phrase ‘alternative facts’?”

“It’s just like, stop inserting these phony statements about morals and political and ethical commitments,” one staffer commented to Vox, rhetorically addressing Simon & Schuster management. This source argues that Simon & Schuster’s statements aren’t really based in a true moral code: “They’re bullshit. That’s branding that you’re trying to tack on. It’s inconsistent with your decision-making. Your decision-making is only guided by profit right now.”

(Vox spoke to a former Dutton employee and two current Simon & Schuster employees for this story, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retaliation.)

“Why are we giving him so much money?” said another employee to Vox, referring to reports suggesting that Pence’s advance could be worth around $3 million to $4 million. “Who’s going to buy his book? No one on either side of the aisle likes him. So why can we not give him a smaller advance? Why can’t you distribute the rest of it among your employees, or maybe give bigger advances to BIPOC authors?” (Publishing assistants are notoriously underpaid, in one of the factors leading to the monolithic whiteness of the industry, and Black, Indigenous, and other authors of color are consistently given smaller advances than white authors.)

Karp and the rest of Simon & Schuster have made no additional statements about the decision to publish either Pence or Conway, and Simon & Schuster declined to comment for this article. Some staffers have suggested to Vox that the internal discontent will soon die down, with one employee saying, “I think we’re mostly just grumbling at this point.” But an organizer of the protest said, “We are definitely not intending to let this go.”

Link to the rest at Vox

PG was somewhat hesitant to include anything from Vox on TPV, but made an exception because of the preciousness of some of the quoted publishing employees.

PG notes that no one is easier to replace than a young staffer at a New York publisher. Is this staffer giving management heartburn? Hire a clone for the same salary or less. Repeat this process a few times and the message will work its way through the workforce. Even the wokest Vassar graduate will get the picture.

To be clear, PG thinks it’s fine for anybody who works at S&S to be politically active in support of whomever and whatever on their own time. This political uproar seems to be happening on the employer’s time and Vox is certainly happy to quote people as upset S&S employees who are mad as hell and won’t take it any more.

This little political drama is taking place in a corner of a larger stage. Last year Viacom/CBS decided to sell S&S (unofficial reason – “That dog don’t hunt.”) Bertelsmann jumped into a not very large or enthusiastic group of prospective purchasers and there’s a preliminary agreement in place for Bertelsmann subsidiary, Penguin Random House to buy S&S.

Supposedly, the deal is complete except for the inevitably-slow regulatory approval.

Guess what happens when Penguin becomes the owner of S&S? A whole lot of junior and senior staff become redundant. The joint companies only need one CEO, one Chief Editor, etc., etc., etc. It’s a difficult and bloody process of deciding who you want to keep and who you don’t. One of the big reasons for an acquisition like this is to save money. Since publishers don’t have a lot of hard assets, saving money means cutting payroll expenses.

During this process, senior executives will have enough headaches making decisions about people who are easy to get along with and doing their jobs while not causing political distractions and talking to Vox.

“Professional retaliation” as mentioned in the OP is as good a reason as anything else to dump anybody who is a headache to deal with under such circumstances. Somebody at S&S who says, “It’s just like, stop inserting these phony statements about morals and political and ethical commitments,” sounds like a perfect candidate for a corporate Dear John/Dear Jane letter from the new bosses.

The Bertelsmann family, which has been wealthy for a long time and controls the Bertelsmann mothership via a combination of direct ownership and a wide collection of foundations is not PG’s leading candidate for an instant transformation into Wokeness and its related behaviors. Like many wealthy people, they would like to remain wealthy and don’t care about the US political flavor of the month.

Headquartered in Gütersloh, a city of about one hundred thousand located in Northern Germany not particularly close to anyplace a young New York publishing staffer has ever heard of, Bertelsmann likes profits without a great deal of fuss. It knows how to fire executives who don’t deliver according to its expectations and reward those who do. Although PG has no idea of who it might be, he suspects somebody in Gütersloh receives a copy of every news article that mentions Bertelsmann, including an article that appears in Vox.

The End of Editing

From Publishers Weekly:

We have so many fantasies of what the writer’s life is like: jotting down notes at a café, time to dream, and a certain ease of getting published. While many of these, particularly the last, quickly fade, either because of early rejections or the need for a steady paycheck, there is one fantasy that I held on to until my first book was published: that of the overly involved, tough-love editor who would take my work to some next level—the Gordon Lish to my Raymond Carver—and care about it as much as I did.

My first book, a story collection, was published by a university press. The peer reviewers each gave a few careful comments. One reviewer wanted one story cut, the other thought it could be reworked. A second story was recommended for “fine-tuning.”

I agreed to address these small issues, and I waited for the editor to whom I had originally submitted the work to give me her edits. They never came. She told me to make the changes the reviewers had suggested, and then I was whisked right on to copy editing. I know she cared about the book. She just wasn’t going to edit it in the way I thought she would.

Rewind a year, to when I found an agent for my debut novel. He and I spent months going back and forth with my revisions, his comments, and more revisions. Here was the editing process I expected: where sentences are debated, scenes deleted, problems large and small addressed. Throughout this process, he kept telling me editors these days like really clean copy, and I started to realize that editors don’t really edit anymore.

“My agent used to be an editor,” says author Keith Lee Morris, whom I contacted after hearing him discuss the editing process at a book event, “and she quit to become an agent so that she could work more closely with authors on their manuscripts.”

My own agent, Madison Smartt Bell, agrees that editing has shifted: “Editors now can expect manuscripts submitted to them to be in an extremely finished state, perfected whether by writers teaching in the academy, or by agents drawing on their past experience as editors, or a combination of those two.”

Morris adds that editors are now expected to promote their books, and I know this was true of my university press editor, who not only acquired the book but was its marketing department, as well.

So, what have we lost with these changes in the industry? Is it just romantic ideals, or has some real care and attention to detail been lost? My debut novel, Strange Children, comes out with an independent press this month, and while the editor was certainly not a line-by-line editor, she did give me several helpful notes and talked me through ideas at length. I appreciated both her insight and her trust in me to take her comments and change the book how I saw fit. I know the time she spent made it a better book.

Morris did eventually seek out an “old-school” editor for one novel, but the experience was challenging: as writers, we may not be used to hands-on editing anymore, either. However, he admits, “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that, ultimately, he made it a much better book. He pushed me beyond my comfort zone in a couple of crucial scenes, for which I’ll always be  grateful, even though it was painful at the time.”

. . . .

When we don’t have that, what’s lost isn’t just the quality or the not-quite-reached potential of a book, but also a sense of collaboration and mentorship. And though teachers, agents, and other writers are stepping up to fill the gap, there’s no guarantee that will always happen. As a writer, I regret not knowing that publication acceptance meant that the more rigorous editing process was behind me, not ahead of me.

The university press that published my book recently asked me to peer review a new book, and when I voted yes on the manuscript, I also handed in several pages of editorial notes, knowing I may be the only reader to do so. The editor and writer both responded with gratitude. And yet there were many small edits I would have suggested if I had been the actual editor, many places I thought a talented writer could be pushed more. As it stands, it doesn’t seem likely that push will happen. And that push, to me, seems like something we should seek out as writers, and make time for as publishers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

So, if hiring a professional editor is something the author should undertake, what services does a trade publisher provide in exchange for taking the majority of the proceeds generated by sales of a book?

Why Bookshop.org is not the saviour the book world needs

From NewStatesman:

When Bookshop.org arrived in the UK on 2 November [2020], the announcement was met by a huge amount of public enthusiasm from bookshops, publishers, authors, literary critics and readers alike. “This is revolutionary”, read a Guardian headline, while authors including Margaret Atwood, Richard Osman and Caitlin Moran directed their Twitter followers to purchase their latest books from the site. For many, it was a welcome initiative – finally, it seemed, here was an efficient, competitively priced platform dedicated to supporting independent bookshops.

But a number of high street booksellers and independent publishers are increasingly sceptical of Bookshop.org. “What sticks in the throat is that it seems not remotely to be what it purports to be,” said James Daunt, founder of the independent book chain Daunt Books and managing director of high street bookseller Waterstones. “But they do just enough for it to appear credible and it’s a really nice story: who doesn’t love an anti-Amazon story?”

Tamsin Rosewell, a bookseller at Kenilworth Books, Warwickshire, said Bookshop.org “crashed in like a juggernaut, and seems to be attempting to homogenise all indie bookshops into one online presence”. Its launch, she said, was “arrogant and clumsy”.

Bookshop.org, which launched in the US in early 2020, is “an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops”, its website states.

. . . .

Bookshop.org works by enabling independent bookshops to create their own virtual shopfronts on their site. Bookshops receive 30 per cent of a book’s cover price for each sale made through their shopfront. If a customer buys a book without going through a specific shop, 10 per cent of that book’s cover price is put into a central pot split among all participating shops. The books are sourced and shipped by Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler. Titles are offered at a small discount – 7 per cent, typically still more expensive than Amazon – and are delivered within two to three days.

. . . .

But Bookshop.org’s arrival has caused great unease in parts of the book trade. After a difficult year for the industry, with many small presses and independent shops at risk of closure due to the pressures of the pandemic, many told me Bookshop.org is far from the saviour they need. Bookshops earn less through sales on Bookshop.org than they would from selling their books direct to customers, and booksellers fear the site, rather than competing with Amazon, is diverting shoppers away from the high street.

. . . .

First, the finances. One independent bookseller, who asked not to be named, told me: “We’re losing out substantially.” For every book sold via Bookshop.org, they explained, their shop makes 13-20 per cent less than if the customer had bought the same book, at the same cover price directly from the shop. “Bookshops would usually take between 43 and 50 per cent on a book,” they said. The 30 per cent an independent shop receives from each Bookshop.org sale has been described widely as a “full profit margin”. This, the website’s CEO, Andy Hunter, explained, is the money left after the 7 per cent customer discount, payments to the publisher, wholesaler and payment processor, and the 4 per cent Bookshop.org takes. But the anonymous bookseller claimed the phrase is “misleading”.

Jules Button, owner of Woodbridge Emporium bookshop in Suffolk, agrees. She said customers had ordered books from Bookshop.org thinking they were buying direct from her, unknowingly leaving Woodbridge Emporium to miss out on 13-20 per cent of the takings. “The general public genuinely think they are helping independent bookshops,” said Button. “I don’t think a lot of them realise it’s just another big warehouse and it’s a fulfilment service.”

The numbers don’t work in favour of publishers either. The publishing director of a small independent press, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when Bookshop.org launched, they felt under pressure from the wider industry to open a page on the site because it seemed every other shop and publisher was – they didn’t want to be left behind. Amazon buys the publisher’s books at 40 per cent of the cover price. But to sell books via Bookshop.org the publisher must go via wholesaler Gardners, with which it already has an agreement of a 55 per cent discount, alongside extra costs like commissions to sales representatives and distribution fees. The director said that, with all these costs included, they sell books to Bookshop.org at around 35 per cent of the cover price: for every book sold on Bookshop.org, they earn 5 per cent less than if they had sold that book on Amazon, the very company Bookshop.org claims to be “fairer” than.

These concerns are keenly felt in a letter sent by a bookseller, drawing on “messages from fellow booksellers”, to industry trade group the Booksellers Association (BA). The letter, seen by the New Statesman, calls Bookshop.org’s launch marketing “aggressive”, describes the “discontent” among booksellers and publishers as growing “increasingly bitter”, and outlines a list of queries about the running of Bookshop.org, questioning the BA’s “very fast” and “forceful” endorsement of the site.

The biggest fear among those I spoke to is that Bookshop.org is not denting Amazon’s sales, but that it is instead attracting customers who usually shop on the high street – whether at a chain such as Waterstones, Blackwells or Foyles, or at an independent.

“My feeling is they’re preaching to the converted,” said author and artist Karin Celestine. She said that when she posted news of her latest book on social media, encouraging potential readers to buy it via their local bookshop, she was met with a flurry of support instead for Bookshop.org – from “people who were already shopping at their local bookshops”.

“To be comfortable about what Bookshop.org is doing,” Tamsin Rosewell said, “and the way it is marketing itself as an ethical alternative to Amazon, I’d like to see detailed, unambiguous data that shows it creating a movement of sales away from Amazon. If it can’t show that data, then in effect all it is doing is driving online many of the sales that would have come to the high street, to indies and to Waterstones, at a time when the high street economy most needs that trade.”

Link to the rest at NewStatesman

PG notes that Bookshop.org, despite the non-profit .org extension, is effectively a front for Ingram in the United States, where Bookshop.org started.

Ingram is a huge printer/book fulfillment organization that is very dedicated to earning a lot of money for its owners. The address to which patrons of Bookshop.org return any books for a refund (at least in the US) is Bookshop LLC, Ingram Customer Returns Center, 1210 Ingram Drive, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Ingram is a large privately-held corporation (no public disclosures about the business are required) whose announced managers tend to be named Ingram and regularly show up on lists of US billionaires. The company has two major lines of business, Ingram Content, which is the book side of the business, and Ingram Marine, which operates 5,000 barges and 150 towboats on America’s inland waterways.

PG tends to think of Ingram as Barges and Books.

Linking up with Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler, would be natural for Ingram because the two companies already know each other well.

The entire business plan of Bookshop.org is to be the anti-Amazon. The marketing messages position Bookshop.org as the online face of your charming local bookshop owner. However, as the OP discloses, Bookshop.org is more about Ingram and Gardners than about anyone’s local bookstore.

What Does Book Publishing Stand For?

From The New Republic:

Seven years ago, when Amazon was in the midst of a contentious pricing battle with one of the country’s largest publishers, a group of famous authors banded together to make the case that publishing was a crucial industry for the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

“Publishers provide venture capital for ideas,” the authors wrote. “They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books.… Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return.” The letter was signed by a who’s who of American writers: Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Donna Tartt, Lee Child, Ron Chernow, Ann Patchett, and Robert Caro, among many others.

This is more or less the story that publishers have told about themselves for decades. Publishers take chances, they nurture talent, they’re constantly on the hunt not just for marketable books, but for ideas. The industry is, by extension, one of the most important protectors of speech in the country. It doesn’t matter what the idea is or who it comes from, as long as it’s bold and original.

Speaking to PEN America in 2018, then, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy made the connection explicit, saying, “It is all the more important to reassert our core belief that free speech, the actual discussion and debate of ideas is … the right of every citizen in our society.… When it comes to the right of unfettered discourse we should not, we cannot, accept dissent-quashing tyranny from any side of the political spectrum.”

But even as Reidy was speaking those words, this story was already fraying. In the background was the backlash that followed Simon & Schuster’s brief, disastrous dalliance with Milo Yiannapoulos. In 2021, with staff revolts in response to Simon & Schuster’s signing of Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway to multimillion-dollar deals—and general angst about publishing former Trump administration officials—the story has collapsed altogether. Publishers have lost their grand narrative, and it’s not clear what will replace it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the defense proffered by Simon & Schuster’s current CEO, Jonathan Karp. “As a publisher in this polarized era, we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide and from different constituencies and groups,” Karp wrote in an email responding to an open letter signed by about 15 percent of the publisher’s staff protesting the Pence deal. “But we come to work each day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives. We will, therefore, proceed in our publishing agreement with Vice President Mike Pence.”

It’s worth dwelling on the heart of Karp’s defense: “We come to publish, not to cancel.” Karp is using the word literally—many of his staffers and authors were calling on the publisher to cancel Pence’s book deal, which covers two books. But he is also shouting out a larger culture war driven by right-wingers who have no interest in protecting debate or speech. They are, moreover, actively attempting to limit it in many instances.

The use of “cancel” here is notable in that these types of culture-war defenses are the last refuge of those without a substantive case to be made. And, to be clear, there really isn’t one to be made in defense of either the Pence deal or the Conway one, which came to light earlier this week. In the case of Pence, Simon & Schuster has paid $4 million for two books that will likely be the usual dreck of presidential aspirants, while the author cravenly glosses over the fact that his former boss incited a riot that nearly killed him.

. . . .

What you have now is a confused situation in which all kinds of books are deemed not worthy of publication or circulation—often for very good reasons—but without much consistency or clarity. At the same time, publishers are desperately clinging to anything they can to justify continuing to do whatever they think is in their best interest financially. They are on increasingly shaky ground, however, as Karp’s “canceling” email suggests. The old lines about free speech don’t quite make sense anymore. New ones haven’t been concocted. So they are left with empty rhetoric that only shows that these publishers have long since abandoned their roots as plucky free-speech warriors championing Ulysses.

What is fascinating about this dynamic is that, morally speaking, the corporations have been outflanked by their employees. The moral vision laid out in the open letter to Simon & Schuster, for instance, is much clearer than the one provided by Karp, whether you agree with it or not. “By choosing to publish Mike Pence, Simon & Schuster is generating wealth for a central figure of a presidency that unequivocally advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence,” the letter reads. “This is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimizing bigotry.”

On one side, you have employees making the kind of value-based argument that publishers have been making for decades; on the other, you have an executive making dubious “cancel culture” arguments in service of the profit motive. This conflict only underscores the artificial nature of book publishing’s marketplace of ideas. As The Washington Post’s Ron Charles wrote earlier this week, “publishers have always made highly selective judgments about who they print and who they don’t,” a calculus that has historically heavily favored white men.

The disconnect between publishing’s rank and file and its leadership is cavernous at the moment. What you hear again and again, talking to staffers at Simon & Schuster and Norton, is the same thing you hear when talking to media professionals: They feel they are not being listened to and want more of a voice in decision-making. That may be more likely at W.W. Norton, which is employee-owned, than at Simon & Schuster, which is in the midst of a merger with Penguin Random House. In largely nonunionized publishing, winning that kind of influence will be difficult unless the wave of organizing we have seen in journalism spreads to book publishing.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

News Corp completes Houghton Mifflin Harcourt consumer division deal

From The Bookseller:

HarperCollins owner News Corp has completed its $349m (£252m) acquisition of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s consumer division.

The deal, first announced in March, sees the HMH Books & media business operated by HarperCollins in the US.

HMH Books & Media has a backlist of more than 7,000 titles and a significant frontlist in the lifestyle and children’s segments. Popular HMH Books & Media titles include 1984 and Animal Farm, Curious George, The Polar Express, Little Blue Truck and The Little Prince. The acquisition gives HarperCollins US rights to J R R Tolkien’s works, meaning the publisher now has global English language rights to titles like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Brian Murray, president and c.e.o. of HarperCollins, said: “We are happy to welcome HMH Books & Media employees, authors, and illustrators to the HarperCollins family. Uniting two publishing companies, each with more than 200 years of literary history, will be the focus of our combined teams. We look forward to new and exciting opportunities as we chart a stronger future together.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt issued a press release concerning the dumping of its commercial book business. An excerpt:

“This divestiture enables us to focus singularly on serving the large and growing K­­­–12 education market and simultaneously extend our impact on student achievement,” said Jack Lynch, President and CEO, HMH. “With a highly differentiated end-to-end technology platform underpinning our solutions, we are uniquely positioned to meet the need for purposeful digital learning and to enhance the value we provide to our customers—which include 90 percent of the nation’s schools—and create for our shareholders. Importantly, the transaction also enables us to transform our capital structure and create flexibility, as a result of our ability to pay down a significant portion of our debt.”

The sub-head of the press release read:

Establishes HMH as a pure-play K­­­–12 learning technology company

Link to the rest at HMH

PG suggests the subtext of the subhead would read something like, “Please, please, please give is a decent stock-market valuation now that we’ve dumped our boat anchor traditional trade-publishing business on someone else!”

Taskforce set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors

From SF Crowsnest:

A task force has now been set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors of their promised/contracted royalties.

The organisations behind the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force include the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Author’s Guild, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honoured,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, President, SFWA. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

SFWA has told us that Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation payments have now been resolved. But about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for help, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.

Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney is the owner of Boom! Comics.

So, basically, if this is allowed to legally stand, any publisher can just sell their books’ rights internally in a shell game, voiding any further author royalty payments at all.

Disney is now being reactive rather than proactively working with the SFWA to address the significant issue they have brought to their attention. While in talks for Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novels, Disney was told that Alan was also missing statements and royalties for his Star Wars novelisations. They would not begin the process or resume royalty statements until Alan contacted them with a formal claim.

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” added Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organisation.”

. . . .

There are now many verified reports of missing statements and royalties from LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.); Boom! Comics, and Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer); 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.); MGM (Stargate); Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator); Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel).

Link to the rest at SF Crowsnest and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

For the real threshold for traditional publication, look at debuts

From Nathan Bransford:

It’s not a secret that the quality of books published by traditional publishers varies greatly. Some are breathtakingly magical, some read like lukewarm porridge.

I personally have long felt that authors cast too many aspersions against traditionally published books and underrate how good they really are, particularly if you’ve never read slush to get a sense of the “competition.” If you’re not finding more wonderful books than you could possibly have time to read, you’re really not looking very hard.

But it’s undoubtedly true that there are some traditionally published books that feel a bit, well, mailed in. And whenever an author brings one of these to my attention and uses it to interrogate the standards at traditional publishers, I often ask this question: was it a debut?

There are many reasons an established author might get a so-so book over the line to publication: they might have a faithful readership who will buy any book that hits the right notes, or it may be as simple as the author delivering a second or third book in a contract that has already been signed. These books may not need to reach the same level of excitement that’s required for an editor to go through the hurdles of acquiring a new book on behalf of the publisher.

If you want to know how good you have to be to get a traditionally published book across the finish line: look to the debuts. Those are the ones that had to get an editor excited enough to make an offer and take a chance on an unknown author.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suggests that authors may be best-served by letting readers decide. At a minimum, an indie author with little talent will have more readers and make more money than a would-be traditionally-published author who never gets a book contract.

Simon & Schuster and Political Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Less than 100 days into the United States’ Biden administration—and, for that matter, less than two weeks after Simon & Schuster announced its two-book deal with the former vice-president Mike Pence—S&S has experienced new encounters with the heat of political publishing.

Today (April 20), Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp has issued a memo to staff, announcing that “we will proceed in our publishing agreement with vice-president Mike Pence.” That memo–which we’ll return to later in this article–is “in response to a petition, circulated by some of our employees, that calls into question recent acquisition decisions and ongoing business relationships at Simon & Schuster.”

Noting that “we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide,” Karp is issuing his second such message to employees in five days.

The backstory here begins late last week, as S&S determined that it will not distribute a book by one of the police officers involved in the raid on the home of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

You may recall that on January 7, Simon & Schuster cancelled its contract with Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, after Hawley had helped lead objections on January 6 to certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. But when Hawley’s book was then picked up by Regnery Publishing, which is distributed by Simon & Schuster, things from S&S were quiet. Distribution contracts don’t normally allow a distributor leeway over what it will or won’t distribute for contracted publishers.

And yet the question of distributing the book on the Breonna Taylor incident has had a different outcome at this Big Five company, which Bertelsmann has agreed to acquire in a deal still pending approval from regulators. And an especially thoughtful letter from Karp to the company’s employees reflects the level of ethical and business dilemma that executives in publishing can encounter as political and social issues continue to upend national and international dialogue and policy.

The moment becomes one to consider as a potential evolutionary phase in publishing, the focus being on the book business’ responsibilities amid social and political upheaval, and the reach of those responsibilities in the supply chain—in this new case, distribution rather than publication.

On Friday (April 16), Karp wrote, “Yesterday was a difficult day for all of us at Simon & Schuster, our authors, and our colleagues and contacts in the publishing industry. As you know, we decided that we would not distribute a planned book from Post Hill Press by Louisville police officer Jonathan Mattingly, who was involved in the death of Breonna Taylor.”

Taylor, for international readers who may not be recalling the tragedy, was 26 when she was shot and killed as she slept in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13, 2020, during a bungled police raid as part of a drug investigation. Taylor, who was Black, was an emergency room technician with the University of Louisville Health program, and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker was at her apartment at the time of the raid.

Jonathan Mattingly was one of the white plainclothes police officers involved in the raid. Mattingly was shot in the leg during the raid and his attorney last October announced that he would sue the late Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend Walker. As Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter report at The New York Times, an FBI ballistics report found that police sergeant Mattingly fired at least one of the six bullets that struck Taylor, “though his was not the lethal bullet.”

. . . .

“As a publisher, we seek a broad range of views for our lists. As a distributor, we have a limited and more detached role. The distinction between publishing and distribution is frequently lost on people who do not follow the publishing business closely, but it is a reality of this important part of our overall business portfolio.”

Karp is talking case-by-case basis, and cautions that the distribution role cannot accommodate the decision made on the Mattingly book. The publisher-as-distributor, in other words, is in a bind that’s becoming increasingly visible and uncomfortable.

In what may be the best possible expression of that bind, Karp concludes, “I understand and am sorry that yesterday’s events have caused distress and disruption for you. It has been a tumultuous year, marked by tragedy and injustice. We are grateful that throughout this time you have so openly and courageously shared with us your views and opinions and experiences. We will continue to seek your help and understanding as we strive to move forward as company.”

. . . .

The open letter this spring from publishing industry professionals to the industry’s executives has called on companies to refuse to contract former members of Donald Trump’s administration. The Times article from Alter and Harris indicates that the letter has more than 630 signatures on it. That letter refers to service in the Trump White House as “a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals” and it asserts that book publishing is sometimes given to “chasing the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people” with book contracts.

Karp’s answer to the petition today, in asserting that S&S will go ahead with its Pence contract, says, in part, “Our role is to find those authors and works that can shed light on our world–from first-time novelists to journalists, thought leaders, scientists, memoirists, personalities, and, yes, those who walk the halls of power.

“Regardless of where those authors sit on the ideological spectrum, or if they hold views that run counter to the belief systems held by some of us, we apply a rigorous standard to assure that in acquiring books, we will be bringing into the world works that provide new information or perspectives on events to which we otherwise might not have access.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

As PG read the OP, he wondered about the nature of the discussion the S&S CEO Jonathan Karp had with his boss at Bertelsmann.

As PG has mentioned before on TPV, Bertelsmann is a giant world-wide media company headquartered in Gütersloh, a city of about 100,000 located in North Rhine-Westphalia and effectively controlled by a group of billionaires, the Mohn family.

PG suspects the Mohn family is much more interested in short-term and long-term profits than in contemporary US cancel-culture.

PG further suspects that Mr. Karp was informed that a book by the former vice-president of the United States was likely to be a money-maker and that Bertelsmann was not interested in having one of the companies it owned involved in a political catfight in the United States over such a book. If Karp couldn’t handle his employees, Bertelsmann would replace him with someone who could.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong.

Ingram: the global infrastructure for the book industry

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The global infrastructure for the book business that is not Amazon is owned and operated by the Ingram Content Group. In fact, a lot of the global infrastructure of the book business that is identified as Amazon is actually Ingram. And on top of that, there would probably have been no Amazon, certainly not the one we have, if Ingram hadn’t been innovating for more than two decades before Jeff Bezos left Wall Street to became an entrepreneur.

Ingram has been rewiring and repaving the book business since it was expanded beyond its roots in the 1960s as the Tennessee School Book Depository by its new owner, Bronson Ingram, who made his fortune in the oil business in the decades after World War II. His investment in the book business, which would reconfigure and redefine the industry in many different ways, began as a pure act of kindness. As it turns out, that was a very suitable and appropriate genesis.

As a leading businessman in Nashville, Ingram was involved with Vanderbilt University’s business school. So when Jack Stambaugh retired from a career at Vanderbilt, he accepted Bronson’s offer of an office at Ingram to be a base for his post-University endeavors. A few months later, Ingram observed that Stambaugh did little except read the Wall Street Journal each day and offered to put up the money to buy a business for Stambaugh to run.

And that’s how Ingram bought the Tennessee Book Company. The School Book Depository it operated was a low-risk, stable but no- or low-growth business that enabled local school districts in Tennessee to get textbooks in quantities smaller than publishers wanted to deal with. So the sales were pretty assured — new textbooks in some subjects were acquired every year by some school districts — and the customer base of schools were reliable payers.

Thus begins the story told in “The Family Business”, a history of Ingram by Nashville journalist Keel Hunt, a great storyteller who has known the Ingram family for almost all of its just over five decades of operation. “The Family Business” is being published tomorrow, April 20, by West Margin Press in Berkeley, CA.

Having a part in creating this project has been among the most enjoyable experiences of my career. Working with Hunt, publishing veteran Bruce Harris, and editor Karl Weber has been a voyage of rediscovery of my own time in the business. 

. . . .

The Ingram of today reaches every corner of the global book business. It is more accuracy than hyperbole to say that every publisher, every bookseller, and every library in the world does business with Ingram. As a wholesaler, they carry the books of all publishers and are the primary distributor (the originating source) for those published by hundreds of them. Their CoreSource digital asset repository, which dispatches the digital files for books to deliver ebooks or print books all over the globe, is the single biggest. Their “third party distribution” capability delivers books to more American homes than anybody else, in boxes identifying the customer of Ingram’s — which could be any bookstore including Amazon — that transacted the sale as the source for the book’s purchaser.

. . . .

I have met dozens of people from Ingram. I have consulted with them for years as well and introduced them to projects they have taken on board. I have never met a single person from Ingram who wasn’t smart. I have never met one who was in any way difficult to work with. And what was always most impressive throughout all these decades, they conducted their business without a hint of the bullying (even gentle, polite, subtle bullying) that is endemic in all businesses when large accounts deal with small suppliers.

They are relentlessly efficient and they value operational excellence. They are also very civil and they also value just being nice.

Ingram’s growth was accelerating when I met them. The company did about $1 million in business in 1970 and over $100 million in 1979. (Hitting $100 million is another great story well told in the book.) This growth was fueled by the expansion of retailers enabled by the vastly streamlined supply chain that for the first time allowed booksellers to know, through the microfiche, that they were ordering books they’d reliably have in a few days. That level of certainty in the supply chain had never existed before and it suddenly made bookselling a much better business to be in than it ever was previously.

. . . .

At almost the precise moment that Ingram’s operational efficiency was enabling the invention of the phenomenon of Amazon (clearly detailed in “The Family Business”), the torch was being passed to the next generation of the Ingram family. Bronson’s premature death led to his son, John Ingram, coming back from building Ingram Micro in Europe to take over the family enterprise in 1995.

The late 90s were a prelude to the new digital realities that mark the book business today, and Ingram’s hallmarks — operational excellence, focus on delivering value for their trading partners, and the patient money that only a very private business can invest — both shaped the change and assured the central place Ingram has in the global world of books today.

It was in that period, while Amazon was building their own behemoth, brilliantly leveraging the capabilities that Ingram gave them, that John Ingram launched two initiatives that are still central to the company’s success.

One was Lightning Print, the capability to print a single copy of a book at a commercially acceptable price on short notice. The other was the previously-mentioned “third party distribution”: the capability to ship to the end consumer with the book appearing to come from the Ingram customer using the service. The latter capability enabled any bookstore or web site to sell any book Ingram had as though they were sending it themselves. The former extended that capability beyond the hundreds of thousands of titles Ingram actually stocked to the many millions (now approaching 20 million) in the Lightning database.

In 2021, all you need to be a bookseller is customers and a relationship with Ingram. And all you need to be a publisher is a manuscript, a checkbook to hire some freelancers, and a relationship with Ingram.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

S&S removes distribution for cop’s book

From Nathan Bransford:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Scholastic Halts Distribution of Book by ‘Captain Underpants’ Author

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

The Emotional Cost of the Book Deal

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Trade Publishing Segments Have Fast Start to 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

UK watchdog investigates Penguin owner’s Simon & Schuster takeover

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Books!

From Persuasion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The critical consensus soon flipped.

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Persuasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, as usual, PG could be wrong.

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

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity in Romance Books Still Lags

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Waiting for the Plane Tickets: Rights Pros on Digital Events

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

LeeAnn Bortolussi at Giunti Editore

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Young at Macmillan Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And we look forward to that returning.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Book Deal

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

PG’s three potential responses for an author:

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

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

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

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

From Protocol:

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

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

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

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

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

Libby had helped to save libraries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Publishing Pushes Out Trump’s Last Fan

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

“Not our sort of customers, you know.”

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

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

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

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

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

A Role for Publishing in the Healing of our Nation

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

Three Authors’ Associations Address Status of Audible.com Talks

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

The original ask, the coalition reiterates, was:

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

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

. . . .

Ability to Terminate Audible Distribution

Quoting the coalition:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

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

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

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

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

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From TeleRead:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at TeleRead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

Want to Change the Book Biz? Organize.

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re very, very good.”

. . . .

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

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

It was signed, “Henry.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky Phishing Scam Targets Traditionally-Published Writers

From Writer Beware:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at the Associated Press

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

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

Just How White Is the Book Industry?

From The New York Times:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

The Talented Ms. Calloway

From The Los Angeles Review of Books;

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

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

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

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests this represents a sea change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Allison Hill, CEO of The American Booksellers Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Monster Publishing Merger Is About Amazon

From The Atlantic:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

PG will limit himself to a short rant.

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

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

The OP includes the following:

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

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

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

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

The OP also includes:

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

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

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

End of rant. PG feels much better now.