Big Publishing

Tokenism in Books Led a Father to Self-Publish Stories for His Mixed-Race Sons.

18 April 2019

From The BBC:

Suhmayah Banda, from Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said he wanted to write stories that “would allow my kids to see characters that look like them”.

A report for the Book Trust said one third of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors and illustrators in the UK self-publish.

That compares with 11% of white authors and illustrators.

“As a family we read a lot together, and there are so many varied characters out there – animals, monsters, cars, firemen,” said Mr Banda, who is originally from Cameroon.

“But when it comes to ethnically diverse, in my case black or mixed characters, there is just not that much choice out there.”

A study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in 2017 found only 1% of children’s books published that year in the UK had a BAME main character, and only 4% included BAME background characters.

The 2011 census found 14% of people in England and Wales were non-white. In Wales the figure was 4.5%.

. . . .

[O]ne of the catalysts for his first story was a comment Tancho made after reading a book in school.

“He came home from school one day and told me that people in Africa don’t have water in their houses. And as an African, and a Cameroonian specifically, I was a little surprised,” he said.

“I was like, ‘Really? All of Africa?’…there are a lot of people who have and don’t have things everywhere in the world, so I didn’t like that generalisation.

“Books are the first exposure a lot of kids and adults have to the wider world. And if those books are always written to the same narrative, in many cases misleading or wrong narratives, then it is dangerous on a lot of levels.

“And I wanted to expose my kids, and hopefully others, to a lot more perspectives.”

. . . .

Mr Banda, whose day-to-day job is in IT, is sceptical about efforts in the publishing industry to improve representation.

“They have a lot of competitions going on about promoting diversity. I find them flawed at best….

“You end up having a black or ethnically diverse character put in a story that doesn’t really reflect their reality. A lot of the time that is just tokenism,” he added.

. . . .

Aimee Felone, who co-founded publishing company Knights Of, shares Mr Banda’s frustration with much of the sector.

The company’s starting point was to hire “as widely and diversely as possible to make sure the books we publish give windows into as many worlds as possible”.

It has just published its first novel, a children’s murder mystery where the detectives are two young black sisters in London and, in October, they will be publishing a story about a character who is hard of hearing.

They purposefully chose a deaf editor to work on it, to make sure the story was “genuine and authentic”.

. . . .

In her view, the approach of the industry to BAME stories often grouped together non-white people from different backgrounds.

“I think what is missed is that there are different challenges that are faced within each community,” she said.

“We’re not looking at representations of Asian women, Chinese women [for example], we’re just putting everyone together in one box [and saying] ‘Oh look we have a BAME character’.

“What does that actually mean? Whose story are we actually telling?”

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG is skeptical that traditional publishing can move beyond tokenism given the background of 99% of its employees ranging from unpaid interns to the CEO. Of course, traditional publishing also deals with traditional book stores which have the same problems.

PG suggests the possibility that indie authors who self-publish may be the only avenue by which authentic voices can actually reach readers.

Elsevier’s Presence on Campuses Spans More Than Journals. That Has Some Scholars Worried.

13 April 2019

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

On a recent panel on challenges to the future of teaching and research, Colleen Lyon outlined what was, to her, a “dangerous” dynamic in the world of academic publishing.

Lyon, a librarian of scholarly communications at the University of Texas at Austin, listed scholarly-publishing tools that had been acquired by the journal publishing giant Elsevier. In 2013, the company bought Mendeley, a free reference manager. It acquired the Social Science Research Network, an e-library with more than 850,000 papers, in 2016. And it acquired the online tools Pure and Bepress — which visualize research — in 2012 and 2017, respectively.

Lyon said she started considering institutions’ dependence on Elsevier when the company acquired Bepress two years ago. She was shocked, she recalled in a recent interview.

“It just got me thinking,” she said. Elsevier had it all: Institutional repositories, preprints of journal articles, and analytics. “Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier.”

Scholars are beginning to discuss the idea of Elsevier-as-monolith at conferences and in their research. Not only are librarians and researchers speaking openly about the hefty costs of bulk subscriptions to the company’s premier journals, but they’re also paying attention to the products that Elsevier has acquired, several of which allow its customers to store data and share their work.

. . . .

First, institutions fear having less leverage in negotiations, believing that it would be more challenging to move to a different provider if Elsevier’s products were adopted en masse. But, she said, they are also worried about one company’s controlling so many tools that analyze not only the reach and performance of research but also the professors and institutions that produce it.

The skepticism could complicate the relationship between universities and Elsevier just as, on some campuses, it’s showing new strain. Academic libraries have begun to muse publicly about the future of their relationship with the company as their budgets are strained by bulk journal contracts. The University of California system’s high-profile decision to cease negotiations with Elsevier this year has raised the stakes.

. . . .

In a recent paper, Alejandro Posada and George Chen, of the University of Toronto, found that “increased control of scholarly infrastructure … could further entrench publishers’ power and exacerbate the vulnerability of already marginalized researchers and institutions.”

. . . .

Also among Posada and Chen’s findings was that Elsevier’s broad acquisition of tools and services along the research pipeline makes it harder for professors and institutions to cut ties with the company.

“The integration of the data that they control, not only in terms of content but in terms of all the other data they use, makes it a lot harder to function outside the system,” Posada, a research associate at Toronto, said in an interview.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

As PG has mentioned before, in a former life, he worked in a large subsidiary of Reed Elsevier and had contact with top European executives of the parent company from time to time.

The RE executives all seemed to have the same go-to strategy to increase revenues – raise prices. PG suspects the fears about Elsevier’s motives and future plans reflected in the OP are based upon a rational examination of the company’s past pricing strategies.

The Book Industry Isn’t Dead. That’s Just an Excuse to Keep Salaries Low

3 April 2019

From The Guardian:

Book editors love their jobs, perhaps more than the average worker. We work diligently with motivated and inspiring peers on projects we are proud of. You may not realise that every great book you’ve read has been through a rigorous editing process. If an editor’s job is done well, you won’t notice their hand in the final product – this is the invisible work behind each brilliant author, even (or perhaps especially) your favourites.

However, book lovers might be surprised to learn that the working conditions for many of those behind the scenes of book publishing are lagging behind other industries.

In 2018, trade outfit Books+Publishing surveyed 349 Australian book publishing employees about their work. Their findings reveal some telling statistics: the publishing workforce is highly qualified (83%), mostly female (93%) and predominantly unpaid for overtime. Only 6% are people of colour and 3% identify as living with a disability.

These dispiriting figures are perhaps a consequence of the job being poorly paid more generally and applicants’ success highly reliant on previous (unpaid) experience: as an editor, your yearly wage starts as low as $45,000 and is unlikely to increase much as you progress, sometimes sitting at only $68,600 for up to 35 years’ experience. Compare this to the average full-time Australian salary of about $80,000 and it starts to look like a pretty depressing career prospect.

. . . .

In 2018 female publishing employees earned at least 10% less than their male counterparts in almost all departments, according to Books+Publishing. Full-time female editors, on average, earn 89% of their male colleagues’ salaries. Women are also less likely to ask for pay rises and more likely to accept a lower starting wage than men, and historically aren’t paid superannuation for their time on parental leave.

I think many publishing workers have also accepted that the Australian publishing industry is low-paying as a result of low profit margin and growth. That our jobs are highly sought after and competitive positions, with a yearly influx of new, willing publishing graduates ready to work harder for less. In publishing circles, you often hear the phrase “I put up with it because I love my job so much” – we accept the shortcomings and remind ourselves to be grateful for the privilege of working in an industry so seemingly fragile.

However, contrary to popular belief, the industry is not at risk of dying – far from it. In fact, the industry has seen growth in the last few years, with book sales increasing in value by 1.4% in 2018 (according to Nielsen BookScan) – small growth, but growth nonetheless.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the inside story of the Australian book business, but suspects supply and demand may have something to do with the salaries.

If lots of people want to be editors and if, in the eyes of the publisher, there is not an effective difference in product quality between an experienced editor and a newbie, then, just like when you hire someone to mow your lawn, the lowest-priced laborer is likely to get the job.

PG will also note that “book sales increasing in value by 1.4% in 2018” does not necessarily indicate a healthy industry. Additionally, PG checked the Australian inflation rate and it has been 1.9% per year for the last two years.

Frankfurt’s Juergen Boos on the International Perspective: ‘It’s Always Changing’

28 March 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

As world book publishing’s 2019 conference and trade show season moves into high gear, the international industry’s players are traveling to and from the key events in a pattern that becomes familiar. With the London Book Fair as the first major anchor of the year–and the Frankfurter Buchmesse as the annual primary cultminating event–many this week are preparing for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 1 to 4), and others have just returned from the Leipzig Book Fair.

Trade visitors at these international and regional events can number in the tens of thousands. In cases of public-facing events, hundreds of thousands may be in attendance.

And yet a far smaller group of directors are behind the most stable of the world’s great book industry events. You see them at each other’s venues regularly. For example, India’s Jaipur Festival featured a first visit from the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Juergen Boos. And the London Book Fair’s Jacks Thomas is a regular guest at the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah International Book Fair.

When Publishing Perspectives spoke with Thomas earlier this month ahead of this year’s trade show at Olympia London, one of the key points she made about the position of a major fair director had to do with the strain of Brexit and its deep uncertainties on the UK and European publishing industries. A trade show’s director, she said, of course cannot take a political position. “What you can do,” however, Thomas said, “is be very cognizant of the context in which we’re operating.” And to that end, the fair this year had plenty of cross-cultural programming, reflecting, as she put it, “what books do.”

. . . .

In a conversation with Publishing Perspectives during the London Book Fair about the view from his vantage point as one of the handful of major show directors in the world, however, one of the most interesting points Boos makes is that he and his colleagues who direct the international industry’s major fairs and festivals “do meet every second year, maybe 20 of us,” and of course they see each other in transit on planes, trains, and on the exhibition floors of the world.

. . . .

“If you look at Buenos Aires, for example,” Boos says, “there are hundreds of thousands of people coming” to the Feria del Libro. “It’s such an unstable country economically but the fair is so successful. We all have our different challenges.

“Frankfurt might be a bit different, in that we have so many tasks at the same time,” he says. “We run the show, we promote German culture abroad. Like the French, who have the book fair but have to reach out to the world at the same time.” This year, that meant back-to-back fairs in England, Livre Paris opening the day after the London Book Fair closed:  the ambassadorial element of the fairs’ activities can be among the most intensive parts of the directors’ work.

. . . .

Listening for a moment to the conversations passing the stand, Boos delivers one of his best lines in characteristic deadpan: “In the world’s book fairs, everybody has his own crisis.”

. . . .

“A literary publisher in the UK,” for example, will see something quite different from what a fair director based in Germany is tracking, where “We want to export our titles, and yet we do see a lot of reading English in Germany.”

“And our LitAg,” the international rights center at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the heart of the world’s transactional licensing business, “is already booked out for this year,” Boos says, with Böhne’s confirmation–a complete sellout almost eight months before the fair and with a move this year to the Festhalle from Hall 6.3 as part of the renovation program “to give our agents and scouts the best possible infrastructure and experience.”

. . . .

“In Brazil, there’s the bankruptcy protection filings by two [bookselling] chains, but you see the independent bookstores doing  well. And look at Indonesia,” the London Book Fair’s Market Focus, “and at Vietnam. And at growth in the Middle East, just talk to Bodour” Al Qasimi, the Emirates Publishers Association president who has become vice-president of the International Publishers Association.

. . . .

“Our task,” Katja Böhne says, “is to combine these inputs from these markets to tell them all …”

Juergen Boos picks up her thought, “To tell them all there is hope.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

How Printers Can Capitalize on Book Publishing Trends in 2019

20 March 2019

From Printing Impressions:

As technology continues to disrupt and transform the book market, publishers are responding by changing business models that affect how media is produced, distributed and consumed in the book publishing industry. As dramatic technology shifts continue, book publishers, authors and printers need to adapt to benefit from new opportunities.

With the start of another year, book publishers and manufacturers are evaluating what the future might hold.

. . . .

For those in the printing industry, Walter highlighted that there was modest growth in print book sales in 2018 with volume climbing 1.3% — in a year where there were no major blockbuster bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter.” Walter expects the market to remain relatively flat but stable. The key is the migration to more and more digitally printed books.

. . . .

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is a leading book industry trade association that offers standardized industry best practices, research and information. O’Leary said one of the biggest issues facing the book market is the management of the supply chain and shared results of BISG’s year-end “State of the Supply Chain” survey. O’Leary highlighted that the three top priorities respondents were focused on in 2019 when it came to supply chain management were:

  1. Making data-driven decisions
  2. Timely, high-quality metadata to improve discovery and sales (At its most basic level, metadata is how people find your book. This includes the ISBN, keywords, the author name, pub date, BISAC code, reviews, author bios and more. )
  3. Keeping up with new technologies to improve workflow and supply chain management

. . . .

IBPA CEO Angela Bole explained that three publishing models continue to exist: traditional publishing; self-publishing, where authors can be assisted or unassisted by vanity press organizations; and hybrid or partner publishing.

Bole says that in 2019, the industry will experience the rise in hybrid publishing — a gray zone between traditional publishing and self-publishing that is still being defined. Bole described hybrid publishing as publishing companies behaving like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return, a higher-than-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales. Hybrid publishers provide a range of services for the author such as:

  • Vet submissions.
  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBN(s).
  • Publish to industry standards.
  • Ensure editorial, design and production quality.
  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
  • Provide distribution services.
  • Demonstrate respectable sales.
  • Pay authors

Link to the rest at Printing Impressions

PG won’t spend time venting, but he will suggest that traditional publishing is already author-subsidized in that authors receive only a small percentage of the money generated by their books while publishers receive a significantly larger share.

Adult Trade Sales down in January, Kids Up

14 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales of adult trade books fell 7.3% in January compared to the first month of 2018, according to the AAP’s StatShot program. Sales in the children’s/young adult category rose 4.3%

The decline in adult sales was due largely to a 19.5% drop in hardcover sales compared to last January, when Fire & Fury was a huge hardcover hit. Mass market paperback also had a weak start to 2019, with sales down 26.6%. Digital audiobook sales showed no signs of slowing in the month, up 37.5% over last January. E-book sales fell 4.1%, according to a composite of data from the 1,374 publishers who report to the AAP.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon Share Grows and Big Publishers Make More Money

1 March 2019

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

The financial reports of the major publishers have been following a pattern for some years now. Sales are about flat but profits have been steadily rising. One explanation for that fact is that the management of the major houses have been diligent about adapting their businesses to the new marketplace configurations or, as the saying goes, “squeezing costs out” of their operations.

But it could be more than that. In a piece published here well over two years ago, I said it was an “old joke” of mine that “Amazon is every publisher’s most profitable account” which, I observed, was not their objective! That has seemed apparent for well over a decade.

The explanation is simple. Amazon is the account that sells the most units with the least returns. Because Amazon has contractual relationships with the biggest publishers rather than purchasing from their published discount schedules, there is no way for an outsider to know exactly what the sales terms are. But the discounts and marketing fees to Amazon would really have to soar from the standard terms they began with to claw back more than the excess margin they deliver compared to other accounts.

So as the business shifts to Amazon, and it certainly looks from the outside like they are half or more of many publishers’ business, it shifts from lower-margin accounts and publishers make more money.

And because the big publishers have the lion’s share of the high-profile books, they are effectively insulated from being cut off in a trading dispute. It is likely that there is a growing gap between what the larger publishers get as a percentage of the retail price of their books and what smaller publishers can get from Amazon. That drives another component of current publisher economics: the growing consolidation of distribution under the major houses and Ingram.

As the business moves to Amazon, the publishers need more of the “normal” print volume to maintain their sales-and-distribution structures, to pay for the sales reps and warehouses. But gently declining print units mean per-unit costs will rise unless they are augmented by other people’s books in distribution. So far, for the most part, they have been because the smaller publishers are also seeing the same trend and find it harder and harder to support their own sales and distribution structures.

. . . .

Even with their economic advantages and great internal marketing capabilities, Amazon is really not a threat to take the biggest authors away, either through their own publishing operations or through self-publishing. Big authors are already rich and publishers are willing to pay them advances that effectively amount to royalties much higher than the contractual standards. What the big authors are mostly interested in, beyond the money, is maximum exposure. They want to be on sale in the largest possible number of places and reach the biggest number of readers. That is the key to making more money through dramatic sales to Netflix or Amazon or, particularly in the case of non-fiction, doing even more lucrative speaking tours employing the celebrity their books deliver them.

. . . .

In addition to the margin growth that comes from business shifting from scattered retail locations with relatively higher returns to Amazon, publishers are seeing growth in export sales, backlist sales, and, perhaps most dramatically, in digital audio sales.

. . . .

And easier-to-make backlist sales are another source of extra margin for publishers. In the pre-Amazon, pre-digital age, only the books that were actually in stores had much of a chance to sell. Even for the most capable publishers, most of the backlist simply wasn’t ubiquitously available a few months past publication date. Now, with more than half the sales made online, that’s no longer an issue. If the book is in print, it can be purchased. Publishers are increasingly awake to the modern reality that any book can get hot at any time, and sales efforts don’t have to wait for books to be positioned at retail locations to be effective.

. . . .

So the bad news for publishers — a dramatically shrinking store network with its last big chain, Barnes & Noble, in a steady decline that shows no signs of stopping — has, so far, been more than compensated for (in profit margin if not in unit volume) by growth. Sales shifts to Amazon have improved margins and reduced costs. Growth in backlist sales and export sales and audiobook sales have, so far, compensated for the loss of print book units that previously would have sold through the bookstore network.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG was going to look for a prior post in which he opined that Amazon was the best thing to happen to large publishers in a long while, but he’s short on time.

He has long regarded the hostile attitude of major publishers toward Amazon to be one of the more prominent examples of what business mediocrities are in control of those publishers. Why anybody would not have almost immediately preferred doing business with Amazon to dealing Barnes & Noble is beyond comprehension.

Amazon has effectively dragged major publishers into the twenty-first century by forcing them to evolve the way they do business into a much more profitable model – selling bits instead of dead trees, not paying to ship boxes of books back and forth to physical retailers, selling to readers across the nation and around the world, instead of only those within a short distance from a physical bookstore.


KNV, Germany’s Largest Book Wholesaler, Files for Bankruptcy

14 February 2019

From Shelf Awareness:

KNV-Gruppe, Germany’s largest book wholesaler, filed for bankruptcy today, according to Börsenblatt. The filing does not involve the subsidiary LKG.

KNV said that a deal to sell the company, which was close to being finalized, suddenly collapsed, and that its creditors were no longer willing to provide necessary financing. It’s expected that KNV will continue to operate under court supervision. KNV’s customers include 5,600 bookstores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

. . . .

[L]ast year, while book sales as a whole were estimated to have risen just 0.1%, sales at indies and chain stores declined 0.6%.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

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