Big Publishing

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

A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions

4 February 2019

From The New Yorker:

Ian Mallory, a book editor turned novelist, is tall, good-looking, and clever. His novel, “The Woman in the Window,” which was published under a lightly worn pseudonym, A. J. Finn, was the hit psychological thriller of the past year. Like “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn (2012), and “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins (2015), each of which has sold millions of copies, Mallory’s novel, published in January, 2018, features an unreliable first-person female narrator, an apparent murder, and a possible psychopath.

Mallory sold the novel in a two-book, two-million-dollar deal. He dedicated it to a man he has described as an ex-boyfriend, and secured a blurb from Stephen King: “One of those rare books that really is unputdownable.” Mallory was profiled in the Times, and the novel was reviewed in this magazine. A Washington Post critic contended that Mallory’s prose “caresses us.” The novel entered the Times best-seller list at No. 1—the first time in twelve years that a début novel had done so. A film adaptation, starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, was shot in New York last year. Mallory has said that his second novel is likely to appear in early 2020—coinciding, he hopes, with the Oscar ceremony at which the film of “The Woman in the Window” will be honored. Translation rights have been acquired in more than forty foreign markets.

Mallory can be delightful company. Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, recently recalled that Mallory, as a junior colleague in the New York book world, had been “charming, brilliant,” and a “terrific writer of e-mail.” Tess Gerritsen, the crime writer, met Mallory more than a decade ago, when he was an editorial assistant; she remembers him as “a charming young man” who wrote deft jacket copy. Craig Raine, the British poet and academic, told me that Mallory had been a “charming and talented” graduate student at Oxford; there, Mallory had focussed his studies on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels, which are about a charming, brilliant impostor.

. . . .

One evening in September, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mallory sat down in the bar of the hotel where he and other guests of a literary festival were staying. Tom Scott, an editorial cartoonist and a screenwriter, was struck by Mallory’s self-assurance, which reminded him of Sam Shepard’s representation of Chuck Yeager, the test pilot, in the film “The Right Stuff.” “He came in wearing the same kind of bomber jacket,” Scott said recently, in a fondly teasing tone. “An incredibly good-looking guy. He sat down and plonked one leg over the arm of his chair, and swung that leg casually, and within two minutes he’d mentioned that he had the best-selling novel in the world this year.” Mallory also noted that he’d been paid a million dollars for the movie rights to “The Woman in the Window.” Scott said, “He was enjoying his success so much. It was almost like an outsider looking in on his own success.”

. . . .

Such storytelling is hardly scandalous. Mallory was taking his first steps as a public figure. Most people have jazzed up an anecdote, and it is a novelist’s job to manipulate an audience.

But in Colorado Mallory went further. He said that, while he was working at an imprint of the publisher Little, Brown, in London, between 2009 and 2012, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a thriller submitted pseudonymously by J. K. Rowling, had been published on his recommendation. He said that he had taught at Oxford University, where he had received a doctorate. “You got a problem with that?” he added, to laughter.

Mallory doesn’t have a doctorate from Oxford. Although he may have read Rowling’s manuscript, it was not published on his recommendation. (And he never “worked with” Tina Fey at Little, Brown, as an official biography of Mallory claimed; a representative for Fey recently said that “he was not an editor in any capacity on Tina’s book.”)

Moreover, according to many people who know him, Mallory has a history of imposture, and of duping people with false stories about disease and death. Long before he wrote fiction professionally, Mallory was experimenting with gothic personal fictions, apparently designed to get attention, bring him advancement, or to explain away failings. “Money and power were important to him,” a former publishing colleague told me. “But so was drama, and securing people’s sympathies.”

. . . .

Nobody has accused Dan Mallory of breaking the law, or of lying under oath, but his behavior has struck many as calculated and extreme. The former colleague said that Mallory was “clever and careful” in his “ruthless” deceptions: “If there was something that he wanted and there was a way he could position himself to get it, he would. If there was a story to tell that would help him, he would tell it.” This doesn’t look like poetic license, ordinary cockiness, or Nabokovian game-playing; nor is it behavior associated with bipolar II disorder.

In 2016, midway through the auction for “The Woman in the Window,” the author’s real name was revealed to bidders. At that point, most publishing houses dropped out. This move reflected an industry-wide unease with Mallory that never became public, and that did not stand in the way of his enrichment: William Morrow, Mallory’s employer at the time, kept bidding, and bought his book.

. . . .

I recently called a senior editor at a New York publishing company to discuss the experience of working with Mallory. “My God,” the editor said, with a laugh. “I knew I’d get this call. I didn’t know if it would be you or the F.B.I.”

. . . .

Craig Raine taught English literature at New College, Oxford, for twenty years, until his retirement, in 2010. Every spring, he read applications from students who, having been accepted by Oxford to pursue a doctorate in English, hoped to be attached to New College during their studies. A decade or so ago, Raine read an application from Dan Mallory, which described a proposed thesis on homoeroticism in Patricia Highsmith’s fiction. Unusually, the application included an extended personal statement.

Raine, telling me about the essay during a phone conversation a few months ago, called it an astonishing piece of writing that described almost unbearable family suffering. The essay sought to explain why Mallory’s performance as a master’s student at Oxford, a few years earlier, had been good but not brilliant. Mallory said that his studies had been disrupted by visits to America, to nurse his mother, who had breast cancer. Raine recalled, “He had a brother, who was mentally disadvantaged, and also had cystic fibrosis. The brother died while being nursed by him. And Dan was supporting the family as well. And the mother gradually died.” According to Raine, Mallory had described how his mother rejected the idea of suffering without complaint. Mallory often read aloud to her the passage in “Little Women” in which Beth dies, with meek, tidy stoicism, so that his mother “could sneer at it, basically.”

Raine went on, “At some point, when Dan was nursing her, he got a brain tumor, which he didn’t tell her about, because he thought it would be upsetting to her. And, evidently, that sort of cleared up. And then she died. The brother had already died.”

Raine admired the essay because it “knew it was moving but didn’t exaggerate—it was written calmly.” Raine is the longtime editor of Areté, a literary magazine, and he not only helped Mallory secure a place at New College; he invited him to expand the essay for publication. “He worked at it for a couple of months,” Raine said. “Then he said that, after all, he didn’t think he could do it.” Mallory explained that his mother, a private person, might have preferred that he not publish. Instead, he reviewed a collection of essays by the poet Geoffrey Hill.

Pamela Mallory, Dan’s mother, does seem to be a private person: her Instagram account is locked. When I briefly met her, some weeks after I’d spoken to Raine, she declined to be interviewed. She lives for at least part of the year in a large house in Amagansett, near the Devon Yacht Club, where a celebratory lunch was held for Mallory last year. (On Instagram, he once posted a video clip of the club’s exterior, captioned, “The first rule of yacht club is: you do not talk about yacht club.”) In 2013, at a country club in Charlotte, North Carolina, Pamela Mallory attended the wedding reception of her younger son, John, who goes by Jake, and who was then working at Wells Fargo. At the wedding, she and Dan danced. This year, Pamela and other family members were photographed at a talk that Dan gave at Queens University of Charlotte. Dan has described travelling with his mother on a publicity trip to New Zealand. “Only one of us will make it back alive,” he joked to a reporter. “She’s quite spirited.”

I told Raine that Mallory’s mother was not dead. There was a pause, and then he said, “If she’s alive, he lied.” Raine underscored that he had taken Mallory’s essay to be factual. Raine underscored that he had taken Mallory’s essay to be factual. He asked me, “Is the father alive? In the account I read, I’m almost a hundred per cent certain that the father is dead.” The senior John Mallory, once an executive at the Bank of America in Charlotte, also attended the event at Queens University. He and Pamela have been married for more than forty years.

. . . .

Dan Mallory, who turned down requests to be interviewed for this article, was born in 1979, into a family that he has called “very, very Waspy,” even though his parents both had a Catholic education and he has described himself as having been a “precocious Catholic” in childhood.

. . . .

His mother, he wrote, urged him “to write to your colleges and tell them your mother has cancer.” Mallory said that he complied, adding, “I hardly feel I capitalized on tragedy—rather, I merely squeezed lemonade from the proverbial lemons.” In college applications, he noted, “I lamented, in the sweeping, tragic prose of a Brontë sister, the unsettling darkness of the master bedroom, where my mother, reeling from bombardments of chemotherapy, lay for days huddled in a fetal position.”

This strategy apparently failed with Princeton. In the article, Mallory recalled writing to Fred Hargadon, then Princeton’s dean of admissions. “You heartless bastard,” the letter supposedly began. “What kind of latter-day Stalin refuses admission to someone in my plight? Not that I ever seriously considered gracing your godforsaken institution with my presence—you should be so lucky—but I’m nonetheless relieved to know that I won’t be attending a university whose administrators opt to ignore oncological afflictions; perhaps if I’d followed the example of your prized student Lyle Menendez and killed my mother, things would have turned out differently.”

. . . .

In the summer of 1999, Mallory interned at New Line Cinema, in New York. He later claimed, in the Duke Chronicle, that he “whiled away” the summer “polishing” the horror film “Final Destination,” directed by James Wong. “We need a young person like you to sex it up,” Mallory recalled being told. Wong told me that Mallory did not work on the script.

. . . .

A few months later, after Mallory had moved to Oxford, his former employers noticed unexplained spending, at Amazon.co.uk, on a corporate American Express card. When confronted, Mallory acknowledged that he had used the card, but insisted that it was in error. He added that he was experiencing a recurrence of cancer.

. . . .

In the summer of 2010, Mallory told Little, Brown about a job offer from a London competitor. He was promised a raise and a promotion. A press release announcing Mallory’s elevation described him as “entrepreneurial and a true team player.”

. . . .

Sources told me that, a few months later, Ursula Mackenzie, then Little, Brown’s C.E.O., attended a dinner where she sat next to the C.E.O. of the publishing house whose job offer had led to Mallory’s promotion. The rival C.E.O. told Mackenzie that there had been no such offer. (Mackenzie declined to comment. The rival C.E.O. did not reply to requests for comment.) When challenged at Little, Brown, Mallory claimed that the rival C.E.O. was lying, in reprisal for Mallory’s having once rejected a sexual proposition.

In August, 2012, Mallory left Little, Brown. The terms of his departure are covered by a nondisclosure agreement. But it’s clear that Little, Brown did not find Mallory’s response about the job offer convincing. “And, once that fell away, then you obviously think, Is he really ill?” the once supportive colleague said. Everything now looked doubtful, “even to the extent of ‘Does his family exist?’ and ‘Is he even called Dan Mallory?’ ”

Mallory was not fired. This fact points to the strength of employee protections in the U.K.—it’s hard to prove the absence of a job offer—but also, perhaps, to a sense of embarrassment and dread. The prospect of Mallory’s public antagonism was evidently alarming: Little, Brown was conscious of the risks of “a fantasist walking around telling lies,” an employee at the company told me. Another source made a joking reference to “The Talented Mr. Ripley”: “He could come at me with an axe. Or an oar.”

. . . .

Whereas in London Mallory had sometimes seemed like a British satire of American bluster, in New York he came off as British. He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”

. . . .

Mallory clearly has experienced mental distress. At Mallory’s request, his psychiatrist confirmed to me that Mallory was given a diagnosis of bipolar II. The psychiatrist said that Mallory, because of his mother’s illness, sometimes had “somatic complaints, fears, and preoccupations,” including about cancer. But a bipolar II diagnosis does not easily explain organized untruths, maintained over time. Nigel Blackwood, a forensic psychiatrist at King’s College London, told me that patients with the condition may experience “periods of inflated self-esteem,” but he emphasized that hypomanic episodes “cannot account for sustained arrogant and deceptive interpersonal behaviors.”

Chris Parris-Lamb, the agent, who has a very close family member who is bipolar, said, “I’ve seen the ravages, the suffering that the disease can cause.” He went on, “If Mallory’s deceit is the product of bipolar episodes, then they have been singularly advantageous to his career, and that is unlike any bipolar person I’ve ever encountered. And if he is one of the lucky ones who has managed to get his disease under control and produce a best-selling novel—if he is stable and lucid enough to do that—then he is stable and lucid enough to apologize to the people he lied to and the people he hurt.”

Carrie Bearden, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A., who has not met Mallory, said that a patient with bipolar II disorder cannot attribute to that diagnosis delusions, amnesia, or “chronic lying for secondary gain, or to get attention.” To do so is “very irresponsible,” she said, and could add to the “already huge stigma associated with these disorders.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

If the excerpts interest you at all, PG suggests you read the much more complex story told in the OP.

Young Adult Author Cancels Own Novel After Race Controversy

1 February 2019

From The Guardian:

An up-and-coming young adult author has cancelled the publication of her highly anticipated debut novel, following a flood of online criticism from readers over her depiction of race and slavery.

Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel, Blood Heir, was sold to publishers for a high six-figure sum last January. A fantastical retelling of the Anastasia story involving “a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder”, it was scheduled to be published in June.

But in a statement on Wednesday, Zhao said that negative feedback from the young adult community had led to her asking her publisher, Delacorte Press, not to release the book “at this time”.

Following positive early reviews, a groundswell of criticism of Blood Heir began last month, with reviews posted on Goodreads and Twitter calling out what one reader described as “the anti-blackness and blatant bigotry in this book”, particularly its depiction of slavery and the death of a particular black character.

. . . .

“It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower … I don’t wish to clarify, defend or have anyone defend me. This is not that; this is an apology,” wrote Zhao on 30 January, adding that she was “grateful to those who have raised questions around representation, coding, and themes in my book”.

Zhao, who raised in Beijing and emigrated from China to the US at the age of 18, said she wrote the book “from my immediate cultural perspective”, writing that the slavery storylines in her novel “represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country”.

“The narrative and history of slavery in the US is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognise that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context,” she wrote.

Zhao had previously said on her website that she had set out to create “a diverse cast, many of which are beloved and dear to a third-culture kid like myself … a tawny-skinned minority of a Russian-esque princess; a disowned and dishonoured Asian-esque assassin; an islander/Caribbean-esque child warrior; a Middle-Eastern-esque soldier”.

“I write fantasy, but my story draws inspiration from themes I see in the real world today. As a foreigner in Trump’s America, I’ve been called names and faced unpleasant remarks – and as a non-citizen, I’ve felt like I have no voice – which is why I’ve channeled my anger, my frustration, and my need for action into the most powerful weapon I have: my words,” she wrote last year.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

See also How a Twitter Mob Derailed an Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career

PG didn’t really need any additional reasons to stay away from Twitter, but he got some anyway.

Comping White

28 January 2019

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

On November 9, Publishers Weeklybroke the news that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white — 86 percent white, to be exact.

Every year, Publishers Weekly (PW) releases its annual Salary Survey. Since 1994, the Survey has been circulated among industry professionals, who are asked to respond to demographic and opinion-based questions about their experience in publishing. True to its name, the Salary Survey reports on trends in compensation, wage gaps, and promotions. Since 2014, the Survey has focused on one particular problem: the staggering lack of diversity in the ranks of New York houses. The numbers are bleak, and suggest little change.

2014: 89 percent white
2015: 89 percent white
2016: 88 percent white
2017: 87 percent white
2018: 86 percent white

To their credit, PW acknowledges that the problem of representation in the workplace is also a literary problem. PW explained the connection in 2014: “The dearth of minority employees directly affects the types of books that are published, industry members agreed, and for this issue to be addressed, there needs to be more advocates for books involving people of color throughout the business.” Quite right. Yet, the problem is far more complicated, and far more entrenched, than the PW Salary Survey suggests. To be sure, these numbers are bad. But they are only one part of a large, institutional problem — a by-product of an industry that is discriminatory by design.

People of color are not only underrepresented on the payroll of publishing houses; they’re underrepresented throughout the literary world. And while the fact of their discrimination has been accepted anecdotally, it has yet to be thoroughly accounted for. In 2012, Roxane Gay responded to the annual VIDA “count” of Women in Media in an essay called “Where Things Stand”, arguing, “Race often gets lost in the gender conversation as if it’s an issue we’ll get to later. I’ve wondered about where race fits into the conversation and who will take up that issue with the same zeal VIDA has approached gender.” To date, no group or individual has taken up her challenge.

. . . .

At the Stanford University Literary Lab, we use computational methods to study literary history on a large scale. I’m also writing a book that considers how the business practices of the Big Five have shaped contemporary fiction. All this is to say: The question of counting, and who counts, in literature is an important one to me.

. . . .

One editor explained, “You get into the type of author that somebody is, and the type of audience that they’re reaching more than you do content. And that is very voice-driven. […] There’s a limited number of readers for a book like that, and you kind of know who they are and what books those people are responding to.” The writer’s identity — their voice — matters significantly to editors because it needs to align with a particular audience. Comps are proof of that author-audience alignment.

And if there’s no comp to be found? If a book hasn’t ever “worked” because it hasn’t ever happened? If the target audience for a book isn’t considered big or significant enough to warrant the investment? “If you can’t find any comps,” one editor explained, grimacing, “It’s not a good sign.” While intended to be an instructive description (“this book is like that book”), some editors suggested that comps have become prescriptive (“this book should be like that book”) and restrictive (“…or we can’t publish it”).

. . . .

Comps perpetuate the status quo, creating a rigid process of acquisition without much room for individual choice or advocacy. One problem with the PW Salary Survey is the tacit assumption that People = Publications. If there were more people of color working behind the scenes, the thinking goes, then there would be more books by and about people of color published. But this assumption reduces a systemic problem to an individual problem. It assumes that “minority employees,” or, more broadly, “advocates for books involving people of color” might simply choose to acquire, market, and sell more diverse books. And, quite simply, acquisitions don’t work this way. The system, more than any individual, reinforces discrimination.

Comp title data don’t show us the output of this system — they show us the system itself. Comps are the books that most frequently influence editors’ decisions about what to acquire, the books to which new titles are often compared, the books whose effects the industry longs to reproduce. In other words, comps are evidence of what the publishing industry values.

It turns out the industry values whiteness.

From 2013 to 2019, publishers identified 31,876 comps — about three comp titles for every new title published. I wanted to know which comps get cited most frequently (and, by extension, communicate high value), so I winnowed the list of 30,000-plus comp titles down to the top 50 most frequently used comps. Because many books have been cited as comps the same number of times, this list is actually comprised of 225 titles. I then worked with my undergraduate research assistant, Jonathan Morales, to research the race of each of the authors whose books are listed here.

The majority of these comps — these books used to justify decisions about who gets published — have been written by white authors. Nine books by people of color appear on this list, including N. K. Jemisin’s A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, We the Animals by Justin Torres, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Just nine out of 225 books.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

PG notes that KDP doesn’t care about comps.

Book Tours Are More Than Just Showing Up

26 January 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

In the abstract, a book tour looks like it might be tremendous fun: packed houses of adoring fans, expense-account dinners in fancy far-flung restaurants. I’ve now promoted three books across a couple dozen states and 10 countries, and my experience has looked much more like bleary-eyed airport breakfasts at one end of the day and modest register tallies at the other, which begs the question, was this worth it?

But that depends on the answer to a different question: what’s the goal?

A dozen years ago, before I’d started writing books and was still publishing them, I asked my brilliant boss, Peter Workman: Why do we expend such a huge effort producing seasonal catalogues? Why do we run around like lunatics to finalize covers, on-sale dates, point-of-sale promotions, and everything else—such a frenetic outburst of redesigning, numbers crunching, consensus building, and decision making—all just to produce this printed marketing item? Who cares?

Peter put things into perspective. All that work, all those decisions—that was the real point; the catalogue was the impetus to get it all done.

I look at going out on the road through a similar lens. I do, of course, want to achieve the obvious immediate goal of selling units of the new title, just as we did, of course, need to get the catalogue to sales conference. But selling those hardcovers is just one component of my goal and my publisher’s too, and the booksellers’ too—we all have bigger long-term priorities: the next book, the one after, all the future books in all the years ahead, keeping the lights on.

For my part, I want to write better and better books, published better and better, making for a satisfying and successful career. And I think it’s the lessons learned, the experiences had, and the people met on the road that can make this achievable. On book tours, I go places I’d otherwise never have visited, I’m introduced to readers I’d never have met, and I make friends and fans and important contacts who’d otherwise be strangers.

I’ve learned about contemporary bookselling over dinners in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Austin, Tex.; about the evolving roles of libraries in Stamford, Conn., and Rockport, Mass.; about the terrific mystery conferences in Albany, N.Y., and Toronto; and about honing elevator pitches for radio in Amsterdam and Dublin.

. . . .

Touring has been my MFA plus my MBA, too—establishing a professional network, understanding the marketplace, polishing creative output, and even inspiring me to generate an entire book.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As PG has mentioned before, with respect to the value of book tours by authors, he believes it’s no longer 1972.

Do book tours sell some books? Undoubtedly.

But what is the cost per book sold, particularly if an author values his/her time? Had the author not gone on a book tour, could he/she have spent the time and energy doing something that was ultimately more profitable with that time and energy (particularly considering that a great many authors are committed introverts)?

If publishers really believe that face-to-face contact between an interesting and persuasive salesperson and a reader who is willing to come to a bookstore to listen, why not hire a skilled salesperson to do the book tour?

Just like writing talent, the talent for selling products or services, particularly on a face-to-face basis, is not evenly distributed throughout humanity. If you have ever been in the presence of someone who is skilled in face-to-face sales, you will immediately notice the difference between a talented salesperson and a typical author squirming at a book signing.

PG has often thought that James Patterson’s success in selling a lot of books derives in significant part from his pre-writing experience of twenty-odd years as an executive working at the largest advertising agency in the world (where he ended up as CEO). Patterson knows far more about how to advertise and sell products than any employee at any publisher and has used his talent to sell far, far more books than he would have had he permitted his publishers to handle all his book promotion and advertising.

In response to the question, “Who better to sell a book than the person who wrote it?”, PG suggests the rational answer is, “Someone who earns his/her living by selling things.”

The Disastrous Decline in Author Incomes Isn’t Just Amazon’s Fault

20 January 2019

From Electric Lit:

[T]he Authors Guild published its 2018 Author Income Survey.

. . . .

This was the largest survey ever conducted of writing-related earnings by American authors. It tallied the responses of 5,067 authors, including those who are traditionally, hybrid, and self-published, and found that the median income from writing has dropped 42% from 2009, landing at a paltry $6,080. The other findings are similarly bleak: revenue from books has dropped an additional 21%, to $3,100, meaning it’s impossible to make a living from writing books alone.

. . . .

The Authors Guild has a pretty clear idea of what’s behind this disturbing trend, namely the rise of Amazon, which severely cuts publishers’ margins on book sales. Authors ultimately shoulder the cost because publishers offset their losses by giving out smaller author advances and royalties. The platform’s resale market also means that, within months of publication, books are being resold as “like new” or “lightly used,” a scenario in which no new money goes to the actual author of the book. The Authors Guild acknowledges that Amazon isn’t the only place where authors are losing out, but the culprits are of a kind: electronic platforms like Google Books and Open Library claim fair use rights in order to offer classrooms products without paying authors royalties. This is problematic because those royalties, a kind of pay-to-play model of compensation, are how artists have made their money ever since it went out of fashion to have a patron who could support your entire career.

. . . .

This year’s Authors Guild Survey is right to focus on the harm Amazon does to working writers; personally, I’ve made my 2019 resolution to put my money where my mouth is and buy all my books at local, independent bookstores. But the survey results made me wonder if that would be enough—if it’s possible, in the age of the Internet, to reverse the belief that content should mostly be free. By content I do mean to encompass all ends of the artistic spectrum, that ill-defined mass of high and low entertainment and art and news that rubs up against each other on the web in a way that makes it more difficult to separate out, and perhaps less meaningful to do so. Basically, people are insatiable for this panoply of words and images; they want mass input. If you do a Google search for “apple pie recipe,” for example, the top results include both Pillsbury’s website and the personal blog of a home cook. The point isn’t that there is anything wrong with the latter, it’s that discernment has taken a backseat to access; we want all the apple pie recipes, all the videos and photographs and articles and books. We are here now. Entertain us.

. . . .

People have always felt a sort of ownership over art, and that’s actually good. It’s why you keep a book on your shelf and return to it, it’s why you hang a picture on your wall that speaks to you. But when this gets out of hand and you mistake access or a personal connection with your rights, as happens so often in our Internet age, it leads to a dangerous sense of entitlement. That’s why readers feel empowered to complain, directly to the creator, that a book or show doesn’t have absolutely everything they want: the romantic pairing they’d hoped for, the language they find most friendly, the ending they desired. And it’s also why, for instance, the last Harry Potter book leaked on the internet before it was officially published: fans saw the book as something they were owed, not the product of labor that deserved compensation. Not that J.K. Rowling needs more money—but she, and all authors, deserve to have their work recognized as work.

. . . .

Consumers hold a pernicious power, so this trend towards free content won’t reverse itself unless we want it to. This is a sad thing, and we will all be much worse off if we can only hear stories from people who can afford to write. Nicholas Weinstock, a Guild Council member, said: “Reducing the monetary incentive for potential book authors even to enter the field means that there will be less for future generations to read: fewer voices, fewer stories, less representation of the kind of human expression than runs deeper and requires and rewards more brain power than the nearest bingeable series on Netflix or Amazon or GIF on your phone.” Maybe we will all get what we think we’re entitled to — free art — but what kind of art will that be?

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

While we will never know for certain, PG suggests that the rise of Amazon has increased the number of books sold in the United States (and maybe elsewhere) by a substantial margin. Absent Amazon, fewer people would be reading books today.

Not everyone enjoyed the trips to the bookstore in pre-Amazonian days. If a reader’s interests were much out of the mainstream, there weren’t many books available. If finances were a little tight, a shopper might not be in the mood to pay.

PG just checked the Top 10 Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers at Barnes & Noble. The average suggested retail price for the Top 10 was $25.59.

For some visitors to TPV, paying almost $26.00 for a novel would seem reasonable. For others, it might not.

Let’s assume we have an avid reader of fiction who reads four books per week. Even PG can do the math in his head.

Over $100 per month for books. Almost $6,000 per year for books.

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize sales, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize profits, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Traditional publishers try to cultivate a particular image of books as a unique product, unlike any other. (Corinthian leather!)

Like it or not, books are a mass-market product that competes for consumer dollars. Books don’t just compete with other books. Books compete with every other product a consumer might be thinking about purchasing.

If you want to price for the carriage trade, open an art gallery. The New York book business doesn’t work without lots of titles that sell in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. That’s a mass market.

PG suggests that “Amazon is causing the sky to fall on the book business” is erroneous. If the traditional book business is to be saved from its own management over the next ten years, Amazon will do the saving. A book business that sells an electronic version of its principal product for $3.00-7.00 has a better future than one which appears to prefer selling a physical copy of its principal product for $28.00.

 

Publishing’s Fact-Checking Problem

19 January 2019

From Vox:

Book publishing has a fact-checking problem, and that problem might have just caught up with former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.

Abramson’s highly anticipated new book, Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, is scheduled to publish at the beginning of February, but advance copies have begun to circulate through the media. And more than one of the people featured in the book have disputed the facts and truth of Abramson’s writing about facts and truth.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, journalist Arielle Duhaime-Ross cites a paragraph of Merchants of Truth pertaining to her work at Vice and says it contains six errors, including about her gender identity and her journalism background.

“I met Jill Abramson in June ’17 in the VICE office,” Duhaime-Ross wrote. “We chatted for less than 40 minutes. She took handwritten notes. I have not heard from her since, by which I mean she did not contact me for a fact-check.”

. . . .

Duhaime-Ross’s critique was echoed by many of her current and former colleagues at Vice, who focused on a portion of Abramson’s book that characterizes the site as a salacious and irresponsible news outlet more focused on curating a certain image than on reporting the truth.

Danny Gold, a video journalist who is now at PBS Newshour and who previously worked at Vice, writes that Abramson misrepresented his decision not to wear protective clothing while covering an Ebola clinic in Africa. Abramson portrays Gold’s decision as dangerously reckless — in contrast to safer decisions made by reporters for the New York Times while covering the same story, who she says wore protective clothing the whole time — but Gold says that’s inaccurate.

“Like every other reporter there, i was told by experts not to walk around with a PPE [personal protective equipment] unless you were in the ICU. I also worked alongside Times reporters, who a. Gave me that advice and b. Did the same,” he tweeted. Gold added that he explained as much both to Abramson and on camera, in the published version of the Vice documentary The Fight Against Ebola.

Also on Twitter, Jay Caspian Kang (formerly of Vice, now at the New York Times Magazine) noted that Abramson says Charlottesville is in North Carolina (it is in Virginia; North Carolina is the home of the city of Charlotte), and Vice’s Elle Reeve notes that a figure Abramson describes as a “southern white nationalist” is in fact from Long Island.

. . . .

The portions of Abramson’s finished book that have circulated online suggest that some but not all of the errors people identified in the galley have been corrected in the finished book. Either way, it is unusual for major factual errors to linger this far into the book production process, only to be corrected later. By the time galleys are released, it’s more typical for a publisher to be correcting proofreading errors on the level of spelling and grammar than is it to be correcting the facts. It’s certainly possible that Abramson did a good-faith fact check of her book very late into production, but that would be unusual.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that all the people disputing Abramson’s claims say they were never contacted by a fact-checker. So if the book was fact-checked, that process didn’t include a conversation with Abramson’s subjects.

. . . .

I wrote about book publishing’s fact-checking problem for Vox in 2018. As I wrote then:

In general, fact-checking is not a standard part of the workflow in book publishing, even in nonfiction book publishing. What usually happens is this: Authors submit their manuscripts, the manuscripts go to editors who help to refine them and shape them, and from there the book goes into production and copy editing.

The copy editor will look for grammatical errors, and sometimes the publisher’s lawyer will check the book to make sure there’s nothing libelous in there, but fact-checking is not part of the standard publisher’s process. […]

So how do publishers generally handle it if factual errors creep into a book? Basically, the same way they handle plagiarism: They make it the author’s problem.

One of the standard parts of any book contract is the warranty and indemnity clause. By signing on to that clause, an author is guaranteeing that their book is their own, original project, not plagiarism, that it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights, and — if the book is nonfiction — that its facts are accurate. And if it turns out that any of these claims are untrue, the liability is all on the author. They’re the ones who pay up if someone decides to sue.

So the facts are all up to the author. And different authors handle that liability differently. Some might want to hire a freelance fact-checker, but that can get expensive: Vulture cites flat prices of between $5,000 and $25,000, and the Editorial Freelancers Association quotes a rate of about $30 to $40 per hour. The money for fact-checker fees would have to come from the author. And since most nonfiction book authors aren’t exactly rolling in spare cash, it’s a tempting corner to cut. Many authors decide to just fact-check themselves or to skip that step entirely.

Either way, we’re left with an industry in which a lot of nonfiction books don’t get looked over by a professional fact-checker.

So Abramson was going from the New York Times, an institution with a team of dedicated fact-checkers, to a medium that left the fact-checking entirely up to her. And judging from the disputes we’ve seen so far, she may have been ill-equipped to handle that transition.

Link to the rest at Vox

PG suggests if the former executive editor of The New York Times doesn’t receive quality service from her publisher, nobody does.

He was reminded of an embarrassing collection of errors in the Times itself in a high-profile article following the death of well-known television journalist, Walter Cronkite, in 2009:

The Times published an especially embarrassing correction on July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article — an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.

“Wow,” said Arthur Cooper, a reader from Manhattan. “How did this happen?”

The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.

But a more nuanced answer is that even a newspaper like The Times, with layers of editing to ensure accuracy, can go off the rails when communication is poor, individuals do not bear down hard enough, and they make assumptions about what others have done. Five editors read the article at different times, but none subjected it to rigorous fact-checking, even after catching two other errors in it. And three editors combined to cause one of the errors themselves.

Seemingly little mistakes, when they come in such big clusters, undermine the authority of a newspaper, and senior editors say they are determined to find fixes.

. . . .

What Sam Sifton, the culture editor, ruefully called “a disaster, the equivalent of a car crash,” started nearly a month before Cronkite died, when news began circulating that he was gravely ill. On June 19, Alessandra Stanley, a prolific writer much admired by editors for the intellectual heft of her coverage of television, wrote a sum-up of the Cronkite career, to be published after his death.

Stanley said she was writing another article on deadline at the same time and hurriedly produced the appraisal, sending it to her editor with the intention of fact-checking it later. She never did.

“This is my fault,” she said. “There are no excuses.”

In her haste, she said, she looked up the dates for two big stories that Cronkite covered — the assassination of Martin Luther King and the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon — and copied them incorrectly. She wrote that Cronkite stormed the beaches on D-Day when he actually covered the invasion from a B-17 bomber. She never meant that literally, she said. “I didn’t reread it carefully enough to see people would think he was on the sands of Omaha Beach.”

. . . .

Lorne Manly, Stanley’s editor, read the article but did not catch the mistakes; worse, he made a change that led to another error. Where Stanley had said correctly that Cronkite once worked for United Press, Manly changed it to United Press International, with a note to copy editors to check the name. In the end, it came out United Press and United Press International in the same sentence.

Though the correct date of the moon landing was fresh in his mind, Manly said, he read right over that mistake. Catching it might have flagged the need for more careful vetting. For all her skills as a critic, Stanley was the cause of so many corrections in 2005 that she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts. Her error rate dropped precipitously and stayed down after the editor was promoted and the arrangement was discontinued. Until the Cronkite errors, she was not even in the top 20 among reporters and editors most responsible for corrections this year. Now, she has jumped to No. 4 and will again get special editing attention.

. . . .

Janet Higbie, a copy editor, said she started reading the article that Friday and caught the misspelling of the Telstar satellite and the two incorrect dates, but fixes she thought she made didn’t make it into the paper. “I don’t know what happened,” she said. Higbie said she had to drop the story and jump to deadline work, and she assumed that someone else would pick up the editing later. No one did — for four weeks, until Cronkite died late on another busy Friday. “It fell through the cracks,” Higbie said.

. . . .

Two days before his father died, Chip Cronkite sent me an e-mail message labeled, “pre-emptive correction.” He said that CBS, in reviewing its obituary material, had found inaccuracies. “As a life-long admirer of your newspaper,” he said, “may I suggest that you have someone double-check ahead of time?”

Douglas Martin, who had written an advance obit of Cronkite several years earlier, phoned Chip Cronkite. They went over spellings, discussed the cause of death and the like. No one thought to forward Chip Cronkite’s message to the culture department, where Stanley’s appraisal sat.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Vox is correct in observing that publishing contracts between large (and small) traditional publishers and authors place the responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of all statements of fact contained in the book on the author. If the book includes an error that leads to litigation, again, it’s all on the author, including the publisher’s legal fees.

An attitude common among traditional publishing insiders and their camp followers is that traditionally-published books are simply better than books written and published by indie authors. The publisher’s name on the book is an assurance of quality, hence the higher price of the book, its placement in physical bookstores, etc.

One cannot spend much time speaking and corresponding with traditionally-published authors without hearing tales of slapdashery and ineptitude on the part of their publishers.

For example, one would think that traditional publishers would manifest their most meticulous standards in the contracts between publishers and authors in which the author grants rights to publish a book to a publisher. Such a contract is, of course, the basis upon which the publisher prints and publishes the book, collects money the book generates and passes some of that money on to the author, keeping the large majority for itself.

One would be wrong in such assumptions.

Of course another possibility might be that “most meticulous” is a relative standard for publishers. There is always the question, “Compared to what?”

In the words of one long-ago client of PG’s, “Even his best is none too good.”

‘They Own the System’: Amazon Rewrites Book Industry by Marching into Publishing

16 January 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc., which over more than two decades made itself the world’s largest book retailer, has created an unrivaled display window that can catapult titles from obscurity to must-reads.

More recently it has built something else: Its own line of published books.

The novel was released in 2017 and featured on Amazon First Reads. The online promotion also is emailed each month to more than 7 million U.S. subscribers and exclusively showcases titles from Amazon Publishing.

“Wham, we get 300,000 downloads,” said Mr. Sullivan, whose title has sold more than 1.5 million print books, e-books and audio books. It was ranked No. 56 on USA Today’s top 100 best-seller list for all of 2018.

The Seattle-based giant houses 15 imprints in the U.S. under the Amazon Publishing banner, turning out everything from thrillers to romance novels to books translated from other languages. Amazon published 1,231 titles in the U.S. in 2017, up from 373 in 2009, the year it entered the $16 billion-a-year consumer book publishing business.

To promote these works, it has tools other publishers can only dream about owning, including Amazon First Reads and Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s e-book subscription service. Together, they reach an estimated 10 million or more customers who can read offered titles with a few keystrokes.

“They aren’t gaming the system,” literary agent Rick Pascocello said. “They own the system.”

The promotional levers that Amazon has built to lure consumers can boost the opportunities of little-known writers and recharge the careers of experienced authors such as Mr. Sullivan. Amazon Publishing, the company’s book-publishing unit, together with its self-published authors, has made it a fierce competitor in lucrative genres including romance.

To some in the industry, it is an inherently conflicted structure, in which the most powerful retailer has a competing incentive to favor books it publishes and those from authors using its self-publishing technology.

On Wednesday, 16 of the top 20 books on Amazon’s romance best-seller list were titles from its book-publishing arm or were self-published on Amazon’s platform.

Amazon said its marketing and retail programs don’t give its books an unfair advantage, and that it offers all publishers a chance to use them.

“Our focus is on making sure that our customers get great content,” said Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing. “The feedback from authors, customers and agents has all been positive.”

Amazon commands some 72% of adult new book sales online, and 49% of all new book sales by units, according to book-industry research firm Codex Group LLC.

. . . .

For authors, the company offers a huge potential audience, especially given the decline in large bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Amazon has more than 100 million Amazon Prime members world-wide, and its U.S. subscribers can pick one title from Amazon First Reads free each month. Non-Prime members pay $1.99.

On Jan. 2, Amazon First Reads sent an email to members about six new titles from Amazon Publishing. By early evening, those books were the top six on Amazon’s Kindle store e-book best-seller list.

. . . .

The scale of Amazon Publishing isn’t readily apparent because many rival booksellers decline to carry Amazon Publishing titles on their shelves.

“They get enough support on their own,” said Lori Fazio, chief operating officer of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., which doesn’t stock them.

. . . .

Industry trackers say Amazon is shrinking publishing revenue in adult fiction by releasing so many low-price books from Amazon imprints and its self-published authors. Publisher revenue from adult fiction fell 16% to $4.4 billion in 2017 from 2013, the Association of American Publishers said.

“My suspicion is the cumulative impact of Amazon’s highly integrated retail and content programs is cannibalizing traditional publisher fiction sales.” said Peter Hildick-Smith, chief executive of Codex Group, the research firm.

Mr. Hildick-Smith said the decline in revenue for fiction issued by traditional publishers coincided with the Kindle e-book store’s growing share of the overall adult book market—up 43% between 2013 and 2017—to a bit more than a quarter of the total market. E-books skew heavily to fiction, and much of that increase comes from books self-published on Amazon.

Publishers that specialize in genre fiction, especially romance—a fount of publishing profits—are feeling the biggest impact.

. . . .

Independent romance publisher Entangled Publishing LLC offers a small number of erotic titles on Kindle Unlimited. For many titles, the small publishing house uses the distribution arm of a larger publisher to get its books into retail stores, a distributor that doesn’t participate in Kindle Unlimited.

As a result, most Entangled books aren’t likely to reach Amazon’s list of best-selling romance titles, which favors Kindle Unlimited titles. While Amazon has opened a lot of doors for authors and publishers, said Liz Pelletier, Entangled’s chief executive, the extra boost given to Kindle Unlimited titles makes Amazon’s best-seller list less applicable for publishers that don’t participate.

. . . .

Romance writer Lisa Renee Jones pulled her titles out of Kindle Unlimited in 2018 after her income fell by about one-third over a few months.

“I jumped on the bandwagon, but I later regretted it because it devalued me as an author,” said Ms. Jones, whose books have been published by St. Martin’s Press’s Griffin imprint and others.

An Amazon spokesman said thousands of self-published authors in 2018 “earned more than $50,000, with more than a thousand surpassing $100,000 in royalties.” The spokesman declined to say how many self-published books using Amazon technology were published last year. “Hundreds of thousands of authors have self-published millions of book since 2007,” he said.

Some have hit it big. Laurie Ann Starkey, a certified public accountant, quit her job in 2014 to become a full-time writer. She now owns a small independent press and employs 10 people as editors, managers and social-media staff. She generated $1.15 million last year in gross revenue, she said, mostly from her own books. About 89% of her sales were from Kindle Unlimited.

. . . .

Romance writer Inglath Cooper’s self-published novel, “Down a Country Road,” was ranked No. 52 on Amazon’s digital romance list on Jan. 15. She said Amazon has changed publishing, much like Netflix changed the movie and TV business, by making a large inventory of books immediately available to readers.

“Rather than resent the changes,” Ms. Cooper said, “I prefer to choose the opportunities available.”

Amazon Publishing helped resurrect the career of Mr. Sullivan, whose World War II novel found little traction among New York publishers. Previously, he had written more than a dozen novels, including with author James Patterson.

“My son urged me to try Amazon,” he said.

In March 2017, the influential trade publication Publishers Weekly reviewed “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” saying Mr. Sullivan “lays on history with a trowel in this overstuffed tale of derring-do set in Italy during WWII.”

Amazon told Mr. Sullivan not to worry. “It was such a compulsive read that I knew it had the potential to be a big book,” said Danielle Marshall, editorial director of Lake Union Publishing, the Amazon Publishing imprint.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

“My suspicion is the cumulative impact of Amazon’s highly integrated retail and content programs is cannibalizing traditional publisher fiction sales.”

Of course, in a well-ordered world, traditional publishers and guys named Leonard would have continued to own the system and handled all the cannibalizing in a far more refined fashion.

We know how Leonard has changed (or not), but PG wonders how such publishers have changed in light of the impact of Amazon.

Of course, (returning to that well-ordered world), Amazon wouldn’t impact anything and nobody who is anybody would live in Seattle.

But order is not to be found in the 21st Century. In its own untidy and ill-kempt manner, change happens.

Or does it? PG hasn’t noticed much change in the cloistered halls of New York publishers. For them, the old ways are the best ways. Are they even capable of change?

Heaven forfend that Big Publishing would ever examine its treatment of all but a tiny slice of its authors or revisit its royalty structure or (gasp!) test whether reducing prices would increase sales on a commodity that, in the case of ebooks, has absolutely no additional incremental cost of goods for each additional copy sold after the first.

In a rational world, publishers would embrace the business of selling organized groups of electrons. After all, Bill Gates got rich selling electrons.

They wouldn’t even have to gather their own electrons. Amazon would collect gobs of electrons and sell them to people who liked to read while destroying nary a tree and then large bank transfers (more electrons!) would decamp from Seattle to Manhattan.

It’s so much easier to hang out with other publishers, whine about Amazon and reassure one another that, any day now, people will come to their senses and flock back to real bookstores to buy dead-tree books from impoverished clerk/drones, just you wait and see.


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