The HarperCollins fiscal year runs to June 30, and this year fiscal Q4 (2020 Q2) saw a 3% drop in revenue from $419 million to $407 million. But profits were up 9%, to $47 million. As reported by parent company News Corp, for the full fiscal year revenue of $1.67 billion was down 5% on 2019, with profits down 15% to $214 million.
Bookstore closures of course played a role, but News Corp CFO Susan Panuccio reported a strong showing from the ebook and audiobook sector, describing it as “the strongest digital sale performance in years”, that helped offset the bookstore closures.
Compared to the same period 2019, digital sales were up 26%, with ebook performing best with a 31% rise, while audiobooks rose 17%. Together the two digital sectors made up 29% of HarperCollins revenue in Q2 2020.
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Meanwhile Hachette UK’s H2 2020 performance has been described as “sterling” by parent company Lagardère, with revenue down only 2.8% despite the severe UK lockdown, with Hachette UK CEO David Shelley adding it was an “extremely strong” performance.
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Lagardère added that Hachette UK had seen,
robust growth in digital formats.
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The US by contrast performed well in difficult circumstance, leading Lagardère to observe the English language markets had better digital and e-commerce infrastructure.
. . . .
“Fast-paced growth in digital formats” also got a mention, with ebooks totalling 10.6% of Lagardère Publishing’s H2 2020 revenue, up from 8.2% in first-half 2019, with digital audio accounting for 5.3% of revenue, up from 3.4% in same period 2019.
There is a lot about Donald Trump Jr.’s second book that is unusual.
One of his father’s most effective surrogates, Donald Trump Jr. plans to release “Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defense of the Indefensible” in early September, during the final fevered weeks of the presidential campaign. His last book sold well. The Republican National Committee can use the new one for fund-raising, as it did with the last.
His plans to self-publish, however, along with the book’s unconventional rollout and distribution plan, make it something of a curiosity in publishing circles.
“It’s a risk,” said Jane Dystel, a literary agent. “And it’s your time.”
Mr. Trump’s first book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” was published last November. It has sold 286,000 copies, according to NPD BookScan, and is still selling steadily. But when the coronavirus pandemic grounded him in New York in March, he decided to write another.
. . . .
Center Street, an imprint of Hachette, published his first book, and it made an offer on the second one. Mr. Trump turned it down.
There are a few key differences between going through a traditional publishing house and doing it yourself. One of the big ones is money. Authors who sign with a publisher typically receive an advance payment before the book goes on sale, then about 10 to 15 percent of hardcover sales after they earn back their advance. If the book is self-published, there is no advance but an author can generally walk away with anywhere from 35 percent to as much as 70 percent of the sales. Because Mr. Trump has his own platform — and the promise of bulk purchases from the R.N.C. — he doesn’t need the publicity arm of a major publisher.
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But those big percentages don’t factor in expenses, which add up quickly. There are lawyers to pay, printed copies that need to be delivered to stores and warehouses, book jackets that need to be designed. There are fussy little details, like registering an ISBN number, filing for copyright, proofreading and more proofreading. Indeed, a typo on the cover of “Liberal Privilege” when Mr. Trump first posted it on Twitter was met with see-how-it-goes-without-us giggles in much of the publishing world. (That typo, an errant apostrophe, has been fixed, but another remained on his personal website this week, after a quote about the book from “Laura Ingraham, Host of The Ingram Angle.”)
So writing and releasing a book on your own is not only a gamble, it is also an unwieldy, complicated project, which is why the biggest-name authors generally don’t bother to do it.
One thing that is guaranteed when self-publishing is greater autonomy. While there’s no reason to think Mr. Trump was held back when he wrote “Triggered,” self-published authors hire their editors and can fire them if they don’t like their advice. This time, Mr. Trump can say truly whatever he wants.
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The R.N.C. said it raised nearly $1 million from signed copies of “Triggered.” The book was a New York Times No. 1 best seller last year, but it appeared on the list with a dagger symbol next to it, signifying that bulk sales — which came from the R.N.C. and other conservative groups — helped to boost its ranking. The R.N.C. said it has bought several thousand copies of “Liberal Privilege” so far and plans to buy more on a rolling basis.
“Don Jr.’s first book was a fund-raising powerhouse for the party, and we have no doubt this book will be the same,” Mandi Merritt, the press secretary for the R.N.C., said in an email.
Unlike Mr. Hannity’s book, “Liberal Privilege” will not be in bookstores. A person with knowledge of the project said that it will be $29.99 on Mr. Trump’s website, where presales are being handled, and on Amazon, along with an e-book and an audiobook narrated by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign adviser and Mr. Trump’s girlfriend. It’s unclear if any major retailers will carry the book, though managers at some traditional distribution channels said last week that they hadn’t heard anything about it.
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Another unusual aspect of the book is Mr. Trump’s collaborator, Sergio Gor, who has acted as his literary agent, consulted on the content of the book and has overseen the team managing everything from the editing to the print run.
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“It’s a big job to self-publish,” Ms. Dystel, the literary agent, said, “and it takes your attention away from other things.”
The United Kingdom’s longstanding news medium of record for book publishing, The Bookseller, has announced this morning in London (August 7) that it has been acquired by Stage Media Co., publisher of The Stage–the counterpart trade medium to The Bookseller for the British theater and performing arts industry.
Terms of the deal have not been made public, and media messaging from The Bookseller says that the new ownership is effective immediately, a result of talks that began in the autumn.
While The Bookseller is only being sold for the third time–a remarkable thing in itself for a an operation more than 150 years old–some may feel it’s had too short a time under the leadership of Nigel Roby, who bought the publication 10 years ago when Nielsen was divesting itself of its magazines, which included The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.
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“This is a bittersweet moment,” Roby says in a prepared statement for today’s news. “Owning and running The Bookseller has been the greatest privilege of my working life.
“I have put all of my care and energy into The Bookseller so leaving was never going to be easy. And it isn’t.”
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The Bookseller staff is expected to relocate, physically, to The Stage office space in Southwark’s brick-solid Bermondsey Street in the autumn.
When PG first saw the headline of the OP, his initial thought was that The Bookseller is another victim of the Coronavirus.
If negotiations for the sale began last Autumn, that would seem to scotch questions about the victim narrative. However, finally coming to terms during the pandemic might imply tight finances at the publication helped move sales negotiations forward when they otherwise might have stopped.
From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:
Just before the world changed, about five months ago on February 18th, we wrote in this space about two initiatives that made sense for all publishers to employ to raise revenues and profits.
One was Ingram’s Guaranteed Availability Program (GAP), which connects their Lightning print-on-demand capability to their ability to ship within 24 hours, delivering just about any quantity of books to justabout any account in the world. With just about any return address you want on the package. By mid-April, it was clear that the supply chain was already adjusting.
The other was Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program, a highly automated way to sharply improve the performance of ebook titles. The tactics employed include metadata improvements, pricing adjustments, search-optimized discovery that brings in tens of thousands of new readers every day, 8 unique newsletters touching millions of consumers (about whom more and more is known every day), and an array of genre-specific websites that funnel readers to books they love. Building this capability involved many thousands of ebooks tracked across millions of consumers for more than five years.
Both of these capabilities required tens of thousands of titles, millions of dollars of focused investment, and laboriously constructed system support to build. Ignition required a commitment to build an automated marketing effort that works across many thousands of titles. This is not a good fit with a publishing business model that has always focused on a few new titles, not the thousands on the backlist, with dedicated efforts that are largely driven by hands-on human marketers.
It is not likely that any publisher, even the very biggest ones, could build what Ingram and Open Road have created. But beyond whether they could, it is even less likely that they would. It took Ingram seven years to make Lightning Print efficient and tie it to “third party distribution”, the ability to ship the book “as” coming from somebody else. And Open Road, by dedicating massive marketing resources to build an automated capability that hardly connects at all to the marketing that publishers have always done, built something that it is almost impossible to imagine any of the biggest publishers shifting their focus to attempt.
The timing of the February 18 piece was accidentally prophetic. The world of publishing pretty much shut down less than a month after it was written. It is evident to many publishers that Ingram’s GAP capability has been a lifesaver. In a recent week, five of the top ten New York Times paperback bestsellers were being printed by Lightning. Those publishers know that they wouldn’t have been able to grab those sales with the normal book supply chain.
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Indeed, sales at Ignition are up 75% in the four months since we published that first piece. Forced lockdowns are good for online sales, and especially good for ebook sales.
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Publishers market manually. They use humans to examine their metadata and change it. They assign titles to marketers, who are charged with making them more visible to buyers and today that means online visibility for online buyers. They are experts at “publicity”, which means getting their titles featured to other people’s audiences. They have, to varying degrees, built lists of book consumers they can address directly with newsletters and emails. Some have “vertical” websites that give them billboards to feature their books.
But all of those devices are applied book-by-book by human marketers who are directed, intentional, intelligent, and extremely limited in how many moves they can make and how many titles they can touch. And, therefore, very expensive.
This is a very poor match even for a publisher with 5,000 or 10,000 titles on their backlist. The publishers’ standard approach is not at all useful for lists of 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 titles. And that’s why what Open Road has created, the only truly automated book marketing program in the industry, is of such extraordinary value. And unless two or three very big publishers get together to build something that will require millions of dollars and years of work as a joint effort, that will not change.
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For a variety of reasons, the biggest publishers have been the slowest to join the party. For one thing, Ignition is designed for large and difficult-to-manage backlists. Even though it works for new titles as well, it performs a function — marketing backlist — that publishers with enormous lists built over decades always got along without. The reflex reaction of a publisher seeing the virtue in marketing backlist (and, in the online sales era, everybody does) is to do it the time-honored way: allocating scarce (for backlist) marketing resources where they would seem to provide the most benefit.
And, if a Big Publishing CEO takes a wiggle toward change that costs any significant amount of money, the large international conglomerates that own four out of the five largest US publishers (ViacomCBS, which is all about TV and video, owns the fifth), will shut down that foolishness in a New York Minute or a Gütersloh Minute (Bertelsmann), Paris Minute (Lagardère), Stuttgart Minute (Holtzbrinck) or a New York Minute with an Australian accent (News Corp).
In these conglomerates, publishers play the strategic role of cash cows (not terribly fat cash cows, but, still cash cows). If conglomerate management wants to take a flyer on risky booming growth and capital appreciation, it will invest in something in Silicon Valley through its separate venture capital investment arm. No book persons will be involved.
Furthermore, to the best of PG’s knowledge, none of the five conglomerates which own the Big Five US publishers have made even baby waves in the tech world. The founders of next Google or next Amazon are not looking for money in Stuttgart. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Jose are just a few freeway exits away and everybody there is already fluent in geekspeak and moving very fast is how those investors thrive and survive.
PG hadn’t heard about Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program as mentioned in the OP.
However a quick look gave him the impression that the organization is primarily a collection of book-oriented e-newsletters – see Our Portfolio.
Showcase your brand, product or creator on one of our targeted digital properties. Smart, search-first, audience-focused opportunities.
Maybe there’s some magic juice happening behind the scenes, but Early Bird Books, the company’s largest email newsletter with a claimed circulation of 2.6 million doesn’t seem too special:
Early Bird Books provides a great service to ebook aficionados looking for free and discounted ebooks written by authors they love—and by others that they’re willing to try at a special price.
The Early Bird Books web and social channels provide fun articles, book lists, product recommendations, and other highly relevant content to keep consumers engaged on all of their devices.
Email newsletters, social media marketing and search-engine optimization are standard vanilla services, provided by any number of internet marketing agencies. Analyzing the results of such activities typically comes with the package as well.
Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news Publishing Perspectives reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.
For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”
And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.
. . . .
Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.
In much the way too many crows is a murder, I have what is effectively an embarrassment of a TBR pile. It sits in various stacks atop my dining room table and beside the box containing the tall bookcase I have yet to put together, brimming with the promise of new, interesting adventures from dozens of unique voices from every continent on the planet. So it’s odd in my everlasting search for more things to add to it—for new covers to stare at lustily before putting them aside in favor of yet another project— that I can find a dearth of anything to complain about.
I am aware that the voices in my stacks are filtered through the English-speaking, pro-colonial lens of the global north. It means the stories responsible for forming the literary canon, and thus the concept of valuable or marketable literature, are reflective of the same lens responsible for a number of societal ills. It means that of the millions of books available to me in the traditionally published market, I will primarily find works that are mild in their radicality, beholden as they are to the ancient, archaic systems only recently put to the test by new and emerging talents, writers, readers, and critics.
The volume of works by and about people from an unprecedented spectrum of perspectives, of cultural backgrounds, and story-telling traditions is broader than it has ever been. We have new writers, more diverse stories, better in-text representation of marginalized groups than the industry has ever seen. But we have not radicalized our decolonization of our stories.
It is a failure of our industry that we have not been more keen to publish or amplify those works which turn the genre on its ear, instead choosing to lean on our tropes, acquiring mainly the stories which compare to other stories for the sake of their promised sales potential as set by a colonialist standard.
Traditionally published SF/F is still beholden to its archetypes, its oft-tread narratives treated as universal if only because they are familiar: a native population endures some oppressive or genocidal experience with a settler group only to have an “awakened” or progressive protagonist of the settler class emerge as the empathetic rebel, a hero for standing against the status quo. That hero knows through their organic goodness or learns through participation in or observation of the horrors suffered by the marginalized class that they are indeed fruit of the poisonous tree.
By and large, these stories still—to varying degrees—rely on the systems and prejudices inherent in the world we inhabit. But there is no reason secondary worlds—SF/F’s defining element, its raison d’etre in many ways—should adhere to them.
. . . .
These rote narratives have become difficult to read without seeing centuries of an entire civilization refusing to reconcile or reckon with its history. Instead, it is re-lived, the mistakes and missteps replicated over and over again in re-skinned versions with protagonists who are brown or ethnic or disabled or queer, but only along a single axis at once (we can’t be too different, you see, for the market’s sake), as if we haven’t all gotten the point. As if we don’t know that the idea is to be the compassionate protagonist.
“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.
Waiting for a while is the byword of the would-be author of any race, background or gender in the world of traditional publishing.
PG suggests that traditional publishing will always be a lagging indicator of social and cultural change, not only because of its dominant practice of copycatting what’s gone before, but also because of the ponderous process of taking a book from manuscript to public sale (unless it’s a scandalous tell-all about a sitting president facing reelection).
The top-line information from the NPD BookScan report today (July 20) includes information for the second quarter of 2020 and finds that year-to-date American book unit sales tracked by the program grew 2.8 percent through Q2, with 322 million units sold in 2020 compared to 313 million units in 2019.
The print book market was in negative year-to-date territory from March 15 to May 30, as a result of store closures in coronavirus COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
In NPD’s assessment, however, the print market has since recovered and has posted five weeks of consecutive positive year-to-date growth.
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NPD sees adult nonfiction as having encountered the sharpest downturn during the mitigation shutdowns period of mid-March through May, but the adult nonfiction category that posted the highest unit gains in Q2 included biography and memoir, up 35 percent compared to the first quarter of this year.
Here we see politically charged content in play, with gains credited to new releases including The Room Where It Happened (John Bolton) as well as Untamed (Glennon Doyle). There also was an increase in biographies tied to the race-relations dynamics in the States, including Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates); Born A Crime (Trevor Noah); and Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson). The category saw double-digit gains over performance in the first quarter.
Travel books took the biggest hit, dropping 44 percent in the second quarter compared to the first.
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Adult fiction rose 3 percent year-to-date through the second quarter.
General fiction saw the most gains over the first quarter, up a healthy 25 percent on the strength of unit sales in titles including Where The Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) and books behind recently released book-to-screen adaptations such as Normal People (Sally Rooney) and Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng).
Another demonstration of the “bookseller in chief” at work: Simon & Schuster announces this morning (July 16) that Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump, the niece of Donald Trump, sold more than 950,000 copies through its release date Tuesday (July 14).
That combined sales figure includes pre-orders and first-day sales of print books, ebooks, and downloaded audiobooks in the United States market, and is a company record.
The publisher has ordered a 14th printing of the book that, when completed, will bring the number of hardcover copies in print to more than 1,150,000.
Net sales fell 12.1% in May, compared to May 2019, for the 1,360 publishers who report to AAP’s monthly StatShot program. Similar to the April report, the net sales figure was heavily influenced by a steep drop in returns, which offset a decline in gross sales in the month. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.)
Total gross sales fell 17.4% in May, but returns dropped 45.2%, leading to the 12.1% decline in net sales. Religion was the only category to have an increase in gross sales in the month, of 0.2%, and combined with a 38.9% drop in returns, the category had a 7% increase in net sales.
In the trade segments, adult book gross sales fell 17.5%, but a 41.8% decline in returns kept the net sales loss to 11%.The May report did show the first big jump in e-book sales since the pandemic struck, with sales up 30.6% over May 2019, an increase that helped to offset print declines. The gain lifted sales of e-books up by 4.3% for the first five months of 2020. Downloadable audio sales rose 18.6% in the month.
In the children’s/young adult category, gross sales were off 12%, but returns plunged 46.2%, resulting in a 4.9% decline in net sales. E-book sales at the reporting publishers spiked nearly 140% over May 2019, but still accounted for only 3% of total sales.
Publishers have been bracing for the possibility of heavy returns as bookstores start to reopen and send back books they didn’t have a chance to sell, but even as some trade bookstores began opening their doors in May, returns still fell noticeably compared to a year ago.
Gardners will reopen the Bertrams warehouse in Norwich after buying the assets of the stricken business. Gardners said the move would give it extra warehouse capacity in addition to the Eastbourne operation and allow it to continue to expand its range and stockholding.
However, the move won’t help those owed money by the now defunct Bertrams business, with publishers still advised to petition the administrator for the payment of their debts; it is also as yet unclear how many of the staff made redundant will be taken on by Gardners, as it works to reopen the operation. Nevertheless, the move is a positive one for the trade, as it increases the capacity of the Gardners wholesaling business, and re-establishes a second operation in the middle of the country.
The wholesaler and distributor purchased the assets of Bertram Trading Limited, which includes the assets of Bertram Books, Bertrams Library Services, and Dawson Books–including the physical building for five years on the lease and some machinery–though it has not bought the trading company and will not trade in Norwich as Bertrams using its name or brand.
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Nigel Wyman, head of sales and marketing at Gardners, confirmed that although the company had acquired Bertrams’ assets, it had not taken on any of its liabilities.
He said in a statement: “We strongly believe this will further enhance the opportunity to work even closer with retailers and publishers to grow sales in all channels at home and abroad in these very changing and varied times.
“For our suppliers and customers there will be little visible operational change and all will continue to interact, communicate and order with their established Gardners contacts and departments from the Eastbourne operation as they do now.”
He also said: “We have been looking to expand for some time and ultimately, by having an additional warehouse in Norwich, this gives us the capacity, especially going into Q4.
“Our main driver behind that purchase was to enable us to support the industry over the coming six months and beyond and make sure we have the stock range and availability to support booksellers, whether they’re an independent or an online seller or any type of bookseller really.
“We have purchased the assets, so what we have built is a ready-made warehouse, which we have to bring into line with our own business. This is a positive message: it is to support that growth and to support the industry.”
Citing industry shifts as well as disruptions in the publishing supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ingram Content Group said it is investing millions of dollars in an upgrade to its global printing and distribution network.
In the U.S., Ingram said it is investing “millions of dollars” to increase capacity in its print-on-demand manufacturing plants located in Allentown, Pa., Jackson, Tenn., and La Vergne, Tenn. New printing, binding, trimming, and shipping/sortation equipment will be installed now through October, which the company said will increase U.S. capacity “by double-digit percentages,” adding that it expects to “hire hundreds of new associates in these facilities.”
If this pans out, PG suspects the number of people in the business of acquiring, distributing, selling and reselling remaindered books is likely to decline steeply.
Publishers may be the last people on the planet to realize it’s bad business to consistently generate more inventory than you can profitably sell and that books sitting in warehouses are engendering real expenses in all sorts of ways.
Who knows where this will end? Perhaps with recruiting mathematicians instead of literature majors from the Little Ivies.
I have been writing children’s books for over 10 years now. I have worked as an editor in children’s publishing houses for 15. For the last 18 months, I have been mentoring writers and illustrators of colour, and doing my best to try and explain how publishing works. How to navigate this industry whilst sharing my experiences of being an author and editor who is black. Thing is, this navigator is on new terrain now!
Publishing as I have always known it is changing. The honest conversations I am having with industry professionals around race and the marginalization of certain voices is unprecedented. Often, these conservations feel raw and personal and even exhausting – but they are all necessary.
The letter from the Black British Writers’ Guild, which I was proud to sign, and the recent Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report are forcing a long-overdue examination around the lack of equality when it comes to the careers of black creatives and publishing professionals.
It is an exhilarating time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are pushing for parity and it feels like the industry aren’t just listening – they are actually taking action.
It is an uncomfortable time to be a black creative or publisher right now because we are in the spotlight and the focus is intense.
The door to opportunity seems to be wide open. Offers of work and amazing prospects may well be pouring in for you as the industry looks inwards and realizes that they have got to reflect the whole of society. That’s their job.
Do you hover at the threshold of that door? You remember when it was most definitely shut and you were left knocking. You wonder how long it will really remain open. Does it bother you that opportunities that seemed impossible weeks ago are now in your inbox? That they are born of the epiphanies of a mostly white industry? That some opportunities perhaps come from a place of fear and anxiety? That it has taken this long?
I dwell in this place between exhilaration and uncomfortableness. I am eager to champion and showcase the talent from marginalized communities that I work with, but I still fear this industry might let them down.
I am excited for my future as a creator in a way I have never allowed myself to feel before. Yet, I remember what it felt like to encounter that shut door. To find success in other countries but not my own.
Bertrams is confirmed to have gone into administration as of this afternoon (19th June) and will be making company-wide redundancies.
Administrator Turpin Barker Armstrong said in a statement: “We can confirm that Bertram Trading Limited, the global book wholesaler, has entered administration along with Education Umbrella Limited, a supplier of textbooks and digital education resources and Dawson Books Limited, an academic and professional library supplier. Book wholesalers have suffered from falling demand in recent years due to changes in the distribution model for literature and the rising popularity of e-books. These factors, combined with the Covid-19-related closure of many public libraries and educational facilities, meant these businesses could no longer operate viably.
“Sales have been agreed in principle with two unconnected parties for the tangible assets and unencumbered stock of Bertram Trading Limited and for the intangible assets of Education Umbrella Limited and it is hoped that these will be completed shortly.
“Unfortunately, the majority of employees have been made redundant with immediate effect with a small number retained to manage the winding down of operations. We are liaising with all employees impacted regarding their statutory rights and to direct them to support from the relevant government agencies.”
The movement of protests, riots and direct action that has sparked across the globe following the death of George Floyd has now entered the offices of creative industries such as publishing, and been swallowed up by the yawn-inducing language of “diversity and inclusion” that is all too familiar to those of us working within the industry.
While calls for reflection are being made, “anti-racist” reading lists are being circulated and the mantra of “we will do better” rolls of the tongue of our White publishing friends, it is unclear why anyone should expect meaningful change from an industry that has already spent decades bemoaning the diversity problem. It is difficult to view these statements of support as anything but performative zeitgeist from an industry keen to present itself as well-meaning and socially conscious without divesting from its imperial roots.
What does “inclusion” in this industry, as currently conceived, offer people of colour? The publishing industry does not need to be diversified; it needs to be decolonised.
Of all the creative industries, publishing is the most explicitly imperial. An open letter from the Publisher’s Association in 2018 argued without irony or acknowledgement of its own imperial history that “UK publishing is world-leading and a cornerstone of Britain’s cultural and economic influence.” Books have always been an important propaganda tool and the flow of writing and information from West to East has been central to the colonial project.
Little has changed to this day. Multinational publishing companies work in an explicitly colonial framework; they distribute books acquired in the UK wherever they have rights, but rarely would a book published first by a division in South Africa or India, say, be picked up by the UK head office. The few books that do make it over traffic in exploitative tropes, pushing a singular narrative and feeding into a limiting and caricaturish portrayal of people in the global South.
The foundations of the publishing industry are white, male and middle class and a simple look at the demographic of an average mainstream UK white publishing house makes it clear how closely the industry is still tied to these roots, albeit now with more women. A recent survey found that only 13% of respondents identified as BAME, and that a disproportionate number of respondents were from the South East, and had been to fee-paying schools.
This has created an industry that not only caters wholly to that target group but refuses to embrace even the diversity inherent within itself, let alone those it considers external to it. Bookshops judge what books to acquire based on reviews in newspapers, written by similarly white and middle-class reviewers and selected by literary editors who believe that their readers won’t want to read books about Africa because it is too “niche”, as one such editor informed me. As long as the gatekeepers of the industry remain invested in this white supremacist and elitist framing, where only white narratives are mainstream and everything else is ghettoed (with a few miraculous exceptions held up as proof of the publishing industry’s diversity), this will remain the case.
For those books by writers of colour that do make it to publication in mainstream UK publishing, that imagined middle-class white reader is still seen as the target audience. Writers are told that their work is not universal enough, code for “it does not centre whiteness”, which often means narratives about black and brown characters angsting over their identity. Similarly, anthologies abound – about immigrants, Black men, Muslim women – all unwittingly explaining their otherness to an unnamed white audience. These anthologies also prove that there is an abundance of talented writers from the margins, and yet the only way for many of these writers to be published is as part of a collection with 20 other writers, writing about experience of racism or other “isms.” When writers of colour are championed by the media, they are invariably published by large multinationals or medium-sized publishing houses who are always on the first tiers for reviewing, again as revealed by a book editor at a major newspaper.
Our regular readers will remember the formal establishment we reported on May 12 of the Global Association of Literary Festivals.
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And in a way, the development of the new association may well have come at a surprisingly good moment during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. With festivals driven to consider online evocations of their usual offers, there’s temporarily less organizational burden on them, a chance to reflect and strategize.
The downside, of course, is that revenue has also come to a standstill for many if not most festivals, and while we’ve seen one sterling example of a huge success on the ether this spring—the UK’s Hay Festival with its 490,000 streams served out in a two-week offer of sessions—few festivals start with the heft of the Hay and the fundraising capacity that program was able to mount so it could stage its digital presentation.
Wednesday’s session, then, is a consideration of the issues and the imperative faced by many faces during the pandemic–which health officials caution is still in its first wave, and not subsiding.
PG suggests that the timing of the creation of the Global Association of Literary Festivals is sadly ironic because, as indicated in the OP, literary festivals have stopped happening since last spring.
After sheltering in place and avoiding airline travel for several months (and likely several more to follow) PG wonders how many people who are not traveling on corporate expense accounts will be interested in flying to book festivals.
In the US, the National Football League, the source of more television and ticket revenue than any other sport, may well be operating under rules that will keep 50% or more of the seats in NFL stadiums empty. Both the pre-season, which attracts both fans and viewers, as well as the season itself are likely to have many fewer games than is normally the case.
PG wonders how many exhibitors, typically a large source of revenue for commercial gatherings, such as literary festivals, will be willing to pay the necessary exhibitor’s fees, pay for the creation and shipping of exhibits and pay travel, food and lodging costs for publisher’s personnel to staff and mingle, etc., with sales of traditionally-published books entirely in the tank (other than via Amazon).
As far as attendees are concerned, PG can’t help but believe that numbers will be impacted by the absence of a great many retiree readers who are likely to be extra-cautious about venturing forth prematurely.
If the Association of Literary Festivals is holding a webinar, why not webinars to introduce big books from traditional publishers? Or webinars for sci-fi or fantasy fans?
PG is not an expert on the world of romance and authors and fans, but why not a Romance webinar?
A commercial webinar need not consist only of individuals sitting at their desks peering into the screen. Nothing precludes a festival that features authors in local professionally-operated studios speaking about their books or being interviewed, perhaps from a distance, by an expert and experienced interviewer?
Net publishing sales fell 3.5% in April compared to April 2019 for the 1,361 publishers who report revenue to AAP’s StatShot program. The small decline, however, is deceiving. Gross sales fell in the monthly comparison, dropping 16%, but were offset by a nearly 49% drop in returns. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.) Returns were down in every category and point to an issue that many publishers are keeping an eye on—the possibility of heavy returns when bookstores reopen after closing because of the pandemic.
Nearly all college stores were closed in April, leading to a 57.9% decline in returns to publishers of higher educational course materials in the month compared to 2019. And even though gross sales fell 30.8% in the month, the plunge in returns led to a 139.8% increase in net sales in the category. The AAP said it expects an increase in returns in the category in future months as stores, distributors, colleges, and universities reopen.
. . . .
The same, but less extreme, pattern was seen in the two trade categories. Gross sales of adult books fell 16.4% in April, but returns dropped by 46.3%, resulting in a 7% decline in net sales. Many chain and independent bookstores were closed in April and unable to return books, but they are now slowly reopening and may soon start shipping back unsold copies.
When coronavirus lockdowns sent Americans into a frenzy of panic buying, the bad news came almost as quickly as the good for online organic grocer Thrive Market.
In March, the company that aims to compete with Amazon.com Inc. in the health-food sector suddenly found customers flocking to its site as its giant rival struggled to handle its own pandemic business surge. Thrive notched record sales and membership sign-ups.
Then it buckled. Orders ballooned to five times what Thrive could handle. Delivery times for some customers reached two weeks. About 30% of items were out of stock on some days. To keep delivery times from slipping further, Thrive made the previously unimaginable decision to throttle demand by limiting shopping hours.
“It was excruciating,” recalled co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Green. “It felt like a pick-your-poison moment.”
Thrive Market, based in Los Angeles, is one of a host of retailers that have spent years trying to compete against the Amazon retail juggernaut. The coronavirus pandemic provided a fleeting window of opportunity. Amazon, overwhelmed by a wave of orders, temporarily reoriented its business toward essential items, leading consumers to begin looking elsewhere.
But capturing that opportunity—and trying to ensure it is more than a temporary blip—brought extraordinary challenges for Thrive and others, demonstrating the difficulty of competing with even a weakened Amazon.
. . . .
The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping and devastated traditional retailers, including Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.Crew Group Inc., which have filed for bankruptcy protection. Financial-services firm UBS Group AG recently predicted the percentage of groceries sold online will rise from 3% this year to 15% by 2025.
. . . .
Mr. Green calls Thrive the “un-Amazon” because, he says, it offers a curated selection of merchandise. Early on, many reluctant investors had the same question: How would it compete with Amazon or Whole Foods Market?
Mr. Green was betting that consumers would try it out for its carefully selected inventory and competitive prices and stick around because they feel good about shopping there. He also billed the company as socially conscious by adhering to such practices as not offering genetically modified products.
Thrive, which is privately held, eventually raised more than $160 million. It now has more than 800,000 members who pay $60 a year. Although Thrive doesn’t disclose sales, Mr. Green said they were in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
On March 11, Mr. Green was preparing to leave work when he glanced at a computer monitor showing the company’s financial metrics. That day’s revenue line shot up like the handle of a hockey stick.
He messaged an executive to make sure there wasn’t a bug in the system. There wasn’t. Checking CNN’s website, he learned the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic. People were buying in a panic.
. . . .
Days later, the country shifted into lockdown mode. Within a week, Amazon was struggling to meet orders promptly. On March 17, it said it was prioritizing the shipments of medical supplies, household staples and other high-demand products. Toilet paper and many cleaning supplies became unavailable, and shipping was taking weeks for some products. Amazon retooled its website to encourage shoppers to buy fewer items.
A survey by investment bank Jefferies Group LLC showed that almost one-third of respondents said they turned to non-Amazon sites during the pandemic because of delivery and inventory problems.
At Thrive, new paid membership sign-ups in March and April were up threefold from the prior year. But the same problems that plagued Amazon ravaged Thrive. Customers rushed to buy cleaning supplies, canned food and other essentials. A six-month supply of toilet paper ran out in three days. Mr. Green wasn’t sure how quickly the company could address the backlog.
Earlier in March, Chief Financial Officer Karen Cate had asked Thrive’s supply-chain director to order five times the usual amount of canned goods and cleaning supplies. She left out toilet paper. “If I could go back, I would change that one,” she said.
. . . .
To some, limiting online store hours seemed a sensible middle ground. Ms. Cate, the CFO, was skeptical. She said she felt Thrive could gain control of its order backlog without limiting members to ordering during working hours. She worried that members who worked during the day—including her daughter, a nurse at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif.—would be shut out.
She relented after seeing internal metrics that showed delivery times would only increase. “OK, I surrender,” she recalled thinking.
On a midnight call, Mr. Green and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Sasha Siddhartha decided to move forward with limiting the hours. They told other executives the next day and instituted the new policies on March 25.
. . . .
The stress mounted for Mr. Green, whose wife had just given birth to their second child. He was getting a handful of hours of sleep per night and didn’t shave for a month. He stopped working out. Outside of work hours, his time was consumed by his newborn son and late-night emails and calls with executives.
It was difficult to concentrate from his setup in the family’s guest bedroom. He took two monitors and his MacBook Pro and set up an office in his closet, placing the equipment on shelves near his T-shirts and jeans. He scrapped a strategic plan and built a new one, staying up one night until 3 a.m. to finish it. The plan re-examined hiring goals and when the company should expand its fulfillment network, among other things, to ramp up faster.
. . . .
Holding on to customers became harder as Thrive struggled to handle the order influx. Online, customers were threatening to leave over the delays. Members were frustrated and questioned why Thrive was taking on new customers.
. . . .
By early April, Thrive Market was hiring as many as 30 warehouse workers a day. Using several recruiting agencies, it hired more than 300 warehouse workers in less than two months, adding to the roughly 500 it had. Labor costs jumped 20%.
The company also removed nonessential items such as water bottles and yoga mats from its website to concentrate on delivering essentials like food and cleaning supplies. It tinkered with its fulfillment processes, processing orders for high-demand products in one section of warehouses. It prioritized orders with the longest delivery times. It stopped selling low-demand items in the back of the warehouses, partly so workers wouldn’t have to waste time fetching them.
. . . .
Higher costs have reduced the percentage of profit made on orders, Mr. Green said. And the store has had to dip into its cash reserves to pay for a spike in inventory expenses. But the year’s revenue projections have risen, and the company is in a strong cash position, he said, although he declined to provide details.
Thrive’s goal to reach profitability by the end of 2022 hasn’t changed, he said. “With our growth accelerated,” he said, “we expect to get profitable even faster.”
. . . .
The lessons from the pandemic have changed its fulfillment processes. Mr. Green said the company will hold 20% more inventory and will work with a larger number of suppliers. Its technology team plans to roll out improved recommendation functions on the website for when items are out of stock.
PG has a soft spot for scrappy young tech startups and was heartened by the apparent survival of Thrive as depicted in the OP. For PG, a couple of smart young gals/guys who put it all on the line to start their own internet business is the cutest thing since puppies. That’s one reasons why he appreciates indie authors.
PG remembers when he first heard about Amazon from a friend and read an interview with Jeff Bezos. Later, PG created quite a few posts as the illegal Apple/Big Five Publishers scheme to kill Amazon fell apart.
Of course, Amazon has probably been the best single thing to happen to authors and readers in the last twenty years. Gatekeepers of dubious ability knocked back on their heels. Talented authors who want to move fast and write a lot of books unchained. Indie authors who know their readers because they pretty much are their readers instead of believing most people are more like their classmates at Swarthmore and Princeton than anything else.
Literati will go to their graves without admitting it, but Amazon has also helped Big Publishing to avoid becoming Semi-Big or Largish-Medium Publishing during the same time-frame. Since a great many publishing executives fall into the category of smartish, Amazon may have even prevented Big Publishing from becoming Chapter 11 Publishing.
Based upon a whole bunch of authors that he knows and carefully monitoring of what authors, particularly indie authors, are sharing about the business side of their art, PG feels comfortable in stating that Amazon’s self-publishing programs have made it more possible for many, many more authors to quit their day jobs than any other organization or collection of organizations on the planet.
As he has mentioned before, PG hopes JB’s style and savvy doesn’t slowly fade away at Amazon since he’s becoming less and less involved in the management of the company. Amazon works in a tough neighborhood. The list of huge, well-known retailers that have lost their mojo and disappeared into Chapter 11 or, at best, irrelevance is a long one and if Amazon ever starts taking its customers for granted, it might join the Wikipedia throng of giant retailers that are no more.
No longer will we print 200 copies of an academic monograph, ship 150 to warehouses around the world, then on to university libraries, and hope the remaining 50 will evaporate somehow over time. Should any library actually want a print copy for archival or other reasons it’s perfectly easy to produce one on a print-on-demand basis and that single copy will cost less in money and damage to the environment.
As it happens, the same technology and attitude will pervade the thinking of general as well as academic publishers when maintaining the availability of backlist titles.
This will of course lead to a complete revision and rethinking of reversion clauses.
Scientific publishers will abandon any semblance of print production including the age-old tradition of printed offprints of an author’s article.
Print in the new world is akin to the old French tradition of delivering the mail by postmen on stilts—charming but ridiculous.
And how about the absurdity of sending printed copies to media for review?
During the lockdown, newspaper mailrooms have been empty and it has been pointless to send printed books. It turns out that for the purposes of review and criticism, a PDF is perfectly adequate in all but heavily illustrated art, lifestyle, and children’s books.
Of course the reviewer will find it hard to sell the PDF on eBay as a way of supplementing the paltry reviewer’s fee but perhaps it’s about time that reviewers were paid properly for their important function.
. . . .
Can anyone imagine any learning environment without a significant digital dimension? From the library to the lecture theater or classroom, the buzzword in educational publishing for schools and colleges has been “blended learning”–essentially a teacher, a book, and some digital supplements.
This will be reversed and will become a digital course supplemented by a teacher and the very occasional printed textbook.
It will still be blended learning but as in any blend everything depends on the proportions of the ingredients. In education, these proportions will never be the same again.
. . . .
With more people working from home, how can our industry justify typical midtown offices? How can senior executives justify large offices for themselves and battery-hen cubicles for lower-level staffers?
Old-fashioned offices and structures will not survive to be replaced by more employee-friendly work spaces and work practices.
Adieu, 9-to-5 work schedules. I’m very glad I haven’t invested heavily in big-city commercial property, and I’m pretty certain that most publishers will be looking to reduce their rent bills by taking less space and renegotiating leases.
. . . .
No more sales conferences in exotic places.
No more teeming academic conferences.
No more all-company rallies.
No more flying around the world when a phone call would suffice.
Leaving parties will be sadly frequent but less grand.
And finally, of course, the parties.
No more book launches in lovely but pokey independent bookshops.
No more cheap white wine.
No more self-serving speeches by the publisher.
No more shushing in order to hear the author’s speech or reading.
No more air kisses and mwah mwah.
No more trying to persuade staffers to mingle.
No more sucking up to journalists in the hope of a one-line mention in a diary column.
No more bundling up the unsold books to return to the warehouse.
The post-COVID-19 launch parties will be digital. Many more people can and will attend. The wine and refreshments will be top-notch. The author can be heard and seen. The event can be recorded and shared universally.
They worked in Manhattan, which was too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. They didn’t make enough money to buy their own apartments downtown, but they’d never think of moving to Brooklyn or Queens or any of the outer boroughs. Mummy and Daddy had the money, boatloads of it in many cases, and Mummy and Daddy believed in appearances. So, if Second Son needed a place to live, well, then let’s just buy him something in the right neighborhood, so that he can live in relative comfort.
Second Son had use of the summer house upstate or in the Hamptons (before, y’know, it got discovered by [sniff] celebrities) and in due time, Second Son and the wife would move to Connecticut to raise the kids, commute into the City to do Important Work.
What Important Work? Publishing, of course. Perfect work for the Second Son or the Third Son or the Fourth. Perfect way to use that expensive education without really going into Trade or soiling the hands on something a little less…dignified.
Most of the people running publishing companies in those days were the children of old money who were not expected to make a profit at what they did. They were expected to do good work, to influence the culture, to put their minds and hearts behind good (or at least the right sort of) causes.
The people who started or ran the companies were, for the most part, male. All of them were white. And only a handful—the most innovative (and the most underrated)—were not from old money. Ian and Betty Ballantine, for instance, started Ballantine Books in their apartment in 1952, which was not the way most publishing houses started in those times. Ian and Betty were the anomalies.
The children of old money were not anomalies. Their influence pervades publishing even now, when all that remains of their companies are dusty old names that have long since been sold to corporations.
When I came into the business, though, handshake agreements were common, particularly with agents, who talked about things like “gentlemen’s agreements,” and “honor,” even though most of them had as much honor as any thief.
The publishers, though, the publishers truly were not interested in making a profit. They wanted enough money to keep their Manhattan offices, and to publish prestige products. They liked bestsellers, although they often manipulated the lists so that the worthy books could be considered bestsellers, and they really liked dominating the conversation around the entire country.
The books that made profits for the publishing houses—well, we don’t discuss those much. The “trashy” novels. Science fiction. Mystery. Romance. The [sniff] genre titles, they funded the literary titles, and made the prestige books possible.
But, long about sixty years ago, the culture was changing. The masses—always a problem when it came to prestige products—had a lot of disposable income, and wanted—not the most prestigious book—but something fun to read. Sure, they bought the prestige book, and displayed it on the coffee table so that their neighbors thought they were erudite, but the books they read lurked in the bedroom closet or the enclosed end table or the basement, and those had lurid covers and shocking subheadings.
The problem was that a lot of the racks around the nation that handled books wanted books to sell, not books to impress. The handful of bookstores weren’t enough to make the requisite amount of sales, so somehow, these publishers had to convince the department store book departments and the grocery stores and drug stores and the truck stops to take prestige books.
Truck stops never did, and neither did drug stores, but department stores…they could be lured by prestige. Just like university bookstores and libraries—with the right promotion.
What was the right promotion? Well, that was the question, wasn’t it, in a mass market world. How to make books that are good for you, or at least books written by the right sort (our kind of people) sell better than they naturally would.
The editors who actually believed in the product, and the sales force who were, in those days, an actual force, unique to the company, had the job of making those books profitable. And sometimes, that was impossible.
. . . .
A lot of things were tried, and a lot of things failed. But the successful things, well, some were done utilizing the Right People Who Had Jobs in the Right Places, things such as:
Convincing that one reviewer to read the book and maybe, in exchange for a lovely lunch, write a slightly more positive review than usual.
Planting interviews in the right magazines and newspapers, read by the right people
Sending copies to the influential bookstores ahead of publication, so that the store owner felt involved in the process and might encourage the influential in the community (including the reviewer at the local paper) to cover the book.
Sending the author to universities, to talk to professors and other influencers (although that term wasn’t used then).
Sending the author, and copies of the book, to the influential bookstores. Initially, the authors gave lectures there as well, but most authors are dull as dishwater even when someone poured a lot of liquor into them, so the talks evolved into signings only, and more than one per day.
. . . .
But for the most part, the book publicity you still see today started around 1955 or so, and changed only as book buying changed. The sales force went away—why have a sales force when all you had to do was sell to the single buyer for the nationwide chain? And then the right magazines became shadows of themselves, the struggling newspapers cut their book sections, and the author tour became a way to get bookstores around the country to order enough copies of the book to get on the New York Times list.
But that was that.
Ads on television, still in its infancy in 1960, didn’t really work, especially with Our Sort, because television by its very nature appealed to the masses. Jaqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls, revolutionized book publicity, but it was commonly accepted that she wrote trash, and the techniques she used were unique to her.
(They weren’t. They were the same techniques most companies used at the time to sell any brand name item. Techniques all snubbed by traditional publishers at the time because of the whiff of the masses…snubbed until they actually needed those techniques to get their books on the shelves.)
Book publishing rolled in a few more techniques—the book fairs, like the LA Book Fair and a few other “accepted” methods of promotion—but for the most part, until January 2020, the promotion done for books by traditional publishers was the same kind of promotion done by traditional publishers 60 years ago.
. . . .
Only now, the Right People don’t control the media. Corporations do. And there’s too many diverse voices and too many influencers not under the control of Our Sort.
The right magazines are gone. The newspaper book sections are gone or styled back to one review.
But that doesn’t matter. The booksellers…they’re Our Sort. They will come through. We can market to them, support them against the Big Evil Amazon, and our books will sell enough to make a decent profit, enough to keep our little division of our books in the black.
Let the authors handle the online promotion. We’ll set up a book tour, and maybe some direct-to-bookstore marketing, and all will be well.
But problems lurked on the horizon.
Bookstores were struggling. Big or little, it doesn’t matter. Barnes & Noble, the last big store, was being mismanaged into oblivion. The little stores were hanging on by finding their niche, but that niche wasn’t always The Right Book. Some of the most successful stores were genre—mystery, science fiction, and quite often, romance.
Even so, they weren’t making a big profit, and it had become a sad ironic joke in the industry that book buyers would use the stores to pick up a book, maybe read the opening, and then order the ebook online. Or the hardcover from Amazon, where the price was half of what the bookstore was doing.
Still, the book tours continued and the promotion wheel geared up, and writers occasionally appeared on the Today show (but not on Ellen or any of the talk shows, which were more focused on performing than ever).
PG keeps thinking one day he’ll disagree with one of the posts Kris writes about the book business, but he’s probably wrong.
The “business” end of the traditional book business is full of people who would have a difficult time being hired by any revenue-generating employer other than a publisher. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, they genuinely believe they are good business people despite growing evidence to the contrary.
Jeff Bezos knows how to sell books. Random House, not so much.
For visitors to TPV who may be aghast at PG’s opinion, he would ask how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books a traditional publisher sells each year.
Ditto for how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books Barnes & Noble sells each year.
Canada’s book publishing trade association Booknet is warning that as bookstores open their doors there will be even more books than usual being sent back unsold and unwanted.
While some bookstores have managed to maintain curbside sales, overall bricks & mortar sales are down about 63% and bookstores are sitting on case after case of unsold books that there is unlikely to be sufficient demand for as high street trade gradually resumes.
Canada’s The Star quotes Booknet Canada’s Noah Genner as saying:
If we just look at physical bookstores, so not online retailers, but mostly physical bookstores, they’re down almost 63 per cent year over year for the period. So 63 per cent in unit sales. That is hugely significant.
. . . .
The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.
But now publishers face not only the loss of sales for the lockdown duration (and however long it takes for some degree of normal trading to resume) but also an exceptional excess of unsold titles that will end up being pulped or more likely sold off to remaindered operations for re-sale.
PG says that the book returns system is a twist on vendor financing, which, outside of the book business, typically happens when the retailer can’t qualify for conventional financing in order to pay for its purchases from a bank or other financial institution.
In the reality-based business world, vendor financing is often regarded as an indication that the customer isn’t in very good financial shape and doesn’t have enough working capital to operate its business. It can also be regarded as an indication that the vendor has a hard time selling its inventory unless it becomes what is, in effect, a bank or finance company for its customers.
Vendors often offer a price discount if the purchaser pays within X time period. This may be structured as follows: The Seller offers a 2% discount on an invoice due in 30 days if the buyer pays within the first 10 days of receiving the invoice. This usually doesn’t carry the same taint as vendor financing over a much longer period of time.
It was week four of coronavirus shelter-in-place. Going on 2 p.m.; I’m at my desk at home, answering emails, filtering submissions, contemplating a forthcoming edit. But wait, what’s that sound? Oh, right, it’s my stomach growling. I’m hungry. Must be time for a can of that chicken noodle soup I’ve been hoarding.
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Before the lockdown orders came down in New York City, no self-respecting publishing person could forget about lunch. We all knew the drill. At 12:30 or 1 p.m.—occasionally as early as 12:15 or as late as 1:15—the office exodus would begin. We’d gather our coats and bags and wits and head out to meet with agents and authors at restaurants where reservations had been scheduled two, three, six, or eight weeks in advance. The mission: start or continue relationships that might lead to new submissions from said agents and authors, which in turn would lead to new acquisitions to be announced at future in-house editorial meetings.
While we might have shared sushi at Nobu, everybody knew lunch wasn’t really about food. No, it was about gossip, shop talk, and bringing brand new projects to fruition. Lunch, in other words, literally meant business.
So it should come as no surprise that among the questions, and there were many, that a lot of us asked when this whole work-from-home thing started was what would happen to the publishing lunch.
. . . .
We have now had 10 weeks of sheltering in place, and I am happy to report that while I haven’t met anyone in a restaurant for what feels like forever, I, and most of my colleagues, are still making and publishing books and signing up titles for forthcoming seasons. I’m on the phone constantly, checking in with agents and authors about how they’re doing with kids at home and a bunch of new worries—but also about the projects they’re shepherding. I’ve been in a couple of major auctions and have won and lost several books, both fiction and non.
Will those books “work”? Who knows? Determining what the future reading world will embrace… well, that’s been a problem endemic to our industry forever; we’ve asked the question before (most recently during the 2008 recession, and before that after 9/11) and we’ve always survived. Sorry to paraphrase the over-paraphrased Mark Twain, but despite bookstore consolidation, the rise of e-books and audiobooks, and the explosion of interest in streaming TV, publishing’s death has been greatly exaggerated—many times. So what if now we’re talking books over Zoom, or WhatsApp, or maybe just in a plain old-fashioned phone call instead of across a two-top? We’re still publishing.
While PG believes and ardently hopes there will always be an England, he can’t say the same thing about the traditional publishing business.
There will always be books, albeit in evolving forms, and books require authors (AI is lurking, but PG needs a bit more convincing that AI is capable of creating good fiction.) but printers used to do much of what publishers do today.
Publishers are an example of a classic middleman (or middleperson if you prefer, agents are as well) receiving products created by somebody else and funneling them to the organization or person who will actually sell those books to readers.
PG concedes that editors (whether they are called agents or not) can and do add value to the end product. However, this function can be outsourced to nice people working from their home office in Kansas where (for the benefit of those New Yorkers who have never visited), the costs of a comfortable life are much, much lower than on that skinny island hanging off the eastern part of the United States. The restaurants may be of a different type than Manhattan’s were before the plague, but with all the newly rich indie Kansas authors, Nobu may find greener pastures in Wichita.
If authors and booksellers (online or off) can work without the middlepersons, they both will probably make more money from their respective businesses.
From whatever New York restaurants survive the current disruption, the decline and fall of traditional publishing may cause an occasional tear to be shed, but there will be more-prosperous authors and booksellers who may make up the difference.
U.S. lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic prompted record monthly drops in retail spending and industrial output, as consumers pulled back sharply on shopping and eating out and factories suffered a sharp drop in demand.
The Commerce Department on Friday said retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, fell a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April from a month earlier. The drop eclipsed a revised 8.3% drop in March sales, and marked the steepest month-over-month decline in records dating to 1992.
The Federal Reserve separately said industrial production dropped 11.2% in April, its steepest monthly fall on records dating back more than a century, as the coronavirus response closed factories, sapped demand and froze supply chains.
“They’re just dramatically weak numbers,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities. “We’re obviously in this big hole now.” He said a key question is how long it takes to climb out of it, which depends in part on the speed of reopening.
Social distancing, business closures, travel restrictions and other disruptions that started in mid-March have taken a particularly heavy toll on retail stores and restaurants, many of which remain closed or are opening gradually as states begin to reopen their economies.
Consumer spending in April was down more than 20% from the same month last year, and certain categories posted dramatic declines. Clothing-store sales in April were nearly 90% lower than a year earlier, while sales at department stores, bars and restaurants, and sporting goods stores were all down nearly half. By contrast, sales were up over 20% on the year for online retailers and up 12% at food and beverage stores.
Lower vehicle sales and spending at bars and restaurants drove last month’s decline in retail sales, but nearly every other category suffered too as commuters worked from home and malls remained shut.
The exception were sales at nonstore retailers, a category that includes internet merchants such as Amazon.com Inc. and which grew 8.4% month-over-month.
. . . .
Sales were weak across a range of categories, but nonessential businesses were particularly hard hit. Sales at furniture stores dropped 58.7% and electronics fell 60.6%. Clothing sales plummeted 78.8% from March.
. . . .
Consumer spending is the main driver of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of economic output, and retail sales account for about a quarter of all consumer spending.
. . . .
Workers also are losing jobs in record numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic, another factor hitting consumer spending. And declining consumer sentiment has economists worried about how quickly people will return to spending, as the economy opens back up.
. . . .
Some retailers are also unlikely to weather the pandemic and face permanent closures.
“2020 is going to be a year of rebalancing,” said Under Armour Chief Executive Patrik Frisk during an earnings call Monday. The athletic-apparel retailer reported that about 80% of global business has been at a standstill since mid-March, and revenue may drop as much as 60% in the second quarter.
Retailers on both sides of the Atlantic are “trying to figure out how fast they can open and how fast the consumer is going to come back,” Mr. Frisk said.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
PG hasn’t seen any information from major business publications about Big Publishing, Barnes & Noble and other parts of the publishing establishment.
His guess, as mentioned previously on TPV, is that Barnes & Noble will experience a substantial financial impact and that its online business won’t be nearly large enough to materially offset the costs of cutting off its retail arm for an extended period of time.
At least some B&N stores located in malls will have problems if major mall tenants close and/or the foot traffic they generate is substantially diminished. If a mall shuts down, as many malls have done in the recent past, there is likely to be one fewer Barnes & Noble store in the vicinity.
A year from now, PG believes there will be substantially fewer Barnes & Noble stores than their were pre-corona. Ditto for a great many other physical bookstores. He suspects this is the type of major societal and financial upheaval that changes some habits and institutions on a permanent basis.
Unfortunately, PG believes a number of small traditional publishers won’t be able to reopen or will reopen with substantially reduced staff and much-reduced advances.
PG suspects that traditional publishing will see mixed results with bookstore declines offset to some extent by improved Amazon sales. It’s pure speculation on PG’s part, but he would guess that Amazon sales of ebooks from traditional publishing will have seen an uptick while the market share of hardcopy books may decline.
In the short run, an increased proportion of ebook sales, which involve no costs for warehousing, shipping or returns of unsold hardcopy books from physical bookstores may well increase the profit margins of traditional publishers even as, if PG is correct, gross sales revenues suffer steep declines.
Over a longer period of time, if readers under lockdown have sampled ebooks from Amazon or their local libraries to read on their own electronic devices (or devices purchased from Amazon for the purpose), PG suspects some proportion of this group will become permanent ebook aficionados.
It may be too much to expect, but PG would hope that those in traditional publishing with any business sense would put a stop to the childishly petulant attitude displayed toward Amazon by so many New York publishing drones and their associated literati. Absent Amazon or someone like Amazon, traditional publishing’s future would look a lot more like Barnes & Noble’s than is the present case.
PG predicts that, ten or twenty years from now, intelligent and informed individuals will have concluded that Amazon saved literature (and a bunch of jobs in the literature biz that don’t involve writing books) during this difficult time.
First, the store doors shut. Now, the walls are closing in.
Retailers have furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers, cut executive pay and stopped paying rent, all to conserve cash. For the most indebted retailers, particularly those already struggling before the crisis began, those measures may not be enough.
Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., both of which have looming debt payments, have been reaching out to creditors in the hopes of buying more time, according to people familiar with the situation. Representatives for Neiman Marcus and Penney declined to comment.
. . . .
The retail industry was going through a shakeout before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As shoppers migrated away from malls and bought more online, specialty-apparel retailers and department stores were among the hardest hit. A record number of chains have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, and others have closed hundreds of stores. As the virus keeps American businesses temporarily closed, the weak will only get weaker, analysts said.
“Companies we weren’t that concerned about a month ago, we are now concerned about,” said Mickey Chadha, a senior analyst with Moody’s Investors Service. Mr. Chadha estimated that operating income for department stores, which have been losing market share to fast-fashion retailers and discounters, will fall 20% this year. He predicted operating profit for the retail sector overall will fall by 2% to 5%, a drop not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.
. . . .
The National Retail Federation has been lobbying the government to ensure that companies with credit ratings that fall below investment grade have access to loans. “We want them to design these programs to be broad enough to tackle the significant problems of distressed industries such as retailing, which employs a large chunk of the population,” said David French, the trade group’s senior vice president of government relations.
. . . .
Retailers are cutting every cost they can, including delaying payments to suppliers and canceling orders. “In this environment in which 90% of our stores are closed to the public, we are forced to make difficult decisions,” wrote an executive of Harmon Stores Inc., a health and beauty-products chain that is owned by Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., in a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The letter notified suppliers that payments would be delayed by an additional 60 days.
“Retailers have cut variable costs, but there are a lot of fixed costs that they can’t reduce,” said James Gellert, CEO of RapidRatings, which analyzes the financial health of companies.
. . . .
“Retail bankruptcies are coming, but not necessarily immediately,” said Deborah Newman, a lawyer in the bankruptcy and restructuring practice of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. She said there are public-relations and economic ramifications when companies are forced into bankruptcy during the pandemic. “Now is not a good time to find buyers for assets,” she added. “It’s also hard to get a true sense of a company’s value.”
. . . .
Chains that survive will have to grapple with consumer demand that may not snap back quickly. Consumer spending had buoyed chains before the crisis, but now many shoppers are facing reduced income and they may be skittish about rushing back to public spaces.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)
PG reluctantly suggests that a great many independent bookstores, often thinly capitalized, relying on the effective equivalent to no-interest loans from publishers in the form of books shipped to stores at no charge with payments for those books happening later as the books are sold.
If there are bookstore bankruptcies on a widespread basis, not only will traditional publishers lose a significant portion of their distribution systems, but their financials will be hit with a lot of debts that will never be paid.
For publishers which are public companies with publicly-traded stock, PG suggests that those stock prices will drop like a rock. If some Wall Street financial engineers leveraged the assets of the publishers to the hilt in some complex financing scheme, the survival of such publishers, even with radical downsizing of their staffs, will be in doubt.
Advertising and publicity budgets that support new releases by these publishers will see a very sharp knife.
For traditionally-published authors, PG is afraid that advances will be hit hard. Those who live from advance to advance will be particularly stressed. When five-figure advances become four-figure advances, maximal mental stress may not have a positive impact on artistic output.
New authors striving to get into traditional publishing will find rejection slips arriving in repeating waves may force those who would have managed to snag a first contract in earlier times into alternate employment.
PG suggests that a substantial portion of traditionally-published authors who desperately want to continue their careers will be sheepishly contacting the handful of indie authors that are casual acquaintances for tips on how to make money on Amazon.
Very few major companies will exit from the current world-wide panic without picking up some bruises. Amazon has become such a complex skein of businesses that what sort of company will come out the other side of the current maelstrom is difficult for experts (and impossible for PG) to predict.
However, in the face of closed stores, Amazon has gained a great many new customers. PG suggests a meaningful number of those who didn’t use Amazon in their past lives or used it on rare occasions will be more enthusiastic Amazon customers in the future, particularly if physical retail stores continue to be hit hard.
Lots of people who are self-isolating in their homes are doing a lot of reading these days. Care to guess where they’re buying their books of access to physical book outlets is prohibited by executive orders from various public officials?
And when you’re stuck in your home and need a good book quickly, where do you point your iPad? Kindle ebooks are always ready to serve.
I want to talk for a minute about why publishing is in so much trouble right now.
It’s way more complicated than most people seem to think.
First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies, physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third.
Selling books is a very long and complicated supply chain. Ignore editorial — writers and editors can work at a distance and electronically. It really starts with the paper. Storing paper for the big presses takes an enormous amount of warehouse space, which costs money. Printers don’t store a lot — they rely on a “just in time” supply chain so that when a book is scheduled to go to press, the paper is delivered to the printer. Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China? Anything, for the last three months. Some of it comes from Canada. Guess what the Trump administration put a big tariff on at the beginning of the year?
So, we don’t have adequate paper supplies. Then consider, big printing plants are not “essential businesses”. There are only a couple printers in the US that can handle the book manufacturing business. One of them shut down last week. Covid-19. We started rescheduling books like mad to deal with that.
But supposing we had paper, and a printer and bindery, the books have to be shipped to the warehouse. Again, non-essential movement. The freight drivers moving books? Staying home, as they should. Not all of them. I hope they remain healthy, because dying to get the latest bestseller to the warehouse doesn’t seem quite right to me.
Now then, our warehouse. We have a gigantic facility in Virginia. Lots of people are working there, bless them, but it’s putting them at risk. There they are, filling orders, packing boxes, running invoices. Giving those boxes to the freight drivers who take the books to the bookstores and distributors. Again, truck drivers risking their lives to bring books to the bookstores.
But think again. The bookstores are closed. The distributors are closed . No place open to deliver the books to. Some bookstores are doing mail order business, bless them, but they aren’t ordering very many books from our warehouse. Amazon isn’t ordering very many, either — because they have (correctly) stopped shipping books and are using their reduced staff to ship medical supplies and food.
In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.
As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.
“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”
. . . .
The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.
. . . .
Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.
“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.
. . . .
Some independent booksellers, including Powell’s, have already begun cutting staff. On Monday, Powell’s announced to employees that it will begin involuntary layoffs after determining the minimum number of employees it needs to keep the online store functioning. A representative of the local union that represents 400 Powell’s workers said that about 85 percent of them had already been affected by temporary layoffs, and that the company has signaled that permanent layoffs are likely to follow.
McNally Jackson, an independent chain in New York, let a substantial number of its employees go after deciding to shutter its stores for the time being. On Twitter, the company said it had temporarily laid off many of its staffers while “facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue,” and added that “we intend to hire back our employees as soon as we can.” A note on the company’s website said that it is still accepting phone and online orders while the stores are closed, and offering delivery.
. . . .
The American Booksellers Association said it has been lobbying publishers to support independent stores by offering discounts, free shipping to customers and a removal of the cap on returns of unsold titles, among other measures. Other groups have been raising money to donate to hard-hit independent stores. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which gives financial support to independent stores, released a statement offering potential assistance to stores that have been impacted by the epidemic and are unable to pay their rent or utilities bills as a result of lost sales.
Still, many in the industry worry that financial losses stemming from the outbreak will cripple a significant number of stores and cause them to close permanently. Others fear that the lockdowns and government guidelines mandating social distancing will give an even greater advantage to Amazon as more homebound customers turn to internet shopping.
. . . .
The art critic Jerry Saltz was scheduled to launch his new book, “How to Be An Artist,” at the Strand in New York on Tuesday, but will instead appear in a livestream conversation broadcast on the store’s Instagram account, which has 225,000 followers.
Some stores see virtual events as the best alternative for the foreseeable future, and perhaps the only way to stay connected with readers and their communities as more physical spaces are forced to close.
Politics and Prose, in Washington, is aiming to turn all of its scheduled author appearances into virtual events, with writers hosting a conversation about their books remotely by web video through the platform Crowdcast. “Authors are self-isolating along with the rest of us,” said Liz Hottel, the director of events and marketing at Politics and Prose. “I’m sure they are as starved for meaningful dialogue as readers are.”
As it works to meet the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products,” Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that they will likely see reduced orders and longer delivery time at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today and an article Amazon posted on its Amazon Seller Central website.
In the letter, sent from Amazon Vendor Central to a wide range of its suppliers including most publishers, the online retailer said that due to a surge in online orders, it is “temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products” in order to restock those items. As a result, the letter said, from now through April 5, suppliers of products that are a lower priority should expect both reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for existing purchase orders.
“We have temporarily paused ordering for products that are not household staples, medical supplies, or other high demand products,” the letter said. “We have extended the shipment/delivery windows for some existing purchase orders to give you more time to fulfill the order. Please ship your products toward the end of the extended window.”
What a difference a major public health emergency makes. As of this writing, the numbers of identified coronavirus cases in the States are rising quickly as testing–long delayed by the federal government–finally begins to come online.
The New York Times’ 1:24 p.m. ET update (1724 GMT) has at least 5,002 cases now identified in the United States, and CNN is reporting that the 100th American death has been recorded. And, of course, the most vulnerable demographic to COVID-19 is citizens in their 70s and 80s–a sector of the population that typically appreciates and uses library services.
Abruptly ending a months-long battle of wills, Macmillan CEO John Sargent this afternoon (March 17) has abandoned his embargo of newly released ebooks for libraries in the United States, issuing a short note to the news media:
“Dear Librarians, Authors, Illustrators and Agents,
“There are times in life when differences should be put aside.
“Effective on Friday (or whenever thereafter our wholesalers can effect the change), Macmillan will return to the library ebook pricing model that was in effect on October 31, 2019. In addition, we will be lowering some ebook prices on a short-term basis to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.”
The case of the New York Public Library, as we reported Monday (March 16), reflects those of library facilities and programs in many world markets: As social distancing requirements intensify, physical library facilities are being shuttered and digital lending systems become more important.
This seems to be behind the announcement made today by Sargent–who, by the way, is seen as a hero in the national and world publishing industries for his eloquent defiance of Donald Trump in January 2018 when the White House tried to intimidate Macmillan’s Henry Holt & Company on the publication of Michael Woolf’s Fire and Fury. Calling Trump’s effort “flagrantly unconstitutional,” Sargent accelerated the publication of the book and won the admiration of free-expression advocates everywhere.
Much less happy were many library enthusiasts with Sargent’s eight-week windowing of new titles for libraries, an embargo put into place on November 1. That followed an initial hold-back of new Macmillan/Tor new titles, which started with July 2018 titles. For four years prior, major publishers in the States had provided their full catalogs to libraries without such embargoes.
Sargent’s assertion has been, of course, that making new Macmillan titles available on publication as lend-able library ebooks was creating what he described as a growing “imbalance” in the marketplace as e-borrowing’s popularity rose, costing the publisher too much in what might otherwise be sales for new titles when they might be most popular.
In Andrew Albanese’s coverage for Publishers Weekly of a January meeting between Sargent and librarians at the American Library Association’s annual Midwinter Meeting, Sargent also apologized for the impression many in the library community shared that he might consider libraries to be a problem for publishers. Instead, Sargent said, the problem was real but about the financial results of expanding e-lending on a publisher’s bottom line, not on any lack of recognition of the importance of libraries and their work.
As Albanese quoted him, Sargent said, “If you are in the state of California, you can easily own a library card for every library in the state of California, and when a book comes out that you want, you can put your name on every wait list in every county, and there are apps being developed to make that easier to do, and so that drives up the number of lends for every book in every library and that causes the amount of money per reader reading a book to go down. And that is the change that we worry about.”
The publication of American Dirt raised a host of issues that the publishing industry is likely to be dealing with for some time. The release of the novel forced the industry to ask who should write certain books, reignited the conversation over the lack of diversity within the industry, and also exposed the continued lack of understanding of the Hispanic/Latino consumer by most all publishers.
On January 29, a statement by Bob Miller, president of American Dirt publisher Flatiron Books, noted that the publishing house was “surprised by the anger that has emerged [in response to the book] from members of the Latinx and publishing communities.” The anger was the result of Flatiron’s demonstrated lack of understanding of Latino readers. This lack of understanding is by no means unique to the imprint but is a reflection of a prevalent problem within the book publishing industry. It is clear that the gatekeepers in publishing do not reflect, nor do they appreciate, the complexities of Latinos. Latinos are not a homogenous group; they are as vastly different as the general population, but with the added intricacy of acculturation.
The vast majority of adult trade books are written and published with the white, non-Hispanic reader in mind, at the exclusion of multicultural readers. Can the publishing industry afford to continue on this path? The consumer landscape has greatly changed in the last 20 years. The country has become much more diverse: almost 40% of the U.S. population is nonwhite, and almost 50% of Gen Zers are from communities of color.
This is a shift the industry must recognize and address, as most other industries are already devoting greater resources to capture revenue from diverse communities. Publishers can’t afford to continue publishing for 60% of Americans while excluding the rest. It just doesn’t make business sense.
Some publishers think they have solved the problem by having an imprint or two dedicated to books by authors of color, but diverse voices should be part of all publishing plans and not relegated to a single or limited number of imprints. Creating an imprint for these titles often leaves their authors pigeonholed and without the possibility of reaching wider audiences.
Marketers and publishers also need to go beyond the thinking that Latino readers will only read books written by Latinos or that black readers will only read black authors. That is a simplistic formula publishers often use to reach nonwhite audiences, but it will never deliver on the true potential of reaching multicultural readers. This signals a problem with an industry that lacks understanding of the multicultural consumers and seldom markets to them.
PG is confused by the OP, (written by a multicultural marketing expert (is the marketing expert multicultural or is her (PG knows he shouldn’t assume even though there’s a photo in the OP) expertise primarily in the field of multicultural marketing? (or both?))) (PG apologizes if he has inadvertently and without malice aforethought used any parenthesis in a racist or gendered manner. If he has done so, he will promptly seek counseling from a multicultural marketing parenthetical expression expert.)
The publisher published a book about a group that is underrepresented in books from traditional publishers – Latinos.
The publisher didn’t understand Latinx readers.
The publisher and author took heat for the book because it was not written by a Latino.
Publishers are wrong because they have a couple of imprints that publish for people of color (and presumably have sufficient expertise to do so without offending anyone).
Publishers are wrong to think that Latinx readers will only read books written by Latinos.
Publishers should publish more books by and about Latinos and make certain they don’t offend Latinx readers.
PG suspects more than a few publishing executives may be thinking (but not saying) that they will allow other publishers walk through the minefield of racial grievances and firm up the rules before venturing back into the business of publishing books by and/or about racial minorities.
Another question occurred to PG – What if an editor of color accepts a book about people of no special color which is written by an author of color? Is someone going to complain? Is review by a sensitivity expert required?
PG suspects he’s not the only person who doesn’t care (and almost never knows) the color of the author of books he reads (more often than not, he ends up forgetting the author’s name as well).
PG certainly doesn’t remember the publisher or the imprint and has no knowledge of either’s race/gender/policies relating thereto, etc. (PG knows he probably should pay attention to that stuff, but he doesn’t. He only really pays attention when somebody gets sued.)
Simon & Schuster, the publishing powerhouse behind best-selling authors like Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin and Judy Blume, is up for sale.
Its owner, ViacomCBS, announced Wednesday that, after a “strategic review,” the book publisher was no longer essential to its business and that it would seek a buyer.
“We will look to complete a transaction that maximizes its value once the market stabilizes,” Robert M. Bakish, the chief executive, wrote in a memo to employees, most of whom learned of the sale only on Wednesday.
ViacomCBS, the newly combined business controlled by Shari Redstone, is betting its future on streaming and sports content. Owning a major book publisher does not fit into those plans.
A sale of Simon & Schuster, one of the five largest book publishers in the country, would shake up the publishing industry, which has become a winner-take-all business dominated by huge companies and brand-name authors.
A wave of consolidations has swept the book business in the last decade. In that series of moves, Penguin and Random House merged, Hachette Book Group acquired Perseus Books and News Corporation bought the romance publisher Harlequin.
. . . .
The company is going up for sale at an uncertain moment for publishers, who have struggled with lethargic sales and anxiety over the future of Barnes & Noble, the once-dominant chain that was bought last year by the hedge fund Elliott Advisors.
“It hasn’t been a strong growth industry in a long time, and what little growth there has been recently seems to be arrested,” said Thad McIlroy, a publishing industry analyst.
. . . .
Still, with the rise of Amazon and e-books, the business has suffered. In 1989, one of its best years, the publisher generated $1.3 billion in sales. Last year, sales were $814 million. The company’s profits have also declined, hitting $143 million in 2019, a 6.5 percent drop from the previous year. Legacy media businesses can sell anywhere from five times to 10 times annual profits.
. . . .
The potential sale of Simon & Schuster is part of a great unwinding taking place across the media industry as conglomerates cleave off or close down ancillary businesses. The spate of acquisitions in recent years — AT&T bought Time Warner and the Walt Disney Company absorbed the majority of 21st Century Fox — has largely been a defensive measure against Big Tech and a bet on digital video as the future of entertainment.
Books won’t play a significant role in the coming skirmish, in Mr. Bakish’s view. Simon & Schuster is “not a core asset of the company, it is not video-based, it doesn’t have significant connectivity to our broader business,” he said at an investor conference Wednesday morning.