What Are the Top Strategic Issues Facing the Book Value Chain?

From Book Business:

As we head into the middle of the year it is time to reflect on the state of our business and what might lie ahead. We have seen some significant changes in the past year as it relates to the Book MFG platform in the U.S.

I will not go through the litany of changes, but the end result is going to be a significantly consolidated platform of book printers with the bulk of the traditional offset capacity, production inkjet capacity, and book finishing solutions for mainstream book publishers being at Quad/LSC, or in one of the many plants that are now part of the CJK Group.

As the various mergers, tuck-ins, and acquisitions are integrated into their new companies, we will see ongoing consolidation of capacity and rationalization of the overall number of available press hours for one and four-color book work. For the first time in decades, book publishers are going to have to think and work on their manufacturing plans for the year, especially as they relate to work on the offset platforms during peak demand seasons.

. . . .

Supplies of book papers will continue to decline as mills close or redirect capacity to more profitable grades. Again, more planning is now going to be required by publishers and printers.

The health of book publishers is a mixed bag. The trade book folks continue to see stability and some growth of their printed products along with significant ongoing growth of downloaded audio books. K-12 publishers struggle for profitability as they are all focused on moving the revenue model from printed books to a stronger digital curriculum platform that can either supplement or even replace print. In either event, print — which in this segment is primarily four-color text books — continues to decline.

In higher education, the print decline continues in what many are experiencing as a double-digit rate. The issues for this segment are more dire than K-12. Here the publishers are dealing with a complete repudiation of their product model because of pricing issues by a significant number of their primary adopters, the professors and universities. This is a segment whose current business model may be stuck in a doom loop and, again, here we see four-color printing as one of the area’s of manufacturing that will feel the decline, which is why you may see some significant capacity rationalization in the four-color area from all the merger and acquisition activity among printers in the past 12 months.

. . . .

The retail distribution model is already changing in a dramatic fashion. Brick and mortar is in decline, especially in the big box store model. We see this in trade with Barnes and Noble as well as education with the college book store models. Amazon continues to grow its presence in both trade and higher education. Publishers and printers both need to be planning for the possibility that big box book brick and mortar might fail. How will publishers replace those sales and the bandwidth of all that shelf space? How will printers plan for the reduction in print demand when all the books sitting in stores and warehouses come back to the publishers through the return channel?

Paper continues to be an issue and it is not going to go away. There is no new domestic capacity coming online for uncoated book free sheet or groundwood for the mono books. Coated graphic arts papers of all grades are in short supply for the same reasons. Mills are closing or switching capacity to more profitable and easier to manufacture packaging grades.

. . . .

As publishers work toward reducing turnaround times with tighter SLA’s, the printers will need a distribution system that can move product quickly and effectively. The primary method for moving books is by truck. There is a critical shortage of over-the-road truck drivers in the U.S. and the shortage is growing as baby boomers leave the workforce and trucking companies struggle to attract good candidates into the jobs. How will publishers plan for this emerging problem?

Offset print plants require skilled craftsman to run one and four color offset presses, as well as high speed soft cover and case binding lines. There is a significant amount of labor required in a medium size and large book plant, especially in the bindery. Many of the markets where these book plants exist today have a shortage of the skills and labor required for these plants to run at full capacity. This is an ongoing issue, which was experienced by many mainstream book printers this past year and will continue as the talent pool who used to fill these jobs find better paying and less demanding jobs. This issue has a compounding effect. It creates capacity shortages caused not by lack of equipment, but rather by the inability to utilize all the theoretically available time on that equipment for lack of operators. This then reduces the potential ROI on those expensive investments in web presses and new and more automated binding lines.

. . . .

We have some really tough issues facing the book business and the structure of the future book value chain. This is a very conservative industry and the nature and past behavior of the industry as a whole would suggest that movement and change will not take place until crisis is upon us. We should all be learning from what is happening in the higher education business.

Link to the rest at Book Business

PG suspects that most people in the traditional publishing world take printing capacity for granted. He hasn’t seen a potential printing capacity problem discussed in any publication that the managers of traditional publishers are likely to read.

Obviously, POD doesn’t work if there isn’t enough P.

2020: Zero year thoughts about the changes in book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

In 1990, three zero years and three decades ago, the universe of books available for a person to buy or for a store to carry was pretty much defined by “Books in Print”. This annual compilation, at that time primarily delivered as a book itself, passes along the aggregate of what publishers say is available. At that time, the total was in the mid six figures, not more than 500,000 titles. BIP contains duplicates, so the number of available titles was probably less than that, but that’s a reasonable working number.

That means each new book brought out by a publisher was competing against a universe of half-a-million other books.

As we begin 2020, Ingram’s Lightning Source has about 18 million titles in its Lightning print-on-demand database, ready to be printed and delivered to you tomorrow. Of course, there are duplicates to consider and some junk in there too, so let’s say that there are actually 15 million discrete titles. There are also more than 750,000 titles in stock in Ingram’s warehouses, most of which are not reflected in the POD database, which tends to collect titles after their prime sales life has passed.

So each new book brought out by a publisher today may be competing against 15 million other possible titles. The competitive set has grown by as much as 30 times.

When substantial commercial publishers or university or academic presses with real sales organizations published new titles 30 years ago, they routinely sold at least a couple thousand copies of almost every title. Stores that carried 125,000 titles were proliferating at that time, which was about a quarter of the theoretical possibilities and well over half of the titles that had any real commercial appeal. That meant both that the consumer was likely to find what s/he was looking for in one of those giant stores and that the publishers with real access to the retail network could count on a measurable sales result for everything they did.

This is no longer true in the 15+ million title and heavily online retail world we now live in. There just aren’t as many bookstores as there were back then and the ones we have are much smaller. Today it is not uncommon for titles on a major publisher’s list to sell almost nothing, low hundreds of copies or even less.

The difference is critical. Sales of, let’s say, 2000 copies of a hardcover book will deliver about $25,000 or more in sales revenue for the publisher. If the advance was modest and the publisher didn’t wildly overprint, that would probably cover the out-of-pocket expense of delivering the books required to produce that revenue. In other words, most books published by most substantial publishers in those days didn’t cost the publisher out-of-pocket cash.

. . . .

When Thomas McCormack was CEO of St. Martin’s Press, which he was for about the last three decades of the 20th century, he exploited that understanding to the max. McCormack saw that the true revenue picture meant that the more titles he published with the same corporate overhead, the more money his company would make. St. Martin’s relentlessly expanded their title count year after year. And they grew consistently.

The key insight was that overhead is mostly fixed, not variable. And calculations that pretend that it is variable lead you to very erroneous conclusions.

Another important reality of the new title economics that existed then was that the backlist grew steadily. Not every title that recovered its costs would sell for a long period of time, but many of them did. Others produced additional revenue from rights sales: foreign, paperback, book clubs. So the short-run economics that encouraged title count growth also created companies that were constantly expanding their asset base to produce future revenues.

The predictability of a substantial minimum sale from established publishers back then was the result of two things that have since changed. One is the number of titles effectively competing for sales all the time, the explosion from half-a-million choices to 15 million. But the other is that the sales base shifted. Thirty years ago, the sales came mostly from a highly disparate retail network, which did have some big customers but also had hundreds of smaller ones that had to be addressed individually, preferably by a human being who showed up to “present” the title choices. Big publishers had tactical advantages to employ for both the chains and the individual accounts.

The major accounts naturally gravitate to the major suppliers. They are important to each other. The big publishers have the biggest books, the biggest budgets to spend on marketing and promotion, and the authors whose store appearances will pull in the most customers. But everybody, large or small, put their books in front of the big chain accounts. Thirty years ago that meant both the mall chains, Walden and Dalton, and the expanding superstore networks of Borders and Barnes & Noble.

But the vast array of independents, several times larger than it is now in numbers of stores and even more dramatically larger than today in shelf space, depended on visits from local reps to know what to stock. And there the smaller publishers were much more variable. Many didn’t cover individual bookstores effectively.

So with bigger stores, a smaller number of titles, and filters that favored placement of the larger publishers’ books, the net result was that big publishers achieved a pretty high minimum sale right to the bottom of their list. And the ultimate consumers chose from the books that were in stores, not the entire universe, and publishers with real sales organizations had a significant advantage.

All of this began to change with Amazon’s arrival in 1995. Online sales grew relentlessly, but slowly at first. Twenty years ago Amazon was still a single-digit percentage of the total book business in the US. Today it is probably more than half.

. . . .

[F]rom the consumer perspective, shopping at Amazon (or any online retailer working with the Ingram database, which includes other big brand merchants) gives them the choice of any book, whether the publisher has a good sales force or not.

With more titles competing for sales and the advantage of blanket coverage by the big publishers diluted, it is no longer true that every title on a big list achieves a substantial minimum sale. Big publishers are having the experience of three-figure unit sales — and sometimes even less — on books they issue, and not infrequently.

The net result is that new title publishing has become much riskier and more expensive for all publishers. They naturally react to that by publishing fewer new titles, and that describes the tactics of just about every publisher in the business over the past decade. And a smaller percentage of those titles go on to become enduring backlist.

. . . .

If this analysis is right, the inevitable result is that commercial trade publishing will (continue to) shrink. (And it will also consolidate. The big publishers today substitute for new title production by buying other people’s backlists.) The number of titles entering the marketplace might not shrink, because self-publishing authors and other entities that see benefit to putting out books will continue to add titles. Those publishers are not primarily motivated by profit. But publishers who are primarily motivated by profit will keep seeing, as they have, that the financial risk of putting out a new title keeps growing.

Publishers have found ways to turn the new world into an advantage for their backlist (which is why they find acquiring others so attractive). They can capitalize on a break more readily than they used to because an increasingly-online marketplace does not require inventory to be “in place” for sale. 

. . . .

What could be deceptive is that the new world of less new title production and the shift to online sales is making profit growth attainable, almost routine. Cash investments go down and overheads go down (less shipping and billing and warehousing). Returns, which are expensive, also go down.

But, unlike the growth that came from an expanding title base 30 and 40 years ago, today’s growth can not be sustained on the present course. (In fact, the new audio growth is itself a delayed benefit from the old title base expansion!) Backlist title decay — lower sales in each format for most titles year after year — is still a fact of life; a backlist beating last year’s sales is only an occasional event. There will be an end to audio sales growth for publishers as the available backlist is exploited and those available to be acquired also are diminished in number.

And the non-commercial portions of the business will continue to churn out new titles to compete with the output of publishers. The growth of the competing title base will not stop.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG has always been interested in Mike’s discussions of the inner world of publishing, in part because of his perspective arising from decades in the business. The role of backlist in the long-term profitability of a publisher, as described in the OP was interesting and reflects the thoughts and experiences of indie authors with large backlists. It also explains why, although the author is receiving a pittance in royalty payments, some publishers are so resistant to reverting rights to the authors (which behavior helps the parts of PG’s business involving “persuading” publishers that it’s a good idea to revert rights instead of having the existence of some very poorly-drafted boilerplate in the client’s publishing agreements as well as every other author’s publishing agreements signed during the same period of time).

(It will shock many of you that publishers sometimes publish editions of books for which they hold no rights under the terms of the contracts they drafted and signed. And sometimes, publishers get mixed up about how royalties should be paid to the author according to the publishing contracts. PG has never seen a publisher which paid more royalties than the author was entitled to, however.)

Back to Mike’s thoughts. Perhaps he is wrong, but, to PG, it appears that, since his retirement several months, Mike’s posts have become more pessimistic (realistic?) about the future of the traditional book business.

With respect to relying on backlist titles for a significant and predictable portion of a publisher’s income as described in the OP, PG will note that many indie authors experience the same thing. Also, each successful new book an author publishes reaches new readers who then explore the author’s backlist for other books they will enjoy.

For authors who are seeking to pursue the traditional route to publication of their books, there is a credible alternative to mourning over rejection slips. The stories from earlier decades about a talented author who was rejected by 30 publishers before finally finding one who would publish the book will, in PG’s superabundantly humble opinion, become more and more rare.

Even if indie publishing is not her/his first choice (as it is for a growing number of savvy younger authors), the existence of remunerative indie publishing as an alternative to dealing with the flavor of the month attitude in New York City and London is going to attract more and more authors with important/entertaining stories to tell.

One lovely thing about writing and reading is that we’ll never run out of stories.

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Public libraries around the world generated a record level of digital content circulation in 2019, providing patrons access to more than 326 million e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to a report by Rakuten OverDrive, a digital distribution vendor for libraries

According to the report, 73 public library systems in five countries each loaned over 1 million digital books over the past year, including eight systems that hit the million loans mark for the first time. Among the top digital library lending systems are the Toronto Public Library (6.6 million digital loans), Los Angeles Public Library (the top U.S. library with 5.9 million digital loans); and the National Library Board of Singapore (the top lender outside of North America with 4.2 million loans).

According to the OverDrive report, the increase in digital borrowing represents the “library’s role as a valued discovery channel” for publishers and authors. Nevertheless, the OverDrive report on digital lending comes in the wake of continuing concerns by publishers that digital borrowing may undermine book sales. These concerns have led to a continuing dispute between publishers and libraries over efforts by some publishers to restrict the ability of libraries to offer digital access to their titles.

According to the OverDrive data, the number of e-books borrowed rose 15% in the year to 211 million; digital audiobooks borrowed jumped 30%, to 114 million, and 59 million children’s/young adult checkouts took place, a gain of 27% over 2018.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG thought publishers’ concerns about consumers borrowing physical titles from the library instead of buying them at bookstores had been resolved a long time ago. If lending libraries and the consumer behavior they enable were dangerous or fatal to publishers and physical bookstores, such damage would have manifested itself long ago.

If it makes sense for publishers to sell physical books to libraries with the understanding that the library is going to lend the book and the publisher will receive no incremental income from such loans, nothing about ebooks should really change the underlying business considerations. With the specialized software the library uses to lend a copy of an ebook and delete it from the reader’s device at the end of the loan, the likelihood that ebooks lent through the library are going to be pirated is lower than those sold (licensed) through Amazon where no such automatic deletion function is built into the ebook management system (at least to PG’s knowledge).

Here’s an excerpt from the help file of Libby, a popular (the most popular?) lending software used in the United States:

Books are automatically returned to the library on their due date. When they’re returned, they’re also removed from your Loans and deleted from your device (if downloaded).

PG has noted before that on a scale of most to least sophisticated marketers and advertisers, traditional publishers are at the bottom, just below used car lots and payday lenders.

Why?

Free samples are a long-time staple of advertising and promotion campaigns for a variety of products.

Perhaps there are physical bookstores that do not allow visitors to leaf through and read parts of books as part of the shopping process, but PG is not aware of their existence. Such consumer behavior is sampling. Amazon permits the same behavior in its bookstore. No one expects that everyone who samples a product will purchase it.

If sampling was not a reliable method of increasing sales, PG expects retail establishments would end the practice.

If a reader borrows an ebook from a library by an author she hasn’t read before, from the reader’s perspective, that’s another form of sampling. (In this case, the publisher receives some compensation from the library for licensing the book in the first place.)

If this instance of book sampling is successful and the reader enjoys the book, then returns it to the library and looks for the next book in the series or another book by the same author and finds a two-month waiting list to borrow that next book, the reader is only a few clicks away from buying the next ebook by that author on Amazon and starting to read it in a couple of minutes. The reader may even purchase a printed version of the book she has borrowed and enjoyed for her own physical library, sign up for the author’s and/or publisher’s email list, etc.

Discovering a great new author and buying other books written by that author is a far more frictionless process with ebooks than it is with physical books. Going to a physical bookstore to buy that book requires transporting oneself to that store, hoping the store stocks the book, etc., etc. Buying a physical copy of the book from Amazon involves a wait of at least one or two days.

The incremental cost of goods for the publisher in creating, storing, transporting, etc., a copy of the second ebook is probably zero. The same costs for a physical book are definitely more than zero.

A sophisticated seller would be overjoyed to sell products with no incremental costs of producing and transporting those products instead of dealing with the costs and friction involved in selling physical products. Bill Gates, Microsoft and a lot of other people and business organizations have become extremely wealthy from selling organized collections of electrons.

The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.

PG’s last post on December 24 was about the following Vox article that purported to talk about what a bust ebooks have turned out to be.

If you missed it in the holiday rush, there were some good comments and, yes, it is a Vox article, so you can assume the author was born yesterday.

From Vox:

At the beginning of the 2010s, the world seemed to be poised for an ebook revolution.

The Amazon Kindle, which was introduced in 2007, effectively mainstreamed ebooks. By 2010, it was clear that ebooks weren’t just a passing fad, but were here to stay. They appeared poised to disrupt the publishing industry on a fundamental level. Analysts confidently predicted that millennials would embrace ebooks with open arms and abandon print books, that ebook sales would keep rising to take up more and more market share, that the price of ebooks would continue to fall, and that publishing would be forever changed.

Instead, at the other end of the decade, ebook sales seem to have stabilized at around 20 percent of total book sales, with print sales making up the remaining 80 percent. “Five or 10 years ago,” says Andrew Albanese, a senior writer at trade magazine Publishers Weekly and the author of The Battle of $9.99, “you would have thought those numbers would have been reversed.”

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Ebooks aren’t only selling less than everyone predicted they would at the beginning of the decade. They also cost more than everyone predicted they would — and consistently, they cost more than their print equivalents.

. . . .

When the Kindle entered the marketplace in 2007, Amazon had a simple sales pitch: Anyone with a Kindle could buy all the ebooks they wanted through the online marketplace, and many of those ebooks — in fact, all New York Times best-sellers — would cost no more than $9.99.

$9.99 is a steal for a new book. At the time, most hardcovers were averaging a list price of about $26, and many cost more. But for Amazon, this price point was an apparent no-brainer. The first generation Kindle was expensive, and value conscious customers needed some incentive to buy into it. Why would anyone spend $399 on an e-reader if they couldn’t expect to make up at least part of the cost in a discount on ebooks?

And while this point is often glossed over, Amazon was actually following a precedent set by publishers in its pricing model. In her opinion for US v. Apple, Judge Denise Cote noted that before 2009, most publishers discounted ebooks by 20 percent from the price of a hardcover, which often led to a suggested list price of around $9.99.

But by 2009, publishers had changed their minds. Now they considered the idea of $9.99 ebooks to be an existential threat. Printing and binding and shipping — the costs that ebooks eliminated — accounted for only two dollars of the cost of a hardcover, publishers argued. So the ebook for a $20 hardcover book should cost no less than $18. And according to publishers, by setting the price of an ebook at $9.99, Amazon was training readers to undervalue books.

. . . .

Before we delve further into the weeds here, a quick primer on how book prices are set. Print books are generally sold under a wholesale model, which works like this: First, the publisher will set a suggested list price for a book; say, $20. Then it will sell the book to resellers and distributors for a discount off that suggested list price. So if Simon & Schuster wants to sell a $20 book to Amazon, Amazon might negotiate a discount of 40 percent for itself and end up paying Simon & Schuster only $12 for that book.

But once Amazon owns the book, it has the right to set whatever price it would like for consumers. The $20 list price that Simon & Schuster set was just a suggestion. Under the wholesale model, Amazon is free to decide to sell the book to readers for as little as a single dollar if it chooses to.

Until 2010, ebooks were sold through the wholesale model too. So if Simon & Schuster was publishing a $20 hardcover, they could choose to set a suggested list price of $18 for the ebook — two dollars less than the hardcover — and then sell that ebook to Amazon at a 40 percent discount for $10.80. And Amazon could, in turn, feel free to sell that ebook for $9.99 and swallow a loss of 81 cents.

To be clear, the numbers we’re using here to get a handle on how pricing works are imaginary. (Amazon negotiates different discounts for itself at different times from different publishers, sometimes around 40 percent, but at other times higher and at other times lower.) But we do know that Amazon was making very, very little money off ebook sales in 2010, and was in fact probably losing money on most of them.

. . . .

“Amazon can still discount whatever they like on the print side,” explains Jane Friedman, a publishing consultant and the author of The Business of Being a Writer. On the ebook side, however, Amazon now lists publisher-mandated prices, often with the petulant italic addition “Price set by seller.” “So the market is very weird, and often the ebook costs more than the print,” Friedman says. “Sometimes it feels like Amazon is trying to make the publishers look ridiculous.”

And because ebooks are often more expensive than Amazon’s heavily discounted print books, traditional publishing’s ebook sales seem to have fallen off — and Amazon is more dominant than ever in the print book market. “It’s so much cheaper,” says Friedman.

In this new market, high ebook prices make it harder than ever for young authors in particular to survive. “The split has really hurt debut novelists,” says Friedman. “It’s hard to ask readers to take a chance on someone unproven at that high price point, and since the ebook market does lean towards fiction, it’s hurting the new people.”

Self-published authors, meanwhile, are flourishing. They’re allowed to set their own ebook prices just like publishers are — and consistently, they set their prices very, very low. “It’s a shadow market,” Friedman says. “Novelists with huge backlists go and put them out as ebooks independently. And if a reader has a choice between reading this great series at $2.99 a pop or a $12 novel, what are they going to pick?”

Antitrust law professor Christopher Sagers argues that the outcome of the DOJ’sebooks case shows that the real problem with the industry is not just that Amazon has a monopoly. The big trade publishers, he says, have a monopoly too.

“There used to be hundreds of publishing companies. They’re now mostly owned by five,” Sagers says. (After that Department of Justice lawsuit, Penguin merged with Random House, and the Big Six became the Big Five.) “Why are ebooks expensive? It’s not because Amazon is vicious. It’s because there’s no competition at the wholesale level.”

. . . .

The Big Five publishers “are huge, and they have been able to put in place practices that are kind of unfair and that authors have to put up with,” Friedman allows. “That said, they need that kind of size to be able to effectively deal with something like Amazon. If you look at an indie publisher, I wouldn’t want to be one of them.”

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

PG notes that the OP devotes one paragraph to independent authors and that paragraph implies that indie authors are primarily publishing their revered backlist titles.

Unlike Big Publishing, nobody is really beating any publicity drums for indie authors.

One other point the OP doesn’t discuss is that Barnes & Noble is still cratering and, when it finally goes down the drain, retail bookselling via physical bookstores will take a huge hit and publishers who have failed to develop their chops selling ebooks and encouraging readers to buy them will regret that their profitability will take an enormous hit.

How the decade in books changed what and how we read

From Our Windsor.ca:

In 2010 or so I bought my first e-reader. A Kobo. I was intrigued by the idea of an e-reader; I thought it might be convenient. But I equivocated — should I buy a Kobo? Or a Kindle?

Kindle was associated with the growing bookseller Amazon, the Kobo with the Canadian company Chapters/Indigo. Which company would have more books available? Apple released the first iPad at the beginning of the year and sales took off immediately. Technology was changing so quickly I wasn’t sure what to buy. Would it all be obsolete a year from now?

Little did I know then that the questions I was asking would form the crux of what occurred in books over the ensuing decade, in which what we read, how we read and who we read have created industry-wide changes.

Bookstores aren’t dead

One of the hallmarks of the decade before the 2010s was the death of the bookstore, thanks to the proliferation of big box stores selling books plus online retailers, Amazon in particular.

A recent headline in the American newspaper the Grand Haven Tribune asked: “Are bookstores back?” The piece quotes the American Booksellers Association, which says between 2009 and 2019 the number of new shops owned by members increased by 53 per cent. They might not be big, but they are there.

New bookstores have been opening in Toronto and across the country, too. A bookshop can’t live by selling books alone — but they can when the community gets involved. Stores such as Another Story Bookshop in Toronto have increasingly organized author readings; some organize writers’ workshops, book clubs. In other words, bookstores and books do what they’ve always done: contribute to a community of ideas and storytelling.

Print’s not dead, either

The total volume of print units sold in 2018, as tracked by BookNet Canada SalesData, is 54.7 million at a value of $1.13 billion. BookNet’s State of Digital Publishing in Canada survey showed that 18.6 per cent of books purchased in 2017 were ebooks. That was up just slightly from 2016.

But when it comes to Canadian books, the picture looks bleaker. According to the More Canada Report, published in December 2018, only 15 per cent of books purchased were written by Canadians. Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for readers to identify Canadian books. That’s in great part due to the way they are bought: through Amazon. Amazon’s algorithm recommends books to you — but not necessarily Canadian books, leaving Canadian publishing houses and Canadian authors at the mercy of an algorithm that isn’t interested in promoting them.

. . . .

The report also found that independent publishers’ sales were down 44 per cent over the past 10 years.

That’s happened as big publishers are getting bigger. The publishing giant Penguin Random House didn’t quite exist at the beginning of this decade — the takeover of the two companies Penguin and Random House by the German multinational Bertelsmann wouldn’t take effect until 2012.

. . . .

Self-publishing has also become a way to, sometimes, make a living as a writer and publish books that mainstream publishers might not have picked up. It also allows mainstream writers to capture income in different ways — they become hybrid writers, publishing some of their work in the traditional way under one name and self-publishing under another.

Some, such as the science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, have launched Patreon accounts so that readers can basically become “patrons of the arts and of individual creators,” he told the Star in a 2018 interview. Even bestselling authors find the freedom of non-traditional publishing a positive thing. They get to keep a bigger cut of the books they sell and they get the creative freedom to do what they want.

Does all this access to potential audiences work? It depends. Overall, writers are earning less money than they ever have. A Writers’ Union of Canada survey in 2018 found a 27 per cent decrease in writers’ income over the previous three years. Part of the reason for that was copyright legislation in Canada. In the U.K., authors reported in 2018 that their incomes had declined 15 per cent over the previous three years.

. . . .

Marketing books changed as publishers embraced online advertising through Facebook, finding the ability to directly target a specific audience and, as the algorithms got even better, specific readers, was attractive. “Influencers” also became a key part of targeting book buyers. With the increasing closure of traditional media outlets came the withering of books sections and an erosion of readily accessible reviews. Instead, reader-generated review sites such as Goodreads proliferated. Some mainstream news outlets, including the Star, kept their books sections going, and many smaller literary magazines began publishing more reviews and stand-alone review sections.

Link to the rest at Our Windsor.ca

As PG and others have pointed out before, stories about the book industry that cite legacy publishing and traditional book store industry statistics are always wrong because Amazon doesn’t break out sales figures for books, including books from traditional publishers, self-published books and print on demand books and, with no denigration of Kobo intended, Amazon sells the large majority of English-language ebooks.

Amazon created the market for ebooks, at least in the English-speaking world, by offering ebooks at attractive prices, building and selling ebook readers at attractive prices, creating the software and commercial infrastructure to build, distribute and sell ebooks efficiently around the world and putting a lot of brains and money into the task of introducing and attracting readers to ebooks. Because old-line traditional publishing promotional tools like book reviews in newspapers and magazines (yet another sinking ship and no friend to Amazon or other online competitors), Amazon acquired and built Goodreads up into a leading (the leading?) online book review site.

Could anyone else have accomplished this task as quickly and effectively and at the scale Amazon did? A hypothetical competitor might have done so, but real-world competitors have not. See, for example, Nook.

PG is not certain whether the Writers Union of Canada welcomes indie authors or not, but most traditional authors organizations are of little interest to indie authors because these organizations focus on topics like improving the standard contract terms that old-line publishers offer authors and flagging the latest fly-by-night publishing scam that comes floating up from the sewers.

PG is not familiar enough with the details of the Canadian bookstore market to know whether a retail disaster on the order of Barnes & Noble has occurred or is threatened, but as he has mentioned before, if Barnes & Noble can’t be saved, a huge part of the world of traditional publishing and bookselling will simply disappear.

If you were counseling a college student nearing graduation about career choices, would you recommend that they go to work for Barnes & Noble? Penguin Random House?

As far as a writing career is concerned, if this hypothetical college student wanted to earn a living by writing, would you suggest s/he complete a quality manuscript, then start sending it to agents or publishers and wait for a response? While working at Starbucks? Instead of signing up for campus interviews with companies who want to hire graduates right away?

 

 

The Long Tail of ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

From The New York Times:

In the summer of 2018, Putnam published an unusual debut novel by a retired wildlife biologist named Delia Owens. The book, which had an odd title and didn’t fit neatly into any genre, hardly seemed destined to be a blockbuster, so Putnam printed about 28,000 copies.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

A year and a half later, the novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” an absorbing, atmospheric tale about a lonely girl’s coming-of-age in the marshes of North Carolina, has sold more than four and a half million copies. It’s an astonishing trajectory for any debut novelist, much less for a reclusive, 70-year-old scientist, whose previous published works chronicled the decades she spent in the deserts and valleys of Botswana and Zambia, where she studied hyenas, lions and elephants.

As the end of 2019 approaches, “Crawdads” has sold more print copies than any other adult title this year — fiction or nonfiction — according to NPD BookScan, blowing away the combined print sales of new novels by John Grisham, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King. Putnam has returned to the printers nearly 40 times to feed a seemingly bottomless demand for the book. Foreign rights have sold in 41 countries.

. . . .

Industry analysts have struggled to explain the novel’s staying power, particularly at a moment when fiction sales over all are flagging, and most blockbuster novels drop off the best-seller list after a few weeks.

. . . .

For the past several years, adult fiction sales have steadily fallen — in 2019, adult fiction sales through early December totaled around 116 million units, down from nearly 144 million in 2015, according to NPD BookScan. In a tough retail environment for fiction, publishers and agents frequently complain that it has become harder and harder for even established novelists to break through the noise of the news cycle.

“Crawdads” seems to be the lone exception. After a burst of holiday sales, it landed back at No. 1 on The Times’s latest fiction best-seller list, where it has held a spot for 67 weeks, with 30 weeks at No. 1.

“This book has defied the new laws of gravity,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, the president of the Codex Group, which analyzes the book industry. “It’s managed to hold its position in a much more consistent way than just about anything.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Penguin Random House’s International CEO’s Year-End Letter

From Publishing Perspectives:

In his message to Penguin Random House’s (PRH) worldwide staff, the company’s global CEO Markus Dohle thanks his colleagues for “bringing the world’s best books to readers.”

Commending the workforce for “a run of bestsellers around the world,” Dohle calls out a wide range of international success stories.

“Among the critical acclaim and international literary awards our authors received this year,” he writes, “are the Nobel Prizes for Literature and Economic Sciences, won by Olga Tokarczuk, and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, respectively, as well as the UK Booker Prize for co-winners Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, and Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize for Ian Williams.”

He also points to “many of our companies and territories” in which he sees “market-leading positions” being strengthened in shares and revenue.

“As one major priority, we long have focused on expanding our leadership in the children’s market,” Dohle writes, “and this year we acquired several thriving businesses that will help us do exactly that: the global publisher Little Tiger Group, the book-publishing assets of India’s Duckbill Books, and the intellectual property world rights for Eric Carle.

. . . .

Perhaps an eye-opener to consumers who know only their own territory or country’s PRH, Dohle goes on to cite several significant, far-flung expansions from the year, writing, “”We have capitalized on a number of additional growth opportunities with the purchase of Catalan-language publisher La Campana Llibres in July. We made our debut as a South East Asia publisher with the first list from Penguin Random House in Singapore,” based on the establishment of the new installation in October 2018.

“We increased our ownership stake in Brazil’s Companhia das Letras, and then they acquired Zahar in October.”

. . . .

In what may be the most reflective of the interests you hear when you speak with Dohle about his work or listen to him in a stage presentation, he writes, “What is most notable about these acquisitions is that the founders and leaders of these companies wanted to become part of Penguin Random House because of our performance and our culture.

“Since our earliest days as the world’s largest trade publisher, I have said that sheer size, in and of itself, is not a competitive advantage. Rather, what’s key to our success is leveraging our scale as a force for greater good and demonstrating to our authors that we can connect them to more readers than any other publisher.

“We all need to continue to be ambassadors of our unparalleled publishing, unmatched global reach, and first-in-class operations. And we want to embrace and leverage our unique role in the world as a force for good and a creative and entrepreneurial community of book lovers.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps PG is being too persnickety, but, when used by a publishing executive, “our authors” carries a hint of an ownership attitude toward a corporate asset.

 

Gartner’s Predictions For Retailers Show More Change Ahead

From WHICH-50:

Customers are demanding greater levels of contextualisation of products and services. Retail CIOs can leverage intelligence to capture deeper insights, anticipate customer needs and proactively deliver across every touchpoint. Retailers must reinforce their store’s position as an integral part of delivering unified commerce. Gartner’s recent research Predicts 2020: Consumers Determine Retail Success Well Before the Sale expands on the five predictions from our Gartner team on the future of retail.

. . . .

The retail industry continues to transform through a period of unprecedented changes, with customer experience fast becoming the new currency. The digital disruption caused by new technologies and a shift in customer expectations continues to challenge traditional retail models.

. . . .

Robots

Tight labor markets and disruptive technologies have caused retailers to investigate new human-machine hybrid operational models. These models are built on the foundation of AI and automation technologies to assist human workers in streamlining and optimising efficiency and accuracy in tasks such as warehouse picking, inventory management and customer services to boost productivity.

Inventory

The level of investment for digital transformation efforts continues to rise, forcing retailers to find alternate sources of funding beyond cost optimisation efforts. Inventory reduction provides a clear opportunity for funding if “dead” inventory can be reduced. This will require a delicate balance of inventory management, particularly in the store, as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) remains a popular choice for consumers. Many retailers are now leveraging their existing store estate as local fulfillment hubs to mitigate the rising costs of last-mile delivery. Furthermore, retailers now have the challenge of predicting demand and aligning inventory at a localized level to support customer expectations for same-day in-store pickup or same-day delivery option. Retailers must also further investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers and make their networks of stores less of a financial constraint.

Digital Workplace

This will require a focus on associate training and development, including upskilling in-store associates to perform a wider variety of specialised tasks. At the same time, retailers continue to have challenges in retaining skilled and productive staff, as well as a continuing increase in employee turnover. To mitigate labor constraints, retailers can collaborate to enable a shared workforce.

Alternate labor models are part of the “future of work,” which will include more freelance, part-time and limited-term employment. This is the expectation of the millennial and Gen Z cohort as they become the mainstay of both consumer and labor markets.

. . . .

Artificial Intelligence

Ever-changing consumer expectations and the addition of new business models mean retailers must operate more efficiently, preemptively and at scale. Through the application of AI across a retailer’s ecosystem, retailers are applying data analytics into every touchpoint of their business. Including sales predictions, consumer personalisation, store optimisation and product recommendations.

Link to the rest at WHICH-50

As many perceptive visitors to TPV will have already concluded, PG posted this item with Barnes & Noble in mind.

In 2018, Barnes & Noble reported revenues of $3.7 billion for the full year. It presently reports that it has 627 retail bookstores, including stores in all 50 states in the US.

Barnes & Noble is by far the largest operator of physical bookstores in the United States.

The second-largest retail bookstore in the US is Books-A-Million: 260 retail book stores in 32 states with an estimated annual revenue of $472 million.

PG Notes on Books-A-Million:

  1. Books-A-Million went public in 1992 at an initial price of $3.00 and its share price reached a high of $39 per share in 1998. In December, 2015, the stock’s final closing price on a public market was $2.64 per share. During 33 years as a public company, the company had declined in value.
  2. At that time, all shares of Books-A-Million were acquired by its chairman and it became a privately-owned company once again.
  3. In 2014, Books-A-Million was identified by 24/7 Wall Street as America’s worst company to work for, citing low satisfaction among employees due to “high stress and low pay… low chance of promotion, [and] hours are based on magazine and discount card sales.”
  4. Doing a bit of math – always a dangerous thing – PG determined that it would take almost 8 booksellers the size of Books-A-Million to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

The third-largest retail bookstore in the US is Half Price Books: 127 stores in 18 states with an estimated annual revenue of “about” $230 million. (Some third-party sources say sales are lower – $208 million is one estimate.)

PG Notes on Half Price Books:

  1. 45 of the company’s 127 stores are located in the state of Texas.
  2. Many (All?) of the stores also sell used books.
  3. Per PG’s still-impaired math, it would take about 16 booksellers the size of Half Price Books to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

PG’s bottom lines from this mish-mash of facts and statistics:

  1. Barnes & Noble’s new CEO, James Daunt, doesn’t strike PG as the kind of guy who will embrace and expand the BN online bookstore. He seems to be a B&M sort of retail guy who only grudgingly tolerates ecommerce.
  2. Based on what PG has read about Mr. Daunt, he also doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who will, per the OP, develop “human-machine hybrid operational models,”  position BN’s retail stores “as an integral part of delivering unified commerce” or “investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers.”
  3. In contrast to PG’s impression of Mr. Daunt, PG believes Jeff Bezos would hire the Borg to staff Amazon warehouses if only to silence major media bleating about the poor oppressed and exploited Amazon warehouse employees who really need to unionize, etc., etc., etc.
  4. As far as either artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned kind of intelligence that resides between an employee’s ears, Amazon is already so far ahead of anyone else with respect to selling its customers exactly what they want at a great price at the precise time they want it that no traditional retailer of fungible products like books has much of a chance.
  5. Are serious readers and book-purchasers really pining for a better retail bookstore so they don’t have to go to Amazon to buy a book right away?
  6. In an era where everybody seems to be pulling a device out of their pocket to look at a screen, are ebooks really going to give way to dead-tree products sold in physical bookstores?
  7. If Barnes & Noble continues to sink into the commercial sunset, closing stores to lower costs, downsizing, trimming, cutting, etc., etc., what’s the future of Big Publishing?
  8. Does “Only an established publisher with a good reputation can get your book into the bookstore” carry much weight when that bookstore is called Half Price Books? What about, “We can only publish one book per year for any author other than James Patterson?” or, “We don’t accept manuscripts other than those presented to us by a literary agent?”

 

US vs. Apple

From The Wall Street Journal:

Politicians and social critics who worry about “the curse of bigness”—and vow to rewrite antitrust law to break up Facebook and Google—forget what happened the last time the government used the law against a Silicon Valley company. In 2012 the government successfully sued Apple for daring to compete with Amazon in selling e-books. The unintended result was not exactly a victory for the consumer or for competition: the continued dominance of Kindle, Amazon’s e-book format and reading device; increased e-book prices; and suppressed e-book innovation.

Chris Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University, explains in “United States v. Apple: Competition in America” what he sees as confusion about antitrust law. His analysis can be helpful—he notes the long history of companies invoking claims of “predatory pricing” as a cudgel against more efficient competitors and stresses that consumers often benefit when industries and companies are driven out of business—but he is confused about the case itself.

His thesis is that Apple’s entry into the e-book market was so clearly a violation of antitrust law that critics of the case must not believe in competition. But critics object to an interpretation of antitrust law that ended up punishing Apple for introducing a new pricing approach—an approach that is now common in every other area of online sales. Mr. Sagers forgets the guardrail rule of antitrust: Don’t bring cases against innovations that create more competition.

Consumers were delighted when Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in 2007, and book publishers were happy to sell books in digital form. But there was an unusual feature. In its selling of e-books, Amazon operated according to the same pricing arrangement that had governed the sale of print books—that is, it bought e-books wholesale and chose its own price for them, just as bookstores had long done with print books. Brick-and-mortar bookstores needed this pricing flexibility for many reasons, not least to clear their inventory of unsold books by means of lower prices. The arrangement let Amazon sell e-books for years as a loss-leader—at the low price of $9.99—to boost profitable sales of its Kindle devices.

Around the same time, Apple had set about licensing music, video and games so that consumers would have reasons to buy its iPad. Apple realized that, for digital goods, there was no reason to follow the wholesale model. It could simply set up a revenue-sharing formula. Content owners and app developers—think of an iPad or iPhone game, such as “Minecraft” or “Fortnite,” that offers premium features—could pick their own price, even choosing to offer content free, and Apple would take 30% of any sales as a commission.

When Steve Jobs decided to include e-books on the iPad in 2010, Kindle had a 90% market share. So book publishers were again delighted—that Apple would be entering the market with its revenue-share model and letting publishers set the prices for their e-books. The largest publishers met among themselves to agree on the terms for licensing their books to Apple. The government sued, claiming an unlawful conspiracy masterminded by Apple.

Mr. Sagers sees this as an open-and-shut case of an unlawful pricing conspiracy and expresses surprise that there was so much support for the book publishers and Apple. He rightly dismisses the self-serving argument that books are so culturally important that publishers and Apple deserved an antitrust exemption. He is also right to note that Amazon was not, despite its huge market share, an unlawful monopolist—big is not always bad.

. . . .

Mr. Sagers believes that opposition to the Apple case shows that Americans are ambivalent about competition. There are times, he says, when “competition seems destructive.” When antitrust law requires firms to compete in such circumstances, then “antitrust itself has seemed like a failure.” The government claimed that Apple conspired with book publishers, risking higher prices, but the case was perceived as a government favor to Amazon, which it was.

Indeed, people objected to the Apple case because it was ill-advised—limiting consumer choices and blocking lower prices. Appeals Court Judge Dennis Jacobs made this point, writing in his 2015 dissent that Apple’s conduct “immediately deconcentrated the e-book retail market, added a platform for reading e-books, and removed barriers to entry by others.” With Apple in the game, Amazon’s 90% market share fell to 60%. Now it’s back up to 83%, according to the latest industry estimate. As competition decreased, prices increased. The typical price for a Kindle best seller is now in the range of $14.95.

. . . .

The Apple case violated the first rule of antitrust: First, do no harm.

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

PG hasn’t read the book that is the subject of the WSJ review. However, the author of the review wildly misstates the purposes, activities and actions of Apple and all but one of the largest publishers in the United States.

Let us review the actions and actors in this matter (which were extensively documented and discussed on TPV during the days of yore):

  1. While Amazon was not the first entity to sell ebooks, it was the first to sell ebooks from traditional publishers at a substantial discount from their list prices, which correlated with the suggested list prices for printed versions of the same books.
  2. Amazon also was revolutionary in permitting self-published books (including ebooks) to be listed and sold side-by-side on the same basis as traditionally-published books.
  3. The six largest publishers in the United States – Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster had developed a cozy little dinner group consisting of their CEO’s who met about every three months in a private dining room in Manhattan to talk about their mutual concerns – most often Amazon’s habit of discounting the prices of their books and what they could do about it. These six produced the majority of books sold in the US and were receiving complaints from their traditional bookstore customers about Amazon’s low prices. The publishers did not want to “cannibalize” their sales of printed books and were the recipients of a growing number of complaints from their traditional bookstore customers. No company attorneys were present during these dinner discussions.
  4. PG will note that private meetings of the top executives of large companies that dominate an industry to discuss the pricing of their products are almost always a bad idea and, by themselves, raise a big red antitrust flag. Competent corporate counsel would always advise against such a practice.
  5. Apple was planning to introduce its iPad in January, 2010, and include an iBookstore as one of the product’s attractions.
  6. PG notes that Apple has never been a fan of significant discounts for the products it sells.
  7. In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the members of the Publishers dinner group to set up meetings.
  8. During these meetings, Cue said that Apple:
    1. Would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, higher prices than Amazon was charging.
    2. Apple would use the same “agency pricing model” that it used in the App Store for ebooks.
    3. Agency Pricing allowed the Publishers control the retail price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.
    4. Most significantly, Apple would require what is generically described as a “Most-favored nation” clause in its contracts with publishers that allowed Apple to sell e-book at the lowest price of its ebookstore competitors (read “Amazon”).
  9. PG doesn’t recall if the publishers had another private CEO dinner or not, but evidence at the later antitrust trial showed the Big Six publishers called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the Apple agreements. Everyone except Random House boarded this bandwagon.
  10. In January 2010, Apple held one of its typically flashy product launches for the iPad together with its associated ebook, music and video stores.
  11. During the post-launch mingling, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg asked Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.” In other words, the publishers would force Amazon to raise its ebook prices to match those in the iBookstore.
  12. Amazon complained to the Federal Trade Commission and, rather than not being able to sell any ebooks of the major publishers, switched to the agency model after negotiations with the major publishers. This resulted in an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.

For lots more information, see United States v. Apple on Wikipedia.

Back to the book reviewed in the OP, there was nothing wrong with Apple “introducing a new pricing structure” – agency pricing. Had Apple only done that, no antitrust violation would have occurred. However, when Apple conspired with a group of the largest publishers to force Amazon (and anyone else selling ebooks) to adopt agency pricing when such had not previously been the case, that was an antitrust violation, particularly in the light of what happened to ebook prices after the coordinated joint action took place.

Had the big publishers individually been willing to lose the highly-profitable ebook sales on Amazon as a potential consequence of telling Amazon it had to raise its prices and/or agree to let the publisher set the price, that would probably not have triggered any antitrust concern. Coordination between the publishers to use their combined power to force Amazon raise prices was where the publishers crossed a clear legal line.

With respect to what happened in the court case, each of the publishers admitted guilt, settled the antitrust claim and promised not to do any price-fixing in the future. Apple litigated the antitrust case to the max and lost at every stage.

Although Amazon was not a party to the litigation, Amazon won.

More significantly (in PG’s majestic and resplendent opinion), authors won. Indie authors in particular won. In June, 2010, a couple of years before any antitrust litigation had been commenced, Amazon introduced its 70% ebook royalty option which has put a great deal of additional money into authors’ pockets ever since.

NaNoWriMo Has The Writers To Solve The Book Industry’s Diversity Problem

From The HuffPost:

When I was in seventh grade, my teacher instructed the class to read “Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor. It was the first time I’d been assigned to read a book or story written by a non-white author about non-white characters.

Mainly, my classes focused on the works of great American novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and Harper Lee. Even outside the classroom, my favorite books came from popular series such as “The Baby-Sitters Club,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and, of course, Harry Potter. All great stories, yet all written by white authors featuring white main characters.

These days, there are more diverse stories about race, religion, gender and sexuality for kids, teens and adults than before. But the numbers are still too few and the majority of books, diverse or not, are still being written by white, cisgender, male authors.

. . . .

There’s a way to help change that starting this month. In November, aspiring writers across America and around the world are going to put their diverse stories into words. And those stories are ripe for the publishers’ picking ― if publishers are looking at NaNoWriMo.

. . . .

The aspiring authors who sign up for the challenge “win” if they manage to complete their novel. NaNoWriMo helps them along with free tutorials, community support, advice on tracking progress and connections with published authors, all of which are not normally available to budding novelists, especially not those of color.

Numerous published novels have come out of this process, including such best-sellers as “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell. An even wider range of voices could emerge.

. . . .

But none of this matters if publishers don’t look at the works of NaNoWriMo writers of color. Diversity isn’t just the responsibility of authors or readers. Publishers have to be interested in changing the landscape of the industry and willing to expand their networks and pay attention to emerging non-white authors and reviewers. (Right now, an overwhelming 89% of book reviewers at major publishing houses identify as white.)

Link to the rest at The HuffPost

A reminder that PG doesn’t always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

PG keeps wondering why the various and sundry people and groups who express reality-based claims against traditional publishers always want those publishers to reform themselves.

And expect that such reform might happen.

Perhaps it’s time to declare traditional publishers irredeemable, unreformable, irreversible, unregenerate and beyond any hope of changing their retrograde ways even at the militant urging of social justice warriors.

Maybe it’s traditional publishers time to be dumped onto the ash-heap of history alongside the Whigs, Microsoft Bob, the Copperheads, Sony Betamax, Esperanto, Neville Chamberlain, hippies, the Tea Party, hula hoops, Tiny Tim, Occupy Wall Street, George McGovern, Trump University, Google Glass, Ted Nugent, Ross Perot, The Delorean Motor Company, Carrie Nation, New Coke, Dan Quayle, Evel Knievel, lava lamps, pet rocks and mood rings.

Ken Follett Opens Brexit-Inspired Friendship Tour This Weekend

From Publishing Perspectives:

Even as the impeachment inquiry in Washington revs to fever pitch with its battery of public hearings riling Capitol Hill and many of your American colleagues, the Brexit crisis in the UK has gone into a comparatively quiet phase ahead of the December 12 general election. Perhaps that’s the perfect moment for author Ken Follett and three of his high-profile writing associates to launch their “Friendship Tour” in Europe.

The associates on the road with Follett are Jojo Moyes (Me Before You, Penguin, 2012); Lee Child (Blue Moon, Bantam, October); and Kate Mosse (The City of Tears, Mantle, releasing in May).

. . . .

And although the Brexit crisis is starting point for the concept, Follett is careful in such an uncertain time, sometimes opting to stress the opportunity of the tour for these authors to thank their European readers, albeit with a secondary message—”please keep reading us”—reflected in the fact that the tour is paid for by these authors’ translation publishers.

As Birgit Lübbe of Germany’s Bastei Lübbe (Follett and Mosse) is quoted saying in tour material, “One of the rewarding tasks in publishing is to make the works of international authors accessible to our readers.

“We support the Friendship Tour because the friendship between our authors and their loyal fans, as well as the friendship between our authors and us, transcends national borders. Publishing and reading books is a cultural exchange for all book lovers worldwide.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is not an expert on Brexit, the EU or any related subject, but this strikes him as a sleazy attempt to gain publicity at a time when a great many people across Europe are upset about Brexit.

Is anyone really going to feel better because Ken Follett or Lee Child comes to visit a bookstore?

“We feel your pain, so buy our books”

FutureBook Live 2019 Ramps Up: Maintaining the Cultural Caché of Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Those of us on the annual international tournée de livres can tell you that, as advertised, FutureBook Live really is the largest of today’s conferences in terms of turnout. Not trade shows, mind you, this is a conference, a one-day outing which includes not only plenary sessions but four strands of focus.

. . . .

  • Hook the Readers sessions (purple)
  • Take Smarter Risks sessions (navy)
  • Seize the Agenda sessions (pink)
  • Hack the Process sessions (a kind of worried blue that’s not navy)

. . . .

As Flatt announced earlier this autumn, you’ll find appropriate change afoot this year in the show. “As we approach our 10th anniversary,” she wrote, “you may have noticed that we’ve dropped both ‘digital’ and ‘innovation’ from our tagline and marketing. Why?

“Because in this extraordinarily unstable time, those terms no longer feel very useful. Everyone who works in publishing, whatever their seniority or specialism, must now understand digital; everyone, whether a conglomerate CTO or a self-published author, must innovate or die. And nor are digital solutions or splashy innovations always the best way to answer the challenges exploding around us.

“We have to use everything at our disposal, from woodblocks to Weibo, to restore books to a central place in our culture and to keep book businesses afloat.”

. . . .

Bookseller editor Philip Jones writes, “The conference began as a digital event, morphed into one concentrated on innovation, and is now squarely focused on the business in its entirety, particularly, ahem, the future bit.”

He goes on, as Jones is still perhaps the best in the business at doing, at capturing exactly the challenge that world publishing–don’t tell the Brits it’s not just them–faces today: “How we maintain the cultural caché of books.” Exactly.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG found it interesting that British (and perhaps other European) publishers are worried about the “cultural caché of books.”

PG speculates the unspoken extension of this concern is the “cultural caché of traditional publishers.”

If an intelligent and well-meaning young person who loves books were to ask PG about going to work for a publisher, PG would paint a dire picture of the future of traditional publishing. The echo chamber of New York (and, likely London) publishing is growing smaller and smaller by the day.

If the traditional book business is losing cultural caché, how will it justify its high prices and low royalties?

No Time for Sargent

From Scrivener’s Error:

It’s not often that one can legitimately call an “official” major corporation CEO communication “inherently deceptive and based on fantasy or science fiction only.” OK, it’s not routine that one can do so — not even in the entertainment industry — thanks to SEC disclosure rules. But there’s a recent opportunity; and I have both personal knowledge and verifiable data to do it.

In this instance, for public consumption I’m relying upon (hack! phhhhht!) PW‘s account of Macmillan “CEO” John Sargent’s presentation to state librarians on discriminatory e-book distribution. So, why do I think Sargent was being deceptive? In no particular order:

  • Anecdotally (apparently according to Sargent himself!), eight percent of science fiction and fantasy fans who couldn’t get an e-book promptly from the library would instead go out and buy it. So it really is based on fantasy and science fiction! One wonders what kind of anecdotal “evidence” this is — whether it’s based on a random sample of fannish statements of intent, actual general sales figures (but see below), comparative library purchase figures and circulation statistics (but see below), or as is most likely self-selected fannish responses based on a self-selected subset of fen.
  • Well, how about reproducibility? A nonscientific, nonreplicable sampling indicates an increase of between 12 and 15% in publicly stated “user views” of library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year at relatively safe pirate venues… and a disproportionate (compared to other similar imprints, and even generally) increase in the number of pirate handles associated with library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year. This has been a distinctly, but due to the poor quality of the dataset not statistically validatable, greater increase for library-embargoed Tor books than for other similar and dissimilar imprints. The conclusion one can draw is that an unknown but probably substantial proportion of the vaunted 8% were interested in acquiring the Tor titles, not necessarily buying them. And demonstrated with their actions (not unverifiable, anecdotal statements of intent) that that is precisely what they would do.

. . . .

As a follow-on to the preceding point, carefully consider the assertion (quoting the PW piece’s summary of another summary) that

[Sargent] likened the e-book marketplace to that for major motion pictures in that new releases have the greatest value in their first few weeks and their initial release should allow for the greatest return on both creative and business investment. The availability of e-books through libraries, which may be perceived as being free, is, in Macmillan’s opinion, the major driver in the consumer decline.

which rather self-refutes the argument. Bluntly, if this were actually a valid consideration, the combination of revenues from DVD sales and post-release streaming/broadcast/etc. would not frequently exceed the initial release revenue… when one allows for the avoided costs in that back end (such as “distribution fees”). It also implicitly assumes that every Macmillan title is a superhero blockbuster. It ignores cult films. Or “indie productions” over at, say, Picador (“Fox Searchlight”).

More subtly, it ignores the more-valid comparison. Library sales — thanks to the discriminatory terms offered to libraries — are a helluva lot closer to “iMax 3D” with a $25 ticket than to no sale at all, as implied both in the PW piece’s summary and the continuing rhetoric coming out of Macmillan. There is one, and only one, market segment in which “discounting” of library sales as “insignificant” has any validity at all, and it’s not category trade fiction: It’s textbooks (at least in the 1990s version of the market, and those who came up selling textbooks in the 1990s are now in charge of overall sales and marketing at more than one Big Five publisher).

. . . .

Bluntly, this is so delusional that I can’t really say it’s a “lie.” Lying requires actual knowledge that what one is saying is untruthful and deceptive. I’m not certain that mere ignorance and/or self-deception, even when willful, qualifies, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a liar. Fraud goes just a bit farther, in that it also requires intent that the listener reasonably rely on those statements, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a con artist, either. I am, however, explicitly calling him out for putting forth bullshit.

Link to the rest at Scrivener’s Error

And these people style themselves as curators of our culture.

Plus, a reminder that traditionally-published authors basically have no say in what these curators do with their books.

Is Publishing Too Top-Heavy?

From Publishers Weekly:

Book publishing has long been a hits-driven business. The bestsellers, the logic went, paid for the flops. And it was the authors of those in the middle—the so-called midlist—that publishers hoped to build into the next crop of bestsellers. But midlist sales have faltered enough in recent years that there is a growing concern among publishers and agents about how the business can create new hits when the field they once turned to is, well, disappearing.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, during a discussion of the company’s second-quarter results, pointed to generating interest in midlist books as one of the biggest challenges facing all publishers.

Though the hits-driven nature of publishing has not changed in recent years, the nature of those hits has. Due to a number of coalescing factors—including a shrinking physical retail market and an increase in competing entertainment driven by the proliferation of streaming TV platforms—book publishing has watched as a handful of megaselling titles have begun to command an ever-larger share of its sales.

According to NPD BookScan, which tracks an estimated 80% of unit sales of print books, sales of the 100 bestselling adult titles increased 23% in 2018 compared to 2017. All other titles ranked below that top tier either fell or remained flat. On a 52-week rolling basis through Oct. 5, 2019, the sales of the top 100 books rose another 6% over the comparable 52-week period ending in 2018, while, again, all other sales levels either fared worse or stayed flat. Taken together, sales of the 100 bestselling print books rose nearly 30% over a period of about two years, while books that ranked between 101 and 10,000 saw their total print unit sales fall 16%. Books that ranked below 10,000 remained flat in the period.

. . . .

The cycle that creates this system is a frustratingly circular one. “The top books—[which are] most often [earning] the highest advances—require serious capital and resources to push them into the top slots,” McLean explained. And publishers, she added, “are under serious pressure to recoup their investment” on their most expensive acquisitions. The situation, she went on, “is amplified by the need for books to earn their shelf space in mass market retail—big books are a better bet” for those types of outlets.

A publisher at a major house agreed that, to an extent, publishers have contributed to the gap between the top sellers and those below. With social media offering a variety of ways to promote titles that are selling, publishers usually put more resources behind books that are succeeding in order to maintain momentum. As these books get the lion’s share of the houses’ focus, other titles are left to find audiences on their own.

. . . .

As one Big Five editor who specializes in commercial and literary fiction said of his category, “There used to be a lot more books that could sell 40,000–50,000 copies. Now more sell fewer than 10,000 copies.” It seems, he said, that “it’s either feast or famine.”

Those suffering from the famine are, to an extent, a group once known as the midlist. Ironically, if you ask most editors or literary agents to define the term, you’re unlikely to get a specific answer. Few can say, for example, how many books one needs to sell to be considered midlist. The only thing sources agreed on is the fact that the term is negative.

“You want to be debut, literary, or bestselling; you don’t want to be midlist,” one literary agent said. “The midlist is like the middle class; it’s the group that gets squeezed. They don’t get the support from their publishers. They don’t get their due [as writers]. They don’t get the attention they deserve from reviewers. Everybody wants to break out of the midlist.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that an indie author can support a reasonably good standard of living by selling 40-50,000 of his/her books. 10,000 copies also works if the author can indie publish 2-3 books per year.

The other point PG will note is that a midlist book that is released by a publisher is left to sink beneath the waves while many indie authors tend to pursue strategies that will help sell both new and old books.

The Problem(s) with Damaged Goods

From Publishers Weekly:

Is it just me, or are damages out of control lately? By damages I mean the multiples of unsalable books that arrive from publishers and distributors alike—ones that are dinged and dented, with pages folded and jacket covers torn. If you don’t regularly work in the receiving part of a bookstore, then you may not be aware of just how much time and inventory is lost in the shipping and delivery process.

Here’s a summary of a Monday at my shop in a recent week: We received a total of 16 boxes of books from five publishers and one distributor. Two boxes were full cases of a book for an author school visit in the week. The others contained a mixture of new releases and backlist orders, as well as a couple of mixed-copy seasonal displays. In addition, our mail carrier brought three small boxes of ARCs and a couple of those giant envelope-type packages created by sealing two squares of cardboard on four sides around a book or two with an inch or two of adhesive. (For the record, if terrorists or spies ever want to smuggle sensitive material into the U.S. via our postal service, these hermetically sealed cardboard packages are clearly the most tamper-proof method, for it takes our staff a good 20 minutes, a case cutter, and a pair of shears to pry a corner of one open in order to liberate the single title inside.)

But let’s get back to the Monday box pile. Of the 16 boxes, nine cartons contained damaged titles. One entire case of paperbacks (in an undamaged carton) for the author event were unusable. Three other boxes each had eight or nine books with ripped jackets and badly dented covers. In our box from the distributor—in which the books were stacked on a cardboard base and then wrapped with plastic to prevent shifting inside the box—all four novelty books had crushed spines or ripped covers. Granted, board books with cutouts on the cover are tough to stack, but they can be layered with early readers or even packing paper to prevent damage—and shipping books, after all, is the distributor’s job. Four other boxes, all new releases, were unusable. Of course, given the Monday delivery, this meant that our Tuesday new-releases display was going to look a little anemic.

. . . .

Each of these publishers has a different method for us to report damages: some require emails, some require phone calls, and some request photographic evidence. It can take days to receive responses to these reports, during which time we must either store the damaged books, waiting for instructions or a call tag, or repack them and wait for UPS to return to pick them up. Then all of those titles must be credited, reordered, and we begin again, hoping as we wield our case cutters that the new boxes will contain undamaged merchandise to sell. All of that time is on the clock—increasing payroll for booksellers in managing the losses and tying up the customer service departments of our publishers, who are simply logging lost potential on phone calls rather than discussing new releases and placing backlist orders.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG will note that, although most reading in his household is done with ebooks, occasionally, Mrs. PG will order a hardcopy via Amazon. PG doesn’t recall any book arriving from Amazon in anything other than pristine condition, lately inside a light, generously-padded plastic envelope.

The OP raises the possibility in PG’s jaundiced mind that some book distributors are juicing their profits by reselling damaged books returned for credit instead of pulping or otherwise destroying the returned books.

Major Public Library System Will Boycott Macmillan E-books

From Publishers Weekly:

With Macmillan’s controversial embargo on new release library e-books set to begin in just two weeks, PW has learned that the King County (WA) Library System has decided it will no longer purchase embargoed e-book titles from the publisher.

“Despite months of discussion and advocacy, Macmillan continues its position to embargo multiple copies of e-books,” writes King County Library executive director Lisa Rosenblum, in a note sent to fellow library directors (and shared with PW). ”Therefore, effective November 1st, KCLS will no longer purchase e-books from Macmillan. Instead we will divert our e-book funds to those publishers who are willing to sell to us.”

The King County Library System, headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, is one of the nation’s busiest and best library systems, circulating more than 21 million items every year. It has earned a coveted five star rating from Library Journal. And for five years running, King County has been the top digital-circulating public library system in the country, logging more than 4.8 million checkouts of e-books and digital audio in 2018.

In her note, Rosenblum acknowledged differing opinions among public library staff around the country on whether to boycott Macmillan e-books, and said King County’s decision was ultimately driven by two reasons: one “pragmatic” and the other “principled.”

As for the pragmatic side, Rosenblum explained that King County has pledged to readers to limit the wait time for any title to around 3 months. “Not allowing us to purchase multiple copies of an e-book for two months artificially lengthens the queue, triggering more of the same title to be purchased than would have occurred if we had been allowed to buy for the first two months,” she explains. “With an ever-increasing demand to buy a wide variety of digital titles, we do not think this is the best use of public funds.”

. . . .

The “principled” argument, Rosenblum says, is to send a message to other publishers that public libraries cannot accept limits on basic access. To do so, she writes, would “profoundly” change the public library.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has posted about this stupid plan by Macmillan before here and here.

Suffice to say, this is harmful to libraries and those who use them and unlikely to generate significantly more revenue for Macmillan.

As far as Macmillan’s justification – that library patrons will buy more Macmillan books if they can’t borrow them, PG expects this is likely the case in the short run. However, as library patrons continue to discover new authors they love through the books they borrow, and buy books from those authors, and tell all their friends how great those authors books are, Macmillan is short-changing its owners and its authors by effectively giving up on a major (and free) source of additional sales.

As compared with purchasing advertising and giving big discounts to Barnes & Noble (is that still a thing?), whatever dribs and drabs Macmillan fails to garner from regular library patrons who decide they simply must read whatever Macmillan claims is the latest and greatest instead of borrowing a different book are a drop in the bucket compared to the priceless word-of-mouth avid readers provide.

What’s an Influencer Worth to Books?

From Publishers Weekly:

A mini-scandal lit up Twitter last month when the Cut featured a tell-all essay by 27-year-old writer Natalie Beach. In the piece, Beach exposes her seven-year relationship with her friend Caroline Calloway, who scored an agent and a reputed $375,000 book deal for her memoir. Beach, who ghostwrote the book, says her former bestie bought Instagram followers after being told by literary professionals that “no one would buy a memoir from a girl with no claim to fame and no fan base.”

Platform has always been key when putting together a nonfiction book proposal. But back in the not-so-very-distant past—a mere dozen years ago!—publishers were throwing six figures and two-book deals at anyone who had a half-decent story and a clip in the local newspaper. These days, a huge following on social media, particularly Instagram, is a must for a book deal.

The moment agents or editors hear an author has a small following or no following, it’s over. Yes, there are exceptions. Still, worthy authors are overlooked every day—in favor of a young woman with a photo of macarons that went viral? Now her friend the ghostwriter has CAA shopping rights to her story? Which era is crazier?

The Kardashian/Jenner sisters have 500 million followers. So how come fewer than 500,000 viewers (18–49) tuned in to the latest episode of their show? Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies sold fewer than 40,000 copies, according to BookScan—yet she remains a powerful influencer. When are publishers going to concede that number of followers (fake or not) is only one key to book sales?

Naturally, some influencers produce books that are megabestsellers (usually with a lot of help). That is because they deserve a wide audience for whatever message they are sending. Ariana Grande, who has one of the biggest social media followings in the world, should get a huge deal… because she’s an incredible singer with a fantastic story to tell—not because of her follower count!

. . . .

This latest story about two millennial influencers and their book deal reminds me of that hype. Except now I’m overprotective. Some wanna-be authors are using the acquisitions process to snow us, to dupe us, to basically make a mockery out of what publishing stands for—content. Is this what they mean by influence?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has two reactions to the OP:

  1. He has zero sympathy for publishers who are snowed, duped or mocked by anyone, including authors (or more likely their agents) who are looking for a book contract.
  2. If PG were looking for a book contract (he is not and never will), he would be inclined to buy Instagram followers if that would help get him a deal. If publishers can’t look farther than the number of followers on an author’s Instagram account, why not? Is there a strict code of ethics that binds publishers to do or not do things like puff up the quality/importance of a book they’re releasing? What’s sauce for the goose . . . .

One big change in book publishing is that it does not require you to have much of an organization to play anymore

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

More than two decades into its digital transition, book publishing has evolved so that a capital-intensive infrastructure is no longer a requirement to successfully develop a book, or a list of books, and bring the books to market. This has resulted in a self-publishing segment, so far almost entirely author-driven, that is substantial in reach and readership and which offers ongoing competition to the commercial publishing business largely because of its ability to price its ebooks below what would be survival levels for commercial publishers.

. . . .

What publishers do, over and over again, is the business of “content” and “markets”. Each book is unique content and is individually delivered to its own unique market. So publishers need to stick to content and markets that they understand in a contextual way. That is usually done by sticking to genres in fiction and topics or “audiences” for non-fiction. But people who live in any of many non-fiction “worlds” could well be as well-equipped as any publisher to grasp the content-and-market equations in those environments.

The discrete tasks are:

1. Creating the content, which requires domain knowledge (the world of the content) and, of course, the ability to discern good and effective writing and presentation. And a knowledge of the content world implies a sense of any particular project’s uniqueness and timeliness.

2. “Packaging” the content in a form that is reproducible. That means different things for print and for digital. And it is more complicated for books that are illustrated or annotated with charts or graphs.

3. “Marketing”, or making potential readers aware of the book. This takes in what we used to think of as publicity and advertising, which in the “old days” largely centered around book reviews and the sections in newspapers that carried them, but which is now much more about search engine optimization and social network marketing.

4. Connecting with the avenues of distribution: reaching the sources of printed books their customers might use — bookstores, other retailers, or online merchants for consumers and wholesalers or distributors for those intermediaries, print and e. You have to sell to them and serve them: persuade them to carry or list the book and then deliver, bill, and collect so they can.

5. Selling rights where you can’t sell books. Because many books, no matter their origin, have the potential to gain additional revenue and exposure through licensing for other languages or placing chunks of the book’s content in other venues (what was very simply “serialization” in the all-print days), rights sales and mangement is another activity that a book publisher has to cover.

How have the avenues for sale to end users changed in the past two decades?

Before digital change arrived, which for trade publishers we could say began when Amazon opened in 1995, publishers sold most of their books in stores. The books got there because their sales reps persuaded the stores to stock them. Reps and stores are still a part of the delivery system, but they are no longer the only path to an audience that can deliver a book’s author substantial revenue.

In the past 20 years, online sales of print have moved from under 5% of the total units to certainly 40% of units, perhaps 50%. And it can be much more for some titles.

In addition to print, publishers sell ebooks and those are exclusively online. Twenty years ago, sales were zero. Now they appear to be 20% or more of the sales for big publishers. Once again, there is a range across titles and types of titles and there is a whole new segment of digital-first publishers for which the percentage of ebook sales is much higher, sometimes approaching 100%.

. . . .

Twenty years ago was probably the peak of the big bookstore chains — Borders and Barnes & Noble. Two decades ago, those two retail behemoths were more than 30% of many publishers’ sales. Today, Borders is gone, Barnes & Noble has shrunk, and their sales are less than 10% for most publishers. The number of chain stores is fewer than half of what it was, but shelf space for books has shrunk even more.

As a result of the diminishing bookstore space — shrinking and disappearing chains and despite a recent resurgence of independents the growth from them hasn’t nearly replaced what’s been lost — the opportunities to put printed books in front of consumers have shrunk. So the shelf space in mass merchants, like Walmart and Costco, is especially important for the big books.

. . . .

At the same time, the general interest book clubs have pretty much disappeared. Publishers used to be able to move thousands of copies of big books through those direct mail channels. They’re effectively gone.

And all of the above is really attributable to the fact that the sales have moved to Amazon. Twenty years ago they were probably not as much as 2 percent of book sales. Now, if you include Kindle sales, they are almost certainly 50 percent of the sales. For printed books alone, they are over 40 percent for most publishers.

. . . .

Amazon sales reached a tipping point about ten years ago. Kindle, launched in 2007, grew fast, as the first “direct download” ebook system. (Before Kindle, the ebooks had to be downloaded into a computer and then “synched” to a device.) So when Amazon first offered the self-publishing opportunity through Kindle, they were able to “reach” an audience of sufficient size to enable aspiring authors to actually make some money. When they added their “Create Space” capability for print-on-demand, an author could readily reach half the book-buying audience with one stop.

That was really the catalyst for what has become a tsunami of self-publishing.

. . . .

The much-cheaper [indie ebooks on Amazon] were most compelling for the audiences that consumed many titles: readers of romance, sci-fi, thrillers, and mysteries. It didn’t take long — maybe a couple of years — for a very robust title selection in those genres to become available from many previously-unknown authors.

Whether it was intentional or not, Amazon’s flipping of the time-honored “razors and blades” pricing strategy contributed to their rounding up all those multiple-book readers.

. . . .

[F]rom day one, the tiny-but-growing community of Kindle readers bought an outsized number of books.

For those authors who captured readers through the combination of low-pricing and the appeal of the free book “samples” that digital enabled, the Amazon self-publishing ecosystem could be very remuerative.

. . . .

Regular publishing required an agent most of the time but it required a lot of patience all of the time. Finding an agent took effort and could take months. The publishers’ decision-making process to buy also took a long time, often months. The act of publishing took a long time, also often months. It quite often added up to years. And then the share the author got was a fraction of what Kindle would pay them.

. . . .

So by 2010, we had a very different profile of intermediaries between publishers and their readers than we had a decade or so before.

And in the decade since, the total retail shelf space dedicated to books, across chains, independents, mass merchants, and specialty merchants, has continued to decline. The share of sales being taken by online has continued to grow to the level we cited: 50 percent for most titles. All publishers, but particularly big publishers, have taken to heart that they have to market direct to consumers . . . .

. . . .

If you go back to the top to look at the requirements to publish a book, numbers one and two are the creation and designing of a book, and most publishers use freelance capabilities for that which are available to anybody, including individual authors. Number three (marketing) has many components, but there are a plethora of independent services available to deliver most of the capabilities. Number four (connecting with the avenues of distribution) is delivered by Amazon to their customers and by Ingram to the world. And number five (licensing, particularly foreign rights) can be done by a vast network of agents and digital marketing consultants that already exists. You don’t need to own any of it to play.

And, as a result of all of that, many of the structural advantages a being a book publisher have faded in importance. A person with a manuscript, a computer, and a bit of a budget has been able to publish effectively, and sometimes profitably, for the past ten years. That has spawned the current infrastructure of capabilities and services that might suddenly be discovered as a key tool by entities bigger than individual authors. On another day, we’ll explore that might mean to publishing’s future.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has been hard on Mr. Shatzkin on many occasions in the past. However, over the past several months, Shatzkin has come around nicely (in PG’s occasionally meek and deferential opinion).

If PG were to date this change, he thinks it may have begun when Shatzkin retired (or mostly-retired, PG has no familiarity with anything other than what The Shatzkin Files have disclosed) from his work as a long-time and well-respected publishing consultant based in New York City.

As PG considered this apparent change, he was reminded of Miles’ Law, reputedly named for Rufus E. Miles, Jr., a supervisor in the Bureau of the Budget in the 1940s who told a group of subordinates that, in government agencies, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

PG has never been in the traditional publishing business (although he has been exposed to traditional publishers via helping Mrs. PG by reviewing the publishing contracts from the traditional publishers with which she formerly did business).

PG was not alone in recognizing the potential for Amazon and its general pricing practices, but particularly for its aggressive move into ebooks, to completely upend traditional publishing. He had witnessed and participated in the revolution that had significantly impacted the legal profession with the birth of computer-based word-processing and its ability to turn out perfect, custom-fitted documents of all sorts very quickly and inexpensively. When he was still practicing retail law, PG made a lot of money by building software programs that could start printing out sophisticated wills and trusts or divorce petitions and related documents while the client was still in the process of writing a check and handing it to one of his legal assistants.

Even more importantly, PG had absorbed significant amounts of the thinking and writing of Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and well-known author of The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, a book that Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have each said had a major impact on how they built Amazon and Apple.

The early moves of Bezos into providing self-publishing tools for the masses were extraordinarily disruptive, especially for ebooks, putting Amazon’s promotional power behind making some of those indie ebooks into big sellers and, even more important, on a per-ebook basis, paying authors far more than they would receive from the sale of an ebook via a traditional publisher through Amazon.

When you add the tools Amazon has provided for author to exercise broad control over ebook pricing plus author access to the Amazon-based advertising and marketing tools for selling books, Amazon has effectively set up an online laboratory that permits authors to experiment with all sorts of marketing/pricing strategies in an ongoing search for the best way to sell a lot of ebooks. Perhaps more important even than the money Amazon earns from selling indie ebooks, it is in a position impossible for any traditional publisher to equal, where it can watch and learn from all the various pricing/marketing/product design experimentation going on among thousands of individual authors, including some who are selling a huge number of ebooks.

PG suggests that, while good editors, nicely-formatted books and skilled cover designers are very important for most indie authors, paying for those services separately (or doing them yourself, particularly in the case of book formatting), instead of offloading those jobs to publishers and giving up far more income than even the most expensive editor or designer would charge just doesn’t make sense.

If you’re writing in a niche that benefits from quick-to-market strategies to take advantage of something that’s happening right now or soon will happen, a traditional publisher is most definitely not a smart strategy. You can make it all happen much faster (and probably  much better – most publishers’ employees are generalists, not specialists in particular market segments or sub-segments, plus everything at a publisher is subject to bureaucratic time lags) by doing it (or hiring specialists to do it) yourself.

The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.

~ Laurence J. Peter

In any bureaucracy, there’s a natural tendency to let the system become an excuse for inaction.

~  Chris Fussell

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.

~  Honore de Balzac

It’s a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry

From The New York Times:

In an era plagued by deep fakes and online disinformation campaigns, we still tend to trust what we read in books. But should we?

In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.

Some authors are hiring independent fact checkers to review their books. A few nonfiction editors at major publishing companies have started including rigorous professional fact-checking in their suite of editorial services.

While in the fallout of each accuracy scandal everyone asks where the fact checkers are, there isn’t broad agreement on who should be paying for what is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process in the low-margin publishing industry.

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“The standard line from publishers is, ‘We rely on our authors,’ and, well, that’s not good enough,” said Gabriel Sherman, a journalist who paid two fact checkers $100,000 from his advance for his 2014 book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” about Roger E. Ailes and Fox News. “I wish publishers did see the importance of fact-checking as essentially an insurance policy.”

. . . .

Publishers have long maintained that fact-checking every book would be prohibitively expensive, and that the responsibility falls on authors, who hold the copyrights. But in today’s polarized media landscape, that stance appears to be shifting as some publishers privately agree that they should be doing more, particularly when the subject matter is controversial.

“If you’re writing a remotely controversial book, there’s going to be an active audience that’s invested in discrediting it,” said Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. “This notion that books are above the fray, I don’t think it’s going to last.”

Accusations of sloppiness and journalistic malpractice now quickly explode on social media.

. . . .

In May, The New York Times Book Review published a blistering review of Mr. Diamond’s book “Upheaval.” The reviewer, the author Anand Giridharadas, cited mangled facts and what he described as misleading generalizations, and argued that the flaws were emblematic of a systemic lack of fact-checking in publishing.

“Fact checkers are as important as cover designers, as editors,” Mr. Giridharadas said in an interview. “It’s not treated as mandatory, and I think it should be.”

. . . .

In his new book, “Talking to Strangers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes that poets have “far and away the highest suicide rates,” as much as five times the rate for the general population. The statistic struck Andrew Ferguson, a writer for The Atlantic, as odd, so he tracked down its source: a paper that cited a 1993 book by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist who based the finding on suicides among 36 “major British and Irish poets born between 1705 and 1805.” Somehow, a narrow analysis of a few dozen 18th- and 19th-century poets was mistakenly applied to all poets, then amplified in a best-selling book.

When publishers do conduct a factual review, it’s often in response to a crisis.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG suggests that the ultimate owners of major US publishers pay very close attention to the bottom lines of their subsidiaries. Fact-checking is seldom necessary for increased profits. Indeed, as the OP indicates, it may be a major cost, something that prevents a book from showing a profit. Anyone in New York trying to justify such an expenditure has a steep hill to climb unless there is a positive short-term financial return that can be reliably anticipated to cover those costs.

It is far less expensive to blame the author for being careless and inattentive to his/her art. There is always another author.

Besides, anyone who may need to be fired for appearances’ sake is a long way down the corporate ladder from the owners.

Physical books still outsell e-books — and here’s why

From CNBC:

Do you prefer reading an e-book or a physical version? It might be a surprise, but for most people, old school print on paper still wins.

Publishers of books in all formats made almost $26 billion in revenue last year in the U.S., with print making up $22.6 billion and e-books taking $2.04 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019. Those figures include trade and educational books, as well as fiction.

While digital media has disrupted other industries such as news publishing and the music business, people still love to own physical books, according to Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers’ Association in the U.K.

“I think the e-book bubble has burst somewhat, sales are flattening off, I think the physical object is very appealing. Publishers are producing incredibly gorgeous books, so the cover designs are often gorgeous, they’re beautiful objects,” she told CNBC.

People love to display what they’ve read, she added. “The book lover loves to have a record of what they’ve read, and it’s about signaling to the rest of the world. It’s about decorating your home, it’s about collecting, I guess, because people are completists aren’t they, they want to have that to indicate about themselves.”

. . . .

It’s more than a decade since Amazon launched the Kindle, and for Halls, there is also a hunger for information and a desire to escape the screen. “It’s partly the political landscape, people are looking for escape, but they are also looking for information. So, they are coming to print for a whole, quite a complex mess of reasons and I think … it’s harder to have an emotional relationship with what you’re reading if it’s on an e-reader.”

. . . .

Sixty-three percent of physical book sales in the U.K. are to people under the age of 44, while 52% of e-book sales are to those over 45, according to Nielsen.

It’s a similar picture in the U.S., where 75% of people aged 18 to 29 claimed to have read a physical book in 2017, higher than the average of 67%, according to Pew Research.

Link to the rest at CNBC

With data from the Association of American Publishers and the Booksellers Association in the UK, PG notes a distinct lack of information in the OP regarding how many ebooks Amazon sells in the US and UK. Unless he is much mistaken, the statistics quoted in the OP don’t include sales of ebooks by Amazon Publishing and indie ebooks via KDP.

When PG last checked, in addition to not collecting ebook sales information, Nielsen (now NPD) Bookscan figures didn’t include printed or POD books that weren’t registered with Ingram.

 

Book publishers sue Audible to stop new speech-to-text feature

PG has posted about this latest dispute between Big Publishing and Amazon before, but thought the OP was a good (though speculative) description of Amazon’s possible legal analysis supporting its offering of this new audiobook feature.

From Ars Technica:

Seven of the nation’s top book publishers sued Amazon subsidiary Audible on Friday, asking federal courts to block the company from releasing a new feature called Audible Captions that’s due out next month. The technology does exactly what it sounds like: display text captions on the screen of your phone or tablet as the corresponding words are read in the audio file.

The publishers argue that this is straight-up copyright infringement. In their view, the law gives them the right to control the distribution of their books in different formats. Audio is a different format from text, they reason, so Audible needs a separate license.

This would be a slam-dunk argument if Audible were generating PDFs of entire books and distributing them to customers alongside the audio files. But what Audible is actually doing is subtly different—in a way that could provide the company with firm legal ground to stand on.

The caption feature “is not and was never intended to be a book,” Audible explained in an online statement following the lawsuit. “Listeners cannot read at their own pace or flip through pages as they could with a print book or eBook.” Instead, the purpose is to allow “listeners to follow along with a few lines of machine-generated text as they listen to the audio performance.”

“We disagree with the claims that this violates any rights and look forward to working with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation,” Audible added.

. . . .

[A]n Audible executive explained that the technology was “built on publicly available technology through AWS Transcribe.” That’s Amazon’s cloud-based service for automatic text transcription.

So it seems that the Audible app is generating text captions in realtime as the user plays an audio file. The app sends snippets of audio files to an Amazon server and gets back corresponding sections of text, which it then displays on the screen one word at a time. (It’s possible that AWS Transcribe has an offline mode that allows the transcription to happen on-device, but I haven’t found any documentation about this. I’ve asked Audible about this and will update if they respond.)

Audible is likely doing this because it strengthens the company’s argument that it can do this without a license from publishers.

To see why, it’s helpful to review two of the most important copyright decisions of the modern era. The first was the 1984 decision of Sony v. Universal that declared the VCR legal. Hollywood argued that the “record” button on a VCR was an invitation for customers to infringe their copyrights. But the Supreme Court disagreed, arguing that copyright’s fair use doctrine allowed “time shifting”—recording a show now to play it later.

The courts built on this decision with a 2008 ruling known as Cartoon Network v. Cablevision. In that case, a bunch of media companies sued the cable company Cablevision because it was offering customers a “remote DVR.” Like a conventional DVR (or a VCR before that), Cablevision’s technology allowed customers to record and play back television shows at their convenience. But unlike a conventional DVR, the remote DVR was located in a Cablevision data center, not in the customer’s home.

Television content owners argued that Cablevision was infringing their copyrights by making unauthorized copies of their show on a massive scale. Cablevision disagreed, arguing that the copies were being made by customers, not by Cablevision. The physical DVR might be owned and maintained by Cablevision, but the customer was deciding which shows to record. And the customer was entitled to do that under the earlier Sony ruling. An appeals court ultimately accepted this argument.

The Cablevision ruling provided a legal foundation for cloud-based “storage locker” services that allowed customers to upload, save, and stream (but not share) their music and video collections.

. . . .

That brings us back to Audible’s new transcription technology. Audible doesn’t have the legal right to sell text versions of audiobooks to customers without publishers’ permission. But we can expect Audible to argue that it does have a right to sell software tools that allow customers to do speech-to-text conversion.

Audible’s case will likely be strengthened by the fact that its app never creates or saves a permanent, full transcript of an audiobook. Instead, the software only displays a few words on the screen at a time.

If Audible is sending audio files to Amazon’s servers for transcription, publishers are likely to argue this means Amazon—not users—are creating the transcripts. But this seems closely analogous to the Cablevision case: the conversion is being done by Amazon servers but only when explicitly requested by users. And each translation is only sent back to the user who requested it.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

 

 

Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books

PG has mentioned this brilliant strategy from Macmillan here and here, but under the principle that you can’t celebrate Big Publishing stupidity enough, here’s more.

From Slate:

If I wanted to borrow A Better Man by Louise Penny—the country’s current No. 1 fiction bestseller—from my local library in my preferred format, e-book, I’d be looking at about a 10-week waitlist. And soon, if the book’s publisher, a division of Macmillan, has its way, that already-lengthy wait time could get significantly longer.

In July, Macmillan announced that come November, the company will only allow libraries to purchase a single copy of its new titles for the first eight weeks of their release—and that’s one copy whether it’s the New York Public Library or a small-town operation that’s barely moved on from its card catalog. This has sparked an appropriately quiet revolt. Librarians and their allies quickly denounced the decision when it came down, and now the American Library Association is escalating the protest by enlisting the public to stand with libraries by signing an online petition with a populist call against such restrictive practices. (The association announced the petition Wednesday at Digital Book World, an industry conference in Nashville, Tennessee.) What’s unclear is whether the association can get the public to understand a byzantine-seeming dispute over electronic files and the right to download them.

In a July memo addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents, the company’s CEO John Sargent cited the “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales” as a reason for embargoing libraries from purchasing more than one copy of new books during their first eight weeks on sale. “It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” he claimed.

Many individual library systems and companies that work with libraries swiftly responded with objections. “Public libraries are engaged in one of the most valuable series of community services for all ages, for all audiences,” said Steve Potash, the CEO and founder of OverDrive, a company that supplies libraries with e-books. “The public library is just something that is underappreciated. It certainly is so by Macmillan.”

. . . .

“If you think about equitable access to information for everybody, there shouldn’t be discrimination or anything like that,” said Alan Inouye, the senior director for public policy and government relations at the ALA. “So consumers can get this book on Day 1 without limitation, but libraries have to wait for eight weeks? That’s just very wrong.”

. . . .

The controversy over Macmillan’s new policy gets at one of the central issues facing book publishing today. “There’s a tension in e-book pricing generally between consumer expectations that a digital file will be less expensive than a physical copy and the reality that very little of the cost of making a book is tied up in the physical format,” said Devin McGinley, a senior industry analyst covering book publishing for Ibisworld Inc., a market research firm. “Publishers are rightly concerned that if the price of books erodes too much, they will no longer be able to cover their creative costs and subsidize more speculative bets on emerging authors.”

. . . .

“They really did not have any reasonable data to support a narrative that if an author’s new book is withheld from public library lending when it first comes out, that might impact the author’s or the book’s sales during those first few months,” Potash said. “That isn’t borne out. The data that OverDrive has is that for every title that actually gets borrowed or downloaded, the library is engaging with dozens and dozens of readers who are discovering the book, sampling the book, or just looking for a recommendation on what to read next.” Potash said that studies consistently show library patrons to be more frequent book buyers overall—which is another reason Macmillan’s letter stung. “They are taking their readers, their customers, their fans, and intentionally trying to frustrate them,” he said.

Link to the rest at Slate

PG will state that whenever a business executive talks about making a decision to avoid “cannibalizing sales,” you will find many other stupid words and acts following shortly thereafter.

Steve Job famously said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” He made this comment when Apple was selling a lot of iPods, and had just announced the iPhone.

Did the iPhone cannibalize Apple’s iPod business? You bet. Were any Apple shareholders upset by this cannibalization? Not really. The iPhone would make Apple the most valuable company in the world.

The first iPhone was announced in January, 2007, and went on sale in June, 2007. One year after the announcement of the first iPhone and six months after its launch, in January, 2008, the value of a share of Apple stock had almost doubled. About six months later, in July, 2008, when Apple launched the iPhone 3G (the first iPhone with an app store), the stock value was 285% of the price only 18 months earlier.

Not many people were worried about iPod sales at that point.

From an interview with James Allworth, the co-author, with Clay Christensen and David Skok, of a new Nieman Reports article called “Breaking News– Mastering the Art of Disruptive Innovation in Journalism.” The Harvard Business Review published a transcript:

Well, if you can see a way of cannibalizing your existing business, then chances are somebody else can see that same opportunity too. And if it’s a choice between you or your competitor cannibalizing that business, I think in almost every instance you will be better off in the long run if you yourself choose to do it.

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

Back to Macmillan, once a book is completed, PG will note that each copy of an ebook that Macmillan licenses to a user costs the company essentially nothing. This cannot, of course, be said about a printed book, each one of which carries costs for printing, shipping, warehousing, handling returns of unsold books from bookstores, etc.

PG suggests that an intelligent executive would be happy to cannibalize the sales of more copies of costly printed books by selling costless ebooks.

 

Level the Playing Field for Books in Translation

From Publishers Weekly:

(PG Note – The author is a Slovenian publisher)

Nowadays, when everything is just a click away, people around the world have come to expect the latest installment of great TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale or Game of Thrones to be delivered to their screens more or less simultaneously with the original release, together with corresponding subtitles in Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, Slovenian…. There are many people involved with the production, and the security risks are extremely high, but still—the magic happens.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that in book publishing we’re witnessing a discriminating practice that has become increasingly common in recent years. In fact, this is now a sort of a status symbol, which divides major from merely big or important authors. At my Slovenian publishing company, Mladinska Knjiga, we still receive Mr. Barnes’s or Mrs. Hawkins’s or Mr. McEwan’s or Mr. Nesbø’s or Mr. Walliams’s new novels way ahead of publication (Mr. Nesbø even kindly provides the complete English translation for those who are not translating from Norwegian!), whereas this is not the case with authors (brands?) such as Dan Brown, John Green, or J.K. Rowling. Even Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was strictly embargoed until publication of the English edition. And now Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments faces the same issue.

The reason given is always the same: security. We were told by Atwood’s agency: “If this manuscript leaks, the consequences are huge, and therefore we have to have a strategy that minimizes the risk.”

A strategy? Some (well, most) of us are obviously not trustworthy. But there’s more. Initially a universal practice, this “strategy” is not without exceptions now. For example, the German version of The Testaments is scheduled for simultaneous publication with the original—so is the Spanish one and the Italian one. Is this then just a variation on a good old theme of “paying more” ? (One wonders how much of this is known to authors themselves, all fine people, who are usually sincerely grateful to each of their publishers from all around the world.)

The Booker shortlist was just announced, and it includes The Testaments. This is great news. It means that the book is good. But what it also means is that the jurors were given the manuscript ahead of publication, too. How did security procedures work in this case? I would rather not speculate, but let me just say that this only made us even more furious.

. . . .

In the case of The Testaments, we were particularly disappointed because we had initially been promised the manuscript in March (just enough time to publish more or less simultaneously), only to later be told that we’ll have to wait until September 12.

Why is this so crucial? We will lose the global promotional momentum and lose face in the eyes of our readers, booksellers, and librarians: the book is published, so where’s the Slovenian version? Most of them will think that the publisher is rather sloppy and slow.

The bottom line: we will sell less. And this is as important for German publishers as it is for Slovenian, Slovakian, and Icelandic publishers. Literary bestsellers are extremely rare. Therefore, one must seize every selling opportunity, and publishing simultaneously with the original edition is an especially effective one.

Sure, there are those houses that will hire multiple translators to finish the translation in two weeks, enabling the hasty publisher to publish the book just in time for the Christmas season. But would you really want to see or read the result? Margaret Atwood is a very fine author, one of the best. Her books deserve a committed translator and proper editorial dedication. And this takes time. So here is another factor that speaks against this strategy—the author’s reputation is at stake.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that large publishers are almost religiously attached to their superannuated ideas about how to promote and advertise the books they release. Based upon shared folklore that the world is breathlessly awaiting the next release from OldPub in New York, they believe that a relative handful of chosen bookstores and an exclusive review in The New York Times will move the sales needle like it did before most people buy books online and the Times print circulation is plummeting.

New York Times Print Circulation – Monday-Friday – Wikipedia

BookExpo Announces a Shorter Trade Show for 2020 in New York City

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a “Dear Valued Customer” letter this morning (September 9) from Reed Exhibitions event manager Jennifer Martin, BookExpo has announced changes in its approach for the 2020 outing of the beleaguered US trade show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

Citing a 38-percent increase in bookseller and retailer attendance in May for this year’s show, Martin also points out that 145 American Bookseller Association attendees were supported by the show’s “Bestsellers Grant Program” of travel subsidies.

Nevertheless, what Martin describes as a jump in attendance has not led the administration to continue its two-and-a-half-day schedule. The first of several changing elements Martin announces in her letter is a return to the two-day show schedule.

Distilled to the points being announced, however, there actually are very few confirmed elements of next year’s show in Martin’s letter.

. . . .

A two-day exhibition floor. BookExpo 2020—which is set for May 27 to 29—will return to a two-day exhibition-floor schedule. As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the floor opened this year at midday on the Wednesday of the week. Next year, Martin writes, Wednesday will revert to being a full day of conference and “education,” the latter referring to informational sessions akin to those known as Insight Seminars by regular attendees of the London Book Fair.

As Martin explains the reversion to the shorter exhibitors’ show, “In 2019, we moved back to a three-day event. The goal was to give everyone additional time on the floor to discover and connect. Though some saw value in it, most found it challenging and costly. After two months of in-depth conversations with customers, we have decided to return to a two-day trade show schedule, with Wednesday dedicated solely to programming and education. BookExpo will take place on Thursday and Friday; BookCon on Saturday and Sunday.”

. . . .

Editors’ Speed Dating. Martin says a cooperative effort in one-on-one encounters for booksellers with editors proved to be “a good format.” She writes, “It is platforms like this that we plan to increase, that connect the right groups of people in a focused way to foster real discussions with measurable and actionable outcomes.” She does not, however, actually say that this program will return.

Non-book retail show. Dubbed “UnBound” by the fair, this parallel exhibition floor is placed on the southern end of the Javits Center, a vast area largely abandoned by publishing exhibitors in the last few years as the show shrinks. The exhibitors here comprise, as Reed puts it, “a curated assortment of distinctive bookish goods hand- selected for the book channel.”

. . . .

The New York Rights Fair. Here again, Martin isn’t clear, but her tone seems to indicate that the rights-trading floor will be back in 2020. In 2018, as BolognaFiere and Publishers Weekly reconstituted BookExpo’s rights-trading area as the New York Rights Fair, they moved it to the Metropolitan Pavilion across town. The distance and separation of the rights center from the rest of the trade show pleased very few people, and the rights trading was brought back into the Javits in May, still as the newly branded New York Rights Fair.

On the whole, the rights-trading tables area looked remarkably empty during BookExpo in May, although Martin says that exhibitors and attendees came from more than 73 countries. What seemed to work best, as it did in 2018, was the programming attached to the rights trading area in a comfortable stage area with effective (and welcome) sound-deflection panels. Again, however, this rather imprecise letter doesn’t actually state the 2020 status of the New York Rights Fair.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

During an earlier stage of his legal career, PG was involved in the planning of the largest legal technology trade show in the United States. He has also attended some giant technology shows in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. These experiences don’t make him an expert on publishing trade shows, but does lead him to speculate on what’s happening with BookExpo.

  • Reed Exhibitions is a subsidiary of RELX (formerly Reed Elsevier), a very large company that makes most of its money from legal, scientific and academic publishing.
  • RELX used to own Publishing Perspectives, the source of the OP, but sold it off in 2009. The only reason a company like RELX sells something is that what’s being sold isn’t making much money.
  • Trade shows must cater to two audiences who don’t necessarily have the same interests:
    1. A business or professional group – doctors, lawyers, book stores, etc.
    2. Entities that sell products or services to the business or professional group
  • So, a typical trade show consists of two parts:
    1. Education/information programs that attract significant numbers of book stores, doctors, lawyers, etc.
    2. An exhibition hall in which vendors who would like to reach book store owners, doctors, lawyers, etc., set up booths, put on product demonstrations, give away tote bags, caps, buttons, etc., bearing the corporate logo or product name.
  • A trade show usually requires an admission fee from members of the business or professional group, but free tickets are often available for members of the target group who are in the know or are typically given to those speaking in the educational segment.
  • PG can’t speak for all trade shows, but has been informed that most of the money most shows generate comes from the exhibitors.

PG’s semi-professional take on the OP is that Reed Exhibitions doesn’t think the latest BookExpo was very successful from a financial standpoint. Perhaps Reed had to discount exhibit space or bring in exhibitors tangential to the core purpose of the show in order to fill the exhibit hall. Perhaps Reed is having problems attracting good quality speakers for the show.

The garbling of the message from Reed described in the OP may be an indication that Reed’s best thinkers are paying more attention to other shows than they are to BookExpo.

Amazon Under Fire for Breaking Margaret Atwood ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Sequel Embargo

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Margaret Atwood’s latest work The Testaments — the highly anticipated sequel to her 1985 best-selling novel The Handmaid’s Tale — is set to be released globally next Tuesday. However, a “retailer error” by Amazon broke the embargo, resulting in a “small number of copies” already ending up in the hands of readers.

Todd Doughty, Doubleday’s executive director of publicity, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, “A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments were distributed early due to a retailer error which has now been rectified. We appreciate that readers and booksellers have been waiting patiently for the much-anticipated sequel to the best-selling The Handmaid’s Tale. In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, Sept. 10.”

. . . .

The embargo breach has also created an outcry from independent booksellers on social media, including Astoria Bookshop owner Lexi Beach, who shared her frustration on Twitter. “There will be ZERO consequences for $amzn violating not just the fine print but the entire basis of this embargo agreement some exec surely signed digitally through Adobe Sign just like the rest of us did,” she wrote Tuesday.

Added Beach: “And the kicker is that $amzn will make hardly any money selling this book. Books (especially big splashy publications like this) have always been a loss leader for them. Whereas I and many other independent retailers are counting on this release to pay our bills.”

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

PG notes that embargos occupy a hallowed spot in the uninspired world of Big Publisher marketing.

Embargos are also breached with some regularity by people other than Amazon. PG is not the only one who suspects that publicity about the breaking of more than one embargo has been part of a publisher’s staged marketing campaign for quite a while.  Throw in the dreaded Zon and people become even more excited.

From The Washington Post, September 27, 2012:

The embargo on the J.K. Rowling novel “The Casual Vacancy,” reportedly one of the most draconian non-disclosure agreements in the history of publishing . . . did not quite work. ¶ Thursday is the release date for the first book for adults written by the empress of Hogwarts. Reviews were embargoed until 1 a.m. and book sales until 3 a.m. Since Rowling’s Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, the release of her new book — even though it is set in an unmagical British town called Pagford — is one of 2012’s largest publishing events. ¶ Thus, it is a test case for the common, if unloved, practice of forbidding booksellers from selling the book in advance of the embargo date, and forbidding media outlets from reviewing said tome before the date the publishing company decrees. ¶ The practice generally has several intents: to make sure books are in stores when readers hear about them; to retain the news revelations in nonfiction books; and to try to bottle up interest in big fiction titles, propelling them onto bestseller lists with an unusually high number of immediate sales.

“For franchise authors, you want to drive it to Number 1 by having everyone buy it the first week of release,” said Elyse Cheney, a literary agent in New York.

Rowling, who is nothing but a franchise author (she is the first in the world to earn more than $1 billion in book sales), added spice to this release with an unusually strict legal document that its publisher, Little, Brown, reportedly imposed on prospective reviewers.

The Independent in London reported a clause that not only required signees to hold off on sales and reviews but also forbade them to even mention a contract.

But — and this almost always happens — somebody got the book anyway.

The Associated Press and the New York Daily News (and perhaps others) said they managed to get early copies of the book, and they published reviews Wednesday. AP reported it did not sign the contract but “purchased” the book; the Daily News said the novel was “obtained.” Because they alone had reviews, those two organizations set the tone for readers’ perception of the book.

The Post and other news organizations observed the embargo, running reviews Thursday.

Just about nobody was happy.

“I couldn’t even get an embargoed copy to review,” said Dan Kois, editor of the book section for the online magazine Slate, which is part of The Washington Post Co. “They wouldn’t send it to us. They had very clear levels to this campaign.”

. . . .

The Post and the New York Times refrained from publishing their staff-written reviews online Wednesday, though The Post put AP’s review on its Web site. The Post’s executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, said he thinks the publishing industry is ultimately “fighting a losing battle.”

A spokeswoman for Little, Brown said she would have a company representative call for comment on this article, but no one had done so by press time.

This sort of struggle between publishers and media outlets has been small-arms combat for years. With some books, in which authors and publishers have signed exclusive excerpt rights with magazines or newspapers, there is a clear business mandate to preserve those rights and to keep others from writing about the material.

. . . .

Connie Ogle, books editor for the Miami Herald, and LaFramboise, the Politics & Prose book buyer, both noted a similarity between some embargoed titles and B movies that are not made available to critics for pre-screening.

“There is a core audience that is going to go see the movie or read the book anyway,” Ogle said, “and those films or books often tend not to have a long shelf life.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Big Pubs Have Mixed First Half of 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The first six months of 2019 were something of a mixed bag for trade publishers whose financial results are publicly reported.

Penguin Random House had by far the best first half of 2019, with earnings jumping 33% over the comparable period in 2018, while revenue rose 11.3%. Operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) rose from €171 million in the first six months of 2018, to €227 million, PRH parent company Bertelsmann reported. Sales were €1.65 billion, up from €1.48 billion.

Acquisitions and hundreds of bestsellers drove the gains. Three acquisitions in particular affected first-half results, as detailed by PRH CEO Markus Dohle in a letter to worldwide employees: the purchases of children’s publisher Little Tiger Group in London as well as Spanish-language literary publisher Ediciones Salamandra and Catalan-language publisher La Campana Llibres, both of which are based in Barcelona. The company also acquired a 45% stake in Sourcebooks in late May.

Organic growth was led once again by Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which sold more than 2.8 million copies across all PRH companies in the first half of the year. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens sold over two million copies in all formats in the period. A third factor in the sales growth was “high growth rates in audio formats,” Bertelsmann said. In his letter, Dohle also noted PRH’s “thriving” distribution business.

. . . .

Revenue at HarperCollins fell 5.4% in the first six months of 2019 compared to last year, and earnings dropped 14.1%. Much of the decline was due to a down second quarter (or fourth quarter for HC, which operates on a June 30 fiscal year). The company was facing a difficult comparison to the second quarter in calendar 2018 primarily because of the absence of $28 million of revenue from the Lord of the Rings trilogy licensing agreement in the prior year, lower sales of Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines, and $18 million less in revenue as a result of adopting the new revenue recognition standard.

The decline was partially offset by the success of new releases such as Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson and The World’s Worst Teachers by David Walliams. Audiobook sales were generally strong in the first half of the year, offsetting soft e-book sales. Overall, sales in the second quarter were down 14% from a year ago, offsetting a 5.8% sales increase in the first quarter.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When PG examined this article, he saw only three comments, each a generic pitch for a website that promised the reader that he/she could earn big money for a work-from-home online job.

“­­I­­ ­­am ­­m­­a­­k­­i­­n­­g­­ ­­$­­9­­2­­ ­­a­­n ­­h­­o­­ur ­­w­­o­­r­­k­­i­­n­­g ­­f­­r­­om ­­home. . . .”

“M­­y la­­st mo­­nth pay­­che­­ck wa­­s f­­or 11­­0­­00 do­­ll­­a­­rs. . . .”

“E­v­e­r­y­ m­o­n­t­h m­a­k­e­s m­o­r­e t­h­a­n ­$­1­5­,­0­0­0­ j­u­s­t b­y w­o­r­k­i­n­g o­n­l­i­n­e h­o­m­e j­o­b i­n s­p­a­r­e t­i­m­e.”

PG is not certain exactly what the relationship between the OP and the comments might mean.

How could Big Publishing and shady get-rich-quick schemes be related?

A Book Biz Insider’s Letter to a (Future) Assistant

From Publishers Weekly:

In every informational interview I’ve participated in, students and interns begin in the same way—what they most want me to know about them, even before the school they’re going to (or in one case, even their name): They love to read. When I hear this my heart sinks. I don’t want to put these applications in the “no” pile, but I know I have to. In declaring that they should be hired for a job in publishing because they love to read, they betray that they have no actual idea what an assistant job in publishing entails.

To be clear, I do not fault anyone for writing cover letters like this. I wrote some truly heinous cover letters that spent more time waxing poetic about learning to read the Berenstain Bears on the subway than they did actually clarifying any of my qualifications or skills. This oft-repeated mistake seems to be more a product of the shroud of elitism that publishing as an industry hides behind than it is of the people who most want to work within it. There is lots of speculation as to how to get your foot in the publishing door. In the course of four years applying and reapplying to assistant jobs, I’ve read lots of advice. Like anything else, some of it is good and some of it is, well, less good.

As an assistant for four years, my two cents are this: Do not focus, in your cover letter, on your love of reading, your passion for the power of storytelling, or your favorite books on an editor’s list. Instead, you should be focusing on the unsexy parts—your office skills, your ability to communicate, your willingness to learn, and your resourcefulness. Hiring managers or editors or head publicists are not necessarily looking for great literary minds; they are looking for someone who will competently check and respond to emails, write marketing copy, read slush, answer phones, mail books, wrangle contracts and forms from authors, negotiate text and image permissions, walk the director’s dog, or literally any other task the hirers don’t feel like doing. Optimistically, you will spend about 2% of your time reading things that are not emails, and those stolen hours will feel like a blessing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

If PG were to conduct an “informational interview” with someone who was considering entry into the world of traditional publishing, his advice would include the following (For the record, no one has asked him for an informational interview about publishing and he doesn’t expect anyone to do so):

That is a seriously dumb move. Don’t do it.

The traditional publishing industry is a dead man walking. Whatever glamour it may have possessed twenty years ago is gone, gone, gone. The business is not about art, it is about commerce, just as much as an investment bank is, although vastly less remunerative to its employees. If you want to hang around authors, find out which bars they patronize and go there or join a writers group.

Over time, the friends and acquaintances who you hope may be impressed by your underpaid job in publishing will come to regard it as a suicidal career choice. The transferrable skills you learn as a publishing assistant won’t be much different than the skills you would learn working as an assistant for a mid-level executive in a meat packing plant.

At an entry level, it’s mostly going to be drudge work and the atmosphere in a business organization that is circling the drain is seldom very healthy. You will almost certainly learn what it’s like when people you know are laid off. Plus, it will be of minimal assistance in paying off your student loans from Sarah Lawrence, even if you get promoted at some time in the future.

Audible Captions vs. The Publishing Industry

From EContent:

I moved to Nashville, Tenn., in the summer of 1999 to go to college, in the height of the file-sharing “crisis.” I put the word “crisis” in quotes because while the music industry was quick to judge on what was, and was not, ethical consumption of music, we learned a few things from the episode:

  1. Napster, Limewire, etc. opened my eyes to a vast multitude of new artists, many of which I may never have discovered. I then paid money, either through album sales, concert ticket sales, festival ticket sales, and/or artist merchandise, in support of those very same artists for decades to come. That revenue may not have ever come to exist without file-sharing services.
  2. During the process of songwriter groups and music publishers suing these file-sharing services out of business, Napster at one point tried to form a royalty agreement with music publishers by which Napster would contribute royalties per download back to the publisher. This arrangement looked similar to the arrangement music publishers have today with streaming services. Music publishers rejected this arrangement 20 years ago, causing a precipitous decline in publisher revenue while the file-sharing entities all went out of business. Everyone lost.
  3. Only after muddling through a lot of lean years did music publishers finally realize they needed amicable, mutually beneficial relationships with tech companies like music streaming services, and frankly couldn’t afford to be standoffish and uncooperative with potential partners.
  4. The eventual result is that, here in 2019, the music industry is thriving – Spotify, Apple Music and the like are making music publishers more money than they’ve made in a very, very long time.

. . . .

Audible rankled book publishers by introducing, albeit in beta, a new feature called “Audible Captions,” which allows users of audiobooks to read along with transcribed text, a few sentences at a time.

Publishers argue Audible doesn’t have the rights to do that. That’s an argument straight out of 1999. Did tech companies like Napster have the right to give music away to downloaders? Of course not. But did music publishers devastate their own revenue for years to come by not forging a path to partnership? Sure did.

In a better argument, publishers argue Audible will cost publishers ebook sales and possibly even print book sales by making Audible Captions available. This is obviously true, at least for some people, and I’d be one of them. A read-along version of a book accompanying the audiobook playing would be an ultimate version of a work, rendering owning other formats completely unnecessary. I’d go back to it over and over again and would feel no need to buy anywhere else.

The funny thing about this particular scenario is that accessibility lies at the heart of the debate. There is zero question that by providing read-along text accompanying the audiobook will help make these audiobooks more accessible to more people. This has some similarities to the fact that music file-sharing services in the late 1990s/early 2000s served the purpose of making music much more accessible to those who couldn’t purchase $20 CDs at Sam Goody or Musicland.

What the music industry ultimately learned is that it is far better to partner with tech-oriented disruptors, and monetize the new situation as best as possible, than to fight it tooth and nail and risk losing.

Link to the rest at EContent

PG agrees with the OP.

Setting aside copyright arguments, providing subtitles with audiobooks is a strategy designed to sell more audiobooks, a win-win for Amazon and the publishers and the authors.

The idea proffered by Big Publishing – that audiobooks with captions will diminish ebook sales of the same title is, for PG, ridiculous.

For someone who desires to read an ebook version of a work, reading audio captions is like running a marathon on snowshoes, way, way too slow.

For someone who has problems reading (physically or mentally), listening to an audiobook while following the captions may allow that person to consume and enjoy the book when either the printed book/ebook alone or an audiobook without captions would be far less enjoyable.

Listening to an audiobook with captions could help someone who doesn’t read learn to do so.

In PG’s written and verbal opinion, the traditional publishing industry is technologically and financially inept in the extreme.

The industry fought ebooks when it was patently obvious that creating, storing and distributing an organized collection of electrons is vastly less expensive than printing, binding, boxing, warehousing and shipping vast quantities of paper is. You can reduce ebook prices and make gobs more money than trying to sell printed books at full price.

Imported Books and Their Resale in the U.S.

Yesterday, PG had a post about a Publishing Perspectives piece discussing a New York Times article condemning Amazon’s sale of “counterfeit books,” many of which originated overseas.

An alert commenter to that post mentioned a U.S. Supreme Court case that may be relevant, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 568 U.S. 519 (2013)

PG won’t go into detail about the case, but the gravamen of the holding was that Mr. Kirtsaeng, who, through friends/family, purchased new English-language Wiley textbooks in his home country of Thailand, could legally resell those books in the United States.

The books purchased in Thailand were legitimate copies published and distributed by the Asian subsidiary of Wiley, WileyAsia. WileyAsia’s books stated that they were not to be taken (without permission) into the U.S.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kirtsaeng, grounding its decision a provision of U.S. copyright law generally referred to as the “First Sale Doctrine.”

[S]ection 109(a)’s “first sale” doctrine, … provides that “the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title … is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.”

Without the First Sale Doctrine, there would likely be no used book stores in the United States.

A new book store acquires the right to sell new books via the publisher which has a publishing contract with the author, who is (or should be) the owner of the copyright to the book. Under the publishing contract, the author grants the publisher the right to make copies of the author’s book and sell them (directly or through distributors) to bookstores which, of course, can sell those new books to readers.

After a copy of the new book is sold to a reader, the author’s rights to that particular copy of the book are exhausted. The purchaser can lend it, resell it, donate it, etc., without violating the author’s copyright.

To be clear, the purchaser of a copy of the book cannot make copies of the book to give or sell to others, because the First Sale Doctrine applies only to that particular copy of the book the purchaser legally acquired.

So, when Mr. Kirtsaeng purchased multiple copies of the English language textbook in Thailand and resold them in the United States, the Court held that the Thai purchase was the First Sale of each textbook and Mr. Kirtsaeng was effectively in the same position as a used book store operating in the US.

Back to the NYT condemnation of Amazon for selling “counterfeit books,” it is possible that Amazon is doing so. However, it is also possible that Amazon (or third-party sellers on Amazon) is/are acquiring books from foreign publishers in the same way that Mr. Kirtsaeng was acquiring the Wiley textbooks.

If a U.S. publisher decides to permit foreign publishers to print, publish and sell books in the English language for a cost/royalty that is lower than the price the U.S. publisher charges its U.S. customers for the same text, that’s a business decision for the U.S. publisher to make (and, incidentally, that the author has no control over under typical publishing agreements).

If a foreign publisher decides to sell English language copies of a book at a much lower price than the price set for English language books in the U.S. and has a contract with the U.S. publisher that sets no price limits for the book (which might be a violation of antitrust laws somewhere), the foreign publisher can set the price and make the sale directly or through distributors or bookstores.

Under Kirtsaeng and the First Sale Doctrine, once the foreign publisher sells a copy of the book, under U.S. copyright law, the wholesaler, retailer or other purchaser of that copy can do anything with it that a purchaser of the same book from the U.S. publisher could do in the U.S., including resell the new book or ship it to the U.S. or any other destination for resale.

(A contract between a publisher and distributor could impose geographical limits on where the distributor could offer the book for resale, but once the book is sold at retail, First Sale definitely kicks in. PG has no idea what might happen legally if each bookstore required each purchaser of a book to sign a contract agreeing not to resell or give the book away. From a commercial standpoint, PG suspects such a requirement would dampen sales of the book.)

Is there a solution to counterfeit or unauthorized books?

In PG’s internationally-celebrated humble opinion, requiring Amazon to determine whether books that an Indian or Chinese publisher delivers directly to Amazon or via a U.S. book distributor or other intermediary are properly authorized by the party who owns or controls the copyright is an unreasonable burden to place upon Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Shirley’s Books located on Main Street, USA.

PG does think Amazon’s idea for the establishment of a central database that permits sellers to know if a publisher in the U.S. or anywhere else is authorized by the copyright holder to create and sell a particular book is a good idea. It’s not a complete solution, but a practice that would diminish the flow of improperly licensed books through commercial sales channels.

What organizations are in the best position to create such a database and populate it with accurate data?

Publishers.

And, in particular, large publishers, including large international publishers. They know who holds rights to the books they publish in various geographical areas. They know who has translation rights in those same areas. They and their authors bear the largest losses from pirated copies of their books in various nations and languages.

In conclusion (finally), PG asks a rhetorical question:

How likely is it that Penguin Random House will lead such an effort to create a central database of literary rights and permissions and put up a significant share of the costs necessary to do so?

Pearson? ThomsonReuters? Wolters Kluwer? Hachette Livre?

 

David Streitfeld’s Orwellian Shopping List, and Amazon’s Retort

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives will remember, when The New York Times’ David Streitfeldwrote in June that “Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore,” resulting in what the Authors Guild said has been a surge of counterfeit books, the retailer responded at unusual length to defend itself and its intentions of consumer protection and quality assurance.

On Monday (August 19), the San Francisco-based veteran Amazon observer and journalist published a new piece in the Times, in which he recounts buying “a dozen fake and illegitimate Orwell books from Amazon.”

For book industry players and those who respect literature, the story is harrowing and illustrates how many in the books business see what Streitfeld earlier has described as “a kind of lawlessness” in how Seattle sells books.

And yet, once again, a Streitfeld piece has elicited a substantive response from Amazon, indicating at the very least that the vast tech company does not take lightly the sorts of weaknesses the reporter discerns in its work–and making a case to publishing people for a “single source of truth” on copyright status.

. . . .

In describing the bad editions of George Orwell books he was able to order from Amazon, Streitfeld writes that some “were printed in India, where the writer is in the public domain, and sold to me in the United States, where he [Orwell] is under copyright.

“Others were straightforward counterfeits, like the edition of his memoir Down and Out in Paris and London that was edited for high school students. The author’s estate said it did not give permission for the book, printed by Amazon’s self-publishing subsidiary. Some counterfeiters are going as far as to claim Orwell’s classics as their own property, copyrighting them with their own names.”

In cases of such illicit content, of course, rights holders are being stiffed, as Streitfeld reminds us, and the readership is being sold bogus and often badly corrupted work. “After all,” he writes, “if you need a copy of Animal Farm or 1984 for school, you’re not going to think too much about who published it. Because all editions of 1984 are the same, right? Not always, not on Amazon.”

. . . .

Indeed, a lot of what Streitfeld describes in these bogus editions is remarkable as much for how small and random the changes seem to be as anything else. In that “edited for high school” version of Down and Out in Paris and London, for example, the bowdlerized result removes “my chicken” from Charlie’s call to a young seduction victim, “Come here, my chicken.” Can it possibly have been of much concern that a modern high school student might encounter the phrase “my chicken” in this context?

None of this is acceptable. Particularly in an age in which truth itself is under a furious assault by political forces in the United States and many other parts of the world, the protection of every author’s and publisher’s work is mandatory.

And Streitfeld is correct when he writes that the arrival of the biggest seller of books in history has presented an unprecedented challenge in which counterfeiters can profit from their ability to cheat us all: “Until recently,” Streitfeld writes, “improving Orwell was not a practical business proposition.

“Then Amazon blew the doors off the heavily curated literary world. No longer was access to the marketplace determined by publishers, booksellers, or reviewers.”

While Amazon is the company that has, he’s right, made it possible for “even the most marginal books” to be “suddenly available to everyone everywhere” from the most earnest but artless authors (self-published or from the trade), it also can enable the chicanery of ruthless forgers.

Books people struggle with this perhaps more than lawn mower manufacturers or apparel makers. As Faber & Faber’s director of digital and new business Henry Volans once said during a conversation in London, “Publishing has taken the digital disruption rather hard.”

. . . .

Publishing Perspectives has been provided by Amazon with a response to Monday’s Streitfeld article.

[PG asks: Is he alone in questioning the sentence structure of this bit?]

. . . .

(From Amazon’s response)

“The books in question are authentic titles provided to us by publishing houses and distributors for sale in our US store.

“However, there is an issue of differing copyright timing between countries and sometimes even different titles within the same country.

“Today, there is no single source of truth for the copyright status of every book in every country that retailers could use to check copyright status. Retailers are dependent on rights holders to tell them where they have the rights for each title and for how long. Without a single source of correct information, this is a complex issue for all retailers–a number of the books in question are for sale in the stores of several other US book retailers, from independent bookstore Web sites to large chains.

“We work with rights owners to quickly resolve questions about what publisher has what rights in each geography because only the rights holders know the disposition of the intellectual property rights to the works that they represent. We have removed these titles from our US store, and we have informed the publishers and distributors who listed them.

“We believe that a single source of truth for the copyright status of every book in every country would help all booksellers.”

. . . .

But neither can any level of vetting succeed in catching all counterfeited content. Streitfeld points out, “If Amazon vetted each title the way physical bookstores do, it would need lots more employees.” And even a good hands-on examination might miss faces changed to feces in an otherwise expertly produced copy of a book.

. . . .

At the same time, Streitfeld has put his finger on a problem in how Amazon at times displays its consumer reviews of books. “Amazon sometimes bundles all the reviews of a title together,” he writes, “regardless of which edition they were written for. That means an unauthorized edition of Animal Farm can have thousands of positive reviews, signaling to a customer it is a valid edition.”

In comments made on background by the company, Publishing Perspectives has determined that Amazon knows clearly the complaint Streitfeld is making but may not be convinced that exact matches of reviews to a given edition would prevent problems. There are, for example, consumers who might complain about what they consider to be poor-quality printing in a book that nevertheless is an authentic work.

And Amazon is correct that it’s not alone in carrying some of the precise bad Orwell editions that Streitfeld has pointed to here. Some of them can be spotted on competitors’ sites, including those of Barnes & Noble and the independent powerhouse Powell’s. Needless to say, a determined counterfeiter may find it pays well to spread his or her tawdry work to as many points of sale as possible.

. . . .

The Authors Guild reports good cooperation from Seattle in working on problems the guild’s member-authors run into sometimes in working with Amazon. Perhaps an organization like the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) led by Brian O’Leary could look into the development of some of the data centralization that Amazon’s developers believe could strengthen their ability to spot bad material.

. . . .

Update: 11:38 a.m. ET August 20: To help represent the kind of response that many in the industry will have to Amazon’s stance, we’re adding here part of the comment from Michael Cader today in his edition of Publishers Lunch, published shortly after this story. Cader refers to Amazon’s arguments as “worthy of a child. Both in the statement and on further background they complain that it’s hard, that other people do it too, and that it’s somehow your (the industry’s) fault for not having a universal catalog of every right throughout the world. It all ignores the fact that this is a problem of Amazon’s own creation. Their ‘global store’ initiative that started in mid- to-late 2017–which makes the default to sell everything everywhere, unless someone actively complains about rights issues–directly aligns with the explosion of infringing book editions.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will note that he is against counterfeit books and the failure of any publisher, small or large, to respect the rights of the owners of the copyrights to those books and pay appropriate royalties for properly-licensed books.

However, PG notes the OP is less about the existence and sale of counterfeit books by Amazon and any other ebook seller and more about a hard-core resistance to change in the world of traditional publishing (including the world of newspaper publishing) and an unwillingness to adapt to a digital world which most consumers really like, both in English-speaking nations and elsewhere.

PG says the traditional book industry, whose profits have been greatly aided by Amazon during a period in which the amount of leisure reading done by Americans (and perhaps residents of other nations) has been in significant decline, seem to want to turn the clock back to 1990 and somehow erase online commerce.

As PG has pointed out before, traditional publishing has committed a serious strategic error by overpricing ebooks. The reasons, of course, have been an irrational hatred of Amazon and the accompanying desire to prop up sales of traditionally-printed books and the bookstores that sell them.

In a purely rational book publishing world, traditional publishers large and small would be happily reaping profits from increases in sales of reasonably-priced ebooks while gently nudging printed books toward a respectable antiquarian retirement. (From an ecological standpoint, think of the millions of trees that would be saved along with the birds and tiny creatures whose forest homes would remain secure.)

Of course, the publishers would still have their secret worries about Kindle Direct Publishing and the steady stream of popular and talented authors, both new and established, who are going indie due to both the increased income and increased power over their own careers that KDP provides.

Besides, Amazon is consistently ranked as one of the most-admired companies in the world. PG doesn’t remember ever seeing any of the huge media conglomerates that own the major New York publishers (or, to come to think of it, The New York Times and its wealthy owners) on any most-admired list. Indeed, PG would rank these huge media conglomerates as among the most retrograde large business organizations found anywhere.