Big Publishing

Penguin Random House Buys F+W Media’s Books at Auction

8 June 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

Gregory J. Osberg, CEO of F+W Media, has announced today (June 7) that  Penguin Random House’s bid to acquire the book-publishing assets of F+W Books has been selected as the winning bid following the sale process in the company’s chapter 11 case.

. . . .

In a statement issued by Penguin Random House to the news media, we read, “Penguin Random House has acquired the book-publishing assets in the United States and the United Kingdom of F+W Books, a division of F+W Media, in an auction held Thursday (June 6) by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

“F+W’s new titles and its backlist of more than 2,000 illustrated nonfiction books across a broad range of categories and brands will be published within Penguin Random House’s Penguin Publishing Group division.”

In our March 12 story, we wrote, “In September of last year, the F+W Books division had generated what the [court] filing says was some US$22 million in revenue, with about 20 percent of that in UK business and the rest in the States.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

A New Book Says Married Women Are Miserable. Don’t Believe It.

5 June 2019

From Vox:

Last week, a shocking claim about happiness made the rounds in the press, from the Guardian to Cosmopolitan to Elle to Fox.

The claim?

Women should be wary of marriage — because while married women say they’re happy, they’re lying. According to behavioral scientist Paul Dolan, promoting his recently released book Happy Every After, they’ll be much happier if they steer clear of marriage and children entirely.

“Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: ******** miserable,” Dolan said, citing the American Time Use Survey, a national survey available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and used for academic research on how Americans live their lives.

The problem? That finding is the result of a grievous misunderstanding on Dolan’s part of how the American Time Use Survey works. The people conducting the survey didn’t ask married people how happy they were, shoo their spouses out of the room, and then ask again. Dolan had misinterpreted one of the categories in the survey, “spouse absent,” which refers to married people whose partner is no longer living in their household, as meaning the spouse stepped out of the room.


The error was caught by Gray Kimbrough, an economist at American University’s School of Public Affairs, who uses the survey data — and realized that Dolan must have gotten it wrong. “I’ve done a lot with time-use data,” Kimbrough told me. “It’s a phone survey.” The survey didn’t even ask if a respondent’s spouse was in the room.

. . . .

Dolan confirmed to me by email, “We did indeed misinterpret the variable. Some surveys do code whether people are present for the interview but in this instance it refers to present in the household. I have contacted the Guardian who have amended the piece and my editor so that we can make the requisite changes to the book. The substance of my argument that marriage is generally better for men than for women remains.”

Kimbrough disputes that, too, arguing that Dolan’s other claims also “fall apart with a cursory look at the evidence,” as he told me.

. . . .

This is only the most recent example of a visible trend — books by prestigious and well-regarded researchers go to print with glaring errors, which are only discovered when an expert in the field, or someone on Twitter, gets a glance at them.

In May, author Naomi Wolf learned of a serious mistake in a live, on-air interview about her forthcoming book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. In the book, she argues that men were routinely executed for sodomy in Britain during the 1800s. But as the interviewer pointed out, it appears she had misunderstood the phrase “death recorded” in English legal documents — she thought it meant a person had been executed, when it actually meant the death penalty had been deferred for their whole natural life. That meant that the executions she said occurred never actually happened.

. . . .

Earlier this year, former New York Times editor Jill Abramson’s book Merchants of Truth was discovered to contain passages copied from other authors, and alleged to be full of simple factual errors as well. And around the same time, I noticed that a statistic in the New York Times Magazine and in Clive Thompson’s upcoming book Coders was drawn from a study that doesn’t seem to really exist.

People trust books. When they read books by experts, they often assume that they’re as serious, and as carefully verified, as scientific papers — or at least that there’s some vetting in place. But often, that faith is misplaced. There are no good mechanisms to make sure books are accurate, and that’s a problem.

. . . .

[B]ooks are not subject to peer review, and in the typical case not even subject to fact-checking by the publishers — often they put responsibility for fact-checking on the authors, who may vary in how thoroughly they conduct such fact-checks and in whether they have the expertise to notice errors in interpreting studies, like Wolf’s or Dolan’s.

The second, Kimbrough told me, is that in many respects we got lucky in the Dolan case. Dolan was using publicly available data, which meant that when Kimbrough doubted his claims, he could look up the original data himself and check Dolan’s work. “It’s good this work was done using public data,” Kimbrough told me, “so I’m able to go pull the data and look into it and see, ‘Oh, this is clearly wrong.’”

Many researchers don’t do that. They instead cite their own data, and decline to release it so they don’t get scooped by other researchers. “With proprietary data sets that I couldn’t just go look at, I wouldn’t have been able to look and see that this was clearly wrong,” Kimbrough told me.

. . . .

Academic culture is already changing to try to address that second problem. In response to the embarrassing retractions and failed replications associated with the replication crisis,more researchers are publishing their data and encouraging their colleagues to publish their data. Social science journals now often require authors to submit their data.

Book-publishing culture similarly needs to change to address that first problem. Books often go to print with less fact-checking than an average Vox article.

Link to the rest at Vox

PG suspects that all of this may be because proofreading and fact-checking don’t help out a publisher’s bottom line.

Besides, it’s usually the author who is embarrassed. The publisher is often treated as an innocent victim instead of a facilitating distributor of untruths.

And “facts” that further the narrative are sometimes too good to be checked.

Or, perhaps, publishers are filled with stupid people who don’t understand anything about what they’re publishing, about the same as the factory drudge who turns on the printing press in the morning.

And here’s the book, still on sale at Amazon. Proudly brought to you by Penguin Random House UK, part of the largest trade publisher in the world.

A Worthy Guide to the Publishing Industry

4 June 2019

From Nathan Bransford:

Mike Shatzkin is one of the most knowledgeable people in the entire publishing industry, and when I saw that he had written a book on the book biz with the late Robert Riger, this was an insta-buy.

The Book Business: What Everyone Needs to Know did not disappoint my expectations. Everyone has something to learn from this helpful guide, whether you’re a publishing newbie or a seasoned veteran. It’s organized in a very readable Q&A format and has everything from an overview of the major players to a history of the industry to the latest trends shaping the business.

I especially learned a ton about the ways in which the current e-book era resembles past publishing industry disruptions, especially the advent of mass market paperback books, which were initially very popular among readers of pulp/genre fiction and were disdained by the publishing establishment of the time. Sound familiar?

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG thinks a good question to ask in 2019 is why traditional publishing is entitled to such a large share of the revenue a book generates when, for most traditionally-published books, Amazon is the largest seller of those books.

He suggests that if you look at the legacy publishing chain of organizations and individuals who are taking a piece of the revenue the book generates either directly or indirectly, it doesn’t seem like a terribly efficient system of marketing and distribution for the book as a product, especially a printed book.

Here’s an overview:

ᶑ Author creates a manuscript

ᶑ Agent pitches manuscript and finds a publisher

ᶑ Publisher edits the manuscript (or perhaps hires a freelance editor to do that job)

ᶑ Publisher arranges for formatting of the manuscript and hires a cover designer to create the cover

ᶑ Publisher sends files of the manuscript to a book manufacturer (formerly called a printer), perhaps through a middleman.

ᶑ The book manufacturer may print the book itself or have the book printed offshore, often in China

ᶑ Finished hardcovers arrive on a container ship from China and are shipped to a wholesaler/distributor – usually Ingram

ᶑ The Publisher’s sales reps are pitching the book to bookstores in advance of its release. They’re usually paid a salary plus commission. Generally, a bachelor’s degree is required. Most don’t make a lot of money.

ᶑ The physical bookstore generally buys its books from Ingram or a smaller wholesaler at a discount from list price – 50% is the most common discount, although that may vary. To clarify, the bookstore usually pays $10 for a book that has a list price of $20.

ᶑ Ingram sends a portion of the money it receives to the Publisher.

ᶑ The Publisher then sends a royalty check to the Author twice a year. The Author’s check may be reduced by a reserve for returns, part of the royalties due to the Author, ostensibly designed to cover the Author’s royalties which will not be payable because of books sold to bookstores during one royalty period that the bookstore returns unsold for a credit during a following royalty period.

Each of these steps has a cost. Somebody is being paid to execute each of these steps. Ultimately, directly or indirectly the Author pays all or most of that cost as deductions against the Author’s royalty payment. The Author receives what’s left over after everyone else takes his/her/its slice of the pie.

If the supply chain costs were lower, traditional publishers might feel more inclined to compete for Authors by offering higher royalties. (Or not, but we’re talking the potential for economically rational decisions here.)

On the other hand, here’s the distribution system of an indie Author selling through Amazon:

ø Author creates a manuscript

ø Author formats manuscript or hires a formatter to do the job

ø Author uploads manuscript to Amazon and selects ebook only or ebook plus POD

ø Amazon stores the manuscript in digital form, offers the book for sale on a world-wide basis if the Author selects that option, processes credit card payments from readers and sends monthly a monthly payment directly to the Author’s bank account. For books priced within Amazon’s preferred pricing stratum, Author receives 70% of the price paid by the reader.

Amazon is the only intermediary between the Author and the reader. Once the Author uploads a manuscript, all steps necessary to place a book into a reader’s hands are performed by Amazon, utilizing the world’s most sophisticated and efficient selling platform.

Industry Reacts to B&T Exiting the Retail Wholesale Business

3 May 2019

Here’s more on yesterday’s announcement that Baker & Taylor is getting out of the business of wholesaling traditionally-published books to bookstores.

From Publishers Weekly:

The departure of B&T from the retail side leaves Ingram as the lone national wholesaler, a situation that worries many independent bookstores. “I believe removing that competition in the retail wholesale market is a huge detriment to the independent bookselling industry,” said Larry Law, executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc., which has 10 stores in California, noted that “B&T was doing a very good job servicing us, we had better discounts than from Ingram, and they always had an indies reserve. That said, Books Inc. has always had a good relationship with Ingram, and we hope they will prove to be a good partner.” Tucker also pointed to one of the reasons B&T got out of the retail business: the move to more direct ordering by stores. “In recent years, we have seen a shift in the way we order books,” Tucker said. “We went from 60% distributor/40% publisher to a flip of 60% publisher/40% distributor.”

The departure of B&T from the retail side leaves Ingram as the lone national wholesaler, a situation that worries many independent bookstores. “I believe removing that competition in the retail wholesale market is a huge detriment to the independent bookselling industry,” said Larry Law, executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. Michael Tucker, owner of Books Inc., which has 10 stores in California, noted that “B&T was doing a very good job servicing us, we had better discounts than from Ingram, and they always had an indies reserve. That said, Books Inc. has always had a good relationship with Ingram, and we hope they will prove to be a good partner.” Tucker also pointed to one of the reasons B&T got out of the retail business: the move to more direct ordering by stores. “In recent years, we have seen a shift in the way we order books,” Tucker said. “We went from 60% distributor/40% publisher to a flip of 60% publisher/40% distributor.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Baker & Taylor Quits Selling to Book Stores

2 May 2019

From Shelf Awareness Pro:

Baker & Taylor has made it official: it is leaving the wholesale retail book market. The move was hinted at when it became public late last year that the company was in talks to sell its retail operations to Ingramand then in the departure over the last few months of key retail staff members. B&T will focus on its traditional core business of servicing libraries, as well as publisher services.

In the announcement yesterday, B&T and parent company Follett said that “over the coming weeks,” B&T will “wind down our activities and related services selling books wholesale to retailers,” aiming to complete the process by July 15. (B&T will, however, continue to service college bookstores managed by Follett Higher Education.)

As part of the move, B&T is closing its warehouses in Somerville, N.J., and Reno, Nev., by the end of the year. The company’s office in Somerville will stay open.

B&T and Follett called the decision to exit the wholesale retail business “not an easy one. The retail market has become an increasingly difficult market in which to operate. Operating costs have continued to rise which, compounded with customers’ expectations for same or next-day delivery, has put strong pressure on the supply chain and operating profit. The leadership at Baker & Taylor and Follett studied options that might help our retail performance and ultimately determined that the best course for Baker & Taylor would be to devote our resources to our public library and publisher services businesses.”

In a letter to publishers, the companies said, “By focusing on our core competency as the leading, innovative supplier to public libraries, we know our future will be a bright one. We are excited to partner with you as we improve literacy and learning in the communities we serve around the county and globe.”

. . . .

B&T added that it is adjusting “algorithms to focus on the fulfillment of the library business and allow stock to sell down. Stock transfers between facilities will also occur when necessary. Any remaining stock will be returned to our publishers.”

B&T’s move has caused great consternation among indie booksellers. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, commented: “The competitive wholesale environment has played an important role in the resurgence of indie bookstores over the past several years in the United States. Baker & Taylor’s decision to no longer serve the trade market is very bad news for indie booksellers and, in the long run, will not be good for consumers. ABA intends to work as closely as we can with other industry partners to ensure that indie bookstores can continue to access inventory in as cost-effective and rapid a manner as possible to allow member stores to continue to serve their customers. However, there’s no way to sugarcoat it–today’s news is not good.”

Bookseller comments haven’t been sugarcoated, either. On Twitter, for example, Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstore, Washington, D.C., called the change “a f*cking tragedy for our industry. Having one major wholesaler is the loss of competitive pricing and swift customer service that indies depend on to stay ahead.”

Subtext Books, St. Paul, Minn., wrote on Twitter: “This is truly terrible news for our industry. Limiting wholesale distribution to one company is bad for the ecosystem of literacy, and bad economics. Immediately, this means that our mid-week special orders will likely not show up on Friday, but on Monday instead.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness Pro

Does Linda Fairstein Deserve a Literary Honor? Critics Say Her past as a Prosecutor Sullies Her Art.

27 April 2019

From The Washington Post:

Linda Fairstein has been rightly celebrated by many as a feminist icon. For more than 25 years, she was head of the largely male sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where she was involved in several high-profile cases, including the “Preppy Murder” case and another I will get to in a minute. Fairstein used her pioneering legal work as the basis for 20 mystery novels featuring Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra “Alex” Cooper. The books have been lauded for their insider view of the Manhattan D.A.’s office as well as for their deep historical knowledge of the New York sites where they’re set.

Late last year, Fairstein — whose most recent book, “Blood Oath,” came out in March — earned the esteem of the Mystery Writers of America, which announced that it would honor her and “Gorky Park” author Martin Cruz Smith with the lifetime achievement Grand Masters Award at a banquet to be held in New York on April 25. The Edgars are the most prestigious honors in the mystery genre, and the Grand Master is the highest accolade. Past winners include Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Ross Macdonald, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Walter Mosley and Sue Grafton.

Two days after its initial announcement, the Mystery Writers of America said it had changed its mind: Fairstein was not to be honored.

At issue was one of the other high-profile cases in which Fairstein was involved. In 1989, she oversaw the interrogation (conducted by another prosecutor) of the Central Park Five, the five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the rape of a 28-year-old white female jogger in Central Park. The teenagers maintained that their confessions were coerced. After DNA evidence exonerated them in 2002, all charges were vacated.

. . . .

Fairstein has steadfastly defended the work of her office, and her crucial involvement in the case is a matter of public record.

. . . .

But the announcement of Fairstein’s award set off a Twitter fight. Attica Locke — whose novel “Bluebird, Bluebird” won last year’s Edgar for best mystery — tweeted that Fairstein was “almost single-handedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five.”

. . . .

The fact that Fairstein was personally involved in what many now see as a racist miscarriage of justice made members of the Mystery Writers of America very uncomfortable.

. . . .

The process of evaluating contenders for an award — literary or otherwise — has never been tidy. Is the work the thing that’s being judged? The life? Some mishmash of both? And, if the life is being factored into the process, must one’s entire record of opinions and actions be unanimously judged to be humane and just?

Consider that in 1948, Ezra Pound — then incarcerated as a mental patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington on treason charges for fascist broadcasts he made in Italy during World War II — received the Bollingen Prize in poetry for “The Pisan Cantos.” The New York Times headline the next day read: “Pound, in Mental Clinic, Wins Prize for Poetry Penned in Treason Cell.” Then there’s the case of director Elia Kazan, who received a lifetime achievement award at the 1999 Oscars ceremony. Kazan had never apologized for “naming names” of fellow members of the Group Theatre who, like himself, had once been members of the Communist Party. Should Pound or Kazan have been honored?

Those who believe that art and literature should be judged strictly on their own terms, separate from the life and times of the human beings who created them, would say yes. Implicitly in this camp are the mid-20th-century literary critics who espoused a reliance on close readings of texts known as New Criticism and, later, deconstructionist critics like Roland Barthes, whose classic essay “The Death of the Author” pooh-poohed any attention to an author’s biography as naive.

. . . .

Complicating matters is that we no longer seem to have a consensus about who “deserves” these awards — even on their own terms — so cordoning off the art from politics, or as W.B. Yeats termed it, “the dancer from the dance,” is itself just another kind of argument to process. When, for example, the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this month, some critics on social media pointed out that since 2000, only six women have won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. “It doesn’t help,” one person wrote, that Junot Díaz is on the board. Last year, Díaz was accused by several women of sexual misconduct and verbal abuse. Lost in this conversation is not only whether the winner — Richard Powers’s “The Overstory” — is worthy of the prize but whether we even have broadly acceptable language that can convey what being “worthy” on the “merits” (itself a contested word) even means.

. . . .

As for Linda Fairstein, the question is not, “Does Fairstein deserve the honor?” but, rather, “Should the Mystery Writers of America have been able to plausibly defend giving an honor to Fairstein, regardless of who protested or why?” If it couldn’t, it should have known that before announcing that she had won. By withdrawing Fairstein’s name after it was criticized, the organization appeared both feckless and perversely ignorant of the career of the very person it, days earlier, presented to the public as deserving of its imprimatur.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post


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

18 April 2019

From The BBC:

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

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

That compares with 11% of white authors and illustrators.

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The BBC

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

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

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

13 April 2019
Comments Off on Elsevier’s Presence on Campuses Spans More Than Journals. That Has Some Scholars Worried.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

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

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