Monday, October 30, 2006

The Big Deal Returns

I was lamenting recently that there hadn't been too many mega publishing deals this year and all of a sudden they are numerous.

In June, I mentioned that CEO Richard Harrington had been quoted in the FT regarding Thomson's willingness to part with their educational division. They rapidly back tracked and in truth the context of his comments were along the lines of "...if someone offers us a good price, we can put the money to good use on the legal and regulatory and financial segments of our business." Clearly, they have had a think about this and last week publicly stated their intention to divest the business unit. I suspect it will go to a financial buyer; this is not a particularly integrated operating unit and I think a buyer could exact some significant expense savings in aggressively consolidating these business units and product lines. Once that is done the group could be resold or sold in parts to other educational publishers.
(Toronto Star, Bloomberg)

Further interest in education from an Irish based educational technology company (The Learning Company and Edusoft-not this one -my error) which is interested in purchasing Houghton Mifflin from the financial buyers who have owned the company for only a few years. Houghton Mifflin is a venerable old line educational publisher which has gone through some hairy times as a public company, Vivendi (and collapse thereof), and then a buyout. Riverdeep will likely bring some long term stability.
(Boston Globe, FinFacts Ireland) Also here is a jealousy inducing analysis of the ownership structure of the merged entity.

Springer Science and Business Media has launched a $5bill bid for Informa which is itself a recent result of a large merger of Taylor and Francis and Informa. Apparently, Informa wanted to buy Springer Science rather than the other way around. Oopps.

Media Ownership laws have recently been changed in Australia and pundits were anticipating a surge in new deals. Irishman Tony O'Reilly who owns a media empire (and was head of Heinz) has offered to buy APN the forth largest newspaper publisher in OZ. The same article also lists some of the other recent media deals in Australia including Murdoch's purchase of 7% of Fairfax the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald.

And for other pending deals?

Publisher's Lunch reported on the pop that B&N stock received this week when Barron's reported that private equity would find the company an attractive investment. The Riggios (majority owners) announced earlier this year that they were buying back stock and the share price is sharply up this year even without the Barron's article. In my view, it is difficult to see the value to the majority owners of a private equity play.

Reuters has been struggling - I wonder if Thomson would see this as an interesting addition to their portfolio. The company has been in the process of remodeling itself over the past several years and are still working through this. They are not out of the woods yet.

Bloomberg. The NYC mayor has said this week that he is not going to sell the company but it is not clear if he will return to manage it. He has consistently indicated that he wants to concentrate on his charitable and foundation work once his term in office is completed. Again, a potential match for Thomson once they have the war chest.

Reed Elsevier - could they go the way of VNU and be purchased by a PE firm? Undoubtedly, all the bigger players have been looking for new targets and Reed has strong branding and positioning in trade magazines, legal and education.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Returned to Reality

Mrs PND and I spent the last week or so in Costa Rica and had a wonderful time. Between the two of us we read eleven novels and I consider that a success. As it turned out I ended up reading only one of the books I intended to read (leaving The God Delusion, The Road and The Emperors Children behind). One of the books I read was kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst. He is an exceptional writer of suspense and espionage novels set in the 1930s. I have now read three of this novels and have enjoyed them immensely. His evocation of settings and characters is so realistic that having read this novel which ends on the eve of the German invasion of Poland, I caught myself two days later wondering what was happening to the characters as though the story hadn't ended. Furst lives on Long Island but you wouldn't know it since he writes like he lived through this time in Europe.

The book I did plan to take with me was Philip Roth's The Plot Against America which I couldn't put down. The whole idea of interlacing some of his family history in this 'What if' story was remarkable. My experience of Roth only extends to Portnoy's Complaint which I read in High School for a English paper. I kinda wasn't that crazy about the book which colored my view of his more recent releases. The 'what if' concept is what it is, but I had a constant troubling sense all through this book that I could see how this could happen. In someways it suggests that society is always finely balanced but one slight push one way or the other has the capacity to send things into an accelerating tail spin to the detriment of particular segments of society.

Having returned I have vowed to spend more time reading and all the talk about an excess of big titles coming out in the fall had me wondering how many books I currently have that I haven't read. I wish I hadn't done this: I rearranged my book shelves so that I now have one shelf dedicated to unread titles. I have 34. I could probably clear that if I were on vacation for 12 months and short of winning the lottery that is not going to happen. It made me a little depressed. There are some excellent titles in this group and they range from biographies of John Adams, Christopher Wren, John Lennon to the above mentioned titles and Dennis Lehane, Don Winslow, John LeCarre and George Pellecanos. It is the non-fiction that I have a hard time with since they are hard to finish unless you can read a reasonable amount at each sitting. Fifteen minutes before lights out doesn't cut it.

Now it is back to an intense period of work for me. I start planning for the next vacation post haste.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Off on Vacation

And looking forward to catching up on some reading.

Here is something from the Colbert Report last week that I found amusing: I love you Fonda!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Monday Update with Links

Small Retailers: On the back of last weeks announcement that Coliseum Books was to close the AP published two reports on independent retailing. There are success stories in independent book retailing but the market is very difficult and the retailer has to be very creative in not relying on the books to produce an income. One of the retailers mentioned in the following articles refers to being 'fractional' in how he approaches his market. Basically, a little bit here a little bit there and it all adds up. Genre Booksellers and Independent Booksellers as reported by the Associated Press.

Personal Libraries: I wrote last week about libraries, but here is a far more lucid reflection by author Alberto Manguel, excerpted from The Library at Night by Knopf.

I spent some misguided time over the past few weeks looking for new links and came across a few new sites. Here is a sample:

Fifth Estate is the child of the authors and editors at Press Books. I came across the site this week and am impressed with their blogs/articles and will visit frequently. There is a link to the right of my blog. Here is a recent post about

Book has all kinds of interesting articles from someone named Tomasina. It was this recent article on the amount of new titles to be released over the next several weeks that drew me in originally. I am not sure I agree with some who think we will be overburdened by choice. For the most part, the books are purchased and are read in the less fertile periods of the year. Buzz, Balls and Hype had a similar post penned by Jason Pinter discussing the same thing. Also, if you scroll down the home page you will see they are running a 'contest' to see what the best tie-in or cross promotion idea is. This came from an earlier post about Mitch Albom's book on sale at Starbucks.

Another publisher web site I have started looking at is Elephant Walk by Overlook Press. (Overlook is the home of Peter Mayer who was at Penguin UK for many years). They are publishing a book purported to be a history of the Funerary Violin. No one is quite sure if this book is a fake or not. Overlook are Mum: here.

More next week.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

See you in Church on Sunday

An article in The Register (heretofore unheard of) reports that, blogging is now 'un-christian' at least according to the Reformed Church of God. (Presumably, as simply the 'Church of God' they were mad bloggers). These evengelicals just take the fun out of everything.

Thanks to MobuzzTV. for the link.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Frankfurt and Travel

As I departed for the airport this past Sunday afternoon it was for the first time all year that I have shortened my weekend for business travel. Over the past several years I may have done this as many as 20 times a year. Virtually all of these departures were a prelude to an over night transactlantic trip with the promise of a full days work on Monday. I missed Frankfurt for the first time in eight years last week and this was often a two week trip. In 2003, I did a round the world three week trip with the last three days on the stand in Hall 8.0. Such is my ambition. I won't do that again.

The interesting thing at Frankfurt are the people you meet. It is a great place to meet international customers but you are also likely to bump into the senior level publishing people. It seems to happen more regularly at Frankfurt for some reason. I remember my first show when I met an Egyptian licensor of our content on our stand and he presented me with a highly decorated cigar (ash) tray. I felt horrible. I don't smoke and I didn't have anything for him. In October 2001, traffic was sparse and as I walked around the English hall 8.0 I envisioned a large bullseye on the roof. That year in remembrance the entire fair came to a halt on one of the days for a few minutes of total quiet.

Frankfurt is hectic, hot and smoky but it can be rewarding to showcase your products to a very large audience. I have always looked forward to it and when I am invariably traveling to the airport on Saturday morning I think if only I had more time to look around more.

What I started to say regarding traveling is that I am doing less of it but more of it at the same time. This year no more international travel but lots of tribulations traveling domestically. At the moment I am suffering a three hour delay on the way home. I will make tier level the hard way via segments and not miles. Mrs PND looked coolly at me as I left on Sunday but it really hasn't been so bad this year. We persevere.

Postscript: Seven hour commute home (norm is 4hrs). I did catch Letterman and saw Bob Woodward and listened to what is now becoming his stump speech. News yesterday that they are reprinting State of Denial and there will be 1mm in print. Also, while I was stuck in an airport at least I wasn't at the Quills awards.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Synchronisity Again, The Road, Harlequin, St.Martin's, Publishing News. AbeBooks,

Synchronisity plays a part in my reading again. I recently purchased a copy of Letters from London by Julian Barnes (signed) at The Strand in NYC. Among numerous topics it covers the leadership challenge to Margaret Thatcher. Earlier in 2006, I also plowed through Heseltine's biography and it was interesting to recall his version of events during this time. Anyway, given the current state of the Labor party's convulsions over their leadership issues I thought the following quote from Barnes' book was interesting.

Mrs Thatcher had been removed because enough members of her thought that her domineering dogmatism had become electorially counterproductive. On the other hand, Mr. Major has been the candidate of the outgoing leader and the diehard Thatcherites. So he had to keep the 'Business as Usual' sign in the window while redecorating the place and updating the stock: instead of barbed wire and rifles, the family store would in future sell chocolate bars and liniment.

What of Gordon Brown? Personally, I think they should both go and Labor should take the next year to re-establish a relationship with the electorate with new leadership. It is hard to see Brown elected in his own right.

I purchased Cormac MacCarthy's book The Road last week and there was another positive review in the NYT Book review. While it is bleak, I am looking forward to reading it. Bob Woodward was with Tim Russert yesterday. The administration knives have been out, but the damage has been done. Apparently they produced a list of 'inaccuracies' all of which have been proven out. Meaning Woodward was correct. Russert asked him about Kissenger and he stated Kissenger confirmed that the President speaks with him regularly. The massive ego even suggested it was more frequently than Woodward had in the book; information which was provided by Chaney. Apparently, Chaney called Woodward personally, argued with him and told him 'Bullshit' that his comments were not on the record and hung up on him! How adult. I haven't decided to buy his book yet. It reminds me of the All the President's Men which is one of the best books I recall reading as a teenager. Just the combination of incompetence and arrogance is breathtaking.

News last week from Harlequin and as I have said before it must represent some level of incompetence to allow this company to falter so much. It strains credibility that a company with such a loyal base of customers and potentially large electronic distribution opportunities is laying off staff. Someone needs to buy this company.

Time magazine - which in truth I rarely read - has an article this week about publishers of 'streetlit titles' and their promotional activities designed to reach 'non-traditional' markets. The article makes note of St.Martins Press which is publishing K'wan who has over 400,000 units sold of titles such as Gangsta, Road Dawgz and his latest, Hood Rat. I remember reading about K'wan last year and he is quite the entrepreneur having built his publishing empire by literally hand selling his titles on the street, in barber shops and on street vendor tabletops. Other authors are mentioned in the article. It reminds me of Basquat - spray painting subway cars on his way to making millions as an avant guard artist.

Interesting news in the area of publishing trade magazines. Publishing News (UK) and AuthorLink (US) have created an alliance to "broaden the two entities news and features coverage across the globe." I can't say I am familiar with AuthorLink but I will have to check it out. In the US, Publisher's Weekly has been wandering the proverbial desert attempting with limited success to re-define itself as a trade title with appeal to consumers. Hopeless. Facing declining ad revenue and subscribers - not a healthy combination - they are reinserting some of the trade oriented sections (but not calling them sections) and have also hired a new Publisher. They have also decided to offer the title to retailers for free. That is a big risk - it will be very hard to reconsider that decision. Other subscribers, particularly libraries are likely to be unhappy with their exclusion from this offer.

ABEbooks - which has a stake in - announced that the number of titles available for sale on their site has now exceeded 100million. I don't believe this means unique titles but impressive nevertheless.

I am surprised that more hasn't been said about the Automated Content Access Protocol which I discussed last week. Here is a blog entry from that explains all there is to know about it thusfar.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Embargoed Books

Those of us who care about bibliographic data - and I do - have been a little amused to read the summary reviews that the NYT has done in the past two weeks about State of Denial (Bob Woodward) and Carly Fiorina's biopic released on Monday. That Monday. The Times has been able to purchase both of these titles in advance of their official release date. Why is this a bibliographic data issue: well, because publishers and retailers have spent considerable time defining pub date, lay down date, street date, and other dates so that no one in the supply chain is disadvantaged. In the past several years the ONIX data format has consumed significant time and effort by publishers, retailers, bibliographic agencies ses (Nielsen, Bowker) and wholesalers and this has been all to the good. Data is now more uniform and consistent and the entire effort has concentrated publishers attention on the value of good data. Nevertheless issues clearly remain in how this data is used and how processes can break down.

There is no good reason why a store should be selling these books before the publisher has told them they can. Marketing and promotional spending, author appearances, buy-in commitments and other activities are all predicated on the official on-sale date. Stores that hold these titles off the floor are disadvantaged if they are available at other stores. The industry has toyed with the idea of an specific release day of the week to focus attention on all books released during a week (Music companies do this on Tuesdays). This tactic would be pointless if retailers ignored the timetable.

The physical nature of book distribution requires that books be shipped well in advance of release date which is where the process tends to break down. Spare a thought for the bookstore which recieves shipments everyday and they can't afford the time and effort to segregate the titles which they have to hold. Most stores will have little storage space in the first place and a limited amount of time to check in boxes of books. The tendency then will be to open everything and get it out on the floor as soon as possible. That doesn't make this right but it is a reality. Limited staff time and knowledge at the recieving point results in the carefully laid plans of the sales and marketing department to fail.

If publishers care about this issue - and they must do otherwise why have embargoes in the first place - they should address this issue with an understanding of the bookseller's situation. And publishers should treat all books equally if they want to be serious about on-sale dates. It would be pointess and confusing to selectively monitor this process only for the 'important' titles.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The God Delusion

The new book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion has caught my eye and it is getting significant play from a number of reputable sources. This weekend The Guardian (Joan Blackwell) reviewed the book. It was also reviewed in last weeks Economist here.

It was The Economist where I first came across the book; the sub-head as follows: "Richard Dawkins has long trumpeted the rationale of science. Now, at 65, he has finally marshalled a lifetime's arguments against believing in God." The reviewer goes on to characterize the book as irreverent - which I think is somewhat the point. Real believers are not going to read this book; however, look for a raft of bible bashers on thier soap boxes denouncing the book nevertheless. If this happens of course it will indeed lead to more attention paid to the book and a higher Amazon sales rank. My best part of the review is the reference in the book to his contention that fervent religious indoctrination given to children amounts to child abuse.

In the Guardian, Blackwell touches on some of his social commentary regarding the encrochment of religion into social policy (in the UK and US) such that "many of us who might want to stay outside theological debate can't afford to when it is influencing social policy." In the US of course this is seen increasingly in many areas and are too numerous to mention. In our publishing world this is seen in text books that must present 'intelligent design' as though it is a scientific option while at the same time describing evolution as a mere 'therory.' Blackwell writes that Dawson reserves his best arguments for why religion has persisted.
He cites his own concept, the meme, the social equivalent of the gene, as the way ideas are spread and handed down. As a Darwinian he is keen to understand what is so beneficial about religion that makes it eligible for survival. He has an interesting theory - exemplified by the moth being attracted to the flame and thus to its death - that an arcane survival mechanism is operating in grossly distorted circumstances
Regretably, our world is increasingly becoming defined by religion and over the next 100 years our biggest conflicts will be oriented around religion. The question is whether secularism will rise as a force strong enough to counter this train wreak - I have my doubts.

Here is the book on The initial reviews are all positive but in the forum section at the bottom things are starting to hot up. At the moment it is number five on the sellers list.

Blogger Issues

Blogger has consumed 30mins of my time this morning to fix the RSS feed. Lesson: don't compose in Word and paste into Blogger. Feedburner refuses to work since some hidden code is transferred in the process. The RSS feed still isn't working correctly but it is at least working. Inexplicably, it has re-dated a post I did last week on Supply Chain and is ignoring a post I made in the middle of last week. All are displaying correctly on the blogger site however.

Frustration reigns. Apologies.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

All for the Apocalypse

In a strange synchronicity, I just finished a novel by first time novelist Alex Berenson named The Faithful Spy about a deep undercover CIA operative who ultimately saves Times Square (that's about 1.5miles from me) from vaporization. It was an enjoyable book. In last weeks' New York magazine (here), Kurt Andersen describes how all 'the apocalyse thing' has become de rigeur. Apparently, 2012 is the year. Savy New Yorkers are buying Nova Scotia real estate mainly for investment purposes but also on the off chance they can escape to it should the worst happen.

I have always wondered about disaster plans; I mean if something terrible happens to New York it isn't going to be convenient. I am not going to be able to get to my stash of currency, or water or wind-up electric radio. I am going to be stuck on the number 7 between Grand Central and Times Square. So what if I have prepared if I can't travel anywhere. And of course, I won't be with any of my immediate family either so how are we to know what to do?

Andersen narrows in on Cormac McCarthy's The Road which in his description of the book it reminded me of Stephen Kings' The Stand. (I read this when I was sixteen and thought my mom would like it - ooops.) On this theme he says "...Millions of people -Christian millenarians, jhadists, psychedelized Burning Men - are straight-out wishful about The End." McCarthy's novel is about "..a transcendentally bleak, apparently post-nuclear-war-ravaged American of the future." Excellent. I am thinking why read the "historic" The Emperors Children about post 9/11 over vacation when I can read about the future.

And if you thought this was good - read my next post.