Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best Posts of the Year...but then I'm Biased.

As I close out the year and wish everyone best wishes for the new year, I have compiled a summary of what I think were my more interesting posts. Frequent visitors will have read these. As always, thanks for your support and tell your friends to come visit and subscribe.

In Death of The Big Box (December) I thought about how long-term macro changes that emanate out of the current economic crisis will impact the retail channel. I speculate how these changes will impact the sale and merchandising of books. This week I read an article about the near bankruptcy of the second largest mall operator in the US and an article about how shoppers are flocking to on-line discount coupon sites. The web is easier and there is no going back.

On the theme of print to web transformations and migrations, I had several posts most recently the questionably titled Pimp My Print (December and my favorite for title of the year) and Generational Chasm (June). If I were to write a book the idea of the generational chasm really interests me. It's not a unique idea I have to say.

As always Amazon was in the news - Amazon The Monopoly (March)- and I noted concern expressed in the market place about their increasing dominance. Amazon was brutal in their exertion of market power in their argument with Hachette UK. Mike Shatzkin picked up the theme in this guest submission Amazon and Book Pricing (April) (He also tackled the question Border's Stickers Books - Why?) Earlier in the year, I had speculated on the budding competition between Amazon and Apple: Amazon Versus Apple: Is this a Cage Fight (January). Apple may have the last laugh with the numbers of iStanza e-Book downloads to the iPhone. We await the next version of the Kindle in 2009.

In keeping with the e-Book theme, I posted thoughts on a possible development of an e-Book mass market channel. Rackjobbing the E-Book (July)

The post that generated the most comment during the year was on Brand Presence (July) where I noted the continued attempt by publishers to organize around branding concepts that remain largely irrelevant to consumers. In a similar vein I thought about the implications of big-name author's defecting from one publisher to another in Defections (February) and a possible Google play.

I had a lot of fun putting together a presentation to the Supply Chain Interests group (October) at Frankfurt this year. I'm not so sure the audience felt the same way.

My post on Massive Data sets (June) suggested that publishers may think differently about all the data collected during the preparation of published research articles, dissertations and other types of data intensive publishing.

Lastly, the post office launched a Frank Sinatra stamp which gave me an opportunity to tell my Frank Sinatra story (May). I am waiting for the Clint Eastwood stamp so I can tell that one. I missed the John Wayne stamp but maybe I'll tell that story one day anyway.

I think that's enough. I wonder what 2009 will bring? All my predictions of 2008 (January) where basically wrong but maybe I can do better this time around?

I have created a pdf of all the posts that is available here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Media Week 50

Man the barricades. An appeal to the French court has resulted in defeat for the family of Victor Hugo who wished to prevent an Alexandra Ripley-like sequel to Les Miserables. (BBC)

But the court ruled on Friday that Hugo's novel was in the public domain, meaning Ceresa was therefore free to invent a sequel. "Francois Ceresa, who does not pretend to have Victor Hugo's talent, is free to pursue his own personal expression, which does not necessarily act on all the levels that Victor Hugo was able to access," the judges ruled. "We can't criticise the author of this sequel... not to have respected the learned construction of the primary work, which functions on many levels through philosophical and historical asides," they added.

The aborted sale of Reed Business Information has garnered recent headlines, but earlier in the year an Informa auction failed to generate sufficient excitement either. The Informa board is directing their management to cut their debt which should mean asset sales in the New Year. (Independent).

A source close to Informa said: "Institutions and the market have – incorrectly, in the company's view – marked Informa down as overgeared at three times Ebitda [a calculation of profit], and so the board has accepted that it will have to get below £1bn of debt. Divestments are one of the ways of solving that problem."

At its half-year results in July, net debt was £1.22bn, and, the source added, "a natural conclusion" was that the performance improvement division, which provides training, mainly in the US, could be sold. The division has an estimated enterprise value of up to $300m (£200m).

In the US Bonnier is pegged as a possible winner next year as they look to add in a significant way to their roster of magazine titles. Ad Age reports on a minor addition.
The deal isn't a blockbuster, but any investment by a media company has to be encouraging as layoffs and budget cuts dominate the scene. It's actually the second recent deal for Bonnier, which bought Working Mother in September. Terms weren't disclosed, but Bonnier CEO Terry Snow said the horrible economy and chilly credit markets helped him negotiate a favorable price.
Follett perhaps a stealth player in the delivery of electronic books and products. As a significant book retailer in the College market, strategically becoming an e-Book distributor of content is vital to them in retaining their position in this market. (Press Release).
Follett Digital Resources' distribution agreements with eBook publishers have surpassed the 200 mark. According to Beau Clark, Vice President of Product Management, each enables schools and libraries to meet the needs of more students who can easily access eBooks at any hour using a computer and Internet connection.
"Students can get homework help at any time, can locate a book they'll need to review during school tomorrow, read for pleasure on their own time and connect with eBooks during summertime or a holiday break period," Clark said. "It's a plus for schools, libraries and students to have access to new eBook titles from these four publishers coming on-stream and available through Follett's K-12 and public library channels."
Cengage Gale acquired HighBeam Research (Press Release).
Founded in 2001 by Patrick Spain, the co-founder of Hoover's, HighBeam is a widely-used online subscription-based research and reference service accessed via the web sites and "Gale's financial strength, vast content repositories and market presence will allow HighBeam to expand more rapidly and broadly," said Mr. Spain.

John Barnes, Executive Vice President of Gale, said, "A central element of Gale's market strategy is to connect more closely with end-users of information, whether they are in a library, classroom or on the Web. HighBeam provides us with proven expertise in reaching users on the Web and we look forward to the opportunities that the combined business will have to develop innovative new products."
Several articles on the digitization of Magazines. Here on the Google effort: (InfoToday)

With the current magazine initiative, users will be able to see articles in full color, browse/page through an issue, or even "Browse all issues" of a magazine. Go to the Advanced Search page (, enter your search terms, click the "Magazines" option for limiting "Content," and your search results will all come with the word "Magazine" preceding the bibliographic citation. If you know the ISSN, you can limit results to that magazine alone.

Periodicals are not completely new to Google Book Search. As the Google digitizing teams rolled through university library shelves, they picked up a lot of bound periodicals interfiled with books in the stacks. There was no distinction made for these "bookish" journals. While full-text searching is available, you do not get the article citation retrieval. If you encounter a journal old enough (pre-1923) to receive full-image display and want a specific article bibliographic citation, you have to search and browse to assemble it.
More interesting for the comments this article on NY Observer that discusses the retraction by many large magazine publishers from the web. It appears to be bizarre and short-sighted. (Observer)

By all accounts, Mr. Serwer’s comments at that meeting were thoroughly genuine when made. But with cuts going down all over the industry, it appears a portion of the magazine world, which was never a quick adapter to the Web anyway, is responding by shoving their Web people right off the boat first. “You’re never going to get the traffic that really matters,” said one publisher at Condé Nast. “So it’s a traffic thing, but also, how do you monetize the traffic that you have? It’s impossible.”

The operating policy now, particularly at Condé Nast, basically reads: Revenue first! Future later. And the printed page, the luxury object, is still where you find the money these days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Doing Over Mills & Boon

Mills and Boon, the UK romance publisher owned by Harlequin have contracted with an ad agency to revamp their book covers as part of a scheme to appeal to a younger audience. Stephen Brook in his blog post (Organgrinder) imagines what one ad exec in particular will be subjected to over the next several months as he comes to grips with the assignment.

As Caspar approached the office of the executive chairman to have a preliminary chat about the client he sensed something of a trap about his assignment. The whole agency had been delighted to win the account, but in the days following key executives had melted away, leaving him in charge.

"Nonsense, dear boy, this is a great British institution," the boss reassured him. "Mills & Boon are 100 years old, sell 7m books a year and are desperate. If you successfully bring them into the 21st century it will make your name. Think M&S and Twiggy. Think the Daily Telegraph and Will Lewis."

"Think big," the chairman urged. "Nothing is off limits. Cybersex. Eoghan and Diana. Take That elope with Girls Aloud. Go to town."

Stephen looks so good at this I think he has a cunning plan to ditch the Guardian gig. (I liked the TakeThat Girls Aloud one).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Answering the Question: What the hell is xml?

Mike Shatzkin writing in Publisher's Weekly answers the question in the headline:

First: recognize reality. For many titles, you aren't going to sell as many copies as you used to, and your standard marketing practices of the past few decades won't be nearly as cost-effective.

Second: come up with a strategy to suit the new reality. There are many conceivable ones, and they depend largely on what you publish, but two things are certain: you are going to want more direct contact with end users than you had before and you are going to find users congregating at Web coordinates that appeal to subject interests (or niches).

Third: recognize that your content is now “unbound.” You can still sell it in “book” format, but you will also be selling it in smaller units (chunks) or in larger units (books put together as databases) as well. And you will certainly be using chapters, excerpts, TOCs and other parts of your book in marketing, if you aren't already.

And that's where XML comes in.

XML stands for “extensible markup language” (and no fair asking why it isn't “EML”). XML uses tags to associate any information you want with any part of a document (i.e., a book). That is, your document file in XML resembles a database, with a structure you define to track elements of the document. It contains not only the printable text and information about the art (though not the art itself), but it can also contain any piece of useful information about the document or about any piece of it.

Publisher's Weekly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pub Fight with BookNet Canada

One of the more entertaining and interesting presentations at the Supply Chain Interests Meeting in Frankfurt this year was one by Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada. He spoke about several things but the one subject that was most interesting to me was a development project that his team devised that can help junior staff members learn how to make accurate sales and demand forecasts. The 'game' PubFight was initally tested with a small group of publishers but was so successful that it has been expanded to include students in publishing programs as well as some booksellers.

While the principles are core to under standing how planning works effectively the tool was constructed so that individuals or teams can 'play' each other and the team that maximizes sales while minimizing costs wins over a period of time. In the first version of this program the BookNet Canada group used real sales data for real titles over several months. In the version for publishing education programs, the tool can be loaded with historic data to compact the - say four months, of selling time into a week of elapsed time.

I hounded Michael until he finally answered my five questions on Pubfight.

1. You spoke at Frankfurt about two different initiatives but it was the PubFight which caught my interest. Can you explain the program?

BookNet Canada is an agency tasked with supply chain and technology innovation, so our primary focus is service delivery -- point-of-sales tracking, process improvement, EDI, standards and the like. During a series of meetings with heads of some of our larger publishing houses two years ago, I started to hear a recurring theme that went something like this: "Our tendency in publishing is to hire passionate, well-read arts graduates who can communicate well about books. But we need people who can combine their love of books with an understanding of the numbers behind those books, people who can forecast sales, assess opportunity or analyze sell-through and stock position in real time. How do we build those skills for the people we already have? How do we make sure that people joining the industry have those skills when they arrive?" That request -- to get people familiar with the numbers behind the industry -- was the genesis of PubFight. We whipped up a quick in-house version, tried it with staff and a few guest-stars from the publishing community last fall, and turned it loose this year.

PubFight is basically fantasy publishing. It's fun, competitive and only accidentally educational. At the beginning of the (real) selling season, leagues form up, usually co-workers or students in a publishing program, sometimes competitors and real-life rivals, about 8-12 per league. It all starts with the auction, "Fakefurt". Each person gets a fake budget to acquire the real titles that are going to hit the shelves that fall. Everyone has to fill a list of fiction, nonfiction and juvenile/YA titles. Once the list is built, each player has to forecast initial print runs and pay for them. Then, as the books hit the street, you accrue the (real) sales on your titles as long as you have enough (fake) stock to cover it. You can reprint if you need to, with real-life lead times and unit costs. The most profitable house at the end of the season wins.

On one hand, completely frivolous. But on the other, it is encouraging people to do some analysis, take risks, and make mistakes without putting their jobs or the firm's money at stake. Along the way, they build an understanding about how books sell that could take years if they were just learning by experience. Both publishers and some publishing educational programs are using PubFight.

2. How do they use it? What about retailers?

Every publisher is different. For some, it's pure team building. For one large house, they excluded their own titles from the auction in order to deepen their understanding of what the competition was doing. For some of our small press players, it's a chance to look at how the more commercial, mass market end of the industry behaves. In all cases, whether they intend it or not, it's helping them become more familiar with forecasting, sell-through analysis, competitive title analysis and the other techniques that publishers need throughout their organizations.

At the colleges and universities, it's often the students' first look at how books actually sell, which can be a real eye-opener. It takes them right from theory to practice: How much is a book worth? How can you tell? To what degree is the past a predictor of the future? And it puts them in some remarkably true-to-life scenarios, like when the book that you bought for nothing becomes a runaway bestseller that you can't keep on the shelves. With schools, we can also run lightning rounds, where we run a complete past season in a couple of weeks, with a new week of data dropping every couple of days. Much easier to fit into an existing curriculum.

We see retailers as the next stop for PubFight. One of the biggest challenges faced by store and chain managers is identifying new talent. Which of the people working on the floor has the aptitude to become a buyer? Who can look beyond their own interests to predict what book-buyers are going to be interested in? It's reasonably easy if you're a small independent, but much harder if you are spread out across multiple stores or in a chain. This might help junior booksellers start to get a sense of how the industry works at a larger scale, and pick up some tips about the demand for different kinds of books along the way. It would also help senior managers get a sense of who has a knack for picking winners.

3. How do you see this program expanding? Is there are more practical implementation of PubFight – can the tool be used in actual forecasting?

It's more about encouraging the practice of forecasting than becoming a tool for forecasting. At the same time, we're interested to see if the positions taken by publishers and retailers at auction and on print-runs can act as a lightweight, EasyBake prediction market for future sales. In a frivolous and non-serious way, of course.

4. Are you considering licensing this tool outside Canada? It would be great if you had a Flash version of your Frankfurt presentation to explain it in full to publishers and retailers. Is this under consideration?

It's a possibility, if we can find a licensing model that makes sense. It does require a direct connection to a continually updated source of point-of-sales information, which limits the pool of licensees somewhat. In the meantime, this might just be one of those things that makes it worth a trip north, right along with colourful money, free healthcare and baroque parliamentary politics. When we get some time, we'll try to get the Frankfurt presentation online and let you know when it's available.

5. Do you have any development plans for PubFight?

This is a sideline thing for us, an experiment that has escaped the lab. To the extent that we put more resources against it, the focus will probably be on things that help it scale on its own -- easier set up, self-administration -- and resources that help the educational/professional development focus: demos, sample analysis and training tools for students and junior staff. But the user community is quite vocal, so they are sure to have a few ideas of their own.

Michael - Many thanks. He can be reached at mtamblyn @

Friday, December 12, 2008

Author-centric website FiledByAuthor Launches

Mike Shatzkin and Peter Clifton (ex-Ingram) have annouced the private beta launch of a new author-centric web site named I am proud to say I had a tiny role in its development. Check it out - especially if you are an author. Here is the press release:

FiledBy, Inc. Launches Online Directory of Published U.S. and Canadian Authors called filedbyauthor

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nashville, Tennessee. FiledBy, Inc. today announced the Private Beta launch of filedbyauthor, the most comprehensive online directory of published authors on the Internet. The company hopes the site will become a top 10 destination for readers and for authors.

FiledBy, Inc., was founded by publishing veteran Peter Clifton, former president of various Ingram Book Group companies, together with publishing visionary Mike Shatzkin, C.E.O. of the Idea Logical Company. The company's first project, filedbyauthor, is a massive author-centric web portal initially consisting of more than 1.2 million U.S. and Canadian author profiles.

"We are launching a Private Beta for published authors only, regardless of publishing category or level of success, to sign up, find their profile page and update or correct the information. With millions of books and more than 1.2 million pre-constructed profile pages, the site will ultimately be an invaluable resource for authors, writers, readers, researchers, and students.

"Filedbyauthor is the most comprehensive online directory of authors and their books," says President & C.E.O. Peter Clifton. The company hopes to quickly expand to all authors with works in the English language -- estimated to be over five million writers.

Filedbyauthor contains basic listings of information about all U.S. & Canadian authors in the directory. Authors may visit the site, claim their profiles, correct them, and enrich them in a variety of ways at no charge.

We hope you will tell your audience about this opportunity for exposure. Filedbyauthor plans to open the site to the public sometime early in 2009.

Contact Information:
for FiledBy, Inc.
(504) 342-4806

We're Hiring an Editor In Chief

Please contact Kristen (not me) if you are interested in this position. Please forward this to anyone you think could be interested. You can also find this job on linked in.

Editor in Chief – Week’s Best
Contact: krisrecruit @

Product Concept

Founded by Louis Borders (founder of Borders Books & Music and Webvan) and Michael Cairns (former President of R.R. Bowker), “Week’s Best” is a professionally produced, multimedia publication delivering relevant, high quality, topic specific content to subscribers on a customized schedule. Covering as many as 1,000 individual topic titles, each title will be produced by a recognized “Expert Producer”. A typical Expert Producer might be a respected website blogger or magazine publisher that has a deep understanding of the topic. On a daily basis, the Expert Producer will select the best content from a corpus of article and multimedia material published by well known branded sources.

Each Week’s Best title will be recognized for its direct, relevant and accessible content. The free email subscription to a Week’s Best title will provide considerable time savings, and it will also provide access to content from broader content sources that might otherwise be missed.

Week’s Best, which will launch with 10-20 topic titles, plans to grow rapidly over the next three years and targets between 500 – 1,000 titles in English. (Other languages will follow).

The Week’s Best Editor-in-Chief will report to the Week’s Best CEO.


• Lead and mentor a team of creative, editorial professionals for this new media publishing division.
• Annual planning and budgeting responsibility and experience managing monthly departmental expenses.
• Define and implement an aggressive publication schedule.
• Support CEO in recruitment of “Expert Producers” supporting publication schedule.
• Implement editorial guidelines and standards for internal and external staff, including application guidelines for taxonomy rules and their correct observance within the Week’s Best context.


• 10+ years of progressively responsible roles in traditional and internet publishing.
• Online publishing and/or digital publishing experience in a management role or senior operating level is required.
• Experienced in delivery and execution of complex content products with a top tier branded content company(ies).
• Highly skilled thought leader who has built an exemplary reputation and garnered the respect of peers.
• Passion for and identification with digital media publishing.
• Decisive, excellent business judgment, energetic, and charismatic.
• Strong strategic planning skills and the ability to develop with the co-founders a bold vision for Week’s Best.
• Understanding of the capabilities and trends in digital media technology.
• Bachelor’s degree required: Journalism, Communications or Writing/English degrees a plus.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fishing Where There's Fish

The news that Nintendo will add book content to their DS product platform may have publishing executives humming the refrain from the King and I - Getting to Know You - as they jet off to Tokyo. I wonder if this isn't an ominous event for content owners: Content producers may run the risk that their content won't be valued adequately by the target users. While the content will be paid for, it is very cheap. The content on offer isn't new (frontlist) but the aggressive pricing will establish a price expectation in the minds of the consumer. It reminds me of the inclusion of 'free' encyclopedia content on early personal computers which destroyed the market for paid versions. Remember, the content at the heart of Encarta didn't approach that of WorldBook or Brittanica but it didn't matter to the users.

The deal with the company that bought us DonkeyKong and SuperMario will deliver the Harpercollins 100 classic book collection. The package of titles includes titles from Shakespeare to Jane Austin and will be sold for £20. (As an experiment, I can't help wondering how successful/indicative this is going to be since the titles are available universally for free download and the target market will know that).

The Nintendo platform has more in common with the iPhone than it does with the dedicated e-Book readers from Sony or Amazon. No one is likely to buy a Nintendo DS for the book content alone but the addition of book content supports Nintendo's strategy for broadening the possible audience for their products. My complaint is that the typical Nintendo user will attribute value to the console and the purchased games but not to the other stuff - even if there is a patry entry fee.

My argument doesn't preclude delivering content via the Nintendo platform (or similar) and I think in the right circumstances it should be encouraged as another distribution option. In truth, while I second guess the tactical implementation I don't disagree with the strategy. Assuming there is a 'phase 2' of the Harpercollins experiment I hope value is communicated effectively in the offfer.

Firebrand Ink A Deal With NetGalley

Firebrand Technologies and Rosetta Solutions, Inc. today announced the creation of a joint venture, NetGalley LLC. The agreement passes development and operational responsibility of NetGalley, an innovative online connection point for book publishers and professional readers, into the hands of Firebrand, but retains the core NetGalley team responsible for launching the service. NetGalley helps publishers promote new books and authors through the professional channels that recommend and purchase new titles.

“We have felt for a long time that NetGalley and Firebrand are natural partners,” said Fran Toolan, Chief Igniter of Firebrand Technologies. “We are committed to making this service successful, to helping publishers better manage the costs associated with printed galleys, and to making it easier and less expensive for publishers to disseminate information about new titles.” Firebrand Technologies is a leading software and service provider to the publishing industry. Over the course of the next year, Firebrand has plans to completely integrate the NetGalley service into its offerings.

“Firebrand is a natural partner for this venture,” said Michael Forney, President of Rosetta Solutions. “Their publishing expertise and experience will contribute positively to NetGalley’s vision, adoption and long-term success.”

Since its launch at BookExpo 2008, NetGalley has made considerable inroads. Publishers Weekly and ForeWord Magazine announced that they plan to use NetGalley to manage the influx of titles for review, and major publishers are actively experimenting with the service. Professional readers from all segments—reviewers, journalists, media, booksellers, bloggers, librarians and professors—are enthusiastic about the service’s ability to deliver digital, pre-publication content. (There is no charge for professional readers to use the service.)

NetGalley delivers digital galleys and promotional materials to professional readers and helps promote new and upcoming titles. Using NetGalley, publishers can build communities, invite contacts to view galleys and promotional materials, and track who has viewed their titles.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Media Week 48

The sale of Reed Business Information is rumored to be close to resolution with Bain Capital as the buyer. Apparently according to sources they are the only remaining potential buyer. Reuters quotes the Independent On Sunday as suggesting the price is $1Billion with Bain evidently taking advantage of their 50% off coupon.

There is a long 'expose' of information publisher's Moodys, Standard and Poors and Fitch's in Sunday's NYTimes. This issue was raised earlier this year, and McGrawHill for one saw a big dip in its share price on suggestions that S&P had been lax in their coverage and ratings of debt offerings. The article points to the cozy relationship between the debt sellers and the debt rating companies. A reminder of the general casualness of the various interlocking financial relationships between banks and investment banking.

Holly Brubach had an entertaining profile of Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeline) in the NYTimes TMagazine.
Fortunately for readers, he wrote some 40 books, of which 15 are for children and several are novels. The rest fall into a genre now known as autobiographical essays, a classification misleading in these times of me-generation diarists and bloggers documenting the afternoon’s shopping spree. As a first-person narrator, Bemelmans is completely devoid of the ego that prompts so many authors to occupy center stage. In fact, he barely appears onstage at all, a witness whose testimony is so transparent that he might easily vanish from our awareness were his presence not implicit in the things he sees and the way he recounts them. A career bon vivant, Bemelmans lingers at the table and refills the reader’s wineglass. In my experience, he falls in the same category as A. J. Liebling and P. G. Wodehouse: once you’ve read one of his books, you want to read them all.
Many of his stories revolve around hotels and while I have some funny stories about living in a hotel they could never be as interesting as Bemelmans' material.

An RFID experiment in Japan with an interesting statistic (Link)
Unsold books returning from bookstores is an unwanted reality of the publishing business, especially since many of the returned volumes are destined to become waste product. Shogakukan estimates that if just 25 percent of the books returned to publishers in Japan are designated waste, the financial loss would be the equivalent of $1.5 billion U.S. dollars.
The is a new report on the state of UK book retailing (Guardian Blog) and its main finding is that UK retailers have been giving customers too good of a deal. Deep discounting is killing the business they seem to say, which to many of us in the business this finding would seem obvious,

The report, commissioned by The Booksellers Association, found that UK booksellers have been making less money, seeing less market growth, and sacrificing more in discounts than booksellers in countries such as the US, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

In bald terms it means that selling a £20 title - in the shape of Guinness World Records - for £10 has been bad business. This may seem obvious: "I wonder if the BA would look at what bears do in woods," was one of the comments that greeted the release of the report.

Having hooked the book buyer on the heroin (50% off and 3/2 deals galore) however with they break the habit?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Visual Journal: Writers Rooms

The BBC profiles Eamonn McCabe who has a project illustrating the working environments of novelists, biographers and poets.


As an aside, I wish the social tools on BBC where a little more advanced.

The End Predicted

Richard Curtis (E-Reads) has penned an interesting status report on the downward spiral of publishing:
Most of the resentment or suspicion that authors and agents feel toward publishers stems from royalty accounting based on returns. Authors, outraged that creative bookkeeping permits publishers to hold excessive royalties in the name of reserves against returns, consider the system fraudulent. Their viewpoint is easy to understand when you remember that returns are a manipulable form of currency. The temptation to manipulate them intensifies in recessionary or inflationary times when publishers seize upon royalty reserves as the most obvious source of cash to relieve their liquidity problems or earn some extra interest. Publishers cannot with impunity stop paying their printers, their landlords, their paper suppliers, or their employees. But by a stroke of the pen, raising the holdback on royalties from, say, 50 percent to 75 percent, a publisher can liberate enough cash to meet the urgent demands of all those other creditors - at the expense of authors. How, then, could authors, suffering liquidity problems of their own, not feel bitter? Nor is their mood improved to see their remaindered books, on which they receive little or no royalties, selling briskly in used-book stores.

Are there solutions to this dilemma? There are, but they all call for radical changes in the way we think about books, sell them, and account to each other for them. For any plan to succeed, it must: (1) allow publishers to print only as many copies as are necessary to fill orders, (2) put distribution on a nonreturnable basis, (3) enable publishers to make a profit, (4) encourage bookshops and chain stores to make money remaindering books on their own premises, and (5) provide authors with honest, easy-to-understand accounting. That's a tall order. Some gratifying attempts have been essayed, but they all failed because they were not radical enough, nor were they adopted on an industry-wide basis.
There is a great kick at the end.

Bloomsbury Buys Wisden

I think Richard Charkin will be walking around the Bloomsbury offices this morning with a big smile on his face. Wisden is the official almanac for Cricket and Richard being a big cricket fan as well as Chief Executive of Bloomsbury is going to be well chuffed since they now have their hands on it.

From AP:

John Wisden & Co was bought by the billionaire Paul Getty in 1993. Since his death in 2003, the company has been owned by his son, Mark.

Published every year since 1864, the yearbook is known among cricket fans for its mixture of statistics, features and opinion pieces.

Bloomsbury Publishing chief executive Nigel Newton called the acquisition "a landmark event in the history of the company and an important step in our strategy to increase our presence in reference and sport publishing."

Amazon Rents Massive Data Sets

Several months ago, I wrote a piece titled Massive Data Sets about the potential for increased access to very large data sets that historically would have remained ancillary to the reporting of research projects. While very important to the conclusions reported in research typically the data and primary research supporting the conclusions was inaccessible. From my post,
here could develop the next land grab for publishers and perhaps other parties interested in gaining access to the raw data supporting all types of research. As publishers develop platforms supporting their publishing and (n0w) service offers will they see maintaining these data sets as integral to that policy? I believe so, and I suspect in agreements with authors, institutions and associations that own these journals the publishers like Elsevier will also require the 'deposit' of the raw data supporting each article. In return, the offerings on the publisher's 'platform' would enable analysis, synthesis and data storage all of benefit to their authors. But the story may be more comprehensive than simply rounding out their existing titles with more data.
The original was triggered by an article on a Google blog post as well as a NYTimes article.

Yesterday, the NYTimes blog Bits reported that Amazon has begun hosting large data sets as an adjunct to their services offering. From the Times,
Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of, has started offering access to large collections of data. Business customers and scientists can take the information, which ranges from census databases to three-dimensional chemical structures and the genome, and use it as the basis for computing jobs. By gathering and storing the information, Amazon says that it can save businesses the step of assembling and managing data on their own.
As the blog post goes on to say, there is the potential that the Amazon service can further eliminate (on top of the vast array of services Amazon already offers) significant expenses. Access to the Amazon service begins to push to zero the infrastructure cost and overhead that must be covered in any research project. This could have a material impact on the types and extent of all research dependent on the collection, storage and analysis of vast data sets. The economics have fundamentally changed for researchers enabling them to contemplate all kinds of new projects that otherwise may have been cost prohibitive. On the other hand, their research limitations could be more mundane in that they may no longer need to compete for data processing time or other technical limitations with competing projects.

Smart people are going to see an opportunity to buy or otherwise gather very large sets of data from groups or organizations who may not see the potential value. For example, buying the transaction data from all the EasyPass-like systems (RFID tags that let you pass through tolls) across the US, 'depositing' it with Amazon and then renting access to any urban planner that wants to analyze the info. The customer pays a fee and out of that fee the 'owner' of the data pays Amazon a service fee. A potentially painless way to an early retirement in Costa Rica. As I noted in my original post, this is a growth opportunity for publishers or others.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

There's Money to Be Made: Prop 8 The Musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Strategy Anyone?

Yesterday was a bleak day as we know but in the long list of downsizing, reorganizations and salary cap announcements it seemed every statement was lacking a closing sentence along the lines of, "we continue to invest in new business models and content solutions to address the changing needs of our existing readers and the developing needs of our newer and younger readers." Sadly, the retrenchments are a typical reaction - along the lines of cutting marketing expenses, canceling the Christmas party and eliminating free coffee - to the declining economic situation. The sad thing for all of us, it that the good times will not return in the form we all familiar with. In other words, those jobs are not returning because by the time things improve the publishing business will be smaller and the jobs redundant.

I could go on, and I intended to particularly about the continuing love affair with imprints; that is, until I read the following from BookSquare:
No really, who cares if these groups are retaining editorial independence while combining strengths? Is that really going to change the business dynamic, or is it just focusing on the wrong problem?

Imprints are just boxes on an org chart. To most of the buying public, they mean nothing. To some of your acquisitions editors, they mean nothing. To the bottom line, they mean nothing. You can have a hit book from any possible label, to borrow from another business’s lingo. It ain’t the logo on the spine, it’s that magic combination of book and audience and right time/right place.

I am not disparaging the talents of Gina Centrello, Sonny Mehta, or Jenny Frost (I’ve particularly been a Centrello fan for a long time), but the emphasis on maintaining their individual silos does n’t begin to address the real problems facing publishing today: financial structure, changing readership, and, sorry, old-fashioned notions of of monetary priorities (differentiating between financial structure, where I mean big-ass corporate commitments beyond the nuts-and-bolts of publishing books).

Kassia goes on to make the same point I note in my first paragraph as well as some additional well taken points.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Misery Loves Company or Does It?

On the back of recognizing the success of a daughter over a mother in a law suit, The Guardian reviews the misery genre in UK publishing. Notably, having seen some success the publishers are now mining it for all it's worth with the predictable result; consumer exhaustion. That coupled with the general economic misery everyone is facing and readers may be less inclined to read about someones hardship. Next up happy books?

Here is a sample of the Guardian article:
The truth is that misery - or, as the trade prefers to put it, "inspirational" - memoirs have been on the decline since the beginning of the year, with sales of the top 30 titles this year down nearly 35% on 2007, according to Nielsen BookScan. Last year's bestseller, Don't Tell Mummy, sold over 300,000 copies over the course of the year, while its equivalent this year, Not Without My Sister, is just topping 152,000, according to the Bookseller.
"I think the public quite likes them but even the most miserable person in the world has got too much now," said publisher John Blake, who took the decision to pull out of the market six months ago after judging it to be saturated. "We used to do one a month, but every major publisher is doing two a month [and] we just can't compete. Really anything with a white cover and sad face is anathema to us."
"There was a lot of over-publishing and publishing of stories that weren't as good or well-written, and there have been a lot of problems legally with some of them," agreed Carole Tonkinson, a publisher at misery memoir powerhouse HarperCollins. "We are cutting back a bit."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Holiday in Old Town

Last week Mrs. PND and I visited her family in Old Town, Alexandria. Thanksgiving day was glorious and the tourists were gone from the streets. I spent a very pleasant morning wandering and marveling at the architecture.