Saturday, January 31, 2009

Store Closings (Updated)

I have a tickler that sends me news items on various topics and one of these is news related to Borders. In the past two months or so, the citations listing store closings has become a torrent of store retrenching. Having announced earlier in 2007 that they would step up their store closings, the company appears to have accelerated this effort. Most of these closing are the Walden Books stores which has been a problematic store concept for some time and which the economy has only made worse.

In places like Lexington, MA and Great Falls, MT, Walden/Borders are leaving locations where their stores represent the only identifiable book store brand. Some people are upset and have started letter writing campaigns but the news of specific closings arrives so fast the community can't possibly organize fast enough. Truth is, no amount of community concern is going to trump simple economics. Sadly, other than in a few isolated cases, staff have not been offered work in other stores. Not only are there no other stores to move the staff to, but the Walden epidemic is often collected in news stories about other store brands shutting down in the same neighborhood or mall.

My incomplete list of closings noted just during January includes the following:

(Where is all this inventory going?)


Tippecanoe Mall, Lafayette Indiana
Logonsport Mall, Indiana
Stroud Mall, Penn
Volusia Mall, Daytona Beach, FL
Wyoming Valley Mall, Wilkes Barre, PA
Kenwood Town Center, Cinn, OH
Inland Center Mall, San Bernadino, CA
Sandberg Mall, Gailsburg, IL
Gainsville, FL
Contana Mall, B/Rouge, LA
Regency Mall, Racine, WI
Lexington, MA
Birlington Mall, Vermont
Greendale Mall, Worcester, MA
Sq One Mall, Saugus, MA
DeSota Sq Mall, Sarasota, FL
Prince of Orange Mall, SC
Bradenton, FL
Pompono Beach, FL
Tampa, FL
Orlando, FL
South Plains Mall, Lubbock, TX
Miller Hill Mall, Deluth MN
Clarion Mall, Clarion PA
Town Mall, Elizabethtown, KY
Marshall Town Center, IA
Holiday Village Mall, Great Falls, MT
Southridge Mall, Des Moines IA.

Borders Express:
Springfield, IL
Lahaina Mall, HI
Whalers Village, HI

Tower Place Mall, Cinn, OH

Mill Avenue, Tempe AZ
Kemper Road, Springdale,OH
Compuware Bld (Downtown) Detroit, MI
Vero Beach Fashion Outlets, FL

Bonnie Schmick the Borders spokes person that each local reporter speaks to must be pretty depressed having to field all these calls.

(There are some misspellings in that list - apologies).


The NYTimes notes the decline of shopping Malls in a weekend article: NYTimes

I also posted my own view a few months ago in Death of the Big Box

Republicans: The President Is Very Good

Friday, January 30, 2009

SIIA Conference: Marjorie Scardino

Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson spoke at this weeks Software Information Industry Association meeting and here are my notes from that presentation.

Skills and capabilities that new generations are going to need to be successful in the 21st Century include: the ability to be imaginative, capable of or exhibit group working skills and the ability to solve increasingly complex business and social problems.

As educators we also need to think about hard skills: Math and Science.

Embedded in the development of hard skills is the development of the ability to connect disparate information and to be able to evaluate the veracity of information and information sources. It is not a unique skill to be able to do a simple ‘barely defined’ Google search. Anyone can do this; however, students are not being taught the skills necessary to dig deeper, form arguments and determine back-up or be able to present their research.

On new technology. She cites/refers to a digital youth study: How the young interact with new technology. (Horizon Report).

There are five new technologies (and she adds a sixth).
  1. Mobile devices: language,
  2. Smart objects: sensors
  3. Ubiquitous computing semantic enabled software:
  4. Geo tagging: to all media.
  5. Storage and access: cloud computing.
  6. Electro foretic (sp) pages.
In her opinion, (and this follows how Pearson is expanding) companies have to take a long term view: change the way teachers teach, the way readers interact with news, information and content. Additionally, the long term view or approach to investment has to be consistent. She says, sustained investment is difficult in a public company.

The key to success is to involve your customers. Release your software early and enable a culture that allows ‘do-overs’ assuming they are corrected or improved rapidly. Other comments:
  1. Need to try everything: New companies have inclusive cultures that generate new ideas from all levels. This is important and the culture needs to be adopted by old line companies as no company can get it right if idea generation is concentrated at the top of an organization.
  2. Content and technology are inextricable bound together.
  3. Need to use technology that enables use of more of our intellect, allows us to reflect as well as analyze.
Discussing revenue models, Scardino spoke about a ‘the Ralph Lauren’ model of charging a lot for something and assuming people will pay for it. She seemed to be saying that if something were priced high then people would assume it had value and was worth the price. She then brought up an anecdote about her time as a newbie attorney in Savannah. When she moved there, she was one of many (but few women) attorneys charging $200/hr. She decided to charge $300 on the basis that people would come to her thinking she must be worth the extra (premium).

More recently she indicated that they have been able to raise the price of the FT and consumers have come with them on the price hike. She also noted The Economist’s revenues are 50% subscription versus advertising. A central component of their content strategy is to overlay the content with tools and analytics that extend the value of the underlying content. She says they as a company long ago realized that content was becoming a commodity in news and other segments like education. “There is only a few ways to describe photosynthesis” or describe history. Technology however can be a differentiator if used in an appropriate manner so the company attempts to understand how the reader interacts with the content. This approach is used in news, where there is more attention paid to analysis than news reporting, and also in education.

NYTimes Reviews API - NOT

The New York Times announced they are releasing an API for their best seller lists spanning years and years.
The Times Best Sellers API gives you quick access to current and past best-seller lists in 11 different categories, such as Hardcover Nonfiction and Paperback Mass-Market Fiction. The initial launch offers every weekly list since June 2008, and in the coming months, we plan to add data going back to the 1930s (thanks to the hard work of our Books staff). The API also offers details about specific best sellers, including historical rank information and links to New York Times reviews and excerpts. And these aren’t just canned responses; they’re searchable and sortable, with even more robust options coming in the next release.
I wonder about this.

I was initially quite interested in this bit of information but on reflection it seems they have missed a huge opportunity. WHAT ABOUT THE REVIEWS? Maybe I am missing something but with all the reviews sections closing all over the country the NYTimes has an opportunity to enable access to their reviews database via api staring them in the face. Surely, even if the book was a best seller for 23 weeks back in 1982 or 2002 is useful but the title is likely to have that stated on the cover anyhow (few publishers challenge such obvious marketing opportunities). Even if I know that wouldn't the review be far more useful? On top of that there are many books that weren't on the charts that were nevertheless reviewed well by the times so what of them? I give up...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Australia Again

Earlier this week I mentioned the discussion going on in Australia regarding the review of local copyright rules on imported books. The Guardian reports on Peter Carey's comments that he and other authors like Thomas Keneally wouldn't have found publishers without there being some sort of protection.

Take copyright away, he said, and they no longer have a commercial leg to stand on. "And then? Then the global companies will decide that their Australian offices will be much more profitable as distributors of product than publishers of books. If this sounds creepily colonial, it is because it is."

Carey, Grenville and other writers all said that without the support of Australian publishers at the start of their careers, they would never have become the internationally renowned authors they are today. "My experience shows how uninterested overseas publishers are in our work. The more "literary" it is (about ideas; more than simple entertainment), the less interested they are," said Grenville, who won the Orange prize in 2001 for her novel The Idea of Perfection. "Writers in the future might struggle to find the success that I have, because they may not have a local publisher to put the time and care into developing their career," agreed children's author Sonya Hartnett, who last year won the 5m Swedish kronor Astrid Lindgren memorial award.

Also, pay sharp attention to the photo and you will realize Peter was in NYC recently. In fact he lives here.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez Offers €5 Ebook

The Guardian reports that "the Spanish-speaking world's most famous literary agent, Carmen Balcells" has struck a deal with Spanish ebook downloading site Leer-e that will enable her client authors to sell their ebooks directly to consumers and also set their own prices.

As these do not hold the Spanish-language electronic rights to most of her authors' books, Balcells is in effect publishing them directly through leer-e. "I cannot tell you exactly what rights the authors get, but I can say that it is much more than they get from their books printed on paper,'' said Ignacio Latasa, co-founder of leer-e.

He said about 120 works by the authors on Balcells' books would eventually be available to download from leer-e. A dozen are already on the site.

It is not so much the pricing that is revolutionary since €5 approximates $9.99 but that Balcells has done an end run around publishers. There have been some suggestions that literary agents could become more active in 'selling' their stable of authors (or a long established literary property) directly to an ebook distributor rather than working with a publisher. Some literary estates may have been purchased recently with the intention of leveraging new formats without the need to 'bother' with a publisher. The vast bulk of these literary collections are finished works and therefore a publisher could be limited in the amount of value-add they can offer.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Congressional Quarterly For Sale

The Times Publishing company, owner of Congressional Quarterly has placed the company on the block (Press Release) and says it wants to concentrate on its newspaper operations in Florida. As a wholly owned affiliate of the Times Publishing Co., (which publishes the St. Petersburg Times of Florida), CQ is a private, for profit organization however, TPC is owned by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalists in St. Petersburg named in honor of CQ's founder, Nelson Poynter.

From the company's website:

Congressional Quarterly Inc. has been the nation's leader in political journalism since 1945. Over that time, the company has built a peerless reputation for objective, non-partisan and authoritative reporting on Congress and politics. Today, CQ stands on the leading edge of information companies publishing in both online and print platforms.

CQ has the largest press corps covering Capitol Hill. More than 150 reporters, editors and researchers keep subscribers informed on weekly, daily and real-time news cycles. In addition, CQ is the leader in legislative tracking. It offers a robust suite of fully integrated online services that includes bill coverage, schedules, CRS reports, government documents, member information, transcripts and more.

CQ is primarily a subscription-based publisher whose clients include members of Congress; leaders in the executive branch, business, nonprofit organizations and government affairs shops; and top academic institutions and media outlets.

CQ also publishes a free political site, CQ Politics, which serves up a unique, compelling perspective on politics and campaigns.

Last year, CQ's publishing operations (CQ Press) were sold to Sage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lonely Hearts and The London Review of Books

The juxtaposition of these two items was too much to ignore. I had just found out McCartney will be on Colbert on Wednesday night (so watch if Steven gets to duet) when I saw this headline on the Guardian: Lonely Hearts Club Band. The two items having nothing to do with each other but they fall together nicely.

The Guardian takes a poetic look at the personal ads in the London Review of Books and some of these ads are indeed hilarious. It does look like something of a sport to out humor the other guy/girl. Something like evolutionary humor...

Here is an excerpt:
The internet generation of daters hasn't abandoned personal ads. Rather, lonely heart sections have raised their game. Advertisers have evolved the formulaic WTLM/GSOH standard of old into clever haikus of longing and desire. No longer the realm of (whisper it) losers, there is a sophistication to the modern day personal ad that is both fascinating and, for those who are compelled to respond, frequently thrilling.

If clumsy, unfeeling lust is your bag, write to the ad above. Otherwise write to me, mid-forties M with boy next door looks, man from U.N.C.L.E. charm, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air casual insouciance. Wikky wikky wick yo. Box no. 2851.

You're a brunette, 6', long legs, 25-30, intelligent, articulate and drop dead gorgeous. I, on the other hand, have the looks of Herve Villechaize and an odour of wheat. No returns and no refunds at box no. 3321.

There are many more like those...

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Australian Problem

The Australian publishing and bookselling community can't seem to decide whether it wants or doesn't want protectionism. Peter Donoughue takes issue with the Australian Booksellers Association's decision to back track on their long standing support of abolition of the 30/90 rule.
Now the ABA comes along and AGREES with them! It says, yes, you're right, our members are so stupid that they would at every opportunity act against their commercial interests and, as a by-product, destroy local literary culture! No matter how reasonable the price of the local edition, no matter how fair the trading terms from the local publisher, no matter how good the distribution and customer care, no matter how beneficial to sales the publisher's marketing and publicity efforts, no matter the excellent personal service from the sales reps, no matter the impossibility of getting anywhere near the same deal from overseas wholesalers like Baker and Taylor.... we're gonna buy around, just because we can!

I'd call that stabbing yourself in the front!
Earlier in the month, the Sydney Morning Herald tried to explain the situation:

Why is this relevant to us in Australia? The Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into how books are sold in Australia. We have a separate copyright territory. If a book is written, designed, edited and published by Australians - as is about $900 million worth of books sold in Australia annually - an overseas publisher cannot sell an edition of it here. If it is produced overseas, Australian publishers must publish it here within 30 days of its foreign release, or it can be "parallel-imported" to Australia. If it is out of stock, the publisher has 90 days to replenish it. This "use it or lose it" principle is commonly called the 30/90 rule.

Opponents of this say it gives us higher prices. Last month Bob Carr wrote in The Australian that price was "the only question before the Productivity Commission" and importation should be freed so more households could have "brimming bookshelves".

Cheaper books, higher literacy. The argument seems attractive. But it rests on a shaky assumption and a lack of consideration of the consequence.

I think I know where the frustration lies. The next title in Steig Larrson's trilogy is has been available in the UK since early January but won't be out here until summer. I can however order it from WTF?

Creative Commons "Noncommercial Use" Research Study focus groups

Care to join the discussion? Call for participation:

As previously announced, Creative Commons is researching "noncommercial use". Last year we conducted a number of focus groups and fielded a survey designed to collect information about how creators understand the distinction between commercial and noncommercial uses of their content. Now we want to talk to people about their experience as users of content they find online, regardless of whether the content is licensed under a CC license, with or without the NC term, or even licensed at all.

We hope to connect with individuals and organizations from a variety of communities and industries, using a variety of content, in many different media. We seek insight and experience, not any endorsement of Creative Commons, its licenses, or any particular perspective.

We are currently scheduling a limited number of in-person focus groups, to be held in New York City, on Thursday, February 12, and San Francisco, on Tuesday, February 17. In order to get input from persons who live outside these regions, we are also conducting a limited number of online bulletin board type focus groups, which will take place over the course of three days, from Wednesday, February 18 through Friday, February 20. The time commitment for both the in-person and online focus groups is approximately two hours. Please note that all groups, including the online focus groups, will be conducted in English. Unfortunately, we are not able to cover any travel or other expenses you may have in connection with participating.

If you are interested in participating in one of these focus groups, please fill out this questionnaire, which will explain what we plan to do with the data we collect, and will also ask you for some basic background information.

There are a limited number of spaces in each focus group. Please understand that we may not be able to respond individually to everyone who fills out the questionnaire, but if you are selected to participate, we will contact you as soon as possible to confirm your participation.

Thank you for your interest and help with this study.

Dear Virgin Airlines

Apparently, this Virgin passenger was non too impressed by the culinary offerings on his recent trip to India. The letter has been circulating via email but was also published in the Telegraph under the heading 'World's Best Passenger Complaint Letter." It is quite funny.

17th December 2008

Dear Mr Branson

REF: Mumbai to Heathrow 7th December 2008

I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit. Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at the hands of your corporation.

Look at this Richard. Just look at it:


I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, Which one is the starter, which one is the desert? You don’t get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it’s next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That’s got to be the clue hasn’t it. No sane person would serve a desert with a tomato would they. Well answer me this Richard, what sort of animal would serve a desert with peas in:


I know it looks like a baaji but it’s in custard Richard, custard. It must be the pudding. Well you’ll be fascinated to hear that it wasn’t custard. It was a sour gel with a clear oil on top. It’s only redeeming feature was that it managed to be so alien to my palette that it took away the taste of the curry emanating from our miscellaneous central cuboid of beige matter. Perhaps the meal on the left might be the desert after all.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant at the moment. I was raised strictly but neatly by my parents and if they knew I had started desert before the main course, a sponge shaft would be the least of my worries. So lets peel back the tin-foil on the main dish and see what’s on offer.

I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about. Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That’s how I felt when I peeled back the foil and saw this:


Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It’s mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month. On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown glue-like oil and on the right the chef had prepared some mashedpotato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird. Once it was regurgitated it was clearly then blended and mixed with a bit of mustard. Everybody likes a bit of mustard Richard. Jesus Christ.

By now I was actually starting to feel a little hypoglycaemic. I needed a sugar hit. Luckily there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier due to it’s baffling presentation:


It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above.

I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was relax but obviously I had to sit with that mess in front of me for half an hour. I swear the sponge shafts moved at one point. Once cleared. I decided to relax with a bit of your world-famous onboard entertainment. I switched it on:


I apologise for the quality of the photo, it’s just it was incredibly hard to capture Boris Johnson’s face through the flickering white lines running up and down the screen. Perhaps it would be better on another channel:


Is that Ray Liotta? A question I found myself asking over and over again throughout the grueling half-hour I attempted to watch the film like this. After that I switched off. I’d had enough. I was the hungriest I’d been in my adult life and I had a splitting headache from squinting at a crackling screen.

My only option was to simply stare at the seat in front and wait for either food, or sleep. Neither came for an incredibly long time. But when it did it surpassed my wildest expectations:


Yes! It’s another crime-scene cookie. Only this time you dunk it in the white stuff. Richard…. What is that white stuff? It looked like it was going to be yoghurt. It finally dawned on me what it was after staring at it. It was a mixture between the Baaji custard and the Mustard sauce. It reminded me of my first week at university. I had overheard that you could make a drink by mixing vodka and refreshers. I lied to my new friends and told them I’d done it loads of times. When I attempted to make the drink in a big bowl it formed a cheese Richard, a cheese. That cheese looked a lot like your baaji-mustard.

So that was that Richard. I didn’t eat a bloody thing. My only question is: How can you live like this? I can’t imagine what dinner round your house is like, it must be like something out of a nature documentary.

As I said at the start I love your brand, I really do. It’s just a shame such a simple thing could bring it crashing to it’s knees and begging for sustenance.

Yours Sincerely,

My Dear Ken Lewis Letter

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Media Week 3: Elsevier, Music, Ebsco, Google

That National Association of Home Builders say that more home owners want libraries in their homes (Sun Sentinel):
We may think folks are reading less, but 63 percent of homeowners surveyed said they have a library or want one in their homes. That's a 9 percent increase from 2002.

Even mass-market home builders are including libraries. Many offer old-fashioned touches such as rolling ladders and circular stairs.
(Unfortunately, I couldn't find any more on the subject or the report but we'll take what we can get).

Elsevier announced that they are broadening the distribution of 600 professional titles so that they are available on Science Direct. (Press release)

Elsevier, announced today that over 600 Medical, Veterinary Medicine, and Health Professions book titles will be launched in Health Science eBook Collections in April 2009 on ScienceDirect, its online scientific research platform.

Elsevier's health science books are published under the imprints W.B. Saunders, Mosby, Churchill Livingstone, and Hanley & Belfus, publishers with a rich medical and health science publishing heritage dating back to 1688. The inclusion of these books on ScienceDirect will allow more researchers across the world to access these valuable content resources.

To date, Elsevier's medical and health science book titles have only been available through MD Consult ( for clinical practitioners and medical education, Evolve eBooks ( for health professions education, and Veterinary Consult ( for veterinary medicine education. The thousands of authors represented in the Elsevier medical and health science collections on ScienceDirect will now enjoy greater market visibility, increasing the potential for research collaboration and recognition.

Ebsco which has hosted Salem Press content for many years did the honorable thing and purchased the entire company this week. Since they have been paying Salem press a revenue share this one will have been a no-brainer. (I remain convinced this would have been a very nice acquisition for Bowker). (Library Journal)
Salem Press was founded by Frank N. Magill in 1949 as a one-book publishing company, releasing its staple product: Masterplots. It has since developed into an independent library reference book publisher known for such reference series as “Great Lives from History,” “The Decades in America,” and Critical Surveys of Literature.”
The religious moronity is stepping up its attempts to re-define scientific 'theory' in Texas and in the process push the teaching of science back into the 1400's. (NYTimes)

The debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.

Many biologists and teachers said they feared that the board would force textbook publishers to include what skeptics see as weaknesses in Darwin’s theory to sow doubt about science and support the Biblical version of creation.

“These weaknesses that they bring forward are decades old, and they have been refuted many, many times over,” Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, said after testifying. “It’s an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution.”
To be filed under 'why did it take you so long', Music publishers have begun to realize the value of lyrics and the art-work that goes along with a CD or Album. (Billboard)
But a few years ago many discovered a value that was sitting under their nose: the lyrics right. “And it doesn’t even need the master rights,” Channon added.

Since putting lyrics onto mugs, clothing, toys, greeting cards and other merchandise, EMI has had to grow into becoming a manufacturer and distributor, Channon said. But its definetely a volume business as EMI said 3 million units of one lyric-licensed merchandise piece for a department store chain in Australia realized about 30,000 pounds profit.
As the article notes, however there are already hundreds of lyrics sites that the record companies have failed to police and it is going to be difficult for them to get this back under control.
When the words “Mr. Blue Sky” and lyrics are entered into a search, it returns thousands of separate sites offering those lyrics, and publishers “don’t get one red cent,” one panelist said.

But Metro Lyrics CEO and co-founder Alan Juristovski said that publishers shouldn’t shut down pirate sites—rather, they should convert them to legitimate sites by trying to get them to license the lyrics, something which he claimed his site does.
"Mr Blue Sky" would that be an ELO fan? I've mentioned lyrics before here.

Robert Darton in The New York Review of Books had a very interesting and (almost) poetic discussion of the potential impact of the Google/AAP agreement on the publishing industry. Well worth reading. (NYReview)
After lengthy negotiations, the plaintiffs and Google agreed on a settlement, which will have a profound effect on the way books reach readers for the foreseeable future. What will that future be?

No one knows, because the settlement is so complex that it is difficult to perceive the legal and economic contours in the new lay of the land. But those of us who are responsible for research libraries have a clear view of a common goal: we want to open up our collections and make them available to readers everywhere. How to get there? The only workable tactic may be vigilance: see as far ahead as you can; and while you keep your eye on the road, remember to look in the rearview mirror.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Website Developers - Update

An essay in the NY Times book review on book web site developers who are gaining some notoriety as really good cover designers have in the past. (NYTimes):

The task of the book Web designer can be a tricky one. “Book sites present challenges that fashion and other sorts of sites do not,” Rabb said in a telephone interview. Because of the nature of the book medium in general, and the hope of selling movie rights in particular, “any time I get too specific about the appearance of a character, people start to get very nervous,” he added.

Instead, Rabb aims to represent a book’s “gestalt,” as he puts it. His sites often include original material from the author, as in the one he created for “The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet,” Reif Larsen’s much anticipated first novel about a young Montana prodigy obsessed with mapmaking. That site — which will be rolled out incrementally starting later this month until the book’s release in May — represents a failed “Smithsonian exhibition” of the title character’s work, with some 10 different “cabinets” documenting everything from a taxonomy of all the animals on earth to a map of the American West.
It is nice to see Sheila English (friend of the blog) get a mention in the article as well:
The book video business began back in 2002, when Sheila English, an unpublished romance novelist, trademarked the term Book Trailer and started her own company, Circle of Seven Productions. Her first clients were mostly science-fiction and romance novelists, but the invention of video-sharing sites brought interest from mainstream publishers. Three years ago, English’s company had 12 projects. In 2008, it had 140.

Over at Publishing Trends they remind me that they did this last month:

And any remaining skeptics out there, take note: Website visits translate directly to the number of books bought. Book shoppers who had visited an author website in the past week bought 38% more books, from a wider range of retailers, than those who had not visited an author site. “Is putting up a website going to make a book a bestseller? No,” says Chin. “Is the website going to help the author build an audience? I believe it can. What you don’t want is for someone to hear about your book, search for it with Google, and find nothing. That’s a potential lost sale.”

Web presence is especially essential in today’s economy. “Websites have become even more important as people are not in stores discovering books,” Fitzgerald says. “We need to get them jazzed about a title and their favorite author and give them reason not just to buy the book, but also to have a relationship with the author and his or her work so they become evangelists for them with fellow readers. These next months, author websites and communications with readers are going to be critical for engendering excitement in readers online, since something as crucial as in-store browsing is not happening.”

The point, of course, is not just to get readers to visit an author site once, but to keep them coming back. How do you make a website sticky?“The saying ‘build it and they will come,’ well, they won’t,” says Burke. He and the other designers we spoke with agreed that flashy design is not a key to success, and the Codex Group research bears that out, with Stephenie Meyer’s website as a case in point. It receives more traffic than any other fiction author site, yet its design is extremely basic, “probably a generic template where you plug in your header graphic,” says Hildick-Smith. “She may only be paying $15 a month for this site on some server system. It’s not elaborately designed at all. But she’s got a daily blog, and more than any other site in our study, she has links to fan sites. Fan site links appear to contribute to loyal audience traffic.”

SONY to Offer NetLibrary Collections

SONY and Netlibrary announce a collaboration that will enable library patrons to check-out an e-Reader and gain access to several Netlibrary e-Book collections. From the press release:

The program includes a Reader model PRS-505, a collection of titles from leading publishers and all required licenses. Using the library's PC, librarians can download a mobile collection title or titles from the NetLibrary site to the Reader as necessary.

Libraries that purchase Mobile Collections will be able to offer their patrons the ability to check out Readers for onsite or offsite use, depending on the policy established by each library. Collections, selected by NetLibrary's collections librarian, include Career Development and Business Self Help (30 titles), Management and Leadership (22 titles), Popular Fiction (29 titles), Romance (19 titles) and Young Adult Fiction (24 titles).

"OCLC member libraries have indicated a strong interest in providing a mobile device that library patrons can use to read eBooks on the go," said Chip Nilges, OCLC Vice President, Business Development. "The NetLibrary collections available with Sony's Reader Digital Book offer great variety for readers with different interests, and make it possible for library patrons to enjoy many eBooks on one portable device that offers state-of-the-art readability."

"Librarians have always been leaders in exposing their patrons to new technologies related to reading, research and learning," said Steve Haber, president of Sony's Digital Reading Business Division. "We are pleased to work with OCLC and its membership to further this cause."

Circulating Reader units through OCLC's newly established program is just one way libraries are able to offer eBooks to their communities and expose people to electronic reading. Thousands of public libraries in the United States already offer online collections that patrons can borrow, typically for two to three weeks. eBooks are offered in the Adobe PDF format and it is expected that the recently established EPUB format will become common.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bibliographic Studies

The Library of Congress has announced they have appointed R2 Consulting to look into the current marketplace for cataloging records in MARC format. The deliverable from this engagement due June 30th will include current practices including a review of existing incentives and barriers to both contribution and availability. This project is considered a follow on phase in the library's review of the creation and distribution of bibliographic data. From the press release:
The Library has recognized that its role as a producer of bibliographic data is changing and that other libraries have options as they consider sources for cataloging records. The conclusions outlined in a report issued last year, "On the Record: Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control," indicate that cataloging activity must be shared more broadly and equitably among all libraries. Before the Library considers any changes to its cataloging commitments or priorities, however, it is vital to understand the extent to which other libraries rely on its contributions. The study will examine cataloging production and practice across all library types, including cooperative activity through OCLC, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), the National Library of Medicine, the National Agricultural Library, library consortia, and other shared cataloging initiatives.

Under the general direction of Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress, R2 will develop a description of the current economic model and will determine the extent of library participation in and reliance on existing structures and organizations. The study will show the degree to which sources other than the Library of Congress are supplying quality records in economically sufficient quantities, or whether most libraries use records created by the Library. This project is oriented toward fact-finding and reporting rather than solutions, and it is intended to produce a snapshot of the existing market. The project is scheduled for completion by June 30, 2009, with a written report and visual representation of the existing marketplace. Progress reports, along with various other data collection and communication tools, will be made available via the R2 Web site at and the Bibliographic Control Working Group site at

"I am very optimistic that the project will shed new light on the current cataloging supply and distribution environment," Marcum said, "in such a way that future opportunities and challenges can be promptly identified and evaluated. I am hopeful that librarians and all other participants in the distribution chain will be as forthcoming as possible during the investigative process. Our intention is to understand as fully as possible both the economic and workflow implications for the U.S. and Canadian marketplace prior to implementing any changes at the Library."

On a broadly related note, the Guardian reported this week on the spat over OCLC's revision of their data use provisions that all member OCLC libraries are expected to abide by. This report is slanted against OCLC but nevertheless the organization has handled the whole issue horribly, and management has now been forced to do what they should have done in the first place which is to hold a open forum (which will now be an open bitch session).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snowy Monday in New York

Empire State River View 2, originally uploaded by Personanondata.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Media Week 2

In the Wall Street Journal this weekend an article on Dash Hammett's, The Thin Man. Tom Nolan explores the deeper purpose of the book that many at the time of its publication thought of as a cast off. Many of us will know The Thin Man from the William Powell Myrna Loy movies. (Myrna is one of Mr. PND's favorites).

The author himself made no great claims for his creation. "Nobody ever invented a more insufferably smug pair of characters," he said of the book's married protagonists, Nick and Nora Charles; and in 1957, four years before his death, he would claim that "'The Thin Man' always bored me."

Yet Hammett -- often as hedonistic in life as the heavy drinkers in his stories -- was sober and industrious while writing the novel during his tenancy in an unimpressive New York hotel managed by his friend and fellow author Nathanael West; and, one way or another, the book and its characters would earn Dashiell Hammett (according to biographer Richard Layman) close to a million dollars.

The subsequent success of half a dozen MGM screwball-comedy movies inspired by "The Thin Man" and starring William Powell and Myrna Loy perpetuated the impression among serious readers and critics that Hammett's last effort was in all ways a lesser work and maybe even a worthless one. But a careful reading of this novel (and what better birthday present could a book receive?) reveals a still-sparkling comedy of manners within which lurks a vision of human affairs as grim as any social realist's.

Ann Patchett in the same newspaper (WSJ) pays respect to her library but more importantly sees some impressive changes in the reading habits of the youth (or as Vinnie would say Yoots);

According to a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, our Nashville library is bearing out a national trend. For the first time in more than 25 years, the number of people reading fiction is on the rise.

Am I surprised? No, but then I see the world of reading from a very particular angle. I spend a lot of time speaking in schools and town halls and public libraries where people who read and read and read pack the auditoriums because they want to talk about literature. Inevitably someone in the audience raises their hand to ask me how worried I am about the crisis in publishing, the rise of electronic books, and the death of the reading. "What death of reading?" I say. "Look at all of you." I have long refused to participate in the last rites of what is both my passion and my profession. I meet too many people who stay up half the night racing towards a final chapter. We are a hardy bunch, we readers. The rumor is we'll play around with a Kindle or an I-Book for awhile but eventually give up on the whole endeavor, the logic being who would want to read a book when there are so many enticing video games to play and Web sites to surf. But I'm more of the Charlton Heston school: you'll get my paperback of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" away from me when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

One of the largest Public Television companies WGBH Boston has sold its Music catalog to a Canadian company. (I am not sure if we should be pissed about this or not - not because it is a Canadian company but isn't this a public asset since public dollars fund public television?)
Canadian music publishing firm ole has purchased a worldwide majority ownership interest in the music rights of the catalog of WGBH Boston, the producer of television and on-line programming for PBS. The amount paid for the deal was not disclosed.

The terms of the deal include co-ownership of the music in 1,200 individual episodes and programs, as well as a substantial stake in the music rights for all WGBH programming in the near future. WGBH programs include "Antiques Roadshow," "American Experience," "Nova," "Frontline," "Masterpiece," "Arthur" and "Curious George."
Reed Elsevier sold $1.5billion in debt to fund the Choice Point acquisition. Telegraph

OCLC bows to significant (or at least vocal opposition) to the revision of its data usage terms and will convene a review board to examine the terms all over again. This time will a little more openness.

The purpose of this Review Board is to engage the membership and solicit feedback and questions before the new policy is implemented. In order to allow sufficient time for feedback and discussion, implementation of the Policy will be delayed until the third quarter of the 2009 calendar year.

In November 2008, OCLC announced that it was implementing the new Policy to update the existing Guidelines for Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records. The goals of the new Policy are to modernize record use and transfer practices for application on the Web, foster new uses of WorldCat data that benefit members and clarify data sharing rights and restrictions. The Policy is intended to foster innovative use of shared records, while protecting the investment OCLC members have made in WorldCat, and ensuring that use of WorldCat records provides benefit to the membership.

"We have listened to questions and concerns about the revised Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records and have concluded that the issues surrounding the Policy needed further review and discussion,” said Larry Alford, Chair, OCLC Board of Trustees, and Dean of University Libraries, Temple University.

Lesson to publishers: When you run out of space don't simply drop content - especially when the content may be of interest to a key demographic: (MediaPost).
TV Guide is dropping the listings for youth-oriented channels the CW and MTV, reports Variety. CEO Scott Crystal said it was a space consideration. The magazine can only run 70 channels in its prime-time grid. The trade mag speculated that younger viewers who watch CW and MTV may get their information from set-top box listings.
Eminence Gris Jason Epstein has An Autopsy of the Book Business in The Daily Beast and he concludes:
The effect of this post-Gutenberg Revolution will be to radically decentralize the marketplace for books and greatly reduce the cost of entry for would-be publishers. Because these changes imply a superfluity of books—some readable and valuable and many others not—the need for filtering and branding is a vital task for future librarians and bibliographers. Meanwhile, through today’s gloom we may discern a spectacularly bright future in which the rewards to writers and readers and even to publishers will be unprecedented as world-wide multilingual backlists expand online in a cultural revolution orders of magnitude greater than Gutenberg’s world-changing technology generated five centuries ago.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seven Cents Between Life and Death for Magazines

Things are pretty dire in the magazine world with plummeting ad revenues and ever repeating news of shut downs and layoffs. And if the specture of rising paper costs wasn't enough to worry the manufacturing and distribution staff the NY Post reports this morning that one of the business' largest wholesalers is set to impose a 7cent per copy surcharge on magazines it delivers to retailers.

CEO Charles Anderson insisted the new charge would help the company make up lost ground on a business that he said is losing money. The hike would add 3.5 percent to distribution costs, which translates into $200 million more for Anderson News.

"The last thing we want to do is exit this business, but why should we continue in a business where we are not making any money?" Anderson asked publishers on a conference call yesterday to discuss the new fee.

Publishers, which have until Feb. 1 to agree to pay the new fee, are balking at Anderson News' move, which would drive up costs at a time when most magazines are hurting.

If that isn't enough, the company also wants publishers to pick up the cost of unsold inventory sitting in the Anderson warehouse. In recent years, large retailers like Walmart have attempted to force the industry to adopt scan based tracking which effectively enables a retailer to accept inventory but not pay for it unless/until it passes through a register. It is not widely adopted for a variety of reasons including a disagreement over standards as well as publisher's concern over cash flow. Returns, lost copies and general inefficiency have long been issues in the magazine business with some reputable magazines skating through with 20% sell through. Tough love programs like the one Anderson is trying to impose will push many magazines over the edge.

It is debatable whether Anderson will get away with this; however, severe 'right sizing' is going to occur in the magazine business regardless. Watch this space.

Note: Ingram is also a magazine wholesaler but their reaction (if any) isn't noted. Anderson News racks books as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Plane Down

In the excitement, I didn't realize the camera was on the wrong setting hence the blue tint. I saved them on flickr in b/w and they look a little better.

Hachette Rights Squable is reporting that Hachette Book Group is pulling “all of its [e-book] titles from U.S. distributors” in a dispute over the issue of sales controls based on geographical territory.
"What’s happened is that U.S. distributors (Overdrive, Ingram Digital and Mobipocket) have not yet implemented systems to limit sales to assigned territories in a manner with which Hachette Livre (the French parent company of Hachette USA, formerly Time Warner books) is comfortable, likely creating contract issues with their European resellers and some of their authors.

“Without notice, Hachette instructed U.S. distributors (include French-based Mobipocket) to pull all ebooks from U.S. distribution over the weekend. Hachette and the distributors are working hard to resolve this. Meanwhile, our support email is getting a huge number of extra inquiries because of the Mobipocket error message and the Hachette action.

Teleread (David Rothman) also addresses the larger issues of DRM restrictions that could presage consumer frustration. "Will e-book DRM end up with a bewildering maze of territorial restrictions, just like DVDs?" One hopes not but is this representative of needlessly enforcing p-world realities on the e-book world?

Hopefully more news will be forthcoming on this issue.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Typewriter to the Bookstore: A Publishing Story

From the funny folks at Macmillan (who knew) and via a take on the book production process. I liked the bit about sending the trees from Italy to Switzerland by boat.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Romancing Rugby

I think I'm going to be ill. (Time)
Holly, a virgin and a waitress, was recently dumped by her fiancé, and the subsequent turmoil has fueled an addiction to chocolate wafers — and resulted in an expanding waistline. As her self-esteem tanks, she learns that she must serve dinner to Prince Casper of Santallia in a hospitality suite at Twickenham, the home of England's national rugby team. Within minutes the playboy prince starts making passes (and not of the sporting kind), Holly slides across a table, and, for the first time in her life, she feels like a "rider clinging to the back of a thoroughbred stallion." It's pure bliss until cameramen beam the encounter on the stadium's Jumbotrons.
Typically, England go on to loose.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Media Week 1

And so we start a new year...

In The Atlantic Michael Hirschorn wonders what might happen to The New York Times if it runs out of cash.

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, The Times is destined for significant and traumatic change. At some point soon—sooner than most of us think—the print edition, and with it The Times as we know it, will no longer exist. And it will likely have plenty of company. In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: “Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010.”

The collapse of daily print journalism will mean many things. For those of us old enough to still care about going out on a Sunday morning for our doorstop edition of The Times, it will mean the end of a certain kind of civilized ritual that has defined most of our adult lives. It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind. And it will seriously damage the press’s ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy. Internet purists may maintain that the Web will throw up a new pro-am class of citizen journalists to fill the void, but for now, at least, there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience—not to mention the resources to, say, send journalists leapfrogging between Mumbai and Islamabad to decode the complexities of the India-Pakistan conflict.

The Economist takes a look at TinTin and author Hergé (Georges Remi). Apparently, a blockbuster movie is coming our way.

Tintin’s slightly priggish character fitted the times. His simple ethical code—seek the truth, protect the weak and stand up to bullies—appealed to a continent waking up from the shame of war. His wholesome qualities help explain the great secret of his commercial success—that he was, and remains, one of the rare comic books that adults are happy to buy for children.

But probity cannot explain why Tintin became a cultural landmark in Europe, as important on his side of the Atlantic as Superman on the other. There were plenty of wholesome comics in post-war Europe, most of them justly forgotten. Something else in Tintin spoke to children and adults in continental Europe. Even in the straitened years of post-war reconstruction, he was soon selling millions of books a year.

An interview with Frank Daniels of Ingram Digital in The Tennessean:
Powering much of the retail distribution for the e-book market is La Vergne-based Ingram Digital Group, a division born out of Ingram Industries' Lightning Source Division and acquisitions made in 2006 of Raleigh, N.C.-based VitalSource Technologies, a player in the digital textbook field, and U.K.-based MyiLibrary, which supplies electronic content to academic libraries.

Frank Daniels III, who headed VitalSource before its sale to Ingram, now serves as chief operating officer of Ingram Digital. He sat down this week with Assistant Business Editor Ryan Underwood to discuss the current state of the e-book market, where it goes from here, and Ingram Digital's role in all of it.

Maybe it's just that Amazon's Kindle e-book reader was one of the most popular items for Christmas, but whatever it is, e-books seem to be having a moment right now. Are you seeing that?

Absolutely. In a time when publishers' sales are flat, or declining, e-books are the bright spot. You're seeing significant increases in revenue, as much as
400 percent growth for some publishers. That gets the industry's attention. And they recognize that a confluence of events — screen and distribution technologies, and the standards that the industry has adopted — makes e-books more likely to be real versus hype.

Lastly, Bono reflects on Frank Sinatra. NYTimes.

If you want to hear the least sentimental voice in the history of pop music finally crack, though — shhhh — find the version of Frank’s ode to insomnia, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” hidden on “Duets.” Listen through to the end and you will hear the great man break as he truly sobs on the line, “It’s a long, long, long road.” I kid you not.

Like Bob Dylan’s, Nina Simone’s, Pavarotti’s, Sinatra’s voice is improved by age, by years spent fermenting in cracked and whiskeyed oak barrels. As a communicator, hitting the notes is only part of the story, of course.
Lastly, lastly, The Giants may have choked but my team had a crushing victory earlier on Sunday. BBC.

* * * *

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Winnie the Pooh to the Rescue

It is not too early to think about next Christmas's big hot book and with the news that Winnie The Pooh will return to print there is some hope that the little bear will save book retailing.

The Times is reporting that a book is in the making:

The challenge for David Benedictus and Mark Burgess, the author and illustrator of the new book, is to revive one of the best-loved children’s series of all time in a way that proves sympathetic to the originals without veering into pastiche.

Since 1961 Disney has owned the film, television and merchandising rights to the character of Pooh and created its own spin-off adventures. E. H. Shepard, the Punch staff cartoonist who illustrated the original books, condemned the first Disney film as “a complete travesty”.

Many fans regard the American corporation’s subsequent efforts, which have included the introduction of a gopher character and Christopher Robin’s recent replacement by a girl named Darby, as even less acceptable.

The content of the new book is a closely guarded secret but Mr Benedictus said that it would pick up where The House at Pooh Corner left off, with Christopher Robin returning from school to play with his friends. He refused to say whether the beloved “bear of very little brain” would be joined by new characters.

Michael Brown, for the trustees who manage the affairs of A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, said that he had been hoping to give the green light to a sequel for a very long time.

According to Reuters, Winnie is a bear stuffed with diamonds, wears a diamond encrusted waistcoat and has a dowry larger than the Shah of Iran and generates over $6 Bill in revenues per year. The revenue generated was subject of a lawsuit between Disney and family of the literary agent who helped popularize the bear in the US. Disney eventually won.

Disney don't get anything from the new book but the two groups would be nuts not to work together but who sees that happening?

Nash on Publishing

The Globe and Mail asked Richard Nash of Soft Skull Books about the state of publishing., Here is a sample:

JD Yes, and here's the question. Let's assume print-on-demand and digital publishing take off (and it will sooner than later for the small press and special markets). How do we help writers, and readers, realize this could be the best thing that ever happened?

RN The onus is on the independent publishers to embrace rather than be suspicious of it. I do often feel that I'm viewed as a bit of a curiosity in the field of literary publishing for being so gung-ho about the digital download book. Which is especially ironic because the suspicions derive, I think, from their personal affection for physical books, which would have been part of what brought them into this field. Yet the average trade paperback is getting crappier and crappier, and the only way I can see to allow the book-as-object to truly flourish is by allowing the digital download to be what generates sales volume, what creates new readers by having impulse-buy scale pricing. Then, by having tens of thousands come to something for $1.99, you can develop that small percentage of that who really become serious fans, and want a deep connection, part of which will be reflected in an intimate, perhaps personalized object. Come to the cheap download, fall in love with the author, fleece the fan for a $100 limited edition once they're hooked. [Emoticon suggesting this was said with a wink.]

Friday, January 09, 2009

Exact Editions And The Directory of Publishing

I have mentioned Exact Editions and their tool set for magazine publisher's in the past, but I was on their site recently and noticed they have loaded up Continuums' Directory of Publishing 2009. Published by the publisher and The Publishers Association this directory is the definitive catalog of UK and Irish publishers. What makes this application of the content interesting is that using the EE toolset users can not only view pages as they are rendered in print but can also dial phone numbers, visit websites and even see the listees physical location on a Google map.

Here is the link.

2008 Media Deals

Deal makers Jordan Edmiston released their annual report this week and of no surprise to anyone, the number and value of media deals completed during 2008 came no where near matching the heady heights of 2007. Only database information services showed strength indicating deal makers support for subscription based (annuity) revenue streams. From the report:
  • With the largest transaction for the year at less than $200 million (the purchase of Randall‐Reilly by Investcorp) the business‐to‐business magazine sector saw modest deal activity in 2008. Number of deals fell 46% to 22 total transactions for the full year, with only two deals in Q4, while total value declined 92% in 2008 versus 2007.
  • Activity in the consumer magazine sector was slow as well, with 42 mostly smaller transactions, representing 25% fewer than in 2007. There were no substantial transactions for the year compared to last year’s sales of Emap, Gemstar and Primedia’s Enthusiast unit.
  • The database information services sector saw a 77% increase in number of deals in 2008 over 2007 with 46 total deals announced. Deal value nearly tripled for this sector in 2008 to $8.8 billion, from $3.2 billion in 2007, excluding the $18.3 billion acquisition of Reuters by Thomson in 2007. The most notable deal in the fourth quarter was Getty Images’ acquisition of Jupiter Images for $96million.
  • There was little activity in 2008 in the educational and professional publishing sector, which showed decreases of 26% in deal count and generally smaller transactions for the year versus 2007. The most notable transaction in this sector was the sale of CQ Press to SAGE in May.
  • The exhibitions and conferences sector was the third most active M&A sector behind marketing services and online media, with 50 transactions in 2008. However, the sector showed declines of 28% and 31% in deal count and transaction value, respectively, compared to 2007. The two most significant deals of the year were VSS’s acquisition of Clarion events in February and Marketplace Event’s acquisition of dmg world media’s North American Consumer Home Shows in July.
  • Marketing and interactive services was once again an M&A leader, generating about the same number of transactions in 2008 as in 2007 and totaling a healthy $12.3 billion for the year, although this was off 50% from 2007 levels. Among the sectors JEGI covers, we are especially bullish on marketing services and anticipate that the advertising slowdown will dramatically alter marketer spending patterns and surface many viable and compelling M&A opportunities, as well as unexpected buyers. This was evident in the fourth quarter with WPP’s announced buyout of TNS for $3.1 billion, Akamai’s $95 million acquisition of acerno, and Crain Communications’ acquisition of Staffing Industry Analysts.
  • The newsletter sector saw deal activity rise 33% and deal value increase slightly by 6% in 2008 versus 2007, albeit off a small number of deals. One of the most notable transactions for the year was Haymarket Media’s acquisition of Compliance Week in July.
  • With 258 transactions worth $9.1 billion, the online media and technology sector continued to remain very active in 2008, even though the sector saw a 18% decline in number of deals and a 26% decrease in deal value in 2008 versus 2007’s hectic deal pace. Major strategic buyers such as eBay,
    Gannett and Monster were active during the fourth quarter, acquiring companies to complement their current offerings. Additionally, Waterfront Media, an online health and self‐help publisher, merged with consumer health online information company Revolution Health Network to create
    the largest online heath group by audience.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Down Under Blogger

I just came across a relatively new blogging effort by Peter Donoughue the ex-CEO of Wiley Australia. Peter and I met on a number of occasions and I know from those meetings his commentary is going to be blunt, on target and often funny. Not to put too much pressure on him but here are two selections from recent posts.

The following is his view of Angus and Robertson's implementation of the espresso book machine in their stores.

POD machines in every bookstore - Jason Epstein's vision as articulated in his memoirs of a decade ago - was always a dud of an idea. Investments in printing machines are for printers and possibly publishers, not for barely profitable, main street, high rent paying bookstores. The concept of print on demand is fine, and an everyday reality in the industry now, but it's a specialised business.

Ebook readers are the future - the Kindle, the Iliad, the Sony, and others to come. They'll be a dime a dozen in five or so years, like iPods and mobile phones are now. If you want your book printed buy the paper version or print it yourself.

ARW would be better advised to spend their limited capital on refurbishing their tired-looking stores and - here's a novel idea - buying much more stock of already printed books! That would really be good for business. Doing the basics well will never go out of fashion.
Peter is actually a supporter of POD but obviously not in a bookstore.

Secondly, Australia engages in a never ending discussion about parallel importation and here he is on that subject.
Here is the essential truth that the book trade proponents for continued protection need to get their heads around:

The 30/90 day provisions do not establish and have never established Australia as a rights territory. Australia is a natural rights territory because of its population size, distance, literacy and affluence. The provisions provide additional protection for a rights holder, but they do not establish the possibility of buying rights in the first place. Therefore their abolition will not destroy Australia as a rights territory. Their abolition will simply remove that additional level of protection which only serves to protect over-pricing and under-servicing. Publishers who price and service competitively have absolutely nothing to fear.

God, how often must this be said! To me it's so self-evident.

There is really no need for this paranoia in the trade, this awful, miserable 'we'll all be ruined' defensiveness. No wonder economists throw their hands up!

He has also just finished the same book I did, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and we both recommend it highly.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Predictions 2009: Death and Resurrection:

Like the guy who is asked how he went bankrupt, ‘slowly and then quickly’, the escalating economic downturn in 2008 has really been brewing since the end of 2007, but we only fell off the cliff in fall 2008. I still believe (as I noted in January 2008) that 2007 will be viewed historically as a watershed year for media: the economic decline will further accelerate the macro trends the industry witnessed as 2007 evolved. These trends include:
  • the rapid commitment to electronic delivery of content in both education and trade
  • separation of ad-based and subscription-based models in both information and professional publishing
  • forced concentration in the traditional publishing supply chain countered by (nascent) new channels including direct-to-consumer
  • further blurring of the edges across media segments: More publishers will offer all content – not just their own - wider services and applications, and broader linking and partnerships designed to draw customers
The economic difficulties today are stark compared to the boisterous 2007 where the price for publishing assets kept going up and many big deals were made. During 2008, many high-profile divestitures were either abandoned (Reed Business) or ignominiously completed (TVGuide magazine sold for $1). 2009 is likely to see both the unraveling of some of the deals done in 2007 and some opportunistic buying but, more generally, the deferment of many companies' corporate development strategies.

Naturally, 2009 will see new companies emerge and there are numerous precedents for companies launched in economically challenging markets ultimately becoming very successful. Perhaps challenging the status quo is easier when the status quo is concentrating on just staying "status".

Predictions 2009
  • An easy one: It gets much worse before it gets better. When times were good an oversupply of market options – particularly in retail – hid a myriad of structural problems. Right-sizing in media retailing and distribution will result in one major physical book retailer, one wholesaler and one online retailer. Media will be a sideshow compared with some other segments, particularly clothing and department stores.
  • Another easy one: Several major city newspapers will change hands for less than the debt they carry. Local and hyper-local models will expand and further encroach on the market for traditional big city news. Coupled with linking, content licensing and arrangements with classified providers like Craigslist and Ebay, there will be a rapid expansion of the (hyper) local online news provider market.
  • Out-of-work journalists will see increasing opportunities to become ‘content producers’ as more and more companies seek to enrich their sites with professional content that appeals to their target market. The typical website ‘experience’ becomes more expansive and deeper than a company catalog or press release site. Journalism as a function becomes more widely dispersed across many business segments.
  • The NYTimes will either close the Boston Globe and ‘rebrand’ a NYTimes version for the Boston Market or sell it for a $1 saddled with as much debt as they can get away with. Sunday's paper will now come on Saturday: The UK market successfully went down this road and the US will (belatedly) follow.
  • In media M&A, look for companies that have lots of cash to act opportunistically: NewsCorp, Holtzbrink, Bauer, Bonnier, Bertlesmann, Axel Springer, Lagardère, BBC (Commercial).
  • Gathering of ‘equals’: Media owners unable to sell assets may seek to partner with another media company in the same boat and combine assets to form a new company. One combination that could be interesting is Nielsen Business Media with Reed Business Information (– pure speculation on my part). Others in this space looking for options might include Primedia, McGrawHill, Penton.
  • The Obama administration will make wholesale revisions to education policy which will pain education publishers who have made particular investments in assessment companies. Long term, the assessment market will be robust; however, with explicit indications that student performance is no better for the ‘no child left behind’ programs, fundamental changes will be instituted including a more federalist direction. Ready your lobbying dollars.
  • Evidence that the edges of media segments continue to overlap: Google will bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic broadcast rights.
  • Social networking and ‘community’ building will become the CEO’s pet project as a ‘cheap’ alternative to decreased ad and marketing budgets with, predictably negative results. Senior-level misunderstandings of what constitutes effective social programs will result in efforts being treated casually. Piecemeal approaches will predominate and there will be a continued lack of cohesion of marketing with social networking. Programs backfire as customers witness the cynicism. Effective social networking is not just for Christmas.
  • Professional and information publishing will effectively leverage Linkedin-like networks (possibly using their platform) to extend social networking to their closed networks. Lexis/Martindale is creating a private legal social network platform.
  • Too much Linkedin with my Facebook. More people will do what I did in 2008 and build barriers around their online social networks and selectively cull ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ Sheer numbers have no logic, friendship is earned and legitimate business connections are money. Quality, not quantity, will reign. Don’t take it personally.

George Jones Out at Borders

Borders books announced a number of senior changes including the replacement of their CEO George Jones and CFO Ed Wilhelm. The replacement for Jones is Ron Marshall who has bookselling experience having been with Crown books. Marshall has a strong financial background having served as CFO of $4billion Pathmark during the restructuring of that company in the late 1990s.

Border's replaced Wilhelm and VP Merchandising Rob Guen with internal candidates (Mark Bierley and Anne Kubek respectively) and appointed Dan Smith as Chief Admin Officer.

The company also reported predictably soft sales for the holiday period and with the intense promotions they were running look for gross margin impairment when they report their full quarterly numbers. From the press release:

Sales Results-Holiday 2008
Borders Group also released its sales results for the nine-week holiday period ended Jan. 3, 2009. Total consolidated sales were $868.8 million, an 11.7% decline compared to the same period last year. Within the Borders superstore segment, total sales for the holiday period were $652.6 million, which is a 13.6% decrease compared to 2007. Comparable store sales at Borders superstores declined by 14.4% compared to the same period a year ago. On a same-store sales basis, the book category at Borders declined by 11.0% for the period. sales for the nine-week holiday period were $20.3 million. Overall, holiday sales started slow and improved during the latter part of the season. Within the Waldenbooks Specialty Retail segment, total sales for the holiday period were $161.7 million, a 16.4% decrease compared to the same period one year ago. Comparable store sales for Waldenbooks declined by 8.0% compared to holiday 2007. Total International segment sales were $34.3 million for the period, a 1.4 % decrease compared to the same period a year ago. Comparable store sales at Paperchase stores in the U.K. decreased by 6.5% for the holiday period year over year.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Media Report Week 52

The Economist had a several interesting articles over the break.

Firstly, they note the 1,000 anniversary of The Tale of Genji which they note is the world's first modern novel. (Link)

Sheer scale is not all that is forbidding about the book. Japanese prose was still in its infancy in Murasaki’s day, so her syntax can be opaque. Sentences lack subjects, direct speech is often unattributed and, most alarmingly, the characters change names according to their rank or circumstances. Genji, for instance, is variously referred to as the captain, the consultant, the commander, the grand counsellor, the palace minister, the chancellor and the honorary retired emperor.

The subject matter is also challenging. There is polygamy, bisexuality (when one young woman rebuffs his advances, Genji consoles himself with her younger brother who turns out to be “no bad substitute for his ungracious sister”) and something very close to incest. Genji is attracted to Fujitsubo, one of his father’s consorts, because of her resemblance to his dead mother. Even though she is, in effect, his stepmother, he fathers a child with her.

The article goes on to examine how several translators (into English) have handled the story.

In their annual double issue there is a very interesting article on the development of Cookbooks from the first recognized cookbook "De ne coquinara". (Link)

The first Western cookbook appeared a little more than 1,600 years ago. “De re coquinara” (concerning cookery) is attributed to a Roman gourmet named Apicius who, legend has it, poisoned himself upon learning that he could no longer afford to eat fancy food. It is probably a mishmash of Roman and Greek recipes, some or all of them drawn from manuscripts that have since been lost. The editor was careless, allowing several duplicated recipes to sneak in. Yet Apicius’s book set the tone of cookery advice in Europe for more than a thousand years.

It has a decadent, aristocratic flavour. There are recipes for ostrich and flamingo, befitting the sweep of the Roman Empire. Apicius instructs cooks to add honey to almost everything, including lobster. He teaches them how to cook one dish so that it resembles another and how to disguise bad food.
The author goes on to look at how different countries approach their cookbooks and draws particular contrasts between the UK and the US.

Over at HuffPo, Andrew Foster Altschul asks publishers to forgo memoirs from Al Gonzales. (Link)
We all know the drill: disgraced Bush insider-cum-war-criminal licks his wounds for a year or two, then publishes a "tell-all" that either tells us what we already knew (cf. Scott McClellan's What Happened, which shocked the world by revealing that the White House had lied about its justifications for invading Iraq) or blames everyone else for what happened (cf. George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm, which excuses its author for his "slam dunk" comment by writing off its context as a mere "marketing meeting"). Prurient readers, believing mistakenly that they've breached the wall of executive secrecy, buy truckloads of the slimy documents, and the morally deficient scoundrel makes a ton of money and hits the lecture-and-talk-show circuit to make a ton more.
Ron Burkle's Yucaipa has bought a chunk of B&N for investment purposes. (Reuters)
Yucaipa Cos, a private equity firm controlled by billionaire Ron Burkle, said on Friday it it had acquired an 8.3 percent stake in bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc, saying it believed the shares were undervalued. The company's shares rose 4 percent after-hours to $15.99, after the announcement. Yucaipa funds said it had bought about 4.58 million shares since Nov. 24 for about $67.3 million, net of commissions, the company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some real analysis of the concept of The Long Tail as applied to the music industry indicates that the theory may not be as airtight as Chris Anderson would have us believe. (TimesOnline)

But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year.

The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. He used data from an American online music retailer to predict that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of “hits” - mainstream products - at the head of the demand curve toward a “huge number of niches in the tail”.

However, a new study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits.

An Op-Ed in the NYTimes looking for some help from Treasury (Link)