Thursday, December 03, 2020

Doing it Wrong at Voice of America

News which shouldn't be entirely surprising for any following the debacle that has been unfolding at VoA over the past twelve months. CEO Michael Pack was appointed by trump but came to the role as a "fakenews" acolyte and believed VoA - in all its versions - was too liberally biased and thus needed to be "cleaned up".  Naturally, the lack of any reliable data to support his claims didn't stop him but brains didn't get in the way either and it looks like more yet more crimes have been committed.  From NPR

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a federal watchdog, disclosed Wednesday that it had found "a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing" at the parent agency of the Voice of America under the leadership of the CEO appointed by President Trump.

Since taking over the U.S. Agency for Global Media, CEO Michael Pack has turned it upside down, sidelining top executives, firing network chiefs, and deep-sixing requests for visa extensions for foreign staffers. Most notably, Pack had two senior political aides with records of strongly pro-Trump ideological statements investigate journalists for perceived anti-Trump bias and push for sympathetic news coverage of the president during the campaign.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Hating BookExpo: Just Let it Go

Few people will miss BookExpo now that Reed Elsevier has placed a hold on future BookExpo and BookCon conferences. BookExpo has been knocking on deaths door for at least ten years now. Then again, it’s hard to run a vibrant industry conference when the primary constituencies are at war and hate each other. When I first attended BookExpo, it was in the shadow of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) lawsuit over unfair trading practices and when I stopped attending regularly the industry was reeling over Agency pricing. Spaced in between, was Len Riggio berating publishers from the keynote podium. In those early years, we were counting the inexorable increase in Barnes & Noble and Border superstores, but at least we had competition and choice: Now the single Amazon superstore reigns.

As an executive deciding on attendance, BookExpo was important through the mid-2000s but as the show’s focus became narrower and attendance fell with fewer and fewer decision makers, the companies I ran declined to attend at all. But this was not the case with the London and Frankfurt fairs which were far more international and addressed a broader market. Oddly, Bookexpo never brought together the wider range of publisher which the other international fairs managed to do and this contributed to the decline. In retrospect, BooksExpo was always a regional show, we just didn’t see it. A reliance on the New York location was also a sad decision made mainly in the interest of cost cutting. As Trade became narrower and narrower, Reed Elsevier failed to deal with this dynamic.

Way back in 2008, I wrote a complaining piece about the show and encouraged the organizers to bring in actual readers and open the show to the public. This wasn’t a unique view by any means but all that got me was an invite to sit on their advisory group. This turned out to be an annual waste of time but at least I got a free pass to the show. As a group we were never encouraged to reinvent the show and, in the end, the group disbanded. As it turned out, I was excised without notice at some point.

Sadly, as part of the Reed Elsevier announcement they are also placing BookCon on ice. While they were a little late to the party in launching this add-on conference (which does include the public) the direction made more sense. It is a shame Reed Elsevier were unable to do more with BookCon but perhaps this will be revived down the road. I believe someone will fill the gap that exists to support the reading public with an informative and interesting conference but obviously, in the current COVID environment that may not be in our immediate future.

BookExpo will never return. In the old days, conflicts could be diluted across a wider group of somewhat equally powerful participants; there was more respect for equal partners in the fight. Today though, the market has become over weighted – the concentration of trade publishing and the power of Amazon. If you are an independent bookseller, which was the core of the old ABA conference, you have been left out in the cold for a while now. No one will miss BookExpo.


Monday, November 30, 2020

MediaWeek Report (Vol 13, No 15): Big Mergers - Simon & Schuster, S&P Global, Copyrights & Libraries, Pearson

Bertelsmann buying Simon & Schuster.

No doubt you've read about this acquisition and here are some of the articles.  Many are taking 'it's the Amazon problem' approach:

In The Atlantic: The merger isn't the gravest danger to the business.

NYTimes: The biggest publisher is about to get bigger

The Economist: A biblio-behemoth 

The New Republic: Heading towards monopolistic singularity

In other big media merger news:

WSJ - S&P Global agrees to buy IHS Markit for $44Billion combing two of the largest data suppliers to wall street firms.

Also Benzinga - The merger of the two companies will create a financial data behemoth.

I'm sure that's fine. 

According to Fortune a new copyright champion has arrived from the Internet Archive.  Are publishers on board with this I ask?

For Bailey, the debate is personal. Growing up in an artistic family of modest means on Long Island, she never encountered the Internet until arriving at Brown University in 1995. There, Bailey made friends with a circle of creative types thrilled by the culture and community they discovered on web, from the music-sharing bazaar Napster to blogging platform LiveJournal.

"The Internet seemed like this amazing new thing to distribute knowledge and information," she recalls.

After college, Bailey landed in the midst of New York's cultural elite with a job as an executive assistant to a creative director at magazine giant Conde Naste. But she soon became disillusioned, concluding the publishing industry prioritized money over artistic ideals.

 (Yes, Nast is incorrectly spelled).

Speaking of Random House, here is a good obit of Harold Evans - The Economist

People looked pityingly on him now. That was unbearable, so he left for the United States and a teaching job. His second wife, Tina Brown, soon joined him as editor of Vanity Fair, and he too took up the pen again, editing US News & World Report and founding Condé Nast Traveller before becoming, in 1990, president of Random House. There the copy on his desk was by Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, William Styron and Richard Nixon, as well as the businessmen, artists and poets he added to the list. The glittering Manhattan literary scene revolved around their garden brownstone, enjoyably so. America performed its reinventing magic, and in 1993 he became a citizen. Yet the country’s deepest effect on him had happened years before, when he visited on a Harkness fellowship in 1956. He was already in love with newspapers; with the smell of printer’s ink, and with Hollywood’s depiction of brave small-town newspapermen standing up to crooks. Papers in America might be slackly edited and poorly designed, but they showed a crusading desire for openness that was still rare in Britain.

Bookstores are struggling but rich folk are buying first editions (Bloomberg)

The market for extremely rare books has been healthy for years, dealers say, but quantifying its ups and downs is difficult, because “if you’re talking about a book with many comparables over time, you’ve missed the top of the market,” says Darren Sutherland, a specialist in Bonham’s rare books department in New York.

“It’s so anecdotal,” agrees Christina Geiger, the head of the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s New York. “Everything depends on the quality of the material.” 

Still, consensus among dealers is that the overall market has sustained itself even as the rest of retail has been thrown into turmoil, and that the peak of the market has soared past many participants’ expectations.

UK University staff urge probe into e-book pricing 'scandal' (BBC)

"It's a scandal. It's public money," she said. "Students are shocked when I tell them just how much it costs to get them their texts.

"People just assume we can get books for the prices they see on Amazon and Kindle. It just doesn't work like that for universities.

"The academic publishing business model is broken, and as you can see from the number of people who have signed the letter we think it is time for an investigation," she said.

Lectures are increasingly having to be designed around what texts are available and affordable, not what is best for learning, Ms Anderson said.

Pearson Creates New Direct-to-Consumer Division (Pearson)

Pearson, the world's leading learning company, today announces the creation of a new direct-to-consumer division as it looks to further strengthen its focus on building a direct relationship with learners around the world.

The new division will be co-led by two senior executives: Ishantha Lokuge joined Pearson from Shutterfly last year and now steps up to the role of Chief Global Product Officer and co-President, Direct-to-Consumer.

 As always, more in my flipboard magazine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

MediaWeek (Vol 13, No 15): Cookbooks, trump's $100mm memoirs, Bookshop.org

How much of a risk are publishers willing to take in publishing more trump books?  Can they afford to publish his memoirs?  (TNR)

Can Book Publishers Afford to Publish Donald Trump?

A Trump post-presidency memoir would be a mega-bestseller. But is the industry prepared to deal with the fallout?

But the most straightforward path to money and attention is the most traditional one for ex-presidents: a memoir, much like the one Barack Obama will publish about his first term next week. There have been whispers about such a book for some time, and speculation is increasing. Earlier this week someone in Trump’s camp told the New York Post’s Page Six that “Trump is being bombarded with book and TV deals that could be worth a staggering $100 million.”
That figure is almost certainly not true—it elicited laughter from multiple publishing sources when I raised it. Barack and Michelle Obama received a $65 million advance for two books, one of which, Michelle’s Becoming, has become the biggest seller of the Trump era. It is highly unlikely that a single Trump book could even flirt with that amount of money. The Post item was, more likely, spin from an interested party—a reminder to publishers that the president commands a large audience and a reminder to the president himself that a memoir could lead to a cash windfall.

Bookshop.org which has grown spectacularly in support of independent bookstores eCommerce needs during the pandemic is launching in the UK.  The Guardian has a view.

Despite books being deemed non-essential items by the government, the publishing industry has seen record sales this year. But as we enter a second lockdown, there are a number of the 870 independent bookshops in the UK that have been unable to create a functioning website where their customers can buy books directly from them. Bookshop.org allows any independent shop to customise its own online store front, select books to recommend and, any time a bookshop directs a customer to the site through one of its links, it gets 30% of the sale.

The importance of supporting local bookshops as a vital part of the community has been increasingly recognised, and is further reflected on this platform, as every time a reader buys a book from an author, publisher, magazine or influencer page, 10% of that purchase will go to the page owner and another 10% into a profit pool for independent bookshops. In the US more than $7.5m has been raised to share among 900 bookshops. On day one of being established in the UK, the pot was already at £12,500.

 A new way to publish cookbooks (Thrillist)

Somekind’s cookbooks follow an innovative, dreamt up business model that feels like a foil to traditional publishing. For starters, the majority of the money raised goes directly to venues—the remaining is then split among creative contributors, like designers, photographers, and editors. The cookbooks double as a crowdfunding source and work on a preorder basis; if 100 copies of a cookbook aren’t sold, the title will not go to print and the money that has been raised will be donated to the venue. “A normal, traditional publisher will invest in say, 10,000 copies that get printed in China and then hope to sell all of them and need to push that to make sure that they’re accountable to sell them,” Mossop explained. “Because we crowdfund and preorder all of these, we actually don’t need to keep stock so we only print what we sell so we don’t have any waste.” 
It’s an entirely new method of publishing, which is reflected in the name of their company: it’s not traditional publishing nor is it digital, it’s just some kind of publishing.
Forget TikToc:  How the US Military buys location data from ordinary aps (Vice)

X-Mode then sells access to this sort of data to a wide range of different clients. Motherboard has previously shown that one of those clients includes a private intelligence firm whose goal is to use location data to track people down to their "doorstep." X-Mode has also demonstrated how its data can be used to follow where people in COVID-19 hotspots travelled to after potentially exposing one another to the coronavirus. 

Those clients have also included U.S. military contractors, Motherboard found. Included in archived versions of the "Trusted Partners" section on its website, X-Mode lists Sierra Nevada Corporation and Systems & Technology Research as customers. Sierra Nevada Corporation builds combat aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and supports contractor Northrop Grumman in the development of cyber and electronic warfare capabilities for the U.S. Army. Systems & Technology Research works with the Army, Navy, and Air Force according to procurement records, and offers "data analytics" support to intelligence analysts, according to its website.

 

Monday, November 09, 2020

MediaWeek (Vol 13, No 14): What will a Biden Presidency look like for Education?

A quick round-up looking at what a Biden Presidency may look like for education?

From Inside Higher Ed:

"President-elect Biden has promised to make human capital investment a central part of his agenda and this will have widespread implications for higher education. Higher education institutions and student will welcome these efforts," said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government relations and a top lobbyist for colleges and universities. "Some of his ideas, like doubling Pell Grants, are easily implemented and will enjoy universal popularity. Others -- like the free college proposal -- will be politically controversial and very complicated to design. Yet others -- like large-scale student loan forgiveness -- are potentially quite expensive.

"But we’ll be looking at a once-in-a-generation effort to invest in America’s students and workers," he said

From WAPO: With DeVos out, Biden plans series of reversals on Education:

For the Education Department, the transition committee is being led by Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, several people said. Darling-Hammond, who was considered for education secretary by President Barack Obama in 2008, is under consideration again, people familiar with the process said. Also under consideration are two teachers-union leaders: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association.

 From NPR: Trump and Biden's plans for education

  • Make public colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions tuition-free for families making less than $125,000.
  • Make two years of community college and training programs tuition-free.
  • Cancel $10,000 of every American's student debt and revise the current loan repayment system.
  • Establish universal prekindergarten.
  • Read details of Biden's plans here.

Bye Betsy: Education Reacts to Biden Victory

However, it was hard to avoid the jubilation—and mockery—educators aimed at DeVos on Saturday. 

The co-leader of the Educators for Biden 2020 group, Arizona teacher Marisol García, said she was "proud of every educator who said, it's too much and we need to get us a new President," and added the hashtag #AdiosBetsy. The Chicago Teachers Union tweeted: "Bye Betsy." Nate Bowling, the 2016 Washington state teacher of the year, used a GIF to express his joy

The GW Hatchet: What Biden means for higher education:

A Biden-Harris administration would also tamp down the vicious tone of politics on campuses and nationwide. Trump’s shameless and cruel discourse toward women, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups has percolated down to many of his supporters: it has been demonstrated that many people who had quietly harbored racist and misogynistic opinions have been emboldened to lend voice to them because of Trump. This normalization of bigotry has even extended to college campuses, with bigoted screeds hiding themselves under “free speech.” Unlike Trump, Biden and Harris do not legitimize hate speech or tacitly lend credence to hate groups. Any president will be divisive at times – it’s the nature of party politics – but Biden and Harris will not spur their supporters to chant “Jews will not replace us.”

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

MediaWeek (Vol 13, No 13): Bloomsbury, The Strand Bookstore, Ebooks & Libraries, Education & Academic Publishing


Roundup of publishing news from the past several months.

Harry Potter publisher says Covid has weaved magic over book sales (Guardian) 

“It is a complete surprise because we had as grim a beginning to the pandemic as everyone else in March when 100% of our customers shut down worldwide,” said Nigel Newton, the chief executive.

“And then we found that early on people showed short attention spans and were watching TV. But then reading reasserted its power and people found they could escape through books, and sales have been booming ever since.”

When New York’s Strand Bookstores asked for help, 25,000 online orders flooded in (WaPo) 

“How can I not love my book community for helping like this?” she said in a phone interview. “I really don’t think that we’re just a bookstore. I think we’re a place of discovery and a community center. When I ask for help and they respond this fast, it’s so heartwarming.”

She said in the interview that she hopes the store will survive through the end of the year, and then she’ll reevaluate its future.

Chinese censors target German publishers (DW)
As China tries to expand its influence abroad, it's going beyond politics and business to target literature and publishing. German publishers are among those that have been targeted by censors,

Publishers Worry as Ebooks Fly off Libraries' Virtual Shelves (Wired)

But the surging popularity of library ebooks also has heightened longstanding tensions between publishers, who fear that digital borrowing eats into their sales, and public librarians, who are trying to serve their communities during a once-in-a-generation crisis. Since 2011, the industry’s big-five publishers—Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—have limited library lending of ebooks, either by time—two years, for example—or number of checkouts—most often, 26 or 52 times. Readers can browse, download, join waiting lists for, and return digital library books from the comfort of their home, and the books are automatically removed from their devices at the end of the lending period.

Skyhorse Publishing’s House of Horrors (Vanity Fair)
“I was thinking about what makes Skyhorse different from other companies,” says Lyons, during a wide-ranging interview this spring, “and it goes back to being open to publishing books that other people might not publish for a variety of reasons.” Those reasons might include a short turnaround time, or disinterest from other publishers. They also, one could argue, include dubious scientific claims that toggle between the merely controversial and the outright inaccurate. Skyhorse has made millions by differentiating itself from traditional publishers, releasing books on a rapid schedule and courting controversies along the national divide, from cancel culture to freedom of the press to hallmarks of the misinformation age. But accounts from former employees paint a picture of a company with internal demons too: reports of a toxic workplace, everyday misogyny, and the human costs of mismanagement in an industry always anxious about its margins.

Profile of Penguin Random House and CEO Madeline Macintosh: Best sellers sell because they are Best sellers (NYT)

To almost everyone’s surprise, the answer to those unnerving questions, at least for the moment, has been: Yes. After a steep drop at the start of the pandemic, book sales not only recovered but surged. Unit sales of print books are up nearly 6 percent over last year, according to NPD BookScan, and e-book and digital audiobook sales have risen by double digits. Reading, it turns out, is an ideal experience in quarantine.

“People were watching a lot of Netflix, but then they needed a break from Netflix,” Ms. McIntosh said. “A book is the most uniquely, beautifully designed product to have with you in lockdown.”

As the industry’s Goliath — as big as the four other biggest publishers combined, analysts say, with authors from Barack and Michelle Obama to Toni Morrison — Penguin Random House has fared better than some of its rivals. Of the 20 best-selling print books of 2020, eight (by far the largest share) are Penguin Random House titles, according to NPD BookScan. It has had 216 New York Times best sellers this year. Penguin Random House’s U.S. sales grew 5.2 percent in the first half of the year, helping to soften a global sales dip of around 1 percent, according to an earnings report from its parent, the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. Overall sales at several other major publishers — Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — all fell further, according to filings.

Corporate restructuring continues at Houghton Mifflin: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt cuts 525 jobs as COVID-19 accelerates online learning (Boston Globe)

Beyond workforce reductions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it will also save on manufacturing costs by shifting the business from print to digital offerings. The company plans to “retire” older systems and print-centric processes. Lynch said the new structure creates a “more focused company with increased recurring digital subscription revenue that produces higher margins and free cash flow.”

Other education publishers, including Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill, have also been shifting more of their business from printed textbooks to software and digital tools. The process has taken several years but is likely to be sped up by the pandemic’s impact on schools.

Moody's downgrades HMH (Yahoo

In the UK a group is asking the government to look in to academic publishing and eBooks:  Open letter calls for ‘investigation of academic publishing industry’ (RI)

The letter states: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic – where students and researchers have not been able to physically visit libraries and access paper books – has brought the many market issues regarding ebooks sharply into focus, as ebooks have become our only purchase option. As lockdown began in March we observed students borrowing as much of the print material that they needed as possible, but as libraries shut academic librarians then did their best to source digital versions. 

‘Due to UK copyright law university libraries cannot simply purchase an ebook in the way an individual can – instead we are required to purchase a version licensed specifically for university use. Public policy to support education and research should support a healthy ebook market, but we in fact see the opposite.’

Large-scale study backs up other research showing relative declines in women's research productivity during COVID-19. Inside Higher Ed

A new study of enormous scale supports what numerous smaller studies have demonstrated throughout the pandemic: female academics are taking extended lockdowns on the chin, in terms of their comparative scholarly productivity.

Online Test Proctoring Claims to Prevent Cheating. But at What Cost? (Slate)
While some aspects of the pandemic-era classroom translate just fine to a digital format, exams have become more complicated. Typically, students take the SAT, the GRE, or any number of midterms or finals in classrooms with proctors standing in the front of the room. But with students at home, some instructors have turned to proctoring software to ensure students aren’t using unauthorized notes, textbooks, or other tools to aid their test taking.

Monday, October 19, 2020

MediaWeek Report (Vol 13, No 12): Quarterly Newsletter - Articles of Interest and Consulting Update

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Our World


Business dislocation, managing remote workers and plant and infrastructure management are the significant issues we've been addressing with our clients over the past six months. Despite the uncertainty of the US election and the worry over COVID, our clients are thinking critically about how they emerge from these challenges during 2021 prepared to operate more efficiently and effectively.  We've helped our clients evaluate and experiment with new business models, technology improvements and employee relations which will enable these companies to emerge better prepared and stronger over the next few years. At Information Media Partners we are always happy to take a call (908 938 4889) or email to discuss your particular challenge.

Check out the following business articles of interest:
Client Review: Apple Daily and Jimmy Lai: Trying to save democracy in Hong Kong
Article: When artists gather together for their advantage
Interview: Textbooks are giving way to Courseware at an increasing rate
 
Consulting: Profiles of some of our consulting work
Publishing & Industry News Clips
OCLC's Vision for the Next Generation of Metadata

NYU Business School Prof Galloway on the Future of Higher Ed

Pew Research: Experts Predict More Digital Innovation

Beyond the Pandemic, Libraries Look Toward a New Era - NYTimes

A Guide to the Newsletter Economy - NY Magazine

Can Amazon Keep Growing Like a Youthful Startup? - Economist

Why Managing Uncertainty is a Key Management Skill - Strategy+Business

Building a Digital New York Times: Exit Interview with Mark Thompson - McKinsey

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The coming year will be challenging and you will need help. Please get in touch to discuss a project and/or your long-term management needs.  (michael.cairns@infomediapartners.com)
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