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.

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