Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Publishing Trends Blog Has Moved

We have integrated the Publishing Trends blog into our new website. Check it out here.
Blog posts are denoted with a mouse symbol and "Exclusive Online Content."
Hope you will enjoy having everything in one place! We will be taking this blog down soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

IDPF Digital Book 2009: Forget DRM

The afternoon panels and presentations at yesterday's International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) Digital Book 2009 were filled with promises of impending hardware and software innovations. Sony Director of Business Development Bob Nell talked about the number of outlets that will be selling the Sony Reader next Christmas--6,000, which is double last year's number--and hinted that wireless and Mac-compatible readers are on the horizon. Adobe's Nick Bogaty demonstrated how the latest version of CS4 allows direct (and reflowable) ePub export from InDesign. Lexcycle's Neelan Choksi showed Stanza's true range--the iPhone app comes in 12 languages, 21 fonts, and a stunning 135 font colors, plus background textures--and its 1.8 million users come from 60 countries.

But the major theme of all the talks was--ultimately, and appropriately--the consumer. As Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blogger Sarah Wendell put it, what all readers want is a device that is "durable, flexible, accessible, affordable....[Readers] can help you grow the digital book market if you stop creating obstacles for them."

One current obstacle, said panelists at "Emerging eBook Business Models...and the Role of DRM," is DRM. Here's what Andrew Savikas, VP of Digital Initiatives at O'Reilly, had to say.

Direct book sales through O'Reilly's website make up 10% of its business, and most of those sales are digital books. When customers buy eBooks directly through the site, they receive free lifetime updates--and the books are DRM-free. Meanwhile, because of those benefits, O'Reilly has been able to sustain an eBook price that is 80% of the print book price.

Best of all, eBook sales have impacted print sales positively. For example, O'Reilly offers its book iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue as an iPhone app, a printed book, and an eBook. When O'Reilly raised the app's price, fewer people bought the app AND sales of the printed book on Amazon fell. When O'Reilly lowered the app's price, people bought more copies of both the app and the printed book.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our New Website!

Our new website is up...and lovely, if we do say so ourselves.

The address is the same. Check it out at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hands Across the Ocean

On Shakespeare’s birthday, it seems only fitting to talk about the London Book Fair and what it suggests re book publishing’s future. It was, as others have said a smaller fair than in recent years, and there were noticeably fewer Americans, with some publishers (viz Random, Scholastic) represented only by their sub rights people.

A focus of the fair became – whether by design or default – the US/UK continuum. There were panels on what, how much and how Americans read vis-à-vis their British brethren (who are slightly likelier to be so, rather than sistren). London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, noted that London has twice the numbers of bookstores as New York, and made fun of Americans for being poor practitioners of the English language.

Meanwhile, on the floor of the exhibit hall and in the International Rights Center, the tug of war between the UK and their US counterparts continued apace and as the traditional channels shrink, the debate will only intensify. It was easy when a publisher bought a book, and if it owned them, sold rights around the world, and territories were recognized – and recognizable. Nowadays, if the UK and US publisher belong to the same corporation, one edition comes out in the UK, and finds its way to Europe. If not, then increasingly two editions vie for shelfspace. Publisherslunch refers to an article in Deutsche Welle about English language books, noting “One reason US and UK publishers are fighting over export rights is the fast rise in sales of English-language books in Germany, where the Booksellers' Association says market share has doubled to 3 percent over the past five years.”

In a digital world, all bets are off. Who – the publisher(s), the etailer(s), the ebook reader(s) platform -- controls which territory? Who controls the online marketing of a p- or ebook? What about the publisher’s niche sites, created to attract teens or science fiction fans, or romance readers? When does its oversite reside with the local publisher, and when does it become part of the corporate strategy? It’s one more thing for US publishers to fight with their UK colleagues over – and vice versa. Ironically, though US publishers often have (or had, in an era before draconian cuts) larger biz dev budgets for online initiatives, the UK is ahead of the US in certain key areas, like mobile usage.

Retro though it is in the digital realm, perhaps it’s still important for publishers working on all aspects of the business to remember that besides Shakespeare, this is also World Book & Copyright Day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Ultimate Publishing Blogroll

We are compiling a giant list of publishing blogs for the May issue of Publishing Trends. We'll also be posting it online and constantly updating it on our BRAND NEW WEBSITE (coming very soon, stay tuned!) What are your favorite publishing blogs? Whether they are about books, design, or writing or are from publishing houses or literary agencies, e-mail them to me or list them in the comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cuba is (not) book country

Last week a group of publishing folk, moonlighting as humanitarian aid workers, invaded Cuba. We spent the week in Havana and its environs and – because it was the 10th Havana Art Biennial – found ourselves immersed in a vibrant city-wide exhibition that focused on third world and Latino artists.

Havana is a mass of contradictions – beautiful colonial architecture backing on to dusty, crumbling buildings; state run bookstores that are almost empty of books and people, down the street from a thriving Mondadori store geared to tourists; eager and articulate locals who admit they are cut off from the “real world,” while continuing to refer un(self)consciously to 1959 as the “triumph of the revolution.”

Though we were interested in meeting with Cuban writers and understanding the contemporary literary scene, writing is, as it happens, the least developed of Cuba’s remarkably sophisticated cultural cache. The visual arts – paintings, photography, sculpture, graphic arts – are well represented, even in non-biennial years, and subversive political content seems “allowed,” if within limits. Music is everywhere, and Cuban dance companies – modern, classical and Spanish flamenco – are world-renowned, in part because dancers get to perform outside of Cuba. (Six dancers had recently defected while performing in Mexico, though we were told this would not have an effect on the group’s future touring.)

But books and writing in general suffer from the gatekeeper syndrome: how can you find an audience unless your efforts are correct enough to be acceptable to the retailers who – with the single exception of the tourist store on the Plaza de Armas, which is stocked with Stephen King, Isabel Allende and Dostoevsky, among others – are state-owned? Though some publishers, like that run by the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC), are “non-governmental” and have an independent editorial board consisting of union members, the distinction is moot when books are sold through sanctioned retailers and all media are also controlled by the state. And in a world where the internet is closely regulated (there is a state-wide “intranet” system, but computers are prohibitively expensive for most Cubans), modern options like POD or ebooks are of course nonexistent. As a result, books published in Cuba are of decreasing interest to its inhabitants, with the typical printing running between 1,000 and (occasionally) 5,000. Nor can people go to libraries to find something to read, as these too are government-run, and seem to have few contemporary books or indeed books of any vintage. (A school library we visited had mostly yellowing textbooks, dictionaries, and propaganda – and nine dog-eared copies of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, in Scribner paperbacks vintage 1965.)

Indeed, a union member explained that books are not published simply to provide entertainment, but rather (as one of our guides put it) to promote “real values.” But commercial fare is nevertheless available: at an artist’s kiosk in the Capitol Building, a Spanish language copy of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons was spied and in the state-run bookstore we visited, there were, in addition to Che and Fidel speeches, a lot of books by Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, Elizabeth George and Michael Crichton, as well as a (fairly recent) biography of Sigourney Weaver!

Still, there is an annual International Festival of Poetry in Havana, and the Cuba International Book Festival draws publishers from Latin America and elsewhere. Initially also a Havana fair, it was, apparently, Fidel’s idea to make the event a national celebration so that all Cubans could meet authors – and pitch their books to publishers. His suggestion that fairs be held simultaneously across the island was impractical – it was difficult for authors who might want to visit their home towns, but still participate in the hubbub of the Havana fair – and now the festival travels throughout the country on successive days, thereby allowing authors to travel around the country, courtesy of the state. Rights to some books are sold abroad at this fair, and some publishers attend other fairs as well. Authors receive a portion of the royalties -- small, according to UNEAC representatives, though they’re lobbying the government to increase it. To access UNEAC’s site, go to

Above: Hemingway’s typewriter at his estate, Finca Vigia. No books are available in any language at the gift shop. T-shirts, random CDs and postcards, however, are.

This is Lorraine Shanley’s second – but not last – trip to Cuba. Thanks to fellow travelers Bill Goldstein for suggesting the title and for editing this posting, and to Harold Weinberg for the photograph of Hemingway’s Corona.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Publishing Trends, April 2009

Just posted on the Publishing Trends website, new content from our April 2009 issue:

April Book View

Book Clubs: They're Alive.
Depending on whom you ask, liberal and conservative readers are both underserved audiences, and the Progressive Book Club and Conservative Book Club seek to fill the respective gaps. David Rosen, editor of PBC, and Elizabeth Kantor, editor of CBC, say their book clubs are necessary because they are reaching out to readers who can't find the books they want to read anywhere else.

What's the Story with Bookspan?
Despite its sale by the Bertelsmann Group to Najafi Companies last year, Bookspan's 21 book clubs (including Book-of-the-Month Club, Doubleday Book Club, Quality Paperback Club, and Literary Guild) still exist. Given the company's tumultuous past few years, how has it held up?