Turning the Virtual Page: Virtual Reality and Traditional Publishing

Google daydream headset

Google’s Daydream player

When we first got Google’s virtual reality headset at my house, called the Google Daydream, I can’t say I was too excited. But then I tried it. I downloaded BBC’s The Turning Forest, grabbed the controller, and put on the headset. A man who sounded vaguely like Martin Freeman narrated a fairytale-like story that took place in a beautiful digital forest. The short tale is complete with a fantastical beast, an interactive forest, and all tied together with an entertaining plot. It got me thinking: what’s traditional book publishing going to do with this technology, if anything?

Ever since Facebook bought virtual reality and tech company Oculus for a staggering $2 billion in 2014, virtual reality, or VR, has remained at the forefront for tech nerds, engineers, and investors. The key word here is investors. $1.2 billion was invested in VR in Q1 of 2016 alone.

Before we move on, a quick background on this technology.

  • Oculus announced their plans for Rift, their VR headset in 2012.
  • Google Cardboard, a VR viewer literally made of cardboard, was released in 2014 and is still available from the Google Store for $15. It works with virtually any smartphone.
  • Giroptic, the first VR camera, received full funding on Kickstarter on July of 2014. Consumers can now order this camera directly from their website.
  • YouTube (a Google-owned entity) launched 360 degree videos on their site in March of 2015. (Users do not need a VR headset to enjoy these videos.)
  • In November 2015, The New York Times sent 1.2 million Google Cardboard devices to their subscribers to promote their own VR channel.
  • Rift was released it in May of 2016 with an introductory price of $599.
  • Google’s Daydream VR viewer was released last November for $79. It requires certain Android phones to work.

This timeline shows that VR accessibility is ramping up. While some VR viewers – like the Rift – carry a hefty price tag, the Google Cardboard can either be made at home or purchased for $15 with no shipping directly from the Google store. Beyond the viewer, all any user needs is a smartphone. That means content creators have work to do. In an interview with Engadget, co-founder of the aptly named Virtual Reality Company Robert Stromberg talked about the participatory aspect of storytelling in VR content: “It’s kind of a hybrid – a cross between observer and a participant.” One of Stromberg’s first major projects was in connection with book-turned-film The Martian. Stromberg feels as though there’s a place for longform narrative in VR settings. “The Martian started out as a 12-minute experience, which ended up being 20 to 28 minutes depending on what you did with the interactive component. What we realized is that people didn’t have a problem in an environment for that long.” Interesting that he brings up in an environment since, after all, any VR experience is going to be a solitary one. No matter how interactive it is, it’s something the user does alone.

Here is where I see some of the unique overlap of VR and book publishing, because what else is a uniquely solitary form of entertainment? Reading a book. Last fall, Dan Berkowitz wrote for Digital Book World how filmmakers are drawn to VR but realize “the hurdles and the possibilities in how they are able to create and tell stories…movie-going tends to be a communal experience, whereas watching a film on a VR headset is a singular experience.” Berkowitz goes on to surmise that perhaps readers are the exact type of person to best enjoy VR as they’re both solo entertainment experiences.

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From Retro to Robotics: Toy Fair 2017

The Javits Center hosted the 114th International Toy Fair over Presidents’ Day weekend, with 1100 exhibitors and an estimated 30,000 attendees. In 2016 U.S. toy sales grew 5% and are estimated to be $26 billion for the year, so the mood was upbeat.

Numerous mainstream publishers were on hand, including HarperCollins, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Chronicle, Sourcebooks, and Highlights for Children, which is launching a new line of educational workbooks that ships next month. Sterling had books displayed as well as its expanding gift line, which includes a new Emma Bridgewater line of paper goods. Quarto’s large booth featured its new acquisition, SmartLab, and its newest employee, Diane Naughton, now Quarto’s Director of Marketing for Children’s.  She mentioned that the Walter Foster title Adventures in Lettering is a very successful alternative to coloring books (though Quarto publishes plenty of those too).

Nevertheless, everyone, it seems, is still cashing in on the coloring book craze, with close to fifty companies listed (only forty are listed under “Books” in the fair guide).  Bendon Inc., which has both Star Wars and Marvel licenses, says that while those coloring books do extremely well, Coloring the 60s is at the top of adult bestsellers. Fox Chapel has a catalog of hundreds of coloring books that range from Bible journaling to animal coloring books to seasonal collections.

Meanwhile Toy Fair puts out its own list of trends for 2017, and they include:

  • Collectibles
    Posting 33% growth with $1.8B in sales in 2016, they are expected to maintain their popularity in 2017. This trend includes basic and affordable collectibles, collectibles that have multiple play functions, as well as some higher-priced licensed collectibles for avid collectors. There were shelves upon shelves of action figures at the Fair.
  • Up & Active
    Toys that encourage kids to get up and move – both indoors and outdoors – are on the rise – with large courts set up around the fair for demos. The trend includes tech toys that weave in active components, traditional games that incorporate physical activity, and digital toys that foster face-to-face play.
  • Technology Trends
    This year there is a surge in augmented and virtual reality toys, drones (also promoted as a way to exercise), virtual pets, robotics, and more. Toymakers are trying to leverage technology to enhance traditional play patterns rather than replace them. One interesting variation on this was Moonlite, a company that has a View-Master-like gizmo that attaches to your smartphone and projects pictures from a storybook.  The parent reads along as she clicks on the next picture.  The founder, Natalie Rebot, was at Google, and the company just raised $350k on Kickstarter.  They are in talks with publishers to license more picture books.
  • Classic
    Last year, games/puzzles and dolls were among the fastest growing toy categories tracked by the NPD Group. Low or no-tech toys with retro and classic styling and materials (like wood) are expected to do well this year.  Music in the form of retro radios, classic instruments and karaoke seemed more in evidence this year.
  • Movie tie-ins
    Licensing about 30% of total U.S. toy sales, and 2017 promises a wave of licensing opportunities, from two LEGO movies (Batman and Ninjago) to Cars 3, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Beauty and the Beast.
  • Edutainment: STEAM to STREAM
    The trend in educational toys that teach kids important concepts like Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) will now have Robotics incorporated into the trend – transforming STEAM to STREAM. And there are the important staples of puzzles, memory games, building blocks, stacking toys, and other playthings that teach critical skills like problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking, which were very much in evidence throughout the Fair.

Perhaps because of the pervasiveness of coloring books, an increase in parents’ interest in educational entertainment for their kids, or (and) a desire to keep a strong presence in the gift market channels, there seemed to be more publishers with more booth space at this year’s Toy Fair.  And better yet — several said they were taking orders on the floor from both indie and big box stores.  Look for a bustling 2017, and an even bigger Toy Fair presence in 2018.

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 2/13-2/17

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

HarperCollins quarterly profits are up 32% over the same period in 2016.

Are audiobooks the next big growth market?

What role will libraries play in the fight against fake news?

How are bookstores responding to the new administration?

Does reading fiction change your experience of the world?

Freelance Publicists Contact Sheet 2017

Publishing Trends’ annually updated contact sheet of freelance book publicists includes several firms and individuals specializing in a wide range of genres and approaches. The majority of the publicists listed use both traditional and digital approaches, plus we have two digital-only publicists who specialize in various aspects of online and social marketing and publicity. Each firm chooses a few specialties to list here. To download a PDF of the whole sheet, click below.

Click on the image of the chart above for a full PDF version of the 2017 sheet.

Updated 2/28/2017 to include Auritt Communications Group, Inkslinger PR, RMT PR Management, and Teszler PR.

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 2/6-2/10

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Is the rise of celebrity memoirs taking away publishing opportunities from full-time writers?

Why doesn’t Apple seem to care about iBooks?

Are “sensitivity-readers” shaping the books we read today?

What are the hazards of being a civically engaged author in today’s political landscape?

How is Kickstarter giving the literary community a boost?

People Round-Up, Early February 2017


Liese Mayer is joining Bloomsbury on February 27 in the newly-created role of Editorial Director, Fiction. She has been working as Editor at Scribner.

John Morgan is now Executive Editor at Imprint. He was previously Senior Producer at Melcher Media, Director of Digital Publishing at Penguin, and Creative Director at DC Comics.

Bernd Leukert has joined the supervisory board of Bertelsmann. He is Executive Board Member at SAP SE.

Doug Pocock will become Managing Director of Capstone’s UK businesses, Curious Fox and Raintree. He is replacing Miles Stevens-Hoare, who is leaving the company for W.F. Howes. Pocock was most recently Managing Director of the Abrams and Chronicle joint venture.

Bloomsbury announces that Anthony Salz will step down as Chairman of the Board in July, with a successor to be named at a later date. On March 1, Steven Hall, Managing Director of IOP Publishing, will join the board, and Stephen Page, Faber Chief Executive, will exit.

At F+W Media, Phil Sexton, Jamie Markle, and Kristi Loeffelholz have left the company. Sexton was VP, Group Publisher, overseeing Writer’s Digest and The Writer’s Store; Markle, VP, Group Publisher, Fine Arts; and Loeffelholz, VP, General Manager, Quilting.

At Bloomsbury Digital Resources, Lenny Allen has joined as Global Sales and Marketing Director. He was previously Director, International Accounts at Oxford University Press.

Daniel Berkowitz has joined Writers House as Digital Director. He was previously Senior Editor at Digital Book World.

Susan Jurevics is leaving her position as CEO of Pottermore at the end of February and will not be replaced.

At Da Capo Press, Matthew Weston is now Assistant Marketing Director. He was previously International Marketing Director at Random House. In addition, Quinn Fariel has joined as Marketing Manager; he had been Operations and Rights Manager at Hachette Audio.

Carmen Álvarez has joined Abrams as Assistant Manager, Wimpy Kid brand marketing. She was previously Integrated Marketing Assistant at Harper Collins Children’s. Rebecca Westall is now Production Manager, formerly Senior Production Associate at Hachette. Evangelos Vasilakis is Managing Editor, Children’s; previously, he was Associate Managing Editor at Penguin Random House.

At The Experiment, Anna Bliss has joined as Editor-at-Large. She was previously Editor at HarperCollins and Globe Pequot Press and runs her own consultancy service, Bliss Editorial. In addition, Chloe Texier-Rose has joined as Publicity and Marketing Assistant. She was most recently Interim Marketing Manager at Harper Wave and Harper Business.

At Diversion Publishing, Mark J.H. Fretz has joined as Editorial Director of the self-publishing division, Radius Book Group. He was previously Editorial Director at Scribe Inc.

At Melville House, Ian Dreiblatt has joined as Director of Digital Marketing and Editor of the company’s blog, MobyLives, having worked previously as Senior Publicist and Academic Marketing Manager at Seven Stories PressPeter Clark has joined as Sales Manager; he was previously Director of Sales at RosettaBooks. And Susan Rella has joined as Managing Editor; she had been working freelance.

Tom MacDonald has joined the ecommerce team of Sourcebooks as Marketing Manager. He was previously Marketing Manager at Whittl.

Meagan Szekely has joined Naval Institute Press as Marketing Manager. She had previously worked as Editorial Assistant at Johns Hopkins University Press.

Barbara Ras, President of Trinity University Press, is retiring after fifteen years. Before launching the press, she had worked on the editorial staffs of Wesleyan University Press, University Press of New England, University of California Press, North Point Press, Sierra Club Books, and University of Georgia Press.

Tim Barton is stepping down from his position as Managing Director of Oxford University Press’s academic division. In September he will leave the university, where he has worked for more than twenty-five years.

At agencies…Susan Hawk has joined Upstart Crow Literary as Agent. She was previously at The Bent Agency. At Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency, Soumeya Bendimerad Roberts has joined as Agent and Rights Director; she was most recently Agent at Writers House. Alice Sutherland-Hawes has joined Madeleine Milburn Ltd as Rights Agent, having worked previously as Literary Assistant at The Agency.

Barbara Brown has joined Kensington as Senior Designer.

Tim Cross has joined Westchester Publishing Services as Business Development Manager. He had previously worked for Allen Press in various capacities from 2006 to 2016, most recently as Product Marketing Manager and Product Education Manager.

Mary Ann Gwinn is leaving her position as Book Editor at the Seattle Times. She had spent eighteen years in that role and thirty-four at the newspaper in total.


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Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 1/30-2/3

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Could blockchain bounties help fight ebook piracy?

What will the W3C/IDPF merger mean for ebook technology?

Did agency pricing hold Amazon back?

Why did the New York Times cut its comics bestseller lists?

How might scientific publishing continue in the new political climate?

International Bestsellers, January 2017

Every month, Publishing Trends runs fiction international bestsellers lists from four territories–France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This month, our four regular territories are joined by two more: Holland and South Africa. Those books that have been published in English are listed with their official English-language title. All others are translated as literally as possible from the original. Where applicable, the US publisher is listed after the local publisher, separated by a “/”. The lists are taken from major newspapers or national retailers, which are noted at the bottom of each list.









Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 1/23-1/27

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement th%.e major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Why do physical books have staying power?

A new study from the UK shows that reading print books slows down in the teen years.

AAP reported that print sales were up through August 2016, but ebooks were down by almost 19%.

How can we effectively encourage children to read?

How does the price of a book affect consumer habits?

People Round-Up, Mid-January 2017


Former U.S. Register of Copyright Maria Pallante has been selected as the next President and CEO of the American Association of Publishers. She will replace Tom Allen, who is retiring.

Ben Sevier will join Grand Central Publishing on February 27 as SVP, Publisher, succeeding Jamie Raab. Sevier was previously VP, Publisher at Dutton.

Catherine Onder is joining Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s on February 6 as SVP, Publisher. She had been working as Editorial Director at Bloomsbury Children’s and fills the position vacated by Betsy Groban last summer.

Lee & Low Press has announced that longtime editorial director Louise May will become Editor-at-Large on March 1. Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, will take over her position.

Debra Polansky has been hired as VP, Director of Sales for Penguin Children’s. She was previously Publishing Director at Studio Fun International. At Random House Children’s, Emily Petrick has joined as Educational Marketing Associate for the school & library marketing team; she was previously Advertising and Promotion Coordinator at Macmillan Children’s. Kristina Forest joined Random House Children’s as Subsidiary Rights Coordinator, moving over from Subsidiary Rights Assistant at Simon & Schuster Children’s.

At St. Martin’s Press, Tom Thompson has joined as SVP, Creative Services and Advertising. He was previously SVP, Digital Strategy/Group Director at Verso Advertising and had been there for ten years.

At Harlequin’s Graydon House imprint, Melanie Fried is now Editor. She was previously Associate Editor at Thomas Dunne.

Emma Brodie is now Senior Editor at William Morrow, having worked as Associate Editor at Clarkson Potter. At Broadside Books, Eric Nelson has been named VP, Editorial Director, beginning January 25. He is currently Executive Editor at Portfolio and will fill the role vacated when founder Adam Bellow moved to St. Martin’s last fall. Karen Nelson has joined Thomas Nelson as Director of Marketing; she previously served as Director of Marketing for Motown Records’ gospel division.

Kelsey Horton has joined Delacorte Press as Associate Editor. She previously worked as Associate Editor at Katherine Teigen Books.

At Scholastic, Kiffin Steurer has been hired as Managing Editor for Klutz; he was previously Production Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Chloe Fraboni has been hired as Editor, Licensed Publishing, after working as Editor at Simon & Schuster Children’s. Kirk Benshoff is now Art Director for readers, branches, and nonfiction, having worked as Art Director at Hachette Book Group. Isa Caban is now Associate Marketing Manager, having worked previously as Children’s Marketing Manager at Simon & Schuster Children’s. In addition, Lauren Donovan will join Scholastic as Director of Publicity on January 23. She had been Assistant Director of Publicity at Penguin Young Readers. Julia Sabbagh has joined as Creative Director and Genus Tsui has joined as Associate Director of Product Planning; both were previously at Studio Fun.

Lerner Publishing Group has hired Andy Cummings as VP and Editor-in-Chief of its fourteen fiction and nonfiction imprints and divisions. He was most recently VP, Strategic Development for the Dummies brand at Wiley.

Brian Kelleher left his position as Sales Director – Books-A-Million/American Wholesale Book Company at Simon & Schuster. He had been with the sales division for more than 28 years. Kelleher can be reached at [email protected]. In addition, Leslie Meredith left her position as VP, Senior Editor at Atria, following the refocusing of Atria’s general nonfiction list, and will continue to edit several of her authors for the imprint.

At agencies…Jill Corcoran Literary Agency has announced four new editorial agents: Timothy Travaglini, formerly Director of Children’s Acquisitions at Open Road; Adah Megged Nuchi, formerly Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers; Jodell Sadler, formerly Agent at Sadler Children’s Literary and Founder of KidLit College; and Silvia Arienti. Libby McGuire joined The Gernert Company as Agent on January 5 and most recently worked as EVP, Publisher, Ballantine Bantam Dell. Melissa Flashman joined Janklow & Nesbit as Agent after working at Trident Media Group since 2002. Eric Lupfer is joining Fletcher & Company as Agent, following fourteen years at William Morris Endeavor. Kelly Van Sant has joined D4E0 Literary Agency as Agent, having previously worked as Head of the Contract Department at Quarto.

At VitalSource, Jennifer Solomon has been hired as Director of Marketing Development. She was VP, Academic and Professional Sales at Jones & Bartlett Learning. Tim Ridgway, formerly VP of Marketing at Califone International, is now Senior Marketing Manager.

OptiQly has added two hires to its senior management team: Susan Ruszala, formerly President of NetGalley, and Didier Jean Charles, formerly Director, Application & Online Technology at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Franco Alvarado is leaving his position at F+W Media as Senior Technical Production Specialist, which he had held for three years, in order to launch Franco Alvarado Consulting. He can be reached at [email protected].

Catherine Cocks is joining the University of Washington Press as Senior Acquisitions Editor on February 15. She is currently Editorial Director at the University of Iowa Press.

At the University of Chicago Press, Chuck Myers has joined as Senior Editor for law and political science and Jane Macdonald has joined as Acquisitions Editor for economics, business, and finance. Myers was previously Director at the University Press of Kansas, and Macdonald was Acquisitions Editor at MIT Press.

Julia Guzzetta has joined Chronicle Books as Sales Assistant, Mass Markets. She had been a customer service representative at Hachette.

Jonathan Tuseth has joined Abingdon Press as Sales Manager of key accounts. Previously, he was Director of International Sales at Bookazine.

Heidi Hess Saxton has rejoined Ave Maria Press as Acquisitions Editor. She had been working freelance and, before that, as Editorial Director at Servant Books.

Jaime Nelson Noven has joined the Monacelli Press as Publicity and Marketing Manager. She was previously Publicist at Princeton Architectural Press.

At Milkweed Editions, Mary Austin Speaker has joined as Art Director. She had been working freelance.

Randall Klein has left his position as Editor at Diversion Books to start a new editorial service, Randall Klein Books.

At Bright USA, Robbin Brosterman has joined as Associate Illustration Agent. She had recently worked as Design Director for DC Entertainment.

Philippa Donovan, who operates as Smart Quill in Los Angeles and Toronto, is now Literary Scout for Mad Rabbit.

Marilyn Dahl has retired as Editor of Shelf Awareness for Readers after more than a dozen years. Her position will be filled by Stefanie Hargreaves.

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