Micro Marketing

Targeted Sales to Enthusiasts Turn the Off-Beat Into Big Bucks

Looking for the bestselling art books in America? Sniffing around the Ansel Adams shelves, perhaps? Nope, not there. Taking a peek at Taschen’s Fetish Girls? Nice try. According to numbers from Nielsen BookScan, you’d better swing by the cartoon section. Because the top art titles in the nation are a duo of how-to cartooning books called Anime Mania and Manga Mania, followed closely (at #4) by Drawing Cutting-Edge Comics. They’re all written by Christopher Hart. And they’re all published by Watson-Guptill.

The story of how this relatively low-key publishing house has cornered the art book market — indeed, grabbing five of the current top-ten art titles — is perhaps a tribute to the pop-culture prowess of Spider-Man. But it can easily be read, along with similar tales from many other mid-size houses, as a parable about the power of niche publishing: keeping close tabs on a targeted customer base; knowing how to reach those raging enthusiasts through multiple sales channels; and heaping up backlist titles that deliver till the cows come home. Whether it’s hardworking how-to tomes like Watson-Guptill’s Digital 3D Design, or Motorbooks’ must-have edition of Minneapolis-Moline Farm Tractors, it seems that in this time of generalized trade publishing anomie, one path to success is the blindingly obvious one: you perceive a need and you fill it.

Granted, some in publishing will bristle at the N-word. “The whole idea of niche publishers is one that doesn’t serve the industry well,” says Harriet Pierce, VP Marketing and Associate Publisher for Watson-Guptill, arguing that the term merely relegates many successful houses to the bottom of the book-review bin. Be that as it may, Pierce and company illustrate the elementary lesson of how focused editorial, delivered to a targeted consumer segment, quickly becomes money in the bank. On a recent week, for example, Manga Mania sold just under 1,000 copies, and total sales for the year-old volume have reached 100,000. Those numbers may underwhelm. But Watson-Guptill tends a whole line of licensed titles from DC Comics that have been “tremendously successful,” especially since they fit well with what the publisher informally calls its “how-to-make-a-buck books,” a genre Pierce notes is “a great driving force for book expenditures in any time.” Besides the cartooning line, a growth spike has hit the graphic design category, as hordes of college students brush up their web-design skills or pick up a few typography tricks. “Students need it as background for everything they’re doing these days,” says Pierce. “It all starts with a visual sense that needs to be trained.”

Can You Say ‘Cocooning’?

You don’t have to look far to find a number of other publishers practicing similar tactics — and reaping the rewards. “Lifestyle publishing right now is doing very, very well,” says Rich Smeby, VP General Manager of the Sunset Books Group, which has obviously been buoyed along on the cocooning trend. But Sunset works hard to keep close tabs on its hard-core customers, who have become the bedrock source of wisdom for its key publishing lines. Sunset makes the rounds at major trade shows, such as the blowout Northwest Flower and Garden Show, “which affords us the opportunity to press the flesh of our readers,” Smeby says. Scoff if you will, but all that flesh-pressing once turned up an apparently unslakable interest in garden trellises, and the resulting title, Trellises and Arbors, has now sold over a quarter million units. Likewise for Landscaping with Stone, another title inspired by consumer heavy-breathing. And market research doesn’t end there, as Sunset conducts surveys, deploys focus groups, and studies other indicators to suss out potential pockets of interest. Consequently, the publisher has been able to “slice and dice” the larger gardening and landscaping categories to open up vast and lucrative tracts of enthusiast terrain. The landmark Western Garden Book, for instance, is now being rolled out in editions for the northeast, south, and midwest, while a wildfire “exterior home decor” line has been built around titles such as Garden Decor. “We’re constantly in contact with our readers,” Smeby says. “If you’re not out there listening to them, you’re missing a huge opportunity.” At the same time, publishing into multiple distribution channels — such as the Home Depots of the world — offers a hedge against market volatility. “We like to feel that we’re somewhat insulated,” Smeby adds. “If the traditional book trade would be down, the home and garden channel would be up.”

That’s a familiar philosophy to the special-market mavens at Sterling, where Executive VP Charles Nurnberg confirms that a third of the publisher’s business is generated via special sales (mostly sold non-returnable) at crafts shops, garden stores, and the like, and where the unassuming wood-craft title New Router Handbook has breached the two-million-copy mark. And those sales are no fluke. Sterling takes a “cradle-to-grave” approach to category publication, blanketing all levels and all price points in any given subject. Then they take their list and sell, for instance, retail garden centers on the theory that these books essentially serve as a catalogue for additional products. That is, a store might not make as much money selling books as trowels, but the book makes a dandy, 128-page ad for all those implements of dire importance for the maintenance of the back forty that are readily available right down the aisle. Regarding other sales channels, Nurnberg emphasizes that (despite reports elsewhere) Sterling has little truck these days with the school and library market, and has no direct mail division. Sales to direct mail catalogues have increased, however, as niche retailers of all stripes have logged impressive sales gains, now that consumers have learned to hit up micro marketers for all their impulse-purchase needs. Sterling’s robust but targeted publishing lines, combined with its large distribution business of 17 publishers, have helped put it at the forefront of the lumber enthusiast and crossword maniac market. And here’s a factoid to file away under “Backlist”: 95% of Sterling titles are reprinted.

The Joy of Horsemanship

Penetrating those micro-niches can also prove fruitful for diversifying a customer base, according to Lee Miller, VP Sales for Globe Pequot. That lesson hit home during the post-9/11 flying jitters, which shook up Globe’s travel program and seemed to validate the publisher’s recent acquisitions in categories such as fly-fishing (Lyons Press) and outdoor recreation (Falcon). Miller notes that Lyons, which Globe purchased last year, has now been drilling down into the equestrian market, cracking open a whole world of dressage enthusiasts and saddle aficionados, and leading Globe to a distribution deal with the venerable horse bible Western Horseman. “We’re finding immediate credibility because of their name, and it helps us with some of the books we had already published in that field,” Miller says. For example, a year ago Lyons had published Buck (“Horse Whisperer”) Brannaman’s The Faraway Horses, and it was selling steadily. But hitching up with Western Horseman not only gave the publisher more standing in horsemanship circles, it also opened the door to tack shops and other horse venues. “As a medium-size publisher, it’s important to diversify our customer base,” Miller says. “Bookstores will always be our lead customers, but the more diversity we can find, the better off we are.”

And if you’re talking micro-niches, check out Schiffer Publishing, where the hot titles of the day are United States Army Shoulder Patches and The Collector’s Guide to Cloth Third Reich Military Headgear. Tina Skinner, Schiffer’s VP Sales and Marketing, notes that Internet sales have been something of a driver for the publisher’s high-end illustrated military titles, which are generally too off-the-wall for brick-and-mortar stores to touch. Besides selling off of Schiffer’s own site, the publisher has noticed a thriving after-market of sorts. “We’ve had individuals become major accounts for us simply by selling these titles on the Internet. Ebay has become a major vehicle for that. Sometimes they auction them off for more than retail value.”

Motorbooks also sells surprisingly well through BN.com, according to VP Sales and Marketing Mike Hejny, a feat that makes sense, given that arcane automotive manuals can be found on the web in seconds. Actually, however, one of Motorbooks’ all-time bestselling Internet titles is A Twist of the Wrist, a guide to extreme-performance motorcycle racing, which proves that you never know what enthusiast nerve you might hit. (Chess turned out to be a big online boon for Globe Pequot.) Motorbooks has now broken its site into different communities for tractors, cars, airplanes, and other earthly passions. “Online sales have been strong year over year, and this year’s no exception,” Hejny says. However, most publishers seem less than bullish about the e-future. “The Internet is certainly a factor in niche selling, but it is by no means the dominant factor, or even a substantial segment at the moment,” Charles Nurnberg says plainly. “The enthusiasts shop wherever they can find the best collection of books in their categories. In my estimation, they use the Internet as a resource guide, but still want to judge a book the old-fashioned way: by turning the pages and feeling the heft.” But you still gotta wonder. What does Dave Weich, Director of Content and Marketing at Powells.com, consider his hottest-selling category? “We have no trouble at all selling railroad books,” he says.

International Fiction Bestsellers

Women’s Work
Poland Gets the Menses, Millás Sizzles Spain, And Hareven Labors for Love in Israel

Serotonin levels are plunging this month all over Poland, where the delightfully demented author Janusz Wisniewski comes down with Tense Syndromes (otherwise translated as Premenstrual Syndrome; the original title was Menstruation, but the Warsaw publisher deemed it “too shocking”), which guilefully regales readers with what’s been called a “dazzling knowledge of woman’s soul.” Said to be “moving, provoking, teasing, and full of scientific factoids,” this collection of six stories kicks off with a portrait of a girl stricken with an unusual genetic sickness, and delves into anorexia, jealousy, menopause, and an “absolutely unique study of the role of Nazi women” detailing the short marriage of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler in a Berlin bunker in 1945. The author’s first book, Loneliness on the Net, exhibits “courageous eroticism” as it tells the true story of “unusually tense and vivid love” consummated on the Internet (and throws in a few thoughts on the double helix, Einstein’s brain, and e-tickets). One reader declares, “Wisniewski’s emotions are true. Nothing to do with any dentist’s waiting room at all,” and we’re told the author, a one-time Playboy contributor, is a computer scientist whose specialty is chemical research. “After Loneliness on the Net, I could write the telephone book and they would buy it,” Wisniewski tells PT. “But the book is better than the Yellow Pages in NYC. Really.” All foreign rights are open, directly from the author. Email [email protected].

Maybe she’s untranslatable — into English, that is — but here she comes again, Poland’s irrepressible Joanna Chmielewska, who’s sold over 5 million books in Poland and 10 million in Russia, where she’s said to be the most widely read foreign author. The 70-year-old sprite is a colorful celebrity in her own nation (“she is a confirmed horse racing player,” says her press kit, “and does not shun gambling in casinos all over Europe”), and her children’s title Adventures of Puffy the Bear and the adult work The Great Diamond have been translated into English — but not published. Her novel My Dead Husband has just hit the charts in a reprint edition, said to be “abundant with thugs” and rife with “nightmarish family relationships” as it chronicles a brilliant businessman who degenerates into a crude boor at home, while his wife, the prospective murderess, is herself “an obese, nagging, and frighteningly stupid woman whose only talent — culinary genius — may not be enough to keep their marriage together.” They call it “Home-Made Horror.” Enough said. Rights have been sold to Russia thus far, with interest in the US from Scholastic; talk to Tadeusz Lewandowski in Warsaw.

Women’s travails also engross Spain this month, as literary stallion Juan José Millás hits the list with Two Women in Prague, which dissects the fate of a mysterious middle-aged woman who enrolls in a writing workshop “to find an author to write the story of her life.” In class she meets up with a young stud who’s obsessed with the idea that he was adopted at birth, and a web of loneliness and disappointments quickly envelops the two in their biographical endeavors. The book won this year’s Primavera Prize, and Millás’1990 novel This Was Solitude won the Nadal Prize, and was subsequently published in Denmark (Gyldendal), Norway (Aschehoug), France (Laffont), Germany (Suhrkamp), and the UK (Allison & Busby). Several of the author’s titles have topped 100,000 copies, and critics are quick to distance him from “the florid magic realism” of Garcia Márquez, instead noting the work’s urban grit and frank, journalistic style. As Millás once said, “the writing has to be efficient as a pistol. No adornments: to the heart of the affair, line-by-line.” Talk to publisher Espasa for rights.

In Sweden, tennis authority (he’s written 23 books on the subject) and crime writer Björn Hellberg is back with the 13th installment in his series featuring the inimitable Inspector Sten Wall. Named after a fictional TV program with sky-high ratings, Funny Fanny follows the fate of perky show host Fanny Cordell, who unexpectedly discovers “a great danger” lurking on the other side of the teleprompter. One of Sweden’s most revered authors, Hellberg is a popular TV personality who apparently knocks out mysteries in between tennis lessons. Funny Fanny sold 10,000 copies in less than a month (it’s “a book you swallow just as fast as you can,” one critic raved), and rights have been sold to Germany (Argon) and Holland (De Geus). See agent Bengt Nordin for rights.

Denmark edges Close to Paradise this month as Thomas Qvortrup’s “spectacular debut” novel hits the list. Three friends perpetrate a nasty crime and hole up on a yacht tethered to a tropical Thai island, where they proceed to wallow in a dope-fueled, nihilistic reverie, eventually “pushing each other’s sexual limits, until they go beyond what is both healthy and bearable.” Critics have plopped the book in with such distinguished company as Thomas Mann’s Utopia and Golding’s Lord of the Flies, praising it as a “scandal novel which takes the conventional novel a step further,” but also grooving to its philosophical qualities that gain urgency from the author’s “knife-sharp talent for telling stories.” No foreign rights sales have been made as yet, but interest is perking, and a film deal looks like a no-brainer. Contact Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal.

And in Israel, writer Gail Hareven has just absconded with this year’s prestigious Sapir Prize for her “cholesterol-free” and “impeccably rational” novel My True Love, which emerged from a tough crowd of finalists including A.B. Yehoshua’s The Liberating Bride and Gavriela Avigur-Rotem’s Heatwave and Crazy Birds. The judges settled on My True Love in part for its complex protagonists “who are not open to simplistic and moralistic judgment,” and praised its quest for “the idea of a great, addictive love as a possible and legitimate way of aspiring to the sublime.” The story takes place partly in Moscow, and draws on Russian literature as it examines the inner agony of heroine Noa as she’s caught in that existential vortex between Moscow and America. The 43-year-old author lives in Jerusalem and writes on politics and feminist issues, in addition to her books for children and several plays (five of which have been staged). The Sapir Prize carries a translation subsidy (in addition to a tidy $30,000 pot), and part of the book has been translated into English by Dalia Bilu. Rights are available from the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

‘Get Caught’ Goes Grassroots

When First Lady Laura Bush kicks off the 2nd National Book Festival on Saturday, October 12, on the Capitol’s West Lawn, she’ll be lending the White House imprimatur to the cause of reading in more ways than one. Besides bringing the likes of Ha Jin, Dava Sobel, Jules Feiffer, and Billy Collins, among some 70 other authors, to the Capitol — and posing for a celebrity photograph in the Association of American PublishersGet Caught Reading campaign, joining those glorious shots of Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie — she’ll also be presiding over what could be a key moment in the AAP’s quest to take its three-year-old campaign to the grassroots.

Sponsored by the Library of Congress, the “national” festival actually will live up to its name this year, as 22 states are set to join in with a number of linked events between late August and October. (New York’s will be sponsored by The New York Center for the Book on Sept. 19 at Columbia University, with a featured writer to be announced.) The hope is that connecting the dots around the country will help take what has been a somewhat rarefied print campaign down home to the masses. “This is a big chance,” says AAP President Pat Schroeder. “If we could finally get all of America reading books at the same time, that would be exciting.”

There’s already been some progress on that front, according to AAP Vice President Kathryn Blough, who reports that with the help of Anderson News, the Get Caught Reading logo will be displayed in 1,700 supermarkets, including Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Fry’s stores, and McDonald’s will plug the program in its in-school show, which is titled “Book Time.” The celebrity photo pitch keeps growing as well, and in addition to the First Lady, recent recruits include Mayor Bloomberg, Spider-Man, and Drew Carey, while hot young things in the 18-34 age bracket are being targeted for the next round. Hundreds of congresspeople have also posed, and their photos are ready for plastering around the libraries of their home districts, downloadable from www.getcaughtreading.com.

But to take the campaign to the next level, the AAP needs to hit America where it hurts — via TV, that is. “We really wish we could get into the broadcast media,” Schroeder says. “We’re scratching our heads and trying to figure that one out.” In this case, the dreaded concept of synergy may actually be of some use. The AAP’s tentative plan is to haul broadcasters on board via their corporate book publishing brethren, in the hope that the on-air units could pitch in with public service announcements.

Columbia’s Super-Grads

Once again, this year’s 99 highflying Columbia Publishing Course graduates have put their Palm Pilots on warp speed and wowed us with their über-achieving résumés. As in years past, we offer you a taste of publishing’s next generation in the composite biographical sketch below (all content has been taken from actual student biographies). Columbia’s New York Career Day is set for Monday, August 5, from 9 am to noon at the Time Life Building; call (212) 854-9775 or email [email protected].

Cow tipping was certainly not part of Ms. Student’s upbringing. This self-proclaimed “grammar geek,” a tenth-generation native of East Hampton with the physical stamina of an ocean lifeguard and the capacity to serve as an antidote for difficult people and situations, instead has her mind set on unparalleled career-oriented success. Not cow tipping. As a student at the University of Virginia, a school with a strong curriculum, but a reputation that extends no more than two highway exits in either direction, she spent four years utilizing Socratic inquiry to study great works in science, philosophy, Haitian Creole, and Quechua.

Cursed with an insatiable desire to read and write across a variety of genres, she used her washing machine–like work ethic and casual disregard for pretentious literary critics to write her first book at the age of four. Intrigued by the failure of language to replicate the visible world, the nearsighted Ms. Student turned to publishing after graduating with degrees in English and Comparative Literature, and a minor in Frisian. More recently, Ms. Student took a 30-day train trip across the country, stopping off in Kalamazoo, MI, where she dabbled in Norwegian, Japanese, and Ancient Greek and Latin. In her spare time she ghostwrote TOEFL books and dubbed “serendipity” her favorite word. Ms. Student then headed to California, where she co-founded California’s best-attended regular reading series at UC Berkeley, while doing PR for the Gap.

Fed up with un-air-conditioned car rides and intent on pursuing her hobbies of collecting international license plates and Lulu Guinness handbags, Ms. Student set out to become the youngest female editor in the history of Zambia after working in an Irish pub in Bratislava, an Indian restaurant in Dublin, and a bingo parlor in rural Pennsylvania. After spending nine years in an international boarding school situated in the Himalayas and months scouring the streets of Amsterdam as the Benelux travel writer for Let’s Go Western Europe 2001, she returned to New York to resume her addiction to the Simpsons and interesting coats. More importantly, she could put her past as manager of Enron’s international finance team in India solidly behind her.

Book View, August 2002

PEOPLE


We will skip over the Thomas Middelhoff debacle, and move on to some moves that are less well covered, including that by a Middelhoff chronicler: The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick is leaving the Book Beat, to cover media, focusing on AOL Time Warner, along with Vivendi, Bertelsmann, and News Corp. His replacement will be named shortly.

Gerry Helferich resigned as VP Publisher of General Interest Books at Wiley to write Humboldt’s Cosmos. The proposal had been sold to Brendan Cahill, who was then at Grove Atlantic, but went to Bill Shinker’s newly named Gotham imprint at Penguin. The book stays with Cahill. Helferich may be reached at [email protected].

Bob Morton, formerly of Abrams, has been named Editor-in-Chief at Aperture starting on August 1. Paul Gottlieb had been named Exec. Dir. of Aperture shortly before his death. . . Peter De Giglio, who had been Publisher of Princeton Review at Random, has moved to Holtzbrinck, reporting to Peter Garabedian, as VP Finance and Accounting. . . Andy Carpenter has gone to Rodale as Art Director. He had previously been Art Director at (little) Random House.

Frank Daly has resigned as Exec. Dir. of BISG, but the press release announcing his resignation and the name of the incoming Exec. Dir. had not materialized as of press time. . . Linda Biagi has left Little, Brown, where she was VP Sub. Rights Director. . . Ronni Stolzenberg has been hired as Marketing Director for Sterling. She was previously at the American Museum of Natural History. Robin Strashun has left the company (and may be reached at [email protected]). . . Suzanne Green has gone to Zagat Survey, where she is in charge of New Business development. She handled special sales at NBN. . . Sid Albert is leaving Random House, after 24 years there, as is Jack St. Mary, VP Director of Sales for RH children’s book group, after twenty five years at the company.

Laura Mathews, who landed at Martha Stewart Living after leaving Penguin, is now covering books for Redbook, and says she welcomes manuscripts and galleys. Her phone number is (212) 787-3523, and email is [email protected]. . . Betty Kelly Sargent is moving into her new office at the Wallace Agency, where she will continue her work as a freelance writer and editor, and will agent for a small group of writers whom she worked with at Cosmo, Morrow, and HarperCollins. Her new phone number will be (212) 570-9093. Email [email protected].

Robin Theunisson has been named Sales Manager for Modern Publishing. Formerly a book buyer for Kmart, she will be based in Michigan and will report to Richard Vreeland, VP Sales. . . Diane Naughton announced that Anne Stavola is joining HarperCollins Children’s Books as Executive Director of Publicity. She had worked on a freelance basis for New Line and Universal, and before that was Director of East Coast Publicity for Universal. . . Overlook has named former Continuum Publicist Corrie Schoenberg as Publicity Manager, replacing Bruce Mason, who has gone to Miramax. The press has also hired Sara Rosenbloom, previously of Grove, as a publicist. . . Carlisle & Company has announced that Diane Gedymin has become an “affiliate of the agency.” She had most recently been Publishing Dir. of HarperSanFrancisco.

Riky Stock will become manager of the German Book Office in New York. She replaces Dr. Andrea Heyde, who is now moving to Harcourt to take up an editorial position. Frankfurt Book Fair announced last week that Volker Neumann, who had been Managing Director of the Random House publishing group in Germany, has been named the new Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

PROMOTIONS


Candy Lee, former CEO of Troll, has assumed new responsibilities as President Consumer and Direct, for United Airlines Loyalty Services, under the iFormation Group. Lee went to iFormation last fall. . . Elise Howard announced that Susan Rich has been named Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books. Howard credits Rich with Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, among other titles. . . Following the retirement of Frank Kozelek, who had been at the company for 27 years, Leslie Gelbman has announced the promotion of Rich Hasselberger to VP, Executive Art Director, Mass Market Books, overseeing both Berkley and NAL imprints. He continues to art direct for Dutton. Meanwhile Carole Baron announced that Lisa Amaroso will become Exec. Art Dir. for Putnam, Riverhead, Avery, and Tarcher. She had been Senior Art Dir. . . And congrats to everyone’s favorite mouthpiece, Stuart Applebaum, who’s been promoted to the newly created position of EVP Communications for Random House. Just in time, given the recent announcement about Thomas Middelhoff.

DULY NOTED


Doubleday is publishing September 11: An Oral History next month, and it’s comprised of first-person accounts of that day. One of those who’s contributed is Penguin Putnam’s Dick Heffernan, who tells the moving story of his search for his son Chris, who worked in the World Trade Center, a few floors below his friend, Pete O’Neill. Chris finds his father before he can get down to the burning towers, but Pete — who worked for his uncle at Sandler O’Neill — is not so lucky. Like all these stories, this is riveting stuff, best read in reach of a box of kleenex.

• Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director at CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) reminds us that CLMP publishes a free, bimonthly Newswire on independent literary publishing news. To subscribe, e-mail [email protected] with Newswire Subscribe in the header.

Meanwhile in the August Fast Company, Peter Olson explains how he takes three-week vacations with no email or phone calls. “When I’m gone, I’m gone.”

Rumors abound that Abrams has sold its college business to Prentice Hall. This includes Janson’s History of Art. Prentice Hall had been selling these books into the textbook market.

Now that Scholastic owns Grolier, the push is on to sell Grolier’s and Scholastic’s mailing lists in one pitch. We were impressed by some of the numbers their list broker is touting: Scholastic At Home, the former mailorder portion of Grolier, claims 7 million active members in its clubs, 3 million of whom have young children (0-7), and 2.7 million of whom are “older families” (7-18).

PARTIES & EVENTS


Little, Brown’s party for Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was held on July 30 at Flute on West 54th. Larry Kirshbaum hosted the event, and thanked everyone involved, including agent Henry Dunow (“Behind every good author is a good agent”), Sarah Burnes, and Sarah Crichton, who were responsible for bringing it into the house, and both of whom have since left. Kirshbaum announced that there are now over 1 million copies in print.

Nan Talese hosted a party in her elegant brownstone for first time author Adam Haslett (You are Not A Stranger Here) where other new young authors such as Benjamin Anastas, Gabe Hudson, Christopher Sorrentino, Shelley Jackson and Minna Proctor rubbed shoulders with the likes of Peter Olson, Jonathan Galassi, Luann Walther, Jill Krementz, VF’s Wayne Lawson, Salon’s Laura Miller, WSJ’s Jeff Trachtenberg and superstar Jonathan Franzen and his agent Susan Golomb. Haslett’s agent Ira Silverberg declared that the entire process of putting out the book restored his faith in publishing!

National Geographic hosted a panel discussion to celebrate the publication of Power Lines by Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter’s grandson. Both Carters spoke, as did the Ambassador to the US from South Africa, Sheila Makate Sisulu, and Jack Nelson, retired Washington bureau Chief of the LA Times. Afterward Nina Hoffman, President of the NGS book division, reminisced with President Carter about their long history together: Hoffman was at Bantam when it published his first book, Keeping Faith, in 1982.

MEMORIAL


A memorial service will be held for Len Shatzkin on Monday, September 23rd, from 3 to 5 at the Ethical Culture Society on Central Park West. Confirmed speakers include Tom McCormack, Philip Turner, Ruth Cavin, Chris Kerr, Ed Morrow, Bernie Rath, and George Blagowidow.

Wild About Warsaw

The Warsaw Book Fair has evolved from a business-only mixer to what sponsors are now billing as an east-meets-west literary lotusland. Brenda Segel, VP Director of Subsidiary Rights for HarperCollins, contributes to this report from the front lines.

As a first-time visitor to the Warsaw Book Fair, I found myself very pleasantly surprised. This busy, productive fair took place from May 15-19 at the Palace of Culture (a huge edifice hated by the Poles because it was a gift from Stalin), and it has become a rollicking Warsaw tradition. The first two days are for professionals and media only, and the next three days are open to the public, who swarmed the gates in such numbers (36,000 visitors hit the fair) that they reportedly had to wait nearly an hour to buy a ticket on May 19. Publishers are there to sell books to the public, and booths were well staffed. (Janusz Folger, the new chairman of fair sponsor Ars Polona, said more than 500 exhibitors from 24 countries were in attendance. Though this figure is down from 800 in recent years, Folger told the press he’s dropping the “artificial statistics” and only counting “serious exhibitors.”) Though this is not a rights fair, I and my colleague Lara Allen made appointments with publishers at their booths, and also worked in quality time with our agents in Poland. (The fair’s actually a nice warm-up for the Moscow International Book Fair on Sept. 4-9, and for Moscow’s new Non/Fiction Book Fair, on Nov. 27-Dec. 1.)

Clearly, Poles are avid readers, and while you’ll find lots of brand-name bestsellers (Harry Potter was Poland’s bestselling title in 2001), there’s even more literature, from the classics to new voices. I was amazed at how far they’ve come from the Stalin days, in terms of packaging and marketing. Granted, this is not the best moment for Poland’s economy. The Polish News Bulletin reported that though the nation’s book market grew 7.7% last year, the collapse of three major distributors — Liber, Kwadro, and Swiatowid, which together controlled some 11% of the market — has set off industry tremors. The number of titles published fell by 5% last year to about 149,000, Poland’s two largest wholesalers reported losses, and retailers were said to be dumping stock at cut-rate prices. Still, you’d hardly know it from the book fair or the book stores. At the big Empik chain in both Warsaw and Crakow, the aisles were crowded. There are generally three floors of books, which are nicely displayed on tables, in corrugation and endcaps. You’ll find everything from new releases to travel and children’s books. I was especially happy, of course, to see so many HarperCollins and Morrow authors in translation, from Joyce Carol Oates, William Kowalski, Wally Lamb, Rebecca Wells, and Isabel Allende to John Gray, Marilyn Manson, and Eminem.

Remainder No More?

Today’s $50 Lifestyle Books Just Might Be Worth Every Penny

Early this year, the illustrated book market was declared dead, or at least mutilated (blame the blood-curdling discount battle between Könemann and Taschen), with high-end art houses such as Abrams, Abbeville, and Rizzoli said to be wallowing hip-deep in a glut of coffee-table books. Just as publishers hiked up their waders, however, this discount deluge joined still more masses of cheap proprietary volumes peddled by Barnes & Noble, and also coincided with mounting price pressures from all points in the industry — but especially from Len Riggio — that seemed poised to consign those lavish, $50 volumes to the dustbin of kinder, gentler coffee-table times.

But as margins bottomed out and price pressures peaked, a curious thing happened. Unable to compete in B&N’s profit-poor bargain bins, many illustrated publishers responded by ditching what one executive described as the “dumb blondes” of the business — the airy photo spreads that cost a bundle but didn’t demand too much of a reader’s IQ — and creating fact-packed, text-heavy illustrated titles pitched to carefully targeted consumer niches as a sort of “smart” coffee-table alternative. And they’re charging champagne prices for the privilege.

Behold today’s high-end lifestyle book, which has met with such success that even mainstream publishers seem to be hopping on the bandwagon. HarperCollins has named SVP and Creative Director Laurie Rippon to the new position of Director of Illustrated Book Publishing, suggesting heightened attention to the glossy-tome market. (As Rippon tells PT, however, “We will not necessarily be publishing more illustrated or packaged books, but we certainly consider them to be part of the mix of books we’re interested in bringing to market.”) Meanwhile, AOL TW’s Bulfinch Press reflects a big swing toward lifestyle territory in its new executive team, installed by VP and Publisher (and former QVC-er) Jill Cohen.

The Lifestyle Life Cycle

Ample evidence suggests that the lifestyle category is the go-to niche for the illustrated market. According to Bookscan figures, retail sales in the art, architecture, and photography category increased 8% for the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year, and — charting the largest increase of all lifestyle categories — cooking and entertaining titles jumped 16%. Granted, the “home gardening” category was down 14%, but that’s the category perhaps most glutted at the low end by B&N (on a recent visit, 7 of 16 gardening titles prominently placed on a display table were B&N publications, priced from $12.98 to $19.98).

Those bargain bins may still be full to overflowing, but what you won’t find there are promotional editions of high-end lifestyle titles. Indeed, the life cycle of the high-end illustrated book, once robustly filled with reprints, repackagings, freshener-uppers, and bargain-bin editions, seems increasingly focused on one precisely aimed edition priced at up to $40 and in some cases as high as $60. That’s the philosophy, anyway, at Clarkson Potter, where Publisher Lauren Shakely says that, pace Riggio, there is absolutely a place for high-end, beautifully produced, and relatively expensive books. As publishers refine their ability to place books in exactly the retail outlets where the prospective audience will find them, and booksellers’ deploy ever more sophisticated inventory control systems, a level of cost efficiency has been attained in an area not previously known for frugality. Last year’s Tropical Houses, for instance, by Tim Street-Porter ($60), was ten years in preparation, and at an earlier time would probably never have found its way to market. But all those Florida retirees have gotta read something, and Potter is happily in its second printing. The book is expected to sell indefinitely, and a paperback edition is unlikely. In fact, it’s already considered a backlist staple and is — get this — making money.

Taking the high road to top dollar is also Steve Tager, Marketing Director for Abrams and Stewart Tabori & Chang. Tager agrees that a title given enough initial bounce will sell profitably for five or six years, as stores model the book and reorders kick in regularly. STC’s three-year-old title The New American Cheese, for example, has been selling steadily at $35, as has Rozanne Gold’s Healthy 1-2-3 cookbook at the same price. Neither title is slated for subsequent iterations (at most, a paperback five years down the line), and even a cheaper edition from Abrams’ promotional imprint, Abradale, is unlikely. (In fact, Abradale will only publish three titles this year.) Drifts to down-market territory do occasionally happen — Abrams’ Earth From Above, which sold for $65, went to Abradale at $35, and is slated for a “value” edition this fall, selling to the trade at $45.

You won’t find much moping around the bargain bin at Workman, either, where Bruce Harris has engineered the Artisan imprint to publish $60 to $70 books — and price them at $50. Their French Laundry Cookbook is going strong at over 200,000 copies in its third year, and Workman is hoping for a replay of this success with Le Bernardin gastronome Eric Ripert’s A Return To Cooking, to be published later this year at $50. And there’s not a promotional edition in sight.

Needless to say, not everyone’s blithely selling cartons of $50 books. Weldon Owen’s Terry Newell, for instance, takes a wider view of the marketplace. As a packager, Weldon Owen licenses all of its titles, currently at three price points: $39.95, $24.95, and $16.95. Newell says he’s enjoying success with the Williams Sonoma Savoring series, which is up to 11 titles at $39.95 list, almost five years into the program. As with Workman’s Artisan imprint, the aim of the series was to produce a $50 book priced at $40. However, when titles have run their course as high-priced elegant editions, the material may be repurposed and republished under the recently launched Fog City Press. These will then be sold in bulk, non-returnable quantities to customers, probably at $24.95, by Chain Sales Marketing. Chain Sales’ Harvey Markowitz says that these reformatted volumes can be bind-ups of sheets with a redesigned jacket, or he can also take multi-volume titles and bind them as one value-priced product.

Just Add Value

Make no mistake about it, value is the new mantra. “Price points are coming down,” says Christopher Capen, President and Publisher of Tehabi Books, which develops titles for the likes of DK, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins. “Over this past year, desired price points have gone from the $40-$50 range down to $25-$35 for new titles.” Capen points out that a similar drop occurred during the economic doldrums of the early ’90s, when retailers rode the roller-coaster from the $50, Day in the Life of America series right down to the bargain basement. Now, the key is pushing price-points down and “delivering as much content as absolutely possible.” Fulfilling that mandate, Tehabi has been ramping up the word counts in its titles, publishing illustrated works with 50,000 to 80,000 words. “Now you have a product sitting next to the $25 or $30 fiction, non-illustrated book, and you’re right in the mix,” says Capen. “The consumer is realizing they’re not paying $50 for a coffee-table book. They’re getting something in an illustrated format that is substantive and a good read. That’s where we’re seeing significant growth.” Another change in the illustrated marketplace, Capen points out, concerns the ever-escalating pressure on inventory turns. Whereas publishers used to buy a year’s worth of inventory, endemic belt-tightening has spurred publishers to order up only six months worth of a title. This drives up the cost per unit, which in turn puts more pressure upon the economies of the illustrated market. Ironically, Capen reports, some of his titles have sold quite well in the first six months, but because inventory was geared towards a year’s worth of sales, “the financial people don’t look on that as a success. They’re not getting inventory turn.”

Value is also the order of the day for Karen Kreiger, VP Custom Publishing at color reference publisher Creative Publishing. Creative’s bestselling book at the moment is The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair, loaded with over 2,000 photos and selling for $34.95. Bargain-bin editions are pretty much verboten here, as the publisher specializes in branded books for the likes of Black & Decker and Singer, who are loath to find their titles in the promotional ghetto. However, content repurposing (they call it “creating”) has resulted in such titles as a 48-page, softcover “brochure” for Popular Mechanics, which was priced at $2.96 and sold at Wal-Mart (over 100,000 units went out the door). And co-branded titles can often be sold in multiple channels, such as Small Engine Care and Repair for Briggs & Stratton, of which the company sold 150,000 through its dealer network (they’re going for $15.95), while Creative sold 60,000 copies through trade channels.

Nothing’s forever, of course. Maybe not even value. Mel Shapiro of Book Sales, the US promotional imprint of UK packager/publisher Quarto, confirms that Borders has cut its promotional space, and the chain seems to be shifting its discount gondolas to the back of the store. Likewise, the ranks of $7 illustrated titles at B&N also seem to have thinned. Which leads one to the obvious conclusion. Now that the bargain market has been definitively glutted, those smart, $50 titles must be looking mighty attractive to Len and company, regardless of his right-sized-price rhetoric. Better get there while you can.

Miffy’s On the Make

There may have been no mega-hit property at this year’s Licensing 2002 International show — notwithstanding the media hootenanny over Lemony Snicket — but even in this somewhat gun-shy climate, which saw licensing industry retail sales dip 4% last year, deals were being dialed up at the Javits Center on June 11-13. First in line, perhaps, were former Golden Books colleagues Stephen Weitzen and Rich Collins, whose merchandising, licensing, and publishing operation Big Tent Entertainment was working overtime to promote its first property, Dick Bruna’s Miffy, whom they represent in North America on behalf of Dutch publisher Mercis. While she’s a major hit in Japan (where there are 36 dedicated retail stores, and $1 billion a year in sales), the adorable little bunny has never quite hopped in the US, despite the fact that worldwide book sales exceed 80 million units, spanning 100 titles in 40 languages (with 37 titles available in the US). But having grabbed North American licensing rights from United Media, Big Tent signed ten new licenses at the show, including Gund for plush and a deal with Sony, plus a firm US deal for distribution of a 3-D animation TV series. But Big Tent’s first order of business entails some remedial work on the book program. US publishing rights had been licensed to Kodansha, and titles had the odd flavor of being translated from the Japanese, rather than Dutch. After tweaking the existing titles, however, Big Tent will be adding to the list, confident that Miffy can melt the hearts of a sizable US audience.

Another substantial first exhibitor was Classic Media, a company spawned as a separate entity when Golden Books was jointly acquired by Random House and the entity now known as Classic Media, which divided up the spoils. The company represents the hallowed Golden properties (that puppy, that rabbit), as well as those acquired by Golden in its last years, including Lassie, Underdog, and Casper. No deals to report yet, but lots of interest. Incidentally, no exhibit sparked quite as much interest as the FDNY Fire Truck, as New York’s firefighters are now actively in the licensing business to forestall the ripoff trade, with all royalties going to the Fire Safety Education Fund.

Elsewhere at the show, and having already conquered much of the civilized world, Hungry Minds licensing mavens Marc Mikulich and John Hislop were seen scheming more far-flung franchises for their Dummies imprint. Initial licensing forays were via video (Yoga for Dummies) and interactive CD-ROMs, which kicked off in France and are now on tap in Germany, with 10 titles targeting personal finance, creating greeting and business cards, and the like. Then there were chocolate-chip cookie baking kits in the US, and now consumer electronics are on the horizon, via Gemini Industries (Home Theatre Hookups, Home Networking, and Computer Setup). But that’s not all, folks. Stay tuned for the four-hour Pregnancy for Dummies TV series, which airs this fall on the Discovery Channel, and not to be missed are the nine sets of “conversation cards” — card decks, themed by book title (Public Speaking for Dummies, Dating for Dummies) — that have been licensed to Table Talk, a division of The BookSource, the St. Louis wholesaler. (The BookSource’s Sandy Jaffe, who bought the paper goods company Peaceable Kingdom two years ago, also reports new deals with Dr. Seuss, Ian Falconer’s Olivia, and Thomas the Tank Engine.) For those who just can’t get enough, Bally’s casino is testing a Winning for Dummies slot machine, and Basic Solutions will be releasing massage kits in fall ’03, which will go in perfectly decadent style with the four page-a-day calendars set for the UK in ’03: Sex, Wine, Golf and Beer for Dummies.

International Fiction Bestsellers

Sketches of Spain
Gala’s Jungle of Love and Aldecoa’s Enigma, Plus Holst’s Uppity Danish Women

At the colossal Fnac megastore in Barcelona last month, you had to bushwhack your way past bales of Jean Auel’s The Shelters of Stone — the ubiquitously promoted tome could be had in no less than four separate editions: Catalan, Spanish, UK, and US — and fend off aggressively planted thickets of Star Wars visual dictionaries (not to mention a heap of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One, translated as the jaw-bending No Se Lo Digas a Nadie). But once you plowed past that panoramic display of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, there it was: an actual indigenous Spanish bestseller, Antonio Gala’s Guests in the Garden, which has sprung open a whole Pandora’s box of amorous anxieties in its compendium of stories about the multifarious vagaries of love: from the sweetly diverting to the dolorous, and right down to the rankly incestuous. Described as a sort of bestiary of unruly passions and hothouse carnality, this one’s a guided tour through the gigolo-filled bowers of Gala’s grand jungle of love — from the “pudgy gay couple” lodged in a claustrophobic apartment, to the lovers who hook up in a stuck elevator. The 66-year-old, Córdoba-born author’s 1993 novel Turkish Passion was deemed “an adventurous pilgrimage of sexual passion and unknown circumstances” loaded with “ever-waylaying surprises” that bubble over into “a most volcanic plot.” That title was published in Italy (RCS), Greece (Livanis), France (Lattès), and Korea (Creative Times), among other nations, and Gala earlier grabbed the Planeta Prize for his 1990 first novel The Crimson Manuscript. More than 250,000 copies of the new one have been sold, and all rights are open from Cristina Mora at Planeta.

Also spicing the Spanish list with local flavor in recent months (though it’s dropped off the top ten at the moment) is Josefina Aldecoa’s The Enigma, wherein a married professor wakes up one day to find himself trapped in a life of bourgeois banalities. Having jetted off to study in New York, however, he falls hard for his sultry, scintillating colleague Teresa, and thus ensues an epic psychic battle between emotional complacency and stark, raving freedom. The 76-year-old Aldecoa co-founded the magazine Espadaña and holds a doctorate in philosophy from Madrid, and her 1990 novel A Teacher’s Story, now in its 13th printing, was the first in a trilogy of works kicking off with a “dense and vigorous” portrait of an emancipated woman in 1920s Spain. The new one (not part of the trilogy) has sold 45,000 copies so far, and all foreign rights are open from the Bad Homburg–based agent Ray-Güde Mertin.

Meanwhile, a woman’s work is never done in Denmark, where Hanne-Vibeke Holst’s action-packed novel The Crown Princess follows thirty-something heroine Charlotte Damgaard as she’s tapped as the Social Democratic Party’s new Minister of Environment, only to get sucked into a whirlpool of back-stabbing colleagues, sniping reporters, and a sniveling husband who gripes about “how difficult it is to be a woman when you’re a man.” This is Holst’s first novel after two detours through the documentary genre, but she previously racked up six-figure sales for her 1994 novel Real Life, which sold 85,000 copies in Denmark, as well as 50,000 copies in Germany (Bertelsmann) plus 55,000 in Sweden (Bonniers). That book follows pregnant television reporter Therese as she whisks back to Copenhagen from a dangerous foreign trip to give birth to a daughter, and ends up bonding with a certain Heidi of the high-rise suburbs. Next, taking up where Real Life left off, the author’s 1998 novel A Happy Woman sold 130,000 copies in Denmark and follows Therese’s travails as her father dies and she swoons over a suave filmmaker while on assignment in Budapest. We’re told sales of the new book have been “very satisfying so far,” and rights have been sold to Sweden (Bonniers) for “a huge advance — one of the highest ever paid for Scandinavian literature in Scandinavia.” See Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal for rights.

Also rocking the list in Denmark is Swedish Crime maestro Åke Edwardson, whose timely novel Heaven Is a Place on Earth (see PT, 9/01) has gained traction in this nation with its haunting tale of a four-year-old boy who is abducted from a playground and later found to be abused. When another boy disappears for good, shrewd Inspector Erik Winter steps in to wreak some deductive vengeance. Critics have dubbed this title “the best, the most complex literary construction that Åke Edwardson has achieved,” describing the author as a sort of Delta bluesman of crime fiction, singing “a sad but logical tune where the three basic chords are outsiderness, loneliness, and desperation.” In addition to Denmark, the book has been sold to Germany (Econ/List/Ullstein), and Norway (Tiden), with other rights available from Agneta Markås at Norstedts. And for what it’s worth in Denmark, 74-year-old former journalist Erik Juul Clausen has come down from the mountain with a historical tale called The Healer, which is said to tell the story of Jesus Christ from — yes — “a new and exciting angle.” Prominent Roman citizen Publius embarks upon a secret mission to Palestine to investigate a certain mysterious healer, and shortly thereafter, as his wife chucks the old polytheism and converts to Christianity, he stumbles upon the Crucifixion itself. Though the book has slipped off the list this month, foreign rights may be vouchsafed from the Hanserik Tönnheim agency in Malmö.

Finally, the perennially tetchy mother-daughter nexus has enthralled France this month as a nonfiction title hits the list: Mothers-Daughters: A Three-Way Relationship by psychoanalyst Caroline Eliacheff and sociologist Nathalie Heinich. Emotional rigidity, narcissism, hysteria — it’s all here — but the twist in this “passionate and exceptionally limpid work” is to freshen up the gender gloss with abundant examples from classic works of literature and cinema, reviewing the role of moms in everything from Almodovar’s High Heels to Edith Wharton’s Pomegranate Seed. The authors also delve into “extreme mothers” (Hitchcock’s the relevant reference there) and “star mothers” (Bergman’s Autumn Sonata), and get mileage out of Madame Bovary. The title, by the way, refers not to some maternal ménage à trois but to that third party in Oedipus-land, dad. We’re told 100,000 copies have been sold in France to date, with rights sold to Italy (Einaudi), and submissions under way in the US. See Monique DiDonna at the French Publishers’ Agency.