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.

Going Postal Done Gone

The DMD Marketing Conference & Expo, officially a “forum of new ideas and technological advances” that proffers “information in ecommerce, technology, media, database, and creative services,” pulled a surprisingly large group of attendees to the Javits Center during its direct marketing mêlée on June 17-19, many of whom were lured by the promise of hearing Rudy — “America’s Mayor” — deliver the keynote. (Yes, he’s still planning to get his ms. in and published by “October, probably, maybe November.”) Most of the book-related businesses that exhibited or attended have gone the way of Time-Life Books, but there was a smattering of familiar badges. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and BN.com, and a slew of people from Bookspan and Scholastic, trekked to 12th Avenue to hear experts on “Cutting Edge Ideas to Refresh Your Customer Loyalty & Retention Initiatives,” and “Is the Subscription Dead?”

Scoff if you must, but with publishers now selling off their sites, and Amazon and BN.com hacking ever deeper inroads through the business, cluing in to the vagaries of direct response, especially email marketing, is yielding increasingly mission-critical information. (Plus, some of this arcane stuff is just plain fun.) Holding forth on “Maximizing Your Email Retention Efforts,” one speaker revealed that Brooks Brothers increased registration on its site by 300% by offering a 10% discount with first purchase. And 4-7% of respondents forward information about a website when it is promoted; of those receiving forwarded email, 70% respond to the site. Moreover, store shoppers who also bought online spend $600 more in the store than those who only buy in-store. But it pays to do your homework. According to direct marketing consultant Herschel Gordon Lewis, in tests the line “Here’s one you’ll like, John,” pulled 14% better than “John, here’s one you’ll like.” Go figure. In other tests (this being direct response, there is nothing that’s not tested), text outpulled HTML when the message was URGENT, while the opposite was true when the message depended on “artistry.” Lewis also reminded his audience of the obvious: 80% of all possible consumer targets have an AOL address, so any email promotion should be sent out to some AOL addresses seeded in the marketer’s recipient list.

Speaking of letters, a postal rate hike on June 30th has made paying bills online a suddenly attractive proposition, according to a Direct Marketing Association survey. More than half of survey respondents under age 25, and 42 percent of those between 25 and 34, said the rate increase will have them searching for bill payment alternatives, such as electronic payment. That’s a bummer for the postal system, however, as “transactional mail” such as bill payment accounts for almost half of all first-class mail — which now will cost you a hefty 37 cents.

Back at DMD, and in a trip through the twilight zone, the Jungle Group announced that it had developed software that allows a company to take the best telemarketer and clone their abilities to be used throughout the entire center. As you may recall, a Random House source estimated recently (PT, 5/02) that telereps account for 10% of the field sales by dollar value. Any twins or triplets seen in Westminster lately?

A Passage to India?

Move over, Rushdie. That’s the message emanating from bustling Hyderabad, India, anyway, where a gang of literati recently met to ponder the bullish future of publishing in this nation that boasts an apparently fast-growing appetite for English-language books. Though only 2% of its population is capable of reading and writing in English, those 18 million people — and the billions more clamoring for their MTV — give India the greatest English-language book buying potential in the world. “In the next 15 years,” as David Davidar, CEO and Publisher of Penguin Books India, recently told the press, “there will be no dearth of good English writers and publishers in the country.” In fact, the US Department of State estimates the demand for English books at about 21% of all books purchased in India, making it the second-most-read language behind Hindi (at 28%). “The English-language books have an edge over other Indian languages only because most bookshops in our country keep only English books,” adds K.S. Padmanabhan of East West Books in Chennai. “English books are much more widely distributed than any other language.”

Realistic numbers for the nation’s book imports are hard to come by, but “we can assume it should exceed $60 million,” says Padmanabhan, and it is with this in mind that many US-based publishers have followed in the footsteps of their UK colleagues and set up shop in South Asia. Cyrus Kheradi, VP and Sales Director of Simon & Schuster’s International Division, reports that S&S manages a seven-figure business in South Asia (US & UK sales combined). Categories sold in India run the gamut from NYT bestsellers, non-fiction, and reference, to business, children’s series, self-improvement, and media tie-ins. Random House also does big business in India, with bestselling fiction, contemporary literature, business, promotional, and children’s books, according to Sandra Friedman, Senior VP International Sales. (Though the education sector remains a driving force in the Indian market, both S&S and Random have exited that business, and are targeting the trade book segment.)

Getting books to market in India can still be a problem. “The number of bookshops in the country is not enough to meet the demand,” Padmanabhan says. “While there are good bookshops in 7 or 8 of the bigger cities, most parts of India are not properly served by bookshops.” S&S sells primarily through national wholesalers and regional distributors/retailers, the biggest being India Book Distributors, India Book House, and East West Books, also known as Westland. Random House works with these same distributors, in addition to Rupa and Company and TBI. Foreign publishers also cultivate direct relationships with some Indian retail chains, such as Crossword, Landmark, and Fountainhead, the retail division of India Book Distributors.

The future of India’s book business is looking bright, partly due to higher educational enrollments, as well as government efforts to promote reading. And while there may be more than 10,000 publishers in India, not more than 20 of them are active in English-language trade publishing, suggesting some opportunity for publishers hot on the trail of the nation’s next Arundhati Roys and Vikram Seths. But as expected, sales can waver unpredictably depending on economic and political conditions. Friedman notes that recent turmoil in the region has all but sacked the tourist trade, stifling book sales. Still, she sees the growth of retail chains and online retailers such as Rediffusion, Landmark E-Tail, and Fabmart as a sign of better things to come. Kheradi also cautions that sales in India, along with those to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, are subject to the vagaries of everything from currency exchange rates and foreign investment to political tensions and piracy — the latter still a bitter nuisance for the nation. “In India,” as one Delhi author recently complained, “copyright means the ‘right to copy.’”

Pixie Dust at Stationery Show

The message from last week’s gargantuan National Stationery Show — all 270,000 square feet of it, sprawled over New York’s Javits Center from May 19-22 — was a gold-embossed, watermarked greeting card carrying that shopworn mantra: content is king. Well, this time around content was king, as an estimated 15,000 buyers seemed to breeze right by acres of blank books, journals, diaries, and calendars as they dove into the booths of traditional publishers such as Workman, Chronicle, Random House, Penguin Putnam, Sourcebooks, and relative book newcomer Blue Mountain Arts.

Amid the madding (and maddening) crowds, order pads were said to be smoking, and buyers were breathing heavily over Random’s new Potter Style line, for example, which launched at the show. Aimed at special markets, these titles consist of mainly recycled material from artwork in the Potter files, spruced up with clever designs such as the popular Ina Garten vertical cards, which extend the franchise of that East Hampton shrine to gourmandise, Barefoot Contessa.

Perhaps the most ballyhooed book of the fair, however, could be glimpsed over at Candlewick’s booth: Fairie-ality, from the Irish House of Ellwand, with drawings by fashion illustrator David Downton. This 130-page, full-color concoction of 150 designs was the brainchild of publisher Karen Lotz, and is packed with miniature couture designs for elves and fairies created entirely from organic materials — feathers, flowers, leaves, and nuts, plus a witty accompanying text. Like much of the sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy, the designs are preserved through photography (in this case, though, the target audience includes fashion gurus and design hounds). PR maven Jane Lahr, hired for her work on Dinotopia, is setting her sights on FAO Schwarz, Madame Alexander, Zany Brainy, and other outlets. The $40 book has a 50,000 first printing, with major licensing opportunities in the offing for both book (foreign rights) and non-book categories. Watch out for this one at Frankfurt.

Beyond fairies, other items flying high at the fair included Sourcebooks’ five-year-old romantic “coupon” book series, just updated with the popular title Love Checks — the checks come either blank or imprinted with promissory notes entitling the bearer to, say, a foot massage or a month’s worth of dishes. Meanwhile, much ado was brewing for Blue Mountain Arts, published by SPS Studios (it was the online card company sold to Excite@home by Susan and Mike Shutz, subsequently purchased by American Greetings). Now under the direction of Helene Steinbuck and Mike Levine, Blue Mountain has been producing gift books to go with their printed cards, and sales of the Language of… series have reportedly topped 2.5 million copies. And for what it’s worth, “Bookmark Gems,” a Canadian company showing elegant bookmarks of chains with crystal and metal beads, appeared to be selling up a storm.

The strong book presence this time around may owe itself to a noticeably fresher design sense than in years past. Garborg’s — the inspirational publisher of books and paper goods — has produced a very stylish line under the Max Lucado imprint, worthy of Chronicle Books. The same goes for Publications International, whose stand featured only their four-year-old paper goods line and not a single book, including an inspirational Silver Linings series with a handsome Prayer of Jabez knockoff. And Pantone has cleverly entered the market with a brightly covered and well-received line of its own. None of these smart designs could compete with the likes of Constance Kay, however, whose stand showing handmade art cards was jammed — as opposed to the deserted Kate Spade booth, where it seemed her fashion sense wouldn’t quite fly in fairie-land.

Price and Prejudice

As Riggio Guns for Lower Prices, There’s No Sure Cure for Sticker Shock

Pantyhose, Len Riggio once said, lecturing publishers on the finer price points for L’eggs, sell blissfully at $6.99. But books are not leggings. And if publishers think $6.99 is a good price for the upscale products in bookstores, they’re hosed. Moreover, he said, books priced at $21.95 would sell more copies more profitably at $19.95, no question about it. “Lower prices mean higher sales,” the Barnes & Noble chairman told the Association of American Publishers in a gauntlet-flinging address a couple years ago. “Look,” he added, “$20.95, $21.95, $22.45, $6.45, and $7.45 are not price points — they are abominations.” Well, the book biz is getting buzzed again, as Riggio has rumbled in recent weeks about list pricing that’s either sky-high or off-the-mark. Publishers willing to price their books in line with his precepts, he has hinted, may get special perks, including prominent store placement, sticker discounts, and bumped-up book orders. While no one in the industry (including Riggio’s own underlings) has quite figured out what those precepts are, everyone has taken note that pricing remains a highly charged flashpoint for booksellers and their patrons.

“Publishers have slipped biographies and cookbooks up to $35, and the public has noticed,” says Gayle Shanks at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ. “We sold the John Adams for $35, but I think we would have sold twice as many at $30.” Even for trade paperbacks, and especially for the top-priced hardcovers, she reports, customers are balking. “People will tell me, ‘I heard great things about this book, but I think I’m going to wait until it comes out in paperback. I just can’t pay $27.’ Every time I’m on the floor that happens. It’s a regular dialogue we have with our customers.”

Slippery Slopes of Demand

For years, as Riggio pointed out, publishers have had little objective data about the slippery slopes of consumer demand. But there is some evidence, PT has found, to support these widespread hunches that book prices are simply too high. In hardcover adult fiction, according to Bookscan figures, unit sales of books with publishers’ retail prices in the $16 to $19.99 range have shown a 39% increase in the last year, making it the fastest growing price segment for this category. That suggests a stronger demand for titles in the lower price bracket. This pattern has not held true for other categories, however. Sales of hardcover adult nonfiction in the $25 to $34.99 range are up 23% (probably due to expensive bestsellers such as John Adams and Phillip McGraw’s Self Matters, at $25). And in children’s hardcover there are sharp declines in all price ranges, but large increases in children’s paperback (thank Harry Potter).

However you parse the figures, closer attention to price would pay off handsomely in sales, observers say. “The basic truism of economics is that demand curves slope down,” says Virginia Postrel, New York Times economic columnist and author of The Future and its Enemies. “If you charge less for something you will sell more of it.” The key to riding the curve, she says, is mapping consumer behavior. “There’s a big difference between $22 and $19.95. And it’s more than two dollars and five cents. Those psychological price points, as irrational as they are, are well established in the marketing experience of countless industries, and there’s no reason for book publishers not to take advantage of that wisdom.” Postrel also points out that publishers may price books based on what it costs to produce them, including overhead and editorial expenses in addition to printing costs. “That’s a huge Economics 101 error,” she says. “Once the book is written, edited, and at the printer, the editor’s time is completely irrelevant to the question of what an additional copy of that book costs. So is the rent. Publishers may overprice because they have an inflated view of what the cost of a copy is.”

Of course, you’ve gotta share the blame. “Book pricing is where it is today largely because of the chain stores,” says Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, “and the decision they made in regard to discounting.” Cut-throat price wars led publishers to inflate list prices, runs this argument, fully anticipating that the consumer would pay a discounted price. The price clubs also played a part in seducing publishers into artificially increasing their retail prices, with the knowledge that the consumer would be paying little more than 50% of that. (As the Wall Street Journal noted recently, Costco alone took 28% of the first printing of a Patricia Cornwell novel.) But now that many retailers have pulled back on discounts — though Amazon’s latest gambit is 30% off books priced $15 or more — the consumer is reeling from a fresh case of sticker shock. Just ask Ed Morrow at Northshire Bookstore in Vermont, who regularly sees customers buy one book now instead of two or three, agonizing over which one that will be. And that includes trade paperbacks, which average $12 to $15 in his store.

There are those who’d like to banish list prices outright. “The real issue is that the publishers shouldn’t be pricing at all,” says Larry Abramoff, owner of Tatnuck Bookseller in Worcester, MA. “Who knows better how to price for my customers than I do? Some bean-counter says this book is costing us this much, so we should price it at this amount.” Abramoff believes more price flexibility would make a big difference. “I would like to take the 20% of our inventory that’s most commonly price sensitive, and lower the price on that. I would like to take the other 80% and make up the difference on that. Publishers should get out of the pricing business altogether.” (That thought is shared overseas, regarding the euro rollout — see related article.) Others counter that pricing has its merits. “It’s a boon to our industry that we are allowed to have these publishers’ prices, which serve as a benchmark for all of the discounting that takes place,” says Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company. “If there were not a publisher’s price, it would make people less certain that the price they’re being charged is a fair price. And anything that contributes to uncertainty reduces sales.”

The Margin Maelstrom

Publishers are obviously caught in the maelstrom of margin requirements and marketplace pressures. You may recall that in the ’90s, when Phil Pfeffer was installed as president of Random House, he railed against an industry in which, counterintuitively, the price of the product got cheaper only when it began to sell. But some are responding to Riggio’s mantra. Walker Publisher George Gibson says that while he’s always priced carefully, Riggio has made him even more conscientious. Lusitania by Diana Preston, for instance, clocks in at 528 pages, and was slated for $30. Bowing to price pressure, they cut it to $28 (though Riggio would likely prefer it dropped to $25). Then there’s Sterling, which does no P&Ls on its titles, according to EVP Charles Nurnberg, who evaluates a manuscript and uses his instinct to eyeball the price. He then calls in his production staff and tells them to bring in the package at the chosen price. Nurnberg keeps a wary eye on his competition, however, and average prices are $24.95 in cloth and $12.95 to $14.95 in paper.

Some prices, on the other hand, are sailing south, and fast. J.P. Leventhal, of Black Dog & Leventhal, reports that dropping prices in the bargain business have quashed margins. (Borders’ average bargain price last year was $8 retail — queried about its pricing policy, a Borders spokesperson brushed off the idea that the chain might follow Riggio’s lead, instead touting its new category management initiative.) As Leventhal’s average retail price is $3 lower this year than last, he’s aiming his business more toward the trade territory, where margins are at least slightly better than in bargain-land. Elsewhere, Motorbooks switched from a category-based system to one that publishes into channels, says CEO Rich Freese. In essence, there are three Motorbooks customers: the gung-ho “gearheads” who are not price sensitive; the general bookstore reader, who can pay when the book and price are right; and the value- and impulse-driven mass merchandise channels. Motorbooks prepares publishing plans by month, channel, and category, with the mass merch channel getting lower price points, usually with repurposed material and somewhat lower production values.

In the audio world, Eileen Hutton, President of the Audio Publishers Association, says consumer demand is exploding for unabridged products, driving sales into the higher price range. Jean M. Auel’s The Shelters of Stone, for instance, sprawls over 20 tapes and goes for $59.95. However, audio is also seeing a trend toward bargain-basement pricing, with titles re-released in “paperback” a year after publication and sold abridged for $7.99 to $12.99. “If we could sell audio for the same price as the hardcover book, we would sell a lot more volume,” she says. The industry is hoping to do just that, with digital MP3 CD players in car audio systems, which are expected in the 2006 model year. MP3 compression can fit 20 hours of audio on one CD.

Unfortunately, there’s no similar silver bullet to bring down the prices of books. “Prices seem to be creeping up a dollar a year,” says Changing Hands’ Shanks. “The buying public is very cognizant of those creeping prices. They notice. A $20 hardcover novel would sell a hell of a lot better than one priced at $25 or $26. The publishers would make more money, and we would make more money. I feel that for the first time we can be on the same side as Len Riggio. I can certainly agree with him.”

International Fiction Bestsellers

Blowin’ in the Wind
Grandes Gusts in Spain, Bewitchery in Greece, And Crazy Birds Flutter Aloft in Israel

Breezes, gales, gusts, and tempests swirl like suspicious characters through this month’s bestselling Spanish novel Difficult Airs, the latest effort from well-known erotica queen Almudena Grandes. The author’s fifth novel sets out to map the meaning of wind as a kind of mutable metaphor for the human condition. Amid an expansive backdrop of the Bay of Cadiz, the two actual protagonists, Juan and Sara, determine to reinvent their lives amid a sea of moral ambiguities involving revenge and money. (Heat-seeking readers are advised, however, that “there are erotic scenes, but to be found after page 300.”) Grandes’ first book, The Ages of Lulu, was deemed a “powerful essay into the darker side of female sexuality,” and noted for its “louche sexual hedonism sanctified by the aura of the artistic.” Or, as one reader exclaimed: “Finally! Some decent erotica!” That book was published in the US by Grove in 1994, in addition to 20 other territories, and collectively sold more than a million copies. Her subsequent title, Atlas of Human Geography, sold 120,000 copies in Spain and has been published in France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and Brazil, among other nations. The 42-year-old Grandes won Italy’s prestigious Rossone Prize in 1997, and several of her projects, including Lulu, have made a splash on the big screen. Thus far, rights to Difficult Airs have been sold to Italy, France, and Germany, and US rights are still open, according to Delia Louzán at Tusquets.

Also in Spain, The Guitar Player by Luis Landero is strumming up a storm, telling the story of teenage Emilio as he dreams of ditching his machine-shop day job to strike out on the path to bohemia as a flamenco guitarist. He’s soon finger-picking away, and, lo and behold, he suddenly finds himself giving private guitar lessons to the vixenish young wife of his boss. Arriba, as they say. As Landero’s fourth novel, The Guitar Player borrows from the author’s own exploits; he himself worked grungy day jobs before becoming a renowned flamenco player and touring the globe. About 37,000 copies of the new one have been printed, and at press time, all foreign rights were open from Tusquets.

In Greece, The Witches of Smirni by Mara Meimaridi has bedazzled readers with the story of Katina, a ruthless woman from a ghetto of Asia Minor who is inducted into the world of magic after meeting a Turkish witch. Katina uses her newfound wiles as sorceress to marry one man after another, each bumping her up one more peg on the social ladder and offering her a hand in their own businesses; soon all of Smirni is groveling at her feet. Author Meimaridi is an anthropologist in Athens, who has written on nutrition for newspapers and magazines, and is now, yes, brushing up on her astrophysics. All rights are available from Kastaniotis.

In Israel, Tamara Walks on Water by Shifra Horn has hit the list’s #2 slot after several weeks of steady ascent. The book tells the story of three generations of women in the ancient city of Jaffa, and focuses on Tamara, who falls head over heels for an eccentric Greek-Orthodox monk. As it happens, this boy-pal soon drowns in the Sea of Galilee, jolting Tamara to full awareness of her love for Yosef, who hails from mixed Jewish and Arab ancestry. The author’s previous books have been translated in Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Japan, and other nations, and her first novel, Four Mothers, sold 65,000 copies in Hebrew and tells a magical-realist story of five generations of Jerusalem women. Critics called it an “enchanting, almost stunning” work and noted, “That the tale is dense, ponderous and sincere is part of its charm as a novelized Israeli genealogy.” Horn’s second novel, The Fairest Among Women, sold well over 70,000 copies in Israel and was published in the US by St. Martin’s. Meanwhile, world English rights for the new one are being negotiated with Piatkus, but other rights are open from the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

Elsewhere in Israel, critics are falling over themselves to laud the virtuosic Heatwave and Crazy Birds, which one admirer flat-out deemed “one of the ten Hebrew novels of the past decade which I would take with me to a desert island.” This “ambitious, complex, superbly written novel” chronicles heroine Loya Kaplan, an Israeli flight attendant “living between heaven and earth” who returns home after 20 years to find the world she knew upended. The book goes on to weave a “lush embroidery, ceaselessly enriched by the heroine’s wide-ranging knowledge” which serves as a kind of archaeology of an Israel of generations past. Author Gavriella Avigur-Rotem was born in Argentina but emigrated to Israel in 1950, where she works as an editor at the Haifa University Publishing House. Her 1992 first novel Mozart Was Not a Jew met with wide success in Italy (Tartaruga), Portugal (Imago), China (Flower City), and Arabia (Al Dar Al Arabia), and is due out in the US (Syracuse U. Press). Rights to the new one have been sold to France (Actes-Sud) and Italy (Baldini & Castoldi). See Ayala Carmeli at the Institute for Hebrew Literature.

In Sweden, the “unusually vigorous and fluently vivacious” novel Underdog by Torbjörn Flygt is jam-packed with family violence, shoplifting, teenage pregnancies, and the lurking pedophiles of your average working-class boyhood of the Malmö of the 1970s. This unsparing autobiographical novel is narrated by the boy’s now middle-aged and disillusioned self, and spans that mind-blowing gap “from the World Cup in 1974 to the Springsteen concert in Gothenburg in 1985,” eventually landing the narrator smack in the “materially comfortable — but culturally and spiritually disoriented” bourgeois life of a company lawyer. Livid with “lengthy, fizzing emotional outpourings,” the book is a giggle-packed, brilliantly bitter description of boys growing up in the Swedish welfare state. See Norstedts for rights.

On a last note in Sweden, that “most prominent ironist in Swedish literature” Torgny Lindgren’s Hash takes its title from the Swedish dish made from offal and grain (think haggis), and is a “steamily funny novel” chronicling the tuberculosis-ravaged Sweden of the ’40s, and inventing a striking, extended metaphor for the world. “In short,” said one amazed critic, “life is an offal-hash dish!” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Lindgren has been translated in about every nation imaginable (yes, even Iceland), and the new one has been sold in Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, and Italy. See Maria Bohn at Norstedts’ Pan Agency for rights.

Price and Peril in Euroland

By the end of February the 12 countries that have adopted the euro had all come to the end of their transitional period when old and new currencies could be used in parallel. So the whole of Euroland is now well and truly into life with a single currency. Except that the new currency is turning out not to be as single as all that. And pity the booksellers.

That’s because any product with a price printed on it presents a new parallel problem. Booksellers in, say, France importing titles from Italy or Spain, Portugal or Greece, are liable to lose out if they stick to the euro price on the cover. Importing books is usually an expensive business, involving carriage costs and bank charges plus, in some cases, a higher rate of VAT. The extra costs generally amount to at least 15% of the cover price, often 18%.

In pre-euro days, when exchange rates between EU member states fluctuated, booksellers would either use a publicly displayed conversion table, or calculate the price at the till according to the daily exchange rate. Customers rarely bothered to whip out their calculators to double-check. But the term “single currency” naturally enough suggests that a euro is a euro is a euro. So if booksellers in one country are pricing 10-euro books imported from another Euroland country at 11.50 or 11.80 euros, they are laying themselves open to accusations of ripping off the consumer — who has been bombarded by media warnings to be on the alert for just such allegedly nefarious practices.

Some booksellers are simply stocking up on felt tips and blotting out the original price before replacing it with their own. But that can spell trouble. Fortunato Tramuta, manager of A la Tour de Babel, a specialist Italian outlet in Paris, says that “not surprisingly, there’ve been misunderstandings in the case of some customers, who were expecting to pay the euro price printed on the cover.” So what strategy has he adopted? “We tell them about freight costs and so on. Secondly, we’ve gone for a policy of being completely upfront and have hung a big notice next to the till stating that all books imported from Italy carry a surcharge of 18%.” Complicating matters, for books published in Italy, the VAT is paid by the publishers, so he can’t claim back that 4%, though it is inevitably included in the cover price. He can, however, claim back the French VAT, which is 5.5% on books.

But booksellers stocking titles published in a number of different countries can’t solve the problem with a single notice by the till. “We thought the euro was supposed to make things simpler,” says Linda McLeod at London foreign-language specialist Grant & Cutler, “but in fact we’ve had to open separate euro bank accounts for each country we import from.” As to what will happen when Britain eventually adopts the euro, booksellers are already making the message clear. “British publishers have been sounding us out,” reports Tuija Partanen, an English-language buyer in Helsinki. “And we’ve been telling them we don’t want euro prices on covers.”

This article is extracted with permission from a fuller report on the euro rollout, written by Vivienne Menkes for Publishing News.

The Undead E-Book

Ebooks are: (a) dead (b) undead (c) other. If you answered “all of the above,” you are more correct than you know. As spring turns to summer, not just the trees but oddly enough ebooks — through whose black heart the New York Times drove a stake last fall — are sprouting. Palm, which has stolen right past the ever-stumbling Microsoft and Adobe to become the single largest source of ebook downloads, is experiencing double digit growth and is selling some 1,000 downloads per month. As a Palm spokesman happily put it: “Our sales are going crazy.”

Sales of ebooks going crazy? You betcha. Several shifts are transforming e-publishing: the e-reader quality is improving, the number of download sites is expanding, the amount of material available is growing and, as the song goes, time is on our side.

We all remember the first time we saw a RocketeBook. And while far from a great success, after radical price cuts and smart merchandising, the new Gemstar incarnations have a following. However, the new generation of Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots, with their reflective light screens, 65,000 colors, and multiple functionality are what have really kick-started the marketplace. What makes Palm/PPC so valuable is that they are easy to carry and do a lot of useful things — including displaying Tolstoy or the latest Mary Higgins Clark, and can play MP3 audio books.

Unlike the US, in Europe, there are already multi-function ebook readers, some of which not only have very comfortable 150 dpi screens (twice as crisp as a laptop) and up to six hours of battery life, but also allow you to surf the Net, send and receive email, do word processing, play your MP3 files, and record conversations. Not surprisingly, coming to America this fall is the tablet PC that looks remarkably like these European e-readers. And right behind that is eInk, a totally flexible screen that looks and acts a lot like, well, paper.

But a killer reader is only one piece of the puzzle. Distribution is crucial, and to that end, the Cleveland-based company OverDrive is releasing a Digital Kiosk that for a few thousand dollars will allow any website to become an e-book vendor. CEO Steve Potash stated, “If last year we created 50 points of sale online, next year we want to create 50 every month, globally.” Eventually they hope to be like physical newsstands in downtown Manhattan, one on every corner.

On the content front, S&S’s Keith Titan noted that the August release of all the Hemingway novels is just part of a program in which both front and backlist books are also released as ebooks. Concerning the ever-contentious matter of royalties, agent Brian De Fiore put it well when he said that the industry standard is for publishers to expect ebook rights as part of the original contract, “although they are willing to revisit the royalty situation every couple of years.” And, as they say, time heals all wounds, even the self-inflicted, such as the unwieldy expectations created by the original ebook hype. Time will allow markets to develop, products to improve, and even ebooks to find their way.

This article was contributed by James Lichtenberg.

Distribution Daybook

This year Publishing Trends abandoned its vendor survey, because trying to rate players in the fulfillment and distribution arena was like trying to judge a warehouse full of Rube Goldberg contraptions — there are too many moving pieces, and they all move in different (some might say mysterious) ways.

But one thing is certain: they are all moving. The catalyst was Random’s 1999 exit from the business, after Gilbert Perlman built the client list to include National Geographic, Houghton Mifflin, and others. Gilbert eventually formed CDS after buying Random’s distribution center in Tennessee, and the company now has 16 clients, some of whom — like Robert James Waller — are being distributed on a one-off basis. Meanwhile LPC, which has since declared bankruptcy, is to be handled by CDS, and new clients like Hachette Filipacchi Books are coming on board. (Hearst left when Sterling bought the company.)

MBI is also building up its sales and distribution portfolio. With 70 clients, the company (which includes Motorbooks) is looking for more publishers in related categories, such as sports and other “male enthusiast” subjects. CEO Rich Freese came from NBN, the Maryland-based company whose website still claims it’s “the fastest growing national book distributor in the United States,” though others might demur. Clients include Regnery, Consumer Reports, Carlton, and 120 others — including McBooks, a small press that had been distributed by LPC and is hoping to recoup cash owed from LPC’s bankruptcy.

Baker & Taylor has also decided to get into the distribution —though not the sales — business. This decision comes despite Ingram’s decision to exit the business, after years of attempting to get its PRI division on sound footing.

Others are throwing in the metaphorical towel: Andrews & McMeel, which markets almost everyone’s calendars, moved its back office to S&S, as has Millbrook. Some publishers changed partners: Scholastic left PPI for HarperCollins; recently sold to Langenscheidt, Berlitz will probably leave Globe Pequot at the end of the year. Greywolf went off to FSG, just as its distributor, Consortium, was sold to a new private investor. The company distributes more than 70 publishers (with another eight coming on board so far this year), many of them nonprofits. Dorchester just announced it would move its back office to HarperCollins, after having been distributed by Hearst’s COMAG. It will develop its own sales force rather than relying on a third party.

Some likely-looking players are claiming not to be: when Perseus bought Running Press, there was some question that it might take its distribution away from Harper and set up on its own. But CEO Jack McKeown emails us with this comment: “While fulfillment and distribution deals can alleviate short term cash and profitability pressures, they are not part of a long-term strategy of building value through the accumulation of publishing assets, which describes our mission.” Enough said.

Yale, Harvard and MIT have decided that bigger is best: They opened their joint warehouse last month in Rhode Island, and according to PW, set up a limited liability partnership, Triliteral. Under its aegis the three presses have combined their database systems “to create a single Triliteral account for each customer and consolidated their order processing, EDI, customer service, accounts receivable, credit and collections functions.”

And of course, this year brought the purchase of the behemoth of independent distributors, PGW, which AMS scooped up in January. It has closed AGD and turned over its dozen or so clients to PGW, making the new company, as PW noted, “the most significant player in the distribution field.”

And remember, it’s just June.

Book View, June 2002

PEOPLE


Harcourt
reports that Laurie Brown has been hired as SVP, Director of Trade Sales and Marketing for Adult and Juvenile Publishing. She formerly held that position at FSG. Lori Benton rejoins Harcourt as VP Publisher of Children’s Books, replacing Louise Pelan, who has taken early retirement. She comes from Holt, where she was Associate Publisher and Director of Marketing for Children’s Books. She will work out of the New York office. Robin Cruise, formerly Executive Managing Editor in San Diego, has also been named Deputy Publisher. Dave Nelson, Director of Trade Sales, will be leaving the company.

As reported elsewhere, an interim triumvirate of Janet Silver, VP, Associate Pub. and EIC of Adult Trade; Children’s Publisher Andrea Davis Pinkey; and Marge Berube, VP Dir. of Dictionary Publishing, will divide the duties handled by Wendy Strothman, who is stepping down as Houghton Mifflin’s EVP of the Trade and Reference Division. Though HM Pres. and CEO Nader Darehshori had been slated to retire in June, and his name is no longer listed on Hoover’s, his presence is still very apparent. Meanwhile, Exec. Editor Pat Strachan is leaving Houghton. She is reachable at (212) 924-4885.

While Picador celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in the UK, Peter Straus has suddenly decamped after twelve years to join the literary agency Rogers, Coleridge & White as a director of the firm. . . . Karen Krieger has been named VP Custom Publishing at Creative Publishing. She was formerly Marketing Director for the Thorsons and Elements imprint of HarperCollins UK (which is distributed in the US by NBN). She will be involved in strategy for the custom publishing division, as well as having P&L responsibility for the group and for sales, marketing, and business development.

Sales people are on the move: Susan Naythons has been named EVP Director of Sales, PGW reporting to Kevan Lyon; she was most recently at Harper San Francisco. (She is the third leg of the new EVP triumvirate that will run PGW in a post-Charlie Winton world that includes Mark Ouimet for Marketing and Chris McKenney for Operations.) . . . Linda Stormes has been named Sales Manager at Joost Elfers Publishing, which launches this fall
. . . . Rob Shaeffer, VP Sales, is leaving DAP to rejoin Chronicle Books, as its New York rep.

Bill Boedeker has been named VP, Director of Marketing for the Children’s group at Little, Brown, reporting to David Ford. LB Children’s has recently moved its offices to New York. In other children’s book news, Allison Devlin has left HarperCollins Children’s, where she was Executive Director of Publicity.

Adrian Webster has been named MD of Rodale Books International. He was previously consulting for the company. . . . Jonathan Nowell was promoted to Group Managing director VNU Entertainment Media, overseeing among other properties Nielsen BookScan, the new name of the firm that tracks retail book sales. It continues to be managed in the US by Jim King, VP of Sales and Service, and globally as a single unit under the control of UK-based Richard Knight, Executive Director. Nielsen BookScan reports it has access to retail data from between 65% and 70% of the US market, 85% of the UK market, and 75% of the Australian market.

Rob McMahon joined Putnam as a Senior Editor. He was at Warner for seven years. And Ryan Harbage, who left Little, Brown, joins Plume as an Associate Editor. . . . Christopher Sweet has gone to Abrams as a Senior Editor. He was most recently at Viking Studio.

A major minuet is under way at university presses, with one position recently filled (Peter Webber has been named Syracuse U.P.’s Director), and several more in the process of searching for new Directors. Yale U. Press, MIT Press, U. California Press, Nebraska, and Wayne State are some of the university presses with openings at the top.

After coming on as a consultant two months ago, Robert Riger has been named Associate Publisher of SparkNotes in charge of marketing and sales for print and online, and reporting to Dan Weiss, Publisher. SparkNotes was sold to Barnes & Noble last year. . . . Exley is closing its doors — literally — and all US operations will be consolidated in its warehouse outside Boston. Randy Kaye, its VP Sales, will continue with the company. He is based in New York and is the only remaining NYC employee.

JUNE DATES


Two big shows at the Javits Center this month: The Licensing Show takes over the convention center June 11-13. The Licensing Letter’s Martin Brochstein tells us to “watch for an accent on entertainment franchises, as Hollywood tries to keep leveraging familiar characters and story lines, as well as a continued expansion of licensing based on corporate brands.” Meanwhile, according to the Letter, publishing’s sales of licensed product declined last year over 2000’s sales, to $850 million, but virtually every category showed a similar or greater decline. Direct Marketing Days arrives June 17-19, a month later than usual, but with a full roster of speakers, from Rudy Giuliani (touted as “America’s Mayor”) to the Postmaster General, as well as speakers from Bookspan, AOL, Yahoo! etc. For those looking to market direct to customers, this provides a useful overview.

PARTIES


May started off with a burst of BEA activity, and continued unabated until Memorial Day.

• Esquire hosted a post-BEA party on May 5 to celebrate the publication of Esquire’s Big Book of Fiction, edited by Adrienne Miller. Joe and Liz Bianco, “longtime supporters of independent publishing,” co-hosted the event with Context BooksBeau Friedlander, in what our correspondent tells us was an art-filled apartment in the Village. On May 7 Esther Margolis hosted her annual party for Jerusalem Book Fair editorial fellow alumni and friends, and honored Zev Birger, the Chair and MD of the Fair. Supporters included Jane Friedman, Peter Mayer, and numerous editors, agents, and scouts. Applications for the 10th class of JBIF Editorial Fellows — and the second class of “JBIF Agent Fellows” — will be solicited in September.

The following week was Barney Rosset’s 80th bday and on hand were Sue Mingus (widow of Charlie), Kent Carroll (formerly Carroll and Graf), Edward de Grazia, who fought all Rosset’s censorship cases, Matt Dillon, Marty Garbus, and Rosset’s children including the aptly named Beckett and several former wives. Meanwhile Rosset declined to sign the Random House boilerplate for his autobiography, so the contract with Broadway was never signed and the book will now be published by Algonquin. Gene Brissie put the deal together working with lawyer Robert Solomon.

On May 21, there were parties of all sizes around town. Miranda and George deKay hosted a farewell party for Linda Pennell, departing Director of Sub Rights at Random House. Every rights person worth his or her salt — including Penguin’s Hal Fessenden, who co-hosted the party, Houghton’s Debbie Engel, and Little, Brown’s Jean Griffin — attended the party, though some did so briefly and in their fancy dress, en route to the UJA dinner for Jane Friedman. The gala attracted over 800 ticket buyers, and raised a record $1.3 million.

MAZEL TOV


To Lucinda Karter, Director of the French Publishers’ Agency, and her husband Tim Bent, a Senior Editor at St. Martin’s by day and a translator in his off hours, who were both made Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture at BookExpo. Bent’s most recent published translation is Amélie Nothomb’s The Character of Rain.

To Kimberly Witherspoon and Paul Pasquantonio, proud parents of Summer Marie Pasquantonio, born May 24, 2002.

IN MEMORIAM

Publishing guru Len Shatzkin died on Saturday, May 11, at the age of 82. As Bookselling This Week’s David Grogan wrote, “Shatzkin’s life was one of many remarkable achievements, throughout which his original, innovative, and oftentimes controversial ideas spurred many to think about the business of book publishing in new and better ways.” Amen.

A memorial for Gwenda David, longtime scout for Viking and Book-of-the-Month Club, and who died in March of this year, is being organized by Kathryn Court. It will take place on June 19th at Penguin Books, 80 Strand, London WC2 from 6-8 pm.