Changing Channels

Beefing Up Special Sales, Publishers Surf the Downturn

Be it a defensive maneuver, market opportunism, or plain necessity, a number of major book publishers are blocking and tackling their way into nontraditional retail accounts like never before. And no wonder, you might say. “You look at the relative flatness in the book trade, and it’s pretty obvious,” says National Book Network President Jed Lyons. “We’re going to have to go outside of the traditional marketplace. Special sales are going to be very important in the future of our industry, and we’re going to see a lot more effort directed in that way.” While trade bookstores still remain the sales bedrock for major houses, in these straitened times, efforts to reach special markets provide a number of well-known advantages: Far fewer competing book SKUs. Sure-fire backlist sales. Mega-quantity purchases. And “the bean-counters of the business love the nonreturnable sales,” as one executive says (although not all books, of course, are sold nonreturnable). “Quite frankly,” sums up Martin Maleska, Managing Director for Veronis Suhler Stevenson, who studied the market for the acquisitions of Running Press and Sterling, “we got the feeling that the special sales channel was in many ways a more desirable channel than the traditional bookstore.” Whether it’s woodworking titles at Home Depot, or aromatherapy books at The Body Shop, “this is an extremely interesting channel with good dynamics and cash flow characteristics,” he says. “Access to these markets was one of the reasons that Barnes & Noble sought Sterling so aggressively.”

Yet non-trade sales statistics are scarce, he cautions, and frontlist publishers are apt to say special sales are all smoke-and-mirrors. “Customers are buying much more conservatively,” one sales director warns. “There’s a great deal more testing before any commitment to large quantities.” Says another: “It’s very costly to do special markets in any big way.” To many retailers, alas, “books are what’s called an accessory,” jettisoned when the economy does a nose-dive, and nowadays there’s all that jostling from one’s peers. “All publishers are going after special sales in a more determined way than ever before,” says Elaine Panagides, Principal of Special Sales Publishing Services. “It’s more competitive than it has been and the opportunities have to be sought after in a much more aggressive way.”

Gunning for Growth?

One such publisher would seem to be HarperCollins, fresh from a reorganization of its special sales department. In a flurry of new appointments and promotions (see Book View, p. 2) the publisher created separate management positions for special markets in both the general books division and the children’s division. “Our goal is to integrate both those efforts so that they’re more closely aligned with the fabric of the company,” explains Josh Marwell, SVP, Sales for Harper’s General Books division. Harper had previously operated under a more traditional structure, with a single head of special markets. “The new structure echoes the way that the company is organized in other areas, including trade sales,” Marwell says. “We have a decentralized structure here, which we have found has really contributed to strengthening our publishing efforts.” HarperCollins has also consolidated selling responsibilities in terms of categories. In the past, the publisher might have had a mail-order specialist for a particular subject, and a retail specialist for that same subject. “Now the retail and mail-order customers are handled by the same person,” Marwell says. “That person becomes a resource for the entire company.” Though executives would not explicitly confirm that Harper is gunning for special-sales growth, “we have brought on some key people,” Marwell says, “for the next phase of our business.”

There’s no such circumspection at Simon & Schuster. “We’re beefing up because of the growth potential in the market,” says Ron Davis, Director of Specialty Wholesale and Retail. “I believe we’re one of the few specialty sales departments in the industry that’s actually growing.” They’re up to 17 staffers, headed by VP of Special Sales Frank Fochetta, and Davis says sales have been increasing by double digits for the past three years. The custom publishing unit has been primed for growth — selling content to corporations that are new customers to S&S — as has proprietary publishing for trade accounts. On the wholesale front, S&S has partnered with gift packagers (the first gift set will be released for Father’s Day at a major department store) and reformatted paperback titles were stuffed into 5.8 million Cheerios boxes last year as part of General Mills’ literacy program, for which S&S will be back in the breakfast bowl this year. “On the retail side, we’re competing not with other books,” Davis adds. “We’re competing against socks and sandals. And if I don’t have something to compete against that, I will create it.”

Ditto for Jack Perry, VP, Director of Sales for Sourcebooks. “We’ve been looking at what type of books we can create that would be unique and might even be driven by that market,” he says, pointing to the impulse-driven “coupon books” such as Naughty or Nice (for Valentine’s Day). On the selling side, he’s been seeking gift rep groups that complement Sourcebooks’ line of titles. “We’re better off being a unique book line in a line of products,” he says, rather than one more book among dozens in the bag. To that end, Sourcebooks has “staffed up” over the past six months, and probably half the country is now handled by new rep groups, “which has already started to pay off.” Other publishers are jumping into the fray on a smaller scale. Travel publisher and distributor Globe Pequot, for instance, is now seeking a rep to sell to nontraditional mass merchandise accounts — a new position for the publisher. And some houses are angling for cost-effective ways to boost sales without adding staff. Larry Jonas, Director of Special Markets for Harcourt Trade Publishers, has been mining mailing lists, working with affinity groups, and looking closely at direct mail. Harcourt recently published a book on the Apollo space program, for instance, picking up mailing lists packed with retailers such as the Johnson Space Center and NASA museums. “We realized some significant sales into that marketplace,” Jonas says. He’s now getting The Encyclopedia of Surfing into surf shops using mailing lists tailored to that market.

‘Everything With a Cash Register’

Surf’s always up at special-sales pioneer Sterling, of course. “One area that’s going to grow the most is the chain stores,” says SVP Martin Schamus. “A Duane Reade or a Michaels — it could be any type of chain store. My concept is also not just going into a specialty store and putting a book on a shelf. I love to see them cross-merchandised. You get a much better sell-through when a book is next to a product.” As a measure of the industry’s truly tidal changes, Schamus recalls working with Publishers Clearing House in their heyday. “They used to have the ability to buy 100,000 books at a time,” he says. “I would see their buyer at trade shows, and a few months later she’d tell me, ‘You know, Marty, people see my badge and ask to send me samples. But they never send the samples.’” Schamus’s jovial reply: “That’s great! If they’re so stupid, that just leaves it wide open to me.”

Nowadays, he’s got plenty of company. “Our gift reps will call on everything from a Hallmark store to a car wash,” says Hugh Andrews, VP, Sales and Marketing for Andrews McMeel. “That’s everything with a cash register.” The company deploys 250 commission gift reps and 50 book reps, while a small sales staff targets display marketers such as Books Are Fun and other unnamed venues. (“I hate to list those accounts,” says Andrews. “I like to keep them secret.”) What’s not classified is that “the market has grown immensely” for gift books such as Bradley Trevor Greive’s Blue Day Book, which has now sold 1.5 million units. Andrews also just signed up a 50-store chain called Endangered Species, and recently broke into Origins. The icing on the cake? Business with one big-box retailer has zoomed from $500,000 to a $4 million account in just two years.

Others are mining their own special turf. “We have to go where the average sports fan is going to hang out,” adds Walter Pierce, VP Director of Sales for Sports Publishing, where about 30% of the publisher’s sales are nontraditional. “The average fan is not going to go into Borders and look for a book on the Yankees.” You will find some at the Kroger supermarket chain, however, where Pierce sold 10,000 copies of Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship. The title went out the door at the standard list price of $19.95, and helped boost total sales to 78,000 copies.

One beneficiary of all this growth is Josh Mettee, owner of regional wholesaler American West Books, which sells California-based titles into traditional and special accounts — including Costco. The chain buys in case quantities, but the trick is tightly focused regional placement. “If you have a book on the Bay Area,” he says, “how much of the Bay Area does it really cover? You might think it would sell throughout Northern California. That just isn’t the case.” Mettee works with the likes of Houghton Mifflin and S&S, but also praises the little houses: “Their books often sell just as well or better than large publishers. They may be focused on a smaller area of California, and you’re able to get more concentrated sales in those areas.” Perhaps as a testament to niche power, Mettee’s total business has gone up 60% each year for the past two years. “It’s had a snowball effect,” he says with a note of bewilderment. “The floodgates are open.”

Cloudy Forecast in Cairns

Holding a conference to discuss “the future of the book in a digital age” in tropical Cairns, Australia, seems a bit like holding a soiree in Orlando to discuss the future of French Cinema. Yet 200 publishers, booksellers, librarians, and academics gathered on April 22-24 within earshot of the odd alligator and didgeridoo for a three-day talkfest about ebooks, automatic publishing machines (APMs), POD, digital copyright — and of course the possible demise of the book as we know it. As if in sympathy, torrential rains fell from the usually deep-blue skies.

Evangelist/keynote speaker Jason Epstein (3 Billion Books) peddled his now familiar line that the only road to universal knowledge is via the digital catalog and a machine which he claims can produce a bound book from a digital file for just a few dollars. Replies to questions about the business model were unconvincing, although Epstein maintains he’s got World Bank cash earmarked for a pilot scheme of 10 machines in underdeveloped countries. Once the futurist floodgates were opened, the dot-com hopefuls (there are still a few around), and leather-sandaled academics jumped in, clutching his or her digital baggage. It was generally agreed that the book does have a future, although given the caveat that “screens that mimic paper are not far away,” Epstein is recommending against further investment in brick warehouses.

Nina Ziv, Professor at the NY Polytechnic University, shared some useful research conducted with major US trade publishers who are going digital. Michael Cairns (yes, he made the joke), President of Bowker USA, shed some newish light on supply chain options, and Chandi Perera of Lonely Planet showed that publishers can do effective market research and build a strategy with the results. In the end, the conference was mostly a meeting of non-practitioners who, with the luxury of not having to make the numbers work, were able to fly some odd-looking though occasionally thought-provoking kites.

We thank Robert Sessions, Publishing Director of Penguin Books Australia, for this report.

Book View, April 2003

PEOPLE


Random House has offered a “Voluntary Retirement Window of Opportunity” to “most” employees who have been with the company at least five years, and are 50 years old or older. The email offer was made on March 19 and employees must notify HR by mid-May. Many people clicked the Delete button before reading the memo, but at least one employee accepted the offer within two days of its being made. Meanwhile, layoffs continue, as it was announced this week that Random Value has folded its sales team into the Random sales group, and Brad Parliman, Horace Whyte, and VP Proprietary Publishing Ron Palmer will leave the company. Lynn Bond continues to oversee RHVP.

Michael Friedman has left Barnes & Noble Publishing to pursue new interests. He came to B&N with its purchase of Friedman/Fairfax in 1999. He may be reached at (917) 696-7955 or [email protected]. . . Cathy Fox, VP Director Subsidiary Rights for Putnam, has left the company (email [email protected]). Leigh Butler, SVP, Director of Sub. Rights for the Penguin Group, will take over her responsibilities. . . Hyperion’s Leigh Haber has been named Editor-at-Large, and will now spend part of her time developing a DVD magazine.

John Harris has been named VP, Director of Finance, Planning & Operations for Houghton’s Trade & Reference Division. He succeeds Ellen Faran, who left to become Director of MIT Press. Harris was most recently CFO of Hungry Minds.

Following close on the heels of Neal Goff’s resignation, Scholastic announced the appointment of Joe Reynolds as President of Scholastic Library Publishing, effective immediately. Reynolds was previously President and CEO of ProQuest Information and Learning, which provides services to school and public libraries. Goff may be reached at (917) 541-4034 or [email protected]. L. Spencer Humphrey has also left Scholastic, where she was overseeing licensed characters, including Barney.

More sales moves this month: S&S has promoted National Accounts Manager Mary Beth Thomas to the position of Director of Distribution Clients Services, replacing Gary Fitzgerald. He can be reached at (732) 257-2541 or [email protected]. . . Bill Wolfsthal has been named Director of Specialty Retail at Abrams/STC. He was most recently at Overlook. . . Sabrina Farber has gone to Bloomsbury as Sales & Marketing Director. She was most recently Director of National Accounts for the Crown Group, at Random House.

Yulia Borodyanskaya has been named Sub. Rights Manager for Avalon Publishing Group, working out of the New York office. She was previously at Newmarket Press. . . Katie Hall began her new job as Harcourt Senior Editor. Hall had previously been at Random House.

McGraw-Hill announced two appointments in its Education divisions: William Oldsey has been named EVP McGraw-Hill Education, replacing Julie McGee, and reporting to Henry Hirschberg, who has just been named President.

As noted in PW, Bloomberg Press has streamlined its reporting structure, and John Crutcher has been appointed to the newly created position of Publisher, with Editorial, Marketing, and Sub. Rights reporting to him. He reports to Bill Inman, Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg Publishing. To elaborate on their announcement, Christine Miles has moved over from Bloomberg Personal Finance magazine, which closed last year, to the Press, as Senior Editor. Kathleen Peterson has been named Executive Editor for an as yet unnamed new professional finance and investing line that will be launched in 2004. Editorial Director Jared Kieling (who recently brought in The Economist books), now reports to Crutcher. Bloomberg Press, which was founded in 1996, has had “continued profit and revenue growth” since its founding.

PROMOTIONS


Rebecca Mancini has been promoted from Associate Director of Subsidiary Rights to Director of Children’s Rights for Houghton Mifflin’s Trade & Reference Division. . . Greer Hendricks, Senior Editor of S&S’s Atria imprint, has been promoted to VP. Jen Bergstrom has been promoted to Associate Publisher of S&S Children’s, and EVP, Publisher Robin Corey was given responsibility for two more imprints
. . . Melody Guy, who runs Villard’s Strivers Row, has been given the added responsibility for Ballantine’s One World.

APRIL DATES


The Feminist Press celebrates its 33rd year with a gala dinner on April 7. AAP’s Pat Schroeder and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are the honorary dinner chairs, and Carol Jenkins is the program host. There will be a tribute to Tillie Olsen, as well as an awards ceremony. Call Lorelei Enterprises at (212) 838-2660 for information.

• NYU’s Center for Publishing is offering a “Scandinavian Literature in Translation” day on April 24th. The focus will be on Sweden, and major Scandinavian publishers — along with American publishers who buy translations (New Press’s Andre Schiffrin, Texere’s Myles and Lee Thompson, etc.) — will be featured on a series of panels. The fee is $75. Contact [email protected] or call (212) 790-3232 for details.

April is National Poetry Month and City Lore and Poets House, in collaboration with the Bowery Poetry Club, will celebrate “A Woodstock for Words” at the People’s Poetry Gathering, April 11-13. The 2003 Theme is ballads and epics, with poets from Bosnia, Lebanon, Morocco, and Pakistan, and a Grand Peace Reading finale. For more information contact City Lore at (800) 333-5982. Also check The Academy of American Poets web site, www.poets.org, for their events calendar.

DULY NOTED


In the ongoing saga of publications about books, which started with the NYT’s article on Book Magazine’s retrenchment under the “Barnes & Noble Presents” banner, AMS’s Book Street USA has ceased publication. It had first been inserted into various newspapers including USA Today, and boasted a circulation of “almost 2 million,” through 41 newspapers. A later effort to make it a stand-alone was abandoned, and the focus will now be on Pages, the bookstore publication. It has a circulation of more than 7,000, according to its ad sales department.

Meanwhile, rival Book Page has teamed up with Books-A-Million to deliver a customized edition in a different, Parade-like format, and with a cover chosen by BAM. The customized March edition has George W. on the cover, while the generic version has Jim Patterson. A custom version is being developed for BookSense members, with yet another cover, and the BookSense bestseller list on the back cover. Book Page also reaches 3,000 public libraries.

• Barbara Tolley tells Publishing Trends that Livre de poche celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a reception hosted by Jean-Louis Lisimachio, Président Directeur Général d’Hachette Livre and Dominique Goust, Directeur Général du Livre de Poche at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris on March 4. An exhibition with iconic covers will run for two months at the museum.

• Lynn Goldberg is the lucky winner of veteran editor Larry Ashmead’s rolodex, which was auctioned off to support Books for a Better Life. Ashmead, who is retiring from HarperCollins after 43 years in publishing, was inducted into the BBL Hall of Fame in 2002.

• Carol Fass Publicity and Public Relations has announced the launch of Fass Speakers Bureau (FSB) in Spring 2003. Those who have expressed interest in being a part of FSB include Michael B. Oren, author of Six Days of War; Daniel Levitas, who wrote The Terrorist Next Door; and Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D, author of Women and Madness, and the forthcoming New Anti-Semitism.

MAZEL TOV


Little, Brown’s Asst. Publicity Director Heather Fain and Nickelodeon’s SVP Consumer Products, Leigh Anne Brodsky are among Ad Age’s “Entertainment Marketers of the Year.” Fain is credited with publicizing The Lovely Bones and Brodsky, with licensing SpongeBob SquarePants.

IN MEMORIAM


Miranda DeKay will hold a memorial service for her husband George on April 17 at 7:30 at the Century association in the Gallery. Tim Seldes will be the emcee. There will be speakers, music, and then a reception in the Billiard Room.

Speed Me to St. Louis

Notebooks, diploma frames, backpacks, golf clubs, wine corks, garbage cans, and enough imprinted caps to spare every head at the Super Bowl from sunstroke were ferociously displayed at the National Association of College Stores annual CAMEX college retail merchandising show in St. Louis, on March 7-10. The nonstop merch madness was rivaled, one must have thought, only by the “holy hardware” dominating the Christian Booksellers Association show. And who can blame ’em? College stores doubled their market share between 1990 and 2000, NACS reported, raking in more than $10.68 billion in 2002.

Attendance of over 7,000 was up significantly from last year’s event, where turnout was dampened in the aftermath of 9/11, though it may be obvious by now that the booksellers’ row at this mega-convention is dwarfed by the incidental merchandise vendors who capture most of the floor space and all of the glitz. Major publishing houses peered out from tiny booths, while the largest book presence was to be found in the booth displaying the prowess of MBS, the nation’s largest used-textbook wholesaler, which also operates many of the college stores’ point-of-sales systems. (MBS, which is 75% owned by Len Riggio, reports that textbooks average 60 – 70% of most college bookstores’ total sales.) Their biggest competition, Follett’s, was also present, but boasted slightly less expansive digs.

Let it be noted that the scariest trend, but one which might help out at BEA as show days wear on, was the presence of every imaginable caffeinated item: Jolt Gum, Penguin Caffeinated mints, “ephedra free” (which one convention-goer mistook as Free Ephedra!), spiked chocolate bars, and energy drinks galore. Starbucks, evidently, is over-priced for the student market.

We thank Robert Riger, Associate Publisher of SparkNotes, for his contribution to this report.

The Tao of Small

70,000-Odd Small Publishers Might Be Wagging Your Dog

They’re out there — all 73,000 of them — scrabbling for your shelf-space, mucking up your mindshare. That’s the number of book publishers in the US, according to Bowker’s Books in Print database, and it has nearly doubled in the past decade. Blame the go-go ’90s, the dawn of dummy-proof desktop publishing, Internet ubiquity, come-one-come-all chain bookselling, and the growing, mystical aura of ISBN numbers themselves. Every year, 11,000 new publishers apply for these must-have digits, be they startups girding for the long haul or — as most of them are — one-book wonders. And this motley contingent, believe it or not, may be keeping the business of books afloat. “We’ve found ourselves in what I think is the only growth area in the book business,” says Curt Matthews, CEO of Independent Publishers Group. “Our business has been growing at 30% per year for the last 15 years, and we’ll do it again this year. Outfits like IPG, Publishers Group West, and National Book Network — we’ve all been having stupendous growth and really taking market share from the big publishers.”

Call it the tao of small. “Our publishers are the masters of the niche marketplace, and that is where publishing has been developing,” says Jan Nathan, Executive Director of the Publishers Marketing Association. Grooming niche markets with direct and special sales tactics, these presses are wandering way outside the glutted trade bookselling channels. Yet for those very reasons, tracking their sales has been like pinning the tail on the donkey. The best guess to date is the 1999 study The Rest of Us, compiled by the Book Industry Study Group and the PMA, which estimated that the 53,000 smaller publishers at the time had annual sales of $14.3 billion. Add some portion of that “very conservative” figure to the $26 billion AAP estimate — which is primarily driven by large publishers — and, the study said, book business sales as a whole “are billions of dollars higher than previously perceived.” But whatever the dollar amount, some argue, commercial publishing has left acres of market turf wide open for the taking. “As larger publishing conglomerates are probably narrowing the choice of books that they publish,” says Small Press Center Executive Director Karin Taylor, “there’s a huge opportunity for small presses to step into that gap.”

WAGGING THE DOG

“Somebody referred to it as the tail that shook the dog,” says Richard DiMaggio, Editor of small publishing house The Consumer Press. “The large publishing houses shut everybody out for so long, all these great authors out there stood up and said I’m not going to take this anymore.” While irate authors may or may not be ripping up their Random House contracts, it seems safe to say that those myriad small publishers are indeed driving book-business growth from the bottom up. Publishing consultant Thomas Woll, who is currently tabulating the results of an update to The Rest of Us to be released before the next BookExpo America, points to Barnes & Noble’s report that its share of purchases from the ten largest publishers has been declining, from 74% in 1994 to 46% in 1997. “That change reflects the significant expansion in the superstores, and that expansion is coming at the expense of the big guys,” he says. But who needs the superstores? Woll adds that a three-year-old African-American health publisher he works with is ringing up a million-dollar business this year, making 90% of its sales to pharmaceutical and minority health markets.

Even trade-focused smaller publishers’ sales are soaring, if for diverse reasons. “The last couple of years have been a real period of growth and expansion for us,” says Jill Petty, Publisher and Editor at the nonprofit South End Press, which has been buoyed by strong demand for its Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky titles, plus the all-too-timely Iraq Under Siege. About 40% of sales go to the academic market, and Petty’s been selling to progressive religious organizations, in addition to guerrilla marketing at political demonstrations. Petty observes that small publishers have been victims of their own success. “Books that may have been called niche books 20 years ago can now be found anywhere. Our challenge is to continue to find new voices and push the envelope.” (Many market-expanding publishers come to the Small Press Book Fair, held March 29 and 30.)

When it comes to thinking small, delusions of grandeur don’t hurt, either. “I’m probably a bit Napoleonic,” says Michael Wiegers, Managing Editor for Copper Canyon Press. “I realize that we are a small press, but I also like to think that when it comes to our niche — poetry — we’re a major player.” Over the past decade, Copper Canyon has ramped up from $200,000 in sales to a cool million. Improved print-on-demand technology has made possible on-demand reprints, and Wiegers is exploring using POD exclusively: “We may start using it for all of the runs, particularly in the realm of poetry, where it’s a niche market and the numbers are pretty small.” Copper Canyon also recently offered books gratis to reading groups in exchange for detailed customer information. “I love a publishing house like FSG,” he explains, “but I would lay odds of Vegas that we know our individual readers better than they know their individual readers.”

‘A TERRIBLE CATCH-22′

Knowing thy readers is one thing; getting to them through a book distributor is something else again. With Ingram no longer listing small presses who do not have a distributor, and B&N only working with a select number of distributors (many of whom require a publisher to meet a minimum title threshold), the pickings are getting slimmer all the time. Even Amazon has been stiffening its terms for Advantage Members, charging a proposed $49 annual fee, plus $8 for every paper check sent to publishers who cannot accept payments electronically. The upshot? “It’s incredibly hard to get a distributor for that first book,” says Taylor of the Small Press Center. “It’s a terrible catch-22.”

Some may want to hit up Biblio Distribution, a division of National Book Network that handles 400 very small presses and is adding new clients at a clip of 35 per month. NBN President Jed Lyons says Biblio was launched after Ingram clamored for a more workable way to source books from small publishers — “Either the books were not being bought at all, or if they were being bought, they were being purchased in the wrong quantities,” he explains — and thus was born Biblio, which Ingram now recommends as its preferred supplier for small presses. Biblio Director Jen Linck handles the top four accounts, while commission reps handle the rest of the country. NBN’s client list is actually shrinking, as some clients hop to the less expensive Biblio, which maintains a sales organization separate from NBN. The Biblio unit hasn’t yet turned a profit, but, says Lyons, “If we can get this right and do it in such a way that we don’t lose our shirts, then I think we have an interesting business proposition.” Meanwhile, Baker & Taylor may be offering a similar haven: John Phillips, VP, Vendor Distribution for B&T’s new Distribution Solutions Group, says they’re currently taking on publishers with revenues of $500,000 and up, and he expects to add smaller publishers (what B&T calls “micropublishers”) as the infrastructure gets more robust in the next 12 to 18 months.

For those who can’t get into the chains, there’s always, well, everywhere else. Susan Doerr, Marketing Director at distributor Consortium, recently polled some of the company’s 75 independent publishing clients. “The retail market is particularly tough right now,” she says. “A lot of them are talking about alternative places to sell their books. Course adoption and the academic market were mentioned in particular.” Doerr says she’s seeing a resurgence of direct mail campaigns to drive academic sales, and to help beef up this sector, Consortium recently hired an academic and library marketing manager. “Our course adoptions are way up,” adds Laura Moriarty, Acquisition and Marketing Director for nonprofit wholesaler Small Press Distribution, which works with over 500 small publishers. Libraries account for about 25% of SPD’s business, and grants have funded marketing campaigns that are now targeting African-American bookstores and museum shops, another growing market. (Moriarty says almost 60% of her list is poetry; the average SPD title sells around 70 copies.)

Some may rightly caution that the small publisher impact can be overstated. “Small presses are like restaurants,” observes Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. Of his total database of 800 independent literary presses, he figures, “at least 200 or 300 of these are brand new and will probably not make it beyond a season.” Still, assuming that a fraction of those hardscrabble houses prevail, what impact might it make? “It changes the perception of the book industry in the eyes of government,” says Judith Appelbaum, Managing Director of Sensible Solutions and one of the BISG members who worked on The Rest of Us. “It says to culture-watchers that people are reading more and buying more than we’re giving them credit for.” Even the larger publishers, she says, stand to benefit from a fuller accounting of their smaller colleagues. “It always pays to know who your competition is. If you think your competition is six people who are just like you — and if it’s really 73,000 people who are not — then you should probably be doing something differently.”

International Fiction Bestsellers

Goodness, Gracious
Do-Gooders in Denmark, Laughing Last in France, and Oz Goes Feral in Israel

A wave of irrational exuberance crashes over Denmark this month as the nation just can’t stop reading a novel in which the citizens of a small Danish town become pathologically obsessed with doing good deeds for their neighbors. Hitting the top of the Danish list, The Good People of Århus is the first part of a “double-novel” from the rambunctiously readable Svend Åge Madsen, and takes a mischievous look at the “mysterious new disease” ravaging Århus, which is the author’s home town. Described as a “philosophical and playful examination of the phenomenon of goodness,” the book tracks the town’s desperate efforts to cure itself of the make-nice madness (those afflicted are locked up in a sort of do-gooders’ asylum). Billed as something like CamusThe Plague as reenacted by Crocodile Dundee, the book also revels in world literature: one main character is an antiquarian bookseller with a knack for knowing exactly which book would benefit his customers at any given time. The second part of the novel, called Lustful Reading, ponders the “wonderful mysteries of reading” with loads of “labyrinthine wit and humor.” (The two stories are partly interconnected, but can be read independently.) The 63-year-old Madsen has been deemed Denmark’s “literary Indiana Jones,” and is considered one of the few potential Danish Nobel Prize–winners. Though he has long been published in Denmark by Gyldendal, he was approached by upstart house Bindslev — which has successfully published Noam Chomsky’s 9-11 and Scott Ritter’s War on Iraq — and couldn’t say no. “He liked the idea of a small idealistic publishing house,” our source reports, “and he wanted to help kick-start the company.” Madsen’s 1992 novel Virtue and Vice in the Middle Time was published in English by Garland, while the new one sold out a first print run of 2,000 copies in four days. See Bindslev’s Kasper Nielsen for rights.

Also taking a wry look at the bright side of life, Nicole de Buron hits the list in France this month with Doctor, Could I See You. . .Within Six Months? The book gallantly plunges into “the absurd world of the emergency ward,” as its protagonist repeatedly winds up at the hospital — and clutching a dreamy cocktail of painkiller prescriptions — after having what Le Parisien described as an “irresistible series of accidents.” The moral of this story? Laughter is the best medicine. (The book has actually been plugged as a “perfect present to give to anybody who is in hospital, along with the flowers.”) The author’s previous mega-hit My Dear, You Hear Me? sold 380,000 copies in France, and she’s also well known for a number of cinematic comedies and television series. As for the new one, 90,000 copies have been sold to date, and all foreign rights are ripe for the plucking. Meanwhile in France — for a hard dose of reality — nonfiction bestseller The Bushes’ War by Le Figaro reporter Eric Laurent investigates two generations of American presidents and digs revealingly into the back-stories of the Bush clan’s struggles against Saddam and Bin Laden. So far 90,000 copies have gone out the door, with rights sold in 15 countries, including Germany (Fischer), the Netherlands (Van Gennep), Italy (Fandango), and Spain (Salvat), and submissions under way in the US and UK. Contact Heidi Warneke at Plon for both French titles.

Reality gets a grimly hilarious spin in Israel this month, where the latest undertaking of Kobi Oz (he’s no relation to Amos, and moonlights as the founder of a Tel Aviv band) is Petty Hoodlum, the tale of a half-Moroccan, half-Yemenite youth who’s got a big beef with the civilized world. Protagonist Nir Damti rebels against all who try to tame him, including Ruthie Zigzag, the daughter of the local rabbi, who is — you guessed it — head-over-heels for the hoodlum in question. Throw in a witless police officer with an Ashkenazi kibbutz-dwelling wife (who, moreover, pretends to be from Iraq and gives birth to a child after sleeping with an Arab terrorist from Gaza), and Oz’s colorful cast calls up a feral, often comic fantasy mirroring real-world fractures in Israeli society. (As a bonus sub-plot, the Messiah arrives on the scene, riding a white donkey.) Film rights were just sold for the author’s previous book, Moshe Chuwato and the Raven, which is an Eastern-Tunisian tale wherein each character recites his own monologue, rock-opera style. Rights have been sold to that title in Germany (Droemer).

Also in Israel, five siblings wrestle with their religious upbringing in Mira Magen’s family chronicle, Her Angels Have All Fallen Asleep. At the center of the action is 42-year-old Moriah, a real estate agent wooed by a Russian-born street musician who sets up camp on Ben Yehuda Street, in a Jaffa suburb. Despite fears that an affair will wreck her marriage to a bookstore owner, Moriah finds herself pregnant and, realizing that she’s got too much to lose, dumps her lover after having an abortion. Told with great empathy, the novel also involves Moriah’s youngest sister, a drop-dead gorgeous Tel Aviv bohemian; her gynecologist brother, Muli; her perennially single sister, Naomi; and one sister who remains faithful to the religious world, taking upon herself the burden of raising a large family. The author is a former nurse whose earlier novel Love, After All is forthcoming in Germany and China; contact Ayala Carmeli at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature for rights to titles from both Oz and Magen.

Finally, a mainstay on the Argentine list makes his mark an ocean away this month as Jorge Bucay’s Stories for Demián storms its way up the Spanish bestseller list. Described as “a self-help book in novel form,” the story follows Demián on a journey of self-discovery that lands him in the lap of eccentric psychoanalyst Jorge. The latter helps Demián battle his demons by spinning a narrative yarn every day, reinterpreting a variety of familiar tales to help the young lad find spiritual awakening. The author has been dubbed a “new Paulo Coelho of Latin American self-help literature,” and though Argentine editions of his works have been available in Spain for quite some time, Miguel Lambre, Bucay’s editor at Argentine house Del Nuevo Extremo, suggested that RBA bring out his titles in Spain because of his stunning success in other Spanish-speaking countries, including Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. RBA has preliminary plans to publish the rest of Bucay’s titles in Spain, encouraged by the sales of Stories to Make You Think, which hit stores last October. For rights, email Miguel Lambre at [email protected].

Caveat, Conventioneers

Frequent flyers of all stripes are heading for the hangar, as book fairs and other conventions suffer dampened numbers if not dowsed spirits. Sources tell PT that attendance at the Salon du Livre was off 20%, despite extra ebullience from the Canadian contingent, after young Quebecer Marie Hélène Poitras took home the third annual Prix Anne Hébert for her first novel Soudain le Minotaure (Tryptique). And ditto for the London Book Fair: though energy may have been credibly soulful under the global circumstances, the general take was “lots of talk, little biz.” Among the US/UK axis at LBF, Simon & Schuster’s Marcella Berger reported no cancellations, and Clare Alexander of the Gillon Aitken Agency noted only that Harcourt’s Andre Bernard and St. Martin’s Jennifer Weiss were among the missing, the latter replaced by George Witte.

Meanwhile, much pouting in Cannes this week, where MILIA, “the premier interactive content industry event,” took place concurrently with MIPTVReed Midem’s flagship confab for the television industry — in the hopes of revving up what was touted as “cross-media licensing synergies between games, digital media, and global broadcasting content.” Press reports noted, however, that the 9,000 buyers at MIPTV were 1,000 fewer than last year and 2,000 under expectations. (Reed was still gung-ho for its World Education Market, on May 20-23 in Lisbon.)

And the Jerusalem Book Fair has changed dates, though not due to fears of errant Scud missiles. The event was switched to June 23-27 after Frankfurt last year, where it was learned that the previous dates clashed with German sales conferences (Germany being a prominent presence there). Deborah Harris, a fair board member, reports that though of course “the world could be a different place” by the end of June, indicators are looking good and there’s been no word of cancellations to date.

Sparkles for SparkNotes

You gotta hand it to SparkNotes, the nervy and boldly proliferating line of literature study guides created by four Harvard seniors and acquired by Barnes & Noble in March 2001. Variously described by the media as “cheeky new book notes,” “kind of a CliffsNotes wanna-be,” and “the last word in literary laziness,” SparkNotes have managed to swathe the dullish, déclassé category of study aids in something like sex appeal. Their Harry Potter notes got them front-page fanfare in the New York Times; their online message boards are full of desperate, advertiser-attracting students (seen on the Macbeth board: “I need a thesis!!!”); and they’ve even seduced schoolmarms — the SparkNotes team showed up at the National Council of Teachers of English show expecting to have tomatoes hurled at them, but teachers were just going gaga about what great learning aids they were. And all that media snickering? It’s been swell for business. “Two years after the acquisition,” says Robert Riger, SparkNotes’ Associate Publisher, “we’re profitable.”

There are now more than 1.5 million SparkNotes guides in print and at least 500,000 sold to date — sales no doubt aided by the fact that B&N kicked CliffsNotes out of its stores. The print side currently offers 200 titles in three product lines, but those lines are expanding rapidly. In addition to 11 new study guide titles in 2003, new offerings include SparkCharts — which are laminated review sheets in 48 subjects, ranging from two to six pages and selling for $4.95 — and 10 new course outlines, which will sell for $14.95 and compete with Schaum’s, the McGraw-Hill line. Also on tap is the No Fear Shakespeare series, which offers facing-page translations into modern English of the bard’s ten most frequently studied plays, going head-to-head with Barron’s. (There are no plans yet to boot any of these other competitors from B&N.) Previously, SparkNotes have only been available at B&N stores, but this June they will be distributed to all markets via B&N-owned Sterling. It is not clear how receptive competing bookstores will be to carry the titles; Riger concedes that “the real growth we expect will be in libraries and special markets.”

Where growth is concerned, however, SparkNotes has a secret weapon: its hugely trafficked website. “What’s unique about SparkNotes is that it’s a web company that survived the dot-com crash by reinventing itself as a print publisher,” says Editorial Director Justin Kestler. “The website, with all its traffic and growth, is driving the brand at retail.” The site has more than 5 million registered users and has been touted as “the world’s largest, most popular” educational website for high-school and college users, with 80 million hits per month and more than a 100% increase in page views this year. Next month the site will be relaunched to pump up advertising revenues (use of study guides and a variety of other features on the site is free, but you’ll be swatting away pop-up ads). You’re even encouraged to download and print the guides as PDF files — for $4.95 a pop, the same price as the book version. More than half a million registered users come from outside the US, and targeted sub-sites are now being built for parents, teachers, and librarians.

But the best example of print-web synergy at SparkNotes may be its venture into test prep materials, which will reach 23 titles this year, covering SAT and ACT subjects (graduate-level tests are expected in 2004). You can download “a fully searchable, hyperlinked version of the SparkNotes book we sell in Barnes & Noble stores,” and you also get five interactive practice tests with “instant diagnostic feedback,” a proprietary online performance analysis that SparkNotes regards as its main competitive advantage — besides price, that is. It’s all yours for $14.95, and once you buy access to one course, others are $9.95. By contrast, test prep giant Kaplan’s basic online SAT course costs $129.

Next stop: K-8 territory. “We want to become a very important school-to-home publisher for kindergarten to college that has both online and offline products that integrate,” says Daniel Weiss, Publisher and Managing Director of SparkNotes. “We’re looking at these markets very closely using the school-to-home model: the bridge between the education market and the trade market.” The company is now seeking partners in the educational market who have material suitable for licensing, and Weiss is also looking for writers with both curricula chops and trade skills. The juvenile line (which won’t be sold under the SparkNotes brand) is expected by early 2004. Beyond the kids’ stuff, the sky’s the limit. Weiss has even been dreaming about a stab at fiction publishing, leveraging his brainy Harvard grads to perhaps serialize chapters of novels on the Internet. “Our editors are highly credentialed literary types,” Weiss says. “Possibly we can use the reach of our website to figure out how to get new first novels published.”

Zoned Out in London

Defying the duck-and-cover geopolitical indicators, this year’s London Book Fair remains stolidly on-message that it’s going to be more buzzed than ever when it rolls out on March 16. The “Publishing Solutions Zone” is — yes — “bigger than ever before this year,” with 60 stands, up by more than 20; the number of international table-holders at the Rights Center was up 31% last year, with jam-packed conditions forecast once again; and don’t forget the new “zones” of specialization: Art, Architecture, and Design; Christian (last year’s Frankfurt boycott by Germany’s religious publishers should result in a sellout for this sector); and, hearteningly, Travel and Maps, a category that knows geopolitical fallout when it sees it.

Then there’s (gasp!) The Public. Coming off last year’s “How to get Published” event, there will now be three “Master Classes” aimed at the writing masses. Held in conjunction with English PEN, the courses cover children’s fiction; memoir and biography; and film and TV writing. Each session lasts two hours and is chaired by a leading broadcaster (consumers can attend all three for £85). The scribbling commoners still won’t be admitted to the main hall at Olympic, but the idea seems to be that they’ll feel as if they’re touching the hem of the veil. And there’s Granta’s Young Writers Sessions and the Hay Festival seminars — and sponsorship by the Guardian and Daily Mail, media buy-in to be considered by BEA organizers, perchance.

The 3rd EpubLondon remains a two-day affair but is a long way from the glitzy consumer focus of Rocket eBooks and Questia.com. We’re talking e-learning, B2B, content management, and metadata. Unfortunately, the “Great Autumn Flood” panel, which PT previewed last month, has been canceled (after being renamed “Running To Stand Still”; apparently the metaphors got too depressing). We’ll leave you with this note of consolation: The LBF dates dovetail grandly with Paris’s Salon du Livre, so there’s just enough time to pack up your stand and your bags, recover from the week’s excesses, toddle across the Channel, and do it all over again.

International Fiction Bestsellers

Surreality Bites
Warlocks Roam Poland, Italy’s Spinster/Warrior, And Potter-philia Sweeps Russia

If contemporary world history isn’t surreal enough for you, dive into the willful wickedness of Andrej Sapkowski’s latest genre-bending novel, Narrenturm (it roughly translates from the German as Asylum). Freely warping the historical and the fantastic, this Polish bestseller follows the relatives of a Silesian duke as they surprise an amorous knight — Reinmar of Bielawa, known as Reynevan — in flagrante with the duke’s Burgundian wife. When the knight bolts out the door, the chase is on. Set in 1425 in the Czech Crown lands (just after the world failed to implode, despite fire-and-brimstone predictions to the contrary), the book’s historical details are accurate down to the finest codpiece, though the plot is entirely fictional. Sapkowski has written numerous collections of short stories, as well as a masterful five-volume sequence about a warlock named Geralt (motifs of which were the basis for the film Warlock, which premiered in Poland in 2001). The author got his break when he won a writing contest in 1985, and his charmingly eccentric stories have been compared with rave-worthy Polish sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem (both authors are hits among young readers). Word on the street is that Sapkowski has plenty more tricks up his sleeve. He’s been translated into Czech, Russian, Lithuanian, and German; contact Patricia Pasqualini of Agence de L’Est (France) for the rest of the world.

In a darker quasi-fantastical tale, it took a lot more than duct tape to protect a group of women — the wives, sisters, daughters, and nieces of General Bento Congalves, leader of a revolutionary group in Brazil’s Farropilha War — who endured 10 long years cloistered at a secluded house in southern Brazil between 1835 and 1845. Letícia Wierzchowski’s novel The House of the Seven Women is the story of that cruel abode and the war’s impact on each of its inhabitants. The names and destinies of some of the women are true-to-life, and are intertwined with bloody battle scenes from a clash that profoundly shaped Brazilian history. Already in its fifth printing, the book went gangbusters after the January launch of a TV Globo miniseries, adapted from the book by Walter Negrão and Maria Adelaide Amaral and directed by Jayme Monjardim. Queries have come in from Portugal, Spain, and Germany, and others are hot on the trail. Contact Elena Errazuriz of the Anne Marie Vallat Literary Agency (Spain) for France, Portugal, and Spanish rights, and Ray-Güde Mertin for all other territories.

Meanwhile, two books with very different timbres hit the Italian list at full force this month. From the “avenger of the single woman” who brought us the bestseller Alone Like a Celery Stalk (it sold about 1 million copies; see PT, Aug. ’01), comes a diary of a modern Princess and the Pea, who has no delusions about her prince. Known for insights into the single gal’s life, comic actress Luciana Littizzetto turns from her mainstay genre (“the surreal outpourings of a feather-brained single girl”) to a diary-like narrative of the relationship between an ordinary girl and guy written with a super-sardonic wit. Determined to prove that no woman should cry at the thought of being single (or the manifold horrors of finding a “better half”), Littizzetto, a former teacher of music, has triumphed as a cult figure of Italian humor. All rights are available from Mondadori.

The other title raising a ruckus in Italy is Giorgio Faletti’s psychological thriller I Kill, which will soon be taking its homicidal horrors to the silver screen via producer Aurelio De Laurentiis (Filmauro) — who just shelled out 600,000 euros for the rights to an international co-production, which will include the US and some European countries (it’s said to be one of the biggest deals ever in Italy for an adaptation). The book is described as a “thriller marked by a trace of sadness,” packed with desperations and reminiscent of Ken Follett. Faletti, a former cabaret artist and song lyricist making his literary debut, has elsewhere been dubbed a “more cultured Tom Clancy.” Several US publishing houses are already reading the novel, which features a Radio Monte Carlo DJ who receives delirious telephone calls from a serial killer. The crimes are shaped by musical clues, creating a “superb soundtrack for the story.” Contact Angela Lombardo at Baldini & Castoldi.

Regarding our newly added Russian bestseller list — for which PT gratefully acknowledges Yulia Borodyanskaya and Peter Gavrilov of Knizhnoye Obozreniye (Russia’s equivalent to PW) — you’ll notice three titles by noteworthy crime author Daria Dontsova, just one more sign of the burgeoning popularity of Russian-authored crime tomes. With the opening of the nation’s market in the ’90s, Western authors were readily devoured, but since then, homegrown authors have mastered the genre themselves — and demand hasn’t peaked yet. Crowned Russia’s “Writer of the Year” in 2001 and 2002, Dontsova has churned out about 40 titles (in what Gavrilov calls her “clinical graphomania”), most of them featuring a strong female protagonist. With hardcovers averaging $4 at bookstores (paperbacks rarely breach the $2 mark), scooping up a bundle of page-turners at a time is not uncommon — hence popular authors often have more than one bestselling title at once. Since 1995, Russian house Eksmo has published more than 27 million copies of her novels, which have been so widely disseminated that the act of reading them has been likened to “self-brain-washing.” (As Russia promotes its home-grown talent, PT has learned that it pays to be careful: at least one major US publisher’s attempt at a mega multi-title deal fell through when their Russian counterparts couldn’t make the advance payment.) Meanwhile, talk of crime and literature in Russia is not complete without mention of the pending lawsuit against young Russian author Dmitry Yemets, whose Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass (the story of a bespectacled orphan who rides a magical flying double bass) is not the only Harry Potter parody — he’s battling for that distinction with Andrey Zhvalevsky’s Porry Gatter and the Stone Philosopher. That’s no surprise, considering that the “real” Harry Potter series has sold about 1.2 million copies in Russia. Fans waiting for the next Potter book will find the Grotter series a more affordable alternative, the first having sold 100,000 copies at about $2.50, compared to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which goes for a whopping $5.85. Unfazed by legal threats, Eksmo said it plans to publish two more Grotter books this year.