The Word on Christian Shows

Pity the itinerant evangelical publisher: Just as the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s (ECPA) annual regional trade shows are winding down, the Christian Booksellers Association’s (CBA) winter conference in Nashville gears up (Feb. 1-3).

But business was off this year at the two shows for which figures are available, according to ECPA’s David Bird, despite a reduction in the number of shows from last year’s total of six to this year’s five (with Orlando out of the mix because of a lack of retailer support). Still, as Bird emphasizes, at the EPCA, “the emphasis is on small” — with retailers offered reimbursements on their mileage, and even free hotel rooms, if they attend enough presentations and order from a minimum number of publishers. Only ECPA members are invited to exhibit and all exhibitors (roughly 55, mostly publishers and distributors) are required to attend all five shows, of which the Hershey, Pa., show is the largest, with 127 retailers attending. This is in marked contrast to the CBA show, which attracts thousands of attendees and approximately 300 exhibitors, including endless tchotchke purveyors, music labels and clothing manufacturers with names like Christian Closet and Angel Toes. Still, there are close ties between the two organizations, including the recently named President and CEO of ECPA, Mark Kuyper, who came from the CBA where he headed business development and marketing.

This year’s CBA will be focusing more than ever on the nuts and bolts, with “supply chain” and “category management” the hot topics, and a presentation on “Restoring Trust” that refers to the relationship between retailer and supplier — apparently as much an issue in religious publishing as it is in the rest of the industry.

For those who didn’t make it to the regional shows, and won’t make it to Nashville, there’s more to come: July 10-14 is CBA International, in Denver; meanwhile, if traditional religion is where you want to be, you’ll have to split your time between the Chicago exurb of St. Charles, Illinois, where the Religious Book Trade Exhibit (RBTE) meets June 1-3, and the annual BookExpo (June 2-5), which this year has abandoned Chicago for New York.

Bookview, February 2005

People

The beginning of a new year seems to have prompted some early spring cleaning, with an unusual number of moves around the industry.

The one that got the most attention was Sara Nelson’s move to PW as its new Editor-in-Chief, replacing Nora Rawlinson, who may be reached at [email protected]

Lee Boudreaux has left Random House, where she was Executive Editor.

Tracy Carns has been named Associate Publisher of Reganbooks, reporting to Judith Regan. She was previously Associate Publisher of The Overlook Press. Other news at HarperCollins, Jacqueline Murphy has been named Executive Editor, Harper Audio. She was Director of Sub Rights at Harcourt. … Stephen Hanselman has left HarperCollins, where he oversaw HarperSanFrancisco and various New York units in the HarperInformation Division.

Ileene Smith ,VP Senior Editor, has leftRandom House. … Basic Books has hired Yale UP’s Lara Heimert as an Executive Editor, specializing in history. Heimert replaces Chip Rosetti, who recently moved to Cairo. … Deborah Brody has joined McGraw-Hill Professional as a Senior Editor in the self-help/health/parenting group. She was most recently a senior editor at Holt.

In marketing and publicity: Craig Herman VP, Director of Marketing at Simon and Schuster will be leaving the company at the end of February.  He may be reached at [email protected]…. Ina Howard has joined  Avalon Publishing Group  as a Senior Publicist.  Howard was a publicist at Nation Books. … Director of Publicity Elisabeth Calamari has left FSG for Pantheon, with the title of Publicity Director. She had been replaced by Sarita Varma, who has been with FSG for about a decade. … At HarperCollins Pamela Spengler-Jaffee has been promoted to Director of Publicity for the Morrow/Avon Group. She had been Assistant Director.

Much is happening in children’s books:

Mary Alice Moore has been hired as Editorial Director at Scholastic’s Grolier division, reporting to Heather Burgett, SVP Direct Marketing Services for Scholastic’s At Home Division. She was publisher at innovative Kids. Susan Bishansky is stepping down from her position as Editorial Director to work on a consulting basis and be replaced in her former position by Cindy Eng who was VP, Editorial Director, Little Simon.

Meanwhile, Anne Schwartz has left S&S to return to Random House Children’s Book to head her own, as yet unnamed imprint. Suzanne Harper has also left. She had moved to S&S last July as SVP, Publisher for hardcover. With the exit of Schwartz and Harper, Emma Dryden becomes VP, Associate Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Ginee Seo gets her own imprint. Seo had been Atheneum Associate Publisher.

David Nelson has been named VP, Publisher Beaufort Books. He was previously at Sales Director at Zagat and Harcourt. … Children’s book publisher innovativeKids has hired Tammy Johnston, who was most recently at ABC Books and previously at Candlewick, as VP of Sales, in charge of its new in-house sales program. … &S has hired Lauren Monaco as Director of Sales, national accounts. She was Director of Sales for Borders at Random House.

Martin Levin has returned to Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, to co-manage publishing mergers and acquisitions with Robert Halper and serve again as Counsel. He spent the last year working at The van Tulleken Company and was closely involved in the recent sale of Walker & Co. to Bloomsbury.

Rutledge Hill Press promoted Associate Publisher Pamela Clements to the position of Publisher. Founder Lawrence Stone is serving as Publisher Emeritus, focusing on acquisitions. Clements has worked for a total 11 years at Rutledge’s parent company Thomas Nelson.

Marcus Leaver , CEO of the U.K.-based Chrysalis Publishing Group, is moving to Sterling, in the newly created position of EVP and COO, starting April 1.

And Juergen Boos has been named Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, succeeding Volker Neumann. Boos has been at the German branch of Wiley since 1997. He starts April 1, but Neumann will continue to work until his contract runs out at the end of this year.

Promotions

HarperCollins has been a veritable beehive of activity these last few weeks: David Hirshey, Executive Editor, has been named a SVP of HarperCollins Publishers. … Following the hiring of Joe Tessitore, George Bick has been promoted to SVP, Director of Sales and Associate Publisher, Collins and Philip Friedman has been amed VP and Publisher, Collins Reference. Replacing Bick, Brian McSharry becomes VP, Director of Sales for Morrow/Avon and director of cookbook sales. He was National Account Manager for Morrow/Avon. … Mark Tauber has been promoted to Deputy Publisher at HarperSanFrancisco. The unit is now part of the recently-created Harper Morrow.

Harold Clarke has been named President and Publisher of Readers Digest RD Books and Music division. Neil Wertheimer has been promoted to the new role of Editor-in-Chief of books for the North American Publishing group, in charge of both trade and direct mail book operations.

Milena Alberti- Perez has been named Director of Spanish Language Publishing at Vintage Espanol. She was Director Corporate Development forRandom House.

At S&S Frank Fochetta has been promoted to VP Director of Field and Special Sales. Amanda Patten has been promoted from Editor to Senior Editor at TouchstoneFireside.

February Events

NYU’S Third Management Forum for Independent Publishers will be held on April 15-16. Among the speakers in this useful, nuts and bolts program are Nielsen Bookscan’s Jim King, Bookspan’s Larry Shapiro, Perseus’s David Steinberger, and Ingram’s Phil Ollila. The price is $950, or $855 before March 18. Call (212)992-3236 or www.scps.nyu.edu/indy.

The Small Press Center and The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen will host the next speaker in The New Yorker talks, David Remnick, on Feb. 8. Adam Gopnik will speak on March 22. Reservations are recommended. Admission is $15, $10 for members, and $5 for students. For more information, call (212)840-1840. E-mail [email protected], or go to www.smallpress.org.

• Books for a Better Life Awards, to benefit the New York Chapter of the MS Society, takes place on Feb. 28 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel at 6 p.m. Meredith Vieira is the emcee and legendary publisher Oscar Dystel and author Heidi Murkoff are the Hall of Fame Inductees. For information call Jenny Green Sherman at (212) 463-7787 x 3016 or email [email protected]

Duly Noted

The McEvoy Group, formed by Nion McEvoy, the chairman and CEO of Chronicle Books, increased its equity investment in Hartle Media, publisher of 7×7 magazine, on the acquisition of a controlling interest in California Home & Design magazine from 18 Media, LLC.

• Tokyopop Inc., the country’s leading manga publisher, has announced the “highly anticipated” fifth Rising Stars of Manga competition, launched on December 1, 2004 and running through February 15, 2005.  Aspiring artists and writers are encouraged to submit their 15-to-20-page manga—along with completed entry forms—to Tokyopop “for the chance to join the next generation of nationally published manga-ka.” Go to www.tokyopop.com/news/mangatalent/index.php.

Bewildering BISAC

Publishers Pressured to Use Coding System Despite its many Flaws

Not too long ago, an editor at a major househeard from a disgruntled author. He was fretting over the fact that his Thanksgiving-themed book was being categorized under the BISAC subject area “Social Science/Customs & Traditions.” He was concerned that the potential buyer for his spiritual holiday title might not find it if it were shelved next to, say, Sources of Chinese Traditions, Vol. 1. The editor was in a quandary — while she certainly agreed that the book belonged under “General Interest/Seasonal Books/Thanksgiving,” she didn’t know the parameters for changing a BISAC code. After a series of emails with the marketing and production departments, she learned it is possible to change a BISAC code, but the desired classification did not exist. They ended up printing the in-house classification on the back cover, and the editor went on her merry way — except now she was fretting over BISAC subject codes.

Have we already lost you? Let us (try to) explain: The once-arcane and still-misunderstood BISAC system is being squabbled over in many large publishing houses, where editors are being told to attach codes to their books — even as they ask the seemingly obvious question, “Why?” What many editors don’t know is that their houses are getting pressured by large retailer and wholesaler clients to use this mammoth — and some say, still arcane — categorization system.

Convoluted, maybe; but definitely critical. BISAC codes are to booksellers as the Dewey Decimal System is to librarians. What began as a simple way to assist the clerk shelving books has become a complex system, replete with online search functions and tracked by BookScan. Barnes & Noble and Amazon use BISAC codes in differing degrees to filter categories for their online browsers. (Amazon and Borders declined to comment for this story, but according to Baker & Taylor, the wholesaler translates the BISAC codes into genre codes for Amazon.) “It’s a core, basic and common descriptive language for categorizing books,” says Book Industry Study Group Executive Director Jeff Abraham. And, in conjunction with the ONIX system, they allow the computers of publishers, distributors and retailers to describe a book in the same way worldwide — finally, a method for facilitating global book sales.

More specifically, it’s a list of about 50 subject categories with a total of about 3,000 (and growing) sub- and sub-subcategories with related numbers, which is overseen by the BISG’s BISAC (an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications) Subject Codes Sub-committee. The codes start with three letters, followed by six numbers. Example: a “Fiction/Romance/Gothic” title shows up in databases as FIC027040. While booksellers and distributors praise it because it helps them organize books without knowing anything about them — in advance of the publication date — editors are left flummoxed when their books, which they know intimately, don’t seem to fit any of the BISAC subjects.

A Work in Progress

Everyone agrees on one thing: the BISAC subject code list is a work in progress. Version 2.9, which will reconfigure some primary categories, including Law and Computers, is expected out in the next few months, and it’s a distant cousin to Version 1. Looking back at earlier versions, you can’t help but ponder the gap between the mere 14 Science listings and the 44 Religion listings. Even the current Version 2.8 (available on the BISG website) has over 100 Religion listings, but for some strange reason the subcategories of Spirituality and New Age fall under the heading Body, Mind & Spirit. And just plain “Spiritual” falls under Self-Help. You could lose your religion trying to decipher these. The category of Graphic Novels saw the light of day rather late — in Version 2.7 —after a group of publishers pointed out that they didn’t really fit in Comics and Cartoons.

“It’s bad data hygiene,” says DAP President Sharon Gallagher, who with National Accounts Director Jane Brown, rallied for a revision of the Art category a few years ago. At the time, the only subcategories were “Art/author” and “Art/
illustrator.” DAP worked with BISG to develop more comprehensive Art sub- and sub-subcategories, which number over 70 now. So, at least there’s now a spot for Leonardo.

Though it revisits the list twice a year, the sub-committee in charge has yet to publish formal usage notes. Constance Harbison, chair of the Subject Code Sub-committee and senior director of books in print at Bowker, said the approximately 35-member sub-committee intends to develop “scope notes,” a separate up-to-the-minute document that would be available online to help people use BISAC codes, when it is finished revising the current edition.

Nobody interviewed for this story knew exactly when the subject codes were created. But Wendell Lotz, Chair of the BISAC General Committee and VP/Product Database Development at Ingram, joined the sub-committee in 1996, and Version 1 had been in place for a few years. Though the coding was invented to “help the $7-an-hour clerk in the store get the book to the right shelf,” Lotz says it’s only been in the last couple of years that BISAC has been widely accepted. Of Ingram’s top 25 publishers by sales volume, only about three don’t use BISAC at this time, Lotz says. “But, the publishers still haven’t figured out how to use them well.” One of the main problems Lotz has observed is that editors and publishers want to put the widest possible category on a book to get the most exposure. But, BISAC’s overseers wish they would apply the narrowest category.

In the words of one wholesaler, publishers are driving the system amok. Steven Pace, Baker & Taylor VP, Retail Sales, said some publishers choose the category based on concurrent best-selling areas. For example, a publisher might classify a title as “Biography,” when “Self Help” is more accurate, but less attractive. Helene Green, director of data operations at Simon and Schuster, admits “there are in-house discrepancies” as to how BISAC subject codes are handled, and she looks forward to the day the BISAC Committee distributes written standards. “It can happen six months ahead of publication, or it can happen the day an ISBN is created,” she said. Sometimes the editorial team assigns one when they first get the manuscript, but marketing can override this when assigning a final code to be sent to trade partners. And, according to Lotz, Ingram sometimes changes codes before sending them to retailers.

“BISAC is really, really, really stupid,” exclaims Mary Sunden, formerly VP of Penguin International who worked on their systems issues. “It is the only part of the ONIX system that people complain about … because subject categorizing is subjective.” She attributes its faults to the fact that it was designed by “techies” who probably didn’t have the best grasp of how books are made and marketed. “As a result, people in publishing houses are forcing their books into these categories,” she says. Granted, the BISAC codes work well in some areas — such as more academic fields and traditional trade — but nonfiction books are becoming harder to pinpoint, as illustrated with such books as Seabiscuit (Horses or History?).

If each book can have numerous BISAC codes, then why is there so much concern for picking the right one? According to Jim King, VP, general manager at BookScan, only the primary subject code is recognized by Bookscan. For this reason, he says, “We always encourage publishers to pay attention to BISAC codes — and it’s something that only a qualified person should assign.”

In November 2002, Barnes & Noble implemented its Efficient Data Receipt Program, which told publishers to use the BISAC subject codes, or risk penalty. The program requires its vendors to send 11 core data points for a book 180 days before the publication date — and the BISAC code is one of them. “The idea behind the program is that if publishers packaged their books in a way that required us to spend more time in the warehouse, then we would ask for remuneration,” explained Richard Stark, B&N director of product data, adding that the retailer tried to ease publishers into the new requirements (it has only resorted to charge backs twice, and only for repeat offenders). Over 100 of the retailer’s top vendors currently are subjected to these requirements; the top 200 vendors should be on board by the end of 2005; but B&N may never place this demand on small publishers. Now, about 75% of the data receipts from the involved publishers arrive complete. A missing BISAC code can add “upwards of a minute to the [data entering] process,” says Stark. “This isn’t so much, but if you multiply it by tens of thousands each year, it’s significant.”

Somewhat ironically, the biggest motivator for implementing BISAC, B&N, uses the codes mostly as a guide to assign its own in-house subject categories. It has two in-house categorization systems: one for its website and one for in stores.

Back to the Thanksgiving book dilemma. One of the sub-committee’s current agenda items is to discuss the adoption of another coding system, called “themes,” which would augment the subject areas and aid in merchandizing. They include specific ethnic orientations, holidays, regions or topics (e.g. Black History Month). In the meantime, when all else fails, don’t forget code #NON000000, for those non-classifiables.

For more basic information on BISAC subject codes, see www.bisg.org/publications/bisac_subj_faq.html.

Trendspotting 2005

Phillip Sturrock,
Chairman & CEO,
Continuum Int’l Publishing Group

There’s a small word to describe China, but it’s hugely accurate: “big.” China is a country with a population of at least 1.3 billion, an annual economic growth rate of about 8%, and the motivation to modernize quickly. Literacy is increasing, the teaching of English is ubiquitous, and the accelerated development of the educational sector — from kindergarten to university — is a policy imperative.
All this has attracted the world’s biggest publishers to invest in China. Though it’s a recent member of the WTO with a commitment to free flows of investment, China has so far excepted publishing from this liberalization. But that will change. In September 2004, the deputy director of GAPP (the state regulatory body) foresaw the ending of this prohibition by 2006. The state most likely will retain control of sensitive areas, such as political criticism.
In the meantime, the big publishers are using more creative models. Bertelsmann is very active in retailing — either through mail or electronic clubs, and most recently in traditional retailing. Wiley, McGraw, Pearson, Thomson, and Macmillan have co-publishing agreements, which give them access to these huge but low-price markets.

Not to be left out, Continuum, a leader in the UK market for teacher education books, is looking to conclude a partnership arrangement with a normal university press (“normal” means a university dedicated to teacher education — there are currently 10 million teachers-in-training in China.) This should result in a hundred-title co-published program and increased profile for other arrangements, rights deals, and imports. It’s an exciting development!

Amy Rhodes,
VP & Publisher, Trade Books,
Rodale

I think the biggest news in our industry this past year was the widespread use of Bookscan and its implications for the acquisition process. One cannot help but be brought up short by the very small numbers generated by the vast majority of books, just hope seems to continue to spring eternal when it comes to believing that the next book will defy the past. Whether or not Bookscan is capturing 65% or 75% or 85% of the retail sales (and I continue to believe that it is 85% for the average title that is not being carried in mass merchants), the math is clear and there needs to be some rationalization of the price of advances vis-a-vis the odds of earning out.

As publishers study their P&Ls to see how to impact on the small percent that is getting to the bottom line, there are only so many ways to have an effect. We can raise prices, but with retailers doing their own publishing, that seems particularly unfashionable; we can cut back on marketing, but publicity is the only tool that seems to actually generate sales; or we can try to rein in our unearned royalties line. And if we all are “using the same pencil” as the phrase goes, then we should learn how to add up to the same number and bring some reality back to the process.

Ellen Geiger,
Literary Agent,
Curtis Brown

Last week, my agents’ lunch group met at a Westside bistro. When I asked them if there were any new trends, they laughed and told me the only trend they could spot was that the business continued to get harder and harder. Because of this, as agents, our longstanding relationships with our favorite editors become more and more important as the demands of corporate publishing continue to grow.

On the other hand, some things — like promotion — are getting easier. There is an exponential increase in the ability of authors to promote themselves, thanks especially to the Internet. This is nothing new, but it is getting to the point where publishers expect their authors, especially nonfiction authors who are not yet household names, will know how to develop their audiences in this way. I am beginning to see an age break at around 50: Authors younger than 50 are Web-savvy or willing to learn; authors older than 50 tend to be more rooted in the old and now hidebound promotional ideas of yore — the author tour, the press release, the publisher who will really push them past the initial month of release.

Or, cribbing from The NY Times, you could talk about the new infatuation with bloggers being turned into authors. I think it’s a fad – like reality shows – only the good ones with real ideas and substance will survive.

Carol Fitzgerald,
Co-founder & President
The Book Report Network

One thing readers love about writers is the voice in their writing. For 2005 I’d love to see authors’ voices being used in promotion materials that are used to reach readers such as Internet mailings. In the past month I probably have read 25 newsletters from authors. Ninety-five percent read like press releases, catalog blurbs or the most stiff promotional copy. Most didn’t do more than bang me over the head with a buy message. Very few came across with the voice of the author.

Over the last eight-plus years at Bookreporter.com, I’ve learned that talking to readers and engaging them — instead of writing at them — makes an impact. An author writing a short note about why he wrote a book, or talking about characters, enhances the reader’s desire to pick it up. Sure it’s easier to crank out copy in the publicity or promo department, but after building more than 100 websites with authors and working with them on a voice, tone and attitude, as well as a design, for these sites, I know how completely refreshing the copy is when it takes on an author’s persona.

I do not think there is anyone who sells a book better than an author using his or her own words.

Jeff Abraham,
Executive Director,
Book Industry Study Group

We’ve known for years that a 2005 sunrise was coming — that time when general retailers in the US were to work with 13-digit barcodes. But it wasn’t clear at first — not even 9 months ago — how the book industry, with all its complexities and distribution channels, would respond to the challenges of changing book identifiers (from UPC to Bookland EAN), the new ISBN-13, and an opportunity to work more cohesively with trading partners around the globe. Would the last few weeks of 2004 be filled with dissent, anxiety, and confusion — or would we be following a workable plan of action?

Although much remains to be done, we can all take pride in the process we’ve been through as an industry. Thanks to dozens of caring, diligent, and insightful publishing and bookselling executives who attended meetings, voiced opinions, argued on behalf of agendas and compromised in order to further progress, the fundamentals have been set. We can all play in the new worldwide retailing sandbox.

Also, we may have created a second 2005 sunrise. Wearing only the palest of rose-colored lenses, it’s possible to see the acts of coming together, openly debating the issues, and reaching consensus on efficient business practices as the dawn of a new way of doing business in the book industry.

Sara Nelson,
Publishing Columnist, Books Editor
New York Post

Sometimes I have a hard time telling the difference between a list of predictions and a plain old-fashioned wish list. For example, do I really believe 2005 will mean the return of fiction and the end, at least until election 2008, of the political insider somebody-bashing book? Maybe I just wish it would be so, like I wish that the spoiled-twenty-something-who-hates-her-job genre would go away — but like totally.

On the other hand, this is a prediction and the opposite of a wish: 2005 surely means the dismantling, one way or another, of Miramax books as we’ve come to know — and respect — it. If there is a wish, it’s that Burnham et al will come out well and turn up someplace great soon.

2004: Technology Boom Redux

Last week’s news about Google closing in on its goal of a global virtual library by partnering with the likes of Oxford University and the New York Public Library is a good place to start with a roundup of our reporting throughout 2004 — a year that felt much like the early 1990s, before people’s faith in technology had been challenged — or worse. Having learned their lesson, perhaps investors and developers think they can enter new technology partnerships and forays without bursting any more bubbles. And however traditional and pragmatic, the publishing industry once again hears technology’s siren song. Consider Penguin’s addition of that familiar shopping cart icon to its website, much to the dismay of many booksellers who thought the publisher — ecce Random — was trying to remove them from the book-to-market equation (PT, May ’04). Remember the many autographed copies of Bill Clinton’s My Life, which were up for bid on eBay even before the book hit store shelves — putting book pricing in the hands of the consumer (July ’04). If you need any more examples of how publishing has embraced technology (and vice versa), tune into 163 on SM Satellite Radio for its Sonic Theater programming that includes audio versions of everything from classics of the Western canon to Louis L’Amour’s classic Westerns (April ’04). Publishers may hate to love some of these so-called advancements, but they also don’t want to be the only ones sitting on the bench.

One of our biggest stories of 2004 — and one The New York Times picked up — was how the Internet has (depending on who you talk to) either empowered the used-book retailer or devalued the new book market (July ’04). Thanks to Amazon’s handy listing of used copies when a shopper searches for a book title — not to mention its prompting of buyers to resell what they have purchased on the site — Americans are developing a taste for used books. During a nine-month period in 2003, used books accounted for about 14% of general trade books purchased, according to Ipsos BookTrends. And, Forrester Research estimates that online used book sales could double, to $2 billion by 2007. Though some argue that tracking used book sales is nearly impossible, most agree that book publishers need to figure out some way to both track and address the problem.

On the brighter side, our April feature, “iPod Nation,” told of how the ubiquitous MP3 player has drawn many music fans to downloadable audiobooks at such sites as iTunes and Audible.com. Audible expects a 2004 total revenue in the range of $33 million to $34 million, which would represent a revenue growth rate of 71% to 76% over the $19.3 million total revenue reported in 2003. It reported close to 109,000 new users for the first three quarters of 2004, and this number continues to increase, according to the company. Audio Publishers Association President and Publisher of Audio Renaissance, Mary Beth Roche, said some publishers completely understand the potential of audiobooks, while others still don’t get it. “The big thing that we need to stress to our publishers is that the audiobook consumer is the most avid book reader.” It’s no longer just for those with poor eyesight or long commutes. As proof: Many libraries are already offering digital downloads of books, and many others are in the process of adopting this format.

When we began our investigation into the current state of university presses and their distribution models (August ’04), it soon became obvious that this was going to be yet another technology-related story. We learned that budget-strapped university presses increasingly are banding together to cut distribution costs and fend off obsolescence; and in many cases this means embarking on joint ventures to digitize content (for short-run offset printing and print on demand) and distribute it electronically. As one example, the University of Chicago’s digital BiblioVault is on schedule to hold 12,000 titles from about 40 presses by June 2005. (You didn’t think Google thought of it first, did you?) And, the university presses aren’t immune to consolidation. “There is a gradual trend for the smaller presses to get a larger press to distribute for them,” said AAUP Executive Director Peter Givler.

To Read or Not to Read

Moving away from technology, our other noteworthy trend of the year also affects the bottom line. Publishers’ reliance on Asia for outsourcing is not new, but China’s role in publishing is certainly growing beyond that. In the fall, we reported that the Beijing International Bookfair illustrated that the Chinese market for English-language books has finally shaken off the shackles of the state-run supply chain (October ’04). What does a population of 1.3 billion, well-educated people in a booming economy need? More books. UK book exports to China rose 45% in February 2003, according to Ian Taylor, former international head of the UK Publishers Association. Yet, somehow, US publishers are reluctant to jump on this golden opportunity. (See Trendspotting, p. 1.)

Then, in November, we took an in-depth look at how the amount of four-color illustrated books printed in Asia (this number has ballooned from about two-thirds of the category to about 99% in recent years), coupled with increased traffic, as well as hightened security at U.S. ports, almost made this holiday season a dreary one for many children’s and art book publishers. If you were lucky, your freight forwarder gave you advance warnings of July’s increased custom regulations; but in the end, everyone learned they had to add between two to four weeks to their delivery schedules.

And no discussion of this year in publishing can exclude mention of the NEA’s rather bleak “Reading at Risk” survey (August ’04). The report showed the number of people who read recreationally is dropping across the age groups, but especially among young people. In a conversation with PT, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said people need to stop pointing fingers and look inward: “If people want to know how to solve the problem, they should look in the mirror.” As vague as that may sound, you should ask yourself, is there anything you could be doing differently?

International Fiction Bestsellers

Cafés-philo all over France are abuzz with the newly hip notion of “anti-anti-Americanism,” and the headiest homage to contrarian Frenchness comes from Yves Berger, the legendary literary director of Editions Grasset — and a member of the august Conseil Supérieur de la langue française — who has hit the charts with his Dictionary for Lovers of America. Awarded the Prix Renaudot last month for nonfiction, this “deliciously subversive” ode to purple mountain majesties posits that “for Europeans, the greatest, the strongest, the most compelling dream of all is the American dream.” Berger conjures up all 124 trips he’s made to the US, painting the history, geography, flora and fauna, and culture of the nation that seduced more than thirty million Europeans in the 100 years between Waterloo and World War I. Touching on wide-ranging topics such as the plight of Native Americans, the Civil War, and the great American writers he personally came to know, Berger ultimately registers disgust at the Yank-bashing antics of his home country. “Anti-Americanism is a national shame,” he declared. “America has never forced its soup upon us; we eat it because we no longer possess the spirit of Gaullist resistance.” The 69-year-old author’s ardor for the US is said to be matched only by his fury over franglais: his ode to America, he boasted, was written tout court in unsullied French. Berger’s first novel, The South, was awarded the Prix Femina, and his Dictionary is on submission in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Holland, the UK, and the US.

We’re not even going to ask whether there’s an entry for “freedom fries” in Alain Ducasse’s Food Lover’s Dictionary — also a splashy bestseller this month — but on a final nonfiction note in France, we hear a contemporary philosopher likened to Jean-François Revel and Bernard-Henri Lévy has hit the charts with a slightly more nuanced take on geopolitics. In his deftly argued West Against West, André Glucksmann points to the arrival of American troops on Iraqi soil as a moment of paradox in which both the “pro-peace” and “pro-war” contingents claimed to be inspired by the same litany of principles: “democracy, tolerance, liberty, and the law.” Amid growing concern that events in Iraq have revealed an aging Europe burdened by its decrepit ways, Glucksmann peeks “behind a smoke screen of clichés” from both sides to assess differing interpretations of the violence that has marred the 21st century in its infancy. Rights have been sold to Italy (Lindau) and Spain (Taurus/Grupo Santillana). Contact Heidi Warneke at Plon for all three French titles.

Stepping back into the world of fiction, the gothic horror novel gets a face-lift in the Czech Republic at the hands of rising literary star Milos Urban. In his latest spine-tingler The Shadow of the Cathedral, Roman Rops is an author toiling away on a book about the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, often wandering around the hill that is home to the imposing house of worship. One night an anonymous note is slipped under his door urging him to visit the cathedral, where he finds a curious reliquary in one of the side altars containing a well-preserved piece of a hand. A young female detective appears and promptly arrests him, having discovered that the hand belongs to a priest whose body has been found entombed in the foundations of the cathedral. The author has achieved such stellar notice in the Czech Republic that one fellow countryman declares: “In a few years’ time when speaking about Czech literature, we will talk (and not only in our own country) above all about Milos Urban.” An earlier novel, The Seven Churches, is the story of Kvetoslav Svach (it translates roughly as “Weak Flower”), who witnesses a series of bizarre murders and sinister rituals, eventually hooking up with a mysterious trio led by a knight determined to restore 14th-century law and order — and roll back the march toward modernity. Deemed “a true heir of Edgar Allan Poe,” Urban publishes a new novel nearly every year (don’t miss the elaborate illustrations by Pavel Rut) and has also been likened to Umberto Eco. His latest has been sold to Holland (Ambo/Anthos), Hungary (Kalligram), and Bulgaria (Colibri). Talks are under way with publishers in Italy and Spain. Contact agent Edgar de Bruin at Pluh in Holland.

Jette Kaarsbøl’s first novel, The Closed Book, continues to hold strong in Denmark this month, offering a view of Copenhagen as it expanded both physically and intellectually in the late 19th century. When a young, unassuming gal embarks on a romance with a budding intellectual, she is drawn into a circle of feisty modern freethinkers under the influence of Danish critic Georg Brandes. The book begins with the woman’s death, then turns back the clock to chronicle her youth and subsequent marriage and divorce, delving finally into her ruin and bitter frustration at a life that never suited her. In a surprise twist, however, she makes a last-ditch effort to make sense of her choices and track down her former husband, whom she has not seen in 30 years. Rights have been sold to Norway (Cappelen). Contact Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal.

Lastly, a mainstay of the Dutch literary scene for over 50 years, the Jakarta-born octogenarian Hella Haasse, has reached a new career peak with her latest opus, The Key’s Eye. It’s a “tale that has everything: drama, suspense, intrigue, infidelity, broken friendship, and a whole lot of clashes between Indonesia and Holland,” tracing the friendship of two young girls in Indonesia, Herma and Dee, and the racial tensions that force them apart. Herma is of Dutch extraction, fascinated by the Indo-European family of landowners to which Dee belongs. But she’s troubled by her own fixed perceptions of colonial history. Much later in life, a journalist approaches Herma for information about Dee, who has assumed an alias in the meantime. Herma dashes to her old ebony chest containing photos and documents that might refresh her memory, but she has lost the key marked by the ornamental Old Arabic writing in its “eye.” Haasse has been awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize, among others, and received the medal of the French Légion d’Honneur in 2000. Her latest has been sold to France (Actes Sud) and Italy (Iperborea), while earlier titles have been sold to Germany (Wunderlich), Vietnam (Center for Research of International Cultures), Spain (Peninsula), the Czech Republic (Brana), and the US (Academy Chicago Publishers), to name a few. Contact agent Marianne Fritsch at Liepman in Switzerland.

Shipping News

Customs Delays and Wal-Mart Threaten
Illustrated Book Publishers’ Holiday Offerings

While merchants and shoppers alike are gearing up for the holiday season, publishers are giving a collective sigh of relief. Recent delays of Asian imports nearly squelched many publishers’ holiday cheer well in advance of returns. While the fourth quarter looms large for manufacturers and retailers, it’s the only quarter that matters for publishers of four-color illustrated books — a category that includes many childrens books, as well as those artful tomes that serve so nicely as front-of-store gift suggestions. Since they have always been printed abroad — until recently two-thirds were printed in Asia with the balance in Europe, but today about 99% are outsourced to China and Hong Kong — publishers have always madly dashed to get those books to their warehouses by September at the latest. If they missed the cut-off for books in stores within the next month, they could write off their big chain promotions. Judging by what PT has heard, 2004 can go down as the Christmas that shipping woes almost sank.

Various theories exist to explain the delays: everything from increased homeland security at ports to a trucker shortage. And to make matters worse, the largest US importer, Wal-Mart, has been known to elbow its way to the front of the line at ports — a very long line, indeed, as there have been 30 to 40 ships anchored off the West Coast waiting to dock in Los Angeles and Long Beach in recent months, according to William Armbruster, editor of Shipping Digest. Many in the industry also blame Wal-mart’s new “just in time” inventory control, which compressed four months of shipments into two and essentially made it impossible for others to get containers. But whatever the reasons for the east-to-west transport system’s current gridlock, it is compounded by the normal third-quarter push in advance of the year’s biggest selling season.

Though some publishers only recently felt the effects of port delays, problems have existed for a while. Freight forwarder and customs broker Raymond Ambriano, VP/COO of Meadows Wye, says much of this started in July, when additional customs regulations went into effect. But, he attributes it to many factors, starting with the depressed economy of the past few years that prevented transportation companies from upgrading their equipment or investing in new labor, which has resulted in a serious shortage of dock workers. Combine this with the rumored economic upswing, making everyone optimistic about potential year-end sales and hence moving a lot of product, and your normal headache becomes a migraine. Ambriano claims the delays add four to six days (and seven days at its worst) to the normal delivery schedule. “The publishers who are suffering the most are those that do their own shipping, and they’ve nickel and dimed their servicers … they’re the first ones to be bumped,” Ambriano explains. Also, because only full containers are shipped, smaller publishers have to ship books in mixed-goods containers, which are more likely to be singled out for a physical exam. (He estimates about 20-25% of containers get X-rayed, while only about 5% of containers are physically inspected. Almost all containers from “high-risk origins,” such as India or Indonesia, are X-rayed.) Looking on the bright side, he estimated in late October that “in the next three to four weeks, it should be better.” However, he pointed out that steamship lines have proposed extending their peak-season surcharge, which indicates they think the volume will continue to be high.

International trading experts probably saw this port jam coming, with the US’s growing dependence on Asian countries for manufacturing. However, outsourcing only remains viable if it is efficient, and efficiency requires the free flow of ships. Publishers have always relied on others for transport, but these relationships are critical to a publisher’s P&L. In the same way that Meadows Wye gave its clients a heads-up before July, PGW is thinking ahead. Its new “global logistics company,” called Publishers Logistics Worldwide, intends to help publishers cope with the problems that arise with outsourcing to Asia, particularly “lack of transparency,” inaccurate estimates, delivery date promises, and lack of container space; as well as problems once the shipments reach the US, such as truckers’ unwillingness to allocate full-load trailers to partial load shipments, according to Chris McKenney, Executive VP/COO of PGW. He says 35% of its clients’ printed material comes from Asia. Out of about 35 PGW publishers that print in Asia, about 25 are already using the logistics services, which unofficially started this summer. With an Oracle-based tracking system, PLW organizes the publishers’ print runs so they can consolidate titles into PLW containers and link the shipments with freight networks in the US. It will be extended to Europe “soon,” with a “consolidation point” in the UK, and is working to have similar facilities in place for US exports to Australia, Asia, and Europe by spring 2005. McKenney estimates the service will save publishers 10-70%, depending on the sizes of their shipments (more cost savings for smaller ones). Regarding the recent delays, he said, “We haven’t seen any titles that aren’t going to make it into Amazon’s supply chain, or B&N’s, or even our independents. It’s been much more of an annoyance than a hard-core sales problem — but if it doesn’t improve by late November, then we really will have some failed deliveries.” The ports say it will ease up, and he’s skeptical, but optimistic.

Throwing Schedules to the Wind

Producing high-end art books was always complicated, and printing and shipping from abroad was always somewhat unpredictable, but the port delays have exacerbated the already complex process, many say. Jeff Servais, VP of Operations at Motorbooks, says none of his books has been more than two weeks late, but the lag has required a lot of juggling. Motorbooks’ freight forwarder, Phoenix International, is asking for four-weeks notification, rather than the usual one or two, for when merchandise will be ready to be loaded in Asia. Servais has no qualms about laying the blame on Wal-Mart, which owns 35% of all freight coming from Asia. In addition, he said US Customs in addition to its spot-checking, is also looking for counterfeit products and checking for valid licensing arrangements. “This means they open the container, unload selected pieces of merchandise and remove them to a spot where they can open the cartons and really check the merchandise,” he explained. The trains are also a factor, he said, with those coming into Minneapolis rail yards finding an excess number of containers waiting to be processed and picked up by trucks, and no space to unload because of congestion.

Janet Behning, Production Manager at Princeton Architectural Press, says she is still learning the nuances of shipping in a post-9/11 world. For example, all containers leaving Italy (where they print occassionally) must sit for 48 hours before being loaded onto a ship. When she spoke to PT in mid-October, she had just received her third notice for the month that one of its titles coming in from Hong Kong had a customs hold. “The addition of a customs inspection means the final segment of the delivery cannot be scheduled until the shipment is released,” she explained. “Even if the actual hold is only a day or so, the final delay can be three or four days longer by the time a truck delivery can be arranged,” which adds up to a one- to two-week delay.

At Abrams, they have started building two to three extra weeks into their schedules, says President/CEO Michael Jacobs. But, he said its freight forwarder Damco was good at forewarning the company that the changes in security policies that were implemented in July would slow down delivery, and urged them to get their books in early. “For publishers like us … the fourth quarter is critical. I’m not sure the impact [of the customs checks] was apparent to us until it was too late. It takes a long time to rejigger a schedule when you’re planning as far in advance as we have to,” Jacobs explains. Though he’s confident all of Abrams’ planned fourth-quarter list will make it to store shelves in time for the holidays, he admitted, “I’m a little more concerned about how much time the product has to sell through and be re-ordered before the holidays.” Ina Raghunandan, VP/distribution at Abrams/STC, said she has been adding a month to the schedule for final delivery of books. She blames the spot checks that entail opening not just containers, but cartons.

Both Vendome’s co-owner Mark Magowan, and Terry Downes, VP/Operations at Disney, also praised Damco for giving them the heads-up back in the spring. “Where we could, we changed our publishing schedule on the front end,” said Downes. And when that wasn’t possible, he added time to the back end and let his suppliers know the later dates, adding that what used to be one month for transit is now scheduled allowing for six to eight weeks. Plus, Disney had been routing its shipments to Seattle to avoid the gridlock in L.A.

Meanwhile, at Rizzoli, it has become standard practice to add two weeks to their schedule in expectation of delays, says Alan Rutsky, VP of Finance. He thinks the delays are partly from increased homeland security, but more a result of containers not getting to the rails on time. Though no publishers admitted that their books would miss the holiday selling season, PT heard of one (Jamee Gregory and Charles Davey’s New York Apartments, published by Rizzoli and delayed until late November) — and this suggests to us that there are others.

A Golden Age for Indie Reps

Life on the road ain’t what it used to be, and the easy money’s long gone. Such is the tale of most independent sales reps — but, on the other hand, “it’s a hell of a lot better than being in house!” attests New England’s Nanci McCrackin, who’s not alone in her sentiment. West Coast rep Howard Karel pointed to the predicted demise of this sector some 30 years ago, but notes it’s still going strong, and it will be 30 years from now. There’s no denying: It’s still a struggle; but that’s due more to the decline of the independent bookseller and the demise of regional chains than to the dearth of publisher accounts, or the re-entry into the distribution business of the largest publishers, who trumpet the use of their own in-house sales reps and telemarketing when pursuing new client publishers. Far from a disappearing breed, independent reps might even call what they’re going through a new Golden Age.

Well, not exactly. The regional chains and wholesalers, once the independent sales reps’ bread and butter, have all but disappeared from the landscape. There are some museum stores, but as Consolino & Watson’s Michael Watson stated, even in Boston — museum town par excellence — they have succumbed to sourcing their own exclusive “product,” which represents another lost source of revenue for the rep. Specialty stores, such as gay and lesbian and mystery shops, might account for some additional sales, but the gift market is pretty much off limits, says Stu Abraham of Abraham Associates. So nowadays their purview is limited to the ABA stores and some ID wholesalers. Indie reps increasingly play important roles in getting the major chains to take a gander at the burgeoning number of small presses. And many represent their medium-sized publishers to certain key accounts, such as Books-A-Million and AWBC. Others, such as Fujii’s Don Sturtz, sell BGI for certain mid-sized accounts.

Workman is probably the largest publisher which has shown the greatest loyalty to commission groups, and after 30-plus years, still has the same reps in place. Hugh Andrews, Andrews McMeel Director of Sales, says they too have had the same commission groups selling for them for over 20 years, and he asserts, “they have the finest representation in the business.” What really matters is the relationship of the rep with the account and the publisher, and some of these date from “time immemorial.” Terry Wybel sells B&N for Andrews McMeel, for instance and has done so since it was B Dalton in Minneapolis.

In addition to Workman and Andrews McMeel, several other larger publishers, like Sterling, only use commission reps. This means that Angie Smits of Southern Territory Associates, gets to sell Sterling titles to the lucrative Ingram and Books-A-Million accounts. She says the “blended” publishers have proved to be a real boon, even if they are only covering smaller accounts; having Harcourt, Chronicle or Abrams in your bag opens all doors. For an independent rep group, getting in to see accounts could pose a problem — given the number of active publishers out there, large and small — so a prestigious publishing account is a must.

In the past, when publishers or distributors reached a certain sales volume, the decision was made to switch to a more cost-effective house-rep. Today, a more likely practice would be that of Perseus, which, following its acquisition of Running Press, merged its house reps with RP’s commission groups, to great effect says Matty Goldberg, VP Sales and Marketing. Likewise, Abrams/STC a few years ago created their own house sales force, but discovered what many medium-sized publishers have already realized — the rep who’s already on the road can fill in secondary accounts much better than even the most professional telemarketing sales force — so they’ve rehired a number of the same sales groups. Others, such as Harcourt and Norton, have also created a blend of house and commission reps. Harcourt’s Paul von Drasek says the only way to sell children’s picture books is face-to-face, so this dictates the presence of a commission rep. Houghton’s Gary Gentel agrees, and both feel strongly that the groups shouldn’t just handle small accounts — there needs to be sufficient business and revenues for them to make it worth their while.

Accountability

On the distributor front, PGW recently went to all in-house field and telemarketing reps, while Consortium uses all indie reps; and NBN/Biblio has a mix of in-house and commissioned. The latter’s rep groups across the country complement house reps on secondary accounts, but it uses a commission group only to cover the Northeast. Julie Schaper, President & CEO of Consortium, cites the “great coverage and extraordinary depth” that indie reps provide, and others echo this. Consortium has 23 reps selling its distributed publishers, a number Schaper says she couldn’t possibly afford on staff. They travel great distances to put a body in front of the bookseller — something the majors are doing less and less, she says. It does become more challenging during selling seasons though, as the reps are often on the road and can’t drop everything to contact accounts when a title starts to track with the New York Times. And of course, as independent contractors, they won’t do call reports, and in the eyes of some, lack the “aura” that comes with representing a large publisher marshalling all its forces.

Sales conferences take up a lot of time, and the commission reps loyally attend from beginning to end — indistinguishable from the house reps. Some of the reps we talked to felt this time could be better spent on strategy, terms, customer service, etc. Technology has been a boon to these independent contractors: less paperwork, automated tracking of payments and orders, no physical inventories, no backlist orders. These improvements allow them to focus on digging for the increasingly elusive new account.

Territorial integrity has stayed pretty much the same with the US still divided into six to eight distinct selling zones. Pressures in New England and the mid-Atlantic, however, did lead to some “leakage.” With the closing of Crown, the Bibelot stores, and others, there has been an inclination to look north from the mid-Atlantic, and groups such as Chesapeake & Hudson and Parson Weems have gravitated up there.

Though 2003 was a universally rotten year for everyone, the consensus is that 2004 has to be better. Going forward, there’s some concern among publishers that they aren’t seeing many new faces amongst their sales groups — they love their reps but wonder if they might be getting a bit long in the tooth. But Stu Abraham disputes that — he’s got two (relatively) young’uns on his team — and Smits and her three colleagues are in the process of buying Southern Territories from Jim Shepherd and Ed Springer. … And then there’s the iconoclastic, ever-intrepid David Godine, who has completely dispensed with almost all his reps, and now sells every book himself!

What Floats in Licensing?

Here’s a lesson from the licensing pros: Political affiliations or patriotic logos may attract some, but they’re just as likely to repel potential buyers. That was Everlast’s recent eye-opener, according to its SVP Global Licensing, Hal Worsham, when the company discovered that its signature USA logo had depressed international sales — confirming the US’s recent loss of popularity across the pond, and leading the members of a recent licensing panel to surmise that perhaps the Bush Administration hasn’t been good for the licensing business. The panel was part of EPM Communications The Licensing Letter’s informative one-day symposium, “The Future of Licensing,” held in New York City in early October.

Although the excellent cast of presenters and panels offered an otherwise upbeat picture, sales of licensed merchandise saw a drop to $18 billion in 2003, with further decline expected in 2004. Most merchandise continues to be that sold through discounters (mass merchandisers) and supermarkets, with food being by far the largest category. TLL Executive Editor Marty Brochstein genially set the tone with a litany of woes we are all familiar with: consolidation, consumer spending, and higher oil prices.

Dan Stanek of market research firm Retail Forward assured his audience that the best and the worst of times are behind us. In the ’90s, licensing saw a 6% annual compound growth; but these days the best to be hoped for is 4.5%, and that is predicated on reaching both high-end and mass consumers. He predicted the economic gap will continue to widen with less and less of a middle ground — even Wal-Mart is seeing softness in their sales, and the world’s top retailer figured prominently in all panel discussions. And for good reason: the behemoth now gets a weekly visit from fully half of all Americans, an astounding statistic.

Nevertheless, available areas for growth include e-commerce, (even though it represents only 2% of total licensed retail sales, it is up 62% in five years and is also a marketing tool, bar none), supercenters (sales and profit margins grow dramatically when big stores convert to the even-larger format), drug stores and dollar stores – the latter notwithstanding the gloomy assessment of sales in the bottom part of the market. Stanek coined the term “Zoomers” for a new breed of consumers — boomers with zest, who happily shop at Bergdorf Goodman and Wal-Mart — and catering to this customer is the latest challenge. Nevertheless, with licensing volume flat and limited shelf space, cannibalizing from one to another is inevitable, interjected TLL publisher Ira Mayer.

Notwithstanding Everlast’s recent international experiences, business abroad remains an available area of growth for retailers (presumably sans stars and bars), as Wal-Mart has not proven to be very adept in this arena. But, retailers may not want to stray too far, since the US represents over 65% of all retail sales of licensed merchandise.

Everyone’s margins are under siege, not the least due to retailers’ attempts to compete with Wal-Mart. The dollar stores have reached critical mass and are a different animal, requiring their own tightly marked-up merchandise and making the appeal of outsourcing that much more apparent. In this climate, the licensor and the retailer must work from the same assumptions and be more collaborative than in the past, when issues such as royalties, guarantees, and tunnel vision regarding the rest of the marketplace were more the norm.

The keynote speaker, Tim Kilpin, SVP, Girls Marketing & Design, Mattel, gave a spectacularly upbeat presentation demonstrating how Mattel was continuing to extend Barbie’s reach and evolution from a toy, to a consumer product, to intellectual property. Despite Barbie’s recently reported sales decline of 26% in the third quarter, she still represents $3.6 billion globally at retail. As part of the brand expansion, for the first time she’s going to be up there with Barney, Bullwinkle, and Garfield in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Their challenge: Girls now “transition out” of Barbie at age six, and to move her to the 7-14 age bracket, they’ve hired actress Hilary Duff as a spokes-Barbie to market a line of clothes, and created a series of animated features available on DVD. Kilpin echoed the importance of the Internet to their marketing strategy: The Barbie site gets 55 million hits a month (22 million individual), and a sticky average of 15 minutes per visit. Although they do not sell on the site, it links to such retailers as (guess what?) Wal-Mart, Toys“R”Us, and Amazon with hugely positive results.

Conclusions: license cautiously, market hugely, and make your mantra: “Go where the consumers go!”

The Real Thing

Russian Expose on Female Bombers, Germany’s 99-Euro Bestseller, and A Real Gouda Story from Holland

There certainly was no shortage of politically charged books at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, and one of the most startling of all was penned by a 23-year-old Russian journalist Yulia Yuzik, who surveys the growing number of female suicide bombers in Chechnya in Allah’s Brides: The Suicide Bombers from Chechnya. Stunned that the number of female suicide bombers in Chechnya had soared to 30 (more than in Palestine, the author reports), Yuzik, now a reporter for the Russian edition of Newsweek, journeyed to the country to carry out her research, speaking with relatives of female suicide bombers who had already carried out their deed, as well as those who had yet to do so. “I am writing about kamikaze women who want to blow up my country. I want everyone to know each of them personally so that we know how and why they blow themselves up,” reports Yuzik, who procured leaked photographs of the bombers before their attacks and afterward in the mortuary. After concluding that many of the bombers are recruited by Chechens working for humanitarian organizations and that, in the majority of cases, the women’s belts are detonated by remote control, the young reporter managed to get her material out of Chechnya just before she was forced out of the country by the secret services. Controversial, to say the least, the book has been banned in Russia, but rights have been sold to Manifestolibri (Italy) and NP-Verlag (Austria). Contact Bettina Nibbe of the Nibbe & Wiedling Literary Agency (Germany).

A newcomer in the world of literary nonfiction is taking Holland by storm. Annejet van der Zijl, the 2003 recipient of the prominent Golden Owl Prize, imparts the true story of Waldemar Nods and Rika van der Lans, who in the fall of 1928 begin a tumultuous relationship that spans some of the most fascinating and most tragic episodes of Western history in Sonny Boy. Waldemar is just shy of 20 years old, while Rika is nearly 40. He’s a student from Surinam and she is a Dutch married mother of four. He is black and she is white. They live in different worlds in many respects, so when Rika finds out that she is carrying his baby, the scandal is so enormous that she is forced to leave her children, while Waldemar can never return to his beloved Surinam. The two manage to build a prosperous life together with their son Waldy, whom they call “Sonny Boy,” but all that changes when the couple is betrayed in 1944 for harboring Jews at the start of WWII. For 14-year-old Waldy, this is only the beginning of a lifelong struggle with the loss of his parents.

Also in Holland, readers are finding that there’s nothing quite like a delicately aged Cheese, Willem Elsschot’s 1933 classic comedy about Frans Laarmans, a humble shipping clerk who is suddenly promoted to the position of agent of a Dutch cheese company. Thrilled at his elevation in status, he sets up an office at home and takes on the delivery of 10,000 full-cream Edams, only to find that he can’t stand the stuff. Though not for the lactose intolerant, this “delicious satire about business, greed, ambition and cheese” has seen a recent resurgence in popularity, particularly in Germany where it sold more than 20,000 copies in one month after it was mentioned by the inimitable Elke Heidenreich. Rights have been sold to Losada (Spain), Husets (Denmark), Le Castor Astral (France), Wedge (Japan), and elsewhere. English film rights are under option. Though Cheese has already been published by Granta, English rights are still available for two of Elsschot’s other books, Soft Soap/The Leg, in which a young Laarmans rips people off by selling them a very expensive fake magazine, and Will o’ the Wisp, wherein Laarmans returns as a guide for three Afghan sailors in Antwerp as he tries to help them catch a girl. Floortje Jansen at Querido holds the rights to Sonny Boy and to Elsschot’s delectable treats.

“Those who believe in the innate wickedness of humanity are in for a hell of a time with The Jewish Messiah,” the latest offering by Dutch author Arnon Grunberg, who also writes as Marek van der Jagt. Xavier Radek, the grandson of a Nazi living in Basel, befriends a rabbi’s son, Awromele, who advises him to study Yiddish and have himself circumcised. Following a botched procedure, Xavier, convinced of his messianic legerdemain, picks up a paintbrush in the hopes of comforting Jews through his art. While his parents dismiss his behavior as adolescent inanity, he moves with Awremole to the “Venice of the North” where he presents himself at the prestigious Rietveld Academy, while Awremole takes a job stocking shelves at the Albert Heijn supermarket. Now a New York resident, Grunberg was awarded the AKO Prize, the Dutch equivalent of the Booker, for his earlier book Phantom Pain, the tale of a reputable literary novelist diminished by obscurity and debilitating debt. He’s been published in about 20 countries, including Italy (Blue Edizioni), Hungary (Ulpius-Ház), Germany (Diogenes), France (Actes Sud) and Spain (Tusquets), and he was most recently published in the US by Other Press. Contact Anna Stein at Donadio & Olson.

From falling stars to black holes, and from the secrets of the Arctic to the mysteries surrounding the origins of the universe, Alexander von Humboldt boldly went where no man had gone before in his study of the complexities of the natural world in The Cosmos. These phenomena might, in fact, pale in comparison with the fact that a hefty new edition of his classic, which gathers all five volumes into one with an eye-popping 99-euro price tag, has stormed to the 15th spot on the bestseller list in Der Spiegel (unofficially the first time a title at this price level climbed this high on the bestseller list). Emerging from the popular lectures he gave in Berlin, The Cosmos was first published in five volumes from 1845 to 1862, to the tune of 80,000 copies. The new edition, published by Eichborn, is delivered in a slipcase along with the Berghaus-Atlas, and includes corrections and additions made by von Humboldt, as well as a rich collection of maps. Negotiations are underway with a distinguished Spanish house and several other publishers are currently considering the book. Contact Jutta Willand at Eichborn.

Finally, winter may be just around the corner, but 10 lucky editors will soon be slathering on the sunscreen as they tour the literary scene in glorious Buenos Aires. Organized by Fundación TyPA with the help of Museo de Arte Latino-americano de Buenos Aires (Malba), the British Council, the Goethe Institut, Fundación Antorchas and the embassies of Canada, France, Israel, and the US, the grants cover room and board, and travel to the week-long tour (May 22-28, 2005). Candidates should work in translated fiction and be able to read and understand Spanish. The deadline for applications is Nov. 19. Contact Gabriela Adamo [email protected] or visit www.typa.org.ar.