Join the Club

Book Clubs Reinvent the Digital World

If the term ‘book club’ evokes a muddled mélange (if not somewhat terrifying dream) of Oprah covering Tolstoy in gold stickers, growing legions of like-minded enthusiasts discussing scrapbooks or maybe even booksellers in Kabul, classes filled with Scholastic catalogs offering Shrek 2 tie-ins, while exclamation-point-laden mailers emblazoned with “6 books for a dollar!” fall from the sky, well, join the club.

This increasingly bloated term now refers to a variety of disparate categories – from reading groups to the recommendations of the Today Show and Oprah. Exacerbating the confusion, book clubs’ individual identities became obscured in the 2000 joint venture between Bertelsmann and AOL Time Warner that formed Bookspan, the 40-club-strong Goliath of the industry. The new name constantly provokes misunderstandings, either because it is confused with VNU’s Bookscan, or because the corporate entity acts as a stand-in for its discrete parts (Bookspan as Book-of-the-Month Club, or the Literary Guild, Bookspan as all of the Doubleday clubs combined).

With such disheveled semantics, it is difficult to pin down, what exactly people are rallying against when they vow (as a particularly vehement blogger did recently) never to join a book club, “short of being in prison, living in some remote country, or being socially isolated in the extreme.” In a recent survey of middle-aged readers, it was clear that the surveyees didn’t distinguish between discussing books in a group or paying for monthly shipments — but they didn’t want either.

Reading groups, however are going gangbusters (to use a favorite phrase of Bookspan honcho Markus Wilhelm) and layoffs and “reorganizations” to the contrary, book clubs may yet have some life left in them. What is dying is the definition of just what that is.

The New Clubs on the Block

Throughout decades of expansion and proliferation, book clubs remained anchored in their “value propositions” as Ruth Stevens, president of e-marketing strategies and veteran of BOMC and Time Life, described them: editorial selection, the bribe (X number of books for $1 when you join), and the convenience of direct shipments. By the late ‘90s the first and third value propositions had been hijacked, and only the bribe was left to seduce an increasingly savvy and wary public.

But once again, the equation is shifting, as publishers become online retailers, on-line booksellers begin to offer memberships (Amazon Prime), as well as on-line reading groups (B&N’s ) and everyone gets into the continuity biz. Audible has been the most obviously successful (investor lawsuits to the contrary) by offering some 400,000 users a flat fee membership that buys them audio books at an average of $10 a pop.

Bookspan’s latest endeavor is Zooba, which, though still beta testing, dramatically differs from the original club’s model, and offers the venture a real shot at a sustainable model. Similar to Time-Life continuities, Zooba members pay $9.95 a month to receive the hardcover book of their choice, until they cancel their subscription. Exclusively on-line, the snazzy site — replete with bestsellers, and a virtual host that welcomes you and then follows your cursor with her eyes — advertises its affiliation with Bookspan, by splaying “Brought to you by Book-of-the-Month Club” across the top of the screen, even while asserting independence. Another Net-Flix style venture, also developed in 2000, is Booksfree, the on-line, membership-based book rental site. “We bring the library to your home,” says Doug Ross, president and CEO of the company. Although comparatively small in size, Booksfree’s membership base is double what it was just two years ago. Supplied by distributors Ingram and Baker & Taylor, Booksfree also rents out audio books via snail mail (like Audio Queue, Recorded Books, Simply Audiobooks, and ZDag), but is the only company that currently has such a concept with books. “One of the benefits of our service…is the ability of members to try new authors without losing any money as they would if buying the books,” Ross said. The resurfacing of rentals as a way of saving money by erasing commitment is akin to the used book market where readers are in possession of books for a certain amount of time before earning their money back through reselling.

In the virtual world of the spoken word (where Audible has rapidly expanded since becoming Apple iTunes‘ audiobook partner) Media Bay, a company similar to Audible that got its start when Book-of-the Month sold off its Audio Book Club, is just now segueing from selling hard goods primarily via mail order to “digital distribution via wireless and internet downloads.” On March 1 the company announced that it will offer downloads of S&S Audio titles through its partnership with the MSN Music service. Meanwhile, a new generation of legal P2P file-sharing networks are also becoming vehicles for audiobooks, such as LimeWire (where users pay a flat rate for an unlimited lifetime membership) and Wurld Media‘s “Peer Impact” beta site, where members pay for individual songs, and soon other media, but then receive credit for file sharing.

What remains to be seen is whether, as media converges into a few sturdy subscription models, where paper and ether are interchangeable and credit card billing is the standard, the arcane distinctions between royalty deals and retail discounts, between exclusive and nonexclusive deals, and between retailers, clubs, publishers and file-sharing networks will persist. “I’ve been saying forever, if the book clubs become like an on-line bookseller, why should they be getting things any cheaper?” asked Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace. For now, precedence presides, and until the publishers pull the plug, or online retailers begin to demand similar deals, precedence rules, even as the clubs break away from the models that came to define them

History and Hysteria

History and Hysteria : Vampire Invade europe, Japan’s Humbert Humbert, French Firefighters Go Macho

Just as it seemed the somnolent retail toy market was perking up, with strong late-December sales and words like “optimistic” floating through the press, this year’s lackluster Toy Fair served as a reminder that it’s going to take more than a nuzzling T-Rex to bring the industry out of its slump.

The largest to date, boasting 1600 exhibitors from 31 countries, attendee registration for “Play Meets Profit” was reportedly up 18%, and although the miles of snaking line dividers seemed to suggest that organizers had planned for a descent of the hordes, the absence of people waiting in lines called into question where exactly that 18 percent was hiding.

The newest addition to the fair was the Reading, Writing and Rhythm section that grouped all of the publishers – from industry giants Scholastic and HarperCollins to unknown independents Knowing and Growing and ee publishing – in one aisle. The section also attempted to cash in on the booming children’s audio market, an endeavor that might have been successful had the aisle of choice not been aisle 3000, located in what turned out to be the Jersey of the Javits, (which, in a year filled with talk about experimental marketing, and the importance of product placement in innovative venues, was ironically ineffective).

Apart from Scholastic and Klutz, which were buzzing near the entrance, Time Warner, Disney, HarperCollins, Silver Dolphin (the AMS imprint), Wiley, Evan Moor, Random House, Harcourt and Candlewick were all empty. In some cases, not even the exhibitor was present, and the stands were left to fend for themselves. Although Usborne’s distributor EDC (also empty) said they didn’t notice a large difference in crowd size after being subsumed by RW&R, other publishers were more pessimistic, noting that not only was attendance sluggish, but that buyers who did manage to wend their way to the far end of the fair were doing much less on-the-spot buying than in years past.

Not withstanding the above, Reyne Rice, Toy Trends Specialist for the Toy Industry Association, said that they had received a “very good response” to the Reading, Writing and Rhythm section, and that it “will be back next year.” But to the casual observer, publishers who opted out of the RW&R conglomeration – like publishing newcomer University Games (with their enormous right-at-the-front-door spread), Lisa LeLeu Puppet Show Books, and Soft Play – seemed much more pleased than those who didn’t. One vendor near the back wall managed to put a positive spin on things, however, as he sat eating chocolates in his empty booth. “It could be worse,” he said. “I’m just happy I’m not across from the guy with the washboard ties.”

KAGOY is the Word

“Kids are getting older younger” or KAGOY (as the sassy industry acronym goes) was the catch phrase of the moment, after high tech toys for tots offered a sunny respite from an otherwise gloomy overall retail decline. According to The NPD Group electronic learning and youth electronics toy sales in the infant/preschool and learning/exploration categories were up 10% to 19% respectively, putting a spotlight on the diaper demographic.

“Pre-School is hot,” said Chris Campbell, SVP Marketing at Publications International, emphasizing what has long been known to be a pillar of licensing activity. “Kids are constantly exposed to progressively more sophisticated, interactive opportunities,” he said, “and if you look at product going forward, the majority will have some level of interactivity with an electronic component.”

With 90% plus market share in the sound books business, PIL has a slew of interactive books for young kids. Their hallmark product, the Story Reader, is a portable electronic case that holds refillable books, and automatically recognizes the page that the child is on, reading out loud accordingly. After selling 1.5 million units since it debuted in 2003, PIL has plans to crack the even younger market by introducing a My First Story Reader aimed at children six months to age three (and featuring Sesame Street, Winnie the Pooh and Baby Einstein) this fall.

One of the most exciting PIL sound books, however, was the Sponge Bob cash register book that will come fully equipped with a scanner that scans barcodes inside the book and then posts the total on the attached cash register’s LCD screen. The register acts as a calculator as well, with a functional money-filled drawer that pops in and out. For those shopping-savvy toddlers who know that plastic is the way to go, the book also comes with a credit card that keeps track of purchases, allowing the child to learn the joy of addition and subtraction by racking up debt.

KAGOY doesn’t just mean trickle down high-tech, however, and already a “pendulum swing toward low-tech products” can be seen as well, Rice pointed out. Anticipating the stress that such a frenetic techno-gadget world can induce, parents are jumping the gun and buying low-tech to counteract the onslaught, snatching up yoga videos from Kids Musical Yoga and relaxation CDs from Joy Stories for their newborns to three-year-olds.

Now, if only Starbucks would come on board with chai flavored breast milk…

Can You Say Buen Negocio?

As an aside, Spanish was everywhere at this year’s fair, from product lines (1/3 of PIL’s line now has Spanish language equivalents) to the chatter in the aisles. In one of the newest successful developments in the growing English/Spanish asociación, Baby Einstein was licensed by Disney to AMS’ Silver Dolphin for distribution in Mexico. According to Jeanne Mosure, Disney’s VP Global Retail Markets and Sydney Stanley, AMS’ VP Product Development, the joint venture, Silver Dolphin En Espanol, launched with 12 titles in 2003, followed by 8 more in 2004, and was hugely successful (fueled, no doubt, by Costco’s growing presence south of the border). This early success prompted AMS/Disney to test distribution for the same Spanish language titles in the US via PGW. Plans for this year include expanded distribution to Chile and Argentina.

Book View, March 2005

PEOPLE

Karen Holt has been named Deputy Editor at PW, reporting to Sara Nelson, for whom she had worked at Simba. Holt came from The Book Standard and she starts March 14. Michael Coffey will become Executive Managing Editor. Meanwhile, erstwhile PW Editor Nora Rawlinson has joined Time Warner Book Group in the new position of VP Library Services, reporting to Maureen Egen.

Comings and goings at Random include: Publishing Director of the Modern Library David Ebershoff is stepping down to become Editor-at-Large, while Penguin’sJane von Mehren will become publisher of trade paperbacks for Little Random, reporting to Gina Centrello. Jennifer Hershey starts at Random House on March 14, as Editorial Director, reporting to Jonathan Karp. She spent the past three years at Putnam. Susan Mercandetti, Senior Acquisitions Editor for MiramaxBooks, joins Random on April 4 as Senior Editor. Lee Boudreaux, who left Random House in late January, has gone to Ecco/HarperCollins as Executive Editor.

Speaking of Harper, Executive Editor Mark Bryant is leaving, and Olga Vezeris has left Harper Audio. She is now available for freelance editorial, reading, book doctoring etc., and may be reached at 212 744 8842, [email protected] Jacqueline Murphy was named Executive Editor, Harper Audio, earlier in the year. . . . And Susan Friedland retired from Harper at the end of February and left her forwarding address: [email protected]

Chris Mckenney , who had been EVP/COO, resigned from his position with PGW, effective February 18th.

Herman Graf has gone to Hylas Publishing as a general business consultant, overseeing trade sales and working with NBN. He will also oversee the catalogers and co-op operations as well as develop a school and library market base. Marketing Manager Joyce Stein has left the company.

Mary Hogan Wilcox joins Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books in the new position of Director of franchise publishing. She will “oversee the editorial direction and execution of Houghton Mifflin and Clarion franchise publishing initiatives” and work on “brand extension publishing opportunities” within the company’s backlist. Wilcox was Editorial Director at HarperFestival.

Christopher Reggio , who was the Associate Publisher and Director of Adult Trade Publishing at Readers Digest is leaving to become Publisher of books at TFHPublications, the pet book publisher based in New Jersey.

Pat Eisemann has been named Assistant Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations at the New York Times, reporting to VP Marketing, Alyse Myers. Most recently she was the Director of Publicity at Scribner.

S&S Children’s Publishing is establishing a new Merchandise Division as part of a plan to enter the coloring and activity marketplace. Steve Weitzen has joined the company as SVP and Publisher, Merchandise Division. Weitzen comes to S&S from Big Tent Entertainment LLC. He was at Golden prior to that. And at Spotlight Entertainment, Jennifer Suitor has been made Director of Publicity , reporting to SSE VP and Publisher Jen Bergstrom. Suitor held the same position at ReganBooks.

Dave Griscom has moved to Klutz as a National Accounts Manager (handling B&N, Borders & Wholesalers). He had been at Clocktower Press and previously, at Random House.

Bookspan moves to 15 East 26th Street as of March 14. The general phone number will be 212-651-7400 and there will not be any individual phone extensions. Meanwhile, in what looks like the beginning of a major absorption of editorial under the marketing umbrella at Bookspan (see story, page 1), Brigitte Weeks’ position as Editor in Chief has been eliminated; Patty Gift has left Bookspan for Sterling, where she will report to Steve Magnuson. More positions in editorial and marketing are to be eliminated, according to industry tea leaf readers.

Christopher Sweet has left Abrams for Vendome. Susan Enochs has been named Director of Marketing for Abrams. She was Director of Sales and Marketing for Monacelli Press. . . . Phil Friedman, most recently at OUP has gone to HarperInformation to take the job vacated by Steve Hanselman at the end of last year.

As widely reported, Carole Baron has decided to step down from her role as President of Putnam and Dutton after six years. Brian Tart, previously Dutton Publisher’s, will now also be named President of the imprint. Susan Peterson Kennedy assumes responsibility for Putnam. . . . Meanwhile, Mark Chait joins NAL as Senior Editor, focusing on military fiction and nonfiction, as well as pop culture and general nonfiction for men. He was at Hyperion. The company has laid off a number of back-office and sales positions. No exact number as yet, but the cuts reportedly come at Viking and Putnam in the U.S. as well as other divisions at Penguin U.K.

Ed Monagle , former SVP of Finance for Scholastic, has left the company and may be reached at 732 259-2027.

Betsy Lerner has become a partner in the newly formed agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. Lerner had been at The Gernert Company, The beginning of a new year seems to have prompted some early spring cleaning, with an unusual number of moves around the industry. Elisa Petrini joined Vigliano Associates as a VP and Literary Agent. Petrini will be based in the agency’s new Manhattan offices at 405 Park Avenue.

Susan Bain has joined Sourcebooks as National Accounts Manager, Trade Group. She was previously Field Sales and Marketing Manager for Kensington Publishing. And Jennifer Downey has been appointed National Accounts Manager, Independent and Educational Bookstores.

Pam Morlett has been named Publisher of Thunder Bay Press and Director of adult proprietary publishing for AMS. She was category buyer for AMS and replaces Ann Ghublikian who may be reached at 413 698 8007.

PROMOTIONS

Carl Raymond has been appointed Publishing Director, Adult Books for DK Publishing, reporting to Bill Barry. Raymond joined DK in March of last year as Director of Marketing from ReganBooks where he had held the same title.

Meanwhile, Christopher Davis has announced his plans to retire from the company.

Anthony Chirico was named President, Knopf Publishing Group. He was previously EVP, COO. . . . Scott Matthews was promoted to the post of SVP and Publisher of Random House Audio and Large Print, reporting to David Naggar, adding responsibility for the children’s audio lines Listening Library and Imagination studio.

At HarperCollins, Tom Ward has been promoted to the newly created position of VP, Director of Business Affairs and Associate General Counsel, reporting to Chris Goff .

Lisa Gallagher has been named Publisher of the William Morrow, HarperEntertainment and Eos imprints. She reports to Michael Morrison, President and Group Publisher HarperMorrow. She was Associate Publisher.

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

March is Small Press Month at the Small Press Center and on Wednesday, March 16 at 6 pm The Women’s National Book Association presents University & Academic Presses – New Challenges, New Directions, a panel discussion. Tickets are $10; $5 for students and Small Press Center members; free for WNBA members. For information call 212-208-4629. For information on others Small Press Month events email [email protected], or go to http://www.smallpress.org/.

DULY NOTED

At the Books for a Better Life Awards on February 28, WHAT TO EXPECT co-author Heidi Murkoff and former CEO of Bantam, Oscar Dystel were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Speaking of Dystel, Bantam President (and one time assistant to Dystel) Irwyn Applebaum described his genius: “while Oscar had the soul of a reader, he had the brain and drive of a businessman.”

‘Faction’ Seizes Korea

Though the personal life of Abraham Lincoln has, of late, been fodder for American readers, it may come as a surprise that Honest Abe, along with other prominent American historical figures, has become a figure of interest in Korea. “For awhile there, it seemed all anyone was interested in was our Lincoln-related backlist,” including Carl Sandburg’s two-volume bio, reports Kent Wolf, Subsidiary Rights Manager at Harcourt. By most accounts, faction books — blending fact and fiction — were the in thing in Korea this year with historical novels (particularly those dealing with Korea’s national heroes), topping bestseller lists. Following in the ranks of Angels and Demons, The Rule of Four, and The Dante Club, the Korean author Lee In Hwa’s Habiro has also played a role in the faction boom.

Regardless of these successes, last year’s turnover in the publishing sector was “the worst since an economic crisis struck the nation in 1997, and the outlook for 2005 is not much better,” according to Seung Hyun Moon, Manager, International Cooperation, for the Korean Publishers Association. Nationwide economic woes have led to a shrinkage in the overall size of the domestic publishing industry in Korea over the last three years, with a reduction in the variety and total number of books published, yet these same burdens have had a surprisingly serendipitous effect on the industry. Self-improvement titles are slowly making their mark as financial difficulties have drawn people to books on how to invest and become the next millionaire. In fact, six out of ten bestsellers are non-fiction titles, most of them focused on self-improvement and investment. Even the ponderous Trends in Korea, 2010, compiled by the LG Economy Research Institute is on some bestseller lists, as Koreans look for a light at the end of the tunnel.

On a more promising note, Moon adds that he expects the trend toward joint ventures, following that of Random House JoongAng (formed exactly one year ago), to continue into 2005. According to Y.S. Chi, President of RH Asia, who oversees the operation on behalf of RH, the venture thrived in its first year, “financially, qualitatively, and in terms of organization.” Though cognizant of the weakness in domestic consumption, “we are being aggressive in trying to change how business is done in Korea,” and better reviews and marketing are all promising signs. The Korean market is also interesting in that it is “rich and diversified in terms of its channels,” he said, noting that books are sold in chains independents, supermarkets, and even door-to-door.

In addition, a “Korean Wave” is gaining steam in Asia as copyright selling (particularly of books related to Korean films and soap operas) to other Asian countries is projected to grow further. The e-book market is also expected to grow in 2005, from a market volume of $3 million to $7 million, Moon reports.

Even though Korea is currently a tough market for fiction, authors who have established a foothold in the country are trusted and their success is all but guaranteed. Lara Allen, Foreign Rights Manager at HarperCollins, reports that Julia Quinn, one of HC’s best-selling romance authors is the top author of her Korean publisher, Shin Yong Media. “They have an aggressive romance market, and they also seem to buy a lot of religious titles,” Allen said.

Korean authors have somewhat consistently been introduced to the North American market, though most works published in the US or other English-speaking countries only sell a few hundred copies or less, according to Heidi Kim of the Korea Literature Translation Institute. She adds that there are many promising Korean authors who have yet to reach the US market including Seong Seok-je, who writes of thugs, thieves, villains and vagabonds; Shin Gyeong-suk, whose writing is known for its introspective quality; and Gong Jiyeong, one of the most recognized women writers in Korea. In the hopes of bringing a taste of Korea to the US, children’s educational publisher Woonjin is establishing a US outpost named Bearport Publishing headed by veteran President and Publisher Kenn Goin who will publish their first list this spring

With Korea slated as the guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, the Korean government is pulling out all the stops, spearheading several projects including “100 Books from Korea,” with the aim of translating and publishing 100 Korean books into any one of six languages (English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese).

Ink Slingers Up the Ante

Shortly before the news broke that Sara Nelson
would be taking the helm at Publishers Weekly, Jerome Kramer, Editor-In-Chief and Managing Director of VNU’s US Literary Group, says he got a call from her explaining that, due to a conflict of interest, she wouldn’t be able to write that regular column they had planned for VNU’s soon-to-launch The Book Standard. Talk about conflict of interest, these two will soon be direct competitors, vying for the limited time and resources of publishing’s elite.

Planned for a Jan. 27 launch, The Book Standard’s website and e-newsletters will benefit from its close relations with Nielsen BookScan, Kirkus Reviews, Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard magazine. Kramer envisions a website that will include news and reviews, as well as lots of numbers and charts — but, contrary to many’s expectations, he plans these numbers to complement analysis. In short: He claims not to be intimidated by Publishers Weekly, despite his fondness for its new chief. “We are going to strive to be an engaging, bright, literary and fun source of information, and we’re going to try to limit the amount of snark in our coverage — because that’s something I think gets in too easily in this industry,” he said. He is basing The Book Standard on the coverage he thinks has been absent in most of the industry periodicals, and plans to liven up—and speed up—the discussion of trends. “Nobody’s ever done charts; they’ve done lists, but not charts. The Nielsen piece is ours and ours alone. And I don’t think you can cover a business without good metrics and data,” Kramer said. The company has been sending out its Chart Alerts for about two months, and Kramer said the response has been good so far. (To sign up, go to www.bookstandard.com.)

In other VNU news, Kirkus Discoveries should launch any day now, Kramer said. This free monthly HTML newsletter accepts submissions from self, e-published, and POD authors, and then reviews them, applying the same criteria it would a book from any of the large publishing houses (“the reviewer shouldn’t know” who published it, Kramer said). Authors pay $350 per review, and this comes with the caveat that the review could be negative.

Kirkus is also negotiating with a publishing partner to start a sort of “American Idol” for literary types, Kirkus Literary Awards, a yearly contest for unpublished and un-agented titles. The winner’s book will be published.

Publishers Weekly

So, is Nelson ready to go up against that kind of competition? “PW has both the reviews that Kirkus has, and the rights reporting potential of PublishersLunch,” she says. “ We also have a staff of reporters and writers and editors. PublishersLunch does some excellent reporting, but I don’t think the online medium allows for the kind of pieces you can do in a magazine. And as far as I can tell, the emphasis at thebookstandard.com is on numbers, not news.” She has mentioned elsewhere that she plans to redesign the magazine, and then shuffle and add to the web products.

Like Kramer, Nelson thinks of books as a form of entertainment, and one that should appeal to general readers. “PW now serves booksellers, publishers … and related media (i.e., film and TV folks), among other groups. No groups will be de-emphasized, but if we do what we’re doing well, we’ll be able to add or expand some groups,” Nelson said, pointing to the smaller, but not insignificant number of “civilians,” or book lovers who want in on the biz.

In a Mediabistro.com interview, Nelson admitted that leading an established staff and publication will have its challenges. “It’s a question of sort of releasing yourself from some of the things that have existed,” she said.

Publishers Marketplace

As the independent in this mix — and the one with the largest circulation — Michael Cader has the privilege to “believe in constant expansion, experimentation, and improvement, rather than the more traditional redesigns and relaunches.” That said, here are some of his plans for this year: his first day-long conference in the spring; PublishersMarketplace’s first print edition, a series of financial books based on its LunchDeal database; and a recurring series “looking more deeply at some ‘big questions’ regarding the future of the business” as well as “unexploited opportunities.” And, fans, stay on the lookout: He off-handedly mentioned a possible spin-off site or two.

Hard Habits to Break

Curvings of a Self-Help Author,Imaginary Friends in France Rated-R in Taiwan

Eva Agull ó has become famous after writing a successful book about addiction in Luc ía Etxebarria’s new novel A Miracle in Balance, which has charged to number 4 on the list in Spain. However, in Rush Limbaugh-like fashion, she herself has become a slave to certain demons, including alcohol, anguish and the judgments of others. As the ailing mother of a newborn, she lies in a hospital and sets out to write a letter to explain the story of the family into which her daughter has been born. With a narrative that shifts through time, and spans the globe from New York to Madrid and Alicante, Eva reconstructs the untold story of the Agull ó Benayas family, including all of the skeletons in the closet and the inheritances parents leave to their children, for better or for worse. Ultimately, she concludes that, in spite of her own bad moods, insecurities and neurosis, life itself is a miracle. “One of the most charismatic young authors on the Spanish literary scene, she has won the Premio de los Lectores de la Feria de Bilbao and the Premio Nadal. Rights to her latest have been sold to Heloïse d’Ormesson Editions (France), Saffraan (Holland), and Kedros (Greece). Contact Cristina Mora at Planeta (Spain).

Family secrets also abound in France this month, where Philippe Grimbert’s second novel, A Secret, which has sold 150,000 copies in France, is being praised as a “coup de coeur” by booksellers and critics alike. Rife with forbidden love, guilt, and the boundless curiosity of a child, all against the backdrop of some of the darkest chapters of the twentieth century, the book features a young boy who invents an older brother for himself who is stronger, better-looking, and more confident. Later in life, he feels the need to disclose his imaginary past, and is informed by a family friend and confidante that the invented brother, Simon, actually did exist, but died in a concentration camp with Hannah, his mother and the narrator’s father’s first wife. His world shattered, the narrator must confront his family’s veiled past. Rights have been sold in Germany (Suhrkamp), Italy (Bompiani), Spain (Tusquets), Holland (De Geus), Greece (Pletron), and Israel (Matar), with interest brewing in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the US. Contact Heidi Warneke, who has taken over the rights department at Grasset (France), from the recently-retired Marie-H élène d’Ovidio .

Four men and a women are chosen at random to take part in the scavenger hunt of their lives in German author Georg Klein’s The Sun is Shining on Us. Locked in a maze-like industrial building near a harbor, they are hired by Gabor Cziffra, a mysterious Godfather-like character to find an antique artifact, known simply as “a sun” which is hidden somewhere in the building. Observed by hidden cameras and microphones, the five begin their adventure to make a quick buck, but are soon deterred, to say the least, by a serial killer who is haunting the neighborhood. As fear begins to rule, the protagonists who are “always chasing a chimera,” delve deeper into the building, room by room and staircase by staircase, while also digging deeper into their own pasts. Klein has been published by DeNoel (France), and Ambo/Anthos (Holland), among others, and Astrid Kurth at Sanford Greenburger is offering US rights.

Also in Germany, drawn from her conversations with journalists, military staff, and former prisoners, essayist and literary critic for Die Zeit and Neue Z üricher ZeitungDorothea Dieckmann has put together a fictional text based on real facts in Guant á namo . In six scenes, she tells the life of Rashid, a prisoner of the camp, and explores the “paralysing fear, psychotic delusions, the manic identification with Muslim fellow prisoners, and resignation.” Born in Hamburg to a Muslim Indian father and a German mother, Rashid travels to India following the invasion of Afghanistan, to claim an inheritance from his grandmother. Along the way, he befriends a young Afghan and continues on to Peshawar, finding himself in the midst of a heated anti-American demonstration. He is suddenly arrested, handed over to the Americans, and shipped off to Gitmo where he is subjected to isolation, starvation, and deprivation in a tiny cage. Rights to the book, called “one of the best, if not the best German novel to be published since the dawn of the new millennium” and likened to the autobiographical writings of Primo Levi or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, are being offered by Anna Stein at Donadio & Olson.

Another work of fiction spun from tragic reality that is turning heads in Russia is Andrei Volos’ The Animator, which uses the events of the takeover of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre by Chechen rebels, as the framework for a tale of the “fantastic and mythical history” of Russia’s animators, an elite group of “scientists” popular in the early 20th century, who claimed to be able to resurrect people’s souls after death. As one of the animators, Sergey Barmin suffers at the hands of a long-lost love, a fact that will come to play later in the story, Volos introduces Salakh, a destitute young boy who is drawn into the extremist world of the Chechen rebels in search of a hot meal and a place to sleep. Volos adds to the mix a physics teacher who ends up a victim of the theatre siege, a corrupt Russian army officer who is secretly selling arms to the rebels, as well as another who buys the illegal arms, all the while evoking sympathies for characters on each side of the conflict. Rights to this winner of the Anti-Booker Prize and the National Russian Literary Prize have been sold to Frassinelli (Italy), and Hanser (Germany), and US and UK rights are still available from the Linda Michaels Agency.

Disturbing news from Taiwan this month, where a new rating system for books, audio, and video publications has gone into effect. Books there are now rated in two categories: general and restricted. Falling into the latter category are materials “containing ‘over-description’ of such criminal behaviors as killing, kidnapping or drug dealing; ‘over-portraying’ of the process of suicide; ‘dramatic depiction’ of violent, bloody, and deviant scenes, but acceptable by general adult audiences and languages, conversations, sounds, pictures or graphic portrayal of sexual behavior.” In an interview with the Taipei Times, Huang Jien-ho, general manager of Dala Publication Co., “specializing in books with spicy content,” criticized the new rating system as “violent” and “ridiculous.” As one well-informed source who wished to remain anonymous said, “Basically the whole spectrum of commercial fiction, is now R-rated. I guess Barbara Cartland will pass muster. Publishers in Taiwan had a hard time enough selling fiction.” Restricted publications will carry a label on the cover.

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.