International Fiction Bestsellers

Parisian Pandemonium
Vargas Plagues Paris, Orsenna’s French Lessons, And Brouwers Skewers Dutch Boomers

The specter of bubonic plague coming down the mail chute rattles all of Paris in an uncannily topical work by the French archaeologist and crime writer Fred Vargas. In the author’s latest novel, Leave Quickly and Return Late (which, incidentally, was written over a year ago), hundreds of doors are found painted with a symbol last used during the Middle Ages to protect households from the Black Death. Then pandemonium ensues when the postman comes calling with suspicious missives allegedly infected with the deadly disease, and things get grimmer a few days later, when strangled corpses turn up looking like they’d contracted the plague. The book’s title, by the way, is the advice that sages once imparted to citizens whenever the plague reared its head: leave quickly, flee far away, and take the slow boat back. Vargas has been praised for “exceptionally well-made and well-written contributions to the roman policier,” and her other titles have sold more than 100,000 copies. She mines her archaeological research (specialty: animal bones) for forensic subplots. Her earlier novel Waking the Dead was published in seven countries, including Germany (Aufbau), Italy (Einaudi), Greece (Diamantis), and Japan (Tokyo Sogensha). The new one sold 31,000 copies in two weeks, and both US and UK rights are available, says Frédéric Martin, rights manager at Viviane Hamy.

Also raising a ruckus in France this month is Goncourt winner and Académie Française member Erik Orsenna’s “lighthanded, dreamlike” new work that takes playful aim at that most hallowed of French obsessions: grammar. Said to be an homage to literary lion Saint-Exupéry, Grammar Is a Sweet Song is a tale told with “supreme elegance” that follows the adventures of a brother and sister who are shipwrecked on a desert island, as the sea empties their heads of language. Happily for Francophiles everywhere, they’ve landed on a treasure island inhabited by millions of words, which flit about like butterflies. The book has sold 110,000 copies in France, with rights deals soon to be completed in Germany, Italy, and Korea. English rights are available; see Fabienne Roussel at Stock. And finally in France, Algiers: White Town by Régine Deforges is one of eight volumes in the series known as The Blue Bicycle, which kicked off in 1981. In the latest installment, intrepid heroine Lea wends her way back to France 15 years after World War II, as the Algerian War rages on. She and lover Francois take up spying on behalf of Algerian militants — even as Francois serves the Gaullist cause. Though it has slipped off this month’s list, the book has a first print run of 130,000 copies, plus 100,000 for book clubs, and world rights are being negotiated, according to Martine Bertea at Fayard.

In Holland, bestselling author Jeroen Brouwers is back in action after a lengthy furlough with Secret Rooms, a “wide panorama of intrigues, backbiting and adultery” said to be “blowing apart the baby-boomer generation’s belief in themselves.” The book handily skewers what one critic calls “the generation that wanted to better the world, but above all better their bank accounts,” and questions the wisdom of keeping “secret chambers” in our lives that we shield from others. Protagonist Jelmer is besieged by repressed emotions after his daughter gets locked up in an asylum and his estranged wife turns out to have a few secrets of her own. As one critic explained: “This is a book full of sucking, plopping mud, torrential rains, and no less ominous storms.” Brouwers’ earlier hit Sunken Red won the Prix Fémina for best foreign novel in 1995, and to date 60,000 copies of the new one are in print. Rights have been sold to Germany (DVA). See Laura Susijn at the Susijn Agency in London.

Also in Holland, the perennially popular Geert Mak is getting raves for the “instant classic” My Fathers’ Century, which is a nonfiction chronicle of three generations in the intriguing Mak lineage. Grandfather Mak was a sailmaker with a stalwart faith in tradition, and his son was a Calvinist clergyman who worked amid the decolonization of Indonesia. Making his familial saga a parable of modern times, Mak fils endeavors to show that his father’s generation “marked the pivot on which our century tipped over.” The author’s earlier work Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City (“highly readable,” sayeth the Financial Times) was published in the UK by Harvill in 1999, and is reportedly forthcoming in the US from Harvard, in addition to rights sales in Germany (Siedler), the Czech Republic (Cinemax), and Russia (Ves Mir). More than 180,000 copies of the new one have been sold since the book’s publication in 1999, and rights have been sold thus far to Hungary (Osiris). See publisher Atlas for rights.

Meanwhile, divine intervention gets a sly political spin as Argentina wakes up to A Day in the Life of God, a sort of theological farce from journalist and historian Martín Caoparrós. In this irreverent story, God, in her feminine incarnation, can never understand the beings she has created. Following a sojourn on Earth (in the various guises of a Theban fighter, a spy in Rome, and Voltaire’s confessor), she takes matters into her own hands, with much metaphysical fallout. The 44-year-old Caoparrós was co-author of the acclaimed three-volume work The Will, which roiled the debate over Argentina’s “dark years” during the military regime of the 1970s. Caoparrós has lived in Paris, Madrid, and New York, and is now filming his cosmopolitan capers for Argentine television. Though the new book has slipped off the list this month, it has about 7,000 copies in print, which our source assures us “is very promising given the present economic circumstances of our country.” Rights have been sold only in Spain (Seix Barral). See Mónica Herrero at the Guillermo Schavelzon agency in Buenos Aires.

Lastly, a note from Germany, where the journalist Ildikó von Kürthy is back with a vengeance in her second novel, Fluttering Heart. A seemingly carefree couple of two years ram the shoals of disaster when Amelie hears a voicemail message meant for Philipp’s ears only. The jilted gal-pal douses philandering Philipp’s silk suits with red wine and promptly hits the road: “She is out for revenge. Maybe even sex.” Look out, Hamburg. The author’s first book, Moonshine Duty, sold 240,000 copies and was published in Norway, the Netherlands, Korea, and Hungary. The new one has 50,000 copies in print, and no foreign rights have been sold as yet. See Ariane Fink at the Greenburger agency for rights.

Croatia’s Comeback

Though much battered in the last decade, Croatia’s 4.5 million inhabitants are citizens of the most developed and richest former Yugoslav republic — and one eager to traffic in the world of books. The Zagreb-based publisher Hrvoje Bozicevic of Editions Bozicevic profiles the nation’s evolving publishing business.

The wartime atrocities that befell Croatia and Slovenia just before the first democratic elections of 1990 opened a new, grim chapter in the region’s history. But as this tumultuous decade sees its epilogue at the International Tribunal in the Hague, Croatia’s long-awaited recognition has brought a glimmer of light as well. Moving toward European integration, and boasting a high-quality education system, Croatia makes a worthy business partner for publishers in Europe and beyond. Though it is a small market (comparable to Finland), the nation’s growing economy and expected rise in standard-of-living may turn it into one of the most profitable areas of Central and Eastern Europe.

Admittedly, recent years have been hard for Croatia’s publishers. According to the National University Library, 3,600 titles were published in 1997. But by 1999, after the introduction of a 22% value-added tax on books, that number fell to 2,940. As the price of books soared, sales dropped significantly. The situation stabilized after the VAT on books was abolished at the end of 1999, however, and last year, 3,200 titles were published, with this year’s forecast more than optimistic.

About 200 publishing houses operate in Croatia, the most prominent including Skolska Knjiga, which publishes 300 titles annually and specializes in textbooks, scientific, and professional literature; Leksikografski Zavod Miroslav Krleza, with encyclopedias and monographs; and Matica Hrvatska, an interdisciplinary institution with its own publishing house. Though there is no reliable list of bestselling books in Croatia, eagerly sought titles include The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, and all titles by Milan Kundera (one of the most popular writers in Croatia). History titles and memoirs sell well, too, and in fact Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order by F.W. Engdahl was one of the bestselling books of 2000. Of course, Grisham, Cornwell, and Clancy are hits here as everywhere, owing their popularity to movie rights sold.

In a hopeful sign, several young Croatian writers have stepped onto the scene. Among their much-translated colleagues are Miljenko Jergovic (Sarajevki Marlboro, Penguin); Slavenka Drakulic (Marble Skin, Norton); and Dubravka Ugresic (Fording the Stream of Consciousness, Northwestern). Still, many important authors remain to be translated or even reprinted. These include the great poet Nikola Sop (he was translated by Auden), and Janko Polic Kamov, whose short stories were published in Grand Street and Partisan Review.

A key challenge remaining to Croatian publishers is the lack of a suitable distribution network. Books are not sufficiently available in smaller towns, and marketing and media support are lacking. Moreover, print runs can be as small as 1,500 copies for serious literature, or 4,000 copies for J.K. Rowling. Meanwhile, book prices run from $6.50 to $25, relatively costly due to short print runs, hefty taxes, and large discounts to distributors (up to 50%). Since most people cannot afford to buy books, many are borrowed from libraries.

On the bright side, the Croatian Association of Publishers and Booksellers is laying the groundwork for a national book distribution network, and Internet sales are growing through sites such as www.sveznadar.com. More hearteningly, Minister of Culture Antun Vujic has made publishing a priority, buying books for libraries and subsidizing titles that do not have a large market potential. Vujic recently said that though the number of new titles was growing (thanks to stronger government support), the goal must be a completely market-oriented publishing industry. As the economy matures, Croatia’s publishers are hopeful that they can meet this challenge profitably.

Book View, December 2001

PEOPLE


Congrats to Phyllis Grann — and Random House — who have finally tied the knot in what is perhaps the last good news of ’01? Word is that not all publishers there are equally excited, leading to speculation about whether the last card has yet been played.

Back at Penguin Putnam, Adrian Zackheim has hired Bill Brazell as Senior Editor of his new imprint, Portfolio Books. Brazell had worked at Industry Standard, and before that at Wired. . . . Following Vivendi Publishing CEO Agnes Touraine’s announcement of Bertil Hessel’s “sabbatical” as the head of LKC in London, Houghton’s Wendy Strothman will assume all Kingfisher responsibilities. Meanwhile, Director of Special Markets and US Rights Penelope Chaplin has been named VP, Publisher N. America for Kingfisher. Layoffs at Kingfisher include CFO Tim Gelatt, Marketing Manager Joyce Stein, and Sales and Marketing’s Lesley Moseley. . . . Layoffs continue around town, though some more publicly than others: Abrams’ cutbacks have been ongoing since the announced departures of Mark Magowan and Alan Rutsky (now up to twenty-five, including PR Director Liz Robbins, longtime Rights Director Pam Harwood, Production Director Shun Yamamoto, the entire contracts, as well as photographic rights departments, plus members of the foreign rights, editorial, design and marketing departments). Meanwhile, recruiters are searching for a new CEO for the company. Back to other cutbacks: Questia has shrunk from 280 at its height, to 68 (though Linda Cunningham, Joana Jebsen, and Justin Wolske remain in New York, and a major direct mail and TV campaign has just been launched), and Andrews McMeel is closing a warehouse and terminating 110 positions, because it will outsource its distribution. These follow layoffs at DK (US and UK), Random Reference and Children’s, Rodale, and Tuttle. Then, of course, there are the closings — of Zoland Books, a 15-year-old company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and publisher of Ha Jin’s collection of stories, which won the Pen/Faulkner award for First Fiction), and of Reciprocal, as well as the bankruptcy of netLibrary.

Bobbi Mark has been named Chief Marketing and Development Officer for Acumen Fund, a not-for-profit with an innovative model for international philanthropy. Seed funding is from the Rockefeller and Cisco Foundations. Mark was formerly at RR Donnelley and before that, at BOMC and Bantam. . . . Suzanne Oaks, last member of the original Broadway team, has left the company. . . . Longtime club editor Ruth Kogan is one of those laid off at Bookspan. . . . Larry Hughes, who remained at Morrow following the sale to HarperCollins, will retire at the end of the year. . . . Variety (via publisherslunch) reports that Joe Veltre has joined Talk Miramax Books as an editor at large while also working for Miramax as director of development. Veltre was briefly at HarperCollins, and before that, at St. Martin’s. . . . Colin Robinson, longtime MD of Verso until recently, has been named publisher of The New Press.

In museum publications news: After 14 years, Ann Lucke is leaving the Metropolitan Museum’s Publications department to join The Getty in the same managing editorial position. She is filling the position recently vacated by Mark Greenberg, who has been named Editor-in-Chief. In the meantime the Getty is looking to fill a newly created operations position, and the Met has hired Susan Bresnan, also in the new position of Image Acquisitions Manager.

Promotions: Seth Radwell was promoted to President of Bookspan’s newly created Marketing and Editorial Group. He had been President and Chief Executive Officer of booksonline, the Internet division of Bookspan. . . . Carole Baron was appointed President of G.P. Putnam’s Sons. . . . Liate Stehlik was promoted to Associate Publisher at Pocket Books. She was previously Publishing Director. Warner Bros. Consumer Products announced that Michael Harkavy was promoted to SVP, international content and creative affairs. He was previously VP, Publisher, Kids! WB Music and Interactive Entertainment.

DULY NOTED


A colloquium co-sponsored by the Folger Library was held in Washington, DC on Nov. 8-10 to discuss the “impact of the digital medium on libraries, publishers, and society.” By 2020, the 40 participants (from Bertelsmann, Library of Congress, etc.) predicted, printed books and journals would not disappear but would co-exist with the newer electronic forms of publishing, though the roles and functions of publishers and libraries will change radically by that time. Meanwhile, as universal access to knowledge would become theoretically possible, “Host-country infrastructure and intellectual property rights will be critical to the worldwide adoption of electronic publishing as the de-facto communication standard.” Glad we got that straight.

Books for a Better Life announces the lineup for its Feb. 12 Awards Ceremony, when Deepak Chopra will be inducted in the BBL Hall of Fame. ABC’s Meredith Vieira and HBO’s Karen Duffy will be on hand to help emcee. Hats off to publishing veteran Scott Manning, who founded the awards, and continues his pro bono leadership of them.

“Publishing Predictions — Past and Present Visions of the Future,” presented by Small Press Center and Publishers Weekly, which was originally scheduled for Monday, Nov. 12, has been postponed until Small Press Month, March 2002. Email [email protected] for details.

In the November 19 edition of iMarketing News, Al Ries and Laura Ries, marketing strategists, make a case for Amazon to scale back its business to the core — books, music, and videos, which account for 58% of its business and all of its profit. And if it doesn’t? “Make no mistake about it, Amazon is headed for history’s scrap heap.” They argue, however, that Jeff Bezos would have a hard time retrenching, after positioning himself as an online department store. What the Ries’ really argue for, though, is brand segmentation. Amazon should move its other categories under other brand names, like Levi’s did with Dockers, and Black & Decker did with its professional line of tools. Otherwise, they warn, Amazon could end up the Polaroid of the web.

• Bloomsbury is publishing a “Celebratory Edition” of Philosopher’s Stone, to mark the sales of 113+ million Harry Potter books worldwide. And that’s before taking into account sales from the movie tie-ins.

DECEMBER DATES


There isn’t much going on this month, other than the big ones: Hannukah (begins December 9), Christmas, Kwanzaa (begins December 26), and New Year’s (start whenever you wish).

• Harry Evans will take on Jerome Charyn, author of Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins: Ping-Pong and the Art of Staying Alive, in a game of — you guessed — ping pong, on December 6 at 6:30 pm at the Manhattan Table Tennis Club, 2628 Broadway. Contact [email protected] for details.

Michael Cader’s next December 11 Live Lunch event takes place December 11. The topic is LOOKING TO 2002, and panelists include David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, Larry Kirshbaum of AOL Time Warner Trade Publishing, Carl Lennertz of BookSense, and New York Magazine’s Michael Wolff.

PARTIES


November was the big party month. First there was Book-of-the-Month’s 75th anniversary party at the Waldorf Astoria on November 7. Then the Mercantile Library hosted the second annual Clifton Fadiman Awards at its gala on November 13. Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus won the $5000 award, which is sponsored by Bookspan. On November 14 the National Book Awards took place, with Steve Martin hosting. Then, on November 15 NBF Executive Director Neil Baldwin was the guest of honor at a party celebrating his new book, Henry Ford and the Jews, published by Peter OsnosPublic Affairs.

MAZELTOV


To Context BooksBeau Friedlander and Melissa Breyer on November 8th on the arrival of Ella Beatrice Friedlander.

IN MEMORIAM


Michael Hoffman, Publisher and Executive Director of Aperture, died on November 23. He had been at Aperture for 35 years.

The Zooba Zeitgeist

As jitters over snail mail consume the media, email marketers have been keen to whisper what amounts to the new gospel in direct-to-consumer marketing: opting-in. Wary of their mailboxes, the theory goes, customers are much more likely to agree to receive promotional messages via email. Whether or not this is actually the case, sagging response rates to traditional mail and the prospect of cheap bulk emailings have made “permission-based sales opportunities” look better than ever.

One company working in the book realm is Zooba.com, a direct marketer that sends email newsletters on a variety of topics to its 2.8 million subscribers. Income is based primarily on advertising (mostly of books and videos that complement the newsletter topics) and branded sites. One of Zooba’s more liberating aspects is a chary attitude toward its own services: “We recommend you select no more than three topics,” the site warns, apparently warding off email overload. The user is also told how many emails will arrive on a particular topic, so that the fear of an unending avalanche of newsletters — like an electronic Time-Life continuity series — can be put to rest.

As of the beginning of 2001, Zooba also has some staying power amid failing dot-coms, namely the advantage of being owned by Bertelsmann (50% by the DirectGroup, and the other 50% by Bookspan). Forty-five is the magic number in this respect: Zooba has 45 employees, sends out newsletters in 45 content areas, and now has access to Bookspan’s 45 book clubs, which it makes no bones about plugging in pop-up ads (“Get 3 great cookbooks for only $3!”). But it has also provided publishers, including Cambridge U. Press, Henry Holt, St. Martin’s and Simon & Schuster, with access to lists on focused topics — everything from “Great Minds” to “Golf” — as well as advertising opportunities tied to the topic (in some cases a bit loosely: a sample newsletter advertises Dreamcatcher to readers interested in Pilates exercises). When they’re roused by the ads in their emails, readers can click on over to B&N.com and other e-tailers to purchase books posthaste.

More than 20 book publishers have availed themselves of the site’s “microcast transactive content technology,” and some of them, like Harvard Business School Press, have their own branded channel offering subscribers branded content (Harvard’s is mostly taken from Harvard Business Review articles). “We tap into an electronic universe that they’ve aggregated,” says George Pratt, Director of Web Marketing for Harvard Business School Publishing. Still, while Pratt reports “some success” throughout the company using outside email lists, they aren’t a silver bullet, at least not yet, for driving sales. “It’s fair to say that we’ve been successful in terms of getting additional reach,” he says. “The question is whether that has translated into enough actual business to continue doing it. That remains to be seen.”

According to Gwen Seznec, Zooba Director of Client Services, advertising fees range from $25 to $40 per thousand, depending on the use of original content, logos, and other customized items. To date, however, the major drawback for many e-marketers may simply be the paucity of known targets: only about 20 million email names are said to be traded in direct-email lists, compared to hundreds of millions of names available the old fashioned way.

Pirates of New Delhi

Talk of international piracy may make some American publishers nod off at the conference table, but at a forum held in Frankfurt last month, the Indian anti-piracy daredevil Akash Chittranshi told tales that had even the most narcoleptic among us wide-eyed with suspense. An intellectual property lawyer based in New Delhi by day — and apparently an avid reader of cloak-and-dagger novels by night — Chittranshi has helped pull off nine daring raids on 40 different pirate publishers in India, rounding up 70,000 copies of pirated books to date.

One of the most celebrated Indian missions, reports PT’s correspondent, came last July, when a phalanx of 22 cops and 11 investigators swooped down on a Delhi warehouse after Chittranshi’s spies, posing as manual laborers, confirmed the whereabouts of a major pirate operation. The intricate 45-hour bust turned up scores of volumes from Grisham, Ludlum, and J.K. Rowling, and ended up being the biggest pirate haul in India’s history — more than 27,000 copies.

Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to copyright piracy, which AAP estimates put at an $8 billion loss last year for American publishers. For its part, the AAP hiked funding this year more than 100 percent to battle international copyright piracy. The $400,000 is hoped to bolster efforts such as those in India, which have also been aided by the British Publishers’ Association and the Indian Association of Publishers. Piracy experts note that even modest busts can be of paramount importance to medical and scientific publishers, as a hefty $300 engineering textbook can be pirated and sold for a fraction of the price. Moreover, sources say that in India, education programs have paid off: 90% of booksellers there now refuse to stock pirated copies. On the other hand, rogue traders still blithely take orders for illegal editions at open markets around New Delhi, and the police force has only a few officers to track what is said to be a sophisticated network of offenders.

In nearby Pakistan, half of the book market reportedly consists of pirated material, much of which is thought to find its way into Indian hands. And in Malaysia, copy shops happily take orders from schools, delivering photocopied texts to classrooms. But there’s hope. In Singapore, a new police division is targeting bulk photocopying, and last February, Korean agents nabbed 600,000 counterfeit English-language books worth $14.5 million. About 2,000 titles of bestsellers, textbooks, and other works were seized in a warehouse belonging to venerable distributor Han Shin. As officials complained, foreign publishers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain: “Korean students have been paying [the] full imported book retail price for Han Shin’s shoddy counterfeits.”

On the Block?

Sales of Book Businesses Plummet, But the Big Keep Getting Bigger

In the third quarter of this year, merger and acquisition activity in trade book and other consumer publishing segments plummeted more than 40%, according to industry figures tracked by investment banking firm Whitestone Communications. Despite a flurry of speculation over sales — for example, both Merriam-Webster and North-South were whispered to be making the rounds — we are told neither of these companies is currently on the block. Chalk it up to the rumor mill. But the on-again, off-again nature of sales across the entire publishing and information sector can be seen as a telling sign of the economic times. With smaller buyers sidelined by the economic downturn — and larger buyers skittish on deals as their market caps turn south — the result is less competition among bidders and hence sinking prices. “It’s a tough market to be selling into,” says one investment advisor. “Financial buyers can’t pay what they used to. And many of the mid-size companies up for sale don’t even raise the eyebrows of today’s big publishing conglomerates.”

It almost makes one nostalgic for the go-go ’80s, when junk bonds ruled the day and staid Boston banks were throwing cash to the wind as big companies of all stripes clamored to get book businesses under their belts. “Publishing was seen as a sexy industry,” recalls Bill Hammond, President of Publishing Strategy International. “Having a media property in your portfolio was highly desirable. But the sexiness seemed to fade away as the financial reality dawned.” Flash forward to September 11, and that dawn looks even grimmer as recent events put downward pressure on an already glum economy. “To tell the truth,” The Daily Deal moaned this week, “it’s been a wretched year for M&A as a whole.”

Wake Up and Smell the Margins

Perversely, such deal-deprivation for the book industry may mean more business as usual. “Generally, the large companies are going to continue to do acquisitions,” says Baran Rosen, Whitestone’s President. “They’re always looking to fill holes in their line, and they have the resources to do acquisitions year in and year out.” In other words, the big get bigger while the marginal get, well, more marginal. It’s a familiar story, especially for those who have weathered the boom-and-bust cycle of book-biz demand. In the early 1990s, for example, publishing companies lost their luster as free-wheeling financiers woke up to smell the profit margins. “The banks retrenched, and the debt component really went away,” Hammond says. “The deal flow for many years dried up.” But eventually, as the non-media conglomerates shed their suddenly unglamorous book assets, deals began to flow again when today’s book behemoths swallowed up the little fish in the pond. Ironically, the spigot has now run dry partly because all the deals have been done. “Due to the work of the previous decades, there simply aren’t a lot of acquisition targets,” says Hammond. “Norton is about the only one of any significant size that is left.”

There are still a few items on the block, though, including book distributor Consortium, which Hammond is helping to find a buyer. In Consortium’s case, 86-year-old owner Bill Brinton is selling the company “strictly for estate planning purposes.” The company remains sound, says Hammond, with first quarter fiscal year 2002 sales “considerably above” sales for the previous year. Others rumored to be for sale include Prentice Hall Direct, which like many in the direct mail business is facing a difficult climate. In fact, Prentice Hall corporate parent Pearson had planned to sell the company along with reference and business units to Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, a deal that fell through in 1998. (Other units were eventually sold, such as Macmillan General Reference, which went to IDG for $83 million.)

Some observers point out that such businesses are like the industry’s latchkey kids, orphaned by their unloving parents. Prentice Hall was acquired when Pearson bought Simon & Schuster’s business and professional operations, and was never a full-fledged family member. Many divisions “have been badly mismanaged by their parent companies for years,” says one industry observer. “Larger conglomerates are constantly manipulating these businesses for short-term profit. All these guys are waking up to the fact that it’s not as easy as it sounded.” (A Pearson spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.) On the other hand, analysts point out that some of these same companies, when well cared for, are not as subject to recessionary pressures as trade publishers. The professional segments of book publishing — including legal, medical, and educational publishers — are supposedly sitting prettiest. “They’re hardly impacted at all,” says Rosen. “That’s why those businesses always sell for the higher range of prices. They’re solid and reliable.”

Maybe the reference world has been spared, too. Reports that Merriam-Webster was on the block have now been quelled, despite a Wall Street Journal column in August announcing that parent company Encyclopaedia Britannica, “after stumbling in ambitious online efforts,” had sought buyers to raise fresh capital. Merriam-Webster, which has been owned by Britannica since the 1960s, was expected to sell for between $20 and $40 million. But we hear the sale was put off amid bidding from Random House, HarperCollins, and McGraw Hill, after executives decided the dictionary business wasn’t losing so much cash, after all. “Encyclopaedia Britannica has officially halted all activities relating to the possible sale of Merriam-Webster,” according to Arthur Bicknell, Merriam-Webster publicist. “It’s not true,” adds Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas, when asked about the possibility of a sale. He emphasized that Britannica is retooling in the wake of the Internet bust, hinting that the dictionary lines may prove a key asset in this regard. “Britannica is in a back-to-basics mode after several years of concentrating almost entirely on the Internet,” Panelas says. “We are diversifying our product line and going back to print, CD-ROM, and DVD. We’re also diversifying our product offerings and revenue streams on the Internet.”

Gorging on Growth

Despite such retrenchment, several investment advisors report that a variety of deals are still on the table. “We have more deals now than we’ve had in the last five years,” says Martin Levin of law firm Cowan, Liebowitz. The company’s last deal was selling Lyons Press to Globe Pequot, which is owned by Morris Communications. Unlike the larger players, Levin and colleagues are somewhat unusual in that they focus only on one deal at a time, and don’t take on a seller unless they feel they can close a deal. The firm turns down five opportunities for every one taken on. As for the boom in business, Levin notes that publishers who came of age after World War II are realizing that they’ve got to either pass the business baton to the next generation, or sell it. (In the case of Lyons Press, however, Nick Lyons’ son Tony is still with the company, under the new ownership.) Also boosting merger and acquisition vital signs is the fact that today’s conglomerates prefer to grow by gorging on other companies, which is “cheaper and faster” than internal growth.

Others agree that the downward trajectory of macro economic trends hasn’t necessarily harmed the book biz as a whole. “There clearly is a difference as you move from one sector to another,” says Kit van Tulleken of the eponymous M&A firm. “I don’t think you can look at general fiction with the same eye as you look at STM, or legal, or professional, or childrens. They all have different cycles.” Certainly, there are big deals to be consummated, at least in Europe: Cinven recently grabbed Vivendi’s business and health publications for $1.8 billion, and Finland’s Sanoma WSOY snapped up VNU’s Consumer Information Group for just over $1 billion. Even the trade side shows signs of life. “Hachette has just bought Octopus over here,” van Tulleken says of the recent UK purchase. “I suspect that the price wasn’t dramatically affected by September 11. I think it was a top price anyway.” In that transaction, the French publisher picked up the UK illustrated book group as “a new step in Hachette Livre’s international development in the anglophone arena,” the company said in a statement. (Hachette is itself owned by French media powerhouse Lagardère.) Yet in one sense, Hachette’s cross-border deal is the exception to the recessionary rule. In boom times, companies gunning for growth reach beyond their borders for new markets. But in tough times, says van Tulleken, contraction forces deal activity much closer to home.

And magazines? Don’t even go there. “This is a tough environment in terms of the outlook for the remainder of the year,” says David Libowitz, Managing Director at private equity firm Warburg Pincus. “Anything that’s advertising-related is difficult. We tend to focus on subscription-type businesses.” Another no-brainer is a glance at the share price of the media behemoths — who are now either unable or unlikely to cut big deals. “That absolutely will have an effect,” van Tulleken adds. Yet there’s still plenty of money around, and some bargains to be had. “Even in the good times, travel publishers are always for sale,” says Mark Pattis, partner in Next Chapter Holdings and former CEO of NTC/Contemporary, “and especially now.” In the end, though deals may be depressed, you can bet the market won’t lie fallow for long. “It’s like a crop,” sighs Martin Levin. “It keeps blooming, each and every year.”

International Fiction Bestsellers

The Travolta Generation
Swingin’ Sweden’s Gardell, Finland’s Eager Readers, And Greece’s Turk in the Garden

One of Scandinavia’s sassiest stand-up comedians drenches himself in “sweaty randiness and lonely searching” this month with A UFO Makes an Entry, a second novel by Jonas Gardell about the star-crossed generation that grew up in the suburban 1970s, weaned on John Travolta and the Sex Pistols. A sort of comedian bildungsroman, the book takes up where Gardell’s earlier volume Growing Up a Comedian left off, with the tortured lives of teenagers Juha and Jenny. As they bump and grind their way through love and rebellion, the tragicomic teens confront a world equally tarnished by skin blemishes, bullies, and nuclear power plants. Possibly the best of Gardell’s “tender yet cruelly accurate” tales to date, this book is said to dexterously juggle bathos, pathos, and polyester — all to the gyrating soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. The 38-year-old Gardell made a promising splash in 1985 with his debut novel The Passion Play, a work about homosexual love, and has gone on to write a number of well-received plays. Rights to the new book have been sold thus far to Norway (Tiden) and Denmark (Tiderne Skifter). See Clara Gustafsson at Norstedts.

In other northern European matters, we’re pleased to introduce our bestseller list from Finland, which debuted last month. A voracious nation of readers, Finland cranks out the second highest number of titles per capita in all of Europe. (Iceland, however, is the top titles-per-capita nation by a long shot.) Though it’s also a nation of short print runs — averaging 4,100 copies for a work of general fiction — we offer a brief overview of the industry to get you oriented. Total book sales in Finland amounted to about $360 million in 1999, with 40% of books sold in bookstores. The heavy hitters among Finnish publishers are WSOY, Otava, Edita, and Tammi, while the only Finnish wholesaler is Kirjavälitys Oy, owned jointly by bookstores and publishers, which has 30,000 titles in stock. Though the bestseller list this month is a rogues’ gallery of usual suspects, recent Finnish gems include Susanne Ringell’s “ABC for grown-ups,” a slim volume with a whopper of a title: It Was Embarrassment that Made Adele Fat. The book offers a mini-story for each letter of the alphabet, and is said to blend linguistics, psychology, and the absurd. As one critic warmly averred, “Female absurdism is something of which we cannot have too much.” See publisher Söderström for rights.

In Germany, literary argonaut Peter Stamm roves through an Uncharted Landscape in his second novel, an “elegy about the futility of life” that unfolds from a small Norwegian port of call above the Arctic Circle. A listless, 28-year-old customs officer named Kathrine boards a Hurtig Route ship called the Polarlys, and the voyage turns into a spiritual trek departing from her drunken first husband and 8-year-old child, and sailing to points unknown amid life’s icy lagoons. Stamm’s 1998 work Agnes was deemed a “fine first novel” recalling Raymond Carver in its stark portrayal of two lovers who meet in the Chicago public library and get terminally tangled when he begins writing a “fictionalized” account of their relationship. Critics called the story “the innermost of a set of Chinese boxes.” The 38-year-old Stamm has been an itinerant freelance writer and journalist who now lives in Switzerland, and his novel Agnes is now published in nine countries, including the UK (Bloomsbury), France (Christian Bourgois), and Spain (Quaderns Crema). Rights to the new one, which is just below the top ten this month, have been sold to Italy (Neri Pozza), with deals imminent in Spain and France. Talk to Marianne Fritsch at the Liepman agency.

Also in Germany, TV and radio sensation Elke Heidenreich has floored even her staunchest admirers with a collection of seven short stories called Turn Your Back on the World. Mournful but leavened with irony, the stories offer elliptical reveries, such as one about a woman who vows to find a former lover 25 years after their week-long affair. The two hook up for a tryst and — wham-bam! — the Berlin Wall kicks the dust. The author’s Nero Corleone (a children’s book illustrated by Quint Buchholz) was published in the US by Viking in 1997, as well as a dozen other countries. The new one has sold over 120,000 copies in Germany, with rights sold only to France thus far. See Susanne Bauknecht at Hanser for rights.

Meanwhile, Greece has been chasing after the Turk in the Garden, an “attractive and atmospheric” new novel by prolific journalist and playwright Yiannis Xanthoulis. The time-twisting plot centers on the 11-year-old son of a gardener who becomes the catalyst in a series of supernatural events — all of which culminate around the garden of an aristocratic éminence grise. Protagonist Ilias deploys his “paranormal abilities” to avenge the death of the old woman’s brother, and soon a 16th-century noble Turk pops in among the dahlias to wreak havoc. Xanthoulis’ novel Dead Liqueur sold 122,000 copies, and was published in Holland (de Geus), Japan (Kodansha), Spain (Seix Barral), and France (Hatier) — though we’re told rights have reverted in France and are now up for grabs. The new one, published in June, has sold more than 25,000 copies, and all rights are open from Maria Fakinou at Kastaniotis.

Also of note in Greece, a brief update on Nikos Themelis (see PT 5/01), whose novel The Search is now up to 70,000 copies sold, while his second effort, The Subversion, has sold 60,000. Critics were wary of Themelis’ alter ego — he’s counselor to the Greek prime minister — but we’re told readers have found The Search a Jamesian mosaic woven from the life of a young man in Asia Minor. Rights have been sold to Germany (Piper), Italy (Crocetti), and Turkey (Dogan Kitap). Meanwhile, The Subversion has been deemed “a highly attractive novel” about the Greek Diaspora, detailed in “perfectly accurate period atmosphere.” See Kedros for rights.

And Australia is atwitter over the latest from Matthew Reilly, whose Area 7 is the young maestro’s fictional look at “America’s most secret base,” an Air Force outpost in the Utah desert. The book recounts a presidential visit to the compound that turns ugly when hostile forces are found inside. Reilly’s earlier efforts Ice Station and Temple were published in eight countries, and the new one has sold 100,000 copies. Rights have been sold to the UK (Macmillan), Germany (Econ), and Holland (Het Spectrum), with publication in the US expected in February from St. Martin’s. See Macmillan UK for rights.

Doldrums for Direct Mail

In the waning days of October, Publishing Trends paid a nostalgia-filled visit to Chicago’s McCormick place, this time to the 84th Annual Direct Marketing Association conference to see how another troubled industry deals with adversity. Next to the direct response business — buffeted by ever-increasing postal rates and regulations, an economy in the doldrums and now, anthrax — trade publishing is a problem-free, booming business. But ask publishers in the direct mail industry how they’re faring, and the full impact of what Bob Wientzen, President of the DMA, called the Post Office’s annus horribilis, will be clear.

Signaling the true extent of the devastation, officials are not even pretending it’s business as usual. Several seminars were added to roster at the last moment, including “Direct Marketing in Adverse Circumstances: Gaining Consumer Trust in Your Mail,” conducted by a postal inspector, and another USPS session with the unfortunate title, “Direct Mail: Hit your target every time.” The NY Daily News’ Phyllis Furman reported estimates of as much as $7 billion in lost transactions by the end of this year, because of 9/11 and specifically the anthrax scare. According to Media Buyer’s Daily, that number could rise to $20 billion over the course of a full year.

In his opening remarks at DMA, President Wientzen quoted an industry poll which found that 20% of consumers are “less inclined” to open their mail, though he claimed the impact so far has been “negligible.” Including direct and interactive marketing, sales in the US exceeded $1.7 trillion in 2000, including $110 billion in catalog sales and $28 billion in sales generated by the Internet. And some are pointing to a surge of interest in email-based marketing in this time of postal panic (see article below). Still, the mood at the convention was wary, with no official estimates on turnout. The DMA offered prospective registrants free air fare or Amtrak tickets, but even with that, some estimate that at most, half the projected attendance will have come this year. (Last year 13,000 attendees showed up in New Orleans.)

Those who did find their way to the exhibition hall also found George Bush père at the podium, giving the keynote address on Monday morning. Greeted by cheers and standing ovations loud enough to suggest a roomful of staunch and newly converted Republicans, a well-prepped Bush was bullish on the industry, noting that “I’m a strong believer in the work of the DMA,” and telling the crowd, “I’m married to a black belt shopper.” He also contributed some of the most amusing remarks of the show, as when he claimed that mum was the word on any political pronouncements, because his sons George and Jeb “don’t need that grief, and neither do I.” He admitted that the press had been treating George better than he himself had been treated, “And oh my golly, how I hope they stay with him.” The elder Bush, however, was happily turning the tables: “Now, if I don’t like your question, to hell with you.” That brought the house down.

Elsewhere, the agenda was solidly focused on business, with the Internet an obvious topic of interest. According to the DMA’s State of the Catalog/Interactive Industry Report 2001, which was released at the show (it’s $595 for DMA members), the Internet generated 13 percent of all catalog sales in 2000, almost a 50% increase from a year earlier. Seventy-two percent of catalogers said that greater visibility was the top benefit received from the web, and half of survey respondents reported new business opportunities. In perhaps the best news of the show, 70% of catalogers claimed the Internet even bumped up their revenues.

All Crime, All the Time

Crime has been paying well enough for Court TV, the fast-growing cable network launched in 1991 (and founded by the now beleaguered Steven Brill) that under chief executive Henry Schleiff has doubled its reach to 60 million viewers in recent years, doling out televised trials by day and original riffs on the criminal justice system by night. But brand extension pays, too, and the network is now giving the green light to a variety of book-related projects it hopes will parlay its courtroom dramas into bestseller material, and vice versa. “We’re being very opportunistic, because we have resources and experts that nobody else has,” says Court TV General Counsel Doug Jacobs. “Books are a great way for us to put our best foot forward.”

Book traffic flows in several directions at Court TV. The company is actively seeking books and manuscripts — primarily nonfiction — that it can develop as TV programming. “We are very interested in books,” affirms Rosalie Muskatt, Vice President for original movies, speaking from the Toronto set of Court TV’s first original television movie. That production, set to air in 2002, chronicles the plight of a woman who has two young children and is slammed with 20 years in prison under questionably excessive drug laws. It typifies Court TV originals in that it deals “with strong social issues that have elements of American crime and justice,” Muskatt says. “They need to be contemporary stories.” The network aims to produce between two and four TV movies per year, all in the same social-justice vein. “We’re also very open to exploring established writers and working with them on original ideas,” Muskatt adds.

Going the other direction, the network develops book spin-offs based on its documentaries and other televised or online content. Since Court TV is half owned by AOL Time Warner (the other half is held by Liberty Media), the AOL publishing family makes a natural book partner. Earlier this year, for example, Time Warner unit Little, Brown published The Smoking Gun, a volume of documents taken from the Court TV-owned website of the same name, which collects an amusing array of “secret, surprising, and salacious” items through freedom-of-information requests and other means, and serves them to 600,000 visitors a month. (Featured document: Burt Reynolds’ 1996 bankruptcy statement, disclosing his $7,500 debt to two toupee companies.) There’s also Shots in the Dark, a compendium of crime photography published by Little, Brown in connection with a Court TV documentary on the subject. And the Time Warner family is set to publish a book called You Be the Judge, based on summaries of trials and featuring an interactive component that lets readers guess the verdict in each case. Despite the AOL synergy, however, executives stress that Court TV is open to deals with other houses. In 1999, says Jacobs, Kensington was invited to raid the network’s library of trial stories for a series of four books collecting the hottest cases in the archives.

On the classroom front, Court TV has renewed a deal with Wadsworth International Thompson Learning, which has licensed 25 Court TV documentaries as “added value” for its textbooks. The network’s “Choices and Consequences” effort feeds a number of teen-relevant documentaries into classrooms, and the company may look into publishing related textbooks for teens as well. Elsewhere, discussions are burbling about a print version of the material collected on Court TV’s website, which includes extensive trial coverage (more than 700 cases have aired to date), an archive of verdicts, and more riveting, salacious documents (O.J. Simpson transcript, anyone?). A subsidiary site, Crime Library, contains a database with serial killers from Jack the Ripper to Ted Bundy, ripe for repackaging in book form.

It can start to sound unsavory. But back on the set in Toronto, Muskatt emphasizes that not just any drive-by crime novel will do for a Court TV production. “I wish we could just adapt a wonderful murder mystery,” she says. “But that’s not our mandate. We’re hoping that this movie will call attention to drug laws that need to be looked at and changed. What we’re trying to do across the board with our movies is to stimulate conversation.”

Book View, November 2001

PEOPLE


Layoffs are the order of the day, though mergers, not the economy, seem to be the main reason. DK has laid off about 25 people, with more to come. Meanwhile, the move down to Hudson Street has been postponed, apparently as a cost-savings measure. No word yet on Phyllis Grann’s plans, though Random House continues to figure in the speculation. Word is that by the end of the year Golden will have laid off half of its employees. Its offices will also remain separate from the mother ship, but they are almost adjacent to the new Random digs. And, of course, Rodale laid off 148 people, mostly in its direct response book publishing area. One of those was Roz Siegel, formerly Senior Editor at S&S. She may be reached at [email protected].

Speaking of S&S, Colin Harrison, noted author and previously an editor at Harper’s (and husband of author Kathryn, onetime editorial assistant to Nan Graham), is rumored to be going to Scribner, as an editor. There’s a spot open, since Crown’s Shaye Areheart hired away Jake Morissey as Executive Editor for Harmony, and Jane Rosenman left for St. Martin’s (PT 9/01).

In other news, Miranda De Kay has left Bookspan. . . . Kathleen Carson, Executive Editor of Budget Book Service is going to Random House Value Publishing as Editorial Director, replacing Susanne Jaffe, who left to join Thurman House.

Harper thawed out from its hiring freeze long enough to bring in two Executive Editors in October, Dan Menaker and Dawn Davis. Menaker will report to Susan Weinberg, SVP and Editorial Director. Davis, who was at Vintage for five years, will also serve as editorial director of Amistad.

Michaela Hamilton has been named Editor-in-Chief at Kensington Publishing. She succeeds Paul Dinas, who joined Reader’s Digest last month (see PT 9/01), and will report to Laurie Parkin, VP and Publisher of Kensington. . . . Leona Nevler, who arrived at Penguin Putnam on Sept. 10, says she bought two books in her first three weeks. She was most recently a SVP and Editorial Director of Ballantine, where she had been since 1982, when Fawcett was acquired by Random House. She reports to Leslie Gelbman, President of the Berkley Publishing Group and NAL. . . . Peter Clifton has moved (literally) to Tennessee as President and CEO of Ingram Periodicals. He had been CEO of Vista’s PubEasy, and subsequently interim CEO of Previewport. He will commute between La Vergne and his home in Westchester for the time being.

Among promotions, André Bernard has been named VP, Publisher of Harcourt’s Trade division. Michael Stearns has been promoted to Director of Paperback Publishing at Harcourt Children’s. He was formerly a Senior Editor and will continue to acquire and edit. . . . Rick Pascocello has been promoted to VP, Advertising and Promotion for Berkley and NAL. He was previously Director. . . . Michelle Yeauger has been promoted to Senior Marketing Manager, Direct at McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing. She was previously Marketing Manager.

DEALS


Susan Schulman, who handles translation rights for Millbrook, huddled over her computer instead of the TV in the days following the 9/11 attack — she had recently received the ms for Osama Bin Laden: A War Against the West, in Millbrook’s recently launched YA division, the Twenty First Century Books line. The book had been signed up by Publisher Jean Reynolds in 1999, after the US embassy bombings in Africa. Over that first weekend after downloading mss around the world, she had sold the rights in Spain and Japan, and by the end of that week had concluded deals (all via her 15 subagents) in Poland, Estonia, Korea, Portugal, Croatia, and French Canada, with offers pending from Turkey and the Scandinavians starting to line up. The book was published in Spain (Planeta, with a separate licensed Mexican edition) on October 19th, and in Canada on October 30th. The book will still be published in a library edition (short discount) shipping in December. Trade rights (hard or softcover) are available.

DULY NOTED


Ipsos NPD has issued its Adult BookTrends Update, an ongoing survey of the book buying habits of more than 12,000 households, and the news for fiction was good, at least pre-9/11. Fiction sales rose 2.7%, the highest jump of any category. Meanwhile, book club sales have increased by almost 2% — and 3.5% compared with all of 2000 (mostly through an increase in online sales) — while chain sales have decreased slightly.

Elle is launching a readers choice award, for the best fiction and nonfiction of the year. French Elle has been doing it for years, with apparent success. The voting seems unduly complicated, but the result will be a Grand Prix winner in fiction and nonfiction, to be announced in the December 2002 issue. Readers’ comments on the books that are read throughout the year are available at www.elle.com.

• PublishersMarketplace launches as a subscription site in November. Michael Cader, of publisherslunch.com fame, is behind this latest effort, which will cost $15 a month, billed monthly. He tells PT that “I’ve been surprised and delighted by how quickly people have started using the whole array of features and making them work; writers are finding agents and publishers; agents are selling proposals here (which I never expected) and foreign rights through their postings; the deal resources are helping to further increase the flow of deal information; and we will have generated over 175,000 page views in the first month (with the site continuing to get busier).” Score one for the impresarios.

• Morty Mint, former chief of Guinness Publishing in the US, will publish and distribute the US edition of a new paperback series, ParentSmart Books. It is published by ParentSmart Books of Canada. Maryann Palumbo Marketing Concepts will handle US marketing for the series (launch is in January 2002). In other Canadian news, Raincoast closed down its fiction imprint, and HarperCollins Canada’s Marketing Director, Judy Brunsek, has left the company.

The magazine strategy+business has published its “Best Business Books of the Millennium” issue. Jim Collins tops the list with Good to Great. Go to www.strategy-business.com.

NOVEMBER DATES


NYU’s Center for Publishing, along with the French Publishers’ Agency and the German Book Office, have organized a seminar, “How to Effectively Acquire, Translate and Publish Foreign Titles.” The all-day seminar takes place on Friday, Nov. 2nd at the Center for Publishing. Tickets are $50. Call 212 790-3232 or go to www.scps.nyu.edu/pubcenter.

• Small Press Center hosts two November panels. On Monday, November 12th from 5:30 to 8:00 pm is “Publishing Predictions: Past and Present Visions of the Future,” in partnership with PW, at The New York Times Auditorium. On Tuesday, November 20th, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, is “What’s Happening to Book Reviewing?” Email [email protected] for details.

The 52nd National Book Awards evening is on Wednesday, November 14th at the Marriott. Tickets for the dinner and awards ceremony (again, with Steve Martin as host) are $1000. But for $100 you can attend the reception.

• The Miami Book Fair is scheduled for November 11-18 at the Miami-Dade Community College. An eclectic mix of some 250 authors, including Vernon Jordan, Stephen Ambrose, Naomi Wolf, and Rabbi Harold Kushner will be present, and almost 500,000 visitors are expected to attend.

Author and former Houghton Mifflin publisher Joe Kanon will be reading from his new bestseller, The Good German, on Thursday, November 8th, at the 82nd and Broadway Barnes & Noble at 7:30 pm.

MAZELTOV


Congrats to publishing couple Chitra (McGraw-Hill) Bopardikar and Josh (HarperCollins) Marwell, whose wedding is on November 3rd in New York.

And to Book-of-the-Month Club, on its 75th birthday this month.

Also, Joseph Xavier Held was born October 15, 2001 to Random’s Ivan Held and his wife, Patricia Falvo, until recently a Senior Writer at Allure.

Finally, congrats to Pam and Joel Fishman (former editor, agent, and founder of subrights.com), on the birth of a baby girl, Macklin, on Sept. 25.