Book View, April 2002

PEOPLE


Laurie Brown
is leaving FSG, where she was SVP, Director Sales & Marketing. Her duties will be assumed by Jeff Seroy and Linda Rosenberg. . . Gary Gentel has been named VP Sales, Trade Division at Scholastic. He was most recently with Dorling Kindersley. . . John Schline has been made SVP, Corporate Director of Business Affairs for Penguin Putnam. . . Dan Weiss was named President of SparkNotes.com, following the departure of founder and General Manager, Sam Yagan. Robert Riger has been hired as on-site publishing consultant to the company, which is owned by Barnes & Noble. . . Following the demise of Talk/Miramax magazine, account executive Perry Janoski has moved to Harper’s Magazine where he will cover book publishing as well as travel and entertainment.

As announced earlier, Chris McInerney is closing her scouting agency, McInerney International, at the end of June, after 28 years in business. Barbara Tolley will lead the agency (with a name change in the wings) as of July 1. Jayne Pliner plans to remain with the firm. . . HarperCollins has appointed Maureen O’Brien as Executive Editor at Morrow/Avon, where she will acquire commercial fiction and nonfiction for HarperEntertainment as well as the entire Morrow/Avon division. She was most recently at Hyperion. . . Joel Conarroe has been named the PEN Center’s new President. Conarroe, who will step down in December from the presidency of the Guggenheim Foundation after eighteen years in the post, was formerly Chairman of the National Book Foundation and served several terms on the PEN Board.

Greg Anastas has been named the new Director of National Field & Online Sales at Simon & Schuster. (We reported last month that he had left the company — our apologies.)

DULY NOTED


Despite well-documented troubles in book publishing, there has been a lot of M & A activity recently, with deals for Klutz Press, Berlitz, Running Press, PGW and Bonus Books announced in the last month. According to one knowledgeable source, all of them were sold for sums that were “satisfactory or better than satisfactory” for the sellers. For those who are still looking to scoop up a publisher, Prentice Hall Direct is still on the block. Merriam-Webster and North-South have been taken off the market, though. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Random House has signed an agreement to purchase The Harvill Press. Founded in 1946 and acquired in the ’80s by Christopher Maclehose, it will remain an independent imprint. Harvill’s paperback list will be published by Vintage.

In the industry professionals-turned-writers column we can now add Toinette Lippe, editor of Bell Tower books, whose Nothing Left Over has just been issued by Tarcher. She may be seen and heard on April 23 at the 82nd and Broadway Barnes & Noble at 7:30 pm. Then to California for the rest of her tour. Agent Emma Sweeney’s As Always, Jack from Little, Brown will be launched with an appearance on the CBS Early Show on April 10 and followed by numerous autograph sessions in New York and environs as well as Texas, Maryland, DC, and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, BOMC’s Victoria Skurnick and co-writer Cynthia Katz team up for the seventh Cynthia Victor book, The Three of Us. At times funny and other times thoughtful and poignant,” PW says, “this inspirational story is the perfect elixir for any middle-aged woman who has ever battled with weight gain, a particularly difficult relationship or suffered an identity crisis.”

• Amazon had 30.1 million unique visitors in January, compared with Yahoo! Shopping (25.8 million), and Barnes & Noble, the #3 site, at 8.2 million, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. BN.com is the heaviest advertiser in the books, movies, and music category, followed by Columbia House and Amazon. Together they represent 71% of all advertising in this category. Online book shopping expenditures in 2002 are estimated at $2.6 billion. There will be 82 million people shopping online this year, which represents 52% of the online population, and an average dollar expenditure per online buyer of $481.

The Daily News reports that the New York Times has online revenues of $700,000 from its 35,000 subscribers to Premium Crosswords, and that fees for archive material now amount to a seven-figure business. Topic-specific content is also being assembled and sold, including Thomas Friedman’s columns.

• PubEasy introduced Central Services at the London Book Fair, and US rep John Phillips tells PT it will launch first in the UK. The service allows booksellers around the world to check any participating publisher’s stock, the status of an order, or to place an order, by going to the site and entering the title’s ISBN. There are currently 9,000 booksellers in 112 countries using PubEasy, with 40% of those in the US, and 35% in the UK.

APRIL DATES


The National Book Foundation sponsors an evening of poetry for National Poetry Month on April 9 at 6:30 pm at the Blue Heron Arts Center. Tickets will be sold at the door. Go to www.nationalbook.org. (Separately, NBF said it had received a $100,000 gift from Microsoft to support the organization’s “continued recognition of books in electronic formats.”)

The Koret Foundation’s Jewish Book Awards are presented 5:30-7:30 pm on April 15 at the Harvard Club. Call (212) 629-0500 for information.

• Small Press Center and PW host a “Publishing Predictions” Roundtable at the Algonquin at 6:00 – 8:00 pm on April 17. Panelists include Bob Miller, Dominique Raccah, Peter Mayer, and PT’s own Lorraine Shanley. For information  call (212) 764-7021.

• University of Virginia & Library of Congress host “Publishing in the 21st Century: Blue Sky to Black Ink,” a seminar on the “alliance of electronic and print publishing.” Larry Kirshbaum is the keynote speaker, with “Blue Sky to Red Ink: Painful Lessons Learned on the Digital Publishing Highway.” It’s on April 18 – 20 in Washington, DC. Contact Beverly Jane Loo at (434) 982-5345.

The LA Times Festival of Books will be held April 27-28 on the UCLA campus. The LA Times Book Awards will be held on April 27 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Go to: www.latimes.com/festivalofbooks.

PARTIES


Big parties in March, warming publishers up for the BEA onslaught (see PT, p. 3). First there was the elegant Poets & Writers gala at the Tribeca Rooftop, then there was the National Book Critics Circle awards and reception at NYU, and then, on to London. HarperCollins and Fourth Estate threw a cocktail party at Home House on Portman Square, where a multinational crowd drank champagne. The same night Duncan Baird celebrated his 10th anniversary as an independent publisher at the Groucho Club in Soho.

Back in the US, Roundtable’s Marsha Melnick and Julie Merberg hosted a farewell retirement party for Susan Meyer, who is launching a new career: studying NYC history at NYU and planning to write full time. Attending were VNU North American Chairman Jerry Hobbs and Georgina Challis, Corporate Communications and HR, Penguin Putnam’s Rick Kot, HarperCollins’ Susan Friedland, Disney’s Wendy Lefkon, and packager Paul Fargis, among others.

Publishing Trends celebrated its 8th anniversary and the 12th anniversary of its owner, Market Partners International, on March 25 at the Mercantile Library.

MAZEL TOV


To Barbara Marcus, who was honored by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund at a luncheon on March 21 at the Waldorf. She was one of five women to receive the 2002 Aiming High Award.

To the Library of America, which turns 20 in April (the year of its first publication — it was founded in 1979 by Jason Epstein, who was just presented with the NBCC Lifetime Achievement Award). And to another spring baby, HarperSan Francisco, which turned 25 in March.

To Reader’s Digest’s Alfredo Santana, and Lisa Tatsuuma, proud parents of Camilla Sayuri Santana, born Feb 4.

IN MEMORIAM


Gwenda David, legendary UK scout for Viking and Book-of-the-Month Club for more than five decades, has died in London. She will be remembered for bringing Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark to US readers.

Browsing BEA: “It Won’t Be Dull”

As the great mother ship BookExpo America prepares to set down in New York City on May 1, and the wall-to-wall lineup of bashes, fests, and sundry galas has us all excruciatingly triple-booked, Publishing Trends checked in with a number of show veterans to see whether this year’s industry summit will be a whirlwind of activity, or merely a light buffeting from all those air kisses. In other words: Will anybody be doing any business?

Darn tootin’, if you ask Steven Rosato, Group Sales Director and Director of Strategic Accounts for BEA. He’s been talking up the fact that show officials have been wrangling non-traditional booksellers with the Gold Buyers Program, which has offered some small incentives to lure retail giants such as Costco, the Burlington Coat Factory, Marriott, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and others to the show. We’re also told that Borders is set to conduct one of its major annual pow-wows at BEA, and is dispatching the chain’s entire buying group (upwards of 200 people). Amazon is doing likewise, and Books-a-Million has been seduced with the promise of a dedicated meeting room, the result being a significant number of BAM attendees as well. Adding to the anticipated hordes, Ingram has cut a deal with its customer base, offering affiliated retailers a $10 discount on their badge (which goes for $110 until April 4, but is $150 on site).

On the exhibitor side, hopes are high over the cheap “day” pass BEA has offered for $20, which is geared to give NYC-area publishers a cheap way to empty out the office and send more staff than typically attend. S&S is taking full advantage of that option, says Marketing Director Michael Selleck, so expect lots of curious bodies on the floor. Mobilization also continues apace on the library front, with Pennsylvania Library Association past president (and rabid BEA fan) Jack Burke chartering two buses for his colleagues to attend the show, for a $15 fare. We’re told 90 people are confirmed — and buses are full.

Despite the deals, however, Reed still seems concerned about bookseller turnout, particularly among Californians. There’s worry that if the show continues to alternate coasts, as in the past, attendees may simply take a rain check until it boomerangs back closer to home. Independent reps also report a mixed bookseller response, with many wary of the show “politics” and smarting from the past indifference of booth personnel to the lowly “blue badges.” And there’s the rising “body count,” or the toll last fall has extracted from publishers, sales management, and sales teams. “We have had eight sales managers fired, ‘disappeared’ or ‘defenestrated’ since the New Year,” one rep tells us, “and we have every reason to believe that this trend will continue as blame for flat or depressed sales continues to be parceled out.”

Depopulation may also be hitting the rights-trading floor, but for a different reason. “Most publishers want to have appointments in their offices,” says scout Christina McInerney. “In fact, some have even said they would prefer to meet the foreign publishers in their offices over the weekend rather than go to the Javits Center. I guess this attitude is determined by what sort of space has been allocated for rights sales. It doesn’t seem like many have made it an attractive proposition.” For those keeping score, among McInerney’s clients who will be trekking to BookExpo are Ediciones B/Vergara, Verlagsgruppe Luebbe, Campus, Het Spectrum, Sony Books, and Livres de Poche. The only clients not attending are from the Greek house Livanis.

Furthermore, according to one senior rights director, several scouts report that even though they attended the event previously, they wouldn’t be coming to BEA this year because it followed too closely on the heels of the London Book Fair. (They opted for London instead.) On the other hand, some editors said they were pointedly attending this year’s BEA because they were on their way to NYC (some were even here) in September, but never got to their meetings, so they’ll make up for it in May. Meanwhile, out-of-town reps were relieved that it saves them an air ticket to BEA, as they’ll come to New York anyway for sales conferences.

BEA: The Full Meal Deal

Despite the jitters, some are predicting a full house. “I have quite a few clients attending,” says scout Mary Anne Thompson, “and I think people are making a real effort to visit New York City.” Some of Thompson’s clients who were already in town in the winter months are returning for BEA, and some of those attending BEA will also be back in September. Clients attending so far include: Rocco, Belfond, Piemme, Scherz, Droemer, Richters, Macmillan, Bruna, Vassallucci, Kadokawa, and Grijalbo-Mondadori. All told, it’s a “pretty good” head count of 22 people. As for logistics, Thompson says, meetings for clients pre- and post-BEA are slated for editors’ and agents’ offices, with a typical day’s schedule containing 6-10 meetings. During BEA, where most of the rights action will take place, at least 10 meetings per day are expected. She’s optimistic that heads of houses and senior reps will make an effort to attend the show, at least on Friday, and expects a larger international crowd than in past years, when the industry had tired of BEA, citing flagging energy levels and lackluster attendance.

For her part, Sarah Goodwin of Sanford J. Greenburger expects an action-packed show replete with “a lot of after-hours revelry and plenty of grist for the gossip-mills.” As Goodwin says, “A lot of our clients are coming a little bit before or after BEA as well, so they know they’re going to get to meet with absolutely everyone they want to. Usually, they would have to schedule a trip to New York sometime during the year, separate from the book fairs, but this year, it’s an all-in-one deal.” She notes that all of the agency’s big clients are attending, despite the proximity of both the Toronto Book Fair and LBF. Echoing other post-9/11 remarks, she adds, “If anything, people are even more eager to show New Yorkers their support.”

The safest attitude? Go for minimal sales and maximal parties. “We are guardedly optimistic,” says Christopher Kerr of Parson Weems. “Fewer client publishers will be exhibiting, largely because of poor bookseller attendance in earlier shows, as well as concern about NYC exhibit costs and union shakedowns.” Other booksellers, he says, are already salivating over visions that the parties will be on par with the last, decadent New York BEA. (PT’s informal survey turned up numerous bashes, most hosted by publishers.) But sales may be scarcer than a taxi on 11th Avenue. “We write very little business either at the show or around the show,” he says. “However, we encourage our publishers to promote ‘Show Specials’ and we see some backlist business as a result. Also, we hear, by the grapevine, that many other publishers are privately offering themselves or portions of their lists for sale. Whatever it is, BEA will not be dull.”

Book View, March 2002

PEOPLE


More Random House movement: Craig Virden, who has been President of RH Children’s and before that, BDD Books for Young Readers, is leaving. Crown’s Chip Gibson will take over, with Rich Romano as his EVP. Meanwhile Jenny Frost, now heading up Random Audio (which she will continue to run), will take over Crown Publishing Group, which now includes Random Information Group’s imprints. Bonnie Ammer will report to Frost, along with Pete Muller, SVP Publishing Operations, Robert Allen, President of Random House Audio, and Lynn Bond, President of Random Value. It is unclear at this point what role Joerg Pfuhl (who had overseen Children’s and Random Information) will play in the reorganization, though he will be involved in audio and international.

Neal Goff has been named President of Scholastic’s Grolier Reference Division, reporting to Dick Robinson. He was most recently Senior VP of Marketing at BMG Music Clubs.

PJ Mark, formerly at Inside.com, and before that, a book scout for Mary Anne Thompson, is moving to IMG as agent. He will be working for Mark Reiter.

Among the 30 or so let go at S&S were Charles Roberts, Regional Manager for Texas and the South West for 42 years, and Karen Weitzman, Foreign Rights Director and 22-year veteran. Meanwhile, Greg Anastas, Director of the online sales group, is now Field Sales Director for Field Key Accounts reporting to Roger Williams (we had earlier reported he had left the company — our apologies). Pocket Book Senior Editor Tracy Sherrod is leaving to set up her own literary agency with partner Beverly Williams. Tony Clark, who had worked at Holt, is also joining the firm which, according to PW Daily, will offer authors a variety of services.

Also, Mike Campbell, most recently of Martingale & Co., is joining Carlton Books as VP Director of Sales in New York
. . . . Alissa Neil has joined PR agency Ellen Ryder Communications, as VP. . . . In the wake of Michael Denneny leaving St. Martin’s, Diane Reverand is rumored to be in active negotiations with St. Martin’s, possibly for an imprint.

AAP HIGHLIGHTS


AAP’s annual meeting took place in Washington, DC, February 27-28, and copyright — Pat Schroeder’s central focus — played a major role in the discussions. In fact, the king of copyright manipulation, Michael Eisner (Disney’s efforts to extend the term of copyright are being challenged in court), was a key speaker. He was in DC to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee in the interests of the content providers who are battling piracy. Meanwhile, Schroeder pronounced the “publishers’ axis of evil” as “postal rates, piracy, and illiteracy.”

At the board meeting on Thursday Hyperion’s Bob Miller officially stepped down from his two-year term as Chair of AAP, and was succeeded by Robert E. Evanson, President of McGraw-Hill Education. And Random CEO Peter Olson asked fellow publishers if they would contribute to the Rosetta Books suit. The response was, we hear, positive.

DULY NOTED


Pat Conroy’s new ms is in: My Losing Season, which takes the reader back to the Citadel, where his earlier novels were set. Publication is scheduled for October ’02 by Nan Talese/Doubleday and his new agent, as mentioned in PT (February) is Marly Rusoff.

As mentioned elsewhere, Riverhead Books has acquired world rights to publish a book derived from the personal journals of Kurt Cobain, the late lead singer for Nirvana. PT has learned that the amount paid for the journals is reputed to be close to $4 million, with Penguin UK putting in a hefty chunk of the change.

With Tim and Nina Zagat announcing the expansion of their guides, Fortune’s Tim Carvell speculates on possible future titles: Zagat’s Guide to Accounting Firms, Guide to Economic Forums, and Guide to Petty Grievances in Tim and Nina Zagat’s Marriage. Meanwhile CEO Amy McIntosh has left the firm.

A contract has been drawn up for the purchase of Klutz Press, which was sold just over a year ago to the Canadian company Nelvana, which was itself recently purchased by a larger Canadian company. At press time the identity of the new buyer was not known.

Those concerned about Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped on February 23 by revolutionary guerrillas, are urged to email a note of support to [email protected]. Emails will be forwarded to the Colombian government as a show of American solidarity. The family is also setting up the site ingridbetancourt.org. According to Justin Loeber, Director of Publicity at HarperCollins (and actively involved in galvanizing support for her), the NYTBR will run a review of Betancourt’s memoir, Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia (Ecco), on March 17.

MARCH DATES


Winners of the 2001 Barnes & Noble Writers For Writers Award, E. Lynn Harris, June Jordan, and Wally Lamb, will be presented the awards at Poets & Writers annual gala benefit on March 5 at the Tribeca Rooftop, 2 Desbrosses Street, New York City.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, March 20-24 (www.tennesseewilliams.net), is in its 16th year.

The Virginia Festival of the Book will take place March 20-24 in Charlottesville, VA. Marie Arana, Washington Post Book World’s editor, is the luncheon speaker. See www.vabook.org.

• National Book Critics Circle Awards take place on March 11, at the Tishman Auditorium, NYU, New York. Contact Linda Wolfe, [email protected].

• London Book Fair is March 17-19 at Olympia Exhibition Centre, London, UK. Contact Joanne Veale, 020 8910 7815; [email protected].

14th Small Press Book Fair is March 23-24, NYC; call (212) 764-7021 or visit www.smallpress.org.

The New York Public Library’s 2nd annual Young Lions Fiction Award will be presented March 20 at the Celeste Bartos Forum. The finalists for the award, which comes with a $10,000 prize, are David Czuchlewski, Allegra Goodman, Peter Orner, Brady Udal, and Colson Whitehead.

PARTIES


Going to school with the right people can pay off as Arthur Klebanoff demonstrated at the Texere party held at the Bloomberg headquarters to celebrate his book The Agent: Personalities, Politics and Publishing. Hizzoner spoke of his school chum, followed by Chuck Schumer. And to reinforce them were Ed Koch, Cindy Adams, and Bill Bradley. A few publishing folks were also sighted.

• Terrence Cheng, director of electronic marketing for Random House, celebrated his first novel, Sons of Heaven, set during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The book is coming from Morrow in May to coincide with the Chinese New Year. The event was splendidly catered and featured some of the best Chinese dim sum this correspondent has encountered.

• Otto Penzler’s reception for Michele Slung at his Mysterious Bookshop to celebrate the publication of her latest anthology, Stranger (HarperPerennial), featured publishers-turned-writers Joe Kanon and Amanda Vail, Voice fashion columnist Lynn Yaeger, NY Post drama critic Donald Lyons, as well as fans that included agents Nat Sobel, Vicki Bijur, and veteran editor (responsible for the current hit, The Red Tent) Bob Wyatt.

• Barney Rosset displayed another side of his mercurial and talented self at the opening of his collection of war photographs taken in China (where he was in the US Army Signal Corps Photographic Services) at the Janos Gat Gallery, where there was much whispering about his autobiography just sold to Gerry Howard at Broadway.

And the tireless Michael Pollan showed just what it takes (again and again) to sell books (The Botany of Desire is now up to 110,000 copies since last May) at The Stegner Circle (“Readings by Writers of the Land”) benefit lecture on behalf of the Trust for Public Land held at the New York School of Interior Design.

MAZEL TOV


Happy Birthday to AMS, 20 years old and now the proud owner of PGW; to Trafalgar Square, 30, and with a total of 50 clients, eight of them new. Also, best wishes to Aperture, which celebrates its 50th anniversary by a group that included Minor White, Ansel Adams, and Dorothea Lange. And to the Today Show’s literary editor Andrea Smith, recently honored by the AAP. And it’s the show’s 50th anniversary too this year.

The New Old-Fashioned Way

Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Company took a retro tack at the Seybold Seminars last month  as he rolled out “a brand new opportunity to get more sales and lower the returns of physical books.” We offer a brief excerpt of his remarks.

Here’s the fact most publishers and chain booksellers seem to ignore: the only effective way to control book inventory is title-by-title, store-by-store. All of the various shortcuts, like saying “this title is ‘like’ that one” or “we’ll buy six for the A stores,” which have become increasingly common over the past 20 years as computers and central offices served by national account managers replaced reps visiting retail locations, have served to block sales and increase returns.

This is not to fault the skill level, dedication, or work ethic of the people doing either the buying or the selling. This is the inevitable result of more and more aggregated decisions. But when a company like Borders or Barnes & Noble is managing in excess of 100 million retail stock levels with all decisions being made by humans, it is hard to see how else to do it except by aggregating and averaging.

Now, in the old days, the successful publishers that grew over time (the two best examples were Doubleday and Random House) did so by building large sales forces that took inventory in store after store so that informed backlist buying recommendations were based on the real sales and inventory information in that store. Today, publishers have the opportunity to go back to that work ethic, without getting on their knees to count books on the bottom shelf. Point-of-sale data exists for almost every retail outlet in the country that matters. A substantial business called Bookscan has been built assembling and selling that data. New businesses are being organized to help the titans in the marketplace analyze that data. But not a single publisher that I know of is routinely assembling and manipulating that data at the granular level — the store level — to manage inventory title-by-title, location-by-location.

It is not easy to do that. There are both political barriers and systems barriers to getting that data, even through Bookscan. Indeed, Bookscan and its sister company in Britain, BookTrack, have focused on selling aggregated data and seem unaware of the critical value of granularity. But as the trade book business seems daily to become ever more unprofitable for publishers, it is now possible to use data to solve inventory problems, title-by-title and store-by-store, if there is the will to learn the way.

The Seybold Scuffle

As panelists brandished tablet-sized, next-generation Nokias (“wireless ebooks will be a reality in 2002,” one e-prophet intoned) and others dusted off vintage ’90s web nostrums (“go where the traffic is”), there was also some refreshing digital realism on hand for the Seybold Seminars at the Javits Center on February 21. While much time was spent pondering the “intellectual property supply chain,” and scheming to use digital workflows to boost productivity (or, as it was baldly put, “We’ve got to start thinking of ways to turn those brains into money”) some publishers have thrown caution to the bitstream — and wound up with impressive results.

Barbara Kline Pope, Director of the National Academy Press, brazenly offers free online browsing of the complete texts of 2,500 titles (though there’s a charge for printing a copy). The press is now taking a whopping 40% of its orders over the web, the bulk being scholarly titles; the Joseph Henry Press trade imprint is still mainly sold via brick-and-mortar stores. In an attempt to answer the e-riddle of the millennium (i.e. “Will they pay?”) the press has mounted an elaborate online survey project in association with the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. The findings? “Unbundling” books and offering each chapter as a separate download got the big thumbs up. “If we unbundled our content we could have a major market expansion,” Pope said, adding that consumers were willing to pay for such content at a 110% premium of the printed book price. Now, armed with a Mellon research grant, the press is looking extensively into free online browsing and other print-vs.-PDF conundrums. Check it out at nap.edu.

Meanwhile, free content was the mantra of the day for Jennifer Gold, Director of New Media for Rough Guides. “We figured out how to actually make money from our site,” she reported, “without alienating users.” That holy grail was conquered after a site relaunch late last year (see roughguides.com) which posted the full content of over 50 titles online, plus a whole host of reader-contributed features such as personal travel journals and photos. Throw in partnerships with travel goods purveyors — call ’em “contextual commerce opportunities” — and you’ve got profits. “We note sales of our print books have gone up,” Gold added. “They haven’t been cannibalized by our free content.”

There ensued a vigorous scuffle among ebook vendors, with Franklin President Barry Lipsky boasting that he’s shipped 27 million devices to date, and adding, “We’re one of the few companies that pays publishers in excess of $500,000 a year in royalties.” For her part, Microsoft’s Julie Blackwell Stamstad plugged Microsoft Reader 2.0, noting that the program fixes a litany of bugs and has an installed base of 6 million. Then Mike Segroves, Director of Business Development for Palm Digital Media Group, deemed Palm “the leading ebook platform” with 21 million Palms in use today. The company currently offers 4,000 titles, and sells to about 100,000 customers, who download 10,000 volumes per week. And they keep coming back: 49% of first-time Palm ebook buyers become repeat customers within 30 days. Meanwhile, they are getting into the e-galley business, thanks to a chance meeting at the seminar, where conversion service provider Publishing Dimensions introduced the new site DigitalGalley.com. Segroves was so taken by the idea of supplying advance reader’s copies that he offered Publishing Dimensions the necessary DRM to ensure encryption. Contact Ken Brooks ([email protected]), or Kathleen Doody ([email protected]) for more information.

And for a final take-home message? When you’ve got to compete in a virtual world, it pays to keep your overhead low. “The goal for me and for any proper publisher is to be as close to virtual as you can be,” said e-reads’ honcho Richard Curtis, noting that his e-publishing firm outsources everything conceivable, including scanning, conversion, proofreading, and e-tailing. “The average trade publisher’s profit margin is 2% or 3%. Our profit margin is 40%,” he continued. “I would tell publishers to strip down to their underwear.”

The Proprietary Pinch

Just How Big Is The ‘Off-The-Books’ Book Business?

Sashay into any Barnes & Noble superstore, and there they are. Past the Barnes & Noble Café–branded 3-piece tea sets (“Great Curves. Excellent Style.”), past the Barnes & Noble–branded laser stationery, the velvet CD wallets, and the handy personal cash boxes, are, of course, the Barnes & Noble–branded books: whole shelf-fuls of Italian cookbooks, racks of Bread Machine Baking and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Shiatsu, not to mention barrels stuffed with cut-rate B&N Modern Classics (“Buy 2, Get One Free!”). The retailer sells as much as $140 million of these profitable titles every year, accounting for perhaps 4% of its book business. And as any book packager will tell you — preferably off the record — that’s just the tip of an industry-wide iceberg.

When Alan Kahn was installed at the helm of B&N’s publishing group last month, a brash new chapter flopped open in the annals of proprietary publishing — that is, as we’ve defined it here, books produced chiefly for wholesalers or retailers that bypass conventional publishing houses. Call it the off-the-books book biz. “We’re going to grow this business to as much as 10% of our revenue within five or six years,” Kahn told the Wall Street Journal last month. “We’ve always sold books from all publishers, and this doesn’t preclude us from that. But there is a lot of opportunity here.” Indeed, Len Riggio’s made no secret about his contempt for publishers’ high list prices, nor is anyone unaware of his crusade to beef up profit margins by publishing books under the B&N brand. “While the prices of these [proprietary] books represent significant value to the customers,” the company boasts to its shareholders, “they also generate substantially higher gross profit margins than those realized on sales of non-proprietary books.”

Riggio’s damn-the-torpedoes routine has a familiar ring to it. Eight years ago John Kelly, who was at the time Publisher of B&N Books, told the press he was ramping the proprietary program up to 10% of corporate sales “within four or five years.” At that point proprietary sales were at $40 million and growing with the addition of 200 new titles per year. Since many of these books are bargain-priced volumes with relatively low margins anyway, publishers have tended to shrug off such rhetoric. But with increasingly visible titles coming down the pike — such as Kim Cattrall’s Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm, packaged by B&N’s Friedman/Fairfax for Warner, which sold 10,000 copies at B&N last week — and a number of other wholesalers and retailers aggressively eyeing the proprietary marketplace, it seems publishers are feeling the pinch from their business partners-turned-rivals. As one promotional publisher marvels, “Our largest customer is now our biggest competitor.”

Boosting the Bottom Line

Mum’s the word from book packagers when they’re put on the spot about proprietary dealings with booksellers, making the total size of this market difficult to estimate. Of the dozen packagers queried for this article, few were willing to go on record about the size or nature of their proprietary sales. But some of the largest retail and wholesale players — B&N and Advanced Marketing Services, for example — have been far from coy about the bottom-line boost that these sales are giving to their financial statements. B&N buys upwards of 400 packaged books each year and is now publishing 3,000 titles, spanning an array of proprietary strategies: licensing titles directly from domestic and international publishers as well as from literary agents; commissioning books directly from authors; reprinting classic titles in the public domain; and creating compilations using in-house editors. These projects are in part handled by the B&N-owned Michael Friedman Publishing Group, which publishes under the Friedman/Fairfax and Metrobooks lines (distributed by Sterling to other retailers). And let’s not forget other proprietary forays, such as SparkNotes, an online competitor to CliffsNotes that B&N acquired for $3.6 million last March. The first 50 SparkNotes titles have just been rolled out in print format, available — where else? — at your local B&N.

Meanwhile, wholesaler AMS, which was deemed “one of the most influential companies in the book industry” upon its purchase of Publishers Group West in January for $38 million, sold about $50 million worth of proprietary titles in fiscal 2001 — or 7% of AMS’s overall business — according to the company’s annual report. The Advantage Publishing Group, the publishing arm of AMS, services this market via four imprints: Laurel Glen (adult trade); Silver Dolphin (juvenile); Thunder Bay Press (gift and promotional); and Portable Press (“info-tainment” books) — the latter home to the bestselling Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series, which AMS bought in 2000 for $2.5 million and is now rolling out in the Australian and UK markets. Company officials say they are “aggressively growing our higher-margin businesses — which include both publishing and an exciting new distribution division.” (Not to mention possibilities for bolstered trade distribution for their original titles via PGW. Currently, though, sales to Costco and Sam’s Club account for 75% of AMS’s revenue.) Most of these titles are created in conjunction with publishers, refining or reformatting material that has already been created. Mexico and the United Kingdom are also brought into the loop on certain titles, and these nations also develop their own products. In Canada, AMS has a 25% stake in distributor Raincoast, which happens to be the sole publisher of Harry Potter in Canada and originates its own proprietary books. In early 2000, Raincoast bumped up its publishing activity through the purchase of Polestar Press. (And speaking of Canada, two years ago the Chapters retail chain extended its proprietary business with Prospero Books, a bargain-book imprint that had hundreds of titles in print and hundreds more on the way, making the retailer “one of the more prolific publishers in Canada.”)

Of course, no proprietary publisher wants to be painted as an opportunist. As AMS gingerly explained to shareholders, for example, “it is a fact of the industry that occasions arise when a certain type of book is not available at a certain time of the year for one or more of our customers. The AMS answer in this situation is to create the book.” Nonetheless, company filings assert, these titles “have been so compelling that much of what is sold by AMS today is to retailers who do not necessarily use any of AMS’s other wholesaling, distribution, or direct-to-consumer services. A large measure of the growth of publishing in the United States has come from increased sales to this market segment.” To be fair, we’re told the AMS program involves a good deal of repackaging and bargain-pricing of publishers’ slow-moving or out-of-print backlist titles — which may not be worthwhile for publishers to reissue as a trade reprint — a service AMS argues is valuable for their publisher clients. On the other hand, AMS’s own imprints are obviously a highly lucrative segment. The company’s gross profit last year was up 26%.

Then there’s Borders, another question mark when it comes to the proprietary game. “Borders Group does very little proprietary publishing,” says spokesperson Anne Roman. “The little we do is focused on filling niches such as hardcover classics at value prices. Currently, our strategy is to focus on improving the customer experience in our superstores through initiatives such as category management.” A packager with knowledge of the proprietary industry, however, suggests that Borders easily does $50 million in packaged editions. Though these titles may include reprints licensed from publishers rather than exclusively packaged content, the latter segment is said to make up by far the larger share of the company’s proprietary business.

‘Quite a Big Business’

Indeed, there are many fine lines to be negotiated when charting this quietly booming part of the book business, where packaging, co-editions, promotional, and reprint publishing all combine to create a roster of possible deal structures. “It’s quite a big business,” says an observer. “People like Hugh Levin will co-publish a title with AMS, then AMS will have it and the packager will get the rights back a year later. That’s been very successful.” Others add that much of the modern proprietary business was born when retailers began reprinting promotional editions that they licensed from publishers, taking the publisher’s film and dumping reprints on the racks for half the list price. “It’s virtually impossible to separate promotional or reprint figures from the true original publishing,” says Mel Shapiro of Book Sales, the remainder and promotional house owned by Laurence Orbach at Quarto. B&N’s $100 million-plus figure likely includes reprints licensed from publishers, he reckons. Incidentally, the influx of titles from British packagers such as Quarto’s International Co-Edition Publishing division is said to account for a sizable chunk of the proprietary pipeline. And all of this isn’t even taking into account other proprietary juggernauts such as the Reader’s Digest unit Books Are Fun, which purchases in quantities as high as 300,000 per title and sells directly to consumers at display marketing events. While many titles are “off-the-shelf” products available elsewhere, BAF president Joel Feigenbaum has told publishers he’s also looking for proprietary books “created by BAF in conjunction with the publisher or packager.” The pinch, it’s clear, is only going to keep smarting.

Of Cows and Copyright

“Is copyright a cow in the swamps?” Such was the boffo opening gambit from a Ugandan publisher as the 5th International Publishers Association Copyright Conference kicked off in Accra, Ghana, on February 20. A Ugandan tale, it turns out, tells of two families who hope to enter the dairy industry but squabble over the business plan; meanwhile, the cow ambles off into the swamps of Uganda and is never seen again, prompting some to wonder whether the beast ever existed.

Indeed, for the remainder of this three-day conference, about 150 publishers from around the world and 100 African publishing and copyright officials waded into the swamps with the quixotic object of leading this wayward bovine back to the farm. Their task was not an easy one. Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights at the US Copyright Office, observed that though American courts have consistently upheld copyright principles as they apply to the Internet, the public is obviously in no rush to forego its guilty, Napster-like pleasures. Battling rampant copyright disregard isn’t cheap, either, according to Ian Taylor of the UK Publishers Association, who lamented the exorbitant cost of bringing legal proceedings against pirates and called for stronger funding to combat piracy. And Brian Wafawarowa of South Africa pointed out that publishing in developing countries is often hampered by flimsy or unenforced copyright laws, which are justified by the “educational needs” of those countries. Wafawarowa warned that the failure to recognize publishing as a bona fide commercial sector in these nations may ultimately wreak havoc on their economic and cultural foundations.

Seeking solutions to these quandaries were speakers such as Anton Hilscher, Vice President of the Federation of European Publishers, who outlined steps for beefing up digital rights management, while Eric Swanson, head of STM at Wiley, propounded the benefits of CrossRef, a system permitting the linking of articles from participating publishers. Swanson suggested that the Internet’s potential can be exploited through cooperation on technical and legal standards on a worldwide basis — rather than cow-style squabbling. (On that front, let us note that the WIPO agreements go into effect on March 6.) Maurice Long, consultant to the British Medical Publishers Group, presented the Health Internet Project, a public-private initiative between six major STM publishers and the World Health Organization. This project makes biomedical journals available to health professionals in developing countries for a nominal fee or for free. And on another note of hope, the Ghana Ministry of Education announced it would secure $70 million for textbook production and procurement, which will help local publishers boost business and attain international standards for book quality — another step toward cutting down the market for pirated editions and bolstering the stature of publishing in Africa.

In a final twist on our Ugandan cow story, the conference also included a most interesting session on the possibility of protecting expressions of folklore. Victor Nwankwo, a prominent publisher from Nigeria and a tribal chief, explained that folklore, being mostly oral and communal, poses unique challenges to legal protection. However, with globalization running rampant, many are concerned about protecting traditional knowledge from commercial exploitation. Betty Mould-Idrissu, Chief State Attorney from Ghana, pertinently asked why western interests are covered at the drop of a hat — such as protection of semiconductor chips — while protracted discussions simply seem to push folklore protection further into the muck. Publishers are advised to stay tuned to this contentious debate.

We thank IPA Legal Counsel Carlo Scollo Lavizzari for his contribution to this report.

International Fiction Bestsellers

The Waiting Game
Lovelorn Levy in France, Qashu’s Israeli Arabs, And Poland’s Own Bridget Jones

French architect-cum-literary-phenom Marc Levy hits the charts in both France and Italy with his second novel, Will You Be There?, a “treat of simplicity and emotion” that delves into the rendez-vous manqués between lovelorn Americans Philip and Susan, after the latter packs her bags for a humanitarian-aid sojourn in Honduras while Philip toils in New York. Their flame begins to gutter as the sweethearts swap epistles (plus a few furtive assignations in Newark airport), and rush headlong into battle against “the many enemies who push us each day a little more towards loneliness.” The author’s blockbuster first novel, If Only It Were True, was sold in 31 territories, including Germany (Aufbau), the UK (Fourth Estate), and the US (Pocket). That title, about a San Francisco medical student who ends up in a coma and wrangles a date with her boy-toy via astral projections, is up to 900,000 copies in the US, while Dreamworks is at work on the film, having done some astral projection itself in a $2 million deal said to be the highest price ever paid for film rights to a French book. More than 200,000 copies of the new one have been sold in France, with rights sold in Germany (Droemer had the winning bid) and on submission in the UK (as Levy’s editor at Fourth Estate, Arabella Stein, is no longer there). US rights to the new one are open; see agent Susanna Lea.

Plying a similar theme in France is a first novel from Anna Gavalda, I Loved Her, chronicling the affair between a young rejected mother and her retired executive father-in-law. As the French Vogue put it, “These losers in love sound just right.” The book sold 85,000 copies in the first two weeks alone, and rights have been sold in Germany (Hanser), Spain (Seix Barral), and Greece (Astarti), among other nations. Gavalda’s earlier collection of stories, by the way, was called I’d Like Someone to Wait for Me Somewhere and has now sold 510,000 copies in French, with rights sold in 19 languages — though neither title has been sold in the US or the UK. See Lucinda Karter at the French Publishers Agency for US rights, or Claude Tarrène at Dilettante for the UK.

Finally in France, Someone Else by the sharp-witted Tonino Benacquista follows the repartee of two guys who get drunk together in a bar and promise to hook up again in three years to find out if their booze-fueled dreams have come to pass. Out of the fog of the next morning’s headache, each of them embarks on a separate yet parallel journey to become someone else. Benacquista — a novelist who presumably has an advanced degree in tending bar — made a splash with his earlier work Saga, which takes sarcastic aim at the dissolute lives of four TV screenwriters and was published in a number of nations including Germany, Italy, and China. No rights to the new one have as yet been sold. Talk to Anne-Solange Noble at Gallimard.

Of potentially combustible interest in Israel, Sayed Qashu’s first novel Dancing Arabs has hit the list with its “biting and illuminating satire” about the travails of Arab intellectuals living in Israel. This quasi-autobiographical novel — “written by someone who has nothing to lose” — busts open the conceit of “national identity” as it follows an Arab who attends a high school for gifted students in Jerusalem, and “scrolls through the Israeli Arabs’ desire to belong” with scabrous honesty. The 27-year-old author is an Israeli-Arab journalist who writes for a Tel Aviv weekly, and rights have been sold in Holland (Vassallucci), with submissions under way in France, Italy, Germany, and the US. See the Harris/Elon agency for rights. Also in Israel, the New York–born author Michal Shalev’s A Hundred Winters has been gripping readers with its family saga tracing six generations across the tide of 19th- and 20th-century history. The “spellbinding” tableau kicks off with 16-year-old Fanny, a young Jewish woman from a small village near Warsaw, who bucks tradition and bolts for the Polish hinterlands. The author’s second work, Rachel’s Vow, sold 90,000 copies, and the new one has sold more than 70,000 (though it has slipped off the list this month). The author controls foreign rights, and is seeking representation in the US and UK. Email [email protected].

In Poland, Katarzyna Grochola’s emphatic second novel Never Again! comes off a streak as “the biggest Polish bestseller of 2001” and follows a 37-year-old heroine who embarks on a new life after being ditched by her hubby. Things turn rosy as she raises a kid and scores a winning career as a journalist — call it Poland’s Bridget Jones. The book, which is the first in a series called Frogs and Angels, has sold 70,000 copies in Poland, with rights sold to Russia (ATS) and Germany (Heyne). A second title in the series is due out imminently. Contact Beata Stasinska at Wydawnictwo.

An update reaches us from Norway, which is abuzz over Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel The Half Brother (see PT 10/01), which was just awarded the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize (they like to call it the “Nordic Nobel Prize”). With all the brouhaha, sales are up to 60,000 copies in hardcover (plus 93,000 in a book club edition). This “formidable, luxuriant work” about two brothers in ’60s Oslo was published in October, with rights now sold to nine countries, including Germany (Bertelsmann) and the UK (Arcadia). Contact Eirin Hagen at Cappelen.

In Greece, Zyranna Zateli returns from a seven-year hiatus with the imposing title Under the Strange Name of Ramanthis Erevous: Death Came Last. The novel takes place in the late 1950s in northern Greece, and traces the history of five siblings who all die prematurely of suspicious causes — fates that are linked to a 13-year-old boy bearing “secret gifts and troubles.” Zateli’s earlier title, By the Light of the Wolf, was published in Germany (Kiepenheuer & Witsch), Italy (Crocetti), and France (Seuil), among other nations, and won Greece’s National Book Prize in 1993. Rights to the new one have been sold thus far to Italy (Crocetti); see Maria Fakinou at Kastaniotis. Finally in Greece, we take note of the tearful Goodbye Drachma, a bestselling sendoff for one of the oldest currencies in the world (and yet another casualty of the euro). Author Othon Tsounakos presents an illustrated history of the drachma and has “touched sensitive reading chords” around the globe. Some 60,000 copies have been sold thus far, and publisher Iliotropio would be tickled to secure representation for this title in the Greek language and elsewhere. See Iliotropio Marketing Manager John Arfanis.

Hallo From Hoobland

There was a certain fin de siècle feeling at the Javits Center during the week of Feb. 11 — it was the 99th annual Toy Fair, after all — as the toy biz hit New York City in suitably world-weary grandeur. Press releases moped that the learning segment of the toy industry was down 6% last year to $464 million, while the sports segment plummeted 29%, to $1.5 billion. (Action figure sales, wouldn’t you know, shot up 36%.) Perhaps in duck-and-cover mode, many distributors followed the old DK by barring their booths to any but retailers. Among the newly exclusive was International Playthings, the high-end toy distributor that sadly exited the book business a few years ago, and Learning Curve, which recently entered it via Friedman/Fairfax’s licensed Lamaze baby books.

The Jim Henson Company, in the midst of its own trials (it may be put on the block again, given parent EM.TV’s financial woes), was plugging major deals for The Hoobs, its joint production with the UK’s Channel 4. The Hoobs, of course, come from Hoobland, “a sunny, colorful, bouncy world,” and travel the universe in their Hoobmobile, reporting their findings back home to an enormous reference database called the Hoobopaedia. The program will air on TV in Ontario shortly, with Canada’s Spin Master Toys snapping up the toy license for that territory. A massive line of Hoob products has proliferated with the show, spanning books (Egmont in Europe), scooters, bedding, stationery, puzzles, toiletry products, and even yogurt. A shameless success overseas (250 episodes were commissioned up front a couple of years ago, and the series recently took home the BAFTA “Best Preschool Live Action Series” award), the enterprise has now signed 14 television licenses and has put toy and publishing efforts in place worldwide — everywhere except the US, that is. Now’s your chance to hoobledoop, as they say.

Empire-building is also on track for the Eloise line of toy and book paraphernalia launched by itsy bitsy following Kay Thompson’s passing (she had opposed expansion of the license). Simon & Schuster has plunged right in with the sequel Eloise Takes a Bawth, which was shelved after four years of development when Thompson forced the withdrawal of the three earlier sequels. In other matters, Klutz appears to have finagled a knockoff of the popular Workman Brain Quest series, under the title Klutz Kwiz and including a computer-like “gizmo” offering multiple-choice answers. The device snaps together with decks of grade-specific questions. Word has it the new ones aren’t selling, which may explain why no one’s filed a trade dress lawsuit.

And while most publishers pushed the playtime aspect of their program, Amy Epstein’s new publishing company The Straight Edge promised to help your child “win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2036.” The books are retellings of classic children’s stories (Goldilocks, The Three Little Pigs) complete with cutouts of the characters and props allowing the child to retell or “creatively change the story.” Let’s just hope the young creators never have to tangle with the Margaret Mitchell estate.

The Presses Perk Up In Israel

The phrase “market volatility” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re publishing books in Israel. As part of PT’s continuing look at the book business overseas, Efrat Lev, Foreign Rights Director of the Harris/Elon Literary Agency in Jerusalem, profiles the Israeli market and parses the nation’s current bestseller list.

Reports from New York indicate that 2001 was not the best year for books, and much the same could be said for publishing in Israel. The political instability in our region has affected all walks of life, and amid the terror attacks and threats of war, we are constantly reminded of how badly our economy is doing — with still more clouds looming on the horizon. But incredibly, perhaps, not all of the news is bad. Israeli publishing has fared better than the battered tourism and entertainment sectors, for example, and many publishers have even reported an increase of 15% to 20% in book sales over the previous year. (These days, it seems, many of us prefer to simply stay at home and read.) Moreover, the usually sleepy Israeli publishing industry has seen a flurry of activity in the last few years, most recently the New York–style merger between Zmora Bitan, a venerable family-owned publishing house, and Kinneret Publishers, a large commercial house. This merger has been the talk of the town for insiders, and may precipitate a joining of forces between Zmora/Kinneret’s existing chain of discount bookstores and another chain of general bookstores — creating stiff competition for Steimatzky’s bookstore empire, which has dominated the market for many years.

By American standards, however, that market is a small one. Though Israel has a population of about 6.5 million, deducting from the count those who read in Russian and those who read in Arabic, as well as non-readers, brings the number of regular book buyers down to about 100,000. Hence the very small (and careful) print runs of about 1,500 to 2,000 copies for an average fiction or non-fiction title — from small or large publishers alike. About 4,000 titles are published annually, distributed to between 200 and 400 bookstores (the counts vary), which are mainly chain bookstores where titles live a relatively short shelf-life. Books are expensive in Israel, ranging from $11 (small format) to $20 (trade size), including 17% tax. The vast majority of books are trade paperback originals.

Given the market size, what makes a bestseller? The number of copies needed to capture a spot on the bestseller list has been steadily dropping. A translated title that sells over 5,000 copies within a year is already considered a winner; a huge seller is one selling from 20,000 to 50,000. For an Israeli work of fiction, sales of 10,000 copies ranks the book as a success, though the really big names can approach 100,000 copies. In nonfiction, on the other hand, anything over 2,000 will satisfy the publisher.

As is clear from the Israeli bestseller list (included in this issue’s bestseller chart on p. 5), successful titles come from a variety of genres. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have been selling very well in conjunction with the release of the movies. Some international bestsellers do well here (Amy Tan, The Girl With a Pearl Earring), yet most bestselling titles are still Hebrew originals. A.B. Yehoshua and Sami Michael are the current big names on the list, with the former’s work The Liberating Bride capturing the fifth spot this month. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s leading literary fictionists whom the New York Times once called “a kind of Israeli Faulkner,” is published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad, and a number of his works are available in English, including A Late Divorce (Harcourt, 1993). Meanwhile, the Baghdad-born Sami Michael is on the list this month with Water Kissing Water. Published by the prestigious house Am Oved, the book tells the story of Joseph, an immigrant from Iraq in the 1950s who makes his assimilation to the new Israel via two complicated love stories. The book has sold almost 50,000 copies, with rights soon to be sold in Holland (Vassallucci) and Germany (Berlin). Before the invasion of the Tolkien books, Yael Hedaya’s novel Accidents and Batya Gur’s mystery Murder on Bethlehem Road also made strong appearances on the lists. And new works by Amos Oz, Aharon Appelfeld, David Grossman, and Meir Shalev promise fierce competition in the lists of the coming year.

Translations of fiction tend to stay near the upper end of the genre, and such works of literature are well received. Consequently, the percentage of translated titles on a publisher’s list can be anywhere between 40% and 60%, depending on the publisher. José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, is an annual visitor to the list (Blindness spent most of 2001 on the charts), and Ian McEwan, Paul Auster, and J.M. Coetzee also do consistently well here. Yet hardly any translated thriller or mystery can sell as well as the local titles. Tom Clancy’s The Bear & The Dragon, for example, only made the list for one week in November.

‘Morrie’, Zen in Hot Demand

As for recent nonfiction, while the rest of the publishing world rushed out titles bearing any connection to September 11, Israelis saw very little in the way of tomes on terror and Islam. This is quite possibly because terror is such a part of our daily reality. Books serve more for escape rather than information. Hence bestselling current affairs titles will deal most likely with local politics, society, or a recent Israeli historical event. (Although surprising bestsellers have been Stalingrad and Fermat’s Last Theorem.) Other topics that appeal to our readers are alternative health, spirituality (Eastern religions and practices rather than Jewish spirituality), inspiration and self-help (Who Moved My Cheese? was a big hit, while Morrie in His Own Words is still on the list), and plenty of cookbooks by local chefs (including one from our agency’s director, Beth Elon’s Mediterranean Farm Cooking). Children’s bestsellers (other than HP, that is) include regular stars, mainly Spot and Felix. Olivia has also visited the list recently, as has William Steig’s lovable ogre Shrek, briefly.

It could be assumed that this multitude of translations has improved the professional standards of work in translation, but unfortunately this is not the case. Much has been written here about bad translations which are not edited properly. Leading literary publishers continue to uphold the quality of their translated books, but the more commercial houses seem to prefer cheap labor and shorter production processes, with appalling results. Publishers and agents abroad are well advised to take notice as they sell rights to Israeli publishers. It is a shame to see so much fine literature lost in translation.