Speed Me to St. Louis

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

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

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

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

The Tao of Small

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

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

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

WAGGING THE DOG

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

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

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

‘A TERRIBLE CATCH-22′

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

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

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

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

International Fiction Bestsellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat, Conventioneers

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

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

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

Sparkles for SparkNotes

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

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

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

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

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

Zoned Out in London

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

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

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

International Fiction Bestsellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ingram Empire

Ingram Book Group Scans for Growth, As Rivals Grab Core Market Share

The last decade must have felt a little like the spin-cycle hit Ingram Industries Inc., that constellation of “books, boats, and bad drivers” (as one wag has put it) that began as an old-economy barging concern and now controls a large share of the book, spoken audio, and other product pipeline keeping 21st-century e-tailers — and plain-old retailers — humming. Today the Nashville-based Ingram is one of America’s largest privately held businesses, spanning book wholesaler Ingram Book Group; digital fulfillment unit Lightning Source; barge operator Ingram Marine Group; and the Ingram Insurance Group, which covers high-risk motorists. But the spin-cycle brought billion-dollar spinoffs, high-stakes management minuets, and one first-class case of federal regulatory whiplash: that would be June of 1999, when Ingram Book Group nixed its plans to be acquired by Barnes & Noble, under ominous signals from the FTC. Few in the business will forget the uproar over this proposed vertical integration — nor the predicament Ingram found itself in as its plans unraveled. “The middleman was being cut out,” as Ingram Book Group Chairman John R. Ingram told the press when the $600 million acquisition was unveiled, “and we’re the middleman.”

“It was a bit of a watershed for us,” James Chandler, the book group’s Chief Commercial Officer, tells PT. Major customers B&N, Borders, and Amazon had all been ramping up their own distribution capabilities. Rival wholesaler Baker & Taylor added space of its own. Relations frayed with some independent booksellers, Ingram’s traditional forte, who returned to regional wholesalers such as Koen, Bookazine, and BookSource (who stood ready to fill the orders as fast as — or faster than — Ingram). And thus began a long journey down the road of corporate milestones and realignments, amid a “protracted period of heightened risk and uncertainty” — as Business Week put it —all while struggling to “pull the rabbit of a new growth business out of the hat of a mature enterprise verging on decline.”

Driving the ‘Cadillac Supplier’

Ingram’s market position in a nutshell? “Business is going down a bit,” says George Gibson, President and Publisher of Walker & Company, “because there was a time when all of Barnes & Noble went through Ingram. Now B&N comes directly to us for backlist. There was also a time when Ingram handled all of Amazon. Now Baker & Taylor handles a lot of it. But if you’re looking at Ingram’s core customers — bookstores — our business with Ingram has probably gone up.” Gibson and others say that despite industry shudders, Ingram’s reputation remains largely unscathed. “They’re still the gold standard as far as wholesale is concerned,” says one publishing official. “Ingram is the Cadillac supplier,” says another. “Since I’ve been aware of them in the mid-’70s, they’ve been the best company in the industry. Period.”

Not that it has been easy. In 1999 Ingram axed 110 jobs at its Oregon distribution center, then shuttered five facilities in a “comprehensive realignment” culminating in last summer’s opening of the Chambersburg, PA mega-center. This 650,000–sq. ft. shop was deemed “the largest single investment we’ve ever made” and promoted as a symbol of Ingram’s “substantial reinvestments in the book industry.” When all was said and done, eight distribution centers had become four — Chambersburg; LaVergne, TN; Fort Wayne, IN; and Roseburg, OR — and an ominous number of the company’s veteran staff had gone out the door. (Reports swirled of yet more layoffs as PT went to press.)

Yet the company’s reinvestments, Chandler says, do not end there. Early 2000 saw the launch of state-of-the-art automation at Ingram’s Nashville-area distribution center, and in 2001 Ingram began rolling out new inventory management software, allowing significant automation of the daily review, replenishment, and buying decisions on over 700,000 titles. Moreover, Ingram has added access to 60,000 medical reference titles through distributor J.A. Majors; 250,000 music titles via Alliance Entertainment; and 70,000 Spanish-language titles from Grupo ILHSA, the Argentine bookselling chain. All told, in-stock title holdings are at an all-time high, making what Chandler claims is a million titles available for immediate shipment via Ingram’s iPage service, its web-based portal for retailers, librarians, and publishers that’s a repository of account information, title reference, up-to-the-hour stock availability, and the like. Most significantly, perhaps, Ingram has invested in its direct-to-consumer fulfillment capabilities. Last December, more than 80% of shipments from the book group were made directly to consumers on behalf of the company’s retail partners, fulfilling both online and offline orders. Chandler concedes that this business is “a significantly smaller percentage of our overall dollar volume” — shipping one book at a time, instead of dozens. But it all helped drive Ingram to a “high-water mark” in 2002: a customer fill-rate of nearly 85%.

Ingram’s international business, now almost 10% of its revenues, continues to grow, allowing customers in core markets such as Canada, Australia, and Europe to place an order on Monday and have the stock by the weekend. And Ingram Library Services is powering up for an expanding customer base — periodicals were just added for this market. Observers point out that libraries are one of many arenas in which Ingram and B&T regularly step on one another’s toes. “Ingram has gotten into the library business in a more aggressive way, and you could argue that they’re taking business away from B&T,” says Gibson. “They’re both looking at each other’s marketplaces.”

Topping off these changes at Ingram — in addition to finally closing down PRI, the publisher distribution service that never got off the ground — is what Chandler calls “a whole new generation of leadership.” That includes Kelley Maier, SVP of Product Management and Marketing; Julie Burns, President of both Ingram Book Co. and Spring Arbor Distributors, the company’s Christian products arm; Peter Clifton, who came on board in 2001 and is President of both Ingram Periodicals and Ingram International; Steve Pate, VP of Sales Support; and Audrey Seitz, VP of Marketing. This churn has caused a few kinks, but for some publishers, no major complaints. “Other than the fact that in this last year we’ve been through two buyers,” says Paul Harrington, Director of Sales for The Other Press, “the systems seem to be fine and functioning.” Others haven’t been so kind, particularly clients of Minneapolis wholesaler The Bookmen, which Ingram bought last year and shut down. Some surmised that the purchase was designed to grab accounts such as Target, who ended up switching their Bookmen business to Levy. And some indie booksellers say privately that they feel betrayed by the wholesaler — they’re a no-growth prospect — and have bolted.

Then there’s Lightning Source, led by President J. Kirby Best. Ingram officials have said that the anemic e-book business crimped the once heady plans of Lightning, the Ingram division handling e-book conversions, print-on-demand, and other digital services. Founded as the POD operation Lightning Print, the unit was renamed in 2000 and moved out of the book group to become a unit of Ingram Industries. The company said at the time that the move liberated Lightning to forge relationships with numerous distributors in addition to its file conversion deals with publishers. (Lightning opened a UK unit in 2001.)

Meanwhile, Ingram Industries brass are no doubt gingerly guiding all their businesses with the rear-view wisdom of computer wholesaler Ingram Micro. With current revenues of $25 billion, the company was taken public in 1996 amid feverish anticipation among investors. But the stock plunged 31% when CEO Jerre Stead announced he was stepping down in 1999, charged with “flawed optimism” about Micro’s prospects amid vicious competition — an instructive lesson for the book trade.

Back at Ingram Book, both hands are on the steering wheel, and eyes are peeled for growth opportunities. “We’ve expanded the definition of what a middleman can do,” Chandler says. “Today we can do everything that a library can do in their back room. We can do everything that an online retailer can do in an online distribution center. In many cases we can do things a publisher would like to do in their own distribution capabilities. Our whole objective is to sell more to the trading partners we have.”

Book View, March 2003

PEOPLE


John Kilcullen, previously CEO of Hungry Minds, has been named President of VNU’s Music and Literary Group and Publisher of Billboard. He will also oversee Bookseller and Kirkus Reviews, Music & Media, and Airplay Monitor.

As dissected daily in the NYT, Daniel Menaker was named SVP and Editor-in-Chief of the Random House editorial imprints. (Some have noted that, given the NY Observer’s recent piece on Stuart Applebaum’s alleged influence at Random, it was curious that the announcement was sent out from Centrello’s email address, with Carol Schneider listed as the PR contact — rather than from Applebaum’s office, as would usually be the case in a high profile personnel announcement. Meanwhile, word is that some literary titles from the Ballantine Group may end up on Little Random’s list.)

Alan Rutsky has been named CFO of Rizzoli. He had most recently held that position at Abrams. . . . Dick McCullough has left Millbrook, which has just received a new round of investment, perhaps as a result of Roaring Brook Press’s spanking new Caldecott Award.

Charlie Winton was feted at one of three farewell parties on February 26, as he officially “retires” from PGW to devote his time to Avalon. A search for his successor is under way. . . . Steve Fischer has been named Director of Sales & Marketing for ThorsonsElement — the Boston-based division of HarperCollinsUK — reporting to Publisher Greg Brandenburgh. He was most recently at Tuttle. . . . Randy Charles has been named SVP of Customer Relationship Marketing for Rodale Inc. He had most recently been at Times Mirror. And Cathy Lee Gruhn, previously at S&S, has been named Director of Publicity for Rodale Books. She will report to Associate Publisher Cindy Ratzlaff.

Bill Strachan has left Columbia University Press, where he had been President and Director. Three other major university press directorships have changed leadership in the past year, including MIT, Yale, and California. CFO Rebecca Schrader will be acting President until a new head is named
. . . . As also noted elsewhere, Gordon Macomber has been named CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Merriam-Webster. He was President and CEO of NYUonline and earlier, President of Macmillan Reference.

Jessica Craig has left Franklin & Siegal and is joining Burnes & Clegg as Director of Foreign Rights. . . . Tammy Johnston has left Candlewick Press, where she was Associate Publisher and VP Sales & Marketing.

The Perseus Publishing Group’s reorganization continues. Perseus Publisher David Goehring, Associate Publisher Elizabeth Carduff, ([email protected]), and Executive Editor Nicholas Philipson have been laid off, and now word is that Nancy Maron, Director of Academic and Library Marketing, has also been let go.

As reported elsewhere Carl Lennertz, who created the ABA’s Book Sense program, is leaving the association to take the position of VP, Marketing for the HarperCollins imprint. Mark Nichols becomes Director of Book Sense Marketing, taking over the bulk of Lennertz’s job.

The rough winter has prompted some relocations: Hilary Liftin has moved to LA, to break into television writing. CAA is her agent. Liftin’s book, Candy & Me: A Love Story, was bought by Leslie Meredith at Free Press last summer. And Lisa Kitei, formerly SVP Corporate Communications/Public Relations at Cahners, has moved to Florida. She may be reached at [email protected].

PROMOTIONS


Jane von Mehren has been named a Vice President of Penguin Books and will continue as Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher, overseeing the editorial direction of the Penguin trade paperback list, while acquiring books for Viking.

MARCH DATES


March is Small Press Month, and the Small Press Center has multiple celebrations planned, including a panel on “Today’s Best Book Promotion Options — Offline” on March 20. Panelists include PR vet Carol Fass; Brian Jud, President of Book Marketing Works; GMA’s Patty Neger; and Donna Woolfolk Cross. The event takes place from 6 – 8 at the Small Press Center on 20 W. 44th. For information go to www.smallpress.org.

NYU’s first Management Forum for Independent Publishers will take place on April 4 – 6. Speakers include Patricia Bostelman from B&N; Kelley Maier, SVP Product Management & Marketing at Ingram; Walker’s George Gibson; and Cindy Cunningham from Amazon. Early bird registration is available until March 14. Contact Heidi Johnson at the NYU Center for Publishing: (212) 790-3236 or [email protected].

Four top publishing people are panelists on “Powerful Women in Publishing,” sponsored by the NYC chapter of Women’s National Book Association on March 11 from 6 – 8 pm: Susan Peterson Kennedy, President, Penguin Group (USA); Barbara Marcus, President Children’s Books, Scholastic; Alison M. Lazarus, President of Sales, Holtzbrinck; and Maddy Dychtwald, author. Location: Time Life Building, 8th Floor Auditorium, 1271 6th Ave @ 50th. For information on WNBA-NYC, see www.wnba-nyc.org.

DULY NOTED


comScore reported total online annual sales, across all categories including travel, of $73.2 billion in 2002, up 38 percent versus 2001. Total e-commerce sales, excluding auctions, were $10.9 billion, up 25 percent versus the year-ago period. According to comScore, this growth was driven primarily by online travel sales, “reflecting a continued shift in travel spending from offline to online channels.” Non-travel sales have turned in lower growth of 16 percent year-to-date. Books — which have one of the longest and most successful online sales histories — were up a more modest 5%, to $2.285 billion.

Two very different books about books by industry insiders will hit the shelves this year. Overwhelmed readers will discover what overwhelmed editors have known forever: that there is an alternative to what Sara Nelson terms the “Clean Plate Book Club.” In So Many Books, So Little Time, coming out this fall (Putnam), she writes that “Allowing yourself to stop reading a book — at page 25, 50 or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end — is a rite of passage in a reader’s life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions.” So far Susan Isaacs and Kurt Andersen have sent in boffo blurbs. . . . Meanwhile, Jacqueline Deval, Publisher of Hearst Books and a publicist manqué, has written Publicize Your Book: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention It Deserves, that’s coming out in April from Perigee. This is her second book (her first was the novel Reckless Appetites).

• Michael Cader is debuting a daily column for The New York Sun. Asked if the material is reconstituted from Publishers Lunch, Cader tells PT that “it draws from the basic pool of material,” but is written for a general audience, and sometimes includes deals or material somewhat in advance of the weekly deal Lunch. Guess that means we all have to subscribe?

PARTIES AND EVENTS


Steve Rosenbaum and Ava Seave hosted a party on Feb. 28 for Ad Age columnist and co-host of NPR’s On the Media, Bob Garfield to celebrate the publication of And Now a Few Words From Me. The invitation asked the recipient to “Please join friends and fellow critics to poke at Bob with pointy sticks, jeer him and otherwise take liberties with his career, work and demeanor — After all, it’s what he does [in his column] to everyone else.”

• Sterling Lord celebrated 50 years as a literary agent at a party at NYU’s Silver Center on Feb. 27, with a lecture based on the forthcoming book about his career (he’s a year and a half behind schedule). Lord, Chairman of Sterling Lord Literistic, talked of once having had an author dedicate his book to him. When the dedication to Sterling Lord was translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market, it came out as “The Almighty God.”

• Poets & Writers honored the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award on March 4 at the Tribeca Rooftop.

IN MEMORIAM


George deKay, the co-founder of M. Evans, and husband of publishing veteran Miranda, died on February 22nd.

Rebel Yell at AAP

Despite yet another snarling DC snowfall, and the usual spate of A/V equipment on the fritz, some 60 Smaller and Independent Publishers (call them SIPs) turned up for AAP’s Fifth Annual Meeting on February 26th. A well-executed series of keynotes and panels kept most of the audience glued to their seats all day. Hyperion’s Bob Miller, the post-breakfast keynote, set the take-no-prisoners tone for many of the panels when he told the receptive audience that there were “six ways you can exploit the weaknesses of the larger house, so that you can eat their lunch.” Running down the alternative menu of options, he told small houses to deal personally with both retailers and reviewers on the one hand, and authors on the other; cultivate their own specialties; pounce on trends quickly, to beat out the sluggish large houses; and take note that while the big guys like to do things the way they’ve done them time and time again — “Corporate publishing craves predictability” — successes are often those very books and publishing strategies that stand out because they’re utterly out-of-the-box. The bottom line: “Dig deeply into each book’s uniqueness and make sure you show that uniqueness in the book’s title, cover, and marketing.”

Other topics during the day included a review of what is happening with POD and ebooks; panels on branding and licensing; a discussion of the value of attending specialty trade shows, given by Stacey Ashton, Director of Special Sales at AOL/Time Warner Books; and several panels on global issues — selling and licensing into it, attending international fairs, and Spanish-language publishing and distribution in the US (2003 is AAP’s year of publishing for Latinos). The luncheon keynote was Newmarket’s Esther Margolis, who spoke of lessons she’d learned from her early days at Bantam and from starting her own company, twenty years ago. She told the assembled that “the definition of ‘to publish’ isn’t ‘to print’ — it’s ‘to make public,’ and that requires marketing.” She said she’s not embarrassed to use the term “product” in talking about a book, “because products need to be marketed.” Finally, she explained the importance of a small house developing a style and presenting an image, and admitted that in the early years she took expensive space in midtown Manhattan, rather than larger, cheaper space downtown, because she wanted to project the image of prosperity. Similarly, she ate at the same expensive restaurants that she’d frequented when she was a highflying publicity director at Bantam, and hired a top-tier lawyer, so that people would know she meant business.

The day culminated in the annual cocktail party, which traditionally features clutches of roaming Washington politicos — though the weather seemed to have kept them away this year, or perhaps Pat Schroeder’s Hill connections are a bit more tenuous five years after her departure from Congress.

Whatever letdown that may have caused was wildly redeemed by the now-famous dinner at which Oprah Winfrey announced her new “Traveling with the Classics” book club. Even though there had been rumors of an impending announcement, the crowd, deliriously excited, leapt to its feet for three standing ovations. There were diverse comments in the subsequent parsing of the event, with some in the media fretting that Oprah could set off a “confusing competition” among the Library of America and other classics publishers. (For his part, Modern Library Publishing Director David Ebershoff said Oprah’s bounce would be just like a movie tie-in.) But one of the most succinct remarks came from PW’s Nora Rawlinson, who said, presumably with Jonathan Franzen’s misbehavior in mind: “Tolstoy won’t rise up and say, ‘I don’t want to be on your show.’” (Rawlinson also delivered a bon mot or two in a speech about bookselling. This year, she said, flat sales represented the new bullishness.)

Thursday’s sessions had a hard act to follow, but the Recording Industry Association of America’s Hilary Rosen came prepared with a bagful of battlefield lessons. Among them: think of your customer as the consumer, not the retailer. Also beware that retailers will rebuff any attempts to go digital, and “if there’s one thing the recording industry knows, it’s that we were far too slow moving online.” Don’t wait for the market to develop either, she insisted, speaking of digital downloading of music and books: go out and develop it. Following those words of encouragement, the day ended a little earlier than planned, as attendees rushed for trains and planes ahead of yet another snowfall — presumably not a metaphor for publishing’s ever slippery slopes.