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.

International Fiction Bestsellers

The Darnedest Things
Swedish Kid-Savants, Greece’s Sippable Fiction, And Pilch Toasts All of Holland

A wave of mourning sweeps over Sweden this month with the passing of Astrid Lindgren, mother of Pippi Longstocking, though her spirit lives on in the mischievous Swedish bestseller of the moment, Old Ladies Don’t Lay Eggs. This zinger of a title is a frolicsome compendium of quotes from schoolchildren who were asked to opine on the inscrutable adult world. Among the book’s other useful revelations: “Women have curves, men have cases.” And the fashion-impaired can rest assured: “It’s not your appearance that counts. It’s your mouth.” Written by Mark Levengood, a well-known Swedish TV personality, with co-author Unni Lindell, a star crime fiction writer from Norway, the book has hugged the top of the bestseller list for three months running and has sold 180,000 copies in Sweden alone — a grand slam for a nation of just 9 million. Interview subjects ranged from ages 4 to 11, and some of the zaniest nuggets of wisdom highlight the kids’ wordplay: “When you wash your head,” explains one youngster, “it’s called brain wash.” As a reviewer for the nation’s Library Journal confessed, “I almost laughed myself to death.” Rights have been sold to Finland (Schildts), Denmark (Borgens), and Germany (Eichborn), and we’re told both US and UK rights are available. See agent Bengt Nordin in Stockholm.

Elsewhere, that “great hope for Greek fiction,” the divine Ioanna Karystiani, splashes down in the Aegean with Suit on the Ground, said to be a dark tale of “old blood” warmed by plenty of smoldering resentment. The hero Kyriakos left Greece for America when he was 15, but 30 years later — after a successful career at the National Institute of Health — he decamps for his home village to search for a cousin who murdered his father. A sordid and tangled family feud promptly ensues. Karystiani’s earlier novel Little England won the Greek National Fiction Award in 1998, with one critic enthusing, “You want to sip it word by word.” That title, about the lonely plight of women in early 20th century Greece, was sold to Italy (Crocetti), Germany (Insel), Bulgaria (Biblioteka 48), and France (Seuil), with deals said to be simmering in the UK, Holland, and Spain. The new one has thus far been sold to Germany (Suhrkamp) and Italy (Crocetti). Talk to Maria Fakinou at Kastaniotis.

Also in Greece, the bestselling orthopedic surgeon–turned–historian Alexandros Zaoussis has wowed the crowds with his fifth historical opus, Alexander and Aspasia, set in Greece during World War I. The story kicks off as young Prince Alexander assumes the Greek throne in 1917, soon falling in love with the lovely Aspasia Manos and embarking upon a scandalous secret marriage that puts all of Athens in a twitter. Some 25,000 copies have been sold to date, and Louisa Zaoussi at Oceanida handles rights.

A few notes from Spain, where Matilde Asensi has plundered the world’s archives for The Last Cato, described as a “historical thriller” that ransacks the past for the book’s many twists and turns. Doctor Ottavia Salinas heads the laboratory for Restoration and Paleography at the Vatican’s secret archives, when she gets an urgent call to decipher odd tattoos on the body of a man charged with crimes against the church. Surprise references to Dante’s Divine Comedy and the death of Christ take this case into positively Borgesian territory. Rights to Asensi’s two earlier novels, Jacob (more than 80,000 copies sold) and The Amber Hall, have been sold to Germany (DTV) and Greece (Periplous), respectively. About 70,000 copies of the new one have been sold since the book’s publication last September, with a sixth printing just out. See agent Antonia Kerrigan at the Kerrigan Agency in Barcelona. Also in Spain, a housekeeper with a double life is the furtive star of Dorothea’s Song, winner of last year’s Planeta Prize and the latest novel from Rosa Regás. When a Madrid university professor seeks a caretaker for her ailing father, the pertly efficient Adelita seems perfect for the job. A precious ring soon goes missing, however, and the household is dumped into a “spiral of attraction and repulsion” that bottoms out in a roiling mystery of “passions and ambiguities.” The multitasking author Regás has founded a publishing house and directed the Ateneo Americano at the Casa de América in Madrid, a center for Iberian-American dialogue. In her spare time, she won the Nadal prize in 1994 with the novel Blue. The new book was released last November, with a first print run of 210,000 copies. See agent Carmen Balcells for rights. And on a final Spanish note, Chilean writer Marcela Serrano hits the list in both Spain and Argentina with her sixth novel What’s In My Heart, the story of a young woman who finds renewed passion in revolutionary Chiapas following the death of her son. The book has sold 105,000 copies in Spain, plus another 45,000 in Latin America, and rights have been sold to Italy and Portugal. See Mónica Herrero at the Guillermo Schavelzon agency in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, prolific journalist and historian Laura Restrepo’s Errant Crowd pops up on the bestseller list, probing what critics call “the misery and violence at the heart of Colombian society” as it dramatizes the plight of uprooted families amid a war-torn countryside. The book sifts through the carnage and focuses on the unlikely bonds of love forged in the region’s battered refugee camps. The 52-year-old Restrepo recently won raves for The Dark Fiancée, a work that grew out of her journalistic investigation into the world of prostitutes in a Colombian town. That title is said to be a stirring portrait of the beautiful Sayonara as she services the squalid paradise of oil workers in the Colombian forest. The new book was originally published by Planeta Colombiana, though we’re told Seix Barral has acquired rights for the rest of Latin America. See agent Mercedes Casanovas in Barcelona.

Last but not least, Poland returns to our bestseller lineup this month and features prominent writer Jerzy Pilch’s Under a Mighty Angel. A sort of Polish version of Drinking: A Love Story, the book chronicles “a private apocalypse” in the rural town of Wisla, and delves into the rabid thirsts spawned by the potent admixture of alcoholism and literature. The author is a columnist for the well-known Polish weekly Polityka. The new book won last year’s Nike prize, the most prestigious literary honor in Poland, and has sold 100,000 copies to date, with rights sold to France, Serbia, and Holland. See Joanna Dabrowska at publisher Literackie.

Book View, February 2002


Steve Parr
has been named CEO of Abrams, following the departure of Mark Magowan and Alan Rutsky (along with two dozen others) at the end of the year. He was most recently with Emap. . . . After 14 years at Harcourt, Louise Pelan, VP and Publisher of Children’s Books, is taking early retirement in March. . . . Kimberly Whalen has just been hired at Trident Media Group as MD of Foreign Rights. She was previously at the Rotrosen Agency. . . . Peter Garlid leaves Mondadori, where he has headed up the New York office. The staff, along with Mondadori Printing’s US reps, will now report directly to Italy. Garlid will become an independent rights sales rep, with Mondadori as a client.

Skip Fischer, who had been, briefly, COO of DK, has left. Reporting responsibilities are now shared by Therese Burke, Chuck Lang, and Dorothy Regan. Meanwhile, Audrey Puzzo, most recently of, and previously at Pocket, has been hired to handle sub rights. She reports to Lang. . . . PW reports that Jon Galassi will become president and publisher of FSG and will relinquish his title of Editor-in-Chief to John Glusman. Amy Scheibe, who left Doubleday in December, has been named a Senior Editor at the Free Press. She reports to Dominick Anfuso and begins February 4.

Tracy Howell has left Random House to join the Gernert Agency. Linda Pennell, RH Rights Director, will now assume responsibility for the foreign rights department as well. Meanwhile, Luann Walther has hired Angeli Singh as an editor at Vintage/Anchor, from Mary Anne Thompson Associates. And Harcourt’s publisher, Andre Bernard, has hired Da Capo’s Executive Editor Andrea Schulz as Senior Editor.

Paulist Press has hired Robert Welsch as Director of Sales and Marketing. Welsch had been Editorial Director of Bookspan’s One Spirit Book Club. Ellen Sibley has been promoted to President and Publisher of Barron’s Educational Series. She was EVP. . . . Pam Abrams has joined Scholastic as Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Parent and Family Publishing. Before joining Scholastic, Abrams was Vice President and Editorial Director of Abrams replaces Judsen Culbreth, who has been named Vice President and Editorial Director of Scholastic Family Custom Publishing.

Lucinda Karter, most recently of, has been named director of The French Publishers Agency, replacing Kathryn Nanovic Morlet. . . . Jim Clark has retired as Director of University of California Press. . . . And with the closing of Coliseum Books, Pat Sado can now be reached at (212) 663-4866.


The Licensing Letter reports that worldwide retail sales of licensed products dropped 5% in 2001, to $109 billion. The US, which represents two thirds of that total, dropped 5%, while Japan’s sales dropped 13%, followed by Eastern Europe, with a 10% falloff. Publishing related licensed products dropped 8% in the US and Canada, to $4.7 billion. Meanwhile, respondents to TLL’s Annual Business Survey forecast a 2.4% drop for the licensing business in 2002, though licensors — not surprisingly — were more bullish than other respondents, predicting a 3% increase. More information can be found at

• Marshall Editions, which is in the process of being sold by its current owners, Just Group, parent company of Mediakey, has offers in from Chrysalis Books (the folks who bought Pavilion), Octopus (via Hachette, now on an acquisitions spree), and Andromeda (owned by Media Invest). A deal is expected to be announced shortly.

• Chris Kerr, PT’s tireless correspondent, reports from the ALA winter conference that it was wet and cold in New Orleans, and librarians were in “short supply.” But there was “much chat about projected cut-backs in library funding which will impact acquisitions, hours, and staffing. Publishers were similarly desultory, although this is more attributable to the wreckage of last year’s retail results.” The Blackwell representative claimed that the press leaks about the family wishing to dump the publishing holdings were false, as the charter requires a 3/4 vote to amend before holdings can be proposed for sale, and no “side” has remotely close to half.

Distributor Trafalgar Square’s Paul Feldstein reports that he’s just picked up US distribution for UK publisher Aurum Press, as well as Screenpress Books. Their 40-odd distribution clients include most of the major UK imprints, among them Random House/Transworld, Orion, HarperCollins, and Bloomsbury.


NYU is hosting information sessions for its M.S. in Publishing on Feb. 7, 6-8 pm, and March 13, 6-8 pm. Both will be held at the NYU Midtown Center, 11 West 42nd Street, 4th Floor. Call (212) 998-7200.

• BookTech 2002 is set for Feb. 11-13 at the Hilton.

• Books for a Better Life is scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Millennium Broadway. Call (212) 463-7787, ext. 3043.

The AAP’s annual meeting will take place on Feb. 27-28 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, as usual.

Before he became the eminent Grove Press publisher that the world knows, Barney Rosset was a photographer. His show “War Photographs: China in Conflict 1944-1945” will be on view at the Janos Gat Gallery, 1100 Madison Avenue (82nd Street). Opening on Feb. 12, 6-9 pm.


On January 16, Sara Nelson held a publication party for her friend Bob Sabbag for his latest (from Little, Brown), Loaded: A Misadventure on the Marijuana Trail. Also present were Grove Atlantic’s Morgan Entriken and Canongate’s Jamie Byng — both of whom are the publishers of Sabbag’s first and now classic Snowblind. Nelson has resigned from Book Publishing Report/Primedia (which had taken over following Steve Brill’s departure) to become Senior Contributing Editor, Books at Glamour. She will also be writing the book she just sold (via IMG’s Reiter) to Penguin Putnam. She’s at [email protected]. Earlier in January’s David Carr was named Media Reporter and Lorne Manly Deputy Media Editor of The NY Times.

• Overlook Press, the Museum of TV & Radio, and Harry Evans co-hosted a publication party for BBC Reports: “On America, Its Allies and Enemies and the Counterattack on Terrorism” at the museum on Feb. 23. Among the luminaries in attendance were Jane Friedman and Lewis Lapham.


The Book Reporter
( surveyed its loyal visitors recently, and found some interesting stats. For one thing, these are serious book lovers: 39% buy one or two books in a typical month, with 28% buying 3-4 books (37% say they read 3-5 books a month). 57% buy one or more books online in a typical month (remember, this is an online poll). 21% get information about books from local newspapers, 15% from The NY Times, and 8.7% from Oprah. While 33% go to Amazon to learn about books (and 18% to and 4.8% to Powells — the only other online retailer mentioned — more than half visit bookstores in a typical month. 55% claim they have visited author websites in the past three months. But 85% have never read an e-book on any device, including Palm and PC. In a separate survey, bookreporter’s looked at the mammoth but shadowy universe of reading groups. Among their respondents, 46% meet at members’ houses, while 12% meet at the library, anywhere from 8-12 times a year. While 47% said the group votes on the books to be read, 30% said that in their group, each member chooses a title. Bestseller fiction, literary fiction and biography/memoirs were the top three categories, and though for 27% paperbacks were the format of choice, 62% said that the format was not important — a response that flies in the face of many publishers’ experience. Where do they get their books? 20.5% go to the chains, 18% borrow them from the library, and the same number — 6.4% — get them either from an independent or an online retailer. But listen up: 30% said they’d be interested in buying books in bulk, if they could get a discount of 30% or more.

NYC or Bust

BookExpo America Returns to Gotham, Pondering Its ‘Donut Problem’

You may as well cue up the ticker tape. Because when BookExpo America lands in New York this May after a decade-long hiatus, the annual book industry trade show “will be celebrating its return to the publishing capital of the world,” in the neon-lit words of its marketing staff. And the pre-buzz press releases are rolling. For starters, Rudy Giuliani will preside over the opening night reception on Thursday, May 2, touting his new business book, Leadership (Talk Miramax). No one will yet confirm or deny, but the hirsute Al Gore has been a rumored marquee speaker. Even the celeb-grunge band Rock Bottom Remainders are back in action for a Saturday-night gig at Webster Hall (proceeds benefit the Get Caught Reading campaign, among other efforts). But behind the advance hype for BEA’s reign at the Javits Center from May 1 to 5 is a highly concerted effort to parlay this New York moment into long-term viability — all at a time of downward pressures on a variety of BEA constituents. “The fact that we’re in New York this year seems to be giving us a huge burst,” BEA Show Manager Greg Topalian says in an interview. “There is a lot of pent-up demand. Early indications from independent booksellers in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Tri-State area are very favorable. We are expecting a very, very busy show.”

Indeed, for the sake of the book business — and for the coffers of BEA parent Reed Exhibitions — it better be. “Attendee growth is the key to our future,” Topalian declared in a statement last year, vowing to target “up to 20,000 new attendees” and to broaden the show’s buyer base by targeting nontraditional retailers such as grocery, gift, and museum stores, in addition to pumping up rights activity and throwing in a variety of other educational and retail attractions. This dash of convention smelling salts was needed in part because recent growth has been negligible, with attendance rising to 21,898 in Chicago last year (up 1%), with 6,132 buyers (up 3%), and 2,000 exhibiting companies on hand (even with the prior year). But these numbers are a far cry from the boom years of the early ’90s, when reported attendance topped 38,000 and the show sprawled over 355,000 square feet of Chicago’s McCormick Place.

With a glance at today’s show floor, it’s not hard to see why. “We have more publishers at the show, but publishers are taking less space,” says Steve Black, Chief Operating Officer for book distributor CDS. “I think that’s a general industry trend. Look at Random House. Years ago they used to take acres. Now publishers that previously took four booths may be taking two.” On top of that, the bulging technology pavilion of recent years, which Topalian wistfully recalls as “an enormous growth area on the show floor,” has turned bulimic. And no amount of pre-show drum-beating will revive the independent booksellers who have gone to the big remainder table in the sky. “BEA has a very tough challenge,” observes industry veteran Mike Shatzkin, “because its historical roots are to serve the connection between many publishers and many booksellers. But the manys are diminishing on both sides. You’ve got a donut problem. There’s a hole in the middle. It’s a serious weakness in the core proposition.” Shatzkin stresses that these larger industry trends are not Reed’s fault, and that BEA has attempted to address the weakness by expanding into nonbook areas, a broader technology segment, and the rights business. (For the record, Shatzkin’s Idea Logical Company and Publishers Lunch founder Michael Cader are developing an annual rights event called “Publishing in New York: An Editorial and Rights Fair,” now targeted for 2003. They hope to hold discussions with potential partners for the event, including BEA.)

In many ways, BEA has made significant strides. After feverish wooing of a number of no-show publishers, Penguin Putnam remains the only noteworthy absence on the show floor. “We continue to have conversations with them, and we’d like to have them back,” Topalian says. (For their part, Penguin officials could not be reached for comment.) The show’s Spanish Book Pavilion, now in its third year, is “slowly gaining traction,” and will double in size this year. Then there’s the Retail Multi-Media Expo, which will explore crossover retailing opportunities among the book, video, and music segments, and a “dramatically expanded” International Rights Center, including a new rights symposium, which features a half-day educational forum and networking event. The show’s foreign contingent has been on the rise, Topalian says, and he’s anticipating an even bigger jump this year, partly to make up for the slackened pace of the post-Sept. 11 Frankfurt Book Fair. Plus, “the New York venue makes it a slam-dunk for the UK folks,” who can inexpensively hop across the pond. The rights center will double in size this year, too.

That growth, however, has made for some awkward identity issues, Topalian acknowledges. “We’re always a bit of a tricky show compared to Frankfurt or the London Book Fair, because we really have two purposes. We are still the US distribution show for the largest market in the world. But over the last five years we’ve become a very significant rights event.” For some publishers, the amalgam works. “Our international sales department is there and is busy from the minute the hall opens to the minute it closes every single day,” says Alison Lazarus, President of Sales for Holtzbrinck, whose unit St. Martin’s had dropped out of the show, but has been back for the past three years. Lazarus says show productivity has increased since she’s been back, particularly due to close scheduling of appointments, rather than languishing in a booth waiting for walk-ins. Ditto for Ornella Robbiati, Editor-in-Chief of Italian publisher Sonzogno, who schedules appointments every 30 minutes, as in London or Frankfurt, and praises the opportunity BEA affords to see US colleagues in one fell swoop. “Coming in the middle of the year, BEA is the perfect occasion to meet American publishers and agents without waiting until Frankfurt,” she says. “On the other hand, in the last few years, much of the American publishing community has come to the London Book Fair, which is becoming increasingly international.”

Others point out that paradoxically, the New York venue has in the past made the show difficult for New Yorkers, since many will have long commutes at the end of the day — exacerbated by the transportation-challenged Javits Center site — on top of family obligations they wouldn’t have in Chicago or LA. Beacon Press Director Helene Atwan adds that she’ll be exhibiting as usual, despite anticipated problems with publisher attendance and a dearth of promotional materials due to the earlier show date. And then there’s that familiar New York drain on the expense account. On that note, show organizers have negotiated rates of under $150 per night with a number of hotels, and have also scouted cheaper rooms in New Jersey, with shuttles to the Javits. (Incidentally, the Library Hotel is offering a show discount of $50 per night off deluxe rooms, and $30 per night off petite rooms, to friends of Publishing Trends. Email [email protected], and mention Market Partners for the special rate.) And grumbling over this year’s early date should be allayed for the near future, as BEA moves to Los Angeles next year, launching on May 30, then hits Chicago in 2004, kicking off on June 4. Then it’s back to New York on June 3, 2005. “We unquestionably are looking at moving the show year-to-year,” Topalian adds. “It was overwhelming to us that being in one city didn’t draw enough new attendance on a year-in, year-out basis.”

Taking Book Sense to the Bank

In the end, of course, the show is what you make it. “Every year we have a better and better BEA,” says Dominique Raccah, Publisher at Sourcebooks. “I find it incredibly useful. I know I’m one of the only book publishers who feels this way.” Sourcebooks will once again be installed in its house-shaped booth, with various accommodations available for meetings, and publicity staff staking out the back patio. “I don’t think it’s an order-writing show, and it isn’t meant to be,” Raccah continues. “It’s a relationship-cementing show, which to my mind is far more important.” In fact, Sourcebooks’ business with Books-A-Million more than doubled this year after four meetings with the retailer at last year’s BEA. And Raccah makes a point of taking along between 15 and 20 people to the show, many of them editors: “If the editors don’t know what’s going on at the grassroots level, we are going to make a lot of bad decisions.” Raccah also cites the ABA’s Book Sense program as a “phenomenal” driver of show growth. “You may see a revitalization in BookExpo simply because Book Sense is creating the right machinery to support independents.”

Of course, no one could agree more than Carl Lennertz, Book Sense Senior Marketing Consultant and big BEA booster. “For every trend in bookselling today, I can go back and spot a seminar or a panel at BEA where it was first talked about,” Lennertz says. “Computerized inventory. Newsletters. Reading groups. The use of co-op. Everything that’s keeping independent booksellers going now came out of sessions five, ten, or fifteen years ago.” Moreover, Lennertz thinks so much bluster about the relative merits of the show floor misses the point that crucial work is accomplished in other ways, whether at educational sessions or just over drinks at the bar: “Going to BEA will pay for itself — you can’t put a price tag on it. The next generation of bookselling innovations will come out of this show.” So what’s the bottom line, Carl? “You should come to get ideas and make money.”

Literary Agents Take Wing

It can’t have escaped any industry observer’s notice that literary agents are on the move. Bill Contardi’s out of William Morris and Karen Solem’s gone from Writers House, while the Loomis Agency’s Nicole Aragi has just set up her own shop.

What’s up? PT queried those involved in the changes to tell us what they saw from their perspectives and, while there’s no single explanation, some common themes emerged. First, the economy has obviously forced larger agencies to trim their budgets, even as individual agents realized that splitting smaller commissions with the home office was less and less viable. Then too, cheaper and better technology has made it easier for solo agents to manage an office without a staff. Finally, several say quality of life issues come into play: Jody Hotchkiss, who left Sterling Lord Literistic to start his own company (with SLL as a client), says that he reevaluated his own career after the death a Connecticut neighbor who had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and left behind a wife and young children. Bill Contardi left William Morris as a result of restructuring in the wake of Robert Gottlieb’s departure and Jim Wiatt’s rise in LA, but he plans to continue agenting on his own in both publishing and film, working with independent literary agents for film and TV representation.

Though Linda Chester began to renegotiate her business relationship with her agents on the advice of her accountant, she decided to downsize because she realized that managing staff was not how she wanted to spend her time. She had been paying for Rockefeller Center office expenses and assistants’ salaries, and in some cases, agents’ retainers, but working with authors was getting lost in the day-to-day details. At one point, a total of twenty, including agents Joanna Pulcini, Julie Rubenstein, Paul Fedorko, Fredi Friedman, Judith Ehrlich, and Laurie Fox, were affiliated with the agency. By late August, only one assistant and Laurie Fox were still there, though Fox works in California. Now Chester is subletting her space and taking smaller space in the building. “I wanted to work with creative people and have fun,” she says, rather than managing an office and mentoring new agents. With lower overhead, she hopes to give some of her profits to charity. Julie Rubenstein appreciates Chester’s p.o.v., but says that she’s glad to be on her own and keeping full commissions on books. “Linda was very helpful to me in terms of follow-through after publication,” but the new arrangement that Chester would have offered (with Rubenstein continuing to work at home, but paying expenses and still splitting the commission 50/50) was not financially viable.

Karen Solem also says she found it increasingly difficult to juggle the expense of splitting commissions and a two-and-a-half-hour commute from Columbia County. After “six happy years” with Writers House, she has rented office space in Chatham, and with the help of a part-time assistant, has started her own agency. Referring to her former colleagues, she adds, “No matter how wonderful they are, you pay a steep price.” That’s less and less the case with a solo practice, newly solo film agent Jody Hotchkiss argues. With less overhead and infrastructure required than in the past, he says, an independent agent with a solid client list — who could have once expected to make money in 3 to 5 years — now expects to break even by year one and make money by year two.

Indeed, independence is addictive: Nicole Aragi says she moved because she had had her own business in England and “in the end I succumbed to the urge to do so again.” In between wrestling with Verizon, she closed the Colson Whitehead deal (“a solid six figure” two-book deal with Doubleday/Vintage), is in the process of submitting first-time novelist Monica Ali’s book, and is being “deluged” with submissions.

Marly Rusoff, once an affiliate with Carlisle & Co., succumbed in September, and set up her own shop in Bronxville. Though she remains on good terms with former colleagues, she wanted to do fewer projects and “make the decision where to take my risks.” Having worked in many areas of publishing, she says it’s her “ambition to be available to my authors for the whole publishing process.” She recently signed up Pat Conroy, whose wife, Cassandra King, was already a client. And she has also taken on an associate of her own, Renee Zuckerbrot, who was a colleague at Doubleday. In exchange for helping in the development and selling of a project, Rusoff takes a third of the commission. Rusoff also uses IMG for foreign rights.

There’s a middle way between going it alone and being in a large agency. Having built up a client list at The Robbins Agency over seven years, Bill Clegg joined with ex-LB editor Sarah Burnes to launch their agency in March of 2001. Unlike many agencies, they are an “S corp,” sharing expenses and distributing commission by a formula that has resulted in a profit in year one. Sharing space had brought Henry Dunow, Irene Skolnick, and Martha Kaplan together under one roof originally. Now they’re looking for more space so that they can sublet to other agents. Sally Wofford Girand, who handled foreign rights and was an agent at the Elaine Markson Agency for 14 years, is going into business with four other agents in a co-op venture. She approached everyone after a “9/11 moment,” and is leaving Markson at the end of this month. Meanwhile, David McCormick just exchanged IMG’s large roof for a smaller one with Nina Collins, who is starting a new agency herself. He will be contributing a modest portion of his earnings to cover the company’s overhead.

But Michael Carlisle argues that bigger is better: In business now for four years, he has created a model with some similarities to Linda Chester’s — including the expensive offices — but with a larger on-staff agent base. He also has an affiliate relationship with four other agents, including Paul Bresnick. He said he made a lot of expensive mistakes when he set up: he bought the wrong phone system (too small) and signed up with the wrong Internet service provider (went belly up). The purpose of this set-up is to create a substantial presence in the industry very quickly. This objective increases the odds — as the new kid on the block — that your manuscript submission will be read more rapidly, he says. Those at the Harold Ober Agency would probably agree: Coming off its most successful year ever, the agency just hired agent Alex Smithline from Scovil, Chichak & Galen.

Agents’ contact info: Nicole Aragi: [email protected] Burnes & Clegg: (212) 331-9880 Michael Carlisle: [email protected] Linda Chester: [email protected] Bill Contardi: [email protected] / (212) 599-2910 Jody Hotchkiss: [email protected] Julie Rubenstein: [email protected] Marly Rusoff: [email protected] / (914) 961-7939 Karen Solem: [email protected]

Trendspotting: Waiting to Exhale

“We will never be the same,” ran the popular refrain after 9/11, and as we continue to unpack that sentiment in the various parts of our lives, it seems a fitting enough epigram for the state of book publishing nearly four months into the post-terror twilight. Something has changed, all right. But across the industry no one is quite sure yet how far gone they really are, and faced with massive market uncertainties made more volatile by the southbound economy, this business like many others is effectively holding its breath. “The worst thing anyone can do is to actually think and make decisions,” says one publisher when asked about sales prospects for the near future. Too much thinking, of course, leads to panic, and panic leads to bare bookshelves in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: publishers cut print runs, afraid that stores won’t reorder, hence books aren’t available where and when they should be, and so on. “It’s best to leave inventory issues up to the computer models that trigger the orders,” this publisher advises, “so that there will at least be some books on the shelves.” Bearing this caveat in mind, PT has culled the following year-end impressions from our conversations with a wide spectrum of industry executives. We hope they offer some welcome food for thought — when you feel it’s safe to think again, that is.

Am I solvent? Ask me in six months.

Those who are thinking about sales forecasts for the near term say — no surprise here — that the barometer reads “unsettled.” Sales managers tell us they glimpse a ray of light at the end of the tunnel, but editors seem more wary of further downward pressure. One publisher reports frantically shipping titles two weeks before Christmas, as Ingram and others had let inventories slide after 9/11. Meanwhile, most anyone with a backlist is probably kneeling in gratitude before it, especially if it is modelled and orders are kicking in automatically. Conventional wisdom is that all bets are off until six months from now, when final results are in and returns have been accounted for. One bright spot in the gloom, incidentally, may be for book packagers, several of whom report gung-ho forecasts for 2002, as ongoing book contracts have softened the brunt of the general downturn. “I would imagine that our backlist sales and royalties will reflect the weakness in the marketplace this quarter,” says one packager. “But otherwise, I’m cautiously optimistic for 2002. Am I nuts?”

Ad spending and review space: a negative dialectic.

The continuing shrinkage of review space in newspapers and magazines has had what an industry marketing guru calls an “obvious impact on sales.” And it’s a downward cycle, as fewer ads lead to fewer review pages, which lead to fewer ads. Expected cutbacks coming down the pipeline, say publicists, are only going to make matters worse. Advertising spending in all industries is projected to fall by up to 7% this year (it would be the biggest decline since 1938), with a further, though less drastic, drop expected next year. Many in publishing may still hew to the belief that ads don’t sell books, but some marketers point out that come what may, advertising dollars make a vital contribution to the promotional machine: “They support the review pages that do sell books,” says a marketing director, “and that may have to be the new justification for book advertising.”

Picture not so perfect for illustrated books.

“Illustrated book syndrome” is the grim diagnosis one illustrated book publisher offers for this troubled segment, which has been wracked by layoffs of more than 25 from Abrams, the displacement of Abbeville’s entire staff due to the office’s proximity to the World Trade Center (some are still working from home), and the closure of Viking Studio at the end of the year (with all staff including Christopher Sweet headed out the door). Publishers cite heavy production costs, slow earn-out, competition from proprietary publishers, and retail discounting, which was accelerated by the Taschen/ Könemann rivalry (and led to the latter’s financial troubles). Those houses escaping the brunt of the scourge (at least for now) include Clarkson Potter, where sell-through has been healthy across the list, Watson Guptill (despite the recent departure of President and Publisher Glenn Heffernan), and Chronicle. Thames & Hudson, which had its best year ever in 2000, expects to sail on an even keel this year, and is now cheerily shipping titles for the 30% to 40% of its list that’s in the college market. Meanwhile, distributors such as Antique Collectors Club have cut back staff, and DAP reports that sales are down from last year, but are up in niche areas and limited editions, where quantities are slimmer but prices higher. Other distributors are warily monitoring sticker shock, as the segment clings to the $30 mark — the top price that consumers seem willing to pay.

Giacometti catalog, anyone?

In a related segment, museum publications departments are getting particularly hammered by post-terror declines in attendance, and the guillotine has already been hoisted in many a sculpture garden. The MoMA store had already powered down in anticipation of its hiatus next June, but a quick sales reforecast after 9/11 and the stealth actions of what’s been called a “brilliant marketing department” revamped the operation in a week so that attendance numbers were only down 6% — compared to the Met’s publicly announced 40% and the Guggenheim’s 50% drop. MoMA is on track to sell its complete run of the Giacometti exhibition catalogue, but even with that morale boost, sales will still be weak without the usual tourist trade. As museums batten down the hatches, will the German- and US-based house Prestel — and others of its ilk which compete with museum publishing divisions — take home the spoils?

When all else fails, Harry Potter prevails.

Shuffle the numbers any way you like, kids’ books still seem to outpace adult sales. Moreover, Harry and company have staying power, with anticipation hot and heavy for HPV (which is due in next year). Our sources tell us the children’s business is “steady, solid, and somewhat heartening” given the teeth-gnashing and breast-beating from other retail sectors. That said, what seems to be selling are the tried and true (the familiar is obviously a special comfort these days), as well as the fantastic and all things holiday related. And sales are strong for Lord of the Rings, Lemony Snicket, and Olivia, with a number of other children’s properties buoyantly described to us as “just a dream to the bottom line.”

The smaller the store, the better the sales.

As chain retailers continue to drive up their direct purchasing percentage, and cash-strapped independent booksellers resort to just-in-time buying via wholesale, you might think the Goliaths have finally prevailed. But as one sales executive noted, with all their markdowns, chains may be having a tough go of it, provoking an audacious few to put them on credit hold. This predicament has in fact given rise to a tentative new mantra: “It seems like the smaller the store, the better the sales.” The indies are still in the game, despite reports that their share of the business has dropped from 33% in 1993 to 15% today. One large independent operation tells us they checked their Nov. 2000 figures against last year, and found comparable sales for each month. And get this: Saturday, December 15th was this store’s best sales day ever. For its part, Book Sense is said to be modestly moving the needle, and making a more notable difference in establishing smaller books. On the other hand, indies are keeping tabs on reports that online sales are going gangbusters, with Amazon ordering heavily from wholesale. (A Consumer Reports feature on book retailing notes that online stores account for 7% of book sales — and in a survey of 25,000 readers, Amazon was ranked a close second behind independent booksellers in terms of reader satisfaction.) In other retail tips, don’t forget those impulse buys. “Point-of-sale is dramatically up over last year,” says an executive at a major publishing house. “It’s a real bright spot.”

Too pricey? Check that page count.

As the industry rubbed its collective chin over the recent New York Times article on steep retail prices for books, we note a logical response might be a more aggressive approach to pruning today’s monster tomes. (The ever-fattening size of volumes has been chalked up to the advent of the computer.) Despite arguments that printing and binding costs have declined significantly over the last decade, paper costs are still going up for many publishers, and account for a big chunk of any book’s cost. The industry might tamp down prices by trimming page counts, and — who knows? — you might even get buzz over brevity, like Ken Lipper’s and James Atlas’s Penguin Lives series.

Paradigm shift: Linear out, cyclical in.

On the bright side, one agent points out, the industry as a whole appeared to turn a corner after Thanksgiving, when the phones gingerly began to ring again and we collectively exhaled. (Given the pessimism still voiced by the likes of Random’s Peter Olson, however, it remains to be seen how far that next breath of air will take us.) Another upbeat reading of post-September events is that they mark a healthy return to a cyclical view of the business, which had been tossed in the dumpster during those heady boom years, when the damn-the-torpedoes linear business model ruled.

Once more to the steaming altar.

Covering your bases never hurts, either. “We’re looking OK, or damn close,” says an upscale academic publisher, who offered a few comparative thoughts on the mega-hit-driven trade business. “I think this is in part because we’re more diversified than echt Trade houses, so we have something else to fall back on besides the great and insatiable god of bestsellerdom, upon whose steaming altar virgins must regularly be offered up.”

Pockets of Potential for Trade Sales

By now the rise of books about the Mideast and the fall of just about everything else has been well documented by The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Many reasons have been cited: the abrupt cancellation of tours; the general lack of promotion and concurrent lack of reader attention; the economy; and fear, any which way you take it: of shopping, the future, malls, and now, even mail. Earlier this month, the Times claimed that certain categories such as fiction are off by 25% to 40% from last year’s bestsellers. In a memorable line, Carolyn Reidy told the paper, “I have seen softness in the market for books, but always the bigger books still sold — that is why the falloff in name fiction is so horrifying.” To drive home the point, in the press release welcoming her, Peter Olson hailed Phyllis Grann as an “invaluable addition to our company at anytime [sic], but never more so than now as we must apply even greater ingenuity to overcome the ongoing book marketplace downturn.”

Curious about the numbers behind the numbers, this month Publishing Trends took a sharp look at sales in a variety of categories, pricepoints, channels of distribution, and geographic regions. Though we can’t report that the news is any rosier when parsed, at least the picture is certainly getting clearer.

Not surprisingly, almost every category has seen an incremental rise in sales during the last several weeks. Current title sales have increased 23% even in the last two weeks (through November 24), and backlist is up by 15%. Increased sales were evenly spread out over the country, with the West Coast registering a slight edge over other regions. Unfortunately, when compared with last year’s sales, the landscape is looking bleak. The current Wall Street Journal, which indexes its bestseller list to sales of the top fiction title in 2000 (which is indexed at 100), shows only one title — John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas — selling more than any title last year, and that’s in part because, as the Journal itself noted in an article this summer, fiction had been underselling throughout much of the year. But the trend is reversing itself once again, with several books, notably business titles, indexing in the single digits.

Pity, then, the publisher of business books, or travel books, or romances, whose numbers have fallen even since September, and continued their nosedive over these last weeks. On the other hand, sales of calendars and humor books are skyrocketing as buyers turn their minds to stocking stuffers. Meanwhile, children’s publishing is looking up, helped by three major movie tie-ins (Harry Potter, Monsters Inc. and Lord of the Rings), each bolstering a different publisher. But children’s picture books are also doing well, as are certain series. It seems that, where current events have dampened adult reading, they have had the converse effect on children — or their parents. Certain other areas such as spirituality, books on the Mideast, and atlases saw a bump in sales in September and October, but have receded in recent weeks. All’s well on the home front, however, as cooking and crafts books continue to show strength.

Direct mail publishers haven’t fared any better than their trade counterparts. In fact, though they haven’t been hurt by people shunning the mall, and their returns problems are minimal (the clubs have returns primarily on selections), direct response has been difficult for many sectors this year — even before September — and massive layoffs are already under way. Rodale announced layoffs of 148 jobs (most of them in the direct mail books division) in October, while Reader’s Digest saw its revenues on both General Books and Select Editions fall in 2001, even before September’s “disastrous” decline. Bookspan has laid off editorial and marketing personnel, though many of the latter were related to the merging of Doubleday and BOMC operations. Still, some companies, like International Masters Publishers (IMP), which have been struggling for the past several years, did surprisingly well in their fall solicitations — which began mailing on September 11. Marketing execs from the company chalk that up to the subject matter, which includes cooking, crafts, and a religious program. But even as the mails began to rebound, anthrax spores made their way into many facilities, causing enormous problems for many companies, especially those with return addresses in some of the worst-hit areas, like New York and DC. The mails haven’t recovered, and some marketers are turning to the dread telemarketing to keep their numbers up.

What conclusions can be drawn from sales patterns over the last several months? One factor intermittently mentioned in reports has been pricing. In the Journal article this summer, Geoffrey Fowler notes that some of the bestselling nonfiction books were priced in the modest $10 to $20 range. The Popular Group’s first titles (also priced in this range) are reportedly flying off Wal-Mart’s shelves, and IMP’s continuity series cost as little as $4.95 a shipment. True, the megaseller John Adams had a hefty $35 price tag but it was, as Carl Lennertz was quoted as saying, a book that could “keep you busy all summer long.” Initial Bookscan figures suggest that there is a dearth of titles with list prices in the $20 to $22.50 range — the price bracket where discounted hardcovers could be bought with a twenty dollar bill, even including tax. Is it coincidence that Grisham’s new offering has taken off? Can we still call ourselves an industry in which, as the Times’ David Kirkpatrick put it, sales of books were always considered to be “resilient during hard times as an inexpensive source of hours of entertainment”? If sales are no longer “resilient,” is it the subject matter, the venue, or the price? Regardless of that conundrum, it’s obvious that the loss of sales has proven catastrophic for publishers and their authors.

Modestly Proposed

Publishing Trends has a modest proposal that might benefit all: Were each publisher to delay the spring publication of a handful of books, and instead each republish a handful of those worthy fall books that never glimpsed their potential, in early 2002 it might give readers and authors the chance they deserve to read and be read. When Harry Evans was at Random House, he republished Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action four months after the first publication, because he was so disappointed in its initial reception, despite tremendous review attention. He got a second round of sales, and helped pave the way for the paperback, too. What would happen if the industry were to go it again, perhaps prevailing upon the publicity-wise Pat Schroeder to fight this good fight? Desperate measures for desperate times?

This report was compiled from various sources, including interviews with industry leaders, in addition to bestseller lists and articles from PW, WSJ, and NYT. Special thanks to Bookscan, which provided access to its category data.

Steal This Image

Museum and Art Book Publishers Wander in Copyright’s Wild West

If every picture tells a story, Mitch Tuchman has heard them all. As head of publications at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for 13 years, Tuchman produced 68 volumes for copublication or trade distribution, wrangling permission to print thousands of images from artists and their heirs. Groping through the byzantine legalese of contracts for the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and David Hockney, on the one hand, and noting certain of his colleagues’ cavalier duplication of transparencies on the other, Tuchman stumbled onto an unsettling truth: “The atmosphere of ignorance with regard to picture rights is pretty alarming at some major institutions.” In the jaunty 1980s, to take just one instance, a group representing artists’ rights wrote to Tuchman demanding fees for images used in a LACMA exhibition catalog. Uncertain of his obligations, Tuchman queried his trade copublisher. “Wait and see if they send another letter,” the reply came back. “We’re in the habit of ignoring these people, and they usually just go away.”

Today, Tuchman says, this advice would be viewed at best as quaint. “Everybody is more wary about claims of copyright,” he explains. Yet even though much has changed, perplexity over copyright law persists, resulting in Medusa-like indemnity clauses that sprout from copublishing contracts everywhere. These paragraphs are “a little battle or minuet where each side is trying to allocate the risk of publishing these images to the other side. Neither one is taking the responsibility of knowing about these issues.” Tuchman, now in the intellectual property practice group at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, has vowed to meet copyright law head-on. What’s at stake for both museums and publishers, say others familiar with licensing issues, is not merely legal peace of mind. As the costs of permissions can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars, and even seasoned publishers refer to licensing as “a morass,” the livelihood of big chunks of the art book business is on the table.

“The costs have gone up for everyone,” says Peter Warner, US President of illustrated publisher Thames & Hudson. “If you’re producing a large book with hundreds of images, keeping the overall budget at a rational level can be difficult. And there are times when, because of its cost, you do feel you are leaving out a picture you would have put in otherwise. You have to make those tough choices more often than not.” Others in the industry are worried about both their bottom lines and the larger consequences, too. “Some estates and artists are making it too difficult to publish their work,” says a book packager. “If Picasso and Matisse had been as restrictive as some artists and estates are today, they’d never be as famous or as influential.”

Indeed, the road to publish images is veritably paved with tollbooths. A celebrity photo may require separate clearances from both the photographer and the celebrity. Then you might get dinged for cropping an image, putting it up on a website, or putting it on a postcard. Museums, which must seek permission to publish images they do not control, even as they exploit licenses for work in their own collections, are acutely feeling copyright pains. “Even into the ’90s, museums felt that if they owned a work of art, they could do whatever they wanted to with the image of it,” says Garrett White, Director of Publications and New Media at the Whitney. “Now, everyone knows that’s not true. Ownership of the object and copyright are separate. And that has driven the price of books up very substantially. It means certain types of books are no longer possible to create.”

‘Strip Mining the Obituaries’

In another tale from the trenches, Tuchman once faced clearing rights to hundreds of works by scores of known and anonymous artists for the LACMA exhibition catalog Exiles and Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler. Copyrights held by the estates of 14 of the artists were administered in the US by Artists Rights Society (ARS). For nonexclusive, worldwide, English-language publication rights, says Tuchman, ARS quoted a fee of $18,000. But when he protested that sum, “the price, which I suspected was arbitrary, dropped to $9,000 in a heartbeat.” Other contingencies crop up, as well. When LACMA sought to reproduce a work by the late Swiss artist Jean Crotti on the cover of an exhibition catalogue, a rights group claiming to represent Crotti came knocking. Yet Crotti’s sole heirs “claimed never to have heard of that society and certainly not to have engaged its services. Incidents like this lead publishers to accuse the clearinghouses of strip mining the obituaries.”

Theodore Feder, President of ARS, replies that while he was unfamiliar with the details of Tuchman’s transaction, the fee for worldwide use is typically double that for North American use, and a distinction between territorial rights could account for the $18,000 being halved. He also notes that ARS will negotiate a volume discount when large numbers of images are involved, and that fees are reduced drastically for truly academic publishing. “I can’t think of any case where we’ve demanded a fee which blocked the publication of an image,” he adds. “We prefer to make it workable for both us and the publishing house.” Other groups representing artists’ rights acknowledge that the business has its quirks. “This industry has some unique problems,” says Bob Panzer, Executive Director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association. “Publishers are willing to pay for images. But when they’re forced to pay twice — when the source of the image charges them a fee equal to the fee they would normally pay for standard stock photography — it gets very expensive.”

And even with rights groups going to bat for them, some artists are still getting a raw deal, says Peter Howe, a longtime photo editor formerly with stock agency Corbis. Photographers in particular remain vulnerable under current law. “Unless you have registered a copyright on a picture, you do not have the ability to sue a violator of your copyright for anything other than actual damages,” Howe explains. “If your licensing fee is $75, and your photo is unregistered, that means you can only recoup that amount of money. There aren’t a lot of people who will pursue a lawsuit for $75.” Fortunately, he finds book publishers to be among the most scrupulous traffickers in images. “I am now producing a book for Workman, and we go through everything in detail,” he says. “We work out the licensing budget for the photography before we even start the project.”

The devil, of course, is in those very same details. “I’m amazed that books dealing with 20th-century artists get published at all,” says Susan Bielstein, Senior Editor at the University of Chicago Press, citing the travails of working with living artists. But even the so-called “good and dead” artists can prove meddlesome. Bielstein licensed a book with drawings from the 18th and early 19th century from a French publisher, which provided film for the images. Since the works were in the public domain under every applicable country’s copyright laws, Bielstein assumed they were good to go. “Not five minutes after the book was published,” she says, “we hear from a major museum in New York City which claims that one of the drawings is in its collection.” The museum demanded a fee, upon penalty of suspending business relations with the entire University of Chicago. Bielstein paid the fee.

Museums are themselves in a double bind. Technically, images of art in a museum catalog would qualify as educational fair use, says Mikki Carpenter, Director of Imaging Services at the Museum of Modern Art. “At the same time, we have to negotiate to use these images and pay considerable amounts of money because we want to maintain good relationships with artists.” Complicating matters further are digital databases of images such as the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) or the Mellon’s ArtSTOR initiative, which is digitizing images of fine art for scholarly and research uses. ArtSTOR Executive Director James Shulman observes that anyone treading into the realm of digital reproductions needs to keep a wary eye on the teetering terrain. “It’s definitely a wild west territory, and the legal decisions haven’t clarified very much.”

Indeed, a federal court hearing the 1998 Bridgeman Art Library case found that transparencies of public domain art were not protected by copyright, directly contradicting museums’ claims of control over images of objects from their collections. But museums are standing their ground. “Museum publishers tend to apply an extralegal standard,” says Susan Chun, General Manager for Electronic Information Planning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We assume that when reproductions are made of works of art, those reproductions are copyrighted works themselves.” As for the grumbling by trade publishers about museum reproduction charges, Chun says: “Believe me, museums are not getting rich off of this. Permissions costs may appear to be rising because when fewer art books sell, the per-unit permissions costs are higher.”

However you slice it, the spiraling costs of publishing art books have spurred a sort of grassroots demand for an alliance of museums and publishers that would swap information about licensing fees and draw its own lines in the sand. Though such an entity would surely spawn more reams of case law, there’s no hiding from the fact that licensing transactions in today’s trademarked world are only going to get more, well, unseemly. “You can license a building, and you can probably license your children to Coca-Cola,” says Garrett White. “It has more to do with the gradual commodification of everything.”

NCTE: No Phonics, Please

Eyeing the plethora of titles from publishers large and small at the 91st National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention, one relatively new educational publisher was heard to marvel, “How can so many books sell?” Indeed, that was the question furrowing many publishers’ brows during the weekend of Nov. 17, as an estimated 6,000 teachers and English professors converged upon the Baltimore Convention Center for their annual meeting. Though nobody could muster much by way of an answer, all reports indicate that NCTE still remains a signal opportunity to market new books and mingle with teachers — an educational publisher’s best sales force bar none.

Attendance seemed down from previous years (perhaps due to the less than glamorous location and the reluctance of many to travel), but that did nothing to stem the long lines of patient teachers who snapped up author-signed copies of their favorite titles. Many books on display reflected this year’s convention theme, “Recreating the Classroom,” which inspired a wide range of symposia on democratizing the classroom, integrating technology, teacher development, and, of course, basic literacy. Amid hot topics such as “Classroom As Think Tank” and the incendiary “Phonics Exposed: Understanding And Resisting Systematic Direct Intense Phonics Instruction,” the convention embraced a multi-dimensional approach to teaching language arts that targets a wide range of student abilities and interests. When not drubbing phonics, teachers bashed “neo-liberal politics” and the government’s rigidly prescribed reading programs, arguing for more inclusive syllabi across the board. Compared to years gone by, in fact, this season’s NCTE felt fresh and up-to-date, a mood undoubtedly aided by a roster of speakers that included filmmaker Ken Burns, director John Waters, author Lucille Clifton, and last year’s Newbery winner, Christopher Paul Curtis.

From a publishing perspective, the emphasis on teaching through literature — known as the “whole language” approach — seemed as strong, if not stronger than in previous years, with themes of multi-culturalism, feminism, and cultural sensitivity readily apparent in publishers’ lists. (For its part, Scholastic was noted for offering a $15,000 grant enabling 55 teachers to attend the conference.) In the end, hot-button subjects such as standardized testing took a welcome back seat to making the classroom relevant for a diverse and digitally aware population.

We thank Dan Weiss of book packager Weiss Associates for his contribution to this article.

International Fiction Bestsellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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