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.

London’s Great Flood

All circuits are go for this year’s London Book Fair, which returns on March 16 – 18 to the Olympia Exhibition Centre with its usual bagful of rights-trading (400 tables at the International Rights Centre are virtually sold out); foreign affairs (“huge” stands from Belgium and Greece); and industry seminars (such as ePub London, chock full of “practicalities and mini-case studies”). “We’re on track for 6% growth in overall size of the show,” Exhibition Director Alistair Burtenshaw tells PT. “Preregistration is looking very positive indeed.”

If only the same could be said of the British book market, which suffered a dearth of high-profile author output and bobbling frontlist sales in the first half of last year, leading some to charge that publishers were punishing the industry by saving up their big guns for the Christmas blitz. That’s the opening question, anyway, of “The Great Autumn Flood: Good for Business?”, a presentation prepared by Nielsen BookScan’s Richard Knight and originally scheduled for last November, but postponed after booksellers said they were too clobbered by the holiday onslaught.

The presentation may have been sacked, but here’s the take-home message. Analyzing sales in the UK over the last five years, Knight says he’s confirmed the obvious: September and October log 25% higher title output when indexed against an average month, and 40% more books are handled in September than in February. As for last year’s dismal showing, he found no difference between 2002 and previous years: “In fact, 2002 remained very poor on top author output in the UK, but the market eventually compensated (as it always does with books) so the year ended up being ‘OK’.” So does the “Great Flood” work? “Looking at the lifetime sales of books launched at different times of the year actually shows that publishers are right to keep some books back to the last quarter or autumn release,” says Knight. An October biography will see three times more copies sold than biographies launched in the spring, owing to the crucial Christmas gift factor for this genre. For midlist paperback fiction, a spring release actually turns in a slightly better sales performance. And top fiction authors can launch at any time of the year, with books sailing off the shelves. Somebody tell John Grisham his next holiday offering ought to be Skipping Groundhog Day.

International Fiction Bestsellers

Realpolitik Redux
Aguinis in Argentina, King’s Ransom in Denmark, and Slobo’s Serbian Adventures

With the world reeling from the 1994 bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association in Buenos Aires, a Moslem scholar and a young and impulsive journalist join forces to prevent future attacks in Argentine author Marcos Aguinis’ latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Assault on Paradise. Using actual testimony from a New York Times report suggesting that the Iranian government organized and carried out the bombings — and then paid Argentina’s president at the time, Carlos Saúl Menem, $10 million to cover it up — Aguinis, one-time recipient of the Planeta Prize of Spain, rakes through the rubble in a bid to denounce those responsible, and to castigate those who covered up the heinous crime. Among the ruins of the former embassy, scholar Zacarias preaches a radically different view of Islam from fundamentalism, as journalist Tíbori discovers that one of the victims of the blast is her own sister. Then there’s Dawud, a suicide bomber who is welcomed with open arms by Mohsen Rabbani at the Iranian Embassy (the only character in the book representing a historical figure), and whose flashbacks to a tragic childhood in Beirut explain the historical conditions under which his worldview was forged. Aguinis’ even-handed treatment of characters on both sides of the struggle is noteworthy, according to critics, while “terrible facts are brilliantly fictionalized with psychological depth.” After a first print run of 30,000, a second edition of 10,000 is on tap, and sales have been made to Spain, Colombia, and Mexico. See Guillermo Schavelzon at guillermo@ schavelzon.com for rights.

Turning back the historical clock considerably further, Denmark is abuzz over young Neils Eskessøn, the ambitious son of a Jutland farmer, who embarks on a European journey to advance his education in Hanne Reintoft’s latest novel, Raven’s Food. We’re in Copenhagen in 1533, as the death of King Frederik I precipitates a national assembly of nobility who congregate to choose a new leader. Tensions soon flare among this “Assemblage of Excellences,” however, culminating in a civil war in Denmark that rages between 1534 and 1536. By a strange set of coincidences, our man Eskessøn lands in Denmark on the day of the assembly, but soon scoots off on a secret mission to Sweden, where he meets the love of his life: the fiery red-head Sidsel. Author Reintoft, a social counselor best known for her popular public radio program What Are My Rights and What Are My Duties? — a Studs Terkel-type show in which she responds to queries about social issues — chronicles a darn near epic 40 years of the young couple’s tempestuous relationship against the backdrop of a nation sundered by war. In this compendium of horrors, queens are raped, the poor are starved, and religion is a sop for tyrants. Foreign rights are wide open from Forum in Denmark.

Meanwhile, in the third installment of Jens Henrik Jensen’s ragingly successful thriller trilogy The Wolf in Banja Luka, CIA agent Jan Jordi Kazanski ransacks the former Yugoslavia on a bender taut with violence and drama. The book centers around the hunt for Kurjak — the Wolf — which is the mythical code name of a highly influential Serbian underworld figure expected by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague to serve as a material witness against Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian war criminals. Kazanski is pulled into the hunt for the Wolf when his girlfriend, Ewa (who arrived on the scene in the first book of the series, The Shrew of Krakow), has been sent out by the Tribunal on a secret mission to track the Wolf and disappears without a trace. Together with an old Serb who also works for the Hague tribunal, and a woman whose cause for revenge against the Wolf is a mystery, Kazanski heads to the Balkans, passing through the picturesquely war-torn landscapes of Croatia, Kosovo, and Bosnia/Herzegovina, a journey undertaken by the author himself in 2001. Rights have been sold to Sweden (Norstedts/Prisma), Holland (de Geus), and Italy (Rizzoli/Sonzogno), with international film rights optioned to Nimbus Film (Denmark). Contact the Leonhardt and Hoier Literary Agency/Borgen Publishers.

The serial crime spree continues in Spain this month, as Lorenzo Silva offers us his most ambitious tale of perennial adventurer Sergeant Bevilaqua in The Mist and the Maiden. Entrusted to investigate the death of an untamed youngster in La Gomera, the Sergeant, along with his inseparable corporal Chamorro, will try to clear up a convoluted case in which Juan Luis Gomez Padilla, a renowned politician on the island, has been deemed the principal suspect — but absolved by a popular court in spite of the evidence against him. Sarge puts Padilla once again in the cross-hairs, but is faced with a political hornets’ nest and must also quell the smoldering mistrust among his colleagues as he reopens a case they had considered to be closed. Winner of Spain’s most established literary award, the prestigious Premio Nadal for The Impatient Alchemist (the second installment of the Bevilaqua trilogy), Silva has now written twelve novels, three of which are for young readers, and has been declared “one of the most promising writers of his generation.” The Mist and the Maiden has been sold to Italy (Passigli) and France (Lattès). Other works from the author have been translated into Russian, and are in the process of being translated into Greek and German. Contact Laure Merle d’Aubigné of ACER (Madrid).

Also in Spain, Maria de la Pau Janer’s novel The Women in Me summons up the ethereal story of a twentysomething orphan, Carlota, whose home is haunted by a matriarchal clan of phantoms: there’s her mother Elisa, who died under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty, and also grandmother Sofia, who lost her life at the same age during childbirth. Faced with the fear of sharing their fate, young Carlota embarks on a quest to reconstruct their lives through stories told by her grandfather, who is her only surviving relative. Already on its 4th edition in Spanish with 115,000 copies sold (and with a Catalan edition on the way), the book has been sold to Germany (Blanvalet). For rights, see Cristina Mora of Planeta.

And a final note: last month we got our wires crossed in our Year-End International Bestseller List. Contrary to our report, US rights to bestselling author Luis Verissimo’s The Lies that Men Tell (which was #10 on our year-end list) are available from agent Ray-Güde Mertin in Germany.

Cultural Revolution, Post-Mao

Stroll through Shanghai’s “Book City,” a four-story goliath crammed with titles on a surprising breadth of subjects, and you’ll notice something big is happening in the land of Mao’s little red book. As the Chinese government makes unprecedented moves to loosen its grip on book retailing and distribution — working to satisfy obligations under China’s 2002 entry into the ranks of the World Trade Organization — opportunities for foreign investment are being flung open in the world’s most populous nation with a brazenness free-marketeers could barely have imagined two years ago.

The great Chinese bookstore grab got its official green light, anyway, at last month’s Summit of Book Publishing in Beijing, where Niu Bingjie, Deputy General Director of China National Press and Publications Administration (NPPA), announced that China will open the book retail market in over 30 cities to foreign investment beginning this year, with detailed regulations on the matter expected shortly. As a consequence, says Wei Zhao, Random House Sales Manager for China, “Barnes & Noble can open up a bookstore in China if it chooses to do so. Both non-publishing industries in China and foreign investors will be allowed to invest in privately-held book retailers.” With bankers and co-venturers lining up at the gates, the Chinese book market — already subject to constant turmoil for the last three years — is quite likely headed for even more sweeping contortions. “As China enters into a second year of WTO,” Zhao predicts, “2003 could be pivotal for book distribution.”

To date, however, the Chinese bookselling terrain is virtually terra incognita to foreign investors. Though ownership of bookstores has been allowed on a trial basis since last June, the sale of foreign books, including those published in Taiwan and Hong Kong, is “still restricted to the [state-owned] Foreign Language Press bookstore,” according to Luc Kwanten, Executive Director at the Shanghai office of Big Apple-Tuttle Mori. And so far, no foreign bookstores have set up shop in China — though rumor has it that Shanghai and Beijing may soon be the latest outposts of leading French book and music retailer FNAC, which has already planted its flag in Taipei.

What is known about Chinese book retailing amounts to this: In major cities with a population of more than 10 million, there are two primary forms of state-owned retail outlets: the “book city” (a building of three to five stories, portions of which are rented out by individuals as well as publishers), and the “book center” (owned by either a state-run or private corporation which offers large retail spaces for goods such as books, music, and art supplies). Add to that 57,000 privately owned bookstores, which amounts to about four times as many as the state-owned bookstores. This process of liberalization has helped to gradually erode the state-owned Xinhua Bookstore Chain monopoly, which itself has drawn the ire of publishers, who have been forced to negotiate distribution deals with individual Xinhua bookstores in major cities. The Xishu Book House, in particular, has seized enough turf to become the largest privately held national bookstore chain, and is said to be the “first-choice bookstore” for many readers in some smaller cities.

Cracks have opened in the nationwide distribution system as well. The state-owned Xinhua network has been challenged by so-called Second Channel distributors, who emerged with the government’s efforts to liberalize book distribution in the 1980s. Consisting of independent booksellers and distributors operating under a market economy, the Second Channel allows for returns of unsold copies of books to publishers. These wholesalers and retailers account for about 30% of annual total book sales in China, but the limited regional scope of Second Channel distributors — coupled with the fact that they have no access to China’s real cash cow: textbooks — has put many of them out of business. Even so, such competition has spurred the sluggish Xinhua to beef up its operations, as most publishers prefer to deal with Second Channel firms due to their more agile maneuvering among the nation’s topsy-turvy market conditions.

Harry Potter Does Beijing

As it slowly grinds its way toward privately operated book distribution, China is clearly looking to the US for guidance. Credit Robert Baensch, Director of the Center for Publishing at NYU, for providing at least a crash course in modern publishing. Under Baensch’s tutelage, NYU has offered six seminars for groups of 30 Chinese booksellers and publishers, ranging widely over the nuts and bolts of bookselling and distribution, and including visits to both Ingram’s and publishers’ distribution centers. Baensch (who is also editor of the forthcoming book The Publishing Industry in China) cites Chinese news reports indicating that 20 new measures are expected over the coming year “to create an amiable legal environment for the growth of the nation’s media and publishing sector.” The 60 or so overseas companies that have set up offices on the Chinese mainland with the intention of investing in the distribution business, reveals Bingjie in a Xinhua News Agency article, “are likely to be the first to have their applications approved.” Those who have cooperated closely with their Chinese counterparts obviously stand the best chance of getting a foot in the market. Of course, the most exciting news from last month’s semi-annual Beijing National Book Fair, says Baensch, was word that Harry Potter V would be available in June (igniting much euphoria, as last year 1.3 million copies were sold of a special four-volume boxed set of the Chinese Potter edition). Other bestsellers in translation included the ubiquitous Who Moved My Cheese? and the globally appealing aphorisms of Jack: Straight from the Gut.

Indeed, the case might be made that the West has already colonized the hearts and minds of the Chinese bookselling trade, with foreign behemoths like the Shanghai Bertelsmann Book Club trumpeting a membership of more than one million, and high-profile magazine launches from Hearst and Primedia bringing Cosmo to the post-Mao masses. But industry rumors have it that the Bertelsmann club’s days may be numbered, and Chinese news reports say that Bertelsmann is shifting focus to radio and TV broadcasting in the region. And Chinese officials say that regardless of foreign bookselling deals, “there will be no opening up of the editorial or publication side of the industry.”

Then again, the headlines tell us China is the world’s “fastest growing major economy,” the government has opened the sluice gates to 92 new printing companies with $55 million in foreign investment, and 91,000 new titles were published there last year. Set your controls for the 10th Beijing International Book Fair, on May 19–23, and see the bookselling revolution for yourself.

Book View, February 2003

PEOPLE


Lots happening in the sales and distribution world: The big — though not unexpected — news is that, following Kristina Peterson’s departure from Simon & Schuster, Rick Richter has been named President of the S&S Children’s Publishing Division, a position he held prior to Peterson’s arrival. He is currently President of the S&S Sales & Distribution Division, a role that Larry Norton will take over. Norton was previously SVP of Sales & Distribution.

Other sales moves: Dana Baylor, VP Marketing and Distribution at Globe Pequot, says it’s time for a sabbatical and has resigned to do just that for the next six months (at least). . . Mary Albi, VP Sales & Marketing at Phaidon, has left the company in a restructuring which will have much of the company reporting to the UK home office. Meanwhile, Martha Reddington, VP Special Markets at HarperCollins, along with two other members of her department, is leaving the company in a reorganization. Email [email protected].

After a brief stint at Harmony Books, Jake Morrissey has become the Managing Editor of comics at United Feature Syndicate in New York. He’ll be editing cartoons, including Peanuts, Dilbert, For Better or For Worse, Get Fuzzy, and “about 70 others.” He also plans to do some writing. . . Katie Hall has joined Harcourt as a Senior Editor. She was most recently at Random House. . . Lindley Boegehold has left Carlton Books New York and is joining Black Dog & Leventhal with the charge of developing their proprietary publishing business. Keith Allen Jones of Carlton in London has also left the company.

Anne Kostick joins STC as Senior Editor. She had been consulting with STC and previously was at VitaminShoppe. com and Workman. . . Andrea Spooner is joining Little, Brown Children’s publishing as Executive Editor. She was Editor-in-Chief of North-South Books’ SeaStar division, which she helped to launch. . . Penguin has lots of new hires, other than the newest and most talked about, Ann Godoff, and her Senior Editor, Scott Moyers. Susan Lehman was appointed Editor, Riverhead Books. She had been Senior Editor at Talk and Salon.com. Last month PT reported Sean McDonald’s departure from Nan Talese books to be a Senior Editor at Riverhead. Dave Zimmer has joined The Penguin Group as Manager of Corporate Communications, reporting to Marilyn Ducksworth. Most recently, he worked for Vivendi Universal in New York and Paris.

HarperCollins UK announced the appointment of Caroline Michel as MD and Publisher of the newly-created division of HarperPress, which is the name for the combined editorial, marketing, design, publicity, and rights teams for Flamingo, HarperCollins nonfiction, and Fourth Estate. Michel, who was Publisher of Vintage, and Deputy MD and Deputy Publisher of the CCV division of Random House, will report to Amanda Ridout. Christopher Potter has been promoted to the new position of Associate Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of HarperPress. He remains as Co-Publisher of Fourth Estate New York (with Dan Halpern at HC US), while buying for HarperPress across all imprints. Clive Priddle remains Publishing Director for the US.

Hanna Oterio has joined SparkNotes as Executive Editor, to spearhead its expansion into the K–8 Market. She was previously at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, were she was Supervising Editor, and at Frank Schaffer, as Editorial Director.

Nancy Trypuc has moved from Penguin to St. Martin’s Press, where she is Director of Advertising & Promotion. She was handling advertising and promotion for Berkley/NAL.

PROMOTIONS


Tim Bakke has been promoted to VP Editorial Director of Creative Homeowner. He has been with the company for six years and was previously Editorial Director. . . Carol Morgan has been promoted to Publicity Director at Harry N. Abrams. She was Publicity Manager. She is the founder of Boston Literary Hour. . . Ben Morgan has been promoted to Marketing & Sales Associate at SparkNotes, reporting to Associate Publisher Robert Riger.

FEBRUARY DATES


The Small Press Center sponsors an Inside Publishing evening, wherein Christopher Lehmann-Haupt interviews Peter Mayer. The event, which begins at 6, with a reception following at 7:30, takes place at the Small Press Center on 20 W. 44th. For further information go to www.smallpress.org.

At the Feb. 11 Books for a Better Life awards, retiring HarperCollins editor Larry Ashmead will be the first non-author to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Suze Orman and Dr. Andrew Weil.

• AAP hosts its two-day conference, at which Oprah Winfrey will be honored, taking place February 26–28 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in DC. The 2003 Annual Meeting for Smaller and Independent Publishers takes place immediately preceding the opening reception for the general meeting. Meanwhile, on February 3 – 5 the Professional / Scholarly Publishing Division’s Annual Conference takes place, also in DC. Go to www.publishers.org.

FROM THE FLOOR . . .


Our correspondent writes to PT that “Some 10,000 librarians made it to the new and improved Philadelphia for the Mid-Winter ALA (January 24 – 29). Traffic at booths on Sunday seemed light until the various ALA council meetings and lunches let out and then the floor was flooded with librarians eager for the many handouts. Most notable among them was Barnes & Noble.com’s mega tote bag which included an 8 oz. bar of chocolate — not to mention an extra 5% special show discount to launch ‘The Library Bookstore’ from BN.com. Using it, librarians can create a custom-built bookstore, buy online, and get bulk discounts. In preparation for the ALA’s main conference this summer in Toronto, one booth was taking free passport photos to prepare attendees for the border crossing. Penguin was very visible with their immense children’s offerings, but Dan Lundy manfully manned a booth dedicated to the relaunched Penguin Classics titles. Generally the show was short on books and long on furniture, fixtures, and databases. (Certainly the book-folk had spent nothing on display, while the tech types were positively resplendent.)”

DULY NOTED


Taking exception to a recent Marty Arnold column, Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of CLMP, wrote the following in rebuttal, which hasn’t made it into the NYT as of PT’s closing, but which we thought we’d share with our readers.

“To the Editor: In “No Purebreds in Publishing” (Making Books, January 23) Martin Arnold states that “the reality is that there is no longer any such a thing as a purely literary publishing house.” In fact, America boasts a thriving community of independent publishers devoted to mission-driven literary publishing. A mere glance at the Council of Literary Magazines’ on-line directory (http://www.clmp.org/directory/) will reveal over a hundred exclusively literary publishers. Often non-profit, generally run by devoted volunteer staff, sometimes producing but one title a year, these publishers have made literature their only business — and their titles have won National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes as a result.”

PARTIES & EVENTS


Basic Civitas Books gave an “early celebration” of Black History Month at their offices on Park Avenue, on a frigid January 27th. Spotted in the crowd were authors Henry Louis Gates Jr., Michael Eric Dyson, and Martha Southgate, as well as literary agents Manie Baron, Malaika Adero, and Marie Brown, and Patrik Henry Bass of Essence (and a Running Press author), Henry Finder of the New Yorker, and Max Rodriguez, editor of QBR: The Black Book Review.

• Atlas Books, James Atlas’s reinvented Lipper Books line, now ensconced at HarperCollins, and funded by Roger Altman and other investors, chose The Lotos Club to celebrate its launch on January 30th.

MAZEL TOV


McGraw-Hill’s Chitra Bopardikar and HarperCollins’ Josh Marwell are delighted to announce the early arrival of Tobias Julian Marwell on January 27th.

High Fidelity?

MP3 Audio Is the Next Big Thing. Unless It’s Audiobook Suicide.

The average Los Angeles motorist now spends 136 hours per year sitting stock-still in traffic, according to the landmark Texas Transportation Institute study, and audiobook publishers are thrilled. Indeed, the apocalyptic fate of our nation’s highway infrastructure is rehearsed by audio industry brass with barely repressed glee: 97 million people in America commute to work by car, up 15% over the last decade. Mean travel time to work has grown to 24.3 minutes each way, up 7% from 1990. And New York’s rush-hour delays — a breeze by LA standards — clocked in at a soul-crushing 73 hours per year.

This is extremely gladdening, of course, because nearly 60% of audiobook fans log most of their listening hours in cars, according to the Consumer Electronics Association and its eBrain market research division. Gridlock has gotten so good, the study concluded, that audiobook compatible in-dash systems could pump up sales by almost 15%, kicking the US audiobook market, which is conservatively estimated at $400 million, into overdrive. So honk all you want, folks, because what was not long ago deemed “the most underpenetrated segment of publishing” may be on the cusp of a listening revolution.

“Audiobooks are still growing at a faster rate than print books,” explains Eileen Hutton, President of the Audio Publisher Association. “There’s an incredible amount of interest in the audiobook industry by personal stereo manufacturers, especially those in the MP3 market.” And anyone familiar with Napster knows that MP3 allows more content to fit on one CD — up to 20 hours of spoken audio — than ever before. That could mean lower price-points for audiobooks (ditch those 14-cassette titles) and more fun for the consumer (download Jack Welch direct to your hard drive). The problem is that MP3 players currently have a dismal market share. And the vanguard of today’s audiobook consumers have only recently warmed to the idea of books on conventional CDs. But in the paradoxical land of audio, bad news breeds optimism, and by some measures the audio industry’s pursuit of revenue opportunities, courtship of device manufacturers, and focus on “unprecedented convenience for consumers” makes the audio biz a model of growth that print and ebook divisions can only dream of.

The Aura of Audible

If you’re looking for optimism, you can’t do better than this: digital audio pioneer Audible, Inc., which downloads audio files directly to consumers’ computers, may one day earn a profit. “What Audible has done is created a more convenient channel of distribution of the audiobook product,” says CEO Don Katz. “But it has also created like-minded audio products based on a pre-branded and desirable piece of media. There was never really a way to get the Wall Street Journal into someone’s drivetime before we invented it.” Katz is referring to exclusive audio digests of the WSJ, along with other options such as The New York Times, In Bed With Susie Bright, and a virtually unlimited supply of old NPR programs. All told, there are 6,000 audiobooks and 14,000 other programs that can be downloaded to MP3 players and even burned onto a CD. (To avoid the Napster effect, the company limits playback of audio files to specifically identified personal computers and hand-held digital audio players.) Audible is also flogging its “AudibleListener” program, which allows a customer to choose one audiobook and one periodical every month for $14.95 per month — and they’re throwing in a free Otis MP3 player with a 12-month subscription. Titles are typically priced at about 30% less than the same audiobook on cassette or CD, and discounts can reach the 80% range. “Most importantly, we’ve got over 200,000 paying customers who have taken on habitual listening to this product,” says Katz. “Half the customers who have become dedicated users through Audible.com had never used audiobooks before.”

“The MP3 CD has taken off,” adds Paul Coughlin, Sales and Publicity Manager for Blackstone Audiobooks. Coughlin cites the format’s high-quality audio and price savings for unabridged audiobooks. He also predicts that DVD players will before long be standard equipment in cars (put Junior in back and pop in Terminator 2), and those players are MP3 compatible. Of Blackstone’s 2,000 titles, over 500 are available on CD, and 300 are out on MP3 CD. This summer, the publisher will begin offering digital downloads from its website, and “we see an increase every year in both the rental market of audiobooks,” says Coughlin, “as well as purchases from libraries.”

To be sure, libraries are fast becoming a proving ground for digital technology, and other audio publishers report that their library sales have been “growing exponentially.” In what was touted as “the first such deals by a major US trade publisher,” HarperCollins said last week that the publisher’s PerfectBound ebooks would be downloadable and circulated to patrons over the Internet, via distribution from netLibrary and OverDrive. Buried in the press release was the detail that OverDrive’s library package would support digital audio as well. This March the Cleveland Public Library, for example, debuts its digital media collection, which can allow audio downloads directly to patrons’ own devices. (Titles expire on the borrower’s computer at the end of the loan period, and can then be recirculated.) Library Deputy Director Sari Feldman says they’re also creating an online library card to attract “a large market of people” who don’t physically use libraries, but would happily download from home.

Audible now works with 50 library systems, among them the Kalamazoo Public Library, which circulates Rio MP3 players pre-loaded with an audiobook. Library Director Saul Amdursky says he downloads titles according to consumer demand: “If you come into my library and say you want Airframe, you wait while we download it first to our computer and then to a MP3 player. You go away satisfied immediately.” An even more ambitious program has launched at Washington State’s King County Library System, according to Bruce Schauer, Associate Director for Collection Management Services. The library purchased 200 Rio players and picked up 15 titles for its initial “eAudio” collection, and soon added another 400 audio players, with management begging Audible for some way for cardholders to download content directly to their own player.

Cutting Your Own Throat?

Traditional publishers aren’t so sold on the MP3 marketplace. “We can adopt all the technologies we want,” says David Naggar, President of Random House Audio and Diversified Publishing, “but the bottom line is, you’re looking for a consumer to make a purchase. As an industry, we haven’t even made a full implementation to CD, because the consumer isn’t ready.” More than half of Random’s audio sales are still on cassette, he notes. And too many formats can be “hurtful to the industry,” because retailers with scarce audio shelf space don’t know which one to choose. “If you all of a sudden add a third format, you’re basically cutting your own throat,” says Naggar. Such caution may reflect lessons learned from the Random House Audible imprint, with Internet distribution of audiobooks exclusively by Audible.com, in which it has an investment.

“It’s sexy and cool to be talking about MP3,” adds Carrie Kania, VP, Associate Publisher of HarperAudio, “but we’re just losing sight of our main focus — giving audiobooks the best possible representation in bookstores.” Shelf space in stores hasn’t kept pace as the audio industry has grown, she says, and that hurts backlist sales. And Gilles Dana, President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, says he tested the market with Stephen King’s The Talisman as a MP3 CD, partnering with Borders to sell the disc set both in the audiobook section and in the music aisle. Priced at $49.95 (well below the $75 CD set), it seemed like the perfect way to grab all those early adopters. Would he do it again? “Not tomorrow,” Dana says. “I don’t think the audience is ready for it yet.”

Still, many in the industry are warily eyeing music-based services such as Pressplay, MusicNet, and RealNetworks, lest they too bound into the downloadable spoken audio market. And MediaBay has recently announced the strategic decision to “aggressively grow our Audio Book Club membership by expanding our targeted direct mail campaigns and Internet marketing efforts,” counting a customer base of over 2.8 million spoken audio buyers. Flush from the acquisitions of audiobook clubs at Columbia House and Doubleday Direct, MediaBay is now rolling out niche audio clubs, including he already successful Christian club Audio Passages, and is salivating over self-help, mystery, and Spanish club opportunities. Then there’s the company’s new monthly “Digital Audio Subscription Service,” allowing users to download up to 20 hours of content each month — including audiobooks — for $9.95.

The folks back at Audible, trying to stay one step ahead of the game, have been in market trials with AT&T Wireless for downloads right to your earpiece. From Katz’s perspective, it’s just one more way to get books into whatever future is coming down the pike. “It’s in its early stage, but so was the paperback book and other new innovations that are now the bread and butter of the publishing industry,” he says, ever the investor-visionary. “Audio represents a transitional opportunity for a print product to become part of the look and feel of everyday life.”