More BC at BEA

BEA‘s back and Blackberrys are buzzing as everyone gears up for yet another three-day extravaganza chock full of authors, agents, air kisses and an international invasion. To help you get quadruple booked in all the right ways, Publishing Trends checked in with a number of show veterans and got the low down on this year’s book fair behemoth.

The new BEA show manager Chris McCabe reports that there are “no major changes” to this year’s event, (except for him, of course), but he’s very excited. “Not brand-spanking new, we’re building on things that have been successful in the past,” he said, noting a focus on librarians and increased international activity.

The Rights Center will be back on the show floor this year after its successful debut in Chicago in 2004 – with over 200 tables up from last year’s 140. “It speaks to increased international activity,” McCabe said. “We’re seeing more selling in both directions.”

Jürgen Boos, the new director of the Frankfurt Book Fair will be hanging out at booth #2225 – the German collective stand – with 31 other exhibitors. “I am really looking forward to my first BEA in my new role. I am very excited to meet our clients and to get their feedback so that we can further improve our services at the Frankfurt Book Fair.” The annual reception of the Frankfurt Book Fair in cooperation with Le Bureau International de l’Édition Française will take place on Friday, June 3rd at 5 p.m. Boos will be there.

Ornella Robbiati, Editor-In-Chief of Sonzogno said, “BEA is not a rights fair, it has been more and more taken over by LBF.” (But PT notes she couldn’t stay away!)

In another exciting staying-the-same-only-better development, McCabe also notes that the successful editorial Buzz Forum will be back again this year. There will also be a panel, designed to highlight two or three hot-button contractual issues – libel, decency (could be smut, homosexuality, gay marriage), payout schedules, and the like – lawyers Ellis Levine and J. Stephen Sheppard, of the firm of Cowan DeBaets Abrahams and Sheppard, will join with literary agent Michael Carlisle of InkWell Management and S&S Publisher David Rosenthal in inventing a non-fiction book and conducting a mock-negotiation.

As usual a 1000 plus authors will be in attendance, with 700 signing copies of their latest works.

In addition, “We have another BC as our opening night act,” says McCabe, “last year it was Bill Clinton, of course, and this year it’s Billy Crystal.” And the Saturday night benefit adds yet another Bill to the mix with Bill Maher hosting Real Time at the Town Hall.

The one addition that is “spanking new” this year is The New Title Showcase which will allow everyone from existing exhibitors to small independent publishers the chance to buy shelf space to display their newest releases at the entrance. Space is limited, but McCabe adds that they can always squeeze in more, so if you haven’t signed up yet, do so immediately.

But enough about Javits happenings, where are the parties? On Thursday, S&S is throwing a party for Gigi Levangie Grazer, author of The Starter Wife at Soho House, but Friday, June 3 seems to be party day, with Broadway throwing a party for Mark Bittmar, Houghton’s children’s paperback imprint Graphia is hosting a party at Amuse to celebrate its books, and a 1745 Broadway shindig for Random authors is in the works. Henry Holt will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Metropolitan Books sometime during the weekend, and Harcourt is hosting a luncheon for Umberto Eco.

Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.

The Other Book Club

A gaggle of writers and publishers gathered at the Small Press Center in mid-April to witness a lively panel discussion on the growing phenomenon of Reading Groups, aka the Other Book Clubs. PT attended the panel and then did follow up interviews with some of the panelists.

Organized by Mark Kaufman, Donna Paz Kaufman who run Reading Group Choices (, and Jill Tardiff, National President of Women’s National Book Association, the panel steered a course between talking about what makes a good book club, and defining just what a book club is. Some of the stats that were bandied about were pretty impressive: An estimated 20-25% of some bestselling titles (viz. Kite Runner, Secret Life of Bees) are bought by reading group members; More than 400 titles were mentioned by respondents to the Reading Group Choices annual survey and in 2004, 14 of the top 20 books are repeats from earlier years. The average book club member reads 36 books a year.

Carol Fitzgerald, President of The Book Report Network, which includes ReadingGroup, says she has 2200 book clubs registered on her site and offers publishers the opportunity to pitch book club members on author telephone or online interviews, as well as offering ARCs for certain higher profile authors. When the chance to win ARCs is presented, as many as 350 groups will sign up. Among the trends Fitzgerald has seen is an increase in the number of book club members who choose audiobooks as their preferred method of reading. She also noted that in a recent survey, 48% of respondents say they choose their books 2-3 months ahead, while 16% plan up to 6 months ahead. Therefore, publishers need to alert book groups about new books sooner than they are currently doing.

Everyone noticed that hardcovers are increasingly popular with reading groups, though Barbara Hoffert, Editor of of Library Journal‘s book review, mentioned that libraries are as likely to buy trade paperbacks, for budgetary reasons. Libraries keep extensive lists of reading club books, which they recommend to their patrons. The Seattle Public Library keeps 24 copies of each of 400 titles that they consider premier club books. It hosts 30 of its own reading groups, with another 300 on file.

Adriana Trigiani, author of Lucia, Lucia, and the poster child for how authors can relate to reading groups, speaks to many of her groups by phone – though Donna Paz Kaufman claims only a fraction — about 1% — of the groups take advantage of telephone interviews. She also talked of the impact of appearing on B&N University which, she claims, resulted in 4000 emails from readers and fans.

Everyone had suggestions for publishers: Fitzgerald thinks reading group guides should be published before the trade paperbacks come out (not surprisingly, she suggests they be posted on, and that there should be more material in them, such as author interviews. Everyone – including HarperPerennial‘s David Roth-Ey — agreed that guides are often patronizing, or as Mark Kaufman explained, “like final exams in a graduate English course.” And Roth-Ey talked about Harper Perrenial’s PS Program, which he described as, “a reading group guide on steroids.” Again, everyone agreed that there is too little marketing clout behind the paperback publication of a likely reading group title, and in fact, too little marketing of backlist titles in general.

“Publishers need a marketing slush fund for backlist titles,” Fitzgerald said, “they’re so forward thinking, they’re missing the mark on these titles.”

As for the future of reading groups, look to October, which is National Reading Group Month. Oh, and Listen To Your Inner Critic Month. Really.

*Politics & Prose estimates that at any one time 10% of its 90 groups are currently reading The Kite Runner.

RBTE: The Traditionalists

RBTE: The Traditionalists


New York isn’t the only city getting a little expo action this June. In Chicago, the Religious Book Trade Exhibit (RBTE) is hitting the floor the same weekend as BEA, running from May 31 to June 3. Bob Byrns, who coordinates the event (which has sold out every year for the past 13), expects nearly 1,000 to attend, with 927 exhibitors and buyers – a “steady, mild increase” from years past. “We reach out mainly to Catholic, Episcopal, and liturgical shops,” Byrnes said. “We do not promote any membership of CBA – although we do have evangelical stores attending, usually chains.”

Religion buyers at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon are (and have been) on the RBTE’s key lists, highlighting the importance such outlets play in selling traditional religious products – although it is less likely that they will attend due to the BEA/RBTE scheduling conflict.

Trace Murphy, Executive Editor Religious Publishing Doubleday (who will be attending both BEA and RBTE) noted that even though there has been a surge in “crossover” exposure to religious books (particularly CBA affiliated) over the past five years due to increased distribution at WalMart and the price clubs, “The Catholic market seems always to be steady.”

“It’s not as meaningful to speak of crossover within the Catholic market,” Murphy explained, “because [the Catholic market] wasn’t so thoroughly a world into itself as the CBA was…and there has always been a fairly good representation in general stores.” He continued, that since the CBA didn’t have such similar representation before, “the issue of crossover now, is dramatic.”

Byrns mentioned the trend, especially in Catholic Publishing, toward a merging of genres like Psychology and Religion as people take a more secular approach to religious and spiritual exploration. He also noted that the tendency toward alternative spiritual trends has gone away.

The traditional religious market does see “the occasional flourish” and spike, however, following events like the recent death of Pope John Paul II which has catapulted books by the former Pope and his successor to the forefront.

“In the aftermath of world-wide, wall-to-wall coverage of John Paul II and his successor, many of us are pooped – but not poped – out,” said Greg Tobin, author of Holy Father:Benedict XVI, Pontiff for a New Era (B&N Books), which will be the first instant book into the market in early May, “There seems to be a nearly bottomless public interest in this subject.”

In other growth, the “market overseas is strong” according to Murphy, and there is a “steady interest” abroad for religious books, although Doubleday’s relationship with foreign publishers has “long been healthy.”

In relation to RBTE, Byrns said, “Certainly we’ve seen an increased interest from a variety of international publishers,” especially in terms of Spanish language publishing, along with English language in the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand.

As to what one can expect on the RBTE floor – although there will be some “holy hardware” (with an emphasis on John Paul II and Benedict XVI extras and the ever ubiquitous cross) in the gift and religious articles aisles at RBTE, sources tell us that if you want scripture candy or Jesus mints, you’re coming to the wrong place.

Looking Out for the Little Guy

NYU’s Center for Publishing hosted its third Management Forum for Small and Independent Publishers April 15-16, and got an impressive turnout from around the country. Director Robert Baensch hosted the event.

Friday morning was devoted to the Big Picture, and Bruce Harris, who headed sales at Random before going to Workman and now, consulting, gave an overview of where the industry is going. Think religion! Print on Demand! Self publishing! Non-bookstore! And finally, Harris extoled the advantages of outsourcing as many publishing functions as is practical, and used his experience from Joy At Work to illustrate. Jeff Abraham followed with BISG stats, a Bookscan rep presented its new website, and B&T‘s Jean Srnecz did her usual combo of lively and practical advice for using a wholesaler effectively.

Despite the inviting sunny skies on Saturday, attendees managed to fight the temptation to spend the day in Bryant Park clutching their Jamba Juices, and were rewarded with a series of practical talks that has become the Forum’s trademark. J. McCrary of the Perseus Books Group opined about the potential of profitable non-retail special sales and those magic little words: nonreturnable sales. Ann Heron of the California-based Nolo Press, followed with her take on choosing the proper technology for one’s business. With a graphic that read, “Intel Inside. Idiot Outside,” she warned against upgrading systems without aforethought, but also celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit that allowed a company like Nolo to adapt to changing technologies by migrating much of its material online. Judy Hottensen of Grove Atlantic spoke about the role of publicity in generating revenue growth, complete with graphs highlighting spikes in sales for books appearing on NPR, The Today Show, Don Imus and others. Dan Reynolds of Storey Publishing then took the podium to talk about getting books ranging from Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs to At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, into the non-book retail market. He pointed at the growing importance of blogs like in increasing awareness of niche titles.

The Summer Publishing Institute runs from June 5 – July 15.

Voices from the Edge

PEN Draws Droves, Caruso in Siberia, Sie ist ein Berliner

Who says Americans don’t love literature in translation? The jam-packed events surrounding the PEN World Voices Festival last month suggest that editors will be scrambling to find the next José Manuel Prieto or Adam Zagajewski faster than one can say cross-cultural-post-national-poly-lingual-extravaganza. Billed as “a confluence of remarkable writers from more than 45 countries,” the campaign was created as part of an effort to raise American awareness of the “breadth of literary talent available beyond our national and linguistic borders.” According to PEN, translations account for less than three percent of all literary books published annually in the United States. Depressed yet? The week’s events addressed the “combination of historical circumstances and market forces that keep most of the world’s literatures from being published in English,” despite the fact that an estimated 80% of the world’s population does not speak English.

One of the many highlights of the festival was a literary “variety show” presented by the monthly books and culture magazine The Believer, which kicked off with Jonathan Ames’ (Wake Up, Sir!) madcap demonstration of a Chewbacca-like language he and his friends invented in their youth. Not to be outdone, Salvador Plascencia, a budding author from Guadalajara, Mexico, sent the crowd into snickers with a presentation of a series of illustrations depicting “endangered L.A. gang signs” with deadpan explanations of the origins of each hand gesture. A host of authors hailing from Nigeria to Japan to Germany took part in a discussion on the rules of “cross-cultural appropriation,” moderated by Rick Moody. While Chimamanda Adichie (Purple Hibiscus) and Tsitsi Dangarembga (Nervous Conditions) – from Nigeria and Zimbabwe respectively – cautioned about the need for sensitivity when adopting the voice of another nation or gender in one’s writing, Minae Mizumura (A Real Novel) addressed the practical matter of considering whether or not one’s work will be accepted at home and abroad while engaging in the creative process. There are choices to be made, Salman Rushdie pointed out. Is it “ghee” or “clarified butter?” German author Katja Lange-Müller, who has not yet been published in English (see below), concluded that, at a table with so many intelligent people, everyone is right on some level.

Call Him “The Postman”

So joked Rushdie when he addressed his categorization as a post-national and, basically, post-everything-under-the-sun author at another reading dedicated to writers who “test the limits of nationalist definitions of literature.” Rushdie shared the stage with seven other authors, including Yoko Tawada (The Bridegroom was a Dog) – born and raised in Tokyo and educated at the University of Hamburg – who switched between Japanese and German with the speed and finesse of a bullet train. Mouths watered as Viennese writer Lilian Faschinger read an ode to Austrian pastries as a metaphor for national sentimentality. Francisco Goldman, who drew much applause for his reading from his latest novel, The Divine Husband, written in English, (Atlantic Monthly Press), threw an extra wrench into the issue of identity and nationalism when he introduced himself as having been born in Miami International Airport. Siberian author Yuri Rytkheu shared his writing about the Chukotka of Siberia from his recently-translated-into-English novel A Dream in Polar Fog (Archipelago) and stole the show with the following (paraphrased) joke about the problem of translation:

Two Jews are standing on a corner and the first one says, “You know, I don’t know what’s so great about that Caruso guy. I’ve heard him sing and, to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed.” The second one says, “But he’s Caruso, world-renowned tenor, how could you not like him? Did you hear him in a concert?” To which the first guy replies, “No, but my friend Shapiro did and he sang the whole thing back to me.”

Still Lost In Translation?

Throughout the week, Words Without Borders hosted live on-line discussions focusing on translation matters. Though it’s difficult to deny that the dearth of good translators is a major hindrance to the acquisition of foreign titles, Esther Allen, chair of the PEN Translation Committee and co-director of the festival, asked rhetorically, “How many multimillion dollar advances are paid out each year for a book that exists only as a two-page proposal or a paragraph scribbled on the back of a napkin?” She added, “Publishers are constantly paying money for books they haven’t read, so to claim that this is a major obstacle to publishing translations strikes me as somewhat disingenuous.” Alane Mason, Norton Senior Editor and founding editor of WWB, has a fine solution to the problem: “What we need is for every author who gets a big advance to make a big donation to WWB, to support translation and promotion of wonderful foreign writers!”

From the “banned voices” celebrated at KGB Bar to Eliot Weinberger’s riveting sociopolitical commentary to Hanif Kureishi’s comments on eroticism and organized religion to German author Uwe Timm’s revealing words about his brother – who served and died as a member of the feared SS Death’s Head group during World War II in his latest book, In My Brother’s Shadow (FSG) – the inaugural festival encompased the serious to the sublime and will surely be back in some reincarnation or another next year.

While many of the authors in attendance are already published in English or at least well-known in the US, East Berlin-born Katja Lange-Müller, praised for her “extraordinary precision of language and wild sense of humor,” has yet to make the leap across the Atlantic. Her latest collection of short stories, The Ducks, The Women, and The Truth, “takes the reader into the excitement and flamboyance of the details of our lives” running the gamut from zoo animals to baseball, and from South American beaches to the streets of Berlin. But in all of her stories, the people who live in these places play the leading role. Lange-Müller worked as a typesetter and as a nurse’s aid in psychiatric institutions before 1984, when she escaped to West Berlin where she was able to pursue her writing. Winner of the Ingeborg Bachmann Award, and the Alfred Döblin Award among other prizes, she is also known for her earlier novel, The Last Ones, which is the story of a woman and three men on the fringes of society in 1970s East Berlin. The quartet works for a private printer, and, through them, she tells the story of endings: the end of a professional group, of an old technology, and of a social class against the backdrop of a “fantastic subversive operation” in this “masterpiece of laconic humor and linguistic precision.” Rights to her books have been sold to Wereldbibliotheek (Holland) and to Amphora (Russia). Contact Iris Brandt at Kiepenheuer & Witsch (Germany).

Crossing Over

Lines Between the Christian and Trade Markets Continue to Blur With Growth on All Fronts

As the entire world raptly parses the papacy, smack in the middle of an overtly faith based presidency, it should come as no surprise that religious books have achieved double-digit growth every month for the past few years. Evangelical viewpoints in particular have surged into the mainstream. As Christian based books, movies and other media have found their way into the mass market, the once solid barrier dividing Christian audiences and their mainstream counterparts is eroding, allowing for a new generation of crossover successes to take their place. After years of trying to break into the CBA market, major trade publishing houses are developing their own Christian divisions (eg. Warner Faith), as well as signing authors (e.g. Penguin, S&S, Warner Books, HarperCollins). Similarly, religious books, once relegated to CBA markets, have been steadily moving into trade, and now comprise 11 percent of trade sales, bringing in $1.9 billion dollars annually. And it isn’t just a one-way street: Penguin recently signed a multi-million dollar deal with Strang Communications for distribution into CBA stores, thereby closing the distribution circle. And author and editor Greg Tobin notes that the CBA seems more open to Catholic titles – “an encouraging economic ecumenism.”

Since 1992, the religious marketplace has seen a compound growth rate of 14.5%, over double that of adult net sales, exploding by 50% between 2002 and 2003 alone. For the general public, references to Christian bestsellers usually evoke inspirational titles (Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life), apocalyptic adventures (Jerry Jenkins‘ and Tim LaHaye‘s Left Behind series) or – if one is a little more old school – historical romance novels (Janette Oke‘s multiple variations on the sweet-farm-girl-meets-chaste-hunky-preacher theme) but such cornerstones of the Christian literary marketplace are only the tip of the evangelical iceberg – well known figureheads at the crest of a wave that is spilling out of the CBA and onto the banks of popular culture both here, and – increasingly – abroad.

CBA Stores Torn Asunder

“Five years ago, the assortment of Christian titles that a general market retailer carried would have been limited to key bestsellers and a couple of Bibles,” Jay Echternach Senior Director of Sales at Multnomah Books, said. “Due to demand for these products now, those same retailers are carrying assortments that rival a small Christian bookstore.”

The mass-marketization of the industry can be traced back to the mid-1990’s when Christian publishers began forging relationships with big box stores like WalMart and Costco. Today, these stores are invaluable resources for an increasingly sophisticated market. So much so, that a recent search for books on using the keyword “Christianity” came up with 60,000+ hits. Because of this increased distribution in big box and mass-merch stores “we’ve seen hemorrhaging in the CBA,” Rolf Zettersten, Publisher of Warner Faith, said. “I’ve been in meetings with retailers who have said, ‘we’re going after the CBA market’ and I think it’s a deliberate and calculated business move.”

As sales at independent Christian stores decline, and business disperses, they are compensating by providing more of what big-box and mass-market chains don’t – ancillary products like key chains, bible covers, screen savers, and a slew of other inspirational trinkets. According to Christianity Today, books now account for about 25% of sales in CBA stores, while ancillary products account for upwards of 70%, with specialty gifts and music leading the way. “The real tension,” Andy Butcher, editor of Christian Retailing explained, “is between the Christian retailers and the Christian publishers. You know it’s ‘Great news! Christian books are selling at WalMart’, and ‘Bad news! Christian books are selling at WalMart. Christian retailers want to see their category sell as broadly as possible, but they don’t want to hurt their own sales either.”

Still, as with the ABA, Christian publishers insist that the CBA plays an important role in sales. “CBA stores are critical to our success, and to the health of our backlist,” said Stephen Cobb, President and Publisher of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House. “They will carry many more of our core titles than a general market chain or big box store.” Jenny Baumgartner, fiction acquisitions editor at WestBow Press (Thomas Nelson) says, “The Christian stores can hand sell books, getting to know their customer’s interests, while also speaking to the Christianity in the books. We sell about 50/50 – CBA to ABA/mass.”

According to Scott Bolinder, Executive VP and Publisher, Zondervan‘s sales also showed a 50/50 split between CBA and ABA/mass/on-line, while Thomas Nelson’s 2004 annual report showed a slightly different breakdown with a third of its $222 million income ($74 million) coming from CBA stores, while combined ABA and mass market sales came to $63 million.

Although most agree that CBA stores will continue to lose business to mass-market retailers, they agree that one of the largest remaining avenues for growth for Christian independents is the opportunity to actively pursue sales through churches and individual pastors. Nancy Guthrie, CBA Media Relations, said, “Stores are returning to focus on church customers, finding innovative ways to reach the average person who sits in a pew.” Such an angle may prove to become more lucrative as the congregations of popular pastors become stadium rather than basement sized. Many of the Christian best-selling authors, like Rick Warren and Max Lucado, are pastors themselves, and have an extensive reach into both their in-person congregations (16,000 show up each week, with over 50,000 on the Saddleback Church roster for Warren, and 3,500 congregants appear each week at Lucado’s Oak Hills Church) as well as the hordes that log on daily to their stylish websites.

“Prairie Romances In Deepest Africa”

Another burgeoning avenue for growth is international sales. At the moment according to Butcher, “US based Christian publishing tends to dominate,” with mainly niche fiction along with select Christian chick-lit titles selling abroad, primarily in Europe. “Prairie romances in deepest Africa don’t go down particularly well,” he added.

But as the industry moves from the tame romances of Janette Oke to the edgier contemporary fiction of Melodie Carlson, international audiences seem to be responding. Bolinder highlighted increased international and Hispanic market sales as a consumer trend that will have an impact on growth in Christian publishing over the next five years.

Tyndale Rights Director Dan Balow explained that there are two parts to this growth: “First, the market for Christian books in areas where we export them is growing faster than in the US. There are a couple of factors at work – increased interest in Christian books and the weakness of the US dollar make our products more competitive.” He continued, “Second, in virtually all continents, sales are growing faster than the US. Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), and simplified Chinese are seeing very healthy growth. For exports, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, and even Nigeria are growing quite fast.”

Bolinder agreed, and added India to the list. Mirroring domestic trends, Christian publishers are selling into both trade and religious markets abroad. “We are seeing some secular general market publishers taking some [religious] books – it is happening in select countries – South Africa and Australia are particularly big,” Zettersten said, “We just got a deal yesterday from Spain.” Bolinder noted that the different markets are usually dictated by language, “For English titles, we sell through Christian distributors and trade distributors depending on the channel of distribution – much like we do in North America,” he said. “When we sell foreign language rights, it is most often to a Christian publisher.”

One foreign scout suggested that if Christian literature is growing abroad, it is only due to the fact that people are reading it for a behind-the-scenes-what-the-hell-are-those-Americans-thinking look into our increasingly faith based activities. “People think that Americans are so crazy, so fundamentalist,” Elizabeth Gold, a Senior Editor at Guideposts, added. “They want to find out what it’s all about.”

Haven’t had enough? E-mail us at: [email protected] and say, “I want to know more about Crossing Over!”

Biting the Publisher That Feeds You

For the last decade, college stores have been paranoid about publishers going behind their backs to deliver electronic content directly to students. Although it’s still not a reality that’s come to pass, it may eventually, and when it does “stores won’t offer much value here. Insofar as they ‘collect’ students and shovel them over to publishers’ websites to purchase content, bookstores will get a small ‘click-through’ but nothing like the margins they enjoy on printed books – not to mention used textbooks,” one college publisher (who preferred to remain anonymous) explained.

The paranoia is understandable given the pressures on independent college stores represented by NACS, who continue to lose ground to large chains like Barnes & Noble and Follett. Because of this, NACS has established a large DC lobbying presence to protect its own interests.

Recently, however, the paranoia got out of hand when NACS sent out a press release accusing publishers of gouging students with book prices. Their website – through a series of FAQs on used books, college textbooks, and “bundles” – echoes the general sentiment of “distrust and frustration” students feel, complaining that college stores are the ones who are called upon to “justify the price differential [between publisher’s textbook prices in the states and abroad] even while they are unsure why the price differential exists.”

The site also vents about how the existence of alternative products in a free market economy should decrease prices in a product category, although college stores’ seemingly selfless offering of used books in order to better serve their students has done no such thing. (Somehow in the shuffle the little aside about how used books are a cash cow for NACS member stores got left out).

With NACS finding it necessary to announce that they are working with publishers to address these issues “in appropriate and legal ways,” you can bet that this year’s CAMEX will be more than just a merchandising trade show – though as one publisher tells us from the convention floor, “The blood isn’t running down the aisles, yet.”

PT thanks Jim Lichtenberg’s investigative eye for helping to track down the turmoil.

Talking Grape Fruits, Thinking Grisham

Gift Cards Break Boundaries and Emerge as the New Consumer Currency of Choice

This summer, when the sweltering (remember?) sun drives you into Key Food for a sixpack, stop by the CoinStar on your way out, pop in your pennies and watch the new Harry Potter pop out. The little green machine recently announced that consumers will soon be able to receive gift cards in exchange for their change, including gift cards to bookstores.

Not since Barbie has such a small piece of plastic caused such a large amount of hoopla. According to the National Retail Federation, gift card sales reached $55 billion last year, with $17.3 billion being spent in the holiday season alone. Nearly 75% of all shoppers bought at least one gift card during the holidays, and the average gift card buyer bought 3.2, up 20% from the year before. What’s more, by the end of last year, over 80% of all American adults had received at least one gift card, with 90% of them classifying their gift card experience as “very positive.”

But while gift cards are rapidly emerging as the pre-payment option of choice, accounting is struggling to keep up – trying to figure out what they are and where to record them. As it stands, until the cards are redeemed, retailers record gift card sales as liability, and not revenue. Since gift cards sold during November and December are usually cashed in during January, accounting is helping to bolster an otherwise sluggish month for retailers. But card recovery is never complete, and by the end of January of this year only 61% of gift cards sold during the 2004 holiday season had been used, leaving an estimated $9 billion floating on unused cards. The cards, on average, have a non redemption rating of 16%, according to a Nielsen Report, which many (mistakenly) assume to mean an extra cushion for retailers. Unlike the UK, where gift cards were born (see below), unspent amounts remain a liability, and are therefore subject to escheat laws that allow states to claim that liability as “unclaimed property” for themselves. As a result, retailers are focusing on getting customers to redeem the card, even as they extend unlimited expiration dates. When they finally do, it often takes two store visits, and consumers overspend the card’s face value by 40%.

Independents Get Creative

In the world of gift cards, “booksellers have been as successful if not more so in terms of merchandising,” said Daniel Horne, retail and marketing professor at Providence College, commonly referred to as the “Gift Card Guru” for his continued involvement in the field. Although, mega-retailers Barnes & Noble and Borders come immediately to mind at the mention of gift cards, it is actually the little guy who is doing the most innovation as of late.

Established in October 2003, the American Booksellers Association‘s Book Sense gift card program — which now has more than 300 stores participating in the program and saw sales increase by 256% last December over December 2003 – is emerging as a front runner in developing new ways to sell, market and promote gift cards, including innovative display ideas, flashy packaging, and publisher promotional deals. Working with publishers was “something we always had in mind,” Jill Perlstein, Director of Marketing at ABA, said. “We try to work with the publisher to find something that’s going to benefit everybody.” In the first of such deals, Book Sense created a gift card that displayed a William Faulkner quote (as well as Vintage‘s logo) in honor of their 25th anniversary. Earlier this year, another more complex campaign involved a promotion from Hyperion in which gift cards emblazoned with the title and jacket art of its new book, Cecelia Ahern‘s PS, I Love You were given free of charge to the ABA for distribution in their member stores before Valentine’s Day. The ABA then handed them out, but left the stores to decide what they wanted to do with them. Harry W. SchwartzBookshops, in Wisconsin, elaborated on the Hyperion promotion by loading $3 onto the PS, I Love You card and offering it as a gift to customers who purchased the title, as well as those who purchased other Cecelia Ahern books.

“We’re always talking to everybody,” Perlstein said. “Basically we throw the deal out to everybody and see who’s interested.” Other promotion deals include one with Random House, which is issuing a display to each store, and “Greetings from Mitford” cards which feature pictures from Jan Karon‘s books Shepherds Abiding and Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader (Viking/Penguin). Large chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders also have a variety of both licensed character gift cards (such as the B&N Eloise card) and single title deals (such as the Border’s Polar Express card). Although Book Sense cards are currently only dealing with specific promotions, like the recent Hyperion deal, Perlstein says that she thinks the ABA will soon be branching out, “working with publishers to come up with cards that are occasion specific rather than a specific title so that they can have more shelf life.” And the gift card push isn’t confined to in-store activity alone. “Booksellers are using them as a way to get their name out,” said Perlstein, citing an anecdote about an ABA member who handed out gift cards loaded with $5 on them at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, rather than business cards. “It gets the people into the stores, and they’re almost always going to spend more than what’s on the card.”

From Milliners to Mega Stores

Gift Card Guru Horne places the inception of the gift certificate (paper sister to the gift card) around the beginning of the last century, when it was used by milliners like Stetson. The first comprehensive and sweeping national certificate campaign began in 1932 with the Booksellers Association‘s development of book tokens in the UK. The tokens, stamps in actuality, were affixed to a paper card at purchase, and could be redeemed indefinitely by the holder in a variety of different BA stores throughout the UK and Ireland. The national multi-vendor voucher program (which made the switch from stamps to paper certificates in 1997) is still in place today, often running alongside its more successful, modern equivalent: the plastic, stored-value gift card booming at international retailers such as Borders.

Although surpassed in sales, book tokens retain an important place in the voucher community, representing open-system cards that are redeemable with a variety of vendors. Stuart Matthews, Managing Director of Book Tokens Ltd., explained that when a book token is sold, the bookshop pays 87.5% of the token’s face value to the National Book Tokens (NBT) where a “liability” is created in order to cover the cost expended by the exchanging store. The remaining 12.5% is considered a “sales commission” of sorts that goes to both the original bookseller for driving the sale, and to the NBT for making the transaction.

In an interesting turn of events, Sainsbury‘s (the UK chain that now sells books in about 350 of its 721 stores) recently became the first supermarket to join the Booksellers Association. Sainsbury’s hasn’t begun selling book tokens to date, but Publishing News notes that if book tokens are eventually sold at Sainsbury’s, “it will be a considerable boost for all bookshops, since the vast majority of book tokens bought in Tesco or Sainsbury’s are unlikely to be redeemed in supermarkets.” Matthews agreed adding, “If they did agree to sell, then I would be very pleased, for they would, in my view, start selling NBTs to persons who might not normally visit bookshops, thereby expanding the number of NBTs in circulation” – an interesting multi-vendor structure in which Sainsbury’s would receive, in essence, a commission for driving consumers into traditional bookstores.

Although supermarkets in the US are yet to be granted access into the ABA (and no one is holding their breath), they similarly act as shopping shepherds by selling the gift cards of a variety of vendors, including bookstores. Last fall, Barnes & Noble signed with Safeway, allowing their gift cards to be sold in stores such as A&P, Stop & Shop, Lowes, and Price Chopper among others, as well as in CVS, Eckerd Drugs and Radio Shack.

With a torrent of cross-marketing channels emerging, the opportunities for multi-venue gift card deals seem endless.

Surveys show that consumers are spending more while shopping at fewer stores, and with shoppers now seeking out gift cards as first-choice gifts rather than as last-minute fillers, consumers are going to places like CVS for the express purpose of buying gift cards to stores like Barnes & Noble. And although most of the cards being sold in multi-venue locations are big-name retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster and Home Depot, others, such as Virgin and Napster music download gift cards, are starting to break into the scene as well. To give gift card recipients even further choice, Safeway stores also offer the “My Choice Card” which is exchangeable for any of the cards that Safeway carries.

Selling gift cards in kiosks and check-out aisles won’t be the end of it, either. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see boxes of Apple Jacks having a Barnes & Noble gift card in them,” Horne remarked.

Good Job. Have a Gift Card.

“People will continue to come up with innovations as to how to merchandise [gift cards],” Horne said. “B2B sales, reward and recognition programs, [for example] Borders will partner with an incentive company – say a UPS driver doesn’t get in an accident for 100,000 miles, maybe he gets a gift card for a $100.”

Indeed, in a study commissioned by ValueLink last year, it was found that 40% of the 460 corporate incentive program decision makers interviewed said that they used gift certificates as incentive items in the last year, second only to cash. Companies can either use their own cards (e.g. Barnes & Noble giving an employee a Barnes & Noble card), or others (Sephora giving their company a Borders card). And whereas cash incentives have to be reported, gift card sales do not (necessarily), which makes incentives difficult to track, although it is estimated that the incentive industry pulls in about $30 billion a year.

Numerous B2B incentive programs have cropped up as advertising schemes and marketing deals as well, with Penguin recently offering a $250 salon-of-your-choice gift card to the winner of a contest revolving around their new book So Super Starry by Rose Wilkins. Schools also use gift cards as incentives, as well as for fundraising and charity opportunities. The Scrips program, for example, generates money for schools when they buy scrip (or negotiable gift cards) from retailers (such as Barnes & Noble and Borders) at a discounted price, and then resell the cards to students and parents at face value to raise the percentage difference. Scholastic Book Fair Gift Cards have cropped up to target kids whose parents cannot attend book fairs. And in higher education, many college stores (including both independents and Barnes & Noble affiliates) now offer gift cards as well.

Another phenomenon in plastic pre-payment, open-system cards, are co-branded credit cards like the Borders and Waldenbooks Platinum Visa card that uses a gift card as well as reward points in order to draw people into buying it. When purchased, the customer automatically receives a $20 gift card redeemable at Borders and Waldenbooks, and subsequent $5 store rewards certificates (exchangeable for merchandise in the same stores) for every 500 points collected – with double the points being received when the card is used in either Borders or Waldenbooks.

Now that gift cards are ubiquitous, retailers are looking for ways to encourage long-term gift card use in order to more thoroughly exploit direct marketing advantages of being able to track customer spending (such as where and when a specific title was purchased).

Some merchants offer reload incentives, such as increased stored-value, when customers refill their gift cards – (e.g. registering a $60 reload as $70), and advertising campaigns are now specifically aiming at gift card holders to drive up redemption rates.

“I think that they’ll continue to stretch these products out into all kinds of incentives. There’s still another good 10 years in it, and who knows what technology will bring next,” said Horne.

School of Hard Knocks

Argentinian Aristocrats, More DaVinci,

Writers with Good Noses

As if high school reunions don’t already conjure up enough fear and trepidation, Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt (best known for her YA novels) has brought this confluence of teenage angst to a whole new level in her first foray into adult fiction with The Reunion. Sabine’s life is suddenly turned on its head when she receives an announcement about her reunion. She isn’t worried about how she looks, or how successful (or not) her life has been, but instead hones in on an event of her youth that continues to haunt her — the disappearance of her classmate Isabel. Once her best friend, Isabel morphed into the most popular girl in the school, and dropped Sabine like a sack of potatoes. But it’s Sabine who still feels guilty because she knows Isabel would not have vanished if she had cycled home with her that fateful day. Now, 10 years later, the gnawing feeling of guilt continues to grow as multiplying fragments of memory come back to her. Sabine roots around in the past and comes closer and closer to the true, terrifying story behind Isabel’s disappearance. “ “ A hugely exciting literary thriller, presenting intriguing themes, such as the suppression of traumatic events, the competition between teenagers, and also between colleagues, love, and above all, friendship.” “An asset to the Dutch thriller genre, Van der Vlugt certainly measures up to Nicci French.” Contact Chris Herschdorfer at Ambo/Anthos (Holland).

Also in Holland, a brother and sister author duo who famously dislike each other’s work, have teamed up to write “two books in one” in Murder & Manslaughter.In Doeschka Meijsing’s half, Andrea is visiting her brother Timbeer, whom she hasn’t seen for years, on the peninsula of Ortigia in Sicily. The brother and sister are the middle children in a family of five in which sibling rivalry is the rule. Much like the authors, Timbeer and Andrea are also both writers and thus an even more potent rivalry has developed between them. Holed up in Timbeer’s apartment for days on end, Andrea stews about a solemn childhood pledge she made to kill her brother, while Timbeer works furiously writing a book about a homicide case in the north of Italy (call it the OJ trial of its day). Andrea’s short visit will lead to a surprising and unpredictable development in her relationship with her brother. In Geerten Meijsing ‘s half, Manslaughter, he refutes everything that his sister has written about him. Fascinated by another family, in which a woman is the sole suspect in the murder of her child, Timbeer tries to prove her innocence from afar. The press has offered high praise for Geerten as a “writer with a good nose, a heart and amazingly beautiful penmanship,” while Doeschka was nominated for the Libris Literature Award for her previous novel, 100% Chemistry, “a short, sparkling chronicle of four generations of women,” which is under option in France. Contact Floortje Jansen at Querido (Holland).

The shifty-eyed Mona Lisa makes another grand entrance into the literary world in Mart ín Caparr ós’ Argentinian Planeta Award-winning novel Valfierno. As if we haven’t heard the name enough, Da Vinci’s famous lady has disappeared from the Louvre in 1911, and the police are hunting through every nook and cranny of France to catch the culprit. The story revolves around the prime suspect, the Marquis of Valfierno, an Argentinian aristocrat “with a criminal mind that is both warped and brilliant.” The product of an impoverished childhood, he is unjustly accused of being the ringleader of an anarchist bombing attempt and is sent to prison. After his release, he takes up employment at a brothel where he meets the Frenchman with whom he plots “the heist of the century.” Caparr ós paints a portrait of an indelible character who “creates and recreates himself with a succession of disguises, infiltrating a high-society world to which he does not belong, and inventing a prestigious though entirely bogus name for himself.” Rights have been sold to Planeta (Brazil) and Ripol (Russia). Contact Thomas Colchie for US rights and Mercedes Casanovas (Spain) for all other rights.

Also in Argentina, a recently married Agostino leaves Italy at the end of the nineteenth century for the faraway city of Buenos Aires in Griselda Gambaro’s “breathtaking story,” The Sea That Brought Us. Once on solid ground, he meets Luisa, a washerwoman who falls in love with him and bears him a daughter, Natalia, who turns out to be as strong as the current that brought her father to his new land. Suffering and deprived, she hardens her spirit until she changes her own fate, but pays a high price in the process. Family ties are put through the the ringers of the political storms of the time, the fervor of anarchists and of striking workers. In her latest novels, she pierces the “luminous and urgent center of…the most definitive truths about love, forgetfulness, tenderness, the sick body, and the loss of recognition.” Contact Gabriela Adamo of Letras Argentinas for more information.

Society and its discontents are also on the march in France this month. Meet Rudy. He’s not quite thirty and he works at a plastics plant with Dallas (who has grown so accustomed to her nickname that she’s forgotten her given name). Both of their lives are thrown into a tailspin when the plant closes down in G érard Mordillat’s epic, The Living and the Dead. Woven through this ambitious account of fifty or so characters is the love story of a young couple carried along in the stream of contemporary history. Battered by passion, insurrection and tumultuous revolts, Rudy and Dallas harbor secrets and struggle to survive in a town where hardship has torn families apart, set neighbor against neighbor, and crushed private, social and political norms. The scramble for financial survival prevails over human compassion as Mordillat gives a voice to those who normally are denied the right to speak. Awarded the Prix RTL-Lire at the Salon du Livre, the novel is an attempt by Mordillat (who is a film and documentary maker) to occupy the territory, which in his opinion, has almost entirely been deserted by television and cinema – that of dire realism. Rights are with Charlotte Riegl of Calmann-Lévy (France).

Finally, following up on the controversy involving the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and its attempt to censor works from the six countries currently under trade embargo (see PT, 4/04), Arcade has published Strange Times, My Dear, the PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature despite the risk of fine and imprisonment. After teaming up with PEN, the AAP, and the AAUP to file suit against the US government, Arcade was issued a “general license” to “freely engage in most ordinary publishing activities” involving countries on America’s “enemies list,” but never received a direct response to the lawsuit. We salute them.

Salon du Vivre

The word salon is equally defined as a room, such as a drawing room, used for receiving and entertaining guests, or as a periodic gathering of people of social or intellectual distinction. With this in mind, the perennially chic Salon du Livre celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, continuing a very French mélange of book fair meets leisurely living room. Although the event has long outgrown its original home at the Grand Palais, the opening night retained the same bustling atmosphere of fairs gone by, with guests balancing champagne flutes and gingerly handling hors-d’oeuvres. The art in question seemed less that of literature, and more that of meeting and greeting, with the success of each publisher’s books reflected in the quality of drinks and petit fours served at their respective stands. The Veuve Cliquot of Denoel‘s booth served as the perfect apéritif for the first-rate tomes of La Suite Fran çaise by Irène Némirovsky and A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot, whereas a run of the mill bottle of Bordeaux mirrored the less illustrious success of the National Museums‘ latest publications. Some booths looked simply miserable in comparison, armed only with orange juice, but the always-effervescent Bureau International de l’Edition Fran çaise (BIEF) threw a private party with its own bartenders and waiters to advertise to the world the prosperity of the French publishing scene.

Never before had the Salon been open to such a wide variety of foreign influence, highlighted by the Cosmopolivres special section, touting 300 publishers with the literature of over 25 countries. A single look at the schedule took the visitor on a trip through Africa, Algeria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and India, and celebrated writers like Bukowski and Jules Verne.

The fair also paid a special tribute to Russian literature, bringing in approximately 40 guest authors. By the end, over 18,000 books from the Russian booths were sold, a quarter in the original language.

A 15% decline in the number of paying visitors (down to 165,000) was optimistically attributed to the unseasonably sunny weather and the large number of free invitations issued, but balanced by the increase in the number of attending scholars, which topped 12,000.

PT thanks Armelle Weisman, a journalist for the French magazine Topo for contributing to this article