Forsaken Frankfurt?

Amid Post-Book-Fair Grumbling, London Gains on the Buchmesse

“Deplorable, but not lethal” was the official word on southbound exhibitor numbers at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair — they tumbled 4%, a figure direly reported to the trade as “the biggest decline in the fair’s 54-year history” — and it made for a condign summation of the world-weary Buchmesse as a whole. Stung from savage hotel price hikes, bummed out by a guttering German book trade, and exhausted by bivouacs in a rights center so far-flung it may as well have been in Köln, attendees winging home from this year’s fair packed along plenty of their usual post-fair grumbling, and then some.

“Of course the fair isn’t as important as before, simply because you’ve heard about the interesting stuff beforehand via email or fax,” says Merete Borre of Danish publisher Lindhardt og Ringhof, in a typical observation. “The London Book Fair is getting more and more important for us, as well as the fair in Gothenburg. We’ll need to go to all three places.” Those closer to home were in the same boat. “The general consensus is that Frankfurt is extremely expensive — the hotels, the stands, the hoopla — and the number of people attending kept small,” notes Tim Bent, Senior Editor at St. Martin’s Press. “From an editorial point of view, the London fair has taken on nearly equal importance to Frankfurt.” Then, too, Germany’s economic doldrums left many visitors feeling especially burned. “Lots of agents and foreign rights people were unpleasantly surprised that the Germans have stopped paying big money, and some have stopped buying altogether,” says German agent Michael Meller. “Quite a number of people haven’t recovered their Frankfurt expenses, and are beginning to realize that the scene has changed — whether for good or just temporarily.” Frankfurt, one publishing executive says, “doesn’t drop to the bottom line.”

With the buzz ever amping at London, and a nagging feeling that Americans may be sneaking toward the Buchmesse sidelines, that perennial post-fair question — Is Frankfurt becoming dispensable? — may pack a little more punch this time around. Frankfurt brass, for their part, are working hard to soften the blow. “We are certainly concerned about the price increases that we have seen,” Frankfurt Book Fair Director Volker Neumann tells PT, “and we are in very tough discussions with the hotels in Frankfurt about their pricing policies.” Fair planners are also working round the clock to restructure the layout of the German halls, relocate the agents’ center, and do a better job of delineating different sectors of publishing. But by no means, says Neumann, is Frankfurt ready to concede the title of the world’s best book convention. “London and BookExpo America are still confined to the English-speaking world in their relevance,” Neumann maintains, pointing to a rising international crowd at Frankfurt — 110 countries came this year — and the fact that Frankfurt has about twice as many UK exhibitors as London. Plus, with 265,000 visitors (up over last year, but still down from 2000), it’s still nearly ten times the size of BEA.

Foreign attendees may be skeptical about the number of deals going down, but they’re still behind the fair. “Frankfurt is now more a public relations book fair,” says Ornella Robbiati, Editor-in-Chief of Italian publisher Sonzogno. “We get 90% of the manuscripts by email before the fair.” Nonetheless, she adds, Italians are in no way prepared to bail out, and she says even American drop-outs would do little to affect European participation. (Robbiati’s bigger concern is the American throngs in London. “I’m worried by the constant increase in the number of Americans there — it’s impossible to see them all. In London I must see English publishers and agents, so I can only keep half a day for the US, no matter how many Americans are there.”)

For some Americans, too, the fair still packs appeal. “Frankfurt helps you get over the sound barrier,” says Nan Talese, President, Publisher, and Editorial Director of Nan A. Talese Books. She doggedly attends Frankfurt and hasn’t been to London for the last two shows, and has her own serendipitous tale: she dreamed up a book concept with Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner writing about the creation of the “Newman’s Own” line. She signed the book up just before Frankfurt, and with no written description, sold the project to Chinese publisher Rex Howe of Locus. “This would not happen in London or at BEA,” Talese says.

Even in the world of children’s publishing, Frankfurt is holding its own against the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the major confab of the kids’ business. Maureen Golden, a partner in children’s packager Orange Avenue, notes that the four-year-old company regularly exhibits at Frankfurt and finds a much stronger response from prospective publishers than at Bologna. However, Bologna boasted an 8% increase in foreign children’s publisher visitors last year, placing both fairs in an apparent win-win relationship. “My advice would be to go to Bologna for children’s, go to Frankfurt for children’s, and go to London for children’s,” adds Susan Katz, President and Publisher of the Children’s Division at HarperCollins. “I think you learn things from the adult market, and you see things that might work in the children’s market. I can’t tell you how many times while I was at Frankfurt I said to myself: If I learn nothing else, this one thing would be worth it.”

‘Massive’ Growth at London

While Frankfurt may still be the biggest, it’s not necessarily the best, say London partisans. And the numbers are impressive. Exhibitor space at the last London Book Fair was up 6%. Bookseller attendance rose 9.6%. Visitors were up 1.4%. And press attendance shot up a whopping 36%. “For a number of years now we’ve been getting more and more support, especially from America but also from countries around the world,” says Alistair Burtenshaw, Exhibition Director for the London Book Fair. “European attendance has been increasing rapidly. International collectives of overseas publishers have also grown massively.” The collective stand from France now counts as the show’s largest exhibiting company, he says. Moreover, next year’s gig will see “very large new presences” from Belgium and Greece, while China has also been growing its presence year-over-year. Then there’s the fair’s International Rights Centre, which drew 114 North American companies last year, up 28%. And as for LBF 2003, coming March 16? It’s already 93% sold.

“With the continuing success of London, and with ever more year-round rights business, people are realizing that there doesn’t have to be a single show where you get all your business done,” says packager and Publishers Lunch founder Michael Cader. “The lesson of London has been that if you work from a place where there is already a natural concentration of publishing, you’ve got a great nucleus to build on.” To that end Cader, along with industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, has been working on the rights show tentatively titled “Publishing in New York” (formerly “Frankfurt in New York”), which would bring agents, editors, packagers, and others together in New York in May, at a time when many of them swing through the city on their usual rounds. Organizers are currently in discussions with BEA parent company Reed Exhibitions, among other parties, about sponsoring the show, though they underscore that reports elsewhere of firm plans are premature. Cader says that while mega-events on the scale of Frankfurt will always have their value, smaller, more concentrated forums make economic sense. “We may find that we don’t have to have supershows for certain communities to get good business done,” he adds. “Should we be successful in staging the New York show, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more efforts popping up elsewhere as well.”

Indeed, the rise in international participation has helped boost other fairs too. Christian Booksellers Association President Bill Anderson tells PT that the group’s international convention in Anaheim last July was a pleasant surprise. “Given that some trade shows have been off as much as 50%, we were extremely pleased with 13,129. We had people from 50 countries and our highest international attendance ever, with 1,039 people from outside the US.” The group’s CBA Expo is on tap for January 29-31 in Indianapolis, and interest is so strong that 30 exhibitors have been placed on a waiting list. Plus, a glance at conventions in the technology sector makes Frankfurt look like hog heaven. “Book conventions have held up very well,” says Courtney Muller, Executive Director at New York Is Book Country and veteran of industry conferences at Penton Media (producers of Internet World) and Reed Exhibitions. “COMDEX is one quarter the size it was two years ago. Internet World is one tenth the size it was two years ago. Book shows are staying steady, which in this climate for the trade show and event industry is great news.”

Some international observers were wont to read a political subtext into the Americans’ cold shoulder. “Surely US chief executives are just following Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft’s lead in ignoring what the rest of the world is thinking,” charges UK agent Toby Eady. “America is out of step and even more so by missing a year.” Everyone knows, Eady says, that English-language business gets sent straight to New York. But with a client list of 60% foreign writers, Eady calls Frankfurt “the one time I feel I do something interesting. We sold Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby in 30 languages, Xinran in 21 so far, and Jung Chang in 31. Frankfurt is a circle of publishers who buy one another’s taste, as the London Book Fair is becoming,” Eady adds. “And so twice a year we sell.”

Disappearing Act at DMA?

“The Place for Face-to-Face” was the tagline for the 85th Direct Marketing Association annual conference and exhibition, which landed at San Francisco’s Moscone Center on October 19 with its customary thunk of “telco-verified” telemarketing lists and scads of “permission-based email data.” But despite candid moments with Senator Joseph Lieberman (he blasted Bush and preened as a pro-business alternative for the White House in ’04), and a tête-à-tête with Postmaster General John E. Potter (his address was the craggily titled “A Critical Juncture for Crucial Partnership”), there was little doubt that at “the world’s largest gathering of direct and interactive marketers,” book publishers may as well be missing-in-action.

True, roving teams from Bookspan and continuity publisher International Masters were taking their usual reconnaissance flyovers, while government-giveaways guru (and Free Money author) Matthew Lesko could be found sashaying about in his daffy, question-mark covered suit. PT’s correspondent glumly reported sighting only one booth-inhabiting trade publisher, however — that being Publications International, which gave a big thumbs up for sales of its diabetes books (a hot topic for baby boomers with Type 2 diabetes) and its line of inspirational titles. “The days of this being a big show for book publishers,” our observer flatly declared, “are over.”

That might be a shame, because by some measures the direct marketplace actually showed a pulse this year. Anthrax jitters (remember those?) went the way of Cipro stockpiles as sales revenue from direct and interactive marketing in the US last year popped up 9% to $1.86 trillion, the DMA reported, and is expected to top $2 trillion this year. Moreover, the organization is betting that over the next five years direct marketing sales growth will outpace overall sales in the US by 3.5 percentage points — with industries such as health services, securities brokers, and — yes — electrical equipment purveyors leading the charge. Even plucking a silver lining from everyone’s dismally plummeting advertising budgets, the DMA’s press releases said that the inclement ad climate was driving dollars into direct marketing as a “cost effective, measurable way to boost sales.”

So much for the good news. DMA President and CEO H. Robert Wientzen quick-changed into his grim reaper’s getup to share results from the DMA’s new quarterly business review: the inaugural index found that, for the third quarter of 2002, DMA members reported a performance of 36 compared to what they had projected for the quarter — that’s 36 on a scale of 100. And among the group’s direct marketing users, 60% said their quarter was “somewhat” or “significantly worse” than they had projected. (The group had cheerier hopes for the fourth quarter, but still expected to spend less on direct mail.)

And that brings us to spam, which one study says now accounts for over a third of all email traffic on the Internet. Even though consumers are desperately banging on their delete keys, a DMA report on the “State of Postal and E-Mail Marketing” said that 71% of those surveyed indicated that they boosted the quantity of their marketing email, citing rising postal costs, among other factors. Email use was up even though 59% of email marketers said gross responses were flat from 2000 to 2001. (Snail mail response rates were even worse, with 53% reporting flat responses and 21% citing a decrease.) All of which was further fuel to the DMA’s “about-face decision” to support anti-spam legislation, which the group had once vehemently opposed. It’s too little too late, declared critics, who noted that 27 states now have do-not-call registries (a defensive DMA even rolled out its own do-not-call list for cell phones) with the backlash against telemarketing agents steadily mounting. So what’s enemy number one for direct marketers? State and federal privacy legislation that could put a national do-not-email list — and even a dreaded nationwide do-not-mail list — on the table. And if that ever comes to pass, expect plenty more disappearing acts at DMA.

The ONIX Odyssey

Twelve bucks a title. That’s how much Barnes & Noble has suggested it will charge publishers if they don’t beef up their title information feeds to the nation’s largest bookseller. Over the summer, B&N, having announced its data-streamlining partnership with Bowker, marched 40 of its largest suppliers into its offices and delivered the dreaded ultimatum: by November 1, transmit 11 key data points via Bowker, six months before a pub date, or pay the piper for the service of key-punching that missing data. “I don’t anticipate that we’re going to turn on the switch on that date,” explains Joseph Gonnella, B&N’s VP of Inventory Management and Publisher Relations. “Our impression is that most of the publishers have the ability to get us what we’re looking for six months in advance.”

Supposing Riggio and company make good on their word, they may be collecting a tidy pile of cash. That’s because B&N has made a strong case for transmitting title data via ONIX — short for Online Information Exchange — and to date, only about 25 publishers are distributing ONIX files. Perhaps that explains the air of desperate befuddlement at last month’s full-day seminar on the ONIX standard, sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group and NYU. Much wild scribbling was in evidence when Andrew Porter, Manager of Digital Content for Harcourt’s trade division, told the crowd about his two-year-old ONIX odyssey, which meant consolidating 40 databases around the company, and, despite much progress, remains an ongoing effort. The really unfortunate news? Judging by the audience’s queries, Harcourt may be light years ahead of other major publishers.

Better news is that when finally deployed, ONIX actually works. As a system for transferring descriptive information from publisher to retailer/wholesaler to consumer, ONIX is an expansion of the original BISAC/BASIC code, designed to transmit information needed to sell a title, from author, ISBN, and price to more complex data such as jacket art, author bio, and reviews. And with the release of ONIX Version 2.0, the available information fields have been expanded. The university presses represented at the session were relieved to find that listing a work with multiple editions, multiple volumes, and Greek on one page and English on another was within the standard’s scope.

In his introduction, Fran Toolan of Quality Solutions, a provider of software and services to the publishing industry, noted disappointment that ONIX adoption has moved slowly since Pat Schroeder declared almost three years ago that this was to be an AAP priority. As B&N’s Gonnella tells PT, however: “The structure should be consistent with the ONIX standard, but we’ve made it clear that we’d take things by carrier pigeon.” He also stresses, “We’ve been pleased to see the degree that publishers have embraced ONIX.” As they struggle toward compliance, some publishers have happily farmed out their data headache. Toolan’s company processes ONIX files for about 8 publishers, and one such client is Scholastic, whose databases are currently undergoing a major overhaul with the possible aim of using ONIX in-house. “We’re trying to design our databases so that they can capture the information ONIX needs,” says Neil De Young, Scholastic’s Business Information Manager. “For the most part, everyone recognizes the concept and the need.” Given the challenge of dragging one’s troops into line so that title information is entered uniformly from the moment a book is signed up, one might well ask: Is ONIX worth the effort? “In the long run, I’m not necessarily sure it’s going to save anyone money,” says De Young. “But it’s going to present information the right way, which in theory should make more money.”

Whirlwind at NEBA

A gulf hurricane’s leading edge was the only unwelcome guest at the New England Booksellers Association’s annual meeting and trade show, which blew into Providence, Rhode Island on September 27. But the winds and heavy rains were blamed for the thinner stream of booksellers on the floor. Perhaps because of weather (or because of flat sales), some stores stayed home or brought fewer staff. It was a shame, because those on hand regarded the programs as among the best ever. “We appreciate the creative ideas NEBA stores use to capture market share in the world of ever-increasing conglomeratization,” said Sheri Strickland, Sales Manager for NEBA Publisher of the Year, the University Press of New England. “We appreciate the work of these stores with smaller presses like UPNE to represent a broader range of books to sell — which alone will help both the stores and us to survive.”

In any case, survival seemed well within reach for attendees such as Stan Hynds, Senior Buyer at Northshire Books, who noted that “sales are up slightly so far this year, thanks to a better than expected August. There seems to be a lot of good fiction this fall and for the holidays, which makes the end of the year look promising.” Also, “with BEA so early this year,” said Hynds, “many fall books that were not ready for display then are available for perusal in Providence.” Hynds happened to be eagerly awaiting the “Jump Starting Your Business” session, in which Jeffrey Stamp, co-author with Doug Hall of Measurably Smarter, led booksellers through ten ideas developed by a group of independent booksellers from around the country. In another session, Jenny Lawton, the new owner of famed Greenwich store Just Books (and the recently opened Just Books II) joined a Sunday panel on succession issues. “We need to bring more young people into the business, so owners can have someone to whom they can hand their business,” said Lawton.

The immensely popular Nanci McCrackin received the Gilman Award for being this year’s “Outstanding New England Sales Representative,” and Judy Blume stopped by to speak out against post-9/11 censorship in a Saturday session. NEBA reported that the Cromwell School District in Connecticut is facing a petition drive to remove Elizabeth Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia from the district (two residents believe the books promote witchcraft). Meanwhile, the panel “Sex and Drugs and Children’s Books” nicely complemented talk of censorship. “How do you sell a book to a teenager without scaring their parents away?” asked Alison Morris, of Wellesley Booksmith.

The New England Book Awards were presented Sunday, and went to Chris Bohjalian, Leonard Everett Fisher, and Howard Zinn. Back on the exhibit floor, the most popular new product appeared to be the LightWedge, introduced by Jamey Bennett, best known for his Book Wire role. But by all accounts the award for in-booth author appearances went to Kensington’s Holly Chamberlin, feverishly signing Living Single while regaling visitors with her struggle to look like her jacket photo.

We thank Chris Kerr of Parson Weems for this report.

Museum Books for the Masses

The tenth International Museum Publishing Seminar, produced by the Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago, returned to its city of origin for a three-day affair beginning September 26. And judging by the diverse roster of museum types who flocked to the biannual event, it wasn’t a moment too soon: the show boasted its second-highest attendance after New York City four years ago (245 attendees turned out), a gratifying number, according to co-organizer Susan Rossen of the Art Institute of Chicago, given the rampant budget-slashing and other siege-like conditions under which many museums now struggle. Indeed, over the course of the seminar, the sharply clashing demands of mission statements and profit-taking mandates were never far from the surface, as it seems benefactors’ cash donations become more difficult to extract, or — given the fate of notable high-flying trustees such as Vivendi’s Jean Marie Messier and Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski — get one’s hands on before the Feds and shareholders do.

The proceedings kicked off with a keynote from the AAP’s ubiquitous CEO and President, Pat Schroeder, who delivered a ringing defense of intellectual property, and outlined the efforts made by the AAP to combat piracy on every front. It proved a fitting overture to this event, as many participants demonstrated a heightened sophistication about the publishing process, and a concerted effort to do battle with their ongoing — but perhaps no longer intractable — sales and distribution demons.

Accordingly, one well-received tactic for bumping up sales went right to the fine print of the matter, that being the scholarly minutiae that too often clog up the page. At a panel discussing the gap between popular and scholarly markets, the general agreement on this point was that the issue had less to do with content than with its presentation. Best idea: consign the footnotes and scholarly apparatus to the back of the book. Or even better, advised MoMA’s Michael Maegraith, put it online where academics may refer to it as needed or desired. Beyond this route to “popularizing” academic titles, Chris Hudson, Publisher at the Getty Museum, observed that some museums are now popping out two texts for each show: one for the aesthetes, and one for the masses. “A noticeable trend was the move toward revenue-positive, shorter, accessible, popular books for exhibitions,” he said, “rather than or in addition to the big scholarly catalogs.” As a case in point, Susan Rossen spoke about the Art Institute’s success with their Van Gogh/Gauguin exhibition catalogs, which proved that smaller can indeed be surprisingly saleable. They had 12,000 net sales for the 400-page edition at $39.95, which paled beside the 61,000 net sales of the $12.95, 80-page edition. (If you do the math, gross revenue for the latter was 65% higher than that of the more expensive tome.)

MoMA, or Macy’s?

Another major seminar theme, strongly voiced by DAP’s Sharon Gallagher and echoed by Richard Dobbs, formerly book buyer at MoMA and now at HarperCollins (see this month’s Book View), targeted the disparity between a museum’s mission and the role played by its retail outlets. Publishing and retail have been at loggerheads, said Dobbs, because the quest for profits can turn museum shops into department stores — their managers often hail from that community — peddling jewelry and tchotchkes while consigning books to some distant corner. “Retail exists to support the institution,” Dobbs asserted, “not the other way around.” Gallagher stressed that books should represent 30% to 40% of a museum store’s sales, particularly mission-driven titles not typically ordered by the major chain booksellers.

There were also two relatively arcane panels: one on digital reproduction, which was thankfully held in check by the Art Institute’s own Sarah Guernsey (“Matt: What exactly IS a CMYK file?”); and Web 101, where Barry Aprison, Director of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, gave a virtual tour of the museum’s inventive web site. In his closing address, Neil Harris of the University of Chicago’s History department delivered a brilliant and succinct outline of the history of American museums. But the shot-in-the-arm tenor of the seminar was perhaps best summed up by the Getty’s Chris Hudson. “Managing changes like this isn’t easy, and the conference did a great job in energizing us to do so,” he said. “Now we just need to refine that into some sort of intravenous drip that will fortify us for the next year and a half.”

Those in need of an interim fixer-upper may want to pencil in the annual meeting of the International Association of Museum Publishers, which takes place on Wednesday, October 9 from 3:30-6:00 p.m. on the Frankfurt Book Fair grounds, at the Symmetrie 2 conference room, in Hall 8.1.

International Fiction Bestsellers

My Generation
Down and Out in Denmark, Angot Gasps in France, And Sweden’s Crime Duo Hits 30

Junkies, pushers, ‘narco-tarts’, and their degenerate demi-monde come crackling to life in Denmark, as Jakob Ejersbo’s novel Nordkraft (the title translates roughly as “Northern Power”) barrels up the list with its “oddly encouraging” tale of a generation searching for light at the end of the shooting gallery. In what could pass for a chapter out of Penelope Eckert’s cultural studies oeuvre Jocks and Burnouts, Nordkraft juxtaposes three intertwined stories (“Junkie Dogs,” “The Bridge,” and “Funeral”), opening with the beautifully bedraggled Maria, a drug courier who looks for salvation by way of an Iranian dude named Hossein. Meanwhile, ex-sailor Allan is a machinist haunted by demons lingering from an oil-tanker fire. Lastly, a young addict named Steso flashes back to his fateful steps down the road to overdose. Called a “delightfully cliché-free group-photo,” the book apparently offers up “the most beautiful and the most shocking testimony yet written in Danish about the generation that should have become adult during the 1990s but that catapulted itself out of life and into a drug orbit.” The 34-year-old Ejersbo is a journalist who previously dabbled in epistolary novels (Fuga) and short stories (Superego), but has now delivered something critics claimed would never be written: the “Great Danish Contemporary Novel of Realism.” The book is headed for a fourth print run after only two weeks, and rights have been sold to Norway (Aschehoug) and Finland (Otava), with a sale pending in Sweden. See Gyldendal for all other rights.

Also in Denmark, hormones were on high alert as Lone Kindberg’s novel Natasha’s Nights made a sultry splash on the charts. Begun five years ago when Kindberg was a budding twentysomething, Natasha’s Nights tracks one young woman’s rising sexual self-consciousness: heroine Therese has just dumped a man she finds boring in his utter perfection, and soon shoots to starlet-dom in a feature film about a young prostitute named Natasha. Cut to a steamy scene or two with the director, and you’ve got enough to warrant a second printing, putting the total at 4,000 copies in print (a considerable figure in Denmark, especially for a first novel). Though it has dropped off the list this month, the book has been riveting Danish media hounds, as Kindberg herself apparently has that certain je ne sais quoi (ravishing looks, outspoken ideology) that gets eyeballs glued to the tube. Danish film companies are prowling around the project, and queries for translation rights have been pouring in from Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, though nothing firm has been reported as yet. US and UK rights are available from Medusa.

A ludicrous Parisian dinner serves as our entrée into Christine Angot’s satire of love and high society, Why Brazil?, which hits the charts in France this month. Deemed a “strip-tease of the heart,” the author’s first love story tackles the evolution of an intimate relationship, warts and all, delving into its passions, foibles, and bare-knuckle violence. Thickening the plot, Why Brazil? includes characters named after and modeled on real personalities, including film director Laetitia Masson, publisher Paul Otchakovski-Laurens, journalist Jean-Luc Douin, and writer Frédéric Beigbeder, all of which has propelled the book past the 40,000-copy mark in France. One critic’s heart-thumping verdict: “the text does not breathe: it gasps. We read it like an electrocardiogram.” The new one has been on submission to Tropen (Germany), Seix Barral (Spain), Kanakis (Greece), Einaudi (Italy), and Sea-Sky (China), all of which published Angot’s last novel, Incest, but no deals had been made at press time. See Fabienne Roussel for UK rights and the French Publishers’ Agency for US rights.

Also in France, Nicolas Fargues puts on a rousing One Man Show with his third novel, a “corrosive study of manners” which stars a young married writer who up and decides to revel in his own “dark tendencies,” eventually throwing all dignity to the wind and plunging into the abyss of commercial French television. Said to be a “ferocious satire” of literary Paris and a “caustic critique” of our televised world, the book ultimately takes aim at “most men’s cowardice towards women and life in general.” The 30-year-old Fargues hails from Madagascar, and his earlier novel, Tomorrow If You Really Want It, was called a playful but tender portrait of a disillusioned, postmodern generation of “false artists, conceited truths, idealistic neo-proletarians, [and] ex-soixante-huitards.” The new book currently has 45,000 copies in print, with no foreign rights sales as yet. See France Editions for rights.

A historic novel of “epic proportions” heats up in Greece this month, as Athina Kakouri’s saga The Kite kicks off amid the newly formed Greek State of 1871, when Greeks were whooping it up for the 50th anniversary of the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. Central to the author’s potent exposé of political pride are the rich silver mines of Laurion, an area on the southeast coast of Attica, which have piqued historians’ interest as far back as Thucydides, who estimated that the mines churned through the lives of more than 20,000 slaves. Kakouri mingles nostalgia with political intrigue as her beloved Athens gets trampled under its own detritus, yet still manages to remain an enduring thing of beauty. The author’s earlier work The Knife of Fortune was published in France (Alteredit Editions), and English rights to both titles are available from Hestia.

And here’s the question of the hour in Sweden: Take an American billionaire with an Elvis-look-alike for an assistant, a Russian countess, a Swedish estate owner, and a lawyer with a face like Karl XII’s death mask, and send them all off on a luxury cruise liner. What do you get? Murder on Board, the 30th installment in the crime series by former Director-General of the UN Jan Mårtenson, featuring redoubtable anti-hero Johan Kristian Homan and Siamese sidekick Cleo. As usual, the murders take place in between chapters, sparing readers all that gratuitous gore. (As Mårtenson once explained: “There is more red bordeaux than blood in my detective novels.”) The ultra-popular series has sold a total of 500,000 copies in Sweden, and Mårtenson, who published a well-received memoir two years ago, has been exported abroad in numerous languages, including English (Ram, UK), French (Champs-Élysées), and German (Neue Berlin). Rights for Murder on Board (outside the Nordic countries) are available from the Linda Michaels Agency.

Dilettante’s Dilemma

As Editors Keep Specializing, Are Generalists Going Extinct?

Call it a healthy dose of editorial realism, or call it the Dilbert-ization of publishing. However you spin it, over the last few decades, it seems, that formerly abundant creature of the book-business veld — the free-ranging generalist editor, dismissive of pigeonholes and crossing categories at will — has been heading for extinction. Endangered by a rising per-title sales bar at many large houses, and pushed aside by a growing appreciation of the power of niche publishing, the old-school generalist is ceding ground as a new breed of category-focused editors grows more prominent, and perhaps more profitable, than ever. “A great publisher should have a vast curiosity and want to know something about a great many subjects,” says Richard Pine, President of Arthur Pine Associates. “An editor’s job is increasingly to know a lot about certain specific subject areas. I think that in the best of all circumstances the editorial team feeds the curiosity of the publisher.”

Yet in today’s world even publishers are finding themselves defending a narrowing patch of turf. “As a publisher, one can no longer be all things to all people,” explains Bill Shinker, Senior VP and Publisher at Gotham Books, the new Penguin Putnam imprint. “For a startup, it’s important to articulate to literary agents, authors, and one’s own sales force what you’re setting out to do.” Having created two lists from scratch (first at Broadway, now at Gotham), Shinker has been a pioneer of the custom-built imprint, and his first Gotham list lays down a carefully conceived program: “a very focused commercial list of general nonfiction in a number of categories.” Dilettantism clearly isn’t on the menu, and Shinker has brought in editors with complementary expertise. Executive Editor Lauren Marino focuses on health, fitness, and spirituality, while Brendan Cahill handles current affairs, history, and narrative nonfiction. “In almost any category, it helps to be an editor who understands that category and is conversant with the literature in that field,” Shinker adds. “If you’re editing a new book on affirmative action, you better know damn well what you’re doing.”

In a larger sense, specialization has been a response to a more niche-oriented marketplace. “It’s increasingly relevant for the editor to be connected to the community” of both authors and their target audience, says Kitt Allan, Publisher of General Books for Wiley. Allan believes that the move toward targeted publishing — “trying to find the right book for a specific set of people” — is crucial for a fragmented marketplace. Wiley’s trade program has grown out of the organizing principles of its professional and education groups, which tend to cluster more tightly around topic areas. Some editors focus on one or more categories (in the bookstore-defined sense of the word). Others target particular niches, which are more attuned to a certain kind of reader or demographic, such as the educational market, targeted to teachers and motivated parents. Niches such as education, children’s, and religion/spirituality are also organized into category teams that go across imprints, sharing market intelligence as they collect it.

Typecasting the Editor

Perhaps nowhere in the general trade has specialization taken root more firmly than in the world of cookbooks, whose jigsaw-puzzle-like production requirements call for both illustrated book savvy and recipe-writing chops. Wiley, for instance, has a whole cookbook division that publishes books for professional cooks, as well as general titles from brands such as Betty Crocker and Weight Watchers. “It’s a whole world unto itself,” adds Jennifer Josephy, Executive Editor for Cookbooks at Broadway. “It’s a question of going deep instead of broad.” Josephy had done cookbooks as a sideline for years at houses such as Holt and Little, Brown. But two-and-a-half years ago, the full-time cookbook slot at Broadway was too good to pass up. She now works with a half dozen Broadway editors, most of whom specialize in one or two areas. Still, reluctant to stay too narrowly focused, Josephy keeps the door open for other projects, which have included John P. Cooke’s The Cardiovascular Cure and several parenting titles. “But once you make this leap, you are typecast,” she says with a laugh. “I try and tell agents to send me some things that aren’t cookbook related.”

Of course, some publishers have always played up their category role. Storey, for instance, specializes in gardening (it actually owns the trademark “America’s Gardening Publisher”), while also holding a strong presence in horses, building, crafts, and cooking, plus a new juvenile imprint that publishes into the same categories. “Our editors live the Storey lifestyle, and it comes through in the books’ editorial content,” says Janet Harris, Storey’s Publisher. Editor Gwen Steege, who acquires both gardening and crafts books, is a master gardener and weaver, and pulls writers and photographers to Storey because of her connections and expertise. And category focus doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either. Harriet Pierce, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Harper Design International program at HarperCollins, says a strong specialty focus can only help keep the ship afloat during rough economic weather. “Whether it’s an economic downturn or not depends on what your list is these days,” she says. “Certainly, if you’ve got the right list, right now you’re not experiencing a downturn at all.”

As others are quick to note, the closing of the wide-angle editorial lens can also be chalked up to consolidation. “Because of the size of houses now, many editors have less and less hands-on connection with the mechanics of how books are sold,” says Dan Green, President of the Pom agency. “Since they’re no longer cheek-by-jowl with the people who sell books or market books, many of them will stay with only that kind of book that they know about.” Others agree that consolidation has taken a toll on the generalist ranks. “In the past, you might have eight or ten editors in a department who all worked on a variety of projects,” says Zack Schisgal, who was recently named Senior Editor at Ballantine. “Today, you’ve got 80 or 150 editors in a dozen imprints in a publishing house. Having some of them specialize might be the best way to make sure people aren’t stepping all over each other for the same kinds of things.”

Bumping up sales expectations at the major houses has also forced some editors to more closely heed the bottom line. “I think the main limiting factor for what editors acquire and publish has to do with what their publishing house can publish well and how that house defines ‘well,’” says Keith Kahla, Senior Editor at St. Martin’s. “A number of the majors aren’t interested in publishing anything of which they are likely to sell less than 50,000 hardcover copies.” At St. Martin’s, editors can publish books that sell in quantities of 6,000 on up, as long as the advance and other expenses are kept in line with the expectations of the book. “A broader range of types of books are immediately available to an editor,” Kahla says, adding that eclecticism has plenty of virtues. “From a publisher’s point of few, the advantage is sheer agility — a staff that is both eclectic and generalist allows them to shift away from certain kinds of publishing when the market for that type of book begins to recede, and move on to another area that might be on the rise without major disruptive shifts in the staff.”

‘No Limits Whatsoever’

The specter of specialization is not too welcome over at Bloomsbury, either. “We certainly don’t fit that paradigm,” says Karen Rinaldi, Editorial Director at Bloomsbury USA. “I always think that it provides a false sense of security when one tries too hard to control the way publishing should happen.” That philosophy is helping drive aggressive plans to broaden the program at Bloomsbury’s US operation, where the current catalog now spans memoir, cultural history, first fiction, and gift books. A gregarious editorial outlook can help reel in off-the-beaten-path projects, while outfoxing larger publishing houses. “The two editors we have do both fiction and nonfiction,” says Alan Wherry, Director of Bloomsbury USA. “There are no limits on them whatsoever. Our mandate is to make profits by building a successful publishing house where editorial drives the ship with strong marketing backup, and where editors are encouraged to pursue their passions and to follow their instincts.”

In the end, what may be new isn’t specialization per se, but how one balances the sometimes conflicting demands of modern publishing. “Editors have always developed specialties of one kind or another,” says Peter Ginna, Editorial Director for the trade division at Oxford University Press. “You snowball-like develop a list in areas where you have a certain expertise.” Ginna has gravitated toward American History, partly due to the fact that within the larger history category, the American market is vastly larger than, say, the market for works on medieval France. His colleagues on the academic side, he notes, are even more prone to specialize, as most OUP titles need to have surefire backlist appeal as textbooks. The problem is that too much specialization can “cause you to be too conservative or to think in pigeonholes.” But that drawback is not enough, he argues, to counter the benefits of knowing precisely what one is publishing. Chasing after wayward enthusiasms can mean failing the ultimate litmus test of a good editor: the ability to read a manuscript and know instantly what kind of reader will get excited about that book and why. Says Ginna, “That’s the danger of dilettantism.”

Book View, October 2002


Two major magazine publishers announce new hires: Linda Cunningham, most recently Publisher of Questia Media, has been named Editor-in-Chief of Meredith Books in Des Moines. . . Sara Levinson has been named to the newly created position of President of the Women’s Group at Rodale. She will oversee magazines, books, and websites in this group. She was previously CEO and Chairman of ClubMom, Inc., and before that, at the NFL.

Crown President and Publisher Jenny Frost has announced a re-org: Associate Publisher Andrew Martin and Harmony Executive Director Linda Loewenthal are leaving the company. (Email Martin at [email protected].) Steve Ross has been promoted to SVP, Publisher of Crown, Crown Business, Three Rivers Press, and Prima Lifestyles, and Lauren Shakely to the same title at Clarkson Potter. Shaye Areheart has been promoted to VP, Publisher, Harmony Books. Philip Patrick has been named to the newly created position of VP, Director of Marketing, Crown Publishing Group. All will report to Frost. . . Terence Cheng is leaving Random House, where he was Director of Corporate Website Marketing, and will work on his next book, “partially set during the Japanese occupation of China during the 1930s,” he tells PT. He can be reached via his website, No word yet whether the position will be filled. And Leda Liounis is also leaving Random, where she was Executive Director, Operations for the Children’s Division. She may be reached at [email protected]. . . Harriet Dorsen has left Random, where she was SVP, Secretary and Treasurer. Kathy Trager has been appointed SVP, General Counsel, Random House, Inc., referred to in every press release — while it’s still true — as “the world’s largest publisher.”

Philip Rappaport has gone to Bantam as Senior Editor, working for Tony Burbank. He had been Senior Editor at the Free Press. . . Adrienne Moucheraud has been named Director of Marketing for Bulfinch. She was in charge of marketing for museum publications at Abrams.

In children’s books, personnel changes continue apace: Scott Chambers has been hired by Sesame Street Workshop to oversee its publishing licenses, and to develop new business opportunities. He had been at Disney Publishing. . . Richard Dobbs has been named Director of Sales for HarperCollins Children’s Books. He was most recently doing co-editions with the Met Museum. Coincidentally, his other half, Sharon Hancock, has left Hyperion to join Holt as Director of Children’s Marketing, replacing Lori Benton. . . Joan DeMayo has been named VP, Director of Random House Children’s Sales, replacing Jack St. Mary. DeMayo was previously at Crown. . . Susan Van Metre has been named Senior Editor of Abrams Books for Young Readers. She had been at Dutton Children’s Books. . . Paula Wiseman moves from Harcourt to S&S Books for Young Readers.

HarperCollins has announced that it has expanded its newly named Harper Design International publishing program (formerly known as HBI) into the US market. Harriet Pierce has been hired as Director of Sales and Marketing in the US, reporting to Roland Algrant, SVP and Publisher, HarperCollins International. Pierce was formerly VP Marketing, Assoc. Publisher at Watson-Guptill.

As reported elsewhere, Gerry Howard, Broadway Editorial Director, resigned from his current job to serve as Executive Editor at large for Doubleday Broadway, reporting to Steve Rubin. Bill Thomas, Editor-in-Chief at Doubleday, will add this job to his current one. Stacy Creamer, whom he named Deputy Editorial Director, will continue to serve as Executive Editor at Doubleday. . . Running Press announced the appointment of Michael Ward as Editorial Director, succeeding Jennifer Worick, who resigned. Ward most recently served as Associate Publisher of Regnery’s Lifeline Books division. . . Several new hires at Abrams include Stan Redfern, who has been named VP Production. He had been with several publishers including Reader’s Digest; Tony Ponzo has been named controller. He had been at Penguin and Troll, among other publishers.

Penelope Chaplin, ex-Special Sales Director of Kingfisher and Rights/ Licensing Director of DK, has set up “Buy the Book,” a sales service for packagers and publishers in the UK, Canada, and the US who want to access sales channels but do not have the resources. She may be reached at [email protected].

Perry Janoski, who sells book-page advertising for Harper’s, among others, will add ad sales for The Economist to his roster at Allston Cherry Ltd.

Mary Sunden, VP Penguin International, will be leaving the company at the end of October. She may be reached at [email protected].


Andrea Chambers, whose editing career has spanned both books and magazines (Time, People, Penguin Putnam, and Primedia) has a new venture: She has turned a “longstanding interest in education” into The Study Center, an after-school homework center for kids in the fourth grade and above. The Center opened September 23 at 106 East 86th Street. Later in the year, The Study Center also plans to offer writing workshops and an introduction to newspaper and magazine editing for high-school students. For more information, call (212) 831-5343 or email [email protected].

Joe Esposito, onetime President of Encyclopedia Britannica, and prior to that, head of Random’s Reference Division, was appointed President and CEO of SRI Consulting, a for-profit subsidiary of SRI International, a not-for-profit research organization. He can be reached at [email protected].


Anne-Lise Spitzer has been named VP Creative Marketing Director for Knopf. She was VP Director of Sales Promotion
. . . Harcourt announces that Jennifer Gilmore has been promoted to Publicity Director, Adult Books, replacing Arlene Kriv who has left the company. . . Michael Fragnito has moved from to Alan Kahn’s new Barnes & Noble publishing division.


Small Press Center holds its first workshop of the season, “Today’s Best Book Promotion Options — Online” on October 3. On October 8, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt will interview Jason Epstein at the Small Press Center, at 20 W. 44th Street. Go to

The Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the AAP Journals Committee presents a Luncheon Roundtable: “To Renew or Not to Renew…And What to Renew,” on October 17 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the AAP’s NY office, 71 Fifth Avenue (between 14th & 15th Streets). Among those participating are Virginia Massey-Borzio from the Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins; Nathan Baum, Digital Resources Librarian, Stony Brook University; Carol Bekar, Group Director, Bristol-Myers Squibb; and Suzanne Fedunok, head of Coles Science Center, NYU. Contact Sara Brandwein at (212) 255-0200 ext. 257.


New York Is Book Country celebrated its 24th anniversary on September 29, with record crowds and 190 exhibitors. After a hiatus of a year (the show had been cancelled last September), and despite competing fairs and events (including the New Yorker’s literary festival), initial research suggests that many more books were sold this year than in previous years. This is in part due to the number of attendees, says new Executive Director Courtney Muller, but also because more exhibitors chose to sell books directly at their booths. In addition, there were a broad range of high profile writers and celebrities on hand: Target, the fair’s sponsor, had a performance stage where Julie Andrews and R.L. Stein were among those autographing; Barnes & Noble had Isabella Rossellini; Mysterious Bookshop featured Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, and Harlan Coben; the NYPL booth featured Art Spiegelman (a major attraction); and Bank Street had John Lithgow on hand.

PW and Bookseller contributor Gayle Feldman is doing a bio of Bennett Cerf, to be published by — you got it — Random House. Feldman tells PT, “The idea for doing a biography came during my National Arts Journalism research fellowship year at Columbia, when I spent some time going through a fraction of his papers and found them hugely entertaining. So I did a proposal and sent it myself to Bob Loomis for his advice. Loomis was hired by Cerf in 1957 and also has a particular interest in publishing history.” Loomis will edit the book, and Betsy Lerner is the agent.


Otto Penzler and Thomas Cook co-hosted a party with Vintage to celebrate the publication of Best American Crime Writing on September 17 at the Lotos Club. Vintage honcho Marty Asher was present, along with several of the writers from the anthology, and various publishing and media types, including PW’s Jeff Zaleski, Michele Slung, and Lynn Goldberg.

NYIBC’s Mayor’s Reception, which kicked off the organization’s events, took place at the imposing Surrogate’s Court on September 24. Mike Bloomberg himself was there, though he barely had time to take his flak jacket off after his trip to Afghanistan. Also present were retiring NYIBC President Linda Exman, and Courtney Muller, who takes over October 1; Alyse Myers, Chair of the organization; and a slew of authors including Judy Blume, Nelson DeMille, Dominick Dunne, Leonard Lopate, and Malachy McCourt.


To Ballantine, at 50 and to AMS, turning twenty later this year. Meanwhile, according to the press release, “Fifteen years ago — on September 30, 1987 — Dominique Raccah invested $17,000 from the 401K she accumulated during her 7 years at advertising giant Leo Burnett. She started a publishing company in an upstairs bedroom of her home with the publication of one title: Financial Sourcebooks Sources. That one title blossomed into more, and today Sourcebooks publishes approximately 120 books per year in nearly every shape, size, format, and subject.”

What, Me Retrench?

Your Guide to Cost-Cutting Without Lopping Off Heads

Now that synergy’s been debunked, and good old Thomas Middelhoff has been spun off, the publishing world has settled down to the rather more prosaic task of whittling away at its already bare-bones cost structure. “It’s clear there is retrenchment,” as one public relations executive says, but it’s not always clear — as in the case of Random House’s belatedly acknowledged “companywide cost-restructuring program” — what trenches are getting hacked across whose budgetary back yard. For many publishers, creative cost-cutting has become something of a fine art these days, as they snip their expense reports into origami in search of those elusive economies, all the while trying deftly not to lop off their own colleagues’ heads.

“All of us here are very carefully looking at every line on our operating expenses,” explains Stephen Rubin, President and Publisher of the Doubleday Broadway division of Random House. For starters, he’s cut back dramatically on the free copies he sends out to what he dubs his “big mouth” list, which can save some considerable pennies in postage, plus the cost of the books themselves, over a year’s time. Taking aim at the unit’s many magazine subscriptions was a no-brainer, he adds, and the number of people deployed to conventions has been reeled in as well. The belt-tightening is closely monitored by the group’s business manager, who dispatches monthly reports to each department, and to date the division is “way ahead” of its self-imposed targets. “The best news in all of this is that no one feels put upon,” Rubin says. “On the contrary, it’s a little bit like dieting. We all feel better, to say nothing of virtuous.”

Other publishers are doing more than just nipping and tucking. Simon & Schuster, for example, has outsourced its returns operation to Arnold Logistics, according to VP Corporate Communications Adam Rothberg. “They not only have a state-of-the-art facility for processing returns, doing it more efficiently and economically than we could, but they also have a better system for reconciliation of invoices,” he says, admitting that this system was “somewhat of a black hole before.” The company has also signed a long-term agreement with Quebecor for exclusive production of a number of book formats, which is expected to bring “significant savings” on production costs, as well as adding further savings when the partnership is rolled out to S&S’s supply chain operation. Filling up that capacious Bristol, PA distribution center has been another target, and in the last six months S&S has added distribution clients Andrews, McMeel and Millbrook Press to the roster (for fulfillment and billing only). Finally, tighter timelines for sales conferences have allowed the publisher to eliminate more than a week’s worth of time over the course of the year. As Rothberg says, “That’s a significant chunk of change.” Alas, heads will occasionally roll. The announced restructuring of S&S’s Touchstone and Fireside imprints has eliminated one senior editor and three associate editor positions. Under Executive VP and Publisher Mark Gompertz, the group will now publish original trade paperbacks and hardcovers — as well as reprints from other houses — almost exclusively. Paperback conversions previously handled by the Trade Paperback Group are now to be published under their own name by the publisher’s four hardcover imprints.

Meanwhile, over at Holtzbrinck, some fancy digital footwork has helped the publisher save a bundle on sales conference costs. Alison Lazarus, SVP and President of the Sales Division, reports that St. Martin’s has nearly zapped the entire cost of one of its three annual sales conferences by converting it into an entirely long-distance affair. Equipped with Power Point marketing presentations, CD slide shows of jacket art, and audio tapes of editorial pitches — along with the usual gamut of catalogs, tip-sheets, and manuscripts mailed to reps prior to the conference date — the company now schedules a time for field reps to phone into the home office, where a core team of publishing, marketing, and sales personnel runs through the program (no editors allowed, though). Those phoning in are told to have their laptops cued up, and are instructed to hit the mute button on their headsets (no barking dogs allowed, either), and with speakerphones at the ready, “the technology works very well,” Lazarus says. Since materials have been digested before-hand, discussion centers around marketing tactics and not on desperate note-taking, as is too often the case at conferences. The tele-linked congregation whips through 700 titles in three days, starting at 10 am so that West Coast reps have time for an eye-opener or two. The phone conferences cost a mere 5% of a regular sales conference, and though reps still crave their “face time” at the other two annual dates, Lazarus reports that “everyone is enormously relieved.” What’s more, reps seem to be more talkative over the phone than when lolling in front of a conference center podium, which improves productivity all around.

When it comes to promoting “cost consciousness,” it seems even corporate synergy can have a certain utility. Dan Harvey, SVP Publishing Director for Putnam, sees opportunity in a new Pearson-wide initiative to facilitate various design, production, and research functions that used to be outsourced by each division of the company. As the worldwide program is just being made available to PPI, Harvey admits that the details are still a bit fuzzy, and no one’s enumerated all the ways in which this new centralized system will work. “We’re just beginning to think of how we’re going to use it effectively,” he says. But some of the targeted areas include promotion, for which PPI will have in-house access to short-run printing facilities, which should make producing posters, sales kits, postcards, or even easels more affordable. Pearson also has licenses with a number of stock houses, making access to artwork easier and cheaper. The impact will be felt in both book jacket design and in the design and production of promotional materials. Book productions, however, will not be affected. Nor can Harvey see any change in headcount. “We’re pretty lean,” he says, “and have been for some time.” Reinforcing that sentiment, John Schline, Penguin Putnam’s VP of New Business Development, adds that the publisher has launched two new imprints — Bill Shinker’s Gotham Books and Adrian Zackheim’s Portfolio — with no increase in back-office staff.

Shipping expenses were the object of a full frontal assault at Columbia University Press, says President and Director Bill Strachan. They studied their actual shipping costs, comparing them to the flat fee they charged customers — and adjusted to make sure they were breaking even. Then they deliberately bumped shipments down from two-day to three-day delivery (when appropriate), and regularly examine the rates of UPS, Fed Ex, and the USPS to ensure they’re getting the best deal. And for those who revel in the pecuniary minutiae of office appliances, Strachan says they looked at the number of printers in the office, and as the units were replaced, bought combination copier/laser printers, thus saving substantially on — yes — toner costs.

‘Less Is Definitely More’

Those on the other side of the ledger book — especially publicity and advertising firms — are unambiguous about the falloff in business. “Marketing has really been dialed back,” says George Fertitta of advertising firm Margeotes, Fertitta + Partners, which has worked with McGraw-Hill, Hearst, and other publishers. “Almost no one has been spending even the kind of money they spent just a few years ago. It’s basically fallen off the planet in terms of anyone doing any real marketing efforts.” The clients who are spending, Fertitta says, have jettisoned the layered marketing plans of yore to focus on simple and direct tactical missions for specific titles or geographic targets. As part of the larger triage efforts hitting the media landscape, clients are also running bigger ads fewer times (a strategy working quite well for anyone with a hankering for outdoor advertising, what with the major billboard glut). The upshot is that many publishers are coming around to a “classic packaged-goods marketing approach: understanding who your target audience is, what category you’re in, and what your unique selling proposition is.” But by Fertitta’s standards, cutting out the fluff may actually improve publishers’ marketing chops. “Book publishers’ advertising has always been so cluttered,” he says. “Everybody’s trying to put in as much copy as they can. Today less is definitely more. It’s much more effective to have one simple idea.”

Radical simplification is also under way when it comes to advertising online. “Two years ago there was an Internet component to any largish budget of $75,000 and above,” says Denise Berthiaume, President of Bennett Book Advertising. The Internet contribution now? Nil. Unless it happens to be thrown in gratis with a package deal, she says, “I can’t really recommend it. The dollars are so few and so carefully husbanded now that I need to make sure my clients are getting absolutely the most bang for the buck.” That means spending is almost entirely devoted to print media, a reasonable strategy, Berthiaume says. “For literary fiction and nonfiction, honing in on the bigger urban markets and focusing on print is a wise thing to do.”

Not everyone’s digging trenches, however. “Actually, no,” says Paul Feldstein, Managing Director of Trafalgar Square, when asked if he’s been rolling up the company carpets. “We’ve been expanding, and just went to a second shift in the warehouse. I guess we’re bucking the trend.”

Price Push in the Philippines

The Philippine archipelago may comprise more than 7,000 tiny, tropical islands, but from Manila to Mindanao, the Southeast Asian nation speaks with virtually one voice where books are concerned — and it’s in English. With a population of 80 million, the Philippines is said to be the third-largest English-speaking country in the world (after the US and the UK), and English-language titles account for as much as 95% of all book sales, English being the second language of most Filipinos — and a core requirement of the nation’s school curricula.

That’s all fuel to the fire for the Philippine Book Fair, which runs from August 31 to September 8 this year in Mandaluyong City, which is part of the sprawling metro Manila thicket of more than 10 million Filipinos. About 75,000 visitors are expected to crash the fair gates this year, according to Cristina Capistrano, Exhibit Manager for the 12-year-old event. Foreign booths this year were set to include China, Germany, Iran, and Spain, but surprisingly, perhaps, booths from US publishers will be scarce. As the fair is a selling fair, geared toward public attendance, US publishers typically participate through major booksellers such as National Book Store, which is the largest chain in the country with about 60 branches. “Most major US publishers have local regional managers who are very active in the market, and who would attend the fair,” says Simon & Schuster’s Dan Vidra, who nonetheless was heading out the door for Manila himself.

Those who do land at the fair will find a variety of hot-selling categories. “Academic books in English are still the bestsellers,” says Lirio Sandoval, President of the Book Development Association of the Philippines, partly because English is used in most school subjects as the language of instruction. But Sandoval cautions that despite the number of English titles, “we cannot really expect tremendous sales” due to Filipinos’ limited purchasing power: he estimates that only about 30% of the population can afford to buy books. Trade paperbacks can cost around $12, and hardcovers up to $18, though children’s titles go for $2 or less. In recent years the weak peso has put pressure on booksellers to bump up prices, but they’ve struggled to keep them down, mindful of customers’ limited means.

The lower price-points clearly have their appeal. “Children’s books probably outsell all other categories by a huge margin,” says Rino Balatbat, Random House Regional Sales Manager for Southeast Asia and Micronesia. Nonfiction inspirational titles and reference works are also strong categories. Titles are imported from the US, and to a lesser degree the UK, but neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are getting in on the act. (Sales in the local Tagalog language are mostly romances, often selling for less than $1.) But price pressure has affected the fair as well. “The fair has increasingly become a bargain book fair,” Balatbat notes. “The booksellers are all trying to trim their inventories by offering bargains and discounts, so much so that the ratio of new titles to backlist is becoming smaller and smaller.” Inflation has also taken a toll on sales, as a mass-market paperback might sell 500 copies, with a bestseller occasionally hitting the 5,000 mark. “Five years ago, the retail prices were just 50% of the current prices,” Balatbat says, “and the quantities then were double what they are now.”