International Fiction Bestsellers

Cafés-philo all over France are abuzz with the newly hip notion of “anti-anti-Americanism,” and the headiest homage to contrarian Frenchness comes from Yves Berger, the legendary literary director of Editions Grasset — and a member of the august Conseil Supérieur de la langue française — who has hit the charts with his Dictionary for Lovers of America. Awarded the Prix Renaudot last month for nonfiction, this “deliciously subversive” ode to purple mountain majesties posits that “for Europeans, the greatest, the strongest, the most compelling dream of all is the American dream.” Berger conjures up all 124 trips he’s made to the US, painting the history, geography, flora and fauna, and culture of the nation that seduced more than thirty million Europeans in the 100 years between Waterloo and World War I. Touching on wide-ranging topics such as the plight of Native Americans, the Civil War, and the great American writers he personally came to know, Berger ultimately registers disgust at the Yank-bashing antics of his home country. “Anti-Americanism is a national shame,” he declared. “America has never forced its soup upon us; we eat it because we no longer possess the spirit of Gaullist resistance.” The 69-year-old author’s ardor for the US is said to be matched only by his fury over franglais: his ode to America, he boasted, was written tout court in unsullied French. Berger’s first novel, The South, was awarded the Prix Femina, and his Dictionary is on submission in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Holland, the UK, and the US.

We’re not even going to ask whether there’s an entry for “freedom fries” in Alain Ducasse’s Food Lover’s Dictionary — also a splashy bestseller this month — but on a final nonfiction note in France, we hear a contemporary philosopher likened to Jean-François Revel and Bernard-Henri Lévy has hit the charts with a slightly more nuanced take on geopolitics. In his deftly argued West Against West, André Glucksmann points to the arrival of American troops on Iraqi soil as a moment of paradox in which both the “pro-peace” and “pro-war” contingents claimed to be inspired by the same litany of principles: “democracy, tolerance, liberty, and the law.” Amid growing concern that events in Iraq have revealed an aging Europe burdened by its decrepit ways, Glucksmann peeks “behind a smoke screen of clichés” from both sides to assess differing interpretations of the violence that has marred the 21st century in its infancy. Rights have been sold to Italy (Lindau) and Spain (Taurus/Grupo Santillana). Contact Heidi Warneke at Plon for all three French titles.

Stepping back into the world of fiction, the gothic horror novel gets a face-lift in the Czech Republic at the hands of rising literary star Milos Urban. In his latest spine-tingler The Shadow of the Cathedral, Roman Rops is an author toiling away on a book about the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, often wandering around the hill that is home to the imposing house of worship. One night an anonymous note is slipped under his door urging him to visit the cathedral, where he finds a curious reliquary in one of the side altars containing a well-preserved piece of a hand. A young female detective appears and promptly arrests him, having discovered that the hand belongs to a priest whose body has been found entombed in the foundations of the cathedral. The author has achieved such stellar notice in the Czech Republic that one fellow countryman declares: “In a few years’ time when speaking about Czech literature, we will talk (and not only in our own country) above all about Milos Urban.” An earlier novel, The Seven Churches, is the story of Kvetoslav Svach (it translates roughly as “Weak Flower”), who witnesses a series of bizarre murders and sinister rituals, eventually hooking up with a mysterious trio led by a knight determined to restore 14th-century law and order — and roll back the march toward modernity. Deemed “a true heir of Edgar Allan Poe,” Urban publishes a new novel nearly every year (don’t miss the elaborate illustrations by Pavel Rut) and has also been likened to Umberto Eco. His latest has been sold to Holland (Ambo/Anthos), Hungary (Kalligram), and Bulgaria (Colibri). Talks are under way with publishers in Italy and Spain. Contact agent Edgar de Bruin at Pluh in Holland.

Jette Kaarsbøl’s first novel, The Closed Book, continues to hold strong in Denmark this month, offering a view of Copenhagen as it expanded both physically and intellectually in the late 19th century. When a young, unassuming gal embarks on a romance with a budding intellectual, she is drawn into a circle of feisty modern freethinkers under the influence of Danish critic Georg Brandes. The book begins with the woman’s death, then turns back the clock to chronicle her youth and subsequent marriage and divorce, delving finally into her ruin and bitter frustration at a life that never suited her. In a surprise twist, however, she makes a last-ditch effort to make sense of her choices and track down her former husband, whom she has not seen in 30 years. Rights have been sold to Norway (Cappelen). Contact Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal.

Lastly, a mainstay of the Dutch literary scene for over 50 years, the Jakarta-born octogenarian Hella Haasse, has reached a new career peak with her latest opus, The Key’s Eye. It’s a “tale that has everything: drama, suspense, intrigue, infidelity, broken friendship, and a whole lot of clashes between Indonesia and Holland,” tracing the friendship of two young girls in Indonesia, Herma and Dee, and the racial tensions that force them apart. Herma is of Dutch extraction, fascinated by the Indo-European family of landowners to which Dee belongs. But she’s troubled by her own fixed perceptions of colonial history. Much later in life, a journalist approaches Herma for information about Dee, who has assumed an alias in the meantime. Herma dashes to her old ebony chest containing photos and documents that might refresh her memory, but she has lost the key marked by the ornamental Old Arabic writing in its “eye.” Haasse has been awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize, among others, and received the medal of the French Légion d’Honneur in 2000. Her latest has been sold to France (Actes Sud) and Italy (Iperborea), while earlier titles have been sold to Germany (Wunderlich), Vietnam (Center for Research of International Cultures), Spain (Peninsula), the Czech Republic (Brana), and the US (Academy Chicago Publishers), to name a few. Contact agent Marianne Fritsch at Liepman in Switzerland.

Shipping News

Customs Delays and Wal-Mart Threaten
Illustrated Book Publishers’ Holiday Offerings

While merchants and shoppers alike are gearing up for the holiday season, publishers are giving a collective sigh of relief. Recent delays of Asian imports nearly squelched many publishers’ holiday cheer well in advance of returns. While the fourth quarter looms large for manufacturers and retailers, it’s the only quarter that matters for publishers of four-color illustrated books — a category that includes many childrens books, as well as those artful tomes that serve so nicely as front-of-store gift suggestions. Since they have always been printed abroad — until recently two-thirds were printed in Asia with the balance in Europe, but today about 99% are outsourced to China and Hong Kong — publishers have always madly dashed to get those books to their warehouses by September at the latest. If they missed the cut-off for books in stores within the next month, they could write off their big chain promotions. Judging by what PT has heard, 2004 can go down as the Christmas that shipping woes almost sank.

Various theories exist to explain the delays: everything from increased homeland security at ports to a trucker shortage. And to make matters worse, the largest US importer, Wal-Mart, has been known to elbow its way to the front of the line at ports — a very long line, indeed, as there have been 30 to 40 ships anchored off the West Coast waiting to dock in Los Angeles and Long Beach in recent months, according to William Armbruster, editor of Shipping Digest. Many in the industry also blame Wal-mart’s new “just in time” inventory control, which compressed four months of shipments into two and essentially made it impossible for others to get containers. But whatever the reasons for the east-to-west transport system’s current gridlock, it is compounded by the normal third-quarter push in advance of the year’s biggest selling season.

Though some publishers only recently felt the effects of port delays, problems have existed for a while. Freight forwarder and customs broker Raymond Ambriano, VP/COO of Meadows Wye, says much of this started in July, when additional customs regulations went into effect. But, he attributes it to many factors, starting with the depressed economy of the past few years that prevented transportation companies from upgrading their equipment or investing in new labor, which has resulted in a serious shortage of dock workers. Combine this with the rumored economic upswing, making everyone optimistic about potential year-end sales and hence moving a lot of product, and your normal headache becomes a migraine. Ambriano claims the delays add four to six days (and seven days at its worst) to the normal delivery schedule. “The publishers who are suffering the most are those that do their own shipping, and they’ve nickel and dimed their servicers … they’re the first ones to be bumped,” Ambriano explains. Also, because only full containers are shipped, smaller publishers have to ship books in mixed-goods containers, which are more likely to be singled out for a physical exam. (He estimates about 20-25% of containers get X-rayed, while only about 5% of containers are physically inspected. Almost all containers from “high-risk origins,” such as India or Indonesia, are X-rayed.) Looking on the bright side, he estimated in late October that “in the next three to four weeks, it should be better.” However, he pointed out that steamship lines have proposed extending their peak-season surcharge, which indicates they think the volume will continue to be high.

International trading experts probably saw this port jam coming, with the US’s growing dependence on Asian countries for manufacturing. However, outsourcing only remains viable if it is efficient, and efficiency requires the free flow of ships. Publishers have always relied on others for transport, but these relationships are critical to a publisher’s P&L. In the same way that Meadows Wye gave its clients a heads-up before July, PGW is thinking ahead. Its new “global logistics company,” called Publishers Logistics Worldwide, intends to help publishers cope with the problems that arise with outsourcing to Asia, particularly “lack of transparency,” inaccurate estimates, delivery date promises, and lack of container space; as well as problems once the shipments reach the US, such as truckers’ unwillingness to allocate full-load trailers to partial load shipments, according to Chris McKenney, Executive VP/COO of PGW. He says 35% of its clients’ printed material comes from Asia. Out of about 35 PGW publishers that print in Asia, about 25 are already using the logistics services, which unofficially started this summer. With an Oracle-based tracking system, PLW organizes the publishers’ print runs so they can consolidate titles into PLW containers and link the shipments with freight networks in the US. It will be extended to Europe “soon,” with a “consolidation point” in the UK, and is working to have similar facilities in place for US exports to Australia, Asia, and Europe by spring 2005. McKenney estimates the service will save publishers 10-70%, depending on the sizes of their shipments (more cost savings for smaller ones). Regarding the recent delays, he said, “We haven’t seen any titles that aren’t going to make it into Amazon’s supply chain, or B&N’s, or even our independents. It’s been much more of an annoyance than a hard-core sales problem — but if it doesn’t improve by late November, then we really will have some failed deliveries.” The ports say it will ease up, and he’s skeptical, but optimistic.

Throwing Schedules to the Wind

Producing high-end art books was always complicated, and printing and shipping from abroad was always somewhat unpredictable, but the port delays have exacerbated the already complex process, many say. Jeff Servais, VP of Operations at Motorbooks, says none of his books has been more than two weeks late, but the lag has required a lot of juggling. Motorbooks’ freight forwarder, Phoenix International, is asking for four-weeks notification, rather than the usual one or two, for when merchandise will be ready to be loaded in Asia. Servais has no qualms about laying the blame on Wal-Mart, which owns 35% of all freight coming from Asia. In addition, he said US Customs in addition to its spot-checking, is also looking for counterfeit products and checking for valid licensing arrangements. “This means they open the container, unload selected pieces of merchandise and remove them to a spot where they can open the cartons and really check the merchandise,” he explained. The trains are also a factor, he said, with those coming into Minneapolis rail yards finding an excess number of containers waiting to be processed and picked up by trucks, and no space to unload because of congestion.

Janet Behning, Production Manager at Princeton Architectural Press, says she is still learning the nuances of shipping in a post-9/11 world. For example, all containers leaving Italy (where they print occassionally) must sit for 48 hours before being loaded onto a ship. When she spoke to PT in mid-October, she had just received her third notice for the month that one of its titles coming in from Hong Kong had a customs hold. “The addition of a customs inspection means the final segment of the delivery cannot be scheduled until the shipment is released,” she explained. “Even if the actual hold is only a day or so, the final delay can be three or four days longer by the time a truck delivery can be arranged,” which adds up to a one- to two-week delay.

At Abrams, they have started building two to three extra weeks into their schedules, says President/CEO Michael Jacobs. But, he said its freight forwarder Damco was good at forewarning the company that the changes in security policies that were implemented in July would slow down delivery, and urged them to get their books in early. “For publishers like us … the fourth quarter is critical. I’m not sure the impact [of the customs checks] was apparent to us until it was too late. It takes a long time to rejigger a schedule when you’re planning as far in advance as we have to,” Jacobs explains. Though he’s confident all of Abrams’ planned fourth-quarter list will make it to store shelves in time for the holidays, he admitted, “I’m a little more concerned about how much time the product has to sell through and be re-ordered before the holidays.” Ina Raghunandan, VP/distribution at Abrams/STC, said she has been adding a month to the schedule for final delivery of books. She blames the spot checks that entail opening not just containers, but cartons.

Both Vendome’s co-owner Mark Magowan, and Terry Downes, VP/Operations at Disney, also praised Damco for giving them the heads-up back in the spring. “Where we could, we changed our publishing schedule on the front end,” said Downes. And when that wasn’t possible, he added time to the back end and let his suppliers know the later dates, adding that what used to be one month for transit is now scheduled allowing for six to eight weeks. Plus, Disney had been routing its shipments to Seattle to avoid the gridlock in L.A.

Meanwhile, at Rizzoli, it has become standard practice to add two weeks to their schedule in expectation of delays, says Alan Rutsky, VP of Finance. He thinks the delays are partly from increased homeland security, but more a result of containers not getting to the rails on time. Though no publishers admitted that their books would miss the holiday selling season, PT heard of one (Jamee Gregory and Charles Davey’s New York Apartments, published by Rizzoli and delayed until late November) — and this suggests to us that there are others.

A Golden Age for Indie Reps

Life on the road ain’t what it used to be, and the easy money’s long gone. Such is the tale of most independent sales reps — but, on the other hand, “it’s a hell of a lot better than being in house!” attests New England’s Nanci McCrackin, who’s not alone in her sentiment. West Coast rep Howard Karel pointed to the predicted demise of this sector some 30 years ago, but notes it’s still going strong, and it will be 30 years from now. There’s no denying: It’s still a struggle; but that’s due more to the decline of the independent bookseller and the demise of regional chains than to the dearth of publisher accounts, or the re-entry into the distribution business of the largest publishers, who trumpet the use of their own in-house sales reps and telemarketing when pursuing new client publishers. Far from a disappearing breed, independent reps might even call what they’re going through a new Golden Age.

Well, not exactly. The regional chains and wholesalers, once the independent sales reps’ bread and butter, have all but disappeared from the landscape. There are some museum stores, but as Consolino & Watson’s Michael Watson stated, even in Boston — museum town par excellence — they have succumbed to sourcing their own exclusive “product,” which represents another lost source of revenue for the rep. Specialty stores, such as gay and lesbian and mystery shops, might account for some additional sales, but the gift market is pretty much off limits, says Stu Abraham of Abraham Associates. So nowadays their purview is limited to the ABA stores and some ID wholesalers. Indie reps increasingly play important roles in getting the major chains to take a gander at the burgeoning number of small presses. And many represent their medium-sized publishers to certain key accounts, such as Books-A-Million and AWBC. Others, such as Fujii’s Don Sturtz, sell BGI for certain mid-sized accounts.

Workman is probably the largest publisher which has shown the greatest loyalty to commission groups, and after 30-plus years, still has the same reps in place. Hugh Andrews, Andrews McMeel Director of Sales, says they too have had the same commission groups selling for them for over 20 years, and he asserts, “they have the finest representation in the business.” What really matters is the relationship of the rep with the account and the publisher, and some of these date from “time immemorial.” Terry Wybel sells B&N for Andrews McMeel, for instance and has done so since it was B Dalton in Minneapolis.

In addition to Workman and Andrews McMeel, several other larger publishers, like Sterling, only use commission reps. This means that Angie Smits of Southern Territory Associates, gets to sell Sterling titles to the lucrative Ingram and Books-A-Million accounts. She says the “blended” publishers have proved to be a real boon, even if they are only covering smaller accounts; having Harcourt, Chronicle or Abrams in your bag opens all doors. For an independent rep group, getting in to see accounts could pose a problem — given the number of active publishers out there, large and small — so a prestigious publishing account is a must.

In the past, when publishers or distributors reached a certain sales volume, the decision was made to switch to a more cost-effective house-rep. Today, a more likely practice would be that of Perseus, which, following its acquisition of Running Press, merged its house reps with RP’s commission groups, to great effect says Matty Goldberg, VP Sales and Marketing. Likewise, Abrams/STC a few years ago created their own house sales force, but discovered what many medium-sized publishers have already realized — the rep who’s already on the road can fill in secondary accounts much better than even the most professional telemarketing sales force — so they’ve rehired a number of the same sales groups. Others, such as Harcourt and Norton, have also created a blend of house and commission reps. Harcourt’s Paul von Drasek says the only way to sell children’s picture books is face-to-face, so this dictates the presence of a commission rep. Houghton’s Gary Gentel agrees, and both feel strongly that the groups shouldn’t just handle small accounts — there needs to be sufficient business and revenues for them to make it worth their while.

Accountability

On the distributor front, PGW recently went to all in-house field and telemarketing reps, while Consortium uses all indie reps; and NBN/Biblio has a mix of in-house and commissioned. The latter’s rep groups across the country complement house reps on secondary accounts, but it uses a commission group only to cover the Northeast. Julie Schaper, President & CEO of Consortium, cites the “great coverage and extraordinary depth” that indie reps provide, and others echo this. Consortium has 23 reps selling its distributed publishers, a number Schaper says she couldn’t possibly afford on staff. They travel great distances to put a body in front of the bookseller — something the majors are doing less and less, she says. It does become more challenging during selling seasons though, as the reps are often on the road and can’t drop everything to contact accounts when a title starts to track with the New York Times. And of course, as independent contractors, they won’t do call reports, and in the eyes of some, lack the “aura” that comes with representing a large publisher marshalling all its forces.

Sales conferences take up a lot of time, and the commission reps loyally attend from beginning to end — indistinguishable from the house reps. Some of the reps we talked to felt this time could be better spent on strategy, terms, customer service, etc. Technology has been a boon to these independent contractors: less paperwork, automated tracking of payments and orders, no physical inventories, no backlist orders. These improvements allow them to focus on digging for the increasingly elusive new account.

Territorial integrity has stayed pretty much the same with the US still divided into six to eight distinct selling zones. Pressures in New England and the mid-Atlantic, however, did lead to some “leakage.” With the closing of Crown, the Bibelot stores, and others, there has been an inclination to look north from the mid-Atlantic, and groups such as Chesapeake & Hudson and Parson Weems have gravitated up there.

Though 2003 was a universally rotten year for everyone, the consensus is that 2004 has to be better. Going forward, there’s some concern among publishers that they aren’t seeing many new faces amongst their sales groups — they love their reps but wonder if they might be getting a bit long in the tooth. But Stu Abraham disputes that — he’s got two (relatively) young’uns on his team — and Smits and her three colleagues are in the process of buying Southern Territories from Jim Shepherd and Ed Springer. … And then there’s the iconoclastic, ever-intrepid David Godine, who has completely dispensed with almost all his reps, and now sells every book himself!

What Floats in Licensing?

Here’s a lesson from the licensing pros: Political affiliations or patriotic logos may attract some, but they’re just as likely to repel potential buyers. That was Everlast’s recent eye-opener, according to its SVP Global Licensing, Hal Worsham, when the company discovered that its signature USA logo had depressed international sales — confirming the US’s recent loss of popularity across the pond, and leading the members of a recent licensing panel to surmise that perhaps the Bush Administration hasn’t been good for the licensing business. The panel was part of EPM Communications The Licensing Letter’s informative one-day symposium, “The Future of Licensing,” held in New York City in early October.

Although the excellent cast of presenters and panels offered an otherwise upbeat picture, sales of licensed merchandise saw a drop to $18 billion in 2003, with further decline expected in 2004. Most merchandise continues to be that sold through discounters (mass merchandisers) and supermarkets, with food being by far the largest category. TLL Executive Editor Marty Brochstein genially set the tone with a litany of woes we are all familiar with: consolidation, consumer spending, and higher oil prices.

Dan Stanek of market research firm Retail Forward assured his audience that the best and the worst of times are behind us. In the ’90s, licensing saw a 6% annual compound growth; but these days the best to be hoped for is 4.5%, and that is predicated on reaching both high-end and mass consumers. He predicted the economic gap will continue to widen with less and less of a middle ground — even Wal-Mart is seeing softness in their sales, and the world’s top retailer figured prominently in all panel discussions. And for good reason: the behemoth now gets a weekly visit from fully half of all Americans, an astounding statistic.

Nevertheless, available areas for growth include e-commerce, (even though it represents only 2% of total licensed retail sales, it is up 62% in five years and is also a marketing tool, bar none), supercenters (sales and profit margins grow dramatically when big stores convert to the even-larger format), drug stores and dollar stores – the latter notwithstanding the gloomy assessment of sales in the bottom part of the market. Stanek coined the term “Zoomers” for a new breed of consumers — boomers with zest, who happily shop at Bergdorf Goodman and Wal-Mart — and catering to this customer is the latest challenge. Nevertheless, with licensing volume flat and limited shelf space, cannibalizing from one to another is inevitable, interjected TLL publisher Ira Mayer.

Notwithstanding Everlast’s recent international experiences, business abroad remains an available area of growth for retailers (presumably sans stars and bars), as Wal-Mart has not proven to be very adept in this arena. But, retailers may not want to stray too far, since the US represents over 65% of all retail sales of licensed merchandise.

Everyone’s margins are under siege, not the least due to retailers’ attempts to compete with Wal-Mart. The dollar stores have reached critical mass and are a different animal, requiring their own tightly marked-up merchandise and making the appeal of outsourcing that much more apparent. In this climate, the licensor and the retailer must work from the same assumptions and be more collaborative than in the past, when issues such as royalties, guarantees, and tunnel vision regarding the rest of the marketplace were more the norm.

The keynote speaker, Tim Kilpin, SVP, Girls Marketing & Design, Mattel, gave a spectacularly upbeat presentation demonstrating how Mattel was continuing to extend Barbie’s reach and evolution from a toy, to a consumer product, to intellectual property. Despite Barbie’s recently reported sales decline of 26% in the third quarter, she still represents $3.6 billion globally at retail. As part of the brand expansion, for the first time she’s going to be up there with Barney, Bullwinkle, and Garfield in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Their challenge: Girls now “transition out” of Barbie at age six, and to move her to the 7-14 age bracket, they’ve hired actress Hilary Duff as a spokes-Barbie to market a line of clothes, and created a series of animated features available on DVD. Kilpin echoed the importance of the Internet to their marketing strategy: The Barbie site gets 55 million hits a month (22 million individual), and a sticky average of 15 minutes per visit. Although they do not sell on the site, it links to such retailers as (guess what?) Wal-Mart, Toys“R”Us, and Amazon with hugely positive results.

Conclusions: license cautiously, market hugely, and make your mantra: “Go where the consumers go!”

The Real Thing

Russian Expose on Female Bombers, Germany’s 99-Euro Bestseller, and A Real Gouda Story from Holland

There certainly was no shortage of politically charged books at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, and one of the most startling of all was penned by a 23-year-old Russian journalist Yulia Yuzik, who surveys the growing number of female suicide bombers in Chechnya in Allah’s Brides: The Suicide Bombers from Chechnya. Stunned that the number of female suicide bombers in Chechnya had soared to 30 (more than in Palestine, the author reports), Yuzik, now a reporter for the Russian edition of Newsweek, journeyed to the country to carry out her research, speaking with relatives of female suicide bombers who had already carried out their deed, as well as those who had yet to do so. “I am writing about kamikaze women who want to blow up my country. I want everyone to know each of them personally so that we know how and why they blow themselves up,” reports Yuzik, who procured leaked photographs of the bombers before their attacks and afterward in the mortuary. After concluding that many of the bombers are recruited by Chechens working for humanitarian organizations and that, in the majority of cases, the women’s belts are detonated by remote control, the young reporter managed to get her material out of Chechnya just before she was forced out of the country by the secret services. Controversial, to say the least, the book has been banned in Russia, but rights have been sold to Manifestolibri (Italy) and NP-Verlag (Austria). Contact Bettina Nibbe of the Nibbe & Wiedling Literary Agency (Germany).

A newcomer in the world of literary nonfiction is taking Holland by storm. Annejet van der Zijl, the 2003 recipient of the prominent Golden Owl Prize, imparts the true story of Waldemar Nods and Rika van der Lans, who in the fall of 1928 begin a tumultuous relationship that spans some of the most fascinating and most tragic episodes of Western history in Sonny Boy. Waldemar is just shy of 20 years old, while Rika is nearly 40. He’s a student from Surinam and she is a Dutch married mother of four. He is black and she is white. They live in different worlds in many respects, so when Rika finds out that she is carrying his baby, the scandal is so enormous that she is forced to leave her children, while Waldemar can never return to his beloved Surinam. The two manage to build a prosperous life together with their son Waldy, whom they call “Sonny Boy,” but all that changes when the couple is betrayed in 1944 for harboring Jews at the start of WWII. For 14-year-old Waldy, this is only the beginning of a lifelong struggle with the loss of his parents.

Also in Holland, readers are finding that there’s nothing quite like a delicately aged Cheese, Willem Elsschot’s 1933 classic comedy about Frans Laarmans, a humble shipping clerk who is suddenly promoted to the position of agent of a Dutch cheese company. Thrilled at his elevation in status, he sets up an office at home and takes on the delivery of 10,000 full-cream Edams, only to find that he can’t stand the stuff. Though not for the lactose intolerant, this “delicious satire about business, greed, ambition and cheese” has seen a recent resurgence in popularity, particularly in Germany where it sold more than 20,000 copies in one month after it was mentioned by the inimitable Elke Heidenreich. Rights have been sold to Losada (Spain), Husets (Denmark), Le Castor Astral (France), Wedge (Japan), and elsewhere. English film rights are under option. Though Cheese has already been published by Granta, English rights are still available for two of Elsschot’s other books, Soft Soap/The Leg, in which a young Laarmans rips people off by selling them a very expensive fake magazine, and Will o’ the Wisp, wherein Laarmans returns as a guide for three Afghan sailors in Antwerp as he tries to help them catch a girl. Floortje Jansen at Querido holds the rights to Sonny Boy and to Elsschot’s delectable treats.

“Those who believe in the innate wickedness of humanity are in for a hell of a time with The Jewish Messiah,” the latest offering by Dutch author Arnon Grunberg, who also writes as Marek van der Jagt. Xavier Radek, the grandson of a Nazi living in Basel, befriends a rabbi’s son, Awromele, who advises him to study Yiddish and have himself circumcised. Following a botched procedure, Xavier, convinced of his messianic legerdemain, picks up a paintbrush in the hopes of comforting Jews through his art. While his parents dismiss his behavior as adolescent inanity, he moves with Awremole to the “Venice of the North” where he presents himself at the prestigious Rietveld Academy, while Awremole takes a job stocking shelves at the Albert Heijn supermarket. Now a New York resident, Grunberg was awarded the AKO Prize, the Dutch equivalent of the Booker, for his earlier book Phantom Pain, the tale of a reputable literary novelist diminished by obscurity and debilitating debt. He’s been published in about 20 countries, including Italy (Blue Edizioni), Hungary (Ulpius-Ház), Germany (Diogenes), France (Actes Sud) and Spain (Tusquets), and he was most recently published in the US by Other Press. Contact Anna Stein at Donadio & Olson.

From falling stars to black holes, and from the secrets of the Arctic to the mysteries surrounding the origins of the universe, Alexander von Humboldt boldly went where no man had gone before in his study of the complexities of the natural world in The Cosmos. These phenomena might, in fact, pale in comparison with the fact that a hefty new edition of his classic, which gathers all five volumes into one with an eye-popping 99-euro price tag, has stormed to the 15th spot on the bestseller list in Der Spiegel (unofficially the first time a title at this price level climbed this high on the bestseller list). Emerging from the popular lectures he gave in Berlin, The Cosmos was first published in five volumes from 1845 to 1862, to the tune of 80,000 copies. The new edition, published by Eichborn, is delivered in a slipcase along with the Berghaus-Atlas, and includes corrections and additions made by von Humboldt, as well as a rich collection of maps. Negotiations are underway with a distinguished Spanish house and several other publishers are currently considering the book. Contact Jutta Willand at Eichborn.

Finally, winter may be just around the corner, but 10 lucky editors will soon be slathering on the sunscreen as they tour the literary scene in glorious Buenos Aires. Organized by Fundación TyPA with the help of Museo de Arte Latino-americano de Buenos Aires (Malba), the British Council, the Goethe Institut, Fundación Antorchas and the embassies of Canada, France, Israel, and the US, the grants cover room and board, and travel to the week-long tour (May 22-28, 2005). Candidates should work in translated fiction and be able to read and understand Spanish. The deadline for applications is Nov. 19. Contact Gabriela Adamo [email protected] or visit www.typa.org.ar.

Book View, November 2004

People

The West Coast is in the news: Kirsty Melville, previously Publisher of Ten Speed Press, has become Publisher of the new book division of University Games. The new Publisher of Ten Speed is Lorena Jones. … Kevan Lyon, EVP for Wholesale Merchandising/Distribution (including PGW) at AMS, has left the company. Her duties were being handled by AMS interim CEO Charles Tillinghast, who steps down to a consulting role, as CFO Bruce Myers assumes the position of CEO on Nov. 12. … Jim De Vico has been named Director of Operations for TOKYOPOP Inc.

Janet Harris, most recently Publisher of Storey, is rejoining Workman in the newly created position of Calendar Publisher. She will be working in the New York office full time as of Jan. 1st.

One-year-old Hylas Publishing has hired as its EVP/COO f-stop Fitzgerald who comes from Avalon, where he was Senior Director Operations (new email: [email protected]). Sean Moore, who was most recently at Dorling Kindersley, is its Founder and Publisher. Joyce Stein joined Hylas earlier this summer as Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

Reed Business Information named Bill McGorry EVP and Publisher of its Publishing Group, which includes PW, Library Journal, School Library Journal and Criticas. Joe Tessitore, who held this position for two years, has left the company and may be reached at (914) 238-2979 or at [email protected]

Elizabeth Eulberg joins Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as Director of Publicity. Eulberg worked at Scholastic, most recently as Associate Director of Publicity. … Mike Campbell has been named Director of Sales & Marketing for Timber Press. He was most recently with Barron’s. … Tom Lovett, former Divisional Sales Director for Random House has joined Johns Hopkins University Press as Sales Director.

Susan Lehman has left Riverhead, where she was an editor, to finish a book she has been writing. She may be reached at [email protected] or (212) 996-3107. … Lisa Considine, Senior Editor at Holt, where she has been since late 2003, has left the company. She was previously at Wiley and S&S. … Holly Rothman has left Rizzoli for packager/publisher Melcher Media, where she will be an editor.

Caroline Miller, former Editor of New York Magazine (and wife of AbramsEric Himmel) has landed at a start-up magazine called Absolute New York, an extension of the Absolute Marbella brand.

Kylie Foxx has been named Senior Editor at Marlowe & Company/Avalon. She had been an editor at Black Dog & Leventhal. … Elissa Altman has joined Rodale as Senior Home and Garden Editor in the women’s health book group. She was formerly the Editor-in-Chief at The Taunton Press. Beth Lamb has joined the company as Director of Marketing. She was Publishing Manager for Kaplan Publishing at S&S.

Promotions

Sandee Roston has been promoted to Associate Publisher of the Avalon Group. She was previously Director or Marketing. At Marlowe/Avalon Sue McCloskey has been promoted to the position of Editor. Patti Kelly has been named a VP of HarperCollins Publishers. Kelly joined HarperCollins in June 2000, and is Director of Publicity for HarperCollins, HarperPerennial, Ecco, Fourth Estate, Rayo, and Amistad.

November Events

On Nov. 10, NYT “Style Section” columnist Bob Morris presents a “reading of a new musical solo,” based on his new book, The Aspirational Renter. The accompanist is none other than Miramax Publisher Jonathan Burnham at the piano, and proceeds benefit Dixon Place, a “laboratory for theatre, dance, literature & performance.” The show takes place at 7:30 p.m. at The Marquee at Marion’s, 356 Bowery at E. 4th St. For reservations, call (212) 219-0736 ext. 106.

The Council of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP) presents A GOOD SPELL, a benefit spelling bee, at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 15 at NYU’s Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. Tickets, which are tax-deductible, are $75 and may be purchased online or by calling (212) 741-9110 ext. 16. OED’s Jesse Sheidlower is the judge and spellers include Tama Janowitz, Alex Kuczynski, Adam Haslett, NY Post’s Sara Nelson, and many more. There will be a betting pool on the winner. Go to www.clmp.org for further information and tickets.

Also on Nov. 15, the 2004 Thurber Prize for American Humor will be awarded at — where else — the Algonquin Hotel. Andy Borowitz and Claire Cook are co-emcees. For information call (814) 464 1032 ext. 11 or go to www.thurberhouse.org.

The National Book Foundation will host its 55th Annual National Book Awards on Nov. 17 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Garrison Keillor will host the awards, and Judy Blume will receive the 2004 NBF Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. For information call (212) 685-0261.

The Goddard Riverside 18th annual Book Fair runs Nov. 20-21, with a kickoff party on Friday, Nov. 19, from 6-9 p.m. at Goddard Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Avenue @ 88th Street. For more information contact [email protected] In a related fund-raising event, Bruce Harris will be honored on Nov. 8 at the Harmonie Club. Special guests for the event include Ken Auletta and Harry Evans. Tickets for this and other “Meet the Author” dinners are available by contacting Susan Baydur at (212) 873-6600 ext. 215, or [email protected]

If you’re looking for an event down South, The Miami Book Fair begins with the “congress of authors” on Nov. 7 and culminates with a street fair Nov. 12-14. The event is hosted by Miami- Dade College. Go to miamibookfair.com for a schedule of events and participating authors and publishers.

Duly Noted

Quarto Group has changed the name of its Rockport Publishers unit to
the Quayside Publishing Group and announced that all distribution for
the group will be handled by Creative Publishing International, which was acquired by Quarto in July, from F&W. In addition to CPi, the newly named Quayside group includes the Rockport Publishers imprint, Fair Winds Press, Quarry Books and the U.K.-based RotoVision. CPi’s Director of Sales Kevin Haas will handle all sales for the whole group.

Parties

The Harold Ober Agency celebrated its 75th anniversary appropriately at the Century Club, on Oct. 21. Present were the ghosts of past authors (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s granddaughter, Paul Gallico’s widow) and the very real authors of the present and future, as well as their acquiring editors: Amy Goldman with Artisan’s Anne Bramson, Stephanie Cowell and Viking’s Carole de Santi, Elizabeth Dewberry and Harcourt’s Ann Patty all happily presided over by Phyllis Westberg, Emma Sweeney and recently arrived Don Laventhall.

• The Whiting Writers’ Awards were announced on Oct. 28 at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library. Edna O’Brien was the guest speaker. Ten writers, Daniel Alarcon, Kirsten Bakis, Catherine Barnett, Dan Chiasson, Allison Glock, Elana Greenfield, A. Van Jordan, Victor LaValle, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and Tracey Scott Wilson each received $35,000. The writers’ awards have been presented since 1985. For details go to www.whitingfoundation.org.

Mazel Tov

Congratulations to publicist Rose Marie Morse and playwright Bernard Pomerance (Elephant Man), who were wed on Sept. 1.

Culture Shock

Italians Battle Reclusive Tenants, Food Taster Plays With Fire, Tony Soprano Takes Normandy

Like an episode of House Hunters gone terribly awry, the latest offering of Italy’s Andrea De Carlo, Wind Shear, sets two well-acquainted couples (along with their trusty real estate agent) off from Milan to visit some country houses which they hope to buy and refurbish. As they approach the picturesque hamlet, they take a wrong turn and find themselves stranded in a ditch in an isolated, hilly part of the woods, the words “Can you hear me now?” but a distant echo as the boonies are outside of their cell phone network’s coverage area. They spot a few dim lights in the distance as they wander through the darkness and rain, and are soon invited into a house, discovering shortly thereafter that their hosts are the survivors of a peculiar community that has chosen to cut off all ties to the outside world. The happy couples soon realize another disquieting thing, namely that the house is part of the group of cottages that they wanted to buy and that the inhabitants are a bunch of gritty squatters. Tempers flare when the two groups meet head to head and several accidents prevent the couples from leaving. The tale gives a “piercing and vivid portrait of what we are like today,” complete with contradictions, aspirations, obsessions and fears. And starting on October 20th, a special edition of the book will be released, featuring a CD with music (composed by De Carlo as a sort of soundtrack for the book) and 24 pages of his photographs, drawings, and words, all meant to offer new and unknown details, curiosities, and impressions of the characters and locales in the novel. Talk about interactive media! Contact Elisabetta Sgarbi at Bompiani for rights.

“An incomparable [novel] based on humor, gastronomy, eroticism and crime,” Scorpion Soup is Spanish author and script writer Juan Bas’ walk in the shoes of Pacho Murga, a doltish and work-shy Bilbao resident who recounts the unusual launch of El Mapamundi de Bilbao — “the Rolls-Royce of tapas bars.” Its peculiar cook and owner, Antón Astigarraga, a man with a dreadful past, was serving as Franco’s food taster in 1962, when he was enlisted by a group of Basque nationalist militants and members of ETA to try to end the dictator’s life. Many years later, a rag tag team of shady characters, including a rich priest who is on his way to becoming bishop, an opera singer, a leader of the military branch of ETA, and an important nationalist politician will be among the key characters in Astigarraga’s beleaguered life. Rights have been sold to Gallimard (France), Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt (Germany) and Machaon (Russia) and are available from Laure Merle d’Aubigné at A.C.E.R. (Spain).

“I don’t know this man,” Christian de Houwelandt replies when he is asked to give a speech at his grandfather’s eightieth birthday party in John von Düffel’s moving family chronicle, Houwelandt, which has been likened to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections by German book guru Elke Heidenreich. Esther, the wife of family patriarch Jorge, an ascetic God-seeker, is planning the party of the century for him at their home in the north of Germany, which they’d recently abandoned for the splendors of the Spanish coast. The classic curmudgeon’s son Thomas inherits control of the estate, but continues to writhe under the thumb of his authoritarian father. Christian, the third generation drawn into the de Houwelandt family fracas, makes all attempts to avoid family business. On Esther’s shoulders falls the task of gathering the far-flung family for a final reunion. Praised as “an exceptionally gifted word artist…and a great storyteller,” von Düffel is one of only two German authors invited to the Goethe-Institut’s “Best of the Frankfurt Book Fair” on November 30. Mark your calendars! Rights have been sold to Albin Michel (France) and earlier books have been published in Finland (Otava), Italy (Mondadori), Spain (Ediciones del Bronce), and Taiwan (New Sprouts Publishing). Contact Judith Habermas at DuMont (Germany).

Also in Germany, the accomplished “enfant terrible” Martin Walser hitches the fate of Gottlieb Zürn, a 70-something retired professor and real estate agent, to the buoyant optimism of Beate Gutbrod, a young German post-doc in Chapel Hill’s philosophy department in his latest tome, The Moment of Love. Beate first encounters Gottlieb while conducting research for her dissertation on the reception of the hedonist philosophy of Julien Offray de La Mettrie in Germany. Gottlieb had published two essays on the philosopher twenty years earlier and their common admiration for him sparks an instant but seemingly irrational attraction. After they spend a few blissful hours on the sunny porch of his mansion, Gottlieb’s snarky wife, Anna, comments on the impossibility of an affair between the two because of the forty year age difference. But when Beate wangles an invitation for Gottlieb to speak at an international la Mettrie conference at Berkeley, they spend three days releasing their pent-up desire in a California hotel. When Gottlieb’s lecture is attacked by one of Beate’s colleagues, he flees the conference and sends his relationship with Beate into a tailspin. Upon returning home, he hears news about her that might make him regret his decision to leave. Reminiscent of Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal, this “accomplished satire about intellectuals” has sold over 100,000 copies in Germany. Walser’s oeuvre has an impressive foreign history and rights to his books have been sold to Laffont (France), Lumen (Spain), Shanghai Translation/W&K Publishing (China), De Geus (Holland), to name a few. His look at the Third Reich from the perspective of a young boy in The Springing Fountain was published several years ago by Arcade, but US rights to his more recent books are still available from Astrid Kurth of Sanford Greenburger.

When the Blakes, an American family with more than a few heads in their duffel bag relocate to a tranquil town in Normandy, nothing can prepare the locals for the chaos that will ensue in Tonino Benacquista’s riotous rendition of a larger-than-life ex-mafioso, Malavita. The Blakes attempt to fit in, but become the focus of local gossip, no thanks to a team of FBI agents and police who are tracing their every step. Mr. Blake, it turns out, is a former East Coast mafia boss who sold out his former “business partners” and who is now enrolled in the witness protection program. Regardless of the ocean that separates him from his past life, his former “friends” might not be as far away as he thinks. When Blake starts to write his memoirs, the White House steps in with a thunderous “Fuhgeddaboudit!” Contact Anne-Solange Noble at Gallimard.

Note: While the above-mentioned titles are hot items in their respective countries, they fall just shy of the top-10 lists.

It Pays to Show Up

Visitors to the Beijing International Bookfair earlier this month were pondering two striking facts: the Chinese market for English language books is at last shaking off the torpor of the state-run supply chain; yet the Americans hardly showed up. In contrast, the Brit pack presence looked positively bullish — both at the UK Publishers Association stand, where exhibitors have doubled year on year for the past three fairs, and as individual exhibitors.

So what is it that keeps the Americans away? A population of 1.3 billion, nearly 1,700 universities, and a booming consumer sector should represent some sort of an opportunity for publishers. Are they fearful of bad debts, SARS, Al Qa’eda, or just sceptical after more than two decades of mostly unfulfilled promise? For sure, many a bright-eyed publisher on both sides of the pond has predicted ‘big things’ from this market before. On the face of it, the current import volumes of English language product are still relatively low — around $270 million. However, there are real signs of life across STM and academic, children’s, reference, art, and general trade sectors, as a fresh wind of entrepreneurial spirit begins to blow through the supply chain.

What is the key to success in China? Like anywhere else, it pays to show up. The former international head of the UK Publishers Association’s, Ian Taylor of Ian Taylor Associates, knows the ropes — and the folks. “I’ve been coming here for nearly 25 years, two or three times a year. Various people I know in the book importers have asked me to help them source a wider range of English-language titles — particularly from American publishers,” he says. According to Taylor, the Chinese book buyer is starved of choice when it comes to English-language books. “The market for academic books and journals is dominated by Reed Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, with McGraw and Pearson catching up. There is now real hunger for a wider range of publishing lines,” he explains. Taylor is creating a new business model that offers smaller and medium-sized publishers the same strategic platform as the most successful multinational. “That means having a local presence handling all aspects of the business — imports as well as foreign- and English-language reprints — and building links with the state importers that enable you to promote direct to end users. The real prize for publishers is to get the inside track in a market that is moving away from the old model of state control. The state sector is becoming more professional and entrepreneurial and there are new private sector entrants into the market.”

Taylor also points out that though library budgets have been squeezed by the pressure of journals’ prices after the government’s copyright crackdown in December 2001, government funding for universities is continually on the increase, and library requirements are becoming more varied. Combined with growing consumer affluence, this will lead to continued and substantial growth in the market for English-language books. This situation has already prompted some of the major foreign publishers in the market to rein in their reprint licensing deals and look more closely at export opportunities.

Taylor is already linked with Andrew Nurnberg’s successful Beijing rights sales office and is now planning to set-up representation and distribution for US and UK publishers. “There now really is a tremendous opportunity for American houses to grow in China by working with an end-to-end marketing and distribution service,” he says. The buyers here are moving from buying language and reprint rights to buying publishers’ original stock. And, he points out, UK book exports to China rose 45% in February 2003, and “our projections suggest that it will be a $500 million book market within two years.”

Taylor can be contacted at +447711168580 and found at the IPG stand at Frankfurt 8/A937 or email [email protected]

PT thanks Barney Allan for contributing this story. Allan, a London-based marketing consultant, can be emailed at [email protected]

Book View, October 2004

People

As Fall sets in, there are many jobs that are being vacated, created, and filled. Those leaving include Becky Cabaza, Editorial Director at Three Rivers/Crown, who is becoming a freelance editorial consultant. She can be reached at (973) 280-2429 and by e-mail at [email protected]Susan Naythons, EVP Sales, is leaving PGW to spend more time with her family. There are no immediate plans to replace her. … Stephanie Fierman, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Zagat, has left the company. She may be reached at [email protected]

Jon Anderson, most recently at Penguin, has been named VP Creative Director at Running Press. … Allison Devlin, formerly of DK and most recently of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has moved to Watson-Guptill as Marketing Director. … Jon Ackerman has been named Senior National Accounts Manager for Motorbooks. He was with Klutz Press.

Lisa Tomasello is stepping down as Director of Mass Merchandise Sales at S&S to follow her husband, who is relocating. However, she will take on the position of Retail Marketing Manager. Anne Zafian, VP Client Services at TW Books, will succeed her.

Publicity continues its volatility, with Seale Ballenger moving to Morrow-Avon as Director of Publicity. He held the same title at Atria Books. His former Associate Director at Atria, Ben Bruton, will follow him to Morrow. Bruton moved to Atria from Doubleday in March 2004. Meanwhile, Scribner has named Suzanne Balaban, who had been Morrow’s Assistant Director of Publicity, to the position of Director. Jennifer Slattery has joined Simon Spotlight as Publicist for the new imprint. She comes from Penguin.

As previously reported: Kristina Peterson has been named Workman’s Director of International Publishing. She was most recently at S&S, but consulted for Workman this summer.

Eileen Bertelli has gone to Barron’s Educational as Sales Manager. She was most recently at Avery/Penguin.

New York Observer publishing/media reporter Rachel Donadio is moving over to The NYTBR in mid-October. She will write and edit reported pieces, essays, and interviews covering the book publishing world, along with doing some review work.

Scholastic EVP and President of e-Scholastic Donna Iucolano has left to become CEO of International Masters Publishers (IMP) North America. Meanwhile, Jack Perry has moved to Scholastic as VP Trade Sales, reporting to Barbara Marcus. He was formerly at Soucebooks. Ken Wright has been promoted to VP, Associate Publisher and Jazan Higgins, who has been consulting with Scholastic, has been appointed to the newly created position of VP, Publishing Director. Both will report to SVP, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Jean Feiwel.

Volker Neumann will be leaving the Frankfurt Book Fair at the end of December. The announcement came three weeks before the start of the fair.

Leigh Haber has joined Rodale full time as Executive editor in the NY office, and will also serve as a Contributing Editor to the company’s Men’s Health and Organic Style magazines. Haber had been working for Rodale as editor-at-large. Prior to that, she was at Hyperion.

George Rubich, former CFO at Henry Holt, is re-entering the publishing fray (more recently he’s been consulting for The Wildflower Group) with Innova Publishing (innovapublishing.com), which he defines as “extreme makeover for books.” CDS is handling distribution.

AuthorHouse, one of the “self-publishing services,” has hired a board member as its new CEO. Bryan Smith was in venture capital and had served as Chairman of the board for AuthorHouse.

Anne Garinger’s replacement as Project Coordinator of the AAP is Tracy Kaufman. She may be reached at (212) 255-0200 x262, or [email protected]

Midpoint has just set up a California office headed by John Teall, formerly of PGW. Another hire, Julie Hardison, Marketing Director, will work out of its Kansas City DC.

Promotions

Jim Chandler, Chief Commercial Officer of Ingram Book Group, was named President and CEO succeeding Mike Lovett, who moves to the parent company, Ingram Industries. Peter Clifton, President of Ingram International, will assume some of Chandler’s current responsibilities.

Franklin Electronic Publishers announced that Elizabeth Mackey has been promoted to the position of VP, Business Development, in addition to her role as VP, Content/Publisher Relations.

Rene Alegria has been promoted to Publisher and Editorial Director of the HarperCollins’ imprint, Rayo. The imprint will undergo a major expansion with the hiring of Raymond Garcia as Associate Publisher, Michelle Dominguez as Senior Publicist, Clara La Rosa as Editor, and the promotion of Andrea Montejo to Editor.

October Events

New York Is Book Country takes place October 2, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and October 3, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Washington Square Park and surrounding areas of New York University’s campus. Art Spiegelman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jimmy Breslin, Gail Collins, the “Daily Show” writers, Harold Evans, Arnold Scaasi, Leslie Schnur, and many more authors will be speaking during the two day fair.

AAP is sponsoring, “Introduction to Publishing” October 21-22 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at its New York Office. Speakers include Walker’s George Gibson, literary agent Henry Dunow, Random’s Ilene Smith and HarperCollinsJane Friedman. AAP member cost, $345; non-member cost, $395. For information, call (212) 255-0200 x262.

• The American Book Producers Association (ABPA) presents “Making Books Happen: Book Producing Today” on October 26 at The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South. Topics include “The Legal Picture,” “The Financial Picture,” and “The Expanded Role of Branding in Publishing.” Panelists include Walker Books’ George Gibson, publishing veteran Jason Epstein, B&N’s Alan Kahn, and the apparently ubiquitous Sam Tanenhaus. Email [email protected] for more info.

The NYT’s Christopher Lehmann-Haupt begins his next season of interviews at the Small Press Center on October 28, with E. L. Doctorow. And this year the 17th Annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair will be held Saturday, December 4th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, December 5th, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., instead of its usual March date. All events take place at 20 West 44th Street. For more information, email the Center at [email protected] or call 212.764.7021.

Duly Noted

DM News reports that the number of lifestyle magazines published 2003-04 grew to 264 from 206, citing the National Directory of Magazines published by Oxbridge Communications. Directory Editor Deborah Striplin attributed the 28% growth to a post-9/11 nesting trend.

Crafts is a booming category, with magazines in this niche up 25% to 129. Golf titles were up 24% to 135. And political science and politics magazines were up 23% to 128 titles. But management titles declined 25% to 95 this year, from 127 in 2003. News magazines dropped 24% to 57. History magazines fell 23% to 128 titles, from 166.

At 971 titles, college student and alumni publications was the largest magazine category in 2004, follwed by medicine, at 965 and religion/theology, at 724 titles. The number of Internet-only magazines grew to 168 from 124 last year. The directory lists a total 18,821 titles, of which 1,174 are new.

At BISG’s annual meeting, Executive Director Jeff Abraham demonstrated that getting all segments of this industry — much given to internal squabbling — on the same page is not impossible. In the presence of representatives from the ABA, AAP, AAUP, PMA, Ingram, B&T, B&N, BGI, Levy, Amazon and any number of printers, publishers and other acronyms (i.e., pretty much the entire industry), he sought and gained approval for two of today’s most contentious issues: a US industrywide adoption of the Bookland EAN bar code by January 2007 (ultimately discarding the less than efficient or sufficient UPC code), and the conversion of ISBN’s from 10 to 13 digits. And during the same two years that he’s been on the job, he’s increased BISG’s membership by over 50%.

In Memoriam

A memorial service will be held for Sandy Richardson, former editor and husband of St. Martin’s Publisher Sally Richardson. The service will be held on Wednesday, October 13th at 6 p.m. at the Century Club, 7 West 43rd Street, New York. Friends and colleagues are welcome.

The Big Fix: European Book Markets Experiment with Pricing Policies

“Due to fixed book prices, we Germans have 25 spaghetti cookbooks, and you poor Americans only have three,” jokes Christian Sprang, lawyer for Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers). Even though US publishers might quibble, there’s no doubt that book pricing methods are controversial around the world, and will probably only get more complicated with further globalization. So, here’s an update on the various continental pricing policies, specifically focusing on the debate between fixed (retail price maintenance, RPM) and free pricing (no controls by either law or industry cartel). How do the industry’s contradictory assumptions of the two systems measure up to their known effects? The European Union seemed like a good starting point, since this spring’s addition of 10 countries to the trading bloc make it the world’s largest, with a population of 455 million

As a single economic unit, the EU may have thought it could legally dictate book pricing terms to its members — it can when it comes to the size of bananas — but cultural, historical, philosophical, and educational factors are conspiring against any neat solutions. Though there is hardly one unified system for book pricing in the EU, most members (excepting Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and England) have some variant of a fixed pricing system. And the number is increasing, despite the European Commission’s general suspicion of any national system that may hamper cross-border trading and the threat of proceedings against fixed pricing, which so far have had mixed success. Just last month, Slovenia announced plans to fix pricing starting in January, while Norway is stalled in negotiations over pricing issues. Veikko Sonninen of the Finnish Book Publishers Association, where they have had free pricing since 1971 and think fixed pricing is “old-fashioned,” says one’s attitude is based solely on which system is familiar. Each system has its nay-sayers — or, as the case may be, its discounters. The general philosophy behind fixed pricing is that it prevents the commoditization of books, maintains their cultural significance, and keeps in business a diverse selection of publishers and booksellers. Although it seems publishers have the upper hand in fixed price regions — they not only decide the price at which they will sell to the bookseller, but then tell the retailer what to sell it for, thereby, determining the retail margin — some sources say that’s not the issue. “It benefits smaller entities and hinders the big fish from eating the smaller ones,” Sprang argues. A small store with an eclectic mix has the same odds of surviving as a store that only stocks titles with mass market appeal.

In Defense of the French

For the most part, those countries who have a fixed system, love it. In France, publishers and booksellers alike are rather proud of their “loi Lang,” which has regulated book prices and prevented anything greater than a 5% discount for the past 20 years. “There is no polemic here — we all agree it is a fantastic law which has saved small, independent bookstores from disappearing. Such was the aim, and the challenge has been met,” says Anne-Solange Noble, Director of Foreign Rights at Gallimard. She adds, “constant and tiresome French-bashing in the past months have made Anglo-Americans very little receptive to French points of view. [Our system] is too often labeled by our opponents as ‘vile government intervention against the sacred free market.’ ” In fact, for some countries, the French are setting an example. In Poland, where there is neither a Lang-like law nor a Net Book Agreement (NBA), they find it works for the publishers to print the price on covers, in essence fixing the price. (Funny, it doesn’t work like that in the US!) “The question is still discussed,” says Regina Greda, Director of the Polish Book Chamber. “There is not one clear position of the publishers and booksellers association. In my opinion, the French system is very efficient and in our post-communist countries with a free market, we really need a very strong book policy of the state.”

Before 1995, England and Ireland operated under the NBA, a collective agreement between publishers and booksellers that granted the former the right to fix retail prices for books, but did not require them to do so. In 1995, they “denetted,” amidst huge controversy and dissension, and some industry experts say it’s all been for the worse. “Denetting seems to have screwed a lot of value out of bestsellers, which should be the lifeblood of the supply chain,” says British consultant Barney Allan. “Not many industries discount their bestselling product 40% or more on release. I think it has handed the initiative to the supermarkets and damaged both the publishers and the trade.” Also controversial in the US, discounted bestsellers are designed to be loss leaders, to get customers in the store and lead to other purchases. (Without Robertson-Patman controls, the Brits’ margins are even thinner.) In regard to the pricing of imports, Allan continues, “I think all British publishers should be really worried about the challenge from the US houses. If the US publishers can overcome their fear of flying, they will become the locus of the world’s English language book supply. Better cost structure, bigger runs, and a weak dollar all add up to a big headache for British publishers.”

Beating the System

Few can deny, however, that fixed pricing has its flaws. Plenty of countries with retail price maintenance find their publishers and booksellers looking for every chance to get around the law. Many countries allow discounting, but only a year or two after publication; so publishers are finding ways to circumvent even these restrictions. In the Netherlands, where an NBA-like system works well for independents because they compete on service and location instead of price, Rene Prins, senior buyer for B.V. Van Ditmar, a distributor of English and Dutch books, admits to some weak links in the system. “Publishers try to work around the system by producing ‘specials,’ special editions of an existing title produced to sell in supermarkets and gas stations or used for other b-to-b sales opportunities.” New houses are emerging intent on publishing for non-traditional outlets, but they add a separate imprint for the book trade to cover their tracks. One such player, Foreign Media Group, even recruits authors and editors from existing publishing houses.

Italy has also seen a rise in low-price special editions, with newspapers like La Repubblica repackaging novels from the likes of Isabel Allende and James Joyce, and selling them for about 5 euros. Other papers have followed suit, with some titles selling as many as 500,000 copies and initial print runs as high as 1 million. Because newsstands are a part of daily life, this has proved an effective marketing technique. (See PT, March 2003.)

Germany, whose book market has had a general malaise of late, made what used to be fixed pricing by cartel into law in 2002 to curtail any trouble from EU authorities. The first line of the law reads: “This law serves protection of the book as a cultural asset.” Germany allows discounting, but only 18 months after the publication date, but “everyone and his grandmother are circumventing [the fixed law] by issuing at a dizzying pace ‘special editions,’ and now the cat is really among the pigeons since the Süddeutsche Zeitung did a copycat of the La Repubblica success and issues 50 backlist classics (from Kundera to Ecco to Simenon) in hardcover at 4.90 euros each,” says German agent Michael Meller. This same book in paperback costs about 9.00 euros and more — much to the chagrin of paperbook publishers. The book mail order house and retailer Weltbild (with Weltbild Plus stores), which makes even Bertelsmann look small, has joined with BildZeitung to offer 25 modern classics at 4.90 euros. All a bookseller can do is refuse to deal with those publishers who supply that venture (most titles have been bought for sky-high prices in auctions). Like the US, remaindering is a market staple. “It now happens that a big chain store like Hugendubel offers on the ground floor a book at 6.95 euros, which on the first floor is still priced at the original 19.90 euros,” Meller explains, adding that publishers panic and declare mint condition titles as damaged returns to clear their balance sheets. “It can only be a matter of time till the cartel people declare the retail maintenance law as invalid due to the permanent sneaky violations.”

And here’s a lesson to others working the system: In the 1990s, the publisher Weltbild bought up illustrated books from packagers in huge quantities to sell them at bargain-basement prices. Other illustrated publishers entered the fray, and the illustrated book market in Germany collapsed completely. The final days of the NBA in the UK were characterized by a similar state of affairs: large numbers of mass market outlets (Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s) were buying non-returnable editions from packagers, also priced low for exclusive sale in their stores. In the absence of price controls, they now offer discounted regular and returnable editions from publishers. Could this be called a net gain?

In the end, books are not bananas and there’s probably no easy way to price them. As CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis author Marja Appelman argues in “The Future of Fixed Book Pricing” (2002), fixed pricing can actually lead to higher prices, and “in the Netherlands quite a few publishers and booksellers hardly contribute to the cultural objectives, but concentrate on commercially interesting bestsellers instead.” Go figure — seems that happens regardless of the pricing structure. Appelman defines the book as different from other goods because it is an “experience good” that can be valued only after consumption. Bengt Nordin, director of his eponymous literary agency in Stockholm, reports that sales in Sweden are much higher than other small European countries, with more than 100,000 copies of a popular book selling, compared to 10,000. “We believe the free price is one of the most important things behind this great result. Specially reduced prices get readers interested in buying books, like they buy other goods,” he argues.

This is the US market’s philosophy, as well. Notwithstanding the broad range of nontraditional book-selling outlets — very much a result of free pricing — units have been declining for a while. This has forced US publishers to increase their retail prices, possibly painting a rosier picture of the business than it deserves.