The Velvet (Reading) Revolution

As Publishing Trends rolls out its bestseller lists for the Czech and Slovak Republics, we herewith offer a brief survey of this modest but dynamic literary landscape, as sales rise in Wal-Mart-esque chains, and pivot sharply toward nonfiction.

Though Czech readers have long lapped up the likes of Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and Tom Clancy, a minor reading revolution is under way in the nation: the demand for fiction in the Czech Republic has drastically slackened of late, and most publishers there are now concentrating on nonfiction, according to a pre-Frankfurt market report on conditions in the Czech and Slovak book markets just released by Prague-based literary agent Kristin Olson. Some publishers have cut fiction to only 20% or less of their list, as demand ramps up for illustrated books on crafts, hobbies, and do-it-yourself home projects. The total market now breaks down to about 60% general nonfiction, 25% fiction, 11% textbooks, and 4% children’s titles. (Original Czech language publications amount to 70%, translations 30%.) Olson, who represents publishers from the US and UK, and sells translation rights for their books to Czech and Slovak publishers, adds that concentration in the retail market continues, as successful booksellers continue to expand into chains, while book superstores set up shop in Prague and Wal-Mart-esque commercial chains like Tesco start to sell more books as well.

On the bright side, though swaths of the Czech Republic were engulfed by some of the worst floods to hit Europe in over 200 years last summer, book production for 2002 remained impressively resilient. The industry kicked out 10,412 titles, according to Jaroslav Cisar, Secretary of the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers, which is nearly identical to previous years in which the Czech book sector recorded its highest ever number of published titles. Unfortunately, by most accounts print runs are continuing to drop (averaging 2,500 copies for both fiction and nonfiction; up to 6,000 for solid bestsellers), leading publishers to put out more titles in smaller print runs in an attempt to maintain the same financial turnover. Reorders are rare, and a new title can be fated for remainderdom within weeks or months of publication.

Perhaps the most notable change in the past year has taken place in the Czech children’s book market. While last year there were only two children’s publishers focusing on nonfiction titles, and two tackling fiction, Harry Potter novels have helped open up the market a bit, with publishers starting to take an interest in contemporary series fiction, fantasy for children, and contemporary novels. With the average retail price of a children’s book hovering around $2.50, there is little hope that a market will emerge for children’s picture books, as production costs are simply too burdensome. Publishers rely heavily on original Czech or Slovak writers and illustrators because it is often too expensive to license translations. In another growing segment, expect to see more successes along the lines of Bridget Jones’ Diary, as Czech publishers continue to build marketing strategies for film tie-ins, with posters promoting both the book and the film.

English accounts for the largest share of any translated language in the Czech Republic (over 50%), with German and French next in line. While translations from Polish are on the rise, interest is waning for Slovak books. By all accounts, Czech and Slovak are closely related, and are understandable to speakers of either language. As Lucie Straková of Andrew Nurnberg Associates in Prague reports, the “Czech market is of course much bigger and stronger so that’s where we make most of our deals.” Other factors are diminishing the prospects for Slovak publishing as well. As day-to-day communication between the two countries gets less frequent, Czechs are becoming less comfortable reading in Slovak. And because Czech editions are widely distributed and sold in Slovakia, a Slovak edition has little chance of succeeding if a Czech edition has been published first. (Incidentally, most contracts negotiated before the split of Czechoslovakia have expired by now, but even before the split, separate contracts were concluded for each language.) Unemployment in the Slovak Republic is up to 18.5%, making conditions there worse than ever. However, Vienna-based agent Ilene Kreshka of Transnet Contracts Ltd. reports that she notices a perhaps hopeful shift toward “higher quality commercial fiction and literary fiction.”

Book View, October 2003


Bonnie Ammer has been named to the newly created position of EVP, Publisher at Large, Random House Worldwide, reporting directly to Peter Olson. Her current job as Publisher, Fodor’s Travel Publications, and President, Random House Information Group, will be assumed by David Naggar, who will continue as President, Random House Audio and Diversified Publishing Group. Last week Scott Matthews was named Publisher of Random House Audio and Large Print. He will retain his title of President of Random’s Books on Tape.

Ruth Pomerance, formerly of USAFilms, has become EVP Production and Development for IDT Telecomm-unications, developing animated feature films and direct-to-dvd projects. She will also be starting a special division to publish books that are based on original material in development. She may be reached at Ruth.Pomerance@ or (973) 438-3094. . . Avalon has hired a new Marketing Director, Sandee Roston, who was most recently at Bloomsbury. She will be based in New York.

In other Random news, Steven Pace, previously Divisional Director, Trade East at Random House, has been named to the new position of VP Director of Retail Sales at Baker & Taylor, in its North Carolina headquarters. Rachel Klayman has gone to Crown as Senior Editor. She was most recently at Free Press. And Jon Ackerman, formerly at Random, has gone to Klutz, managing national accounts.

No news on some of the searches taking place in university presses: Seven months after Bill Strachan left Columbia U. Press (he is now at Hyperion) the search for a new Director is “moving forward but not yet complete,” according to a source involved in the process. And at Harvard Business School Press the search for a successor to Director Carol Franco also continues. Franco will move to the position of Editor-at-Large for the entire HBS Publishing division as soon as a new person is named.

In agency news: October 1st marks the day that a new literary agency, Lippincott McQuilkin & Co, launched. Started by Will Lippincott (who’s keeping his job at Booz Allen part-time) and Rob McQuilkin, the agency is located at 80 Fifth Ave., Suite 1101, NY, NY 10011. Phone number is (212) 337-2045. . . Bob Diforio, Marilyn Allen and Coleen O’Shea are regrouping, with Allen and O’Shea forming the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency. The D4EO Literary Agency will continue under Bob Diforio. . . George Lucas, who recently joined Carlisle & Company, just sold his first book on behalf of Peter Robinson at Curtis Brown, London. Entitled The Rise and Fall of Carthage (by Richard Miles) it went to Wendy Wolff at Viking, for $400k+. Meanwhile, Carlisle & Company has moved its offices to 6 West 18th Street, Twelfth Floor, New York, NY 10011. Agents Christy Fletcher and Emma Parry, who left Carlisle to establish their own agency, Fletcher & Parry, have offices across town, at 121 East 17th Street. . . Wendy Sherman, of the eponymous agency, has a new associate in former Holt colleague Tracy Brown. He will develop and represent his own list of clients under the auspices of the agency. He was most recently Senior Editor at Ballantine. . . And PJ Mark has left IMG to join Collins McCormick as an agent. Word is that Mark Reiter is also leaving IMG, to go to PFD (Peters Fraser & Dunlop), but no announcement has yet been made. In other agency news: Jenny Bent, formerly with Harvey Klinger, Inc., has joined Trident Media Group. . . Tad Floridis has joined Donadio & Olson as an agent. Floridis was VP of Development at Longview Productions and Executive VP at And Anna Stein, formerly of the Wylie Agency, has joined Donadio & Olson, as an Associate.

In Boston: Elizabeth Carduff, formerly Associate Publisher of Perseus, has been named Editorial Manager of Cook’s Illustrated. . . Gary Gentel has been named Corporate VP, Director of Houghton Mifflin’s Sales, Trade & Reference Division. He had been VP of Trade Sales for Scholastic. In other HM-related news, Eric Chinski, most recently Executive Editor at Houghton, has joined Farrar, Straus, also in an Exec. Ed. role.

As reported elsewhere, Mel Parker has left Bookspan, where he was SVP Editorial Director, to pursue publishing opportunities. He may be reached at [email protected]. Brigitte Weeks has been named SVP and Editor-in-Chief.

In children’s, Elizabeth Law moves to S&S as VP, Associate Publisher of the Books For Young Readers imprint. She had been Associate Publisher at Viking Children’s Books. There are promotions at Knopf & Crown Books For Young Readers imprints, including Nancy Hinkel, who moves from Senior Editor to Publishing Director, Nancy Siscoe, who has been promoted from Executive Editor to Associate Publishing Director, and Michelle Frey, who has been promoted to Senior Editor from Editor. Alix Reid has been promoted to VP Editorial Director and Director of Foreign Acquisitions, of HarperCollins Children’s. And at Penguin’s Philomel Books, Michael Green has been promoted to Associate Publisher, Editorial Director as Pat Gauch steps down from the role of Publisher to become Editor-at-Large. Finally, Gray Peterson has been named VP Sales, Mass Market for Scholastic. He was VP of Sales at AMS’s Dalmatian Press.


The 2003 National Book Festival takes place on Oct. 4, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. between 7th and 14th Streets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (rain or shine). The third annual Festival is organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Laura Bush and is expected to attract “more than 60,000” people.

George Plimpton, whose obituary found its way into the unlikeliest publications last week, was looking forward to the Paris Review’s 50th anniversary celebrations, centered around a gala fundraising event at Cipriani in New York on October 14th. The event — hosted by Garrison Keillor — will proceed as planned, and now will be held in Plimpton’s honor. Tickets to the benefit are still available, and, according to the PR’s editors, “supporters of the Review and admirers of George Plimpton are encouraged to attend.” All proceeds will benefit The Paris Review Foundation. Contact the Paris Review editorial office for more information: (212) 861-0016.

New York is Cookbook Country takes place from Wednesday, October 15 through Saturday, October 18. The kickoff is a Food Writers Panel at Borders Park Avenue, with Jeffrey Steingarten, Ruth Reichl, and others on Oct. 15. On Oct. 16 a chef’s panel, moderated by Judith Jones, takes place at the NY Public Library. Oct. 17 and 18 are the Guest Chef Dinners around the city, along with cookbook signings. Go to www. for details.

The Small Press Center presents “An Interview with Jane Friedman” on October 23 from 6 to 7:30 at 20 W. 44. The NYT’s Christopher Lehmann-Haupt will interview the HarperCollins CEO. For details go to Small Press Center and The General Society of Mechanics (where the Small Press Center is located) host a lecture series entitled “Wit’s End on West 44th Street,” beginning October 15. Each lecture costs $15, and the series of 5 costs $60. For details go to

On October 29-30 WRG, in association with the International Intellectual Property Group, presents “Creating New Markets for Entertainment Copyrights: Generating Revenue with New Forms of Digital Distribution in the Face of Piracy.” It takes place at the Flatotel on West 52nd St. Numerous speakers from music, movies, television, and publishing are represented on panels during the two-day conference. Go to for details.


A memorial service for Peter Schwed, the longtime S&S executive who died earlier in the summer, will be held October 17 at 4 pm at the Century Club.

Donations in memory of Pat Sado, longtime book buyer at Coliseum who died September 19, to the Nathalie Sado Educational Fund, c/o Barbara Passy, East Hampton Business Service, 20 Park Place, East Hampton, N.Y. 11937.

Donations in memory of Miriam Bass, who spent more than 30 years in bookselling — the last ten at NBN — may be made to the National Kidney Foundation at 30 East 33rd St., Suite 1100, New York, New York 10016.

Literary Agents Go Transatlantic

Wrangling with what one observer has called “the quickening compression of the world English-language market for books,” a number of prominent literary agencies have now rolled out transatlantic offices, including ICM (which set up shop in Soho Square last March) and Janklow & Nesbit (it landed in London over two years ago), while British agency PFD opened in New York last month — all of whom join longtime cross-ponders such as William Morris and The Wylie Agency. The benefits to these beachheads may be obvious: on-the-ground access to talent, closer connections to editors, fewer co-agent commissions, and, for US agencies, a better chance at selling those midlist titles into a British market increasingly receptive only to the mega-hits. Yet the recent flurry of activity also highlights each agency’s particular angle of attack as they weather the ever-synergizing global book biz.

In the case of PFD (Peters Fraser & Dunlop), principals say the jump to New York was not driven by a mere desire to circumvent co-agents. Indeed, the group’s nine London-based agents will continue to work with a range of US agents, depending on the tastes and styles that best suit a particular project, according to Caroline Dawnay, who heads PFD’s book department in London. PFD will share office space with its parent company, sports and entertainment management group CSS Stellar. The office will be run by Zoe Pagnamenta, who had been with the Wylie Agency in New York for six years, and headed its UK office last year. She’ll be taking on her own US clients, in addition to handling certain UK authors in the US. While the London company’s translation rights are handled by Intercontinental Literary Agency, which deals direct in most territories, PFD’s New York office have decided to work with ILA on a nonexclusive basis for the time being. Rather than being of a piece with the globalizing business, Dawnay suggests, the move to New York “is almost an anti-globalization move” in that it counters the push by large publishing conglomerates to purchase world-English rights, which she feels does not serve authors well when they become just one more title in a bucketful being sold abroad. “Having a presence in New York which has our name on it,” she says, “is an attempt to make clear to New York publishing that we passionately believe in the notion of books being published indigenously in America, with the sort of care and attention that is going to satisfy our British authors, and will satisfy those American authors we look forward to handling back here in London.”

Michael Carlisle, who represents the UK authors of AM Heath, Curtis Brown, PFD, and other British agencies on a title-by-title basis, has long agreed that authors can best be served by a network of co-agent relationships rather than a one-stop-shop that represents a co-agency’s entire list. “We essentially choose the book on the book’s basis rather than on who’s sending it to us,” he explains. “The reaction among New York editors we hope is higher to our submissions, because the editor knows we’ve asked to handle it.” Carlisle & Company has sold more than 130 UK titles in the US over the last three years, many handled in conjunction with Emma Parry, who has since set up her own agency with fellow Carlisle alum Christy Fletcher. Carlisle recently hired George Lucas to coordinate the agency’s UK co-agenting business, which should benefit from Lucas’ editorial background at Hodder & Stoughton, Ballantine, and S&S.

Foreign rights were the initial focus for the London office of ICM, where department heads Amanda Urban and Esther Newberg began planning the move more than three years ago, as they realized that their list had grown large enough that representing US authors’ foreign rights through sub-agents no longer made sense. “It was not just a matter of commission,” Urban says. “It was part of our philosophy that the principal agent sells the book better than anybody.” Once on the ground in London, however, it became readily apparent that selling directly into the UK (and representing the UK market directly to the US) was the logical next step. All ICM foreign rights are now handled through London under the direction of Margaret Halton, who spent two years at ICM’s New York office. Kate Jones, a longtime Executive Editor at Penguin who subsequently consulted for the James Bond estate, heads up the office’s representation of UK authors, while Tricia Davey (formerly of ICM’s Los Angeles office) handles film and television rights.

Janklow & Nesbit, by contrast, set up shop on Adam & Eve Mews about two and a half years ago with the chief aim of representing UK authors on their own turf. “They’ve signed a very literary crew of young-ish English writers, and it’s going great guns,” says Morton Janklow of the new operation. “We’re thinking about expanding.” The office now represents about 75 UK clients, whose US rights are in turn handled out of New York. (UK rights for the agency’s US authors are handled either out of the UK office or directly from the US, depending on the particular author.) “We have discovered that many English writers would love to have the power of the big New York agency behind them, but they need a presence in town,” Janklow says. Foreign rights are handled directly from New York, so a second advantage of the London outpost was “a really thoughtful window on the UK and the continent,” Janklow adds, bolstering the agency’s intelligence as it sells translation rights throughout Europe. “We hand-sell book-by-book in every market. That gives us total control over the work of our authors all over the world.” The London office supports agents Claire Paterson and Tifanny Loehnis, who spend at least one week per quarter in the home office, while the agency’s proprietary computer system adds another layer of connectivity between the two shops.

For some observers, the rise of transatlantic agencies comes none too soon. “It’s about bloody time,” UK agent Ed Victor tells PT. “No one can represent a project as effectively, passionately, or knowledgeably as the original, primary agent. All too often, sub-agents deal with incoming books from other agents as ‘product’ — sausages in a sausage machine. It makes much more sense for the initiating agent to learn the other market and use that knowledge to sell their clients’ books in it.” Victor’s agency has long handled its own books in New York, though he grants that certain titles may need special handling by someone on the ground. “We do sometimes use the services of a very bright young agent in NYC, William Clark, when we feel that his close focus on that market will reap greater rewards for our client,” Victor says. For translation markets, the agency uses Andrew Nurnberg Associates. “One stop shopping saves on overheads, and Andrew and his people know us and our clients intimately so that they can provide a personal, highly focussed service for us.”

Phoenix Rising

Online Learning’s 600-Pound Gorilla Tangos With Textbook Publishers

The University of Phoenix, an Arizona-headquartered, for-profit institution offering degrees in adult-education staples such as business administration and information technology, may seem an odd candidate to be turning the world of higher educational publishing upside down. Yet as the nation’s largest accredited university — 163,627 current students (72,230 attending via the Internet), 17,200 instructors, 128 campuses in 26 states, and Internet delivery worldwide — there’s good reason why publishing insiders are calling Phoenix the Wal-Mart of the higher-ed world (as in: “The second biggest mistake you can make is selling to Wal-Mart. The biggest mistake? Not selling to Wal-Mart.”). “Phoenix is a major player,” explains Gordon Freedman, e-learning consultant and CEO of textbook solutions firm TextCentric. “Publishers are lining up to compete for that account.” Yet in a tale familiar to trade publishers (Barnes & Noble, anyone?), one of textbook publishers’ major customers is now in a position to become their big-time competitor, a prospect surely being contemplated at giants such as Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, and particularly Pearson, the largest educational publisher. How this predicament plays out among the established industry players — between traditional publishing models and new digital learning paradigms — will point the way, at very least, to the future of higher-ed publishing in America.

Phoenix, widely recognized as the company that invented for-profit education (and which was green-lighted last week to open a campus in New Jersey), may represent a smidgen of the 16 million students enrolled in higher-ed programs in the US. But by leveraging infrastructure across its entire student base, and centralizing curriculum development, it has become the first vertically integrated higher education company. That is, Phoenix controls both content and distribution. When it adopts a textbook or other learning materials, for instance, its curriculum design experts select the materials for all sections of a particular course. Student feedback is available and solicited continually, especially about the university’s online learning tools, which are fast becoming the centerpiece of its entire educational mission.

Textbooks: ‘Just Not Working’

And here’s where it starts to get interesting. “As a product, the beautiful, four-color textbook is just not working,” says Beth Aguilar, Phoenix’s VP of Academic Publishing, explaining that such an artifact offers none of the flexibility required for Phoenix’s ambitious online learning programs. So who needs textbooks? Behold “rEsource,” the first comprehensive learning platform for students and faculty, which Phoenix is rolling out after four years and more than $10 million in development. A sort of central nervous system for students and faculty, rEsource weaves together in one online location the essential course administrative tools, content, and student services. From its well-designed interface, students can check the course syllabus, download a textbook chapter, submit an essay for a free advance edit before submission, and assess their understanding of the material they are studying. It is textbook, library, departmental office, and student writing center rolled into one. Student response has been overwhelmingly positive, and though Phoenix will introduce e-commerce links directly to publishers for online purchases, experience shows that few students are interested in buying a hard copy in addition to building their digital libraries.

When selecting content, Phoenix demotes the textbook from its place at the core of the curriculum and breaks it down into modular units that can be assembled, updated, and reassembled. “In a world of digital assets, the goal should be to assemble the richest, most flexible variety of sources,” says Craig Swenson, the University of Phoenix Provost. “The textbook is an arbitrary assemblage. Digitize it and I’ll pick out the pieces I need.” Now, instead of buying a whole textbook, Phoenix negotiates for rights only to the parts it wants. Copyright ownership is “unchanged,” says Aguilar. “But we would like to own a lot more content than we do.” In January, Phoenix will take a big step in that direction by launching a “developer portal” through which it will solicit and manage content from its thousands of faculty members — or authors anywhere. As this content will be purchased directly from authors, it will also presumably cost less than content licensed through third parties with editorial and marketing overhead. “We can create a lot, but I don’t see us getting away from licensing other third party content,” Swenson says. “On the other hand, we would be silly not to leverage the intellectual capital in our faculty on a work for hire basis and own it.”

New Points on Pearson’s Compass

Educational publishers — no strangers themselves to the growing importance of digital content — are not exactly quaking in their boots. For starters, few textbooks are published today without accompanying websites and ancillary material on CD-ROMs. And while for-profit institutions have adopted a centralized curriculum, says Will Ethridge, President of Pearson Education’s Higher Education, International, and Professional Publishing Division, a similar shift by the traditional institutions is unlikely for reasons of academic freedom and educational integrity. Outside of the for-profits, “the instructor is responsible for the quality of the education, and they need to choose the content,” he says. (Not surprisingly, the for-profit leaders take a different view of the faculty role. “Of course, professors want complete flexibility in ordering books and creating curriculum,” counters Swenson. “The trade-off is the high cost of textbooks.”) Still, publishers are heeding the call for more flexible textbook formats. Ethridge sees custom publishing as a general trend, and Pearson has grown its custom publishing business significantly over the past few years, although it does not break out custom publishing revenues as a separate piece of its new textbook sales.

Yet pushed by customers such as Phoenix, publishers are adapting to the need for digital delivery, trying to retain as much control over their materials as possible. Pearson’s strategy is to “deliver the content in multiple fashions, so that we reach the market in as many ways as we can,” says Ethridge, adding that “at the end of the day, it still has to be strong content,” overseen by editors who maintain the vision of the work, and then accommodate the customer’s particular needs for formats or other specifications. Moreover, Pearson has introduced Compass, its own student portal, as its bid for the electronic, disaggregated future. Compatible with Blackboard (the most commonly used course management platform), Compass integrates what its website describes as “pre-loaded quality content” from textbooks, learning objectives, and assessments in one place. Professors have the option of buying Compass separately, or bundled with a textbook. Ethridge acknowledges that Compass aspires to the same goals as rEsource, though he cautions that “we’re not in the content management business. We want to stay in the business we are in now. But this meets a need.” In his view, the portable and readable textbook will remain an essential component of classroom teaching until “devices become so light, screen resolution so strong, that the reader experience will be better.”

But there are other factors shoving the industry toward a leaner, digital future. Times are tough these days on many college campuses. Although enrollments are growing, institutions are struggling to maintain services and instructional programs as state budgets for education shrink. “This is the first time in my career that I’ve seen budget issues affect academic programs in higher education,” observes industry veteran June Smith, Executive Vice President of Houghton Mifflin’s College Division. Calls for reform from Washington are growing louder, as the No Child Left Behind Act begins to force educators toward technology-based assessment and accountability. Perhaps most importantly, competition in higher education is stronger than it has ever been. Online learning programs are gaining academic credibility. Established large programs at public institutions such as Penn State, U. of Maryland University College, and U. of Massachusetts have been joined by for-profit players such as Capella University and others to push towards more than 1.6 million online students this year. Thomson’s Universitas 21, the global network of 17 universities in 10 countries, including U. of Virginia, McGill, U. of Edinburgh, and U. of Hong Kong, is already planning to pilot a series of “high-profile electronic books.” All the while, textbook publishers are getting blasted over pricing, as the cost of educational books and supplies has soared 238% over the past two decades, the New York Times recently reported. Now that 20% of students are no longer buying all their required texts, groups such as the California State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee are looking into “the possibility of using the collective buying power of California’s state colleges and universities to negotiate with publishers for lower prices.”

Industry experts agree that the shift to a digital curriculum will take years, even decades. At what point will the balance tip from publishers to their customers — and, dare we say it, the textbook fade away? “That’s just a point on the continuum,” says Kaplan College President Robert Greenberg. “We’re certainly moving towards that point. At some places, the textbook has already been removed, whereas at others, it remains. The ball’s in play.”

Ann Kirschner is the founder of education, media, and technology consultancy Comma International.

International Fiction Bestsellers

The New Czech Comet
Legatova Aloft, Sabach Soused in the Czech Republic, Plus Russia’s Own ‘Magic Mountain’

Streaking across the firmament on her way to the #1 spot in the Czech Republic this month, 84-year-old Kveta Legatova is a “new meteor in the Czech literary skies” who burst on the scene at the age of 80 after a career as an independent-minded teacher in the Czech countryside (where she routinely tangled with the Communist authorities). Legatova’s first short-story collection Zelary debuted in 2001 with an ultra-modest first print run of 400 copies, but has since soared to over 25,000 sold and been praised as a work of “full-blooded, passionate, and tragic” tales from the turn of the 20th century “yet with a flourish, pace, and composition a hundred years younger.” Named for its setting in a remote Czech village during WWII, the book has bounced back to the bestseller list as the Czech film adaptation of its sequel, the novella Joe’s Annie, premieres this month (the film, however, bears the title of the earlier volume). Both books envelop the reader with the “cruel charm” of the Beskides, the mountainous region near the Polish border where the author taught in small schoolhouses, a setting lush with “immense richness in spite of omnipresent poverty.” Joe’s Annie takes up the story of Eliska, a young female teacher-turned-doctor hiding in the mountains from Nazi persecution, who falls hopelessly in love with a man from the region. Legatova won the State Literary Prize (the nation’s highest such honor) last year, and critics have declared Zelary “a breathtaking, naturalistic, and beautiful read from start to finish.” Joe’s Annie, meanwhile, has sold 17,000 copies since its publication in 2002. Contact Milan Machacek at Paseka for rights to both titles. (Our Czech bestseller list, we’re pleased to note, is graciously provided by Jaroslav Cisar, Editor of the bi-weekly magazine Book News — the PW of the Czech Republic — and Secretary of the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers. See our full report on the Czech and Slovak publishing markets.)

Also in the Czech Republic, Petr Sabach is back in play with his seventh and latest offering: Four Men Afloat, or, Drunk Bananas Are Coming Back (the title was #2 last month, but has slipped just below the top ten). A sequel to his earlier ode to punchy produce, Drunk Bananas (about the coming-of-age exploits of four young men in the twilight of the Communist era), Sabach’s newest book tracks the men down 20 years later as they realize that some things in life can never be regained. Inspired by memories of pre-1989 Czechoslovakia, as well as tales spun down at the local pub, Sabach writes in the tradition of Czech greats Jaroslav Hasek and Bohumil Hrabal, and found his greatest success in 1994 with the bluntly titled Shit Burns, a collection of three stories about the collision of male and female world views. The book has sold more than 50,000 copies and is the basis of Cozy Dens, one of the most successful recent Czech films. Sabach will be published in Hungary (Europa), Italy (Marsilio), and France (L’Aventurine); keep an eye out for his other works, which include Grannies, a story of two old ladies with political chips on their shoulders, and The Strange Problem of Francis S., the story of a young man’s drug-induced hallucinatory experience inspired by the life of that bare-footed radical, St. Francis of Assisi. See Paseka for rights.

With Russia fêted as the guest of honor at Frankfurt this year, buzz is sure to build over critic and columnist Dmitry Bykov’s latest offering, Orthography, regarded as a “novel-opera in three acts,” and even “Russia’s answer to The Magic Mountain.” The scene: Bolsheviks hatch a plan in 1918 to reinvent Russian orthography, shipping unemployed linguists and writers to a Petrograd commune to revamp the alphabet. A cadre of young avant-gardists forms its own commune in response, however, and budding reporter Yat is torn between the two camps: fired from his job at a newspaper that was shuttered for being counter-revolutionary, Yat is cast off from society like the letters of the old alphabet, yet caught in the crush of the new order. Bykov’s parable of Russian history and his grand metaphor for revolution are said to be fired by “a tremendous will to transform not only the literary but primarily the social landscape.” His previous book, The Acquittal, an anti-utopian account of a brilliant professor’s arrest and disappearance after a mysterious phone call, has been published in France (Denoël). All rights for Orthography are available from Nibbe & Wiedling in Germany.

Crime-loving Sweden gets a new fix this month as Björn Hellberg brings to life a fictitious Swedish metropolis with a pulsating street life and deep-rooted social gaps in Pariah. The most blighted area in Loviken — aptly nicknamed the “Sewer Rat” — is home to dodgy characters known as the pariahs. One evening in May, the police are summoned to this odious place, where a routine task turns into a nightmare. Hellberg is no stranger to crime writing (he’s written 11 detective stories on top of 23 books about tennis, and “beats Mankell in three straight sets, to use tennis terms”). His new electrifying police squad features Carina Keller, a mother of three; her outspoken partner Stig-Allan Jönsson; and sexy crime scene investigator Mona Ceder. Earlier works have been published in Germany (Argon) and Holland (DeGeus), but all rights are available for this one, which has “all the potential of becoming just as popular as his previous series.” Contact Bengt Nordin.

Lastly, the international press is going gaga over a young Jewish French woman writing under the pseudonym Nima Zamar and her account of six intense years in the Israeli army. I Also Had to Kill, which climbed to number 5 on the nonfiction list in l’Express, tells Zamar’s story of emigrating to Israel at the age of 22, where she joined the army after her skills as a computer programmer caught the attention of the Israeli secret service. Following months of torture-resistance training, she infiltrated Hezbollah camps in Libya, Syria, and Lebanon, posing as a Swiss-reared Palestinian with money to spare. While training at terrorist camps, her mission was to introduce bugs into computer networks so that the systems could be accessed by Israelis back home. Now working in information technology in Paris and raising her 18-month-old daughter (whose father was a colleague in the Israeli army killed during a mission in Iran), she stands by her account without naming names for fear of endangering her associates. Called “a page-turner to the end,” Zamar’s book was published by Albin Michel in France; rights are available from Lucinda Karter at the French Publishers Agency.

El-Hi Any Which Way

As the world of higher education continues to grapple with distance learning and its effect upon educational publishers (see article), textbook publishers, while sizing up the online onslaught, are protecting their flanks with a variety of forays into the consumer market at the elementary and high-school levels:

• Dan Farley, President of Harcourt Trade, is working to bring the content of the various subsidiaries of Harcourt Education to the consumer market. One of the first fruits of this initiative is a deal with Barnes & Noble Publishing’s Sparknotes to repurpose some of Steck-Vaughn’s educational material for the consumer market. It will create a series of workbooks that will be published by Sparknotes’ younger sibling, Flashkids (aimed at the K-8 age group), beginning in June 2004. Sparknotes is “refreshing and augmenting” S-V’s material and will sell it exclusively through Barnes & Noble.

• Riverdeep Inc., which is one of the largest educational software producers (it owns Edmark, Broderbund, and Learning Company), recently launched Learning Company Books, which will publish and distribute (through CDS) workbooks based on their successful Reader Rabbit software and ClueFinders program. Vivian Antonangeli, who had been Publisher of Reader’s Digest Children’s Books, is its Director of Retail Sales.

When McGraw-Hill bought Tribune Education, they lost no time in using its assets — including licenses and authors — to develop workbooks and activity books. Vince Douglas, who had been co-founder of Landoll, took over as President of the renamed McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing, which nevertheless remains a tiny part of McGraw-Hill Education’s $2.35 billion empire.

• Pearson’s Marjorie Scardino bought Dorling Kindersley with one objective of repurposing its photo and art archive for its education market. But Pearson has moved into the edutainment market, with Family Education Network, a website that combines educational materials with consumer offerings, and traditional books with downloadable POD titles.

Where the Pipeline Ends

At the nethermost end of the pipeline — that being the remainder and overstock dealers — the jury is still out on whether publisher supply chain initiatives are drying up their business. “More publishers have tightened up than not,” says Mel Shapiro, President of publisher and overstock dealer Book Sales Inc. “Some of them have cut their print runs down considerably, which is not exactly making us thrilled.” Publishers that once tossed off six-figure fiction remainders are policing their print runs more closely, he says. But never fear: “The remainder business is going to go on and on as long as publishers have to print to satisfy author advances, and so on.” Others are perhaps more bullish on the subject. “Probably the hurt level has taken off more than remainders in the last few years,” offers CIROBE co-founder Brad Jonas, explaining that returns seem to be gaining momentum over titles remaindered by publishers. Jonas says returns are happening “more quickly and in a larger volume” than in the past — as publishers tighten up inventory, so booksellers return books with greater haste.

For a dealer of higher-end remainders, publishers’ efforts are receiving a blunt appraisal. “Things are the same as they’ve always been,” says Robin Moody, President of Daedalus Books. “There’s always talk that publishers need to tighten up their print runs and that they’re going to be more economical. But we’ve never really seen a major change.” Lower first print runs, he says, require speedier decisions about a second print run, which are made with less market feedback — “And at that point you’re just as liable to make a mistake.” Moody also attributes hefty remainder numbers to the growing use of overseas printers — “You can’t call up Hong Kong and say, ‘Give me a reprint,’” he says — in addition to more publishers buying packaged titles, which may only be offered in substantial quantities. Then there are the mysterious ways of the corporate publishing world. Moody tells of publishers changing the price on a title (the old one gets remaindered) or changing the cover (ditto). The pièce de résistance: a movie tie-in with a new cover gets rolled out (the old cover gets remaindered), then the movie ends and the tie-ins are all remaindered — as the publisher reprints the first cover again. As Moody dryly observes: “It’s all done according to huge corporation rules.”

Supply Chain Salvation

S&S, Scholastic Among Houses Pondering the Product Pipeline

While a well-oiled supply chain has been an obsession among other industries over the last two decades, book publishers have only recently begun to put the product pipeline front and center on the radar screen as they try to banish “inventory obsolescence” — products washing up on the corporate doorstep that no longer have any value. Spurred on by the flourishing of high-sale, high-return retail channels, big technology upgrades (SAP, anyone?), better access to sales data, and the improving economics of shorter print runs, most major publishers have sought out fresh thinking about inventory management as they look to boost sell-through efficiency, drive down product costs, and ramp up inventory turn.

Granted, it’s not the sexiest thing in publishing. But increasing consciousness of supply chain issues throughout the industry — including Borders’ much-debated “category management” exercise, ubiquitous Bookscan data, and information streaming from Baker & Taylor and Ingram — has led executives to take a closer survey of any supply chain slack. From forecasting demand to manufacturing, shipping, and billing titles, all the way until that inventory drops into the hands of a purchaser, publishers are working more concertedly than ever to avoid the classic worst-case scenario: books going out-of-stock at one account (causing missed sales) while being overstocked at another (you’ve got returns). And while the bottom-line impact may be debatable, the quest for supply-chain salvation is no doubt on in earnest.

‘Just In Time,’ Not ‘Just In Case’

One of the most ambitious such quests has taken place at Simon & Schuster, which got rolling in August 2000 with the launch of its Supply Chain Management department, headed up by Cliff Walter, who had been Director of Inventory Control and Operations at Pocket. The supply chain unit consolidated all inventory management departments and demand planners, who resided in the sales organizations at the time. This effort was central to “our ongoing initiative to significantly improve sell-through efficiency across all segments of our domestic business.” The group got cracking on a replenishment model, forecasting sales by account for major titles. Within a year more consolidation was under way: S&S folded production, inventory management, and supply chain management together under Joe D’Onofrio, Simon & Schuster’s SVP Supply Chain, who in a prior role as VP, General Manager of Pocket helped bring about what the company called “a significant reduction in returns.” Finally, this summer S&S expanded D’Onofrio’s purview even further to include the distribution and order fulfillment functions, as well as an operations group that manages reporting, customer and vendor requirements, and purchasing. Now, every link in the supply chain — from demand forecasting and manufacturing all the way through to distribution and customer service — reports to D’Onofrio, who in turn reports to CFO Sam Judd.

In theory, the process works like this: At the beginning of each selling season, the sales team “grids out” what revenue they think the new list will generate, while the demand planners are working with sales and publishing management to establish initial distribution targets for major accounts. Key to this process is the use of previous title sales history and point-of-sale data from Bookscan and other feeds from wholesalers and retailers. Then the production department is prepped to tackle the timing and delivery of books, which are in many cases shipped direct from the bindery. In practice — for Hillary Clinton’s Living History, which went out the door with a million copies — “this whole process worked like a fine-tuned orchestra,” D’Onofrio says. His demand forecasters were getting daily point-of-sale information from major accounts. They met with publishers and the sales team twice a day, monitoring retail channels. Once they tracked a sales velocity, they then turned to the production department to schedule quick reprints, and vendors were cued to deliver the product on time.

This crucial last link in the chain has been bolstered with “cross-enterprise collaboration,” meaning that S&S has begun to forge strategic partnerships with suppliers, signing last year a “long-term, single-source arrangement” with printer Quebecor World. As a result, turnaround time has shrunk in some cases to five or seven days, giving S&S an extra week or two to monitor sales before hitting the reprint button. The result? “Hillary sell-through has been phenomenal,” D’Onofrio says. “On a book with distribution of 1.6 million copies in the marketplace in six seeks, we’ve already sold through 1.2 million.” Meanwhile, John Adams went through more than 30 reprints, with over 1.6 million copies in print and a return rate of “barely 6%.”

Just one question: How do demand planners and inventory managers avoid internecine warfare with the sales organization? Officially, the demand forecasting department acts “in an advisory capacity” to the publishers and the sales force, and as D’Onofrio emphasizes: “The publishers are in control. We provide recommendations, but they’re the ones making the call.” The relationship with the sales teams has also evolved over time, as a certain amount of re-education has been necessary for reps who have been conditioned that the bigger the order quantity the better. “In the old days, it was all about getting the biggest order you can get,” D’Onofrio says. “The new model is, ‘Go get me the best order you can get.’” Now, when a customer orders up 25,000 copies, S&S may demur. “We’ve said, ‘We’ll give you 20,000 and we’ll stage 5,000 for you. If the book starts to take off, we’ll respond.’ That’s a whole different mindset.” D’Onofrio cautions that his team has worked hard to avoid alienating customers — as happened some years ago when other publishers took a hard line on restricting order quantities. As D’Onofrio explains, “There are customers who have taken exception to us second-guessing them, but they’ve learned to trust our judgment as long as we’re able to respond to their reorders.” As D’Onofrio acknowledges, “It’s very complicated and intricate and requires the utmost coordination across the whole value chain to get the result that you want.” Still, getting all of the players in the supply chain in the same room together is, at very least, a novel step in the right direction. “They’re part of the process. That never happened before,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the right product to the right place in the right quantities at the right time.”

Quarterbacking ‘Captain Underpants’

With a task as mammoth as the distribution of Harry Potter — or a “huge selling” education program like Read 180, which includes paperbacks and audiobooks as well as CD-ROMs and teacher materials, all packed in an inventory manager’s nightmare of 13 crates — you’d think Scholastic would also be burnishing its supply chain links. Indeed, the publisher has “invested very heavily” in the people, processes, and technology to give its big titles a better bounce, according to VP Supply Chain Pete Datos. At Scholastic, an inventory forecasting and planning revamp had just gotten under way when Beth Ford, SVP Global Operations and Information Technology, came on board in August 2000 and grabbed the reins. Specifically, the company targeted cost savings on products such as Captain Underpants (the new title just now shipping has a print order of 1.6 million) that are sold across a number of channels, including book clubs, fairs, and the trade market. “The whole idea was to drive cross-channel visibility of our inventory requirements,” Ford explains. As the centerpiece of its technology platform, Scholastic selected a Manugistics suite of supply chain software products, and in early 2001 Ford created the new position of VP Supply Chain, and brought in Datos from Unilever to shepherd the day-to-day activities, reporting to Ford. Finally, last fall the company began centralizing some of its planning operations, particularly on the supply side.

Here’s the drill at Scholastic: Datos oversees all capacity and scheduling functions, on the one hand, and inventory management, on the other, in addition to a planning and analysis group — with a few Joe Montana moves thrown in. “Pete’s role is to give a crucial weekly, monthly, and quarterly view of what’s happening across logistics, across manufacturing, and in the channels,” says Ford. “He sits right in the middle of all this activity and plays the quarterback role with all these different functions.” (Ford’s role is more analogous to D’Onofrio’s at Simon & Schuster. Among those reporting to Ford are Datos’ planning group; the logistics group; purchasing and manufacturing; and the warehousing group. Ford in turn reports to Scholastic CEO Richard Robinson.) At Scholastic, demand planning is carried out within each division, because demand drivers are different for each channel. Datos’ task is to consolidate these forecasts, time-phase them, and develop an appropriate inventory plan based on vendor and warehouse capacity. “Instead of asking the division what to print, we’re now asking them what they’re going to sell,” Datos explains. “We’re consolidating that across the channels and then deciding what to print.”

And that’s where the database comes in. Weekly updates of inventory positions in the company’s Jefferson City, MO warehouse are fed into the system, as well as sales information, and weekly master plans are generated — though Harry Potter required a detailed daily delivery schedule. (In the unfortunate event of a stock shortage, the planning group defers to each of the divisions to decide who gets what inventory.) At the same time, Scholastic has developed its system to offer vendors better visibility into its print capacity needs, and is working on an EDI link with R.R. Donnelley, the long-term vision being to integrate its system more usefully with both vendors and customers.

One might rightly wonder if consumer products strategies can work for books as well as they do for, say, cartons of Lipton tea. “It’s amazing how many of the analytical methods really do work across industries,” Datos reports. When Scholastic first deployed a technique used in other industries known as statistical safety stock — a way to forecast a bottom-line inventory number to cover fluctuations in demand — there was some doubt whether it would work for books. But — small wonder — Scholastic found this formula does a bang-up job for the publishing industry, allowing the company to take into account its “historical forecast error” and arrive at a minimum inventory level for each item. “It makes a lot of sense to have a safety stock level on our items that are regular evergreen titles,” Datos says. “There’s a real way to make sure that you don’t run out of stock.”

It’s clear that supply chain innovations have paid off for larger businesses. But should other houses order up a Manugistics implementation? Some say their nimbleness makes all the supply-chain difference. “Our size is an advantage,” says Jack Perry, VP Sales, Marketing, and Publicity at Sourcebooks. “We can’t outspend Scholastic. But we can communicate better. We’re also able to move faster. We don’t have to wait for 12 people to make a decision.” Still, Perry says tighter inventory control has reduced returns by 24% so far this year, driven by shorter, more frequent reprints: “We may do a reprint every couple of weeks. It does cost us more per unit, but instead of doing 20,000 we may find we only needed 15,000. We can skip that last reprint and it saves us from being overstocked.” Downloadable sales information has also helped level the data playing field. “In the past, large publishers had access to a lot of information that other publishers couldn’t get,” he says. “Bookscan has given smaller publishers more information, so we can now make these decisions.” In the academic publishing world, Oxford University Press USA has been able to drive a notable decrease in inventory costs via a print-on-demand partnership with Lightning Source, according to SVP Operations Brinton Strode. About 4,600 titles are now available on a POD basis, making sales of $2.5 million last year, and since Lightning has facilities in both the US and UK, Oxford can access the full breadth of its list from either side of the pond and drop-ship those titles for delivery as necessary.

How do souped-up supply chains look from the other end of the pipeline? “The major publishers have come a long way in working with accounts,” says Jean Srnecz, SVP Merchandising at Baker & Taylor. “They’re trying to take time out of the supply chain by more and better EDI relationships, and they’re making better use of the available information in the marketplace.” B&T’s own studies show that return rates are closely related to title lead times: the longer it takes between order placement and availability for sale, the higher the returns. Srnecz stresses that the company’s Title Source database offers publishers access to demand, on-hand, and order positions, in addition to custom reports. There’s always a downside, of course, when the supply chain turns into a trickle. “Returns are a cost of sales and marketing,” Srnecz says. “You need to model what the price of the book can absorb, and then work your supply chain metrics accordingly, watching the rate of sale day-to-day or hour-to-hour. Title Source is updated daily, and has a click through feature that allows near real-time access to inventory information.”

Other wholesalers credit publishers with aiding their own supply chain strides. “We definitely have seen a trend over the last few years, with primarily the larger publishers,” says Kelley Maier, SVP Product Management and Marketing for Ingram Book Group. “We’re not only seeing a positive impact on sell-through, but big benefits in inventory turn and in-stock rates both for Ingram to our customers, and also from our publishers.” Ingram’s fill rate on its nearly 750,000 titles is close to 90% — “the highest fill rate we’ve ever seen,” says Maier. She adds that Ingram’s ipage portal is being developed as an electronic feed that will push data directly into publishers’ systems, a function expected to go live with a select group of publishers in January.

We thank Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company for his contribution to this article.

Volunteers for Literacy

International Literacy Day is September 8, 2003, and herewith is PT’s occasional directory of volunteer opportunities in the world of reading and writing. For a relatively comprehensive directory of literacy organizations, searchable by zip code, check out

New York Public Library Center for Reading and Writing: Volunteers tutor a small group of Basic Literacy/ESOL students from the literacy program’s waiting list for at least nine months. Time commitment is two hours, two times a week. Call Maura Muller, Volunteer Coordinator, (212) 930-0502. Donations may be made via the library’s website at

ProLiteracy Worldwide: Training takes 15-20 hours and tutors meet with students for one and a half to two hours per week. See or call (315) 422-9121. The local NYC branch is Literacy Partners, where tutors work twice weekly with 10-16 students and a co-tutor in a learning center. See or contact Susan McLean at [email protected], or call (212) 725-9200 ext. 120.

Learning Leaders: Recruits, trains, and supports volunteers for one-on-one and small group instructional support to New York City public school students. Check out, email [email protected], or call (212) 213-3370.

International Center: A non-profit, privately funded language center for foreign-born newcomers to NYC. Volunteers teach English and American culture and, in the process, learn about other cultures. See or contact volunteer director Mary Beth Holman at [email protected].

Literacy Assistance Center: A not-for-profit organization that provides essential referral, training, information, and technical assistance services to hundreds of adult and youth literacy programs in New York. Contact Dianne Powell at (212) 803-3335 or [email protected]. The website at includes links to many major literacy organizations.

Reach Out and Read (ROR): A national pediatric early literacy program introducing children as young as six months of age to the world of books through the efforts of pediatricians, educators, and volunteer readers. Call Trish Magee at (212) 242-5339 or email [email protected].

California Literacy: The nation’s oldest and largest statewide adult volunteer literacy organization. Call (800) 894-READ or contact Matthew Scelza, (626) 395-9989 ext. 20 or email [email protected].

Literacy Connections: Volunteer opportunities are posted at, a portal for reading, teaching and tutoring techniques, ESL literacy, and adult literacy.

International Literacy Day: On September 8, the International Reading Association co-sponsors its annual literacy celebration in Washington, DC. The topic is “Literacy and Gender,” focusing on equal access for girls and boys to knowledge that prepares youth for leadership. The program takes place at the Bangladesh Embassy, 3510 International Drive NW, from 4:00 to 6:30 pm. Contact Jose Palacios at (202) 624-8459 or e-mail [email protected]. For more on the International Reading Association, a professional group active in 99 countries that promotes high levels of literacy, visit

International Fiction Bestsellers

The Deal Down Under
‘Books Alive’ in Australia, Fresh French in Holland, And a Greco-Dickensian Fable

Some call it preaching to the choir, but preliminary results are in on Australia’s inaugural two-week, federally-funded, book-buying bonanza called Books Alive, which is aimed at luring “occasional, lapsed, and young readers” back into the literary fold with a buy-one-get-one-for-real-cheap offer. (It also entices those 87% of Aussies who read for pleasure at least once a week to get in on the goods — as you’ll see from this month’s Australian bestseller list.) Here’s the deal: Customers who bought a book from participating retailers during the two-week period beginning August 2 received one of six “Books Alive” branded books (which are proven strong sellers picked by a panel of retailers, government types, publishers, and Project Director Brett Osmond) at a cost of only A$5 — about $3.25. Informed by similar programs including Holland’s Book Week (see PT, 8/02), as well as market research by AC Nielsen and a gaggle of other industry experts, the panel selected the following titles for wall-to-wall promotion: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; An Anzac’s Story by Roy Kyle, introduced and edited by Bryce Courtenay; Anna Fienberg’s Tashi and Tashi & the Giant (juv. — published in one volume); Toad Heaven (juv.) by Morris Gleitzman; Sally Morgan’s My Place; and Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.

Books were sold to retailers (over 90% of which eagerly participated), in addition to schools and book clubs, and orders were tallied up to decide the print runs. According to Robert Sessions, Publishing Director of Penguin Books Australia, the print run for Kyle’s book, a recollection of a WWI soldier and the only new title in the group, was 80,000 copies. “Penguin ‘sacrificed’ this new book which was to be an original hardback for 2003,” Sessions tells PT. “The Government subsidised both Penguin and the authors for lost profit, and the book became part of the campaign and did well. We will then go on to publish our book as a hardcover (but fewer numbers) next year.” The program carries a budget of A$8 million to spend over four years (as part of a A$240m Book Industry Assistance Plan via the Australia Council), spent both in advertising the campaign and in subsidising the printing of the special edition; publishers and authors receive a “very small margin/royalty” on the titles, which are in effect “donated” to the campaign by publishers and authors. With part of its budget, the panel orchestrated a publicity blitz targeting an estimated 86% of all adult Australians with a Books Alive message eight or more times over the two-week campaign. Add to that six concurrent author tours through ten cities and regional centers, plus national review attention (even though five of the six books were not new releases), and it is no surprise that the initiative has drawn widespread notice. “At the largest event, 2,000 senior school children packed Melbourne Town Hall to hear each writer speak about their craft,” marvels Books Alive Publicist Andy Palmer. Publishers are also seeing a nice lift from the festivities. “We are very pleased with the support of the campaign from the buying public,” Osmond reports. “Initial figures indicate that we increased unit book sales by around 14% (excluding Books Alive titles) over the same period in 2002.” With such gung-ho government support for literature, is it any wonder Australia is one of the most literate countries in the world?

Also the talk of the land down under are two of Shane Maloney’s mystery novels, Stiff and The Brush-Off, which are slated to be made into 90-minute television movies by the Seven Network in 2004. The novels feature thirty-something single father and hapless sleuth Murray Whelan, who inadvertently solves mysteries by making a colossal mess of every investigation. The “infamous and irresistible” Whelan will be played by David Wenham (Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge); Stiff will be directed by John Clarke, and The Brush-Off by Sam Neill. “Shane Maloney writes like an angel, always in control of his plot and pace,” as Ian Rankin puts it. “Not that many readers will notice this: they’ll be too busy laughing.” The series has been published in the US (Arcade), UK (Canongate), France (Masque), Germany (Diogenes), Japan (Bungei Shunju), and Finland (Otava). US rights to Maloney’s novel Something Fishy, however, are still available from Michael Heyward of Text in Australia.

As it happens, Australia isn’t the only nation stirring up a book promo this month, as Nicci French grabs the top two spots in Holland with two titles published there exclusively. The People Who Went Away was written by Sean & Nicci French at the request of publisher Chris Herschdorfer of Ambo/Anthos. “We’ve published it as a short story at a low price point (about $2.50) as a promotional book to help carry one of our own marketing campaigns,” Herschdorfer tells PT. Sales have topped 140,000, and rights are available from ILA in London. The other title, Secret Smile, will be published in paperback in the UK by Michael Joseph in March 2004. (Also in Holland, we’re duty bound to alert you that those Prisma dictionaries are back on the radar screen as Dutch students scurry back to class. They comprise 7 of the top 15 titles, but we’ve condensed the list to include more trade titles.)

PT’s former bestseller list researcher Foteini Tsigarida checks in from Greece, where Soti Triantafillou’s latest “Dickensian” novel Century is raising eyebrows this month. Written in the tradition of novels “packed with characters from every point of the social spectrum,” Century describes the wealth and squalor of Victorian London, focusing on a poor girl from Bermondsey who falls in love with a homosexual nobleman, but marries a baronet who ditches genteel life to be a working-class leader. Triantafillou has been praised as “a multi-faceted writer” moving with panache “from the city where she was born to metropolitan cities throughout the world, from rock and roll to the ‘heavy artillery’ of world literature.” The book has sold 35,000 copies, and all foreign rights are currently available. The author’s previous novels have been published in Germany (Zsolnay), Israel (Carta), and a Catalan edition (1984). Contact Anna Pataki at Patakis.

As a final note, this month we’re pleased to debut our Czech Republic bestseller list. Stay tuned for a full report — including a briefing on Czech market trends, a parallel look at the Slovak Republic, and word of a “new meteor in the Czech literary skies” — coming up next month.