Friday, April 30, 2010

The Edgars Are Announced

The Edgar Awards were announced last night by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) during a banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.

The Wall Street Journal had an article yesterday titled "Mystery Rules at Edgar Awards" by Alexandra Alter in which she said the winners of last night's Edgars need to enjoy the awards because they would not likely see another Edgar:
The group has doled out awards to crime and mystery novelists since 1946, but few writers collect multiple awards in major categories during the course of their careers. A perusal of the group's online database found little overlap between debut authors who have won best first novel ... and seasoned mystery writers who have won best novel ... Only one winner in the debut novelist category has gone on to win best novel.
That one mystery writer was Ross Thomas, who won Best First Novel in 1967 and then won Best Novel eighteen years later in 1985.

Alter blames the MWA's own rules for this contradiction. She says the First Novel prize is only awarded to American authors while the Best Novel is an international category.

She also points out that all of the last year's nominess together only sold 79,000 copies of their nominated novels according to Nielsen Bookscan. She says mystery and crime fiction has fallen in popularity over the past five years while thrillers have risen in popularity.

While I agree that the thriller has overtaken and bypassed the pure mystery, I would contend that the same holds true for romantic suspense, which also is a strong seller these days.

So I would argue that mystery lives on ... just in other forms.

Go here to read the WSJ article.

Here are last night's winners:

Best Novel: The Last Child by John Hart (Minotaur Books)

Best First Novel by an American Author: In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff (Minotaur Books)

Best Paperback Original: Body Blows by Marc Strange (Dundurn Press - Castle Street Mysteries)

Best Critical/Biographical: The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives edited by Otto Penzler (Hachette Book Group - Little, Brown and Company)

Best Fact Crime: Columbine by Dave Cullen (Hachette Book Group - Twelve)

Best Short Story: "Amapola" - Phoenix Noir by Luis Alberto Urrea (Akashic Books)

Best Young Adult: Reality Check by Peter Abrahams (HarperCollins Children's Books - HarperTeen)

Best Juvenile: Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books)

Best Television Episode Teleplay: "Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (PBS/WGBH Boston)

Congratulations to all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How I Spent My Wednesday

Today I'm taking a break from our usual focus on publishing in order to offer a sort of public service announcement (PSA). I had an experience yesterday that I want to share ... in the hope that someone out there will benefit from what happened to me.

Every spring, I schedule my annual exams: OB/GYN, ophthalmologist, and internist as well as my semi-annual exams: dentist and dermatologist. April and May are cluttered with appointments.

Yesterday was the ophthalmologist. Sarah, my tech, is a twenty-two year old single mother of a five-year-old, and I look forward each year to hearing how her precocious daughter is doing.

Midway through the exam, Sarah said, "I can't dilate your eyes."

I said, "Excuse me?"

She said, "Let me go find the doctor. I'll be right back."

My doctor, a lovely Asian woman who barely looks older than Sarah, came into the room and checked the results of whatever test Sarah had been running. She told me I had developed NAG--Narrow Angle Glaucoma.

This explanation of NAG comes from the Southland Eye Clinic website here:
A watery fluid is generated inside the normal eye. It circulates through the eye and drains out of the eye in the "angle" between the cornea (the clear window of the eye) and the iris (the colored part of the eye). Some people are born with narrow, slit-like draining angles. In such people, anything that further narrows the angle prevents adequate drainage and causes the pressure to build up. The patient then [may] experience/s an acute attack of Narrow or Closed Angle Glaucoma.
Fortunately for me, my visit to the ophthalmologist had preceded my having an acute attack. My doctor told me that she wanted to do surgery on one eye immediately and on the other eye within two weeks.

We agreed I would go on to work while her front office contacted my insurance company for an authorization to do the surgery. By 3:30 I was back in the office. Here is a description of the surgery:
In this office procedure, a small drain hole is created in the iris, the colored part of the eye. The hole is of microscopic size. The operation is painless.
Well, not totally painless. My right eye was deadened by drops. A lens was glued to the eyeball. The doctor then manuevered a laser which emitted clicking sounds while it cut through my iris. I felt a pinch and an immediate headache behind the eye. It took about three minutes for the doctor to cut through the iris and then to widen the hole to permit drainage. I had no bleeding at all although some people do experience a bleed.

Afterward I remained in the office for several hours while they checked my eye pressure and sight. I drove myself home and went to bed. When I woke up at 9:00 PM, the headache was mostly gone although my eye ached a bit. I have drops to put in the eye four times a day for the next five days.

I'm scheduled to have surgery on the other eye next Wednesday.

Here's the PSA part of this post. Narrow Angle Glaucoma (NAG) can present suddenly as opposed to the more chronic or Open Angle Glaucoma, which develops slowly over years. Here's the description of a NAG attack, again from Southland Eye Clinic:
An attack of this type of glaucoma is an emergency. Untreated, it may cause blindness in a day or two. Between attacks the eye pressure is normal and there are no symptoms. During the attack there are often eye pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting. The eye may be red, vision may be blurry and patients may see halos around the lights.

... people may delay treatment until it is too late because they do not recognize that they are having a glaucoma attack. They often think that they are just having a headache, or a migraine. Because they do not suspect glaucoma, they fail to seek treatment and damage to the nerve takes place. Once the nerve fibers are dead, the damage cannot be reversed.
I've known there was an issue with the shape of my eyeballs since I was in my late thirties and tried to get fitted for contacts because I was having trouble reading. The contacts simply would not stay in my eyes. I'd put them in and, within an hour, they would flop over and fold in half while still in my eyes.

My ophthalmologist told me my eyeballs were flatter than most people's (the only flat part of my body, I might add). I wear contacts that are the equivalent of coke-bottle-thickness glasses. However, no one ever told me the shape of my eyes put me at increased risk for NAG.

I was fortunate. My eye appointment permitted my physician to catch the condition before I suffered an acute attack. My ophthalmologist stressed that NAG attacks are often mistaken for migraines. She said hospital emergency rooms frequently misdiagnose the problem.

Once my left eye is operated on next Wednesday, I'll be free of the condition. In a few rare cases, the hole in the iris closes over, but my ophthalmologist will monitor for that possibility.

The entire point of this post today is to remind you not to neglect your eyes. Get regular eye exams. You don't have to have flat eyeballs to develop NAG. A friend of mine told me last night that her cousin developed it when she was only thirty, long before she needed glasses.

NAG and the more common form of glaucoma--open angle--are not the only conditions you need to be checked for. A friend of mine is gradually losing her sight from Retinitis pigmentosa. She is already legally blind and cannot drive. Her prognosis is eventual total blindness.

Imagine total blindness.

Take care of your eyes. I care about you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update On Seinfeld Cookbook Case

The Seattle Times reported this morning:
... the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan sided with Jessica Seinfeld in her 3-year-old copyright and trademark dispute with Missy Chase Lapine, saying the books were "not confusingly similar."

Howard Miller, a lawyer for Lapine, said he did not expect to appeal Wednesday's ruling, though a separate defamation lawsuit against Jerry Seinfeld for his remarks regarding Lapine and the lawsuit will continue in state court in Manhattan, where it has not yet been ruled on.
Go here to read the entire Seattle Times story.

Appeals Court Doesn't Like Lapine's Case

Two and a half years ago, on October 21, 2007, I did a post here about the battling cookbooks:
Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook was titled Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (HarperCollins). After Oprah invited Jessica to guest star on her show on October 8th, the book took off.

Then Running Press, an imprint owned by Perseus Books, contacted HarperCollins. The independent press was concerned about “similarities between Deceptively Delicious and RP’s The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine, published almost exactly six months earlier.
A little more than two months later in January, 2008, I did another post here:
Both Jessica and her husband, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, strenuously denied any plagiarism. In November, when asked about the controversy during an appearance on The View, Jessica said: “I can understand why she would have been frustrated. It must have been hard to see how quickly my book took off. I never saw her book, I never saw her recipes, nor, as a person, would I ever do something like I was accused of doing.”

Jerry also leaped to his wife's defense. He appeared on David Letterman's show [on October 29, 2007], calling Lapine a "whacko" who claimed Jessica "stole my mushed up carrots." He went on to say that "She has three names and, you know, if you read history many of the three-named people do become assassins. Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray."
Eight weeks after the television show aired, Missy Chase Lapine sued both Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld in Manhattan federal court for plagiarim and defamation.

In July, 2008, I said here:
... I don't think much of the plagiarism charge in the lawsuit. However, Jerry Seinfeld should be glad I can't serve on a jury in Manhattan because I'm not so sure I wouldn't be all over him about that defamation charge.

... I think Seinfeld abused his celebrity in mocking a non-celebrity who did not have any other forum in which to respond outside of our courts.

I dislike bullies, especially mean-spirited bullies who hide behind sarcasm, trying to make others laugh at someone else's expense. Just because the victim is 37 instead of 7, it doesn't make it all right.
On September 11, 2009 here I reported:
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain threw out the lawsuit Missy Chase Lapine brought against Jessica Seinfeld. Ms. Lapine alleged that Jerry Seinfeld's wife had plagiarized her cookbook.

... Judge Swain refused to address Lapine's charge of slander against Jerry Seinfeld. She referred Lapine to the New York State Court to pursue that claim.

Missy may have been down, but she wasn't out. She appealed the court's decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Monday, the New York Post reported:
Missy Chase Lapine wants her plagiarism suit against the "Seinfeld" star's wife to be reinstated, but a pair of federal judges indicated they think her claims that the comic's wife ripped off her kid-friendly cookbook are half-baked ... The judges reserved decision.

Lapine's also suing Seinfeld's hubby in state court, charging the "Marriage Ref" star slandered her during an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman," where he referred to her as "angry and hysterical" and a "wacko" stalker.
I still think the slander lawsuit has better legs than the plagiarism one.

You can read the entire New York Post story here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Next Chapter of the Figes Affair

Last Tuesday, I told the story here about Dr. Rachel Polonsky's suspicions that the brutal review of her latest book on had come from a colleague at Birkbeck College, London: Professor Orlando Figes. Polonsky investigated numerous nasty reviews by "Historian" of other writers and came to the conclusion that the well-regarded Figes was anonymously sabotaging his competition.

When Polonsky's theory was made public by another academic, Oxford University's Robert Service, Professor Figes first denied the accusations and then threatened legal action. When his attorney came forward on April 16th to announce that the identity of the real culprit was Figes' wife, barrister Stephanie Palmer, the academic world was stunned. And more than a few historians were also disbelieving.

Yesterday my friend and fellow writer Kaz Augustin alerted me to the next chapter of this sordid little saga.

The announcement by David Price, Figes' attorney, that the writer's wife was responsible for the poison pen reviews did not stop the controversy. The London Times had two articles on the subject the following Wednesday. Both focussed on Figes' effort through his attorney to silence the story. Price had contacted both the Times and Professor Service to threaten legal action in which Figes would demand damages. The first was here in the entertainment section:
It has unfortunately been the case for many years that Figes’s standing as a historian is matched by a reputation for rushing to law when feeling under attack. Readers might recall a previous quarrel with Polonsky, which began in the TLS ... and ended in legal proceedings. Now, David Price, Figes’s lawyer, was threatening to sue anyone who connected him to Historian’s reviews.
The second article appeared here in the TLS [Times Literary Supplement] and was written by Sir Peter Stothard, its editor:
Professor Figes's lawyer not only attempted to gain silence and his costs from newspapers ... He attempted on behalf of his client to suppress the wholly legitimate questions of one of that client's more distinguished colleagues and, still worse, to point out the financial risk of libel damage that this colleague risked by refusing to comply with his demands.
Two days later, Figes finally acknowledged he was responsible for the savage online reviews. The Guardian reported here:
He described a state of panic when he first saw the email sent by Service, which made him instruct his lawyer "without thinking this through rationally.

"This escalated the situation," he said, "and brought more pressure on myself by prompting a legal response. My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried about my health. I owe her an unreserved apology."
The Huffington Post quoted Figes here:
"I am ashamed of my behavior, and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did," he said. "It was stupid – some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous but they were not intended to harm. This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse. I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help."
The last time I looked, medicine had not yet found a way to transplant a conscience.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Two B&N Announcements

Barnes & Noble has been busy.

Business Wire reported on Friday that the Nook has been upgraded:
... including the breakthrough Read In Store experience (in beta) to browse complete eBooks in Barnes & Noble stores at no cost, as well as challenging games – the first Android applications available on the device – enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity and a basic Web browser (in beta). The new features, along with additional reading and device performance optimization, such as faster page turns and an enhanced home screen, are part of NOOK v1.3 software, which is now available ...

NOOK customers can explore the content of as many digital titles as they wish ... including any available eBook for up to an hour per day; and to come, current-edition newspapers and magazines in the BN eBookstore will be available for up to 20 minutes per day.
Read the whole article at Business Wire here.

On Wednesday, Yahoo Finance reported that BN.COM:
... will expand its reach via a content partnership between its online books and arts magazine, the Barnes & Noble Review, and, an award-winning news and entertainment website reaching more than 6 million unique users each month.

As part of the agreement, selected articles from the Barnes & Noble Review will be shared with on a daily basis ... will in turn share selected elements of its content on the Barnes & Noble Review site. All content will include links to corresponding information on both websites. Additionally, will include affiliate links to BN.COM, allowing its readers the opportunity to purchase books, eBooks and more from BN.COM.
Go here to read the entire Yahoo article.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Hero Gets An Award

If you haven't heard about this incident yet, be prepared to go "Awwww."

I first heard the story on ABC on Friday morning. The Alaska State Troopers gave a special award on Friday to a five-year-old German shepherd named Buddy.

On the night of April 4, a 23-year-old named Ben Heinrichs was at home working on a car when a heater ignited the gasoline. His workshop exploded into flame. Ben escaped and rolled in the snow to put out the burns on his face and left hand. He then got up and went back to the workshop to free Buddy who was still inside.

According to a story in The Examiner, Ben said:
"I just told him, 'We need to get help,' and then that's the last time I seen him ... I didn't train him or nothing. He just took off and went and did what he did. ... He was just being a good dog."
The rest of the story can be seen on State Trooper Terrence Shanigan's dashboard cam. The trooper had gotten a call about a fire, but was having difficulty locating the address. He saw Buddy trotting toward him. The dog looks at the trooper's car and suddenly breaks into a run. The trooper, paying attention to a hunch, follows the dog down the dark, winding roads. Buddy is credited with saving the family home. Click on the link below to see the video.

German Shepherd dog leads Alaska State Troopers to fire (Video)

Posted using ShareThis

"Lassie, Lassie, go get help!"

"What, Lassie? Timmy's stuck in a well? Take me there, girl."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Interesting New Service From Google

An article in Publishers Weekly alerted me to a new service being provided by Google.

The new feature summarizes requests to Google by governmental entities. Google provides a toggle switch so you can choose to look at either (1) Data requests (disclosure of user data) by country or (2) Removal requests of content by country. The information covers requests over a six-month period. The information is presented via a world map of countries.

Google explains the new service this way:
Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. The map shows the number of requests that we received between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, with certain limitations.

We know these numbers are imperfect and may not provide a complete picture of these government requests. For example, a single request may ask for the removal of more than one URL or for the disclosure of information for multiple users.
If you click on the box for a particular country, a pop-up reveals more information about that country. The additional information pertains only to the removal requests. The United States' details indicate that Google complied with 80.5% or 99 of the 123 requests to remove content from services. There were 70 requests related to YouTube (7 of which were by court order) and 27 requests to remove content from Google web searches (22 by court order).

On the other side of the table, Google makes a point of saying:
The “data requests” numbers reflect the number of requests we received about the users of our services and products from government agencies like local and federal police. They don’t indicate whether we complied with a request for data in any way.
Keep in mind these are governmental requests, not requests by individual users. And because Google regularly purges child pornography, the service does not include requests by governments to take down such material.

Another interesting fact in the FAQ was this:
[The data requests] statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters. We can’t always be sure that a request necessarily relates to a criminal investigation, however, so there are likely a small number of requests that fall outside of this category. For example, we would include in the statistics an emergency request from a government public safety agency seeking information to save the life of a person who is in peril even though there is not necessarily a criminal investigation involved.
When I clicked on the map, I expected China to top the list in both categories. To my surprise, China was not on the data request list at all and was represented on the bottom of the removal request list with a question mark. What was almost more intriguing was the fact that Brazil topped both lists with 291 removal requests and 3,663 data requests. This in comparison to the United States with 123 removal requests (making it #4 behind Germany and India) and 3,580 data requests (#2).

Go here to look at the map yourself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Other Shoe Falls for Kristy Watts

On September 29, I did a post here about an ex-aide who had admitted to embezzling $400,000 between 2003 and 2008 from her boss . . . who happened to be romance novelist Danielle Steel.

Kristy Watts worked for Steel from 1993 to 2008, earning $200,000 annually for part-time work as the controller of Steel's TPA Company formed to manage Steel's household and travel expenses.

WGAL in San Francisco reported:
Watts, who is also known as Kristy Siegrist, said in the federal plea agreement that she embezzled from Steel in three ways: depositing checks made out by her employer for "cash" to her personal account; using the employer's credit card reward points to buy airline tickets and gift cards for Watts and her family; and arranging for a payroll processing company to pay her more than she was due . . .
Steel retaliated by filing a civil suit against Watts in which she alleged Watts cost her $2.7 million over the fifteen years the two were together.

On Tuesday, Watts faced Judge Vaughn Walker in U.S. District Court who, according to the Associated Press (AP), sentenced her "to nearly three years in prison for embezzling more than $760,000."

The AP says, Watts has paid Steel $969,752 to settle that civil lawsuit. To do so, she was forced to sell her house and its furnishings. Watts is 48-years-old and is married to a San Francisco Police Department officer. They have a six-year-old daughter.

Read the Associate Press story here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Publishing World Without Inventory

During the five years I've been blogging, I've made frequent references to Richard Curtis whom I described on June 9, 2008 as "a very smart man as well as a publishing industry visionary." Curtis is a literary agent and an e-publisher. I've been recommending his series of three articles titled "Publishing in the Twenty-First Century for years. Go here to Backspace to read the first one. You'll find the other articles there, too.

On Sunday, Curtis began a two-part series on his blog e-Reads that he titled "Publishing 3.0: A World Without Inventory." He began by pointing out that the current publishing model, built on the premise of bookstores returning unsold inventory for credit, is unsustainable.

In my post of April 9 here where I offered some future predictions for publishing, I talked about a new "model supported by devices like the Espresso Book Machine where they can quickly and economically print and bind a p-book on demand for a customer (eliminating the onerous publishing industry returns system) ..."

Curtis agrees, saying:
The time has come for publishers to accept the fact, now glaringly apparent to all but those in total denial, that no business enterprise can afford to sell just half or even two-thirds of what it manufactures – and to foot the bill for the return and disposal of the unsold other half.
He points out that the print-on-demand technology represented by the Espresso Book Machine will permit the industry to move from a "speculative" model where they print many more books than needed to a "prepaid" model where a book is only printed when an order for it is received ... AND paid for:
Do the math: 30, 40 or 50% returns for the speculative model vs. 0% for the prepaid. Case closed. Or so you would think. Yet traditional publishers cling to the topsy-turvy model of paying a lot of money upfront for books they believe will be hits, then making educated guesses on the size of the audience, then overprinting, then recovering unsold stock and remaindering it or sending it to a pulp mill.
Go here to read Part I of Curtis' very interesting and timely post and here to read Part II.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Saboteur Unveiled

While searching for a post for today, I stumbled across an intriguing but embarrassing little story dated yesterday in the Quill & Quire, a Canadian magazine that provides book reviews and stories about the publishing industry. From the Q&Q, I tracked the story through a number of British publications.

It began when Dr. Rachel Polonsky's latest book, Molotov's Magic Lantern, was released on March 11th. Dr. Polonsky, now Cambridge-based, had lived in Russia for several years during the 1990s and wrote movingly of the country's history and culture. The Amazon UK website described her book here as a "luminous, original and unforgettable exploration of a country and its literature, viewed through the eyes of Vyacheslav Molotov, one of Stalin's fiercest henchmen."

The Daily Mail said here the book had "received extremely favourable reviews" until April 10th when a "brutal notice" was posted on Amazon by a reviewer nicknamed "Historian":
This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published ... Her writing is so dense and pretentious, itself so tangled in literary allusions, that it is hard to follow or enjoy.
Dr. Polonsky, understandably disturbed by the savage review, began looking for other reviews by Historian. According to The Guardian here, she found that Historian "had not only rubbished Polonsky's book, but also other works going back years and including books by Oxford University's Robert Service, biographer of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin."

When Polonsky discovered an Amazon profile by Historian with the username "Orlando-Birkbeck", her suspicions were aroused. Back in 2002, she herself had written what The Telegraph called "a savage review ... in the Times Literary Supplement" of Professor Orlando Figes' book, Natasha's Dance. Figes is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, giving her a clue as to the identity of Historian.

The Telegraph went on to report here:
She noticed the user [Historian] had also laid into "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher," by Ms [Kate] Summerscale, which won the Samuel Johnson 2008 prize for non fiction – a prize for which Prof Figes was also shortlisted. The two-star review began: "Oh dear, what on earth were the judges thinking ...?"
By contrast, Historian had raved about Professor Figes' book, The Whisperers, giving it five stars on Amazon and saying, he brings "history to life with his superb story-telling skills. I hope he writes for ever."

Dr. Polonsky decided to share her suspicions as to the identity of Historian with colleagues, including Professor Service of Oxford.

The Daily Mail reported:
Mr Service ... sent an email to 31 leading historians in Britain and abroad. But as he pointed out, by the time he sent it last Tuesday, the Amazon site had already been changed: both the nastiest critical reviews and the rave for The Whisperers had been removed, while ‘Historian’ was now using the name ‘maksolodu’ instead.
Professor Service attributed the changes on Amazon to Dr. Polonsky's communications to her colleagues.

Professor Figes responded to all the recipients of Professor Service's angry email, denying that he had any connection to Historian. His attorney, David Price, got into the act, threatening to sue anyone who defamed Figes.

The Telegraph reported that "Dr. Polonsky was not satisfied and employed law firm Carter Ruck who said it might seek a court order to establish the true identity of the [Amazon] poster using computer records."

On Friday of last week, the mystery was solved. The Guardian quoted a statement by Figes' attorney, Price: "My client's wife wrote the reviews ... My client has only just found out about this, this evening. Both he and his wife are taking steps to make the position clear."

Figes' wife, Stephanie Palmer, is a senior law lecturer at Cambridge as well as a barrister. She is also a member of Blackstone Chambers, specialists in human rights.

Philip Hensher wrote an opinion piece for The Independent here, saying:
[w]hat Miss Palmer did was an absolute scandal ... When Rachel Polonsky wrote a savagely critical review of a book of Orlando Figes's in 2002, she did so honourably, under her own name in The Times Literary Supplement. Miss Palmer, through her anonymous reviews, has by contrast destroyed all her own credibility ... but there is another, larger scandal ... Amazon won't permit you to post a review unless you have ordered books from them. They know your real name. Why do they allow their reviewers to post under pseudonyms anyway?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Little Book That Could

I'm a sucker for Cinderella stories.

I think what appeals to me is that I see them as the universe readjusting the scales by letting the little guy win one once in a while. My sense of balance is satisfied.

I felt that way last Monday when the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was announced. The winner was Paul Harding's Tinkers for which he'd been paid a grand advance of $1,000.

What made Harding's win so remarkable was, first, that it was a debut novel. Second, it was published by Bellevue Literary Press--described by the Wall Street Journal here as a "tiny imprint":
To call it a surprise that Bellevue published a Pulitzer-winning novel — the first small press to do so since Louisiana State University Press published “A Confederacy of Dunces” in 1981 — is a vast understatement. The imprint, which was founded in 2005, is part of New York University’s School of Medicine and specializes in books that explore the convergence of science and the arts.
The win is even more remarkable when you realize that Bellevue releases a total of just eight books a year--with only two of them in the fiction category. The original print run of Tinkers was just 3,500 copies.

In January here, The New Yorker described the novel as:
[dipping] "in and out of the consciousness of a New England patriarch named George Washington Crosby as he lies dying on a hospital bed in his living room ... The story traces Crosby’s life back to his hardscrabble Maine childhood, where his father was a tinker and travelling salesman who suffered from epileptic seizures. Crosby’s emotional life is dominated by his father’s abandonment of the family on learning that his wife was planning to have him institutionalized ..."
The New York Times failed to review the novel before it won the Pulitzer, but made up for that neglect by a story in yesterday's edition here. Among the revelations, "[a]ccording to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, Tinkers sold 7,000 copies before the Pulitzer announcement."

My favorite of the Tinkers articles was one in The Boston Globe here that described the novel's journey to winning the Pulitzer. Essentially the book's profile grew by old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Erika Goldman, Editorial Director of Bellevue, met Michael Coffey, the co-editor of Publishers Weekly (PW), for lunch and gave him a galley of the novel. In September, 2008, Coffey gave the novel a starred review in PW, saying:
The real star is Harding's language, which dazzles whether he's describing the workings of clocks, sensory images of nature, the many engaging side characters who populate the book, or even a short passage on how to build a bird nest. This is an especially gorgeous example of novelistic craftsmanship.
Meanwhile, in northern California, a sales representative for a group of small presses encouraged independent bookstores to purchase the novel. According to The Boston Globe, the buying director for one of those bookstores "passed the book to John Freeman, who featured Tinkers as one of the best books of the year on National Public Radio ..."

The last time I remember such an upbeat story about word-of-mouth growing an audience for a book was for Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon. I told that story back in August, 2006 here.

I just love happy endings.

Friday, April 16, 2010

About BiblioBazaar ... and PL and PW

Yesterday was an interesting day in the publishing world. Publishers Lunch (PL) --the little engine that could--took a public swipe at the venerable Publishers Weekly (PW) .

Publishers Lunch, founded and run by the fabulous Michael Cader, is the weekday newsletter that combines news about the publishing industry with information about book deals and jobs in publishing.

Publishers Weekly is the 138-year-old trade news magazine now owned by George W. Slowick, Jr.

According to an interview Cader did with the New York Times in August, 2003 here, his PL newsletter began as his effort to keep track of publishing news for himself. He began sharing the information with his friends and then with others in the industry.
Nine months into doing ''the world's most unjustifiable hobby,'' ... It was time to pull out the philosopher's stone and try turning the lead of content into the gold of revenue. ''There was a business there somewhere,'' he said. ''I set off to find it.''
Ten years later, Publishers Lunch is considered an indispensable daily read by industry insiders. At the same time, Publishers Weekly was sold about ten days ago by its parent company Reed Business Information to Slowick, a former publisher of the magazine, according to Folio Magazine here.

Wednesday's Publishers Weekly had an article about the Bowker stats for 2009. That article sent me to the Bowker press release and was the basis for my blog on Thursday.

In Thursday's Publishers Lunch, Cader said:
For starters, in exchange for being handed Bowker's press release before everyone else (scoop!) PW mangled the story itself, claiming "Self-Pubbed Titles Skyrocket"/"Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000." Um, no.

Bowker's "nontraditional" category is exactly the same as what last year was called "on-demand/short-run" books. The only distinction ... [between traditional and non-traditional] is that ... for the latter, they were manufactured one at a time, or by digital short run, while the former were printed offset. So some "traditional" trade publishers issued books that appear in Bowker's "nontraditional" count. Just as important, the bulk of those nontraditional titles are not "self-published" at all.
Bowker's giving the "scoop" to Publishers Weekly is understandable when you realize that Richard Rogers Bowker began that magazine back in 1872 with his friend Frederick Leypoldt, who started the company now known as R.R. Bowker. That's some long-time and very deep ties.

Perhaps trying to redeem itself from the misleading "Self-Pubbed Titles Skyrocket" headline, Publishers Weekly had an article on Thursday morning about BiblioBazaar, the #1 publisher under the "non-traditional" heading in Bowker's press release. According to the Bowker press release, BibioBazaar produced 272,930 titles in 2009. Compare that figure to the projected number of 288,355 for ALL traditional book titles and editions released in 2009.

If you google BiblioBazaar, you'll find BiblioLife, its parent company. In the "about us" section, the home site describes the company this way:
The BiblioLife Network (BLN) is a project aimed at addressing some of the huge challenges facing book preservationists around the world. Namely, that the 60-90 million out-of-print books at libraries and archives are in need of digitization, descriptive data and relevance to people in the modern age seeking the knowledge they contain.
Sound familiar?

While Google has been getting all the press for digitizing the world's books, BiblioLife has been quietly partnering with libraries to digitize their public domain books. Then BiblioBazaar prints these books, using a print-on-demand methodology: "We only print books when a customer requires them so have zero waste in our publishing process."

The Publishers Weekly article reported:
... BiblioLife is one of handful of smart, new, technology-enabled companies driving an exciting trend in the publishing world. Working closely with libraries, archives and aggregators, the company puts out-of-copyright books back into good old-fashioned print, one copy at a time, using print-on-demand technology ... All of the company's content is in the public domain, and are basically "historical reprints," [Mitchell]Davis [BiblioLife's president] told PW, with foreign language books, and their "added layers of complexity" the fastest growing category of books.
It's probably no accident that BiblioLife reports that "Five of [its] core team members were founders of BookSurge - the world’s first global print-on-demand book retailing infrastructure that revolutionized the way “Long Tail” books are sold on the Internet. BookSurge was sold to in 2005."

By focussing only on public domain books, BiblioLife has been able to avoid the publicity Google's efforts at digitizing the world's books have brought it. But after the Bowker press release, I doubt BiblioLife or BiblioBazaar will be able to hide in the shadows again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bowker Says 2009 U.S. Book Production Flat

Yesterday R.R. Bowker, the official U.S. ISBN agency, released their stats the publishing industry in the United States for 2009:
Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that traditional U.S. title output in 2009 was virtually unchanged. Output of new titles and editions dropped less than half a percent, from 289,729 in 2008 to a projected 288,355 in 2009.
Notice the emphasis on traditional title output.

Non-traditional publishing, which includes self-publishing and on-demand reprints were up dramatically:
Bowker projects that 764,448 titles were produced that fall outside Bowker’s traditional publishing and classification definitions. This number is a 181% increase over 2008 -- which doubled 2007’s output – driving total book production over 1,000,000 units for the first time.
Comparing the traditional category to the non-traditional for the past few years, you can see the staggering growth on the non-traditional side.

2006______ 274,416_____________21,936
2007______ 284,370____________123,276
2008______ 289,729____________271,851
2009______ 288,355____________764,448

According to Publishers Weekly:
The [non-traditional] category consists largely of reprints, including those of public domain titles, plus other titles that are produced using print-on-demand production. According to Bowker, the largest producer of nontraditional books last year was [#1] BiblioBazaar which produced 272,930 titles, followed by [#2] Books LLC and [#3] Kessinger Publishing LLC which produced 224,460 and 190,175 titles, respectively.
The large self-publishing companies were clustered together as [#6] Lulu with 10,386 titles; [#7] Xlibris with 10,161; and [#8] AuthorHouse with 9,445 in the top ten non-traditional publishers.

Fiction, the top genre, was down 15% over 2008 with 45,181 titles in 2009 versus 53,058 the previous year. On the other hand, the second highest production category--Juveniles--was up 8.5% at 32,348 titles in 2009. Bowker indicated "Categories that grew tended to be in areas that could contribute to workplace knowledge and budgeting. For example, output increased in technology (+11%), science (+9%) and personal finance (+9)."

Go here to read the entire press release from Bowker.

Reading Break Finished

I have been a complete book slug over the past week.

Using the gift cards I got for my birthday, I purchased and finished the following new novels:

  • Jim Butcher's Changes, the latest Dresden Files urban fantasy
  • Patricia Briggs' Silver Borne, the fifth outing for Mercy Thompson's coyote shape-shifter
  • Ariana Franklin's Grave Goods and A Murderous Procession, the third and fourth installments in her Mistress of the Art of Death historical mystery series

I haven't read that much in so short a time in years. It was simply marvelous.

Time to get back to the real world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Merger of Ballantine and Bantam Dell

Things are happening again over at Random House (RH).

Before I describe the new shake-up, let me quickly review the changes over the past two years.

On May 21, 2008, Bertelsmann [parent company of Random House] named Markus Dohle to be the new RH chief executive, replacing Peter W. Olson who had been CEO since 1998. The hope was that Dohle, who had no publishing experience, would open up new lines of business to revitalize Random House.

Within eight weeks of Dohle's taking the reins, Random House decided to sell off its book club business in China.

But that was just the start. RH began selling off other global book and music clubs in several countries in Europe, in Australia and in the U.S., including the Direct Group North America. That direct-to-consumer group included such business lines as Doubleday Book Club, Book-of-the-Month Club, Mystery Guild and Columbia House.

On December 3, 2008, less than seven months after Dohle assumed control of RH, the New York Observer reported here:
The time bomb that was Random House for the past five months has finally exploded, as new C.E.O. Markus Dohle deployed a jaw-dropping memo this morning detailing a reorganization of the adult trade program that will see Bantam publisher Irwyn Applebaum and Doubleday publisher Steve Rubin step down and their imprints spread around to the company's other divisions.
Markus Dohle's memo to staff said:
Within the new Random House Publishing Group, Ballantine, Bantam Dell and Random House will continue to have separate editorial departments ... Side by side, Ballantine and Bantam Dell will be a commercial powerhouse with their stellar lists of bestselling and critically acclaimed authors ... I want to stress the fact that all the imprints of Random House will retain their distinct editorial identities. These imprints and all of you who support them are the creative core of our business and essential to our success. The newly formed publishing groups will continue to bid independently in auctions.
Six weeks later, on January 15, 2009, the New York Observer was back, reporting here on a memo from Gina Centrello, "the publisher of the company's biggest division—the flagship Random House Publishing Group ... announcing a new executive structure."

Centrello's memo said:
NITA TAUBLIB is appointed Executive Vice President, Publisher, and Editor in Chief, Bantam Dell ... In her new role she will direct the hardcover and mass-market publishing programs of the Bantam Dell imprints—Bantam, Dell, Delacorte, Delta ...

LIBBY McGUIRE, Senior Vice President, Publisher, Ballantine Books, will continue to oversee Ballantine hardcover and mass-market imprints—Ballantine, Villard, Del Rey, One World, ESPN Books, and Presidio ...
Now it's fifteen months later, and the New York Times reported here yesterday:
In a move to streamline its family of imprints, Random House ... consolidated two of those imprints within its Random House Publishing Group, merging Bantam Dell with Ballantine Books.

Libby McGuire ... was promoted to publisher of the newly formed Ballantine Bantam Dell. Ms. McGuire will also oversee imprints including Del Rey/Spectra, ESPN Books and Villard ... Nita Taublib, publisher and editor-in-chief of Bantam Dell, would leave the company as a result of the reorganization.
Gina Centrello wrote another memo to staff, outlining other changes in responsibilities. Publishers Lunch reported:
Since the earlier absorption of Bantam Dell, certain departments already had consolidated leadership, including publicity and rights, but Ballantine and Bantam Dell had retained separate editorial departments up until now ... spokesperson Carol Schneider calls it "a sleeker organization" combining Ballantine and Bantam Dell.
Publishers Weekly said:
At one time Bantam, Dell, and Ballantine were the major players in mass market paperback, and now those imprints are being united into one division under the Random House Publishing Group ... A company spokesperson said no other positions [besides that of Nita Taublib] are being eliminated.
I'm betting, as Maguire merges Bantam Dell into Ballantine, there will be a lot more personnel cuts announced--most likely between now and the beginning of August.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vive La Différence

Last Wednesday, the New York Times had an interesting article here on the nature of male friendships:
Researchers say women's friendships are face to face: They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men's friendships are side by side: We play golf. We go to football games.
The story reminded me of an incident that happened almost twenty years ago. My boyfriend at the time and I had been invited to a barbeque at the home of a couple we both knew. The wife and I spent nearly 45 minutes in the house, making the salad, setting the table and talking. The couple was having marital difficulties, and she explained that they had finally agreed to visit a counselor. The wife talked about the many things she and her husband were learning about each other, things that surprised them both after more than five years of marriage.

While we were talking, the two men were out on the deck with the grill and the steaks.

Later that night, in the car on the way home, I asked my BF what the husband had said about the counseling sessions. He responded, "We didn't talk about that."

I said, "Oh, you don't want to tell me ..."

He interrupted to say, "No, it's not that. We didn't talk about it."

A little offended, I answered, "Look, it's okay if you'd rather not talk about it, but just say that, okay?"

He finally convinced me that subject of the counseling, the marriage, the troubles, had never been broached during the 45 minutes the two men had been out on the deck. I was floored.

That December, we attended a show called Defending the Caveman by a comedian named Rob Becker. The premise of the one-man show is that, based upon evolutionary instincts, women and men are emotionally different as well as biologically different.

While describing an incident with his own wife, Becker presented an almost word-for-word version of that discussion my boyfriend and I had had in the car. My BF practically fell off his seat in the Majestic Theatre; he was laughing that hard.

The Times article writer shared this about his friends:
I've played poker with the same guys every Thursday night for 18 years. We rarely talk about our lives. We talk about cards, betting, bluffing.

I used to say that my poker buddies don't even know my kids' names. But then I wondered if I was exaggerating. So one night I turned to my left at the poker table and casually asked my friend Lance: "Hey Lance, could you name my children?"

He shrugged, paused to think, then smiled sheepishly. "I could rename them," he said.
There's a song in My Fair Lady where Henry Higgins asks, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"
One man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then, there's one with slight defects.
One perhaps whose truthfulness you doubt a bit,
But by and large we are a marvelous sex!
Today I'm celebrating that difference. I don't always understand it. At times it makes me crazy. But I never regret it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The New iPad

On April 8 (Thursday), the Mashable site reported here that Steve Jobs had made an announcement at Apple’s iPhone OS 4.0 press event.

Jobs reported that 450,000 iPads had been sold and 600,000 iBooks downloaded.

The operative words in that statement are "iBooks downloaded." Note: that isn't iBooks sold.

You'll recall that on March 26th here, I posted that the Apple iBookstore would include free offerings from Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg is a digital library of books in the public domain.

So it's perfectly possible that those 450,000 new iPad owners each downloaded one or two free e-books--just to get the feel of what reading a book would be like on their spiffy new device.

Hey, Steve Jobs, come back when you want to tell us how many iBooks Apple actually sold.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Predictions for the Future

Sorry. Just realized I put the wrong date on this post, and it didn't publish on Friday.

Yesterday, I pointed to a post by Mike Shatzkin in which he talked about how the publishing world will change when e-books comprise 25% of all book sales. The estimates as to when that will happen range from three to five years.

I promised to talk about my own predictions for the next three to five years. Here they are:

  1. The power in the publishing industry has largely rested with the publisher, who has owned the sole means of production. That power is in the process of shifting. You've already seen some evidence of this. The Big Six publishers have been fighting the lowering of e-book prices, the shifting of the timing of when e-books are released and the raising of author royalty rates. They're fighting a losing battle on all of these fronts. Their next big battle will be to hold onto their best-selling authors who are going to be tempted to go the self-publishing route.

  2. There has been a lot of talk about "enriched" electronic books. Most of the discussion has centered on the same kind of "extras" now added to movie CDs. Instead, I think electronic devices will offer more choices to shape the reading experience to fit the reader's mood or individual preferences. As an example, before starting to read the novel, a romance reader might choose to tailor things like the age of the heroine and the appearance of the hero.

  3. Print publishing has been a leisurely business, where it can take a year or more from the contract to the book's release. That slow-paced world is coming to an end. Everything is going to speed up. Publishing staff taking entire months off--and even the well-known two-hour lunches--will be a thing of the past.

  4. Publishers are going to move away from owned assets and full-time employees to rented assets and contracted employees. Editors and book cover artists may work for several publishers rather than for just one.

  5. Some people are speculating that literary agents will move to become business managers who handle authors' careers. I'm inclined to think that they will instead morph into a more formalized role as contracted acquiring editors. This means a lot of agencies will be closing down.

  6. How will newbie authors get noticed if literary agencies begin to disappear? I suspect there will be an Internet farm team system developed, much like in sports. Internet sites will spring up, perhaps supported by publishers, where newbie authors can make application to post samples of their works. Obviously someone at the site will need to vet the samples to make certain the quality remains high. If the writer attracts enough attention from the reading public, s/he may be offered a publishing contract.

  7. Amazon is going to have to change its strategy for the Kindle. Lots of the electronic devices coming to market (phones, netbooks, tablets) can multi-task. Consumers will be able to purchase a phone or a e-tablet on which they can also read e-books. To be competitive with these multi-tasking devices, Amazon has two choices: (1) If the Kindle remains only a dedicated reading device, its price will have to come way down, or (2) To maintain its current high price, the Kindle is going to have to provide other functions besides just reading. I have no interest in purchasing either a Kindle or an iPad if I cannot also use the device for my writing.

  8. I think the future survival of bricks-and-mortar bookstores rests two things: (1) their ability to move to a model supported by devices like the Espresso Book Machine where they can quickly and economically print and bind a p-book on demand for a customer (eliminating the onerous publishing industry returns system), and (2) their ability to tap into the social networking needs of readers and writers. I have a half a dozen friends who are part of long-term book groups where they meet once a month to discuss a novel. I also know writers who meet in restaurants for critiques. Bookstores can provide a venue where these activities take place. I pay for B&N membership to get discounts on the books I buy. I would willingly pay to get a guaranteed seat to my favorite authors when they come through town on tour.

These are not outrageous predictions. They are all logical extensions of what we already know about the industry. But they represent a sea change for the players involved: publishers, authors, and agents.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

More on the Future of Publishing

Mike Shatzkin had an interesting post here on Wednesday.

He speculated how publishing would change when e-book sales comprise 25% of all book sales.

He used the International Digital Publishing Forum's stats on e-book sales as the jumping off point.

To illustrate this growth, here are the Fourth Quarter wholesale figures for U.S. e-books over the recent past taken from the IDPF graph here:

Fourth Quarter 2002: $1,649,144
Fourth Quarter 2003: $1,917,384
Fourth Quarter 2004: $3,477,130
Fourth Quarter 2005: $2,175,131
Fourth Quarter 2006: $7,000,000
Fourth Quarter 2007: $8,200,000
Fourth Quarter 2008: $16,800,000
Fourth Quarter 2009: $55,900,000

As eye-popping as these numbers look, e-books still only represented 1.5% of consumer books sales in North America last year according to an article in The Economist here. That same article has Price Waterhouse Coopers estimating this number will rise to about 6% by 2013. And Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, believes e-books may comprise 25% of American book sales "within three to five years."

Mike makes a number of interesting projections, which I encourage you to read.

I have a few of my own, which I'll share tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Mistress of the Art of Death

Today is my birthday so I'm going to write about a book I regarded as a gift.

It's always a gift to me when I discover a new and compelling author. In this case, I lucked into a compelling author with a SERIES.

The author is British historical writer Ariana Franklin. The book is an historical murder mystery titled Mistress of the Art of Death.

The thriller is set in late twelfth century England where King Henry II has a number of problems. First there's his feud with the Catholic Church following the murder of Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Then there's the rebellions his wife and sons keep whipping up to dethrone him.

On top of everything else, children in Cambridge are being kidnapped and murdered, and the Jews are being blamed. After Cambridge's most prosperous Jewish citizen and his wife are torn to pieces by a furious mob, the rest of the local Jewish population has been forced to take refuge in the castle of the sheriff.

Since Jews are the only people permitted to lend money at interest, Henry's tax revenues take a nose dive when "his Jews" are removed from practicing usury. Furious and desperate, Henry contacts his future son-in-law, the King of Sicily, asking for help in solving the murders.

William of Sicily contacts Salerno, home of the most famous medical school in the civilized world, and demands their best "master in the art of death," a doctor who can read the evidence of a corpse.

The book opens with a pilgrimage, much like in The Canterbury Tales. Included among the knights and the clergy returning to Cambridge is an odd trio: Simon of Naples, a Jewish "fixer"; Adelia Aguilur, a mistress of the art of death; and her bodyguard, the eunuch Mansur.

Adelia had been abandoned an an infant on the slopes of the mountain Vesuvius. A married Jewish couple found and adopted her. Since both were physicians, Adelia was raised at Salerno and became a doctor herself. Now she has been dispatched to solve the serial killings in Cambridge.

Since Medieval England would regard her as a witch for her skill in medicine, she is forced to pretend the Arab Mansur is the real doctor and she, his assistant. There are numerous humorous episodes with Adelia and Mansur "conferring" in Arabic about their patients. When she cures the local prior of his urinary problem by shoving a river reed up his penis to drain his bladder, you know Cambridge will never be the same.

Adelia finds an unexpected love as she goes about examining bodies, healing citizens and searching for clues.

She and her companions quietly investigate the murders of four children, all of whom disappeared from near the River Cam. Suspects abound: knights, monks, a tax collector, a keeper of the hounds and all sorts of ordinary Cambridge citizens.

The Washington Post described the book:
Adelia finds 12th-century England a barbarous place. England finds Adelia a jaw-dropping anomaly. And Franklin exploits the contrast brilliantly. We're on Adelia's side from the start, identifying with her quite modern sensibilities -- but at the same time, as she begins to know the English inhabitants as people, we sympathize with them, too ...

Though the story is set in Cambridge, the Crusades run through the culture. We see both the corruption and the idealistic faith of the period, and while the Jews come off by far the best, Christians and Muslims are portrayed with evenhanded understanding. Beyond this, the story's background is a wonderful tapestry of the paradoxes and struggles of the times: Christianity and Islam, Christians and Jews, science and superstition, and the new power of Henry II's rule of law versus the stranglehold of the Church.
I finished Mistress of the Art of Death in two days. Also read the second in the series The Serpent's Tale as quickly. Waiting now for Book 3, Grave Goods. Book 4 was released on April 1.

Do yourself a favor and run to find these mysteries. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Future Thinking

Last February, I did a post on DRM (digital rights management) here prompted by an article on Ars Technica titled "The Once and Future e-Book" by John Siracusa.

I summarized the frustration of consumers with DRM:
Bob pays for his "product." But if he wants to switch formats, make a copy of the film so his kids can watch it in their room, copy a song so he can listen to it in his car or download the e-book so he can read it on his phone, frequently he becomes a victim of DRM, which will not permit him to make perfectly legal copies. But, since he has all the parts of the encryption [cipher, cypher-text and key], he or a cyber-savvy friend will probably figure a way around the encryption. And, of course, he will feel perfectly entitled to do so since he paid for the product in the first place.

While we can understand Bob's frustration, he crosses the legality line when he sets out to circumvent DRM. Much worse, the next time he buys a product--remembering the aggravation Alice [the seller] created for him--he may be more inclined to download the product for free online than go through all the hoops Alice put him through to use his own, paid-for product.
Last Monday, the New York Times Ethicist took up this question here when a reader wrote to say that he'd purchased the hardcover version of Stephen King's Under the Dome when he found the publisher--wanting to encourage sales of the p-book--had withheld the e-book from the market. Not wanting to take the 3 1/2 pound novel on a trip, he downloaded a pirated digital version. The reader was asking the Ethicist his opinion.

The Ethicist showed uncommon good sense when he responded, "Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology ... it is a curious sort of theft that involves actually paying for a book ... Your paying for the hardcover put you in the clear as a matter of ethics ..."

Interestingly enough, another voice has joined this debate. Peter W. Olson, the former head of Random House, is now a Senior Lecturer for Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School (HBS). There was a post about him two days ago here at Working Knowledge, the HBS faculty research blog.

In May, 2008, Bertelsmann [the parent company of Random House] named Markus Dohle to be the new RH chief executive, replacing Olson who had been CEO since 1998.

The Harvard blog indicated that Olson and Professor Bharat Anand have been sharing an unpublished case study titled "The Random House Response to the Kindle" with students:
"The odd thing is that no one is really focusing on the reader. A disproportionate amount of publishers' resources are dedicated to the manufacturing and physical distribution of books, when in fact their key function is editorial in nature. In a sense, many book publishers are trying to buy time, to postpone a reckoning with reality."

Instead of making books more accessible and attractive, publishers are attempting to prop up the print book business by upping the price of e-books, Olson says.
I've repeatedly pointed out that the publishing industry need only to look to Detroit to see the cautionary example set by the Big Three auto makers. In March, I quoted the BBC:
While it was inevitable [the Big Three] would eventually lose their monopoly position, their failure to adapt their production methods and meet changing consumer tastes has accelerated their decline.
Olson described his students' forward-thinking:
"One thought they proposed that seems well worth pursuing is the idea of bundling the e-book and print book together," he says. "After all, why should they be viewed as adversaries? Why not offer both and see if you can make the market more attractive, with additional features like a video interview with the author? An e-book can be a much richer and deeper experience than anything we've seen before."

Students were also intrigued by the concept of dynamic pricing, or charging varying amounts based on how many "extras" are packaged with an e-book.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The iPad Has Landed

On Saturday, the iPad became available to consumers.

So--just for fun--I looked at the Amazon e-book prices for the top five New York Times best-selling books in fiction and non-fiction.


  1. Caught by Harlan Coben: Dutton (Penguin) $9.99
  2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: Amy Einhorn (Penguin) $9.99
  3. House Rules by Jodi Picoult: Atria (Simon & Schuster) $12.99
  4. The Silent Sea by Clive Cussler & Jack DuBrul: Putnam (Penguin) $9.99
  5. Bite Me by Christopher Moore: William Morrow (HarperCollins) $10.99


  1. The Big Short by Michael Lewis: W.W. Norton & Co. -- No Kindle version
  2. Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler: Grand Central (Hachette Livre) $12.99
  3. The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose: NAL (Penguin) $9.99
  4. Change Your Brain, Change Your Body by Daniel Amen: Harmony (Random House) $9.99
  5. Courage and Consequences by Karl Rove: Threshold (Simon & Schuster) $12.99

We have five of the Big Six publishing houses represented in the above list. Only Macmillan is not included so I'm adding Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, a book I'm reading right now. Wolf Hall was published by Henry Holt & Co., a division of Macmillan, and the Kindle version is selling for $12.99.

That means Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster are all selling their Kindle versions of best-selling books for $12.99.

Random House and Penguin are selling their Kindle versions for $9.99.

That leaves the odd man out--HarperCollins--which has Bite Me priced at only $10.99. Mistrusting just one sample, I went in search of other HarperCollins' best-selling books. The New ME Diet by Jade and Keoni Teta (which came out ten days ago) and The Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins (which has been out almost a month) both have a Kindle version for $11.99. I was, therefore, a little surprised to find The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, which has already been out for five months, priced at $12.99. It looks like HarperCollins is individually pricing each e-book.

Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal had an article titled "Amazon Strikes Two Book-Pricing Deals":

The e-book agreements, with CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster and News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, mirror deals struck earlier this year with Apple for the iPad. Under what's called the agency pricing model, some new best sellers will be priced at $9.99 but most will be priced at $12.99 to $14.99.
The article also says that Amazon is "in advanced discussions" with two more of the Big Six: Hachette and Penguin.

That leaves only Macmillan and Random House. You may recall that, on January 29, Amazon pulled Macmillan's books off their website after the publisher approached Amazon to discuss the "agency model" deal they'd cut with Apple. Ten days after the Amazon/Macmillan showdown, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon had backed down, putting the publisher's books back on sale:
Specific terms of the Macmillan agreement couldn't be learned. However, they are expected to include higher prices for e-books, mirroring those offered by Apple on its coming iPad device.
And, of course, to date Random House is keeping its own counsel. The only indication of their thinking was a comment by Madeline McIntosh, RH's president of Sales, Operations, and Digital, who said publishers “have no real experience at setting retail prices.”

I'll admit to some curiosity as to how sales of the iPad will hold up once consumers begin to actually use it. MSNBC pointed out the following:
For now, Apple is selling versions of the iPad that can only connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi ... the on-screen keyboard is hard to use and [users] complain that it lacks a camera and ports for media storage cards and USB devices such as printers ... the iPad can't play Flash video, which means many Web sites with embedded video clips will look broken to Web surfers using Apple's Safari browser ... And the iPad can't run more than one program at a time ...
Read the entire MSNBC article here. reported on one analyst's reaction to the iPad's inability to play Flash video. Francis Sideco said: "Until Apple addresses this issue one way or another, its decision not to support Flash … will have a limiting effect on the iPad's sales potential ... This is because one of the key use cases of the device, as marketed by Apple, relates to Web browsing or consumption of online content. Absent Flash, iPad uses will not be able to enjoy Flash-driven content, which is used in a considerable [number] of Websites, as well as Web-based games and video."

Read the entire article here.

The New York Times did two separate reviews of the iPad in one article--a review for techies and another for non-techies. Here's a portion of the non-techie review:
The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget. Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.

And the techies are right about another thing: the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience — and a deeply satisfying one.
Read the entire New York Times article called "Looking at the iPad From Two Angles" here.

Stay tuned ...

Friday, April 02, 2010

HarperStudio To Close Its Doors

Today's Publishers Lunch dropped the other shoe on HarperStudio, the imprint started by Bob Miller for HarperCollins.

I first reported on HarperStudio here almost exactly two years ago on April 6, 2008.

On St. Patrick's Day, Miller announced he would be leaving HarperStudio for Workman Publishing. I posted about his departure here.

Today, Publishers Lunch said:
Following the departure of founding executive Bob Miller, Harper's Michael Morrison announced that "... our last batch of titles to be published under the Harper Studio imprint will be on the Summer 2010 list." All titles scheduled for beyond that season will be absorbed by one of Harper's other imprints. Morrison says they "will be contacting agents and authors to discuss the best editors and imprints for each of these titles."
Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Should You Self-Publish? Redux

In August of 2008 here, in a post called "Should You Self-Publish?" I created a sort of decision tree to help writers decide whether they should consider self-publishing or not. I asked five questions as follows:

1. Are you a newbie author or an established name with an audience?

2. If you are a newbie, are you writing fiction or non-fiction?

3. If you are writing fiction, do you have a niche market ready and willing to buy the book?

4. If you do not have a niche audience ready for your fiction, do you have specialized marketing or publishing industry skills (and the money to invest heavily in your book)?

5. If you don’t have a niche audience, don’t have specialized marketing skills and don’t have publishing skill, what are your personal expectations? Do you want to just hold a book of yours in your hands, or do you want to see it on the shelves of libraries and bookstores?

Now, almost 20 months later, let's ask the question again: Should you self-publish?

Monday's Los Angeles Times had a story about John Edgar Wideman. The article described the author this way:
Best known for his 1984 memoir "Brothers and Keepers" and his fiction cycle "The Homewood Trilogy," he's won two PEN/Faulkner awards, been a National Book Award finalist and received a MacArthur "genius" grant. He has a tenured appointment at an Ivy League university. His agent, Andrew Wylie, is one of the most powerful in the business.
Wideman has also decided to self-publish his latest book--Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind?--through Lulu's new VIP Author Program. Briefs includes 100 "micro-stories" intended for people without a lot of time to read.

The article addresses Wideman's reasons for self-publishing:
"... his main concern ultimately is that of a writer trying to take control of his own work ... For Wideman, innovative writing has been squeezed out by the blockbuster trend in publishing."
The article also points out the big risk of self-publishing with Lulu: "... going independent means giving up the infrastructure that a traditional publisher provides ... That's the trade-off between a traditional publisher and self-publishing with a company like Lulu: independence for service."

If we go back to my list above:

1. Wideman is certainly not a newbie.

2. Wideman writes both fiction and non-fiction but Briefs is fiction.

3. Wideman certainly has an audience. The question is: How will he reach them?

4. He has experience in publishing and he has a good agent. Will that be enough?

5. Only Wideman can answer the question of what he hopes to achieve with Briefs. The article seems to indicate he understands the steep slope he is facing:
"The idea of talking individually to readers is quite appealing," he says. "But I'm not going to become a huckster, either."
Of course, it may help that Oprah likes him. In March, 2007 her O magazine had an article titled "Books That Made a Difference to John Edgar Wideman." In the October, 2009 issue he offered advice for aspiring writers. And the Los Angeles Times says O magazine is carrying the micro-story "Witness" from Briefs.

It will be interesting to see the sales numbers for Wideman's self-published book.

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.