August 15, 2007
Well the news is in. Last night Beaufort Books revealed itself as the publisher who has agreed to print O.J. Simpson’s controversial If I Did It. In hopes of avoiding a fate similar to the ReganBooks catastrophe of last year, the small, NY-based company is trying to spin this book as hard (or rather, as nicely) as they can.
In Beaufort’s highly anticipated press release, the publisher maintains that what was previously perceived as a “brazen attempt for Simpson to capitalize on an unspeakable crime for financial gain” will now been seen for what it truly is: a confession. (Note that he never directly confesses to either Nicole Brown or Ron Goldman’s murders in the book.)
My favorite line is when Beaufort describes the Goldman family’s acquisition of the rights to the manuscript this year as “a great ironic turn in this tale of murder and injustice.” Great because we are dredging up the details of a horrific, 14-year-old murder? Or ironic because now the victim’s family will profit from it, and we aren’t sure who to blame anymore?
I at least expected something like this from Simpson. But don’t worry, Nicole Brown’s sister Denise is making sure to publicly condemn the Goldmans’ decision to go through with publication. She is asking everyone to boycott If I Did It once it is released. This is, of course, after she failed to secure some of the profits from the novel for herself.
I really don’t know who to believe anymore. All I know is that this book is getting published, and knowing that “the Goldmans, the publisher, and Sharlene Martin will all contribute portions of sales proceeds to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice” is somehow supposed to make us sleep easier at night.
August 14, 2007
After Monday’s announcement that O.J. Simpson’s tasteful memoir If I Did It has found yet another publisher, it’s hard not to smile. I mean, someone should be giving the publishing industry a dozen gold stars. What effort and determination!
Not only did they encourage Simpson to write a novel about how he would have killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman (much to the dismay of the American public), but now they refuse to let the idea die. Because even though Simpson is completely innocent, I think we all sometimes wonder how an average guy envisions his first homicide going. If that’s not art, I’m not sure what is. Gawker thought maybe this.
Either way, yesterday morning Publishers Weekly released a report that agent Sharlene Martin has secured a company to back a revised version of Simpson’s book. The project will now include commentary from the Goldman family, who won the rights to the manuscript in a Miami bankruptcy court last month. The book is meant to satisfy some of the millions that the former NFL star owes because of a wrongful death judgment made against him in civil court.
The name of the publisher was originally supposed to be released today (according to Monday’s statement), but the rep for the Goldman family, Michael Wright, has postponed the announcement yet again.
So it looks like we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who the second-most insensitive publisher in the country is. The first-place prize goes to Judith Regan of ReganBooks, who initially supported the project back in 2006. Most of you are probably familiar with the public outrage that ensued, causing the cancellation of the book’s release. Regan was subsequently fired.
But I obviously wish the best of luck to the next in line. It’s good to know that this time around you have some of Goldman’s family members in your corner, ready to join in on the exploitation of his death.
August 7, 2007
With the internet and the publishing industry unapologetically intertwined these days, it’s no wonder that the Fake Steve Jobs is releasing his very own book come October.
For those of you unaware of the blog entitled “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs,” it began to create a stir within Silicon Valley over a year ago. Written anonymously since earlier this week, the satirical blog features posts by someone pretending to be Apple CEO and Founder Steve Jobs. Lovingly referred to as Fake Steve Jobs or FSJ by his fanatical followers, the identity of the blogger was revealed (or rather uncovered) by New York Times reporter Brad Stone on Sunday.
The notoriously tight-lipped Jobs is the perfect corporate mogul to impersonate, especially with the booming success of Apple over the past few years. The mocking, self-righteous, and sarcastic tone of FSJ’s blog is riotously funny and borderline genius. He has even got the real Steve Jobs reading his posts. Loyal fans had been pondering who the real FSJ was for months, as well as well-known faces within the IT industry that the blog reams on a regular basis. My personal favorite is when FSJ calls Bill Gates “Beastmaster” and Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz “My Little Pony.” A reference of course to his choice of hairstyle. There are videos out there. You can find them. Ok fine, here it is.
Either way, FSJ has been busted, and it appears that a senior editor at Forbes, Dan Lyons, was behind the blog the whole time. A relative unknown, so good for him, because now his name will be remembered for a good 10 to 15 days. His new book, written of course in the FSJ persona, is called Options. Da Capo Press in Cambridge is backing the project. One site predicts that because the mystery is gone, everyone will forget about FSJ, move on, and the book will flop.
I have my doubts, but even knowing Lyons’ identity, I still laugh uncontrollably at FSJ’s posts. I recommend taking a look at some of FSJ’s Greatest Hits. Here are some classics…
Watch out, elderly iPod users
Regarding our iPhone
The big secret meeting, complete waste of time
July 17, 2007
Let’s be honest. As Americans, we allow nudity to scare us. It’s an inevitable truth; it’s hard to even debate. All you have to do to confirm it is visit a European country and turn on a television there. If you dare to risk it, you will most likely encounter more skin during prime time viewing than you’ll find on the late late late shows of premium cable channels.
And so it appears that this philosophy of selective censorship (which we invoke only to save our children from corruption!) has extended into the book industry.
U.S. publisher Boyds Mills Press recently refused to print a German children’s book because of questionable illustrations. The picture, which was part of one of Rotraut Susanne Berner’s best-selling Wimmel books, depicted…are you ready for this…art in a museum. I’m not sure you can get much more scandalous than that. The images that worried the publishers included a nude woman in a painting and a minuscule statue, or what one article terms “cartoon breasts and a half-millimeter-long willy.” But I urge you to make your own decision about whether or not these pictures would have scarred our children. Here’s a close-up of the woman in question, and then of course the tiny man.
Boyds Mills Press requested that Berner remove the illustrations from her book, along with pictures of people smoking. The author refused, forgoing the chance to distribute her book to American children (at least for now). Berner disliked the idea of “invisible censorship,” with no black bars over the disputed images. She believes that, “if you’re going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it.”
Berner’s books portray children and adults in their normal, day-to-day activities. The Wimmel stories have been published without protest in 13 other countries, reaching best-selling status in nearly all of these locations. Hmmm…is it possible that we overreacted? Or is overprotective, overbearing, and over-the-top just how we do things nowadays? I think so, and a headline from today’s BookNinja blog introducing this story (”Mini-penis scares North America almost as much as liquids in suit cases and nail clipper”) echoes my point.
July 16, 2007
Harry Potter is known for a lot of things. His lightning-shaped scar, his quidditch skills, his mysterious connection to Lord Voldemort, but being environmentally friendly? That’s a new one. Maybe we should thank J.K. Rowling instead, or better yet, how about Scholastic publishing? Either way, Muggles everywhere are rejoicing over the trees that will be saved in the name of the famous wizard.
What I am talking about is the biggest first-print run of a book ever, with 12 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows set for release next Saturday, July 21. I am sure that many of you are aware of this release date, but what makes this event even more momentous than its size and its subject matter is the fact that the books will be printed on 30 percent post-consumer waste, with 65 percent of the paper used in printing certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Rowling is expected to encapsulate the legacy of Potter and his pals in this upcoming book (the seventh of her hugely-successful series), whose 12 million first-run copies equate to about 17,000 tons of paper. This small step of using recycled materials in printing will save over 120,000 trees.
But the Green Press Initiative urges editors and publishers to continue on with this movement, as the U.S. book industry consumes more than one million tons of paper a year. That represents about 60 book printings that rival the size of this current Harry Potter release, and over six million trees that could be saved.
Random House is another recognizable corporation that has recently pledged to amend its printing practices to help the environment. To be exact, the company promises to increase its use of recycled paper tenfold by 2010. In addition to the Harry Potter publicity, which will certainly add fuel to the campaign, the Green Press Initiative boasts 140 publishers, ten printers, and five paper companies in the U.S. as allies in this cause. Furthermore, 2006’s Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper will potentially conserve five million trees each year once it is fully instituted, which sounds like good news (and more oxygen) for all of us Muggles.
For those of you tricked into thinking that this was a post solely devoted to Harry Potter, I apologize. Stayed tuned for more commentary, as I plan to be reading the novel alongside all of you at midnight on the 21st.
June 4, 2007
2,000 exhibits. 1,200 publishers. 500 authors. An endless sea of books. For those involved in the publishing industry, or for those who simply love to read, BookExpo America resembles a modern-day Utopia. Or so one would think.
This year’s BEA took place over the weekend in New York at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and various literary blogs and publications posted their thoughts on the event this morning. Otto Penzler dons the many hats of writer, editor, publisher, and book store owner. And in an article he penned for The New York Sun about his BEA trip this year, Penzler indulges in a little nostalgia, recounting his first journey to the biggest book event in the United States, and the disappointing realizations that accompanied his visit 30 years ago.
Even in the 1970s, the enormity of BEA was palpable. Penzler describes his initial entrance into the event, a hall littered with thousands of publications, and the thrilling feeling that he had “died and gone to heaven.” But even as a self-proclaimed book aficionado, the bliss of stumbling upon his personal utopia was short-lived.
In his harried fall from grace, Penzler explains, “Then it struck me. I was there as a publisher with maybe a dozen titles on my list. How in the world would anybody notice my books and authors? The Mysterious Press, the company I founded in 1975, was a drop of water in the Pacific. No, it was a grain of sand in the Sahara. It was less than nothing because it wanted to be something.”
Although the author/publisher/book seller’s first encounter with BEA was a humbling one, he continued to make his love of books a way of life, and now runs an imprint at Harcourt Publishing that produces crime fiction. When speaking of the authors he represents, Penzler admits, “I desperately want them to have success, but I recognize the folly of that sad little wish…James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Nora Roberts will sell 100 million books this year, leaving a few table scraps for everyone else to chase after like starving hyenas after the lions have had their fill.”
Wondering if Penzler’s gloomy outlook is an unfortunate side effect of being a small fish in an increasingly gigantic pond? I’m sorry to say that similar to the actual BEA event, the press following the annual conference has reserved a lot of their copy for big (or at least recognizable) names. See New York Magazine’s “Book Expo Sightings,” an article on First Daughter Jenna Bush’s upcoming release, and USA Today’s recap of the weekend’s events.
Despite his pessimistic (and somewhat accurate) depiction of this year’s event, and of BEA in past years, Penzler confesses that worst part of the 2007 convention was that “when it ended, I kind of missed it. And looked forward to next year’s event.”
Seems that even the small fish can’t resist an endless sea of books.
May 24, 2007
The legal proceedings between famed author Clive Cussler and Phillip Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment over the 2005 box office flop Sahara ended last week with the jury divided.
The Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the adventure author to pay Crusader $5 million in damages because of a breach in contract. Cussler reportedly inflated his book sales from 40 million copies to over 100 million during the film’s contract negotiation, a lie that motivated the company to pay the author $10 million apiece for the rights to two of his Dirk Pitt novels. Lawyers for Crusader stressed that the organization never would have agreed to pay Cussler that much had they known the actual number of books sold.
The jury also found that Crusader owed $8.5 million to Cussler for the rights to the second book (which would have been adapted into a screenplay for the proposed Pitt adventure film series). In terms of box office sales for the first film, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, the film opened at No. 1, but only grossed $68 million in the U.S., which resulted in an $80 million loss for Crusader. Because filming failed to begin on the second movie within the time constraints outlined in the original contract, the jury awarded Cussler the film rights to his books as well.
If Superior Court Judge John P. Shook upholds the jury’s verdict, Cussler will emerge from the dispute $3 million richer, which prompted the author’s lawyer, Bert Fields, to declare his client the winner.
Conversely, Crusader’s attorney Marvin Putnam interpreted the jury’s findings as a victory for the production company, and stated that: “It’s a massive vindication not only for Crusader and all the people who made the film, but also for the industry at large.”
Who the true victor is will depend on Judge Shook’s final decision, but neither side is at a loss to pay the potential damages. Cussler has penned over 30 novels, while Anschutz holds the title of one of the richest men in the country.
May 22, 2007
Book sales in the United States fell by 0.3% in 2006 compared to 2005. Final net sales for 2006 was $24.2 billion according to The Association of American Publishers.
In a recent article posted on Media Bistro’s Galleycat, Sarah writes that Simon & Schuster’s unorthodox partnership with Media Predict, a venture that has the company wielding out book deals based on the popularity of proposals in an interactive trader’s market, confirms that “the publishing house execs must really have a high-quality crack pipe being passed around the office.”
Some criticize the publishing company for assembling yet another highly-publicized contest to gain insight into the minds of their readers. However, S&S hopes that by pairing up with Media Predict, which relies on prediction markets to guide companies in the media industries, they can better gauge the probability of a project’s failure or success. (Another popular Media Predict contest includes bands on MySpace vying for a record deal.)
For the purposes of S&S, the site gathered together a range of book proposals from various sources and posted them online. For example, agent Christy Fletcher submitted the novel Crown Chasers for consideration, which was penned by former Miss America Kate Shindle and offers an insider’s look at the hectic lives of pageant contestants. Other novels on the list include a children’s book co-authored by figure skater Dorothy Hamill, a book entitled You Are Your Own Gym detailing innovative bodyweight-only exercises, and Coming Up Short, which chronicles a slew of sports greats who failed to win championships in their careers.
With the list formulated, the fate of these potential books now transfers over into the hands of the traders on Media Predict, who use $5,000 in “fantasy cash” to buy shares and support the proposals they believe will either secure a book deal from the publishing mogul or become a finalist in Project Publish, a contest launched by S&S affiliate Touchstone Books. If either happens by late August (at which time the virtual “stock market” is closed), the value of the shares go to $100 apiece; if not, the share price falls to zero.
Media Predict’s online “game” clearly lacks any semblance of a logical approach to book publishing. Furthermore, the fact that S&S has sunk funds into this uncertain resource signals a lack of confidence in their own internal decision-making. Nevertheless, this may be just what S&S needs to rejuvenate their book sales and create products better geared toward their audiences. Compared to the intensive focus groups and private screenings set up by television and film producers, the book industry is little more than a well-orchestrated guessing game.
These “traders” represent an unbiased opinion of what will sell. And more importantly, what will not. Maybe S&S isn’t so misguided to look to an interactive game for guidance, seeing as it involves money, and most people cringe at that thought of losing any of that, even if it is fake. Whether it was a crack pipe or a plain lack of options that inspired the coalition between S&S and Media Predict, here’s to hoping that is breathes new life into an otherwise lackluster publishing process.
May 15, 2007
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ITâ€™S the way this business has run since 1640,â€ he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. â€œIt was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot,â€ Professor [Al] Greco [at Fordham University] said.
“This business” is of course the book industry, a huge but not particularly profitable industry whose producers - the publishers - go on little more than intution and rough sales figures to understand what books readers are clamoring for, as an article in the New York Times describes it.
It is of course somewhat similar to blockbuster movies. A studio can invest heavily in expensive sets and ground breaking special effects, and hire big name producers, directors, and actors, as well as spend lavishly on elaborate marketing campaigns, predicting exactly which movies are going to become hugely profitable or devastating busts remains elusive. Similarly, a publisher can the rights to a book believed tobe coveted and roll-out a grade-A marketing campaign, but at the end of the day it’s pretty much just guess work trying to figure out which book will become a bestseller and which one will collect dust in the clearance bin.
From a reader perspective, however, there’s no partuclar reason to wish for a more scientific approach to book publishing. The way to higher profits by increasing knowledge about customers is a road down predictability. There’s not much upside, to use a business term, for readers in that scenario. In fct, one could argue that the book industry’s poor profitability is a result of so much value being retained by readers rather than publishers. Since so many people dream of becoming writers, editors, or publishers, the low profitablity doesn’t pose much of threat to the availability of a wide range of books.