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.
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.
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.
Business Week reports that German book publisher Bertelsmann is doing big business with its book clubs in Ukraine. Competitive pricing, a functioning postal system and a book-hugry market served by relatively few book stores have made Bertelsmann’s book clubs successful in the country that once was part of the Soviet Union.
Writes Business Week:
Optimism about the printed word is pretty rare these days. In fast-modernizing Ukraine, though, Bertelsmann is enjoying dot-com-like expansion for its book club, a category that’s a slow- or no-growth proposition in the U.S. and Western Europe. Family Leisure moved 12 million books last yearâ€”everything from cookbooks to local potboilers to Stephen King thrillersâ€”while sales grew 55%, to $50 million. Today, Bertelsmann is Ukraine’s biggest bookseller, with 12% of the market. And the operation enjoys profit margins that are triple the 4% global average for similar Bertelsmann units, which include the Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild in the U.S.
Last week Switzerland’s government decided to let stand the Alpine country’s Competition Commission’s decision to scrap the so-called net book agreement that allowed book publishers and book stores to jointly set prices for books in the German-speaking parts of the multilingual country.
The Swiss book industry had challenged the commission’s ruling, arguing that the NBA allowed independent bookstores to remain competitive and also helped prop up the market for German-language books in the country. The Italian and French speaking parts of Switzerland have already ditched price fixing.
As The Wall Street Journal reported it would this morning, Borders Group Inc. announced today that it will reduce its presence overseas and close almost half of its Waldenbooks stores. Borders will also launch a new online effort in 2008, when its current deal with online retail giant Amazon.com, inked in 2001, ends.
As WSJ reports, sales at U.S. bookstores fell 2.9% last year while book sales online now make up 13% of the book market, compared to 2% in 1998. Sales at Waldenbooks fell 6.3% during last holiday season, while they were down 1.9% the Borders super stores.
Reuters reports that “some industry analysts” think the struggles that both Borders and its main competitor Barnes & Noble are facing could result in a merger or buy-out between out. For
Michael Cairns has more commentary on Borders’ new strategy.
Rapper 50 Cent is the co-author and publisher of a trilogy of so-called street lit books, riding the genre’s wave of success, according to Los Angeles Times. The newspaper describes the genre:
Reading like a mash-up of Quentin Tarantino movies and N.W.A lyrics, Danielle Steel-esque sexploits and gritty urban verite a la HBO’s crime drama “The Wire,” the category has been responsible for millions of book sales each year. The books, which retail for about $12, have stayed off most bestseller lists, however, thanks to a quirk in the way those lists are compiled: They do not tally books sold at street vendors, mall outlets or music stores, where street lit sales are strong.
The genre overlaps with hard-core hip-hop, similarly glorifying gun violence, drug dealing, pimp-ho identity politics and porn-worthy sex - sometimes all within the space of a single page.
The seventh and reportedly last in the series of books about the young wizard Harry Potter is scheduled to be released on July 21. Raeanne Nightingale write on This Is Wiltshire that while the Harry Potter books a best sellers of literally historic proportions - the sixth in the series sold 6.9 million copies worldwide in the first 24 hours, and the entire series has sold 325 million copies - independent bookseller aren’t likely be able to cash in on it as huge online retailers like Amazon and giant supermarkets like Tesco can sell the books for less than many stores can buy them.
The Book Barn in Niantic in Connecticut (here in good ol’ US of A) is throwing a Harry Potter release party, as it has been doing since 2003. Entertainment will “include magic demonstrations, fire-breathing, and exploding potions. Attendees, who much register in advance, are encouraged to dress up as their favorite character.”
In other Harry Potter news, author J. K. Rowling is suing online auction giant eBay for sales of pirated versions of Harry Potter on the company’s Indian web site, according to the The Times:
Rowlingâ€™s lawyers claim that if eBay profits from sales of illegal goods then it should be held liable.
â€œIn Indian copyright law, if the premises of a person is being used for an infringing activity, that person would be liable for that activity,â€ Mr [Akash] Chittranshi said. â€œThe market is not immune from liability.â€
Harry Potter has made a bit of a star out of Gili Bar-Hillel, who translated the books to Hebrew. More than 100 Potter fans attended an event at the Jerusalem International Book Fair where the translator discussed the process of translating the book.
“It’s ridiculous, this is something that never happens to translators,” Bar-Hillel said after speaking at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. “The attention I’ve received is because I’m translating Harry Potter. It’s Harry, not me.”
This just in! Just because you can act/play football/have a cute nose doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a bestselling author!
Impossible as it may have seemed at the time, when all the publishers were jumping on the celebrity book train as if it were the last transport out of a war-ravaged state, many of this past summer’s celebrity stories have failed to sell. Combine this with the price tags placed upon many of these book deals, and you have the Celebrity Book Deal Hall of Shame. Or Fall of Shame. Both meanings of ‘fall’ apply.
For yes, even though Rupert Everett’s screen presence might induce innocent lovers of his work in historical comedies to go see a film that otherwise wild dogs could not drag them to (Next Best Thing, anyone?), only 15,000 copies of Everett’s book were sold. And as Little, Brown paid Â£1 million for the memoir, entitled Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, they are staring at a significant loss.
And Rupert Everett’s book was hardly the greatest flop, if slightly costlier. Former Home Secretary David Blunkett sold a little over 1,000 copies within the first three weeks in recompense for a Â£400,000 book deal, and Ashley Cole’s book, My Defence, sold 4,000 in six weeks for a comparatively scant Â£250,000 for its author. Indeed, the 37,000 sold copies of Wayne Rooney’s book does make it seem the runaway success of the season, until one realizes that Rooney is running away with Â£4 million for five books over the next 12 years. After five books, I rather imagine that it will be the bookbuying public executing the ‘run away’ maneuver.
Publishers have, in part, Jordan to blame. Her 2004 , Being Jordan, sold 900,000 copies, and set records at WH Smith for the most copies of an autobiography sold in one week. Amazon.co.uk joyously proclaims, “In fact it has turned out to be the surprise darling of the book trade!” Indeed. But the book trade can only have one, or possibly two, surprise darlings (provided each darling’s presence is concealed from the other), and with roughly 60 new celebrity titles last season, we are witnessing a microcosm of the larger, much-discussed publishing glut.
“The problem is over-publishing. Across the board, books are suffering,” concluded David Wilson, editorial director of Headline, Ashley Cole’s publisher. “They are not getting the shelf space in the shops. There are just too many celebrity books out there—and a lot of the major sports memoirs are basically celebrity books too. A few rise to the top, but you can never predict which they will be.”
Publishing commentator Danuta Kean defended the motives of the celebrity book craze with an agility more frequently seen in politicians’ press agents. Apparently, publishers released celebrity memoirs in order to show potential celebrity authors they they’re in the market for the next generation of celebrity books.
Maybe I’m slow, but this seems to me like showing other playground bullies that yes, you will hand over your lunch money without even requiring a thrashing. Congratulations, the precedent has been set for you acting like an imbecile! But Ms. Kean knows better than I, and she explains that “Publishers may make some dodgy judgements but they can do the maths and know how to operate in a tough market.” Well, that’s a load off of my mind.
I will not discuss what a shame it is that celebrities who have other not only viable but also voluminous sources of income (film, modeling, sports) have sucked away money from the publishing industry, execpt for in the first clause of this sentence. I will, however, mock their writing ability vicariously through The Independent’s streamlined summary of “the flops:”
Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far
DEAL: Â£4m for five books
SALES: 35,000 (published 27 July)
EXTRACT: “I was aware that my foot had landed between his legs… but it was an accident. I’ll go to my grave and still maintain it was a complete accident.”
The Blunkett Tapes
SALES: 1,000 (published 16 Oct)
EXTRACT: “The reader will make his or her judgement regarding the part I played in my own downfall - and also… regarding my contribution to making a difference.”
SALES: 4,000 (published 21 Sept)
EXTRACT: “My love for Arsenal was soured by what I see as neglect and resentment… The truth is, I felt that Arsenal had done jack-shit… to hold on to me.”
Living the Dream
SALES: 4,000 (published 26 Oct)
EXTRACT: “I paused at the top of the steps… Behind me was an eerie quietness, a deserted house, which for three weeks had been home.”
As an addendum to this discussion, I recently came across an absolutely fantastic post from “One Minute Book Reviews” (thanks to Critical Mass for pointing me to this excellent site). The blog’s author, Janice Harayda, was prompted by the inane prose of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day to run a selection through Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics, an optional part of the spelling and grammar check. With a false-start selection that judged Mr. Albom’s prose at a grade level of 2.8, she eventually determined that he writes at a third-grade level—3.4, to be precise. Her curiosity led her to check a comparable section from different authors, yeilding the following results:
Nora Ephron I Feel Bad About My Neck Grade 12.0
Alex Kuczynski Beauty Junkies Grade 10.3
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson Grade 8.6
Stephen King Liseyâ€™s Story Grade 8.3
Danielle Steel Toxic Bachelors Grade 4.8
Emily Arnold McCully An Outlaw Thanksgiving, a picture book for 4-to-8 year olds by a Caldecott Medalist Grade 4.3
Mitch Albom For One More Day Grade 3.4
I will leave you to peruse Harayda’s blog article yourself for her smart questions about these results, and also for an additional pay-off which I will hint at only by giving you the post’s title: “Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?”
One Minute Book Reviews also tells you how to use Microsoft Word to determine a piece of writing’s grade level, so of course I needed to figure out how to apply this newfound knowledge. The answer was obvious: the Celebrity Book Deal Hall/Fall of Fame must be judged. Of course, I only had the tiny sections quoted by The Independent, as I am not among the few, the happy few, who contributed to the above sales. Had I a full 305 words, the answers might be different, but as they stand, they are somewhat suprising:
Wayne Rooney Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far: 5.9
David Blunkett The Blunkett Tapes: 12.0
Ashley Cole My Defence: 5.5
Chantelle Living the Dream: 4.3
Congratulations, Chantelle, you/your ghostwriter writes with more art than Mitch Albom.
French literary awards are nearly as corrupt as American elections!
…Albeit, from my standpoint, more entertaining and less depressing. On average. Depending upon the election. I confess I’m inclined to draw the parallel because today marks the shift in Depression Alert from red to orange, or possibly amber, and also because the French-American question is a particularly interesting of late. And no, I’m not referring to anyone who would have preferred I title the post ‘Corruption in the Freedom Book Awards. ‘
The first wave of scandal for the French literary establishment came last week, swelling from the seismic activity of two former book-prize panelists who alleged that juries were swayed by political favouritism, self-promotional commercial interests, or outright bribes.
First, Madeliene Chapsal, a member of the Prix Femina jury, composed solely of women, was expelled from her position for revealing the behind-the-scenes deliberations of the jury in her published memoirs. Suspicions were confirmed with the publication of the details from the diaries of Jacques Brenner, an author and member of a prize jury during the 1980s and 1990s. Le Figaro exposed Brenner’s hitherto-unseen descriptions of the systems of bribes and favours by which the jury operated. No call for response is needed from Brenner, who has the now-mixed fortune of having died in 2001, but the current juries were turned upside down by the accusations.
Both pieces tell the same story: French prize juries vote for publishers, not for authors, or even, far-fetched a proposal as it may seem, for individual books. A position on a panel is one typically ordained for life (with the notable exception of Ms. Chapsal); though the jury offers no monetary payment, panelists do benefit from invitations to conferences, funded overseas travel, and, most importantly, publicity and the assurance that prize-seeking publishing companies would be just thrilled to pick up their book.
Brenner, for example, specifically chronicles the way in which he was pushed towards awarding prizes to other authors under their auspices of his own publisher, Grasset. The system hinted by the fact that four major publishing companies who publish the works of three-quarters of the jury members also win two-thirds of the awards appears to be reality.
But perhaps the greatest scandal in the world of French book awards took place on Monday evening, when the prestigious Prix Goncourt was presented to an American. True, Jonathan Littell, the American in question, grew up in France, and his best-selling novel Les Bienveillantes (’The Kindly Ones’) is written in French, but it should come as no surprise that half of the French literary world views this a pollution of its culture. This is, after all, a country which has created a governmental agency to keep foreign words from invading the pure language, continually battling the fiendish new words that might sneak across the ocean/channel before a uniquely French version can be proposed. Who knows what impressionable French youth playing football might otherwise suffer, should they call a corner-kick ‘un cornair,’ as it was before the Academie Francaise intervened with the far more convenient ‘un coup de pied de coin.’
But the 370-year-old Academie Francaise also awarded its Grand Prix de Roman to Les Beinveillantes, thus making Jonathan Littell the first American in recent memory to win two major French literary prizes. Uproar surrounded the Academie’s decision, as a group of Academicians condemned the book for its sections of violence and obscenity, and a counter-group condemned the first group for approaching the dangerous territory of moral censorship.
After all, one could hardly expect Les Beinveillantes to be light, family-oriented fare; its narrator, Maximilian Aue, is an SS Officer, whose account of the Nazi’s campaign of murder in Eastern Europe is rendered all the more chilling for its detachment.
But Littell, now placed amongst the ranks of Goncourt laureates Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Pascal Quignard and Marguerite Duras, is trying not to place himself to the public view. Littell did not even appear at Monday’s ceremony, the capstone to the week of scandal. “He hopes his absence will not be misunderstood or, even less, be interpreted as disdain for the jury,” explained Littell’s publisher, Antoine Gallimard. “He has no need for publicity, both out of modesty and because he believes that literature is not part of show business, that what’s important is the book.”
What a shame. It would all have made such a good TV movie.