Friday, October 31, 2008

Free papers - a threat to books?

First the Googleblast, then the announcement that the Christian Science Monitor is shifting online from April next year. Suddenly everything is digital. Or is it? In London one of the most successful media launches of recent years has undoubtedly been the free Metro newspaper. Such was its success that rival group News International decided it wanted some of that market, so it launched The London Paper which appears on week days in the late afternoon. Associated Newspapers, owners of Metro and the Daily Mail, saw this move as an attack on its Evening Standard which has had a monopoly of the evening newspaper market in London for years (indeed, it has been the only evening paper). So, as a spoiler, it in turn launched another free paper, London Lite which also appears on week days in the late afternoon.

The result of all this is that, at a time when everyone is talking about digitisation and newspapers moving online, in London we have seen the launch of three print newspapers. It becomes impossible to get off a bus without one or more of the ‘givers’ of these papers thrusting one into your hand. In fact, these people have become London characters in their own right, like something out of a 21st century version of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (please say you have heard of this man: I am discovering that all kinds of people have not. It is through his pages that you have detailed, eye-witness reports of what life was like in Victorian London).

Now, of course, these papers are all free, and must be adding to the assumption among the public that it does not need to pay for news. As a result, circulation among paid-for print newspapers is falling. The good news, I suppose, is that people still want to read. London is a massive commuting city and people love to read on the trains, usually in this order: Metro, their phones and, lastly, books (too often The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – at least, that’s on the trains going into Waterloo which sees a lot of people who work [worked?] in the City).

The worrying news for publishers is to consider whether book reading on trains is declining as a result of the rise in free newspapers and the increase in the use of mobiles. One would have thought it must have done.

As for Google, it’s naïve to say it, but wouldn’t have an apology from Sergey Brin have been good? Put simply, wasn’t Google digitising in-copyright books in the US without explicit permission? Hasn’t it now ‘lost’ this case (although, in a sense, also won because of the massive publicity for its programme)? Why didn’t it set up the Book Rights Registry straightaway?

One publisher who has been particularly vocal on this subject told me: “By having to pay the legal fees they are in effect apologising. We don’t want to rub their noses in it. This is a great victory for the Association of American Publishers and for authors. If this had gone to court, and Google had won, it would have meant that they could have done what they liked with intellectual property, which would have been devastating. If we had won, Google would have appealed and appealed until either they had won or publishers had gone bankrupt. They didn’t want to set up the Books Rights Registry but they’ve had to. When the dust settles people will see that we have protected our authors and shown that we cannot be bullied by the largest organisation in the world.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mini-Frankfurt at Toronto’s International Festival of Authors

Every time I attend the Frankfurt Book Fair I start to get the Frankfurt Book Fair blues at one point on Saturday night. Frankfurt is all about the people behind the books. It’s about seeing your international friends again, about making new friends and about scheming with them. This year, when I was starting to feel gloomy, and while checking e-mails in between parties, I received an email with the International Visitors Programme (I.V.) of this year’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. All of a sudden, there was a silver-lining on the horizon.

The I.V. program I got invited to, thanks to the generosity of the Goethe-Institut Toronto, was launched just this year as part of the 29th annual International Festival of Authors on the initiative of a committee spearheaded by Iris Tupholme of HarperCollins Canada. 19 visitors from around the world including U.K. agents Ed Victor and Clare Alexander, Maggie Doyle of Robert Laffont, France, Christiane Lange, Literaturwerkstatt, Germany, and several New Yorkers such as Jonathan Burnham, HarperCollins or the literary scout Bettina Schrewe were invited to participate in a four day program of inter-industry dialogue.

The I.V. was set against the backdrop of Canada’s most prestigious literary festival with the aim of expanding opportunities for Canadian literature abroad by opening the door for interaction between professionals at all levels of the book industry. And as it turned out, in its very first year, the I.V. felt like it was already part of the establishment, mainly because of its flawless organization and also because the visitors were warmly embraced by Canadian agents, publishers, rights managers, editors, media people, international organizations etc. To me, it was sort of a mini-Frankfurt. I was very impressed by the very active, very open publishing community of Toronto, and of Canada. Everyone knew each other or tried to get to know each other.

The I.V. program offered meetings with industry professionals in a speed-dating style, visits to Toronto’s publishing houses, panels that were just aimed for the industry and not open to the public, dinners, receptions and a trip to the Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the entire length of the I.V. program but I very much hope that I will have the chance to come back for more. Hopefully, next year, when Frankfurt comes to an end, some of you will have this new international industry event in Canada to look forward to.

Christian Science Monitor Goes Digital

The Christian Science Monitor reports today that the daily print edition of the newspaper will be phased out by April 2009 and replaced by an online version. Although the paper will introduce a weekly print magazine, the New York Times says that the CSM is the first national newspaper to largely give up print in favor of online and email delivery of content. Both the daily version and the weekly print version will be available as a subscription and emailed in .pdf format.

The CSM release makes clear that they view this move as a necessary step towards fulfilling the newspaper's ongoing mission of "finding answers to the world's most important problems, asking the questions that matter and getting the story behind the news," according to editor John Yemma. The Christain Science Monitor is financed primarily by a subsidy from the Christian Science church. The newspaper predicts that in five years, the proposed changes will effectively reduce this subsidy by $8.4 million annually.

Because the Christain Science Monitor receives funding from the Christian Science church and other donors, it is a newspaper well-suited to experimenting with a primarily digital method of content delivery. Their financial model can support a few years of transition. Many newspapers in the USA do not have that luxury. I guess if you are particularly attached to reading the CSM on the subway in the mornings, this coming year might be a good time to consider buying an e-reading device.

I am eager to hear what our other bloggers here at Beyond Hall 8 have to say about this development.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sold! Google to pay $125 million for scanning rights

You've have probably already heard the news: Google has agreed to settlement terms with the Association of American Publishers and the Author's Guild with regard to their lawsuit accusing Google of copywrite infringement with regard to the Google Book Search project. 

Trying to parse the 200+ plus page document nearly gave me a cerebral hemmorhage. So, I will leave it up to you to do it for yourself. (The settlement docs are online here, authors can see what they are entitled to here; they try to explain it in layman's terms here.) 

The short version is that Google is going to set aside $125 million to settle claims against it from authors, publishers, agents and others whose books have been or will be digitized.  A large chunk of that -- $34.5 million -- will go towards a Book Rights Registry, essentially a rights database, that will help clear claims. Anotehr $15.5 million to the AAP for their claims; oh, and don't forget the lawyers -- they get up to $30 million for their services on behalf ot the AAP and AG.

My initial reaction is that the sums invoved for the rights to digitize individual books are quite modest -- just $60 a title, going up to $300, with some additional cabbage if you agree to make your book available to institutional subscribers. 

My second reaction is that Google got off cheap -- $125 million is pocket change for what the company estimates will shortly amount to a database of 20 million books. (They say they already have 7 million digitized). Nearly a decade ago, -- a company in my hometown of Houston -- burned through $110 million to digitize just 35,000 books and at one time needed a full time staff of over 300 people to do it. ( still exists,  though it remains fairly obscure.)

What's more is that have, with this agreement, fully insinuated themselves into the publishing process. Publishers, authors and agents will have to decide -- "Do we play with Google? And, if so, what do we get in return? (Ah, those poor agents. Good luck in figuring out the settlement for yourselves -- I hardly think the 15% of $300  will be worth the effort.)

Perhaps most important of all is how this cements Google as the industry leader in the distribution of digital books. Sure, there's Amazon with it's Kindle...and the Sony E-reader...each with hundreds of thousands of titles availlable. But what happens when Google links its open source Android operating system -- now powering cellphones -- to the Google Book Search? You will, quite literally, have a library in the palm of your hand.

Frankfurt Fundraiser Nets $12,500 for Agent's Memorial Fund

Further to my earlier post about the Tracy Walker Howell Memorial Fund benefit that was held at the Frankfurter Hof on Thursday, October 16, 2008, I'm happy to report that $12,500 was raised. 

Organizers of the raffle,v included Cecile Barendsma and Cullen Stanley, both of Janklow & Nesbit, and Hal Fessenden, v-p of subsidiary rights, Penguin USA. Nancy Wiese, v-p director of subsidiary rights at Grand Central, served as MC of the event. 

Among the winners were scout Virginia Marx, who won a week in the Liguria vacation house donated by Ullstein Heyne publisher Ulrich Genzler, and Maria B. Campbell, who took home a new Sony e-reader. A full list of prizes and winners, as well as further information about the Tracy Walker Howell Memorial Fund is online.

Students turning against 'the big corporation'?

Some surprising news from one of the liveliest and most entertaining of the UK’s independent booksellers. Ron Johns, of the Falmouth Bookseller reports business some 20% up in his academic shop in Plymouth and cites resistance to Amazon as a possible reason. “Students never like the Establishment and I think they’ve begun to see Amazon as a bit like the Establishment – as this giant, global, US corporation – and they don’t like it. We’ve noticed that we don’t hear their name so much. Also, I think it’s true to say that our prices aren’t so very different to Amazon’s now. I think publishers aren’t giving Amazon such high discounts anymore and we’re able to match them better.”

As for the effect of the credit crunch on his two general shops – in Falmouth and St Ives – he says, with some nervousness, that they are both up as well. “We keep waiting for the credit crunch to happen, but it hasn’t yet. I think it will make a difference this Christmas but, curiously, it might go in our favour. I think net purchases are pre-meditated but, because the feel good factor isn’t there this year, people are going to leave it until it’s too late to buy online. Which means those last few days – Christmas is on a Thursday – will be huge.”

Cornish wisdom? Let’s hope so because, with all due respect to Amazon’s skills, no one likes to see well-run indies go to the wall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Frankest Frankfurt Conversation Ever?

Picked up courtesy of the Galleycat Web blog:

An attendee at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair swears he overheard the following conversation between two other publishing industry pros:

clipart-twoguys-talking.jpg"Where were you? You missed our appointment."

"I know. I'm sick of remaindering your books."

"You might have called to cancel."

"I was busy talking with a real publisher whose books actually sell."

Books more powerful than bombs

One of the more curious events of the Frankfurt Book Fair was the protest staged by a quartet of Georgian authors -- Rati Amaglobeli, Lasha Bugadze, Basa Jankashvili and David Turashvili under the auspices of the name GWARA (an acronym for Georgian Writers Against Russian Aggression, and a strange echo of the punk band GWAR, but no matter…).

The protest, held over two days, took place within earshot of the Russian booths and one can’t help wonder what they thought of the whole thing. Of course, the whole conflict is a muddle of motives – didn’t the Georgia’s start the fight? – and one wonders whether or not it might better have been called GWARO – Georgian Writers Against Russian Overreaction.

Nevertheless, for the protest, each of the four writers penned original essays for the event.

I caught David Tursashvilli’s talk. Rather than try and parse it for you, I offer you his own words:

I feel ashamed yet I have to tell you about this.

After the Russians began their air strikes on Tbilisi I couldn’t think of anything better to do than bring my children down to the yard and then go back to my apartment to find the Russian books we had at home. I had decided to take the books by Russian authors and burn them in front of my children as a sign of protest. However at the last moment I changed my mind.

God saved me from doing this awful thing. I remembered Milan Kundera, who once argued with Joseph Brodsky over the Prague Spring, wondering why the Russians had brought death to Prague with tanks, not books as they once had promised. I still believe that books have much greater power than any bomb. If I had burnt these particular books, how could I have then explained this to my kids?

Though I couldn’t burn their books that day, I nevertheless decided to take them to the Russian Embassy and return them to the people who let us down so much and instead of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky gave us Putin and Medvedev. I collected them up, but at the last moment I decided not to give them back to the Russians. Why? Because I couldn’t tell my daughters more than Tolstoy did when he wrote about Natasha Rostova preparing for her first ball.

Instead my children and I made paper planes, wrote slogans on their wings and in response to the Russian air strikes started to attack the Russian Embassy. We are going to organize a protest action against the Russian aggression here too. Please don’t think that it doesn’t concern you. There are no wards which are only somebody else’s , and sooner or later some war will concern all of us.

We were not surprised by the appearance of Russian tanks because we have been seeing them since as far back as our student days. We didn’t expect the bombs though, in the 21st century, even from Russians. And those bombs, which are being dropped today on Tbilisi and Georgia, target not only the civilian population of Georgia but all those people who believe that the 21st century is a modern and civil epoch. Therefore we expect all of you to join the Georgian writers’ protest against the Russian aggression.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bully-boys and cowards

For the last couple of years, after returning home from Frankfurt, I've popped into the Melbourne studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (our beloved national broadcaster) and have had a chat about the book fair with Ramoa Koval, who hosts one of the world's only daily book shows on ABC Radio National, enterprisingly called The Book Show.

You can listen to a podcast of this year's chat, which went to air yesterday, here.

Interviewed with me was one of Australia's truly great maverick publishers, Henry Rosenbloom of Scribe Publications (pictured). Henry is very active in rights acquisitions, and has a passionate view on rights splitting. What he has to say about those British publishers and literary agents who insist on keeping British and Commonwealth rights together will make your ears burn. Large British publishers are 'bully boys .. absolute monsters about it', while compliant British agents are 'cowardly' in giving into them.

In a wide-ranging discussion, we also covered the impact of the economic downturn on the book business and publishing programs, the rise of digitisation, the summit held between Canadian, Australia and New Zealand publishers, the impact of currency exchange rates, nonfiction's primacy over fiction, and even the return of Marxism and socialism (could this be the 1930s all over again?).

I like Henry's bullish attitude towards publishing in these troubled times.

'You can't just retreat ... and hide and cower until it's all over,' he told Koval. 'You still have to assume there's a market for good books.'

As well as broadcasting across Australia, ABC Radio National is also streamed over the internet, giving The Book Show an international audience. Its producers tell me that a sizeable portion of its audience is now online, and outside Australia. While some of these listeners are undoubtedly homesick Aussie expats, many more are simply book lovers who crave a daily dose of news, readings, interviews and reviews from the world of books.

Could Daniel Craig help books?

Do you know the generic campaign the book trade should have? One that stresses book ownership. Why is it only in the film world that we see signs saying: ‘Own it now on DVD’? Why don’t we ever see that for books? I’m partly playing devil’s advocate here. We all know the reasons. With very few exceptions – Harry Potter, a new Hannibal Lecter title, perhaps – there just isn’t the ‘must have’ quality to books.

But shouldn’t publishers and booksellers be looking at trying to create this ‘must have’ quality? Yes, there are some offers exclusive to bookshops – signed editions, limited edition hardbacks – but perhaps more needs to be made of them. After all, as much as publishers and booksellers care about literacy and education, ultimately they want people to buy a physical object. But no campaign ever looks at this aspect of books: their place in home life, storage, display, conversation stimulation, making you look cool or erudite or sophisticated or whatever. I’ve written before that there is an element of snobbery about book ownership but, obviously, that is not the whole story. It’s perfectly reasonable to present book ownership as part of being a rounded, caring, aware human being. Look at how many other advertisements present a lifestyle if you buy this particular product. That’s what publishers and booksellers should do.

Peter Crawshaw of Lovereading wrote in The Bookseller: ‘Reading gives much longer-term pleasure than the instant gratification of buying stuff…’, yet, ironically, ‘buying stuff’ is exactly what publishers and booksellers want people to do. They are not going to survive on selling books to libraries, that’s for sure.

The problem of advertising, of course, is the cost. So why not some cross-fertilisation? Why not a three-way ad which advertises the clothes and watch Daniel Craig wears in the new Bond film, and shows the actor reading the new John Grisham, or Ian McEwan, or whatever? Why can’t a book be product placement in such a campaign?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did Random House publisher Bennett Cerf promote "obscene trash"?

Good evening, my guest tonight leads a double life. He's a well known figure in two controversial fields, television and book publishing. His name is Bennett Cerf. Bennett, in a moment I shall ask you, what do you think is wrong with television. And I shall confront you with a charge that book publishers are wantonly exposing young readers, to obscene trash. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.

And so begins an interview from 1957 between reporter Mike Wallace and then Random House publisher Bennett Cert.

If you think much has changed in 51 years -- aside from the smoking -- it hasn't:

WALLACE: Bennett, here's an interesting statistic. According to a Gallup poll, the United States has the lowest proportion of book readers of any major English-speaking democracy. In 1955 only thirty nine percent of us, read even one book or more, despite the fact that we have the highest level of formal education in the world. How do you account for that?

CERF: I don't know that we have the highest level of formal education; I think something's got to be done about our school system... It's gotten a little bit slack, and lacks. But, the... the fact that we don't read more books in America, can be traced squarely to the fact that we have newspapers that are about a hundred times as big as the newspapers anywhere else. Take Soviet Russia, its best years a four-page paper. Look at The New York Sunday Times, it weights about four tons, yet you drop it on your foot, you brake a toe.

That sounds exactly like what is now being said about the internet.

The archive of other Mike Wallace Interviews is online courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Could profit sharing trump advances for rights sales?

Publisher Robert Miller, who left Hyperion to start HarperStudio earlier this year, has an intriguing post on his blog reflecting on a dinner he had at Frankfurt where it was generally agreed that Little, Brown’s $5-6 million advance or comedian Tina Fey’s as yet-entirely unwritten book was "pretty remarkable" -- which I read to mean "a mistake."

For those not familiar with Fey, she’s a former head writer for the US sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, the star and head writer of a moderately popular sitcom called 30 Rock – about a TV show much like Saturday Night Live – and has risen to A-list status only recently with her dead-on impersonation of John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

In fact, one of the joys of being in Frankfurt was a week without seeing nor hearing Palin on TV…

Miller implies of course, the big advance requires that the publisher – in the case Little, Brown – be overzealous in selling rights to foreign publishers. Some books, like Bill Clinton’s biography My Life (still among the highest advances ever – at $15 million), earn back on foreign rights sales well before a book ever appears in stores. I’m not sure anyone abroad is much aware of Fey, and surely not enough to help pay back some of that advance.

Of course, Little, Brown has done very well with comedic books from cult celebrities, such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and David Sedaris. Fey fits that mold and, provided the book is right, could be a bestseller.

What Miller wonders is whether the system can change to the benefit of both domestic and foreign publishers. He writes: “We may not be able to reduce stratospheric author advances, but can't we call a time-out with each other? What if buying and selling rights to other countries consisted completely of co-publishing or profit-sharing instead? Without the issue of money being offered up front, we could instead focus on choosing the most sympatico publisher for the book in each location.”

But I wonder one thing right up front? Doesn’t this really start somewhat earlier, with the agent and publisher in the US? I wonder how often the agent chooses the most simpatico publisher -- especially in an auction situation, such as the one that Fey’s book was in (Miller points out that he dined at Zum Storch with two other editors who had bid on the book) and so much money is involved?

Some thoughts on digitisation

The news that Mills & Boon is to convert 200 of its titles to the e-book format – adding 70 a month thereafter – is further demonstration, if any were needed, that digitisation is on its way. Yes, it still represents only a tiny slice of the market and arguably sees far more column inches than its revenue warrants, but few are in any doubt that the sector is growing.

One issue many older people have with e-readers and digitisation is simple: books do furnish a room, e-readers do not. A display of books stimulates conversation. “Oh, I’ve read that too – I loved it.” “I’ve just bought this for a friend of mine – is it good?” “God, I remember that cover – just looking at it reminds me of college.”

Here’s another simple point. A wall of books acts as a visual memory. Sometimes, when you’re trying to remember the title of something, it just helps to scan your eye quickly along the spines. Yes, you could scroll through titles on your e-reader but, ironically, that seems more clunky, clumsier than just scanning your shelf. If the human eye was called the iEye, then we might all realise what a cool, unbelievably sophisticated piece of it kit it is.
'If the human eye was called the iEye, then we might all realise what a cool,
unbelievably sophisticated piece of kit it is.'

Yet there is a sickening snobbery to all this. It sort of runs: “Look at me. I’ve got all these books. Hardbacks too. I’m a collector, see? I’m intellectual. The more books you have, the bigger your brain.” That’s putting it in a very blunt way, but I think there’s an element of truth to it.

But I think that attitude is the province of older people. I don’t think twentysomethings think like that. I don’t think they need books around them to validate themselves in the way their parents’ generation do. We’ll notice friends’ book collections and enjoy browsing their shelves; I think younger people browse friends’ Facebook sites, or blogs, or websites. If you like, they are looking at their ‘electronic’ shelves, and I think it could be argued that’s how young people validate themselves: I am such and such because I have these friends on my site and these links are in my Favourites. In a sense, they are still as materialistic as we are: it’s just that when it comes to media – books, music, news – theirs is an invisible materialism, one that is more environmentally friendly. We’re still wedded to objects; they’re comfortable with bytes.

It’s the same with music. We used to look at peoples’ album collections, often sitting on the floor and flicking through piles leant against the wall. Now, people don’t have collections like this. It’s all virtual – just a great long list on a PC or iPod. It sounds paradoxical, but the world is becoming less physical.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Links from the Frankfurt Book Fair website

There is some wonderful content on the Frankfurt website that everyone should see, whether you attended in person or vicariously through news and blog reports:

Paulo Coelho's speech at the Opening Press conference on social networking, digitization, and the changing role of the author, as well as the video version.

Results of an exhibitor survey on digitization of the publising industry

Photos from the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair

Bloggers Ed Nawotka, Andrew Wilkins, and Chad Post cover events, parties, and news during the Fair (see the German-language blog here).

Scroll to the second video of the event "Bosses Talk" with Michael Cader (Publishers Lunch), John Makinson (Chairman and CEO of The Penguin Group), Brian Murray (CEO of HarperCollins), and Arnaud Nourry (Chairman and CEO of Lagardere Publishing)

In Hall 8

Although we usually blog here about what goes on outside of Hall 8, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s English-language exhibition space, I actually spent the last several day in Hall 8. Separated from the rest of the exhibitors in terms of distance (allow 10 to 15 minutes to get from anywhere else on the fairgrounds to Hall 8), security (the only hall where bags are searched at the entrance), and atmosphere (we are all business all the time), it seems an appropriate place to put the Amis, Brits, Aussies, Canucks, Kiwis, etc. who publish in English. Our markets are huge and hard to break into.

I learned a great deal this year about the workings of Hall 8, most of which you experienced publishing people already know:

  • All the good stand receptions take place on Thursday night. It is rude not to drink a glass of wine at each reception, so be ready for an instant buzz and awesome networking opportunities.
  • If you exhibit in Hall 8, you should make friends with the people in Room 51. They have an endless supply of chocolate and information, and even if you do not already know them, they know a lot about you. I promise that this friendship will enhance your Frankfurt Book Fair experience.
  • The one person you should definitely know is Fred Kobrak. He is an honorary member of the Frankfurt Book Fair staff, and has been coming to the fair for 52 consecutive years. You can usually find him at the Information Stand in Hall 8. He knows more about the Frankfurt Book Fair and more people walking through the halls than most everyone else.
  • Chances are buzz books have already been acquired before the Fair. Rights directors and agents then come to the Fair in hopes of then selling foreign rights to their buzz books into as many other languages as possible.

Word in the Hall this year, as reported by the exhibitors who came to Room 51, was that the foot traffic was lighter this year, but that the business was good. Most of the appointments were kept (which is a real commitment after a long night at the Hof!), and the business that came from those appointments was encouraging. Exhibitors asked if the Fair expected any changes for 2009 as a result of the financial crisis. Judging from the number applications that have already been filed for 2009, the outlook is good. We also routinely hear from publishers that despite to cost of coming to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the cost of not coming would be even higher. Missing out on important deals and developments would be too great a loss.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The mess - and the Messe

Penguin Chairman John Makinson: a re-shaping of the infrastructure?

The global financial crisis is on everyone’s mind, and everyone has an opinion about the possible consequences. Penguin Chairman John Makinson, who noted that his stand was packed on the first day of Frankfurt, told me in the Messe: “I’m more concerned about potential credit issues than the short term effect on consumer spending. However, I think it’s inevitable that there will be some affect on consumer spending. We’re seeing evidence that people are buying books in a different way. They’re buying more in supermarkets. We’re seeing fewer discretionary trips to bookshops and malls. But people still need household essentials and while they’re in the supermarket, they may pick up a book as well.

“So we’ve seen a reduction in bookshop footfall on both sides of the Atlantic. The situation is actually very tough to read in the US because it’s the month before an election so it’s difficult to get non-fiction authors on to the morning shows which are, understandably, full of politics. So, in that sense, we expect business to be a little slower there.

“The real issue for us, strategically, is not just the credit crunch, but the affect of the continued growth in online purchasing, the increase in digital content, rather than printed content, and the increase in e-books. If you take all of those elements, and add the financial situation, then the question is: will there be a re-shaping of the industry infrastructure? I do wonder whether the merchandizing wholesaler model is any longer fit for purpose. We’ve had ABS, Thomas Cork, the problems at EUK. I do think we need to sit down with the supermarkets and the wholesalers and work out a better way of distributing the credit risk.”

At Hachette’s splendid opening party at the Hessischer Hof, Orion’s Malcolm Edwards noted that, despite the frightening reports almost everywhere, the financial meltdown did not seem to have affected figures yet. “I think ‘super Thursday’ really made a difference. If you look at the same week last year, although the figures were good for Palin and Richard Hammond [presenter of UK’s Top Gear TV programme] – 12,000 for the week or whatever – they are not as good as the figures for the same week this year where we were up around 17,000 for Julie Walters. So I do think the publicity for ‘super Thursday’ in the nationals made a difference.”

But there was a note of caution from former Borders’ CEO David Roche (below), out walking the aisles at his first Frankfurt and shortly due to finish his two-month tenure at

HarperCollins. “I think it may be OK now, but I think January is going to be particularly tough when the credit card bills come in.” It was ever thus, of course, although it seems that this time, it could be even more so.
One author who surely isn’t feeling the affects of the global credit crunch is Paulo Coelho (above). Indeed, the man who could be described as the mystic of the malls is perhaps someone to whom people turn for an answer at times like this.
Sales of 100m copies of his books were celebrated at a party at Frankfurt’s King Kamehameha Club at which he sang on stage with Gilberto Gil. He was also presented with a Guinness World Records certificate for being the most translated author of the same book. You know which one it is. He dedicated the party to his agent of 20 years standing, Monica Antunes, seen here with him at the party. Bestselling alchemy sums up this partnership.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair

The Show starts today. Just click this link to follow news and views direct from the Show.

Insularity? So who is he published by?

A couple of Nobel Prize observations. Following those allegations of American “insularity” made by one member of the Swedish Academy, isn’t it ironic that the only publishers who are currently publishing work in English by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio are American? Staff at the houses of the University of Nebraska Press, Curbstone Press in Jackson, Tennessee, and David R Godine in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, must have felt understandably aggrieved.

The second observation. In the UK, Cape, Penguin and Wildwood House have all published his work in the past. One assumes that the titles in question ‘failed’ commercially. Surely now a chance for someone like Christopher MacLehose, of Harvill fame (now running his own imprint at Quercus), to step forward. Or one of those newer houses like Hesperus, Alma Books or Arris Books?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Previewing What's for Sale at the Rights Center

The International Rights Center at the FBF is the closest one gets in the literary world to the old open pit stock market trading. The tables are tiny and here is where the real jive-and-hustle of the book biz takes place. Last year, John Freeman, compared it to “speed-dating,” which strikes me as apt.

While much will be made of the “big” deals being announced at Frankfurt, there are thousands of other transactions, the deals that lubricate the system and keeps information flowing across borders.

To get a sense of what some of the publishers and agents are bringing to Frankfurt this year, we corresponded with Teri Tobias, Foreign Rights Director of the Sanford J. Greenberger Agency. She generously provided Beyond Hall 8 with a preview of the titles she’ll be selling in at the FBF this year. (Take a look at them below).

And if you’re curious, Publishers Weekly in the US has compiled offerings from a wide variety of agents and publishers, including:

Agate Publishing
Counterpoint/ Soft Skull Press
The Dijkstra Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Grove/ Atlantic
Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
KT Literary
Mendel Media Group
MFA Publications
Simon & Schuster

Sterling Lord
Wylie Agency
A.P. Watt

A sampling of what Sanford J. Greenberger has on offer this year:

NYT bestselling author Daniel Amen's newest title MAGNIFICENT MIND AT ANY AGE. This book will help you develop your brain to be more successful in all areas of your life, including work and relationships, and will help you to achieve your greatest potential for accomplishment, connection and happiness. Rights have been sold to Piatkus Book in the UK.

Also, NINE KINDS OF NAKED by Tony Vigorito, which Harvest Books publishes next month. In the tradition of Tom Robbins and Christopher Moore, Tony Vigorito turns his visionary gaze to the wonder of synchronicity and the mystery of cause and effect. His previous title JUST A COUPLE OF DAYS sold to Editions Gallmeister in France, Opus in Israel, Barbera in Italy, Grüner and Jahr in Poland, Via Magna in Spain and Pegasus in Turkey.

Also, PHILANTHROCAPITALISM by Matthew Bishop & Michael Green just published by Bloomsbury. This is a global trend book that is an inside look at how today's leading philanthropists are revolutionizing the field, using new methods to have a vastly greater impact on the world. Korean rights have sold to Sejong Books and Taiwanese rights to China Times.

Also, HOW TO LOVE LIKE A HOT CHICK by Jodi Lipper and Cerina Vincent, which Collins will publish in January. Whether you are single, dating, married, in a relationship, this book shows women how to be the sexy, fabulous woman she deserves to be. This is their sequel to the fabulous debut HOW TO EAT LIKE A HOT CHICK, which sold to Norma in Spain, Campus in Brazil, and Goldmann in Germany.

Also, ANGELS IN MY HAIR by Lorna Byrne, which Doubleday will publish next March. It is the autobiography of a modern-day mystic, an Irish woman with powers of the saints of old. Rights have sold to Arkana in Germany, Norma in Spain, and Acorn in Taiwan.

Finally, Brad Thor's #1 NYT debut, THE LAST PATRIOT published by Atria and forthcoming from S&S UK and Australia; sales have been closed in Brazil, Bulgaria, Thailand, and in negotiation elsewhere; and Carolly Erickson's THE TSARINA'S DAUGHTER, a dramatic and romantic novel about the last Russian Imperial Family due this month from SMP.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Edward Gorey on book parties

"The night before returning home to Mortshire Mr Earbrass allows himself to be taken to a literary dinner in a private dining room of Le Trottoir Imbecile.

"Among his fellow-authors, few of whom he recognizes and none of whom he knows, are Lawk, Sangwidge, Ha'p'orth, Avuncular, and Lord Legbail. The unwell-looking gentleman wrapped in a greatcoat is an obscure essayist named Frowst.

"The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others' declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of literary life."


Update: Controversial Novelist Stays Home

Frankfurters won't have the opportunity of meeting Sherry Jones, the author of The Jewel of Medina, the controversial novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. (You can read details the book and ensuing controversy here.) She was expected to attend the Fair to help launch the publication of her novel in Europe on the 15th. Since the firebombing of her UK publisher's home earlier in the month, the UK pub has been postponed indefinitely, while the US pub was pushed to this week.
"This is nothing to do with threats or fear,” US publisher Eric Kampmann said, "We want Sherry here to promote her book, not in Germany talking about terrorism.”

In September 28 profile on this blog, said that he didn’t fear violence in reaction to the book in US.

“In Europe, they have far more problems with radical Islamic violence than we do here in the United States,” said Kampmann, “There are a half-dozen European publishers putting out the book and if they don’t have a problem with it, I don’t.”
What do you think the reaction in continental Europe will be?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No Nobel?! Why It Doesn't Matter to the Americans

One of the most prized possessions is a twenty volume edition of “The Nobel Prize Library.” Published by Grolier in 1970, the set is bound in blue leather with gold leaf bindings. The set it gorgeous to look at, a real showpiece.

Reading it…well, that is another matter.

The Nobel Prize Library ends in 1970 and the last author covered by the library – which offered the writer’s acceptance speech, a sampling of their work, and a critical essay – was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One realizes that so many of the writers collected here, despite their having won the Nobel, remain forgotten or in obscurity. For every Samuel Beckett, Thomas Mann or Ernest Hemingway, there is a Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967), Roger Martin du Gard (France, 1937), and Giorgos Seferis (Greece, 1963).

When last week, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, made it clear that those in charge of awarding the prize don’t look favorably upon the US candidates a lot of people in the US literary community got hot and bothered.

If you missed it, Engdahl, told the Associated Press that American writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” and the “US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” adding “That ignorance is restraining." (Ignorance…really?)

He pulled back a bit when he added, “Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures,” he said “but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world ... not the United States.”

Now, all I’ll say about that is that Europeans tend to mistake America and American culture for a monolith. The U.S. is comprised of 300 million people, some 35 million of whom were born abroad. In New York City, 40% of the population was born overseas. Our culture is vast, deep, and rich and to a large extent reflects the culture of the globe as a whole. If you think our writers don’t reflect that in their work, then as our head of the National Book Foundation recently suggested, allow me send you a reading list.

No, sadly it seems unlikely that Updike, Roth, Oates, Pynchon, or DeLillo will get the prize. It would seem the streak of anti-Americanism running through the literary committee of the Academy is too strong to be overcome – especially while the US remains mired in contentious, unfortunate war in Iraq.

Does it matter? Not really. Each of those aforementioned writers has earned their reputation – one that is likely to last well beyond memories of the novel.

So I say, let them join the pantheon of great non-winners of the Nobel Prize, which already includes names like Tolstoy, Proust and Nabokov.

He who is still read wins in the end.