Table of Contents
- What’s B&N’s Best Way Forward?
- KindleWorldly Viewpoints
- Hail to Bird & Building
- Shatzkin on a Roll, Royalties on the Rack
- Book Cover Bingo: If You Change It, Will They Come?
- Not Lost in Translation Here: Listen Up
- Last Gas: Your Family, Your Book, and the Sex in It
Investors were expecting a bad earnings report from Barnes & Noble…and they definitely got it: Barnes & Noble’s Nook business lost a lot of money, dragging down the entire company’s results. In response, Barnes & Noble said it will stop manufacturing Nook tablets in-house, though it will keep developing its e-ink readers.
Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent laid it out in fast, quick strokes. In As sales plunge, Barnes & Noble says it will stop making Nook tablets; e-readers live on, she hit the revenues in the B&N fiscal year’s fourth quarter (down 7.4 percent compared to this time last year) and on the full fiscal year—”down 4.1 percent to $6.8 billion, with net losses of $154.8 million, or $2.97 per share, compared to $65.6 million the previous year.”
Not unexpected. Still ghastly.
Nook lost a ton of money: Nook revenues were down 34 percent to $108 million for the quarter, compared to $168 million this time last year. For the full year, Nook revenues declined by 16.8 percent to $776 million, compared to $933 million the previous year.
And while the gadgetry question—the Nook and its tablet siblings—naturally pulled a lot of attention, especially amid fire-sale pricing on existing inventory, a couple of responses to wider questions about B&N came to light. Here’s one:
I walked around the recent Book Expo (Print Book?) Show feeling like Rip Van Winkle passing through an industry that continues to operate in the same ways as 125 years ago, and just smiled and winked at the many ghosts passing down the aisles. But this news…from Barnes & Noble brings me back to my chief concern for the future of print book publishing, and especially the authors to be impacted, which is their announced ongoing poor retail store performance.
You see it is all a house of cards and I lived through this during the decline of print photography and see so many parallels I would feel remiss for not sharing them even if they fall upon denying ears.
In one of three perceptive parallels he draws between print retail and experience with Konica, Polaroid, and Kodak, he mentions the downside he sees in these B&N developments for the Big Five, which “have built publishing models scales on these superstore retail volumes.”
Visit a B&N while you still can? Ok, don’t. http://t.co/Fu2N1jcewT
— Robert Weisberg (@beyondDTP) June 26, 2013
“And if I were B&N?” he asks:
I would be working hard and fast on a new store-within-store branded retail concept to go into supermarkets and mass merchants while the brand still has value. A combination of bestsellers and print-on-demand from a new wave of cheaper faster machines. This is what Fuji did in the photo business to stay afloat. Today, their self-service photo stations are everywhere from Walmart to Walgreens to Kroger.
It’s an interesting read, refreshingly informed from longtime experience in something other than publishing.
And for another, even higher-level view, here’s Bookigee’s Kristen McLean, writing an entry in Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog series, What the Barnes & Noble news is really telling us about the future of digital content.
Most people in one way or another are asking if the nation’s only remaining bricks & mortar chain bookseller is going to be around in five years.
Yes, we are asking that. What McLean is in a mind to do, however, is step out of the store, as it were, and try to look down the road. She sees…questions:
Is B&N really the counterbalance to Amazon as was suggested when Microsoft took a stake in Nook? What is the technology lifespan of stand-alone readers as a category generally? Is this a transitional technology? (I think it is.) Finally, when we expand our perspective to the global marketplace, what does the explosive growth of mobile mean for the future of publishing? Are we prepared?
If we’re heading into a mobile app-driven world, and away from discovery via publishing establishments like B&N, what is the game-plan?
Her write is worth a look and some thought.
As for me, I believe B&N will be here five years from now because they’ve got some smart management, but they won’t look the same. I also believe the market share for every book retail channel will be radically retooled in a similar way. This is the wakeup call B&N’s news is delivering to us this week.
Not defending Paula Deen but there are lots of idiotic statements that celebrity authors have made. Most get a pass. — Don Linn (@DonLinn) June 29, 2013
Anybody pulling Alec Baldwin’s book? 30 Rock DVD’s? How about his endorsements? — Don Linn (@DonLinn) June 29, 2013
In general, our strong bias is to give writers as much creative freedom as is appropriate to each World. The people who understand that appropriateness best are the original rights holders—we’re calling them World Licensors—who will know what their audience expects and wants and how far the bounds can be pushed.
That’s Philip Patrick, who leads business development for Amazon Publishing’s Kindle Worlds, in a helpful and engaging conversation with Barry Eisler. Q&A With Philip Patrick, Head of Kindle Worlds appears on Eisler’s site, the author being one of the newly announced licensees in Kindle Worlds’ new fan-fiction effort. And that’s what makes this such a useful discussion: Eisler’s questions and points are those of a participating author. His John Rain books are the part of his work now licensed by the program, and he occasionally engages here as a happy but decidedly interested party. For example, he pushes Patrick on the question of how Amazon Publishing will handle considerations about what’s appropriate and what isn’t to a given World when fan-fiction writers roll in with their entries:
I noticed that among your content guidelines you say you don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts. Now, obviously there’s a lot of subjectivity at work here, though Woody Allen might have offered some helpful guidelines when he suggested, “Erotica is using a feather; pornography is using the whole chicken.”
He presses his point:
How can participants in the program know what’s going to offend what I’m sure will become known as the Amazon Censors? And why did you decide to include a provision that you must have known so many people, not least erotica writers, will find troublesome? Are you not worried that, in the service of preventing offense, you might in fact be causing it?
And Patrick takes the most reasonable line in response:
Our message to writers is pretty straightforward—follow any World’s guidelines and we will publish your story. And if something falls into a gray area, there’s always room for dialogue. We’ll talk to World Licensors as we review stories and we also will communicate back and forth with a writer if we have any questions.
Meanwhile, Silo Saga author Hugh Howey, like Eisler a licensee in the program, has announced that fan-fiction writer Fredric Shernoff’s novella Angels of the Earth is the first Kindle Worlds offering out of the gate.
And Jason Gurley is at Medium with a feature on a group of Howey fans who write their own fiction as a collective calling themselves the Woolwrights. As one of them says in Meet the Woolwrights, “There’s more fan fiction than actual Wool. How great is that?” That one is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Some authors may not be as welcoming as Eisler and Howey are to fan fiction and Kindle Worlds. Some folks, predictably, are having none of the Amazon program, including Anna von Veh, whose Kindle Worlds: Bringing Fanfiction Into Line But Not Online? here at Publishing Perspectives is a threefold study in skepticism. Back to Table of Contents
Merger Monday, of course, brought us loud hosannas and ring-kissings for the coming together, at last, of the Big Five’s Penguin Random House and executive seating assignments. Few in the throne room of public comment seemed to feel they could say anything but that they’ve always loved sharp beaks and pitched roofing.
But Jonathan Lloyd of London’s Curtis Brown did bring up that dreaded topic of ebook royalties in a comment recorded by The Bookseller in Trade reacts to Penguin Random news. While praising Caesar, of course, and with some especially kind words for Gail Rebuck, Lloyd gets a bit more into the mix, the report adding:
What particularly concerned him [Lloyd] was that Penguin Random House’s muscle should be directed at improving author earnings, he said: “It could take a lead in the industry by recognising royalties for e-books are iniquitous and not fair, and they should give a proper escalating royalty as they do for print books.”
Let’s do a bit more on that topic in the next section. Back to Table of Contents
What should actually happen is that print royalties for sales online should not be reduced, but print royalties for sales made in stores probably should be (reflecting value and reflecting supply and demand). And it would make sense for a publisher to make that change at the same time that they increase the ebook royalty rate on new contracts.
In last week’s Ether for Authors, we covered Mike Shatzkin’s strong piece on what he terms “Anybody Press” and the run it’s making for everybody’s money. In it, he sees entrepreneurial authors and “indie entities” becoming “disruptive on a larger scale than indie authors have been so far. So we might have Any Organization Press growing even faster in the next few years than Anybody Press has for the past few.” Shatzkin has followed with a robust pickup on the ebook royalties issue we’d touched on last week, as well. As usual, the comments on Mike’s prose and his responses over at Idealog.com are a fine addendum to his column. His new piece is Publisher margins today may be enviable, but it will be a big challenge to keep them that way. And the quote I’ve opened the section with here is part of his answer to a question in the comments. I bring it to you because it presents the logic of tying royalties on print sales to means-of-sale. Shatzkin notes:
As print placement at retail gets harder and harder to get, the publisher’s power to get it becomes more valuable.
This is something we’ve already seen, of course, in the interest of many entrepreneurial authors in print-only contracts that could get them into physical stores.
The distinction Shatzkin is recommending as a consideration in print royalties would recognize that higher rate of value that lies in the traditional publishers’ ability to distribute to bricks and mortar. In an online setting, this capacity doesn’t figure. Offline, on terra firma (to whatever degree it’s firma — see our Barnes & Noble section), the publisher will have provided a sharply delineated capability that may well warrant a higher royalty rate. What do you think? While mulling that, don’t let me cause you to skip the article for the comments. Head back up to Shatzkin’s main post, where you’ll find one of the most candid explanations you’ll find of how “big authors” are being paid by the majors these days. I find that many in the industry! the industry! know this. But many authors, especially those among the outlying entrepreneurial camp, haven’t yet learned how things are working.
So stay with me here, I want to give you a sizable snippet without my own interruptions, so you can get this insight intact. He starts with the HarperCollins/News Corp ebook-economics model simplified into a presentation slide for investors. Written about by several of us, including Michael Cader, Brian DeFiore, Nick Harkaway, the Authors Guild and me, this is the slide that indicates a higher profitability in some circumstances for ebooks than print, partly in reflection of lower royalty rates for authors. Shatzkin then writes:
So the authors working on the contractual rates make less per unit on the ebooks than they do on hardcovers and the publishers make more. The joker in that last sentence is “working on the contractual rates.” The biggest authors don’t, and that’s how this situation has been allowed to happen. The savviest agents for the biggest authors don’t negotiate contracts in the same way the rest of the world does. They figure out in concert with the publisher how many copies they think the book should sell (big authors with long track records are somewhat more predictable than the rest of the universe, which is one more reason their books are so desirable to the publishers) and get an advance that is equal to a startlingly high percentage of the revenue that sales level would produce. The advance is not expected to earn out (and, believe me, with advances calculated this way, they almost never do). That means the royalty rates are irrelevant. So they can have their star authors sign the boilerplate contract, permitting the publisher to say — almost truthfully — that they don’t pay more than 15% of cover price royalty on print or more than 25% of net royalty on ebooks (among other things).
With that under your belt, some of the remainder of Shatzkin’s piece fall into place with a smart click. For example:
Putting books on shelves is the publisher’s primary value proposition; as the need for that declines in importance, so do they. The bigger margins of the current environment will be extremely difficult to maintain. Agents for the big authors will be looking for an even higher percentage of the projected revenue as it shifts to digital. Since advances from publishers for other-than-the-biggest titles are also declining, those next-tier authors will find self-publishing or publishing with smaller houses that pay lower advances but higher ebook royalties an increasingly tempting alternative.
In short, the digital dynamic is doing its work. Shatzkin notes the apparent battle between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster for in-store margin. Shatzkin:
Authors will be tempted to try something other than the old-style deal in direct proportion to two factors: how much the sales move online and how effective they can be at getting the word out on their books on their own digital backs…the most desirable authors below the very top tier will become the hardest to retain.
And he offers one approach for you to chew on. See what you think:
I’ve felt for a long time that what authors (agents) should work toward is a fixed amount-per-copy-sold as an ebook royalty and just get out of the percentages business on ebooks, which, as we know, can have their prices change on a frequent basis. I know that would be resisted by the publishers, but it makes a lot of sense.
Wombats: located, visited, stared at. I HAVE NO FURTHER COMMENT REGARDING THEIR CURRENT LOCATION. — Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) July 1, 2013
The original cover wasn’t designed with a series in mind. For books 2, 3 et al I could have varied the background colour and the wording, but the difference would have been practically invisible on a black and white ereader. And see my previous remarks about dullness. Dull, dull, dull.
This tied me in a few creative knots when I designed the characters book [a second Nail Your Novel book in what has become a series]. It had to look like it evolved from NYN original, and allow for distinctive variations with further books. And then – something that nobody knew but me – the characters book and its cousins also had to fit retroactively with the updated design.
And on the way to her own new cover, Morris checked in with several other authors who had made changes in their own covers.
For example, there’s Athens-based Australian author Jessica Bell, who tells Morris that she actually has changed the cover design for her book String Bridge more than once.
The first time was because my publisher closed and I had to put the book back on the market myself. The second, because it didn’t seem to attract attention, so I decided to go for a more commercial look.
Did a change in cover help with sales? Bell:
The latest new cover did. The difference was phenomenal. The first free KDP promo I did with the second cover resulted in 2000 downloads. The second, with the latest cover, resulted in over 20,000 downloads. The latest cover is obviously more attractive to the mass consumer.
Bell’s advice to other authors thinking about a change:
Look at the covers of what’s hot on Amazon in the same genre as your book, and try to replicate the feel.
Author Linda Gillard found that readers of her Untying the Knot were the ones who didn’t care for her bride-makes-a-break-f0r-it cover.
It had a Marmite cover – people loved it or hated it – but most of the feedback was negative, especially from people who’d read the book. They didn’t think it represented the tone or content. Untying The Knot looks at the destructive effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on a marriage, but there are elements of rom-com mixed in with the drama. It was difficult to come up with an image to suggest all that.
Even with strong reviews, she tells Morris, the book wasn’t selling as well as some of her others.
My original cover was a surreal image of a bride fleeing with a suitcase across a rural landscape but readers thought it suggested chick lit. I realised you need to make sure the cover of a mixed-genre book doesn’t give out a mixed message. That confuses readers and doesn’t work in that crucial thumbnail in ebook stores.
Her new cover, she says, has been out too short a time for her to know if it’s going to give the book a boost.
But the feedback on Facebook suggests people think the new cover is more suitable and more appealing.
Is there such a thing as a begrudged raising of the eyebrows?
Publishing Perspectives Editor-in-Chief Edward Nawotka’s discussion piece, Which is the US’s Most Prolific Literary Translation House? generated some surprise among the Seattle-smiting set. With the success of Oliver Pötzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series in translation by Lee Chadeayne as its current marquee attraction, the AmazonCrossing imprint, Nawotka wrote, “published more works of fiction and poetry in translation than any other press except for Dalkey Archive, and is the largest publisher of literature in translation so far this year.” While I’m not sure that Luxembourgish is one of the languages so far championed by AmazonCrossing, German certainly is. Nawotka takes note that the publisher is creating not only German-to-English work but also is beginning to translate some material into German.
The only thing worse than a deadline for a writer, is no deadline for a writer. — Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) July 1, 2013
Courtesy of the Bezosian Beelzebub, then, we seem again to have run into good things coming from despised quarters. Eyebrows reluctantly levitate before regrouping in we-still-hate-their-guts scowls—and a dash home to order a little something online.
And Chad W. Post’s original report—Why Bury the Lede? AmazonCrossing Publishes More Books in Translation than Anyone Else (In 2013. Probably.)—from which Nawotka draws his good write, has a few pointed comments in a footnote worth raising along with those eyebrows. Post writes:
This situation plays right into Amazon’s rhetoric about serving customers. The traditional line on indie bookstores is that they make these sorts of books—obscure translations, literary books not found at the chain stores, bookseller cult classics, etc.—available to readers everywhere. But as much as I love bookstores, outside of the top 100 or so, this is a fallacious claim. They don’t want to carry most anything that’s not by Stephanie “Fifty Shades” Rowling. And in this instance, a few dozen translated books a year aren’t being made available to their customers.
Post gets even more pointed, in describing the catholic (small c) breadth of the Amazonian offer.
Those readers who are interested in, say, Icelandic literature have to go to Amazon to buy Hellgrimur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning or Bergsveinn Birgisson’s Reply to a Letter from Helga [translation by Philip Roughton].
So here we have a demonstration of how things can be skewed by various suppositions and, shall we say, certain volume levels of reproach.
— Nancy Quinn (@nancyquinn) June 26, 2013
One might be forgiven for assuming that the lovely, friendly, warm, personable independent bookstore just down the lane would be the embattled translation market’s best friend, daily and bravely bucking commercial pressures to hand-sell you the outlandish gems of far-flung genius we all crave when we call ourselves “readers.”
But that idea may need revision. Because the man who maintains the Translation Database is telling you this:
[Amazon is] serving a set of subset of readers that the independent stores (and B&N) are categorically ignoring. Sure, we’re talking about a subset of readers here, but for PR purposes, that doesn’t matter as much as the message itself: You can get everything from Amazon, or you can shop the prejudice laden, restrictive collection of books that Indie Store X has made available.
— Bromberg (@BrombergMI) June 26, 2013
If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion.
July 8 London Southbank: The Bookseller Design Conference: “Great design is a collaborative effort. The conference will focus on effective use of design across every element of the book business. We’ll explore ways in which we can all be braver, have more fun and escape the trap of the copycat cover into which we are all forced far too regularly.” List of speakers.
July 9 London Southbank: The Bookseller Marketing & Publicity Conference: “The Bookseller Marketing & Publicity Conference launches as a full-day event (Tuesday 9th July 2013 at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre), for the first time. The programme will reflect that the lines between publicity and marketing are blurring. The aim of the conference is to provide inspiration and practical tips to drive sales and reader engagement. We’ll be bringing marketing, publicity and brand leaders from outside the industry to give us some time to look up from our books and understand the wider trends.” List of speakers.
July 14-19 New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Magazine & Digital Publishing: “The Yale Publishing Course is designed for mid- to senior-level professionals from all over the world. Our mission is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be more effective leaders and advance their careers.” List of speakers and topics.
July 21-26 New Haven (Greenberg Conference Center): Yale Publishing Course – Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing: “The program provides a mixture of overviews of the current and future state of the industry and in-depth explorations of specific topics in editorial content, design, marketing, circulation, advertising, finance, and management. The carefully-selected industry experts and distinguished faculty from the Yale School of Management present real-world business models and case studies from both large and small publishers.” List of speakers and topics (including Publishing Perspectives’ Ed Nawotka, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah, and Craig Mod).
July 25-28 Seattle: Pacific Northwest Writers Association: “This annual summer conference is an opportunity for writers of all levels to meet other writers, attend sessions focused on different aspects of the craft, and pitch your ideas to agents and editors. Sessions led by industry experts are crafted to address many aspects of the publishing industry. From keeping track of your expenses to crafting the perfect pitch, sessions give you a chance to interact with experts and ask questions in a friendly and open environment.” Speakers include Donald Maass, Debbie Macomber.
September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. ThePublishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin).
September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers’ list now is online. Note there’s a one-day self-publishing conference included in the plan. Early bird rates offer $50 off until July 19.
October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.
November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available.
February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops. An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents. And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”
— fcmalby (@fcmalby) July 1, 2013
And your parents! Oh, God, your parents are kvelling. The Amazon page is up. They’ve pre-ordered 30 copies and invited both the family Rabbi and Great Aunt Ida to the launch. Their daughter, the poet, has finally written something their friends will actually read!
“So, there’s this little scene on page 45,” you stammer.
Your father says he knows the owner of a local TV station.
“You know, the book may not be for everyone.”
He smiles, hard and bright.
“We’ve scheduled a small party for you at the club.”
Ever notice how the last thing friends and family seem to expect is that your work may not reflect the public you?
People will take umbrage at things you never even imagined could be offensive. Your agent will quietly bristle at the way you describe the inner workings of the publishing world. Your neighbor will take offense at the ugly living room furniture you describe, recognizing it – correctly or incorrectly – as her own. Your sister will assume that all the emotional dysfunction you’ve heaped on the fictional sister in your book is your way of getting back at her for being the free-loader in the family.
Your husband may want a divorce.
Not that the author has done anything wrong.
Fiction liberates us to be NOT who-we-are. Or to be who we might be if only our hair was red or our mother was an opera star or the chickens were dying of swollen head syndrome…In other words, fiction invites us to step away from our earthbound selves and take flight – in the bedroom or on the soccer field or at the top of the Empire State Building.
And Triedman’s book, The Other Room, comes out in October.
Still time to prep them.
— The Slice (@TheSliceTweets) June 29, 2013
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.
Main image / iStockphoto: SilkWayRain