Archive for the ‘Publishing Business’ Category

Amazon “Reimagines” Best Seller Lists

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Amazon announced today that it has launched a “reimagined weekly bestseller list,” which they claim, unlike any of the many lists already available, is “A Bestseller List for What People are Really Reading and Buying.” They don’t point out that it is also unique in that it tracks only the books that people buy through Amazon.

There are two Amazon Charts, each divided between fiction and nonfiction. “Most Sold” tracks the top 20 books “sold and pre-ordered through, and Amazon Books stores and books borrowed from Amazon’s subscription programs such as Kindle Unlimited,, and Prime Reading.” A separate list, “Most Read,” claims to reveal which titles people actually read by tracking the “average number of daily Kindle readers and daily Audible listeners each week.” In Big Brother fashion, Amazon can also track Kindle titles according “to how quickly customers read a book from cover to cover,” noting which are literally “unputdownable.”

The goal, they say, is to help customers “discover their next great read,” but a look at the actual lists reveals that they offer precious little “discovery.” The majority of the 20 titles on each list are already fixtures on other best seller lists. The rest are published by Amazon’s own imprints (e.g., Lake Union Publishing, Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance) or are digital editions available on Kindle (e.g., four titles in the Harry Potter series published by Pottermore). And since Kindle sales and readership are included, the lists can be influenced by special promotions, such as those from Amazon itself and from BookBub.

More useful, as an early indicator of titles grabbing public interest, is the Amazon’s Movers and Shakers list, updated hourly.

A “Cheerleader for Literature”

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

The new Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, Lisa Lucas has worked tirelessly, as she told PW last year, to “get the media to pay more attention to books.”

Profiled on today’s CBS This Morning, she spoke about the mission of the National Book Foundation to expand reading and her dream to make the foundation’s National Book Awards as eagerly anticipated as the Oscars or the Emmys.

Nan Talese Profiled

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

UntitledDespite its headline, the story “How Nan Talese Blazed Her Pioneering Path through the Publishing Boys’ Club,” in the new issue of Vanity Fair, is as much about her marriage to the author Gay Talese, as it is about her career (the cover line, left, indicates the article’s true slant) and it gives little insight into how she became one of the first women in publishing to run an imprint that bears her own name, Nan A. Talese.

Still, it includes some great bits of publishing lore, like the time Talese stood up to her boss, the tyrannical Dick Snyder, head of S&S at the time (notably, that company is now run by a woman, CEO Carolyn Reidy) and insisted on publishing Schindler’s List.

She also fought off Ernest Hemingway’s widow who went to court to demand changes to a book she edited early in her career, A.E. Hotchner’s Papa Hemingway. As the author remarks admiringly, “Nan just stood there the whole time with her battle garments on and fought them off.”

It’s no surprise that the story focuses on the marriage. Many have found that subject intriguing, even Gay Talese himself, who is currently working on a book about it. The story ends with a typically Nan Talese response to a question about whether that worries her. “She smiles sweetly and [says] …’He doesn’t know anything about marriage, so I’m not concerned.'”

What Do Book Editors Do?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

In a year end review of big stories, the buzz around the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and the revelations that it was an earlier version of what became the heavily revised and strongly edited To Kill a Mockingbird offers NPR’s All Things Considered a chance to ask “What Exactly Does an Editor Do?”

Reporter Lynn Neary took up that question with the help of author A. Scott Berg and vice president and editorial director of Riverhead Books, Rebecca Saletan.

9780425223376Berg, who nearly two decades ago wrote the award-winning biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (he edited several geniuses, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe), says that Perkins re-created the job of editor:

“Not only did he change the course of the American literary river, but he changed what editors do by becoming their best friends, their money lenders, their marriage counselors, their psychoanalysts … And along the way he began offering them titles. He often provided structure for what their novels ought to be. He often gave them whole ideas for what their next book should be.”

Today, given the demands on their time and the expansive duties of their jobs, editors are less intimately involved but have not stopped editing says Saletan:

“Now, with online media and other aspects of modern life there’s a ton to do and it takes a lot of time and we have to work very, very hard to get our books above the tree line … I always cringe a little and feel a little sympathetic for the editor when a review says, ‘This wasn’t well-edited.’ Because it’s very hard for anybody outside the process to know what went into it.”

For those who want to harken back to the earlier days, Berg’s book on Perkins is making its way to the silver screen under the title Genius (see our earlier story), scheduled for release in July. It’s likely to be a glorified version, however, with Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe, Dominic West as Hemingway, and Guy Pearce as Fitzgerald. The website Thompson on Hollywood provides a photo from the filming.

Busman’s Holiday: The History of Blurbs

Monday, September 28th, 2015

For those who like insider details on the publishing industry,’s Arts & Life section has a story on the history of blurbs.

The first-ever blurb was given by Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman – without Emerson’s direct consent.

Emerson had written a glowing letter to the as yet well-known poet and Whitman, ever the PR expert, encouraged The New York Tribune to publish it in full.

Emerson’s opening line was so wonderful Whitman even had it printed in gold leaf on the spine of Leaves of Grass.

The quote? “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”

By NPR associate producer Colin Dwyer, the story goes on to share authors’ and booksellers’ take on blurbs (conflicted) and to explain where the term came from (a character in 1907 book).

Ebooks: Just Another Format

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

The New York Times declares today that the storm and drang over ebooks is now over. Sales have dropped, bookstores are thriving on print sales and ebooks, once expected to dominate the market in 2015, have settled down to being just another format, representing about 20% of the market.

Among the many reasons that ebooks have not taken over is one that may be key, they are not significantly cheaper, as a result of bloody battles between publishers and Amazon. Says the NYT, “As publishers renegotiated new terms with Amazon in the past year and demanded the ability to set their own e-book prices, many have started charging more. With little difference in price between a $13 e-book and a paperback, some consumers may be opting for the print version.”

The NYT admits that we may not be seeing the full picture, “The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.”

It may be too early to say what the ultimate impact of ebooks will be. The story ends by quoting Carolyn Reidy, CEO of S&S, who says this could just be a pause in ebook sales and we don’t yet know the reading preferences of next generation.

In case you’re wondering, the article doesn’t say anything about libraries.

Diminishing Book Coverage

Friday, September 5th, 2014

cbf1b1a89bd7289b824adb27388bc12c_400x400Just as we welcomed USA Today‘s annual fall books forecast, with Bob Minzesheimer’s roundup of bookseller predictions of which ones will be hits, we learned that, after 17 years on the newspaper’s book beat, Minzesheimer is one of the victims of a new round of layoffs. This follows on the heels of the loss last year of Deirdre Donahue and Carol Memmot to early retirement packages.

At that time, USA Today made the following statement to Publishers Weekly;

“While we’re sorry to lose Deirdre and Carol, USA Today‘s commitment to books coverage remains unwavering. Later this year we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of our famous book list with a host of new coverage, both print and online. Books editor Jocelyn McClurg and reviewer Bob Minzesheimer remain committed to books coverage and, with senior editors, will be actively recruiting new book reviews both inside the staff and outside.”

Bob tweeted the following yesterday:

On day my kids begin high school, I’m among 25 staffers laid off at USA Today. I’ll keep reading & writing. New

Follow him on Twitter: @bookbobminz

As a form of protest, click as many times as you can on Bob’s Booksellers pick potential hits for fall

Amazon’s Appeal To Authors

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Sticker from The Colbert Report web site

Sticker from The Colbert Report web site

Amazon must be feeling the heat.

After Stephen Colbert and Sherman Alexie called the company out for strong-arming publisher Hachette in negotiations over terms, Amazon was uncharacteristically quiet.

Over the weekend, Amazon made its own appeal to authors, saying it was “thinking of proposing” that, for the duration of the negotiations, authors published by Hachette get to keep all of the revenue from their digital-book sales (see Amazon’s letter to authors and agents here), with both Amazon and Hachette giving up their percentages.

As word got out, Hachette issued a statement, rejecting the idea, saying it would be “suicidal.”

Amazon responded, “We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.’ They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.”

The story is being covered widely. Shelf Awareness, the daily newsletter for booksellers, characterized Amazon’s move as being ” a bit like a mugger wanting praise for donating stolen goods to a charity.

New York Times — Amazon Angles to Attract Hachette’s Authors to Its Side

Washington Post — Amazon makes an offer to Hachette authors — this article takes an interesting look at the stats, which indicate that Hachette would have much more to lose by giving up revenue from their author’s ebooks than Amazon — “According to Hachette’s Web site, the publisher makes approximately 33 percent of its sales from e-books; the New York Times reported that around 60 percent of that business comes through Amazon. A New Yorker report in February estimated that 7 percent of Amazon’s revenues come from books.”

Wall Street Journal — Amazon Dangles E-Book Offer Amid Hachette Dispute

New York PostAmazon bows to author pressure in e-dispute

PEOPLE Reviews Disappearing?

Friday, June 6th, 2014
Books now subsumed into "People Picks"

Books now subsumed into “People Picks”

When opening the new issue of People magazine, you may wonder where the Books section is.

Unfortunately, along with the other reviews sections, it is gone. Books, movies, TV and music will now be combined in an upfront section, “People Picks,” where they will also have new competition from apps, games, viral video and other entertainment.

In the inaugural “Picks” section, books appear towards the end (ahead of the DVD of the HBO series, True Detective and the streaming musical, Side Effects), with just three new hardcovers, all of them by well-known authors — Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, and Lisa See’s China Dolls — as well as three paperback reprints, also from big names.

The last issue with a Book section

The last issue with a Book section

This is the first major change to the magazine under the new Editorial Director, Jess Cagle who took over in January. It seems his predecessor, Larry Hackett, had considered making changes to the sections, but kept them to support upfront fractional advertising pages.

The book business has had to suffer the diminishing, or closing, of many book review sections. Given People magazine’s extensive reach, this may be the worst blow of them all.

Colbert Gives Amazon the Finger

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

When Amazon began their fight with publisher Hachette, they may not have taken into account the fact that Stephen Colbert is published by Hachette.

Colbert explains the situation below and shows Bezos what he thinks of it.

Colbert brings on “fellow Amazon victim,” Sherman Alexie, who is also published by Hachette.

Since debut authors are most at risk from Amazon’s tactics, Alexie helps one of them by recommending viewers pre-order California, by Edan Lapucki, (Hachette/Little, Brown, July 8; audio from Dreamscape) via Powells.


The book has appeared earlier on summer reading lists, including the Pittsburgh Post Gazette‘s, with the following recommendation,

When the American economy collapses and anarchy reigns in the land, a couple from Los Angeles head for the hills where they have to forage for food and improvise shelter. They are quickly confronted by stark choices and must figure out whether reconnecting with other survivors would be worth the aggravation that comes with being a part of civilization.

The New PRH Logo

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Just debuted, the new Penguin Random House corporate logo, clearly crated to work easily with the combined company’s many other logos. The press release notes that the individual imprint logos do not have to be paired with the new corporate logo (a good thing for book spines). Neither corporate parent is included (Bertelsmann controls 53% of the company and Pearson 47%).

The following video demonstrates its usage.

Amazon vs. Hachette

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Amazon logohachette-320x134

Hachette and Amazon are involved in a fight over sales terms, to the detriment of writers, says the NYT’s tech reporter David Streitfeld in not just one, but two articles published at the end of last week (Streitfeld doesn’t appear to have a personal interest in this; he is one of the few NYT reporters that hasn’t published a book).

Streitfeld says Amazon is in a “secret campaign to discourage customers from buying books by Hachette,” by cutting discounts on some of the publisher’s titles, increasing delivery times, as well as “suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author” (we’re not sure what that means; Amazon routinely lists titles that “customers who bought this also bought”). This is presumably in retaliation for Hachette balking at new demands as part of their contract renewal (neither side admits to that), which is nothing new. As Publishers Weekly says, this seems to have become “a rite of spring.”

Unfortunately, as Forbes Magazine points out squeezing suppliers is business as usual in all areas of retailing  (WalMart has turned it into a fine art). In fact, Forbes views Amazon’s moves as “small-ball tactics” that are actually a show of weakness, because “both Hachette and Amazon know that Amazon can’t afford to pull Hachette from its shelves.”

As of today, although the NYT has published two stories on the dispute, The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, however, has not  (although they did one on Amazon expanding Sunday deliveries to 15 more cities). UPDATE:  The Washington Post covers the story on Wednesday, May 14, noting that Hachette may be forced to “relent on the price at which it sells books to Amazon, squeezing its slim profit margins even further” and that, as Amazon’s market share increases, “if there’s no real choice of where to buy things, maybe there should be some other way to retain pricing power for those who produce goods in the first place.”

Librarians Are Fading Out?

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

The New YorkerIf you want to add to your February blues, read George Packer’s story in the new issue of the New Yorker, “Cheap Words: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?” (happily, subscription is not required to read this one online).

Among the conclusions? For publishing, the “long-term outlook is discouraging. This is partly because Americans don’t read as many books as they used to — they are too busy doing other things with their devices — but also because of the relentless downward pressure on prices that Amazon enforces.”

Packer quotes Russ Grandinetti, the vice-president of Kindle content who asserts that, because of GoodReads, gatekeepers are no longer necessary,  “ ‘Suddenly, we’re not locked into hearing the opinions of a small number of reviewers in newspapers’ ” and adds an unattributed aside, which is presumably Packer’s own, “Professional reviewers are fading out anyway, along with librarians and bookshop owners.”

As an author, Packer has some interest in the fate of gatekeepers. His book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Macmillan/FSG), was on many 2013 best books lists (including the Amazon editors’ Top 20) and won the National Book Award.

Random House Penguin Merger Completed

Monday, July 1st, 2013


In press releases issued early this morning, the parent companies of Random House and Penguin announced that they have finalized contracts for a merger of the two, creating the largest trade publishing house in the world, named Penguin Random House (interim logo at the left).

The Random House parent company, Bertelsmann, owns 53 percent of the new company and Penguin parent, Pearson, 47 percent. Random House chief executive Markus Dohle becomes CEO of the  new group and Penguin’s CEO John Makinson, the chairman of its board of directors. The CEO of Penguin USA, David Shanks, has stepped down to serve as Senior Executive Advisor to Dohle and the U.S. executive team. Madeline McIntosh, formerly Chief Operating Officer, Random House U.S., becomes the President and Chief Operating Officer of the new U.S. company.

While it is too early to speculate on the composition of the new company’s library marketing teams, it would make sense on the adult side if they combined each group’s expertise in academic and library marketing into two new larger departments. In terms of eBooks libraries will be waiting to hear if the new company follows the Random House or Penguin models.

Press Releases:

Bertelsmann Press Release

Pearson_Press Release

PRH Press Release

John Green Accepts ABA’s Indie Prize

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Below, John Green, accepting the Indie Prize given by the American Booksellers Association to writers who best represent commitment to independent book stores, calls “bullshit” to the concept that authors like him, who speak directly to their readers via social media, don’t “need the value-sucking middlemen of bookstores and publishers and in the future … no one will stand between author and reader except possibly an e-commerce site that takes just a tiny little percentage of each transaction.”

He hates being held up as an example of an author who doesn’t need support from publishers, editors, librarians and booksellers and ends by saying,”We built … the book business, the idea-sharing, consciousness-expanding business together … and we’re going to keep building this together.”

His comment about Ayn Rand is worth an award in itself.