Category Archives: future of publishing

9

A Happy Medium

The novella—a long-ignored literary form—has been back in the news the past couple of weeks.

First, James Patterson announced the start of his latest project, BookShots, which will specialize in both digital and print books of no more than 150 pages each. Some of these he will write himself; some will be the work of other writers. Each will sell for under $5.

Now comes news of the death of the incredibly prolific, much-admired Jim Harrison, whose most distinguished fiction was in the novella format.

Both of these events brought a lot of focus to the plight of the poor, neglected novella.

Novellas certainly boast an illustrious lineage. Great ones were written by Henry James, Herman Melville, and J.D. Salinger, among many others. It’s hard to pinpoint why the novella has fallen out of favor, especially in a world where so many people claim not to have the time to read an entire book. As Patterson points out, his BookShots will be readable in one sitting.

There are times when the novella form is exactly what a story demands. The length of an average short story may not be sufficient to properly tell a tale, but that same tale might have to be overstretched to fit the scope of a true novel. Patterson’s idea is a fine one, and it promises to bring mid-sized books out of the shadows and back into the bookshops, drugstores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. You may even start finding them right by the checkout stand.

And if people start reaching for a new novella instead of The National Enquirer, the battle will already be won.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have favorite novellas–books that you feel found their ideal length—not too long and not too short.

3

Is This Trip Necessary?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my enthusiasm for Julian Fellowes’s decision to launch his upcoming novel BELGRAVIA as an electronically-enhanced weekly web serial that will include links to all kinds of cool supplementary material in each installment.

Now it looks like a new app called Crave is poised to outdo Fellowes. Dedicated to romance novels, it is targeted at the young Smartphone user who only has a few minutes to read between texting friends and checking Instagram and Twitter accounts. A typical Crave romance novel will be available each day in bite-sized 1000-word chapters, and as the reader scrolls down, the text will be periodically interrupted with brief film clips and gifs (often of a hunky actor playing the male lead), text messages between the characters, even notifications from the characters directly to the reader.  As this Huffington Post article explains, “the folks behind Crave think this format just might save the novel.”

Yikes! I didn’t know the novel needed saving so badly that it might only survive in such an interactive slice-and-dice form. As exciting as it is to see the reading experience assuming different dimensions in the digital age, I have to wonder whether this dumbs the whole thing down a bit as it caters to ever-shortening attention spans. There’s a lot to be said for the immersive experience of focusing on a book for long stretches of time while we put everything else on hold. But perhaps for many people that is becoming a luxury, or—worse—a  chore, one that demands intermittent distraction.

Or maybe Crave and whatever other apps it spawns will be just another choice for readers, not the one that necessarily becomes the norm. It will certainly create a new genre and a new platform. And some novels developed with Crave in mind may become an entirely valid and valuable entertainment choice. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this. Let us know what you think, and whether you’ll give this kind of reading a try.

4

Amazon is entering the real (vs. virtual) world

Amazon StoreSo the news last week was that Amazon has opened its first brick and mortar bookstore—this one is in Seattle where the company has its headquarters.  Twenty years after Amazon began as a website selling books (and before they were pushing lawnmowers and groceries), this could be an exciting beginning for those who love to browse in actual bookstores.

Evidently, most of the books in this new store are displayed cover out which could be seductive to consumers because titles will be easier to find.  The other thing that is interesting here is that it was announced that the books will be the same retail price in the store as they are online (where merchandise is usually discounted).

Given the fact that Borders went out several years ago leaving a huge gap in the print bookstore business and that Barnes & Noble seems to be floundering, this is very good news—for consumers and  for publishers.  Hopefully, this new venture will be so successful that Amazon which, after all, began in the book business will expand their  bookstores  to other cities in the years ahead.  One can only hope.

I’d be curious, though, to know what you think of this new development.

6

Down They Go

It seems not so long ago that Barnes & Noble was considered the great bugaboo among booksellers. It was seen as the evil corporate giant that mowed down and swallowed every independent bookstore in its path; a retail version of The Blob from the 1950s Grade-Z science-fiction thriller. Nora Ephron even made a Barnes & Noble-type company the villian of her popular 1998 romantic comedy YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

All that was before the advent of Amazon. Who knew then that Barnes & Noble would come to be seen as our ally, the place where people could actually browse and buy hard copies? Amazon has now become the behemoth. For all those who love it for its cost-cutting and convenience, there are now plenty who try to have as little to do with it as possible.

So now we’re in the position of lamenting each Barnes & Noble store that we lose, and we are losing them fast. The latest closing news was one that really had me shocked: Washington, D.C.’s flagship store downtown will be gone by the end of this year, when it loses its lease—the victim of greedy landlords. You can read about it here: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2015/10/09/barnes-nobles-downtown-d-c-location-will-close-this-december/

This comes after the closing of the Barnes & Noble in DC’s Georgetown district at the end of 2011. If Barnes & Noble can’t make a go of it in our nation’s capitol, we’re in trouble.

The silver lining in all this is that Washington still has many independent booksellers, and their business is now likely to improve. I can only take an optimistic attitude and hope that the closing of more and more Barnes & Noble stores, if inevitable, will continue to result in a resurgence of independent bookstores.

But that didn’t happen with CD stores, did it?

 

 

2

The importance of positive persistence

Last Wednesday, there was a piece in The New York Times titled “The Plot Twist”.  In it, the writer, Alexandra Alter discussed the fact that e-book sales were slipping and print book sales were rising by about the same percentage rate.  This, after the dire predictions of four years ago that e-book sales would overtake print sales in a very short time.

I remember when e-books were the topic everyone was talking about.  Many of my colleagues in the publishing business were predicting the demise of print book publishing and of the entire business as we know it.  We were all—publishers, agents and authors—frightened about what would happen.  And then nothing did.

Although we at Dystel & Goderich did begin a digital publishing program in order to help some of our clients self-publish, we didn’t panic.  We felt this was a natural alternative for those authors whose books were out of print but which could still find a readership.   In fact, the program has served us well and will continue to do so in the future.

I found that through all of the sturm und drang of the negativity of the past four years, I kept looking forward, signing new authors, adding to our staff of super talented agents, and knowing that, in the end, print books would survive.  And they did and will continue to do so.

Thinking positively during those difficult days wasn’t easy.  Everyone seemed to be shaking their heads and worrying about the future of the business.  I have found though, over the years, that worrying is paralyzing—that the only way to keep going is to think positively, to find those projects and strategies that will move us forward and to use my energy to make them happen.

Again, this idea of positive persistence is one I have lived by and will continue to do so as it is the only way to keep growing both as an individual and as a mentor to my staff and clients.  I urge you all to think about this and how this concept plays out in your lives.  I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

3

Collapse of the Kindle?

E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle have forever changed the publishing world, but are we seeing the beginning of the end of the e-reader? Amazon has been getting its fair share of bad press lately, and now it can apparently add declining Kindle sales to its list of troubles.

I absolutely loved Jennifer Maloney’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, and in my opinion, I think she is right: the phone will drive future book sales—not the e-reader. With our increasingly mobile lifestyle, convenience and the ability to multitask are king, and our phones afford us both. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus, in part, so I could take advantage of the huge screen and read whenever I had a moment, which is exactly what I’ve done. My Kindle has been useless ever since (and to be honest, I think I lost it but don’t really care). Carrying around a phone and an e-reader seems counterproductive when just one can easily accomplish the task.

I’m very curious to see how publishers take advantage of this burgeoning trend to package books for the mobile phone. Amazon’s dominance in the book and e-book marketplace began, in part, because of the Kindle and the necessity for a complete book buying ecosystem to accompany the e-reader. Amazon’s Fire phone was a bust, so what does it mean for the retail giant as Apple, Google, and other players continue to flesh out their bookstores and build up lively reader communities for phone readers?

How do you read e-books? An e-reader? Tablet? Smartphone? Over someone else’s shoulder? Oh, and this drinkable book is amazing. Just another reason why print books are best.

Honeymoon’s over. Can this marriage be saved?

So, the talk lately (around here at least) is that e-book sales are slowing down—significantly enough that doomsday prophecies about the health of the format are being bandied about by the ever-unflappable* publishing community. Through several Amazon initiatives that are too complicated and, well, tedious to go into here, that monolithic company has undermined the Indie publishing world it mostly created as well as undercut sales of  traditionally published books.  Then, there are the studies that say that print reading gets absorbed more efficiently into your bloodstream.  And, finally, there’s the “Hipster Effect” which makes anything retro cool again—so the youngsters are all reading paperbacks on the subway instead of Nooks–combined with the “Geezer Effect” which makes all this newfangled technology suspect and terrifying.Kindle and Book

All of these things really add up to just this:  there’s been a correction in the digital book market.  The quick growth of the last few years has slowed down as consumers have gotten used to the idea of a new product, road tested it, and decided that, while nifty, it’s not the be-all, end-all.  Does that mean e-books are over.  Uh…no.  This format has legs, in my opinion.  But, it does mean that it is going to have to get creative about competing against its print counterpart and all the other media we’re collectively obsessed with.   And, that means that publishers, e-publishers, and e-tailers as well as authors are going to need to come up with ideas on how to make this a category that works on its own terms but also complements the underlying publishing rights—i.e., the copyrighted content.

For my part, I’ll just keep doing what I usually do—read both my Kindle and the thousands of print books cluttering my house and office—and wait to see how sales actually look once the dust finally settles. 

What do you guys think about the long-term health of the e-book market?  Is the slowdown a good thing or bad, in your opinion?

 

 

*sarcasm

 

6

Book Shower

I have a long and well-blogged history of buying books for the littles in my life – and that task is about to be even more exciting. I am getting my very own nephew, the first little one to come into our family! I am so excited to shower the little mister with books throughout his life, so when I planned last weekend’s trip to Michigan for his shower, I knew I would be bringing a stack of books as his gift.

Then the stakes got raised: The invitation asked that everyone bring a book to the baby shower instead of a card. Flying in from NYC as a representative of the publishing industry – to say nothing of being a former kids’ bookseller – I felt a lot of pressure. I couldn’t trot in there with the most obvious favorites, the same books everyone else will think to bring – Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and god forbid The Giving Tree! So I carefully chose my books and settled on a good mix of beloved classics and newer favorites.



0002974_ds-go-dog-go_300 GoDogGo2

This was one of my first favorite books, the one I was most eager to learn to read on my own. I remember thinking “This is my favorite book. It’s so funny.”

The Little Enging that Could

 

Everyone knows its famous mantra that sticks with me to this day I think I can I think I can I think I can, but did you realize the real message of this book? Take the time to help others and you’ll accomplish more than you expect!

I am a bunny

Everyone loves Richard Scarry, and this beautiful story doesn’t get as much recognition as the delightful Busy Town gang.

Giraffes

 A discovery from my B&N days – the art is poppin’, the rhymes are rockin’, and – most importantly – it’s never too soon to teach the little guy that he shouldn’t be limited by the expectations of others!!!

On the day of the shower, I was pleasantly surprised to find that no guest brought the same book – impressive considering that there were nearly fifty ladies there eager to set up with enough onesies, binkies, and booties to fill a Babies R Us.

Help me make my next baby book shopping list! What books absolutely MUST go on my nephew’s bookshelf?

 

 

 

1

Gonzo innovation

Anyone else out there excited for football this Sunday? Sure, I wish the Giants were playing, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen this year. However, I’m pleased to have legitimate rooting interests in both games. One of my college roommates grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, right next to Green Bay, so when the Giants are out, I’m willing to get on the Packer bandwagon. And in the AFC, I just root for whoever’s playing against the Patriots, of course…

Anyway, in reading up on the match-ups this weekend, especially Packers/Seahawks, I stumbled on this article, which, despite the title, talks about how basketball, baseball, and football are going to see some wildly inventive coaching in the next few years, spurred on by advances in statistics and Moneyball-style analysis. A lot of food for thought here, especially if the Patriots make it past the Colts—as much as I hate Belichick, the man is nothing if not inventive. The trick he pulled last week with the four O-line set seems like “gonzo” coaching personified.

Meanwhile, I had drinks last night with a client who was in town for the Digital Book World conference, which focused heavily on data and statistics. And from his description of the presentations, I think there might be a parallel to what’s going on in sports. After all, both sports and publishing at some level start with talent. And then the team/publishing house develops the talent of the athlete/writer, which these days typically involves data analysis, in order to generate wins/book sales.

So, does that mean we’re in for some gonzo innovation on the publishing side? Well, time will tell, though one could argue the PRH merger was pretty gonzo in its audacity. I’ll certainly be watching to see if publishers start pulling some Belichick-style stunts in the coming months—or not, especially if Tom Brady loses yet another Super Bowl. One can only hope…

2

When friends succeed

1746-v1-150x.PNGThe Publishers Weekly edition which was published right before I left on vacation featured Flatiron Books on the cover and I was so pleased to see that.

I have known the founder and publisher, Bob Miller for a lot of years starting when he was an editor at St. Martin’s way back when, through his tenure at Warner Books (now Grand Central) , then Delacorte and then on to establishing Hyperion which, in its day, was a huge success.

Bob is now well on his way to another thrilling achievement with this new imprint of Macmillan Publishing.  After being in business for a little over a year they already have a number one New York Times bestseller: WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE by Oprah Winfrey.  I’m sure this is only the beginning and I am so pleased for my good friend and his super team, which includes the brilliant Amy Einhorn who recently relocated from Penguin .

Over the last several years we in publishing have watched numerous companies consolidate and our colleagues lose their jobs as a result. Many have left the business altogether; others are just getting by or trying to create new careers for themselves within the publishing world.  This isn’t easy, which is why it is always encouraging to see an old colleague’s new success.

We should all be rooting for their success, in fact.  I for one am hoping that we as an agency can contribute to that.  Congratulations to Bob and John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, and your talented crew for your courage in starting something new during a perilous time.