Monthly Archives: August 2009

Big Box Chain Targets Obscure Books for Breakout

Michaelangelo had his Lorenzo de’ Medici, and Beethoven his Count Razumovsky. But where are today’s patrons of the arts? Tatiana de Rosnay, whose St. Martin’s Press novel Sarah’s Key has spent some six months on the bestseller list, might well claim Target as hers.


Not long after publication de Rosnay’s novel was nearly on life support until the discount retailer waved its magic wand over it, selecting it as a Bookmarked Club Pick and vigorously displaying and promoting it to customers. This blessing exalted Sarah’s Key to the Times list, with Target alone contributing more than 145,000 sales in its 1700 stores.

Through its book club, as well as a program it calls Bookmarked Breakout, both started in 2005, the company has highlighted largely unknown writers, helping their books find their way into shopping carts filled with paper towels, cereal and shampoo,” writes the New York Times’s Motoko Rich. The chain’s success rate is all the more remarkable in that it carries no more than 2,500 books a year, according to Rich, but every one of them is displayed face out.

How does Target do it? Rich quotes Patrick Nolan, director of Penguin Group USA’s trade paperback sales division: “Target says every month, ‘Here are some new titles we’re bringing to you, and you can trust us, even if you haven’t heard of them,’ That is a very different approach.”

Read details here and learn about some other titles that Target has rescued from obscurity and lofted onto a pedestal.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Psst. I Can Get You the New Dan Brown for 5 Yuan

Raising impossible barriers against foreign commerce in order to protect domestic industry is among the oldest sources of international friction, and China is no exception. But a recent ruling reveals that the industry China is protecting is piracy. By severely restricting imports of American books, music and movies, China extends an umbrella of protection over institutionalized theft of intellectual property.

Don’t take our word for it. Take the word of the World Trade Organization, which has just ruled that Beijing has violated international trading rules. Or you can take the word of the New York Times‘s Keith Bradsher, who writes, “One reason for the slow growth in imports has been China’s restrictions on imported books and other content. Demand is met by pirated copies made in China; the latest Hollywood movies are on DVDs on street corners across China within days of their release, for $1 or less.

Also, because of piracy, Chinese consumers are so accustomed to paying very little for DVDs, or downloading movies or songs free on the Internet, that American movie companies already sell authorized DVDs of their movies for much less in China than in the United States — and still struggle to find buyers.

US trade organizations and commercial exporters of books, songs and films hope that the WTO’s ukase will open the door to direct sales to the consumer. Don’t bet on it. China will undoubtedly employ a tried and true tactic for keeping that door shut: “’They’ve got a poor record of compliance,'” Bradsher quotes a Washington lawyer. ‘”They keep filing appeals.’”

Details in W.T.O. Rules Against China’s Limits on Imports


Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Hachette Says The Fix Is In as Europe Ponders Googlification

Arnaud Nourry, CEO of Hachette says that Amazon’s fixed $9.99 ceiling on the retail price of printed books, which seems to have been picked up by Google and, could doom hardcover publishing.

“On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99,” Nourry is quoted in an article by Ben Hall on the Financial Times website. Hachette owns US imprints Little, Brown and Grand Central Publishing among many other worldwide publishing holdings.

Nourry’s comments come as the European Commission considers drafting rules and guidelines governing online business. “The changes would be aimed at allowing Internet users to access out-of-print works and so-called orphan works for which it is impossible or very difficult to trace the rights holders,” James Kanter of the New York Times quoted a European Union executive in charge of Internet matters. For details of the European plan see Europe Seeks to Ease Rules for Putting Books.


Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the Financial Times and the New York Times.


Veterans of Publishing Campaigns Speak, and a Good Listener Records

Jofie Ferrari-Adler, an editor with Grove Atlantic Publishers, has taken it upon himself to conduct, for Poets & Writers, a series of lengthy Q&A’s with distinguished editors and literary agents whose careers exemplify values and virtues that are rapidly fading from the daily discourse of the publishing business. It is absolutely incumbent on every member of our community 40 years old or younger to listen to their voices and imbibe their experiences so that you can understand what publishing was like when men and women of charm, taste and integrity walked the earth.

Ferrari-Adler’s most recent interview is with literary agent Georges Borchardt, who has represented and in some cases discovered such towering figures as Marguerite Duras, Eugène Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Samuel Beckett, Elie Wiesel, John Gardner, Charles Johnson, and even General de Gaulle.

A brief excerpt or two…

J F-A: Let’s talk a little about the industry. You’ve been in it for several decades, over the course of which it’s changed a lot, or at least that’s what people seem to say. What’s your take on that?

GB: It has changed. Mainly it’s the shift from individual ownership to corporate ownership. The individuals who owned the firms were, for the most part, the sons of millionaires. They didn’t need to take money out of the firm. They lived well before, they lived well during, and they had something very valuable afterward. Knopf became very valuable. Farrar, Straus became very valuable. So the heirs, I suppose, got a good amount of money. But the purpose [of founding those firms] wasn’t really to make money. The purpose was the excitement of publishing. It’s totally different now. Not so much at Grove/Atlantic or Norton—those are two firms for which what I’m saying doesn’t apply—except that they are competing against these giants. So if Grove/Atlantic has a book that becomes a major best-seller, it can’t hold on to the author, even if the author has made lots of protestations about how he will never leave the firm because he’s in love with all the people who work there. Either he, or his agent, or both, will decide that rather than taking a million from little Grove/Atlantic, they’re better off taking six million from somebody bigger. So they are affected by it too. The corporate thing has sort of poisoned the whole industry.

J F-A: What has that meant for writers?

GB: It’s mainly meant that they’ve become products. And that their main relationship is more with their literary agent. In a way it has worked well for the agents. Their main relationship is much more seldom with the editor because the editor’s position is very precarious. You’ve already changed jobs like four times. That was most unusual when I started in publishing. If you were an editor at Knopf, you stayed an editor at Knopf. There are still editors at Knopf who have been there forever: Judith Jones; Ash Green, who just retired; Bill Koshland, who was not an editor but more the business person. When Bill was chairman emeritus, well after Alfred had died and Bob Gottlieb had taken over, he would still take all the royalty statements home and look at them to be sure they were right. Now there’s no one on the editorial side of a publishing house who even sees the royalty statements. They have no idea what’s on them. They have no idea whether the reserve for returns is outrageous or justified. The person who decides on the reserve doesn’t know either. The whole climate has changed.

Ferrari-Adler has also interviewed literary agents Molly Friedrich, Nat Sobel and Lynn Nesbit, editors Janet Silver, Pat Strachan and Chuck Adams, plus a host of young editors and agents. Each Q&A is a gem, and their cumulative effect is to transport us to a culture that is every bit as worth preserving and revering as the our rapidly dwindling glaciers and forests.

Richard Curtis


Four Big E-Book Stories to Watch

Like tributaries flowing into a river, four events in the past week have come together to increase the depth and breadth of the e-book business. Each bears watching.

1. Discord over the Google Settlement as the September 4 deadline approaches. After Endeavor William Morris Agency voiced its opposition to the opt-in choice for its client-authors, a number of other opponents entered the fray. It will all come to a head at the end of next week.

2. Sony Debuts Wireless. According to Huffington Post, “Sony Corp. plans to offer an e-book reader with the ability to wirelessly download books, injecting more competition in a small but fast-growing market by adopting a key feature of the rival Kindle from”
In December Sony will release the device with a price tag of $399. It features a touch screen and will carry books and newspapers via AT&T’s cellular network.

Buried in the story is a Sony announcement that you’ll be able to “borrow” ebooks from libraries and view them on their eReader. That appears to be a feature that other device makers have or have even given much thought to. A system like it has been in use at a number of colleges. After a fixed period of time (in Sony’s case, 21 days) the loan expires and your e-book vaporizes.

3. Barnes & Noble Teams with IREX to offer New Digital Reader. Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly writes that “Barnes & Noble stepped up its efforts to compete with Amazon and the Kindle, announcing plans to partner with Netherlands-based IREX Technologies to offer a new wireless-enabled digital reading device with access to the 700,000 e-book titles available through the newly launched B&N eBookstore.” iRex is a Dutch reading device that has gained some traction in Europe. We hailed it as a Kindle killer a while back, though contenders developed since then are bidding for that title.

One of them is the forthcoming unnamed Plastic Logic reader (we have nicknamed it Teasle until the manufacturer announces the official monicker). And speaking of that, we hope BN.Com will unconfuse us about something. We had the impression that BN had cast its lot exclusively with Plastic Logic. But now it’s announced this relationship with iRex. Can someone out there clarify?

And as for Kindle killers, we’re calling a moratorium on such declarations until Gen Next of e-reading hardware makes itself known. And we’re definitely withholding our blessing until we can read on a full-color screen.

4. Amazon Kindle to launch in Europe next week? Stuff.TV asks whether Kindle is Europe-bound.

The Kindle has proved popular with bookworms in the States, but has failed to launch over here due to licensing issues, leaving British ereaders with a choice between the Sony Reader and the Cool-ER to quench their ebook thirst. However, none of these current offerings have been able to offer the Wi-fi capabilities that is the Kindle’s killer feature, enabling wireless downloads of books and delivery of electronic versions of newspapers and magazines direct to the device. It could be that Amazon is hoping to get the Kindle over here as quickly as possible in order to win over the market before the launch of Sony’s Daily Edition, announced in the States yesterday.

We’ll update you as these four news items unfold.



New Breed of Authors Hustles Own Books to Clubs

When did book clubs become book clubs? That is, how did the book industry evolve from a business model defined by commercial reprinters like Book of the Month Club and The Literary Guild, to one heavily dependent on groups of book-loving – and book-buying – amateurs?

At whatever point we crossed the line from definition #1 to definition #2, the reading circle has become a driving force in book marketing, and the author who knows how to work the clubs has become a formidable promotional machine.

The focus on book clubs has spurred the evolution of a new breed: the author-hustler, the writer who succeeds in large part because of door-to-door salesmanship,” says Mickey Pearlman, a “professional book club facilitator” as Francesca Mari, blogging in The Daily Beast, describes him. In The Book-Club Hustlers Mari details Pearlman’s very professional approach to what most of us think of as an informal and loosely organized activity.

Pearlman offers four-hour book-marketing seminars (for $500), focusing on “how to creatively market your book on the Web and in other outlets”—one of those outlets being, of course, book groups. “You’re building an interest in you,” Pearlman says, “so they’ll be very likely to buy your next book.”

Mari cites the activity of a typical self-promoter, Joshua Henkin, who has made the rounds of more than 175 groups. “With 10 people in each group, that’s 1,750 books sold right there.” Another, Adriana Trigiani, works the clubs by phone, as does Chris Bohjalian. Laura Dave even does hers via Skype.

You can’t fault authors for wanting to hustle their goods. But you might get a little squeamish to think that authors and publishers may deliberately be shaping books to appeal to book clubs. Mari reports how one author, Robert Alexander, hired an editor after his novel had been turned down fifteen times.

She told him to shoot for a book-club ‘gem’, to cut the manuscript from 460 pages to 250 and hone in on the historical fiction. Alexander did and got three offers in eight days. His Viking and Penguin contracts, he says, even state that his books should be around 250 pages. The Kitchen Boy is now in its 22nd printing, and was optioned to be made into a movie by Glen Williamson, the man behind American Beauty and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

We referred to book club members as “amateurs” – by which we mean, literally, those who love books more as a pastime than a profession. But in fact clubs have evolved far beyond the cliché of schoolmarmish intellectuals reading Proust over tea sandwiches. Chelsea J. Carter blogging on PaperBackSwap.comsays, “Around the country, book clubs also have become networking tools for young professionals.” There is even an instructional book for clubbers: The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience by Diana Loevy.

Richard Curtis


ESPN The Magazine Offers Subscription + Insider Website for a Buck

One of my mother’s favorite mottoes was “Nothin’ for nothin’ and damned little for a dollar.” I wonder what she’d say if I told her that ESPN The Magazine was offering subscribers – some 2 million of them – one full year of the magazine PLUS free access to Insider, its subscription-only website, for one dollar? The newsstand price for 26 issues of the magazine is $129.74 and a one-year subscription (which includes free access to the website) normally costs $26.00. No matter how you dice it, the magazine’s offer is irresistible – less than 4 cents per issue for a year. The offer expires no later than mid-October.

If you’re squinting skeptically and wondering what’s the deal, you’ll want to read an interview with the magazine’s general manager, Gary Hoenig, conducted by CNBC’s sports business reporter Darren Rovell. Here’s Hoenig’s explanation in a nutshell:

What we’re trying to do is get people to experiment with our paid Web site, Insider, which magazine subscribers are entitled to but they’re not signing up for at the numbers we had hoped for in the past. So what we’re doing is giving them an opportunity for a year to experience both the magazine and the Web site for only $1 and obviously we hope to get them back to a decent price for the two of them.

Beyond the nutshell is a unique strategy for triggering synergy between a print publication and its related website, something that every newspaper and magazine is trying to do but few are doing very well. By stimulating that synergy, ESPN The Magazine will deliver the most bang for the buck. And when we say buck we mean One buck. When the first year’s subscription is coming to an end, the magazine offers what Harry Scherman, founder of Book of the Month Club, called the negative option.”The opportunity here is to change the decision making process from opt-in to opt-out,” says Hoenig. “…Instead of saying, ‘I like this. Am I willing to fill out a credit card form or any other kind of form to get it?’ You are now saying, ‘Do I not like this enough to say no,’ and that’s a very different decision.”

Obviously, Hoenig and his team are confident you won’t say no. Read Why ESPN The Magazine Is Going To Four Cents.



Get Rich Quick. Sue an Author

Pardon me, but do you have any legal training? I’m thinking of suing someone. My lawyer thinks I’m a crackpot, so I need a second opinion.

Listen to this:

About twenty years ago when I was a volunteer 4th grade teacher I created an adventure aimed at teaching children about government. I instructed the kids to pretend to be on a cruise ship that is blown off course by a storm. They ended up shipwrecked on a tropic island, and in order to survive they had to develop a government.

Fifteen years later, Lost was launched on television and guess what? It’s about a passenger jet that crashes on a topical island. Obviously, to cover their trail they changed my cruise ship into an airplane. Other than that it’s my exact same idea. And look at the similarities! In my story the kids have to organize; On Lost they have to organize. In my story the kids have to eat disgusting things – same as on Lost. So, I’m thinking of suing the producers of Lost for copyright infringement. Do I have a slam-dunk case or what?

Actually, I hadn’t thought of suing until I read that an author named Jordan Scott has brought a lawsuit against bestselling Twilight author Stephenie Meyer alleging copyright infringement. According to Gil Kaufman of MTV. com, Meyer allegedly plagiarized something called The Nocturne written by Scott when was fifteen. She posted it one chapter a time on her website. Here’s what Kaufman writes about Scott’s claim: “Though Scott’s book is set in 15th-century France and details a love affair between a young sorcerer and a teenage girl and Meyer’s book chronicles a doomed teenage love triangle between a human, a vampire and a werewolf set in modern times, Williams said the plot lines and some developments — detailed in more than a dozen examples in the suit — match too closely to be a coincidence.”

My case is at least as airtight as Scott’s. But my lawyer doesn’t want to touch it, even on a contingency basis. Here are some of his reasons why.

  • Except for fifteen or twenty copies I ran off for my students, I never published my school project.
  • The producers and television network had no access to my material. I never submitted my project to them. I never submitted it to anybody. I have no idea how the network got its hands on my property.
  • I never registered copyright in my story.
  • There is no similarity between the “fixed expression” of my story – the characters, the plot sequence, the narrative or the dialogue – and the characters, plot, narrative and dialogue in Lost.

So that leaves the idea itself, and it’s as plain as the nose on your face that the core idea for Lost is identical to my idea. But my lawyer tells me you can’t copyright ideas.

I’m really frustrated because I could really use the money and I figure if a cockamamie lawsuit like Jordan Scott’s has a shot, so does mine. You don’t think I’m a crackpot, do you? Do you?

Richard Curtis


Brit ISPs Defend Rights of Pirates, File-Sharers and Other Freemongers

After Business Secretary Lord Mandelson called for tougher sanctions on those illegally sharing files of copyrighted material, spokespeople for some British Internet Service Providers have howled in righteous pain. Milord’s suggestion that parents of file-swapping children might be subject to fines evoked particularly raucous – and predictable – yowls from the likes of Virgin and TalkTalk. Especially when talk of penalties reached 50,000 pounds and repeat offenders would have their plug yanked out of its socket.

Implying that the Secretary practiced an antique morality that requires thieves to be punished, one spokesman for an ISP suggested Lord Mandelson didn’t “get” the Internet and proposed such Draconian alternatives as “educating people” and “writing letters to alleged file-sharers.” Many a British parent must be trembling today at the prospect of receiving a letter from an Internet Service Provider or, worse, having their children educated about not taking things that belong to others.

Read BBC News’s Anger at UK file-sharing policy.



It’s Simple: ePub is Open, Except When It’s Wrapped in DRM, And Then It’s Not

We recently attempted to explain the new ePub standard and did a pretty good job of simplifying it for the lay audience if we do say so ourselves. However, a reader’s comment suggests we may have oversimplified it. He introduced the concept of “wrapping” ePub in proprietary shell.

What does that mean and why is it important to you?

The ePub (short for “electronic publication”) standard, we explained, was designed to create an open, one-size-fits-all format. We said that Sony was planning to scrap its proprietary anticopying software in favor of ePub, enabling users to read e-books on any reading device that supports the ePub standard.

Well, yes – and no. Here’s what a correspondent wrote:

“Unfortunately, Sony’s version of ePub, as currently described, will be wrapped in Sony’s DRM, so books downloaded to Sony’s e-reader will not be readable on other devices. ePub does not necessarily mean open, which should be the goal of IDPF and the reading community.

“DRM” stands for Digital Rights Management, a long way of saying controlled or restricted access to digital content. Proprietary, in other words. Kindle is an example of a proprietary, closed standard.

We referred the question to Michael Gaudet, who frequently unpacks technical complexities for us, and here is what he had to say to our commenter:

What I think you’re asking for is a world with no DRM. While you may see it as unfortunate that Sony isn’t as forward thinking as you’d like, I’m sure Sony and the IDPF are trying to be as realistic as possible in accommodating the ebook market’s suppliers: publishers.

ePub has always been formulated with the anticipation that retailers could wrap it in DRM if they needed to, and many publishers ask for DRM and won’t retail ebooks without it. Each ePub retailer needs to consider how to solve the DRM requirements for publishers and customers, and it’s never going to please everyone.

The biggest publishers who are still actively specifying DRM controls are members of the IDPF and they made these demands in standards meetings for the ePub format, and retailers like Sony and Content Reserve saw what’s coming down the road well in advance of their customers. It would have been suicide for Sony’s ebook store to ignore all the content from publishers who require DRM at this time just because it’s fashionable to bash DRM.

It’s unknown yet whether Sony’s ebookstore ePub implementation will be readable on other devices, but chances are that it can be, depending on the other devices’ software to unlock DRM from multiple vendors. It’s highly likely Adobe’s Digital Editions could support Sony’s ePub in the future, and if that’s possible, then so will other reader platforms that acknowledge ePub.

When customers choose to buy non-DRM books from other retailers that offer them, like Fictionwise, the Sony device is a very welcoming platform for ePub, and I think that’s probably more important than Sony’s store right now. The opportunity exists to read ePubs with or without DRM, and that’s better than where we were a year ago.

Obviously, ePub is not so white, and DRM is not so black. We hope you can live with shades of gray until a true One Size Fits All Standard rules all digital content.