Monthly Archives: February 2011

Random, Last Big Six Holdout, Embraces Agency Model

After taking a year to consider its options and observe how e-book retailers were faring with the agency model, Random House today announced it was committing itself to that model, the last of the Big Six publishers to do so. The most significant aspect of this move is that Amazon is aboard. Last year when the pricing standard was adopted by the other five major houses, a bitter war broke out between Amazon and Macmillan.  There will be no such event in this instance, as Random and Amazon have worked out an agreement.

To place this news in context, last year we wrote the following story, Random Goes Rogue:

Random House will go against the recent rush by its Big Six buddies to the “agency” e-book retail model recently introduced by Apple.

Apple’s approach is for publishers to retain control over the list price, rather than allowing the list price to be pegged by the e-tailer, as is currently employed by Amazon. It also allows publishers flexibility in timing release of e-books – delaying them rather than releasing them simultaneously with publication of hardcover editions.

The move to the Apple model by three major houses spearheaded by Macmillan was the cause of a controversy that triggered removal of Macmillan’s buy buttons by Amazon for a week, at the end of which the e-book retailing landscape was altered, possibly forever. (For background see Apple Promoting a New (and Radical!) Model for Selling E-Books? and Publishing’s Weekend War: 48 Hours that Changed an Industry.)

Random’s decision is based on two approaches to e-book publishing that are at odds with the philosophy of at least three of its fellow publishers. A RH spokesperson voiced the opinion that publishers “have no real experience at setting retail prices.” That explains why Random held back from embracing Apple’s iPad tablet. The other reason is timing of e-book releases. “Our current policy is we release e-books at the same time as physical books,” she said. “I haven’t been convinced that it’s good for the author or consumer to delay the release.”

You can read details here: Random House sides with Amazon, e-book readers on pricing

Random’s press release is reprinted in full below.


“Random House, Inc. is adopting the agency model for e-book sales in the United States effective March 1, 2011. Going forward, Random House will set consumer prices for the e-books we publish, and we will provide retailers with a commission for each sale. There are no changes to our terms of sale for physical books.

“The agency model guarantees a higher margin for retailers than did our previous sales terms. We are making this change both as an investment in the successful digital transition of our existing partners and in order to give us the opportunity to forge new retail relationships.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with all our retail partners – both digital and physical — on our joint mission to connect our authors with as many readers as possible, in whatever format they prefer.”

Richard Curtis


Does Anyone Understand What Seth Godin is Doing?

Seth Godin has launched his Domino Project and we’re confused. Can someone explain it to us? We’ve read the Project’s home page and mission statement and we’re still in the dark.

It seems to be a venture designed to publish the work of other authors, and Godin says he’s signed up a couple of “manifestos”.  However (Confusion #1), the first book in the program, called Poke the Box, is his own.Yet (confusion #2) nowhere on his Domino Project website does it say it’s his own book. The only way to learn who the author is is to click through to (whose “Powered by Amazon” program is sponsoring The Domino Project).

Confusion #3 is that though The Domino Project is designed to help authors get published in the Amazon program, Godin states that he doesn’t want unsolicited submissions.  “It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to spend the time to adequately review unsolicited submissions,” his website declares, “and it’s not fair to raise hopes. We’re just not staffed to do this justice. If you want to try anyway, we’ve posted a form here for you to do just that. Please do not submit anything you consider proprietary, as there’s no presumption of confidentiality.”  So – how is he going to attract the authors that The Domino Project will be publishing?

Confusion #4.  When he does publish someone other than himself, what exactly does The Domino Project do for them? It seems to be a means to attract subscribers who will then be informed when a new Domino Project manifesto is released. At least that is how it will work for his own book: ” The final pre-order price for the Kindle edition of Poke the Box will be determined by how many of you sign up to get our free online newsletter. We already have about 10,000 subscribers, so we’ve already lowered the price. (We started with a pre-order price of $9.99—we’re down $2). Amazon has agreed to work with me in lowering the price one more dollar for every 5,000 new people who sign up. So we’re starting at $7.99.”

So – is The Domino Project going to do for authors the same thing that Godin is doing for his own book?  If so (confusion #5) where will these authors come from if he can’t read unsolicited submission? Will he be publishing professional authors? Where will they come from?, which has partnered with Godin on other projects, recognizes that Godin’s successful self-publication strategy offers an ideal showcase for its author services. Collectively known as Powered by Amazon, this system “enables authors to use Amazon’s global distribution, multiple format production capabilities, including print, audio and digital, as well as Amazon’s personalized, targeted marketing reach.”

Powered by Amazon seems to be a worthy enterprise. It would help to clarify Godin’s role and how authors will make money. “We are reinventing what it means to be a publisher,” he recently wrote.” We would be the first to agree that publishers desperately need to be reinvented.  We just need to know just how The Domino Project works.  Are we the only ones who are confused?

Richard Curtis


Stars Shine on Pale Demon, Hollows #9

Pale Demon, the ninth installment of bestselling urban fantasist Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, was published this week to the tune of glowing starred reviews. Buy the book and visit Kim’s website!

From Publishers Weekly
*Starred Review*. Harrison’s intriguing ninth Hollows novel (after 2010’s Black Magic Sanction) lives up to the earlier books, which established Harrison as a major urban fantasy player. Witch and bounty hunter Rachel Morgan needs to get to her brother’s wedding. This leads to an uneasy alliance with her elven frenemy Trent Kalamack, who’s being pushed toward Seattle by a quest. Meanwhile, Jenks the pixy is recovering from the loss of his wife, Matalina, and needs distraction. The result: “A witch, an elf, and a pixy on the Great American Road Trip” through a landscape reworked by magic, facing down terrifying foes en route. Elegant and taut as a gymnast’s cartwheel, Harrison’s polished prose drives a story that will have readers swerving in their seats every time Rachel turns the wheel.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kim Harrison

From Booklist
*Starred Review* The ninth Rachel Morgan novel finds our tough and feisty witch on a mission to get her shunning rescinded, which requires traveling to the annual witch convention in San Francisco. But the coven doesn’t want her to make her appointment, so they’ve put her on the no fly list, which is why she has to accept Trent’s offer of a cross-country car trip. The rich elf has his own reasons for traveling cross-country, telling Rachel and Ivy that he is on a traditional elf quest. Fans of the series will recognize that simply having Trent, Jenks, Ivy, and Rachel on a road trip is enough to make for a good story, but that is merely the beginning of an action-packed tale that finds Rachel coming fully into her demon magic powers and reevaluating her long-held impressions of Trent. Ending with hints of some major character developments and changes in Rachel’s life, this is an excellent entry that is guaranteed to satisfy Harrison’s legion of followers. (Should there be any overlap between Clint Eastwood and Kim Harrison fan clubs, that subset will certainly enjoy Harrison’s allusions here to Eastwood’s Pale Rider.) The Rachel Morgan series is fast becoming one of the hottest tickets in the urban-fantasy subgenre. –Jessica Moyer


Spring Almost Here. Time to Organize Your Bookcase


E-Lit – Short is In.

To the motto “Information want to be free” add “Information wants to be short.” Shorter e-books – or, more properly, e-stories, e-novellas and e-articles – are a definite trend, the latest manifestation of which is Kindle Singles (See After Dropping Shorts, Amazon Launches Singles)..

For one thing, short is more appropriate for our life style, which is a nice way of saying our national attention span has shrunk to the time it takes to read something in its entirety on a bus or subway – or in the john. Russell Grandinetti, VP for Amazon’s Kindle content, calls it “print on a diet,” according to Jenna Wortham in the New York Times.

For another thing, short is ideal for cell phones. “The physical dimensions of mobile devices are, in some ways, quite limited,” Wortham points out. “So it’s important to exploit the advantages that the devices do have.”

And writers love short because they have a lot of it in their trunks that they’re dying to unload or recycle.

Read Wortham’s Shorter E-Books for Smaller Devices.  It’ll only take you a minute.

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


Hquin Promotes Howard, Shapcott, Davis-Todd

Harlequin Editorial

After an impressive thirty-two year career with Harlequin, Karin Stoecker, Editorial Director of Harlequin Mills & Boon UK, has decided to retire. Karin will be leaving Harlequin on April 1, 2011.

Karin came to Harlequin from the newspaper business in 1979 to head up the Proofreading group in Toronto. Her professional talents and numerous accomplishments accelerated her career through successive advancements, and in 1994 she left Canada to assume the role of Editorial Director of Harlequin Mills & Boon, with editorial responsibility for our key programs sourced in the UK, including Presents, Romance, Medicals and Historicals. As Editorial Director UK, Karin has built a strong and dedicated editorial team who will continue the innovative approach she brought to the business, embracing change and creating a vibrant community of authors and readers around the Harlequin Mills & Boon franchise. We are sorry that she is moving on, but wish her every success in the future.

With both Karin and Randall Toye’s recent retirements and the “retirement” of the Silhouette brand, we are also taking the opportunity to review our current Series Editorial structure and we are pleased to announce the following changes.

Glenda Howard, Tessa Shapcott and Birgit Davis-Todd have been promoted to Senior Executive Editors for New York, London and Toronto respectively, effective March 1, 2011. They will report directly to me and be responsible for the overall Series Editorial Leadership for each of our acquiring offices. In addition to the overall management of their Editorial teams, they will play a key role in developing the Series Editorial strategy as we embrace the changing publishing environment and address the impact it will have on our authors and our readers.

In the New York office, Tara Gavin, Joan Marlow Golan and Mary-Theresa Hussey will now report to Glenda Howard. We are also pleased to announce that Kelli Martin has been promoted to Senior Editor Kimani Press, reporting to Glenda. Additionally, Denise Zaza will now report to Mary-Theresa Hussey and Gail Chasan will report to Tara Gavin. In the UK, Jo Grant, Bryony Green, Linda Fildew and Sheila Hodgson will report to Tessa Shapcott. In Toronto, Brenda Chin, Wanda Ottewell and Kathleen Scheibling will continue to report to Birgit. And, as we work to further strengthen the alignment with Series, Marsha Zinberg and her team will now also report to Birgit.

We are confident that Glenda, Tessa and Birgit will continue to provide our Series business with the strong leadership required to grow the Series franchise in the future.

Please join me in wishing Karin all the best as she moves forward in the next chapter of her life and in congratulating Glenda, Tessa, Birgit and Kelli as they take on their new assignments.

Dianne Moggy

VP, Series Editorial and Subrights


With a Lot of (Free) Help, Cory Doctorow’s “With a Little Help” at Last Sees the Light of Day

Cory Doctorow’s long day’s journey into self-publication has at last reached its terminus with release of his story collection With a Little Help. For over a year he has been recounting in Publishers Weekly his triumphs and travails and, because we feel that every professional author and editor can benefit from his account, we’ve been reporting on his progress. (See What Can Publishers Learn from Cory Doctorow?)

Doctorow has been unsparing in self-criticism as he reports mistakes and misjudgments made along the path.  We have noted that many of his miscues were rookie blunders that most tyro editorial assistants would have avoided, but what kind of fun or instruction would there have been for us if Doctorow had hit the ball out of the park without a lot of strikeouts, popups and weak grounders?

In his latest PW journal entry he recounts how the book was untimely ripped from its womb. “At the time of my last column, I was in a three-quarters panic about the book: negotiations with Lulu and my agent had bogged down in miscommunication; Christmas was fast approaching; and I was about to go in for hip surgery. So, what happened? Literally a day after writing that column, I simply launched the book. I made the site live, uploaded the book to Lulu’s servers, and set up the sell pages.”

The results of this premature release were predictably mixed:”The good news: I’ve made some money, and I didn’t turn into a ravening monster on a blind quest for fortune and sales. But I’ve also discovered a lot of tiny errors—and two gigantic ones.”

You can read details in With A Little Help: The Early Returns, but we do feel compelled to question whether he has in fact made some money or any money at all.

Doctorow has accounted to us to the penny on the hard costs of producing his book, a bit under $17,000. The soft costs are not, however, accounted for. For instance, the expenses that publishers list in the column called “Overhead” when they do their Profit and Loss projections – rent, electricity, office supplies, salaries and the like – are absent from his calculations.

And let’s linger on the item called salaries. Doctorow is blessed to have the fealty of many friends, friends who offer the “little help” in his title.  The friends charge nothing for proofreading, and neither for that matter does his mother to perform services that cost at least $25 an hour when performed by professionals. “My readers have sent in 123 typos to date, about the same as I turned in for the second printing of my first story collection, which was proofed by my editor. With a Little Help was proofed by my mother, who routinely scores on par with professional proofers who do my novels.”

Doctorow has discovered one solution to the doldrums in which publishing companies suffer: don’t pay employees.  If Penguin could prevail on friends, or perhaps on Mrs. Penguin, to do its proofreading gratis its bottom line would certainly spike dramatically.

And then there’s this statement: “I’ve made a ton of money on the $275 limited edition.” How much? $31,000 before subtraction of the $17,000 it cost to produce the edition. That comes to a net of $14,000.

If I were to survey a thousand professional authors and ask them to define a ton of money, I can’t imagine any of them answering $14,000.  Subtract from that his overhead and the value of free labor and I would guess that brings us down to zero, or even minus.

What Cory Doctorow has reaped a ton of is experience, and what he has given us is a ton of education, entertainment and excitement. We’re satisfied with the bargain and hope that he is too.

Richard Curtis
Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by Publishers Weekly.


Kiosks to Borders’ Rescue?

If there’s anything left of Borders when it comes out from under the bankruptcy umbrella, its management will still face the same problems that pulled the company over the precipice in the first place: expensive real estate, slow sales velocity, the unending nightmare of returnability, and two behemoth rivals that dominate both the print and e-book space. Is there anything Borders can do the second time around that will give it a genuinely competitive position in a book world rapidly shifting from tangible to virtual?

Well, if I were in charge of Borders’ reorganization I’d urge the installation of e-book and print on demand kiosks. E-books could be viewed and sampled on the kiosk screen, purchased and downloaded directly into the customer’s Nook, Kindle or smart phone. Printed books?  Like the tiny Harvard Book Store about which we recently wrote, which offers a selection of 4 million titles on its Google-powered virtual bookshelf (every one of them turned face out), Borders could have Espresso Print on Demand presses on the premises that manufacture any book to order in the time it takes customers to have a snack in the coffee shop.  (See NYC Pharmacy Chain Installs DVD Kiosks and I’ll Have Four Sesames, Four Poppy Seeds, and One Copy of War and Peace.)

Richard Curtis


How Bad is Borders? There Will Be Blood

How bad is Borders’ collapse?

We’d love to say it’s not as bad as we feared. Actually it may be worse.

We’d been told the total losses were $230 million but it turns out that that was money owed only to major publishers, the so-called Big Six plus another handful of significant houses.  But Publishers Weekly reports the total for the thirty largest creditors is more like $314 million.  Drill down the list of creditors beyond the 3o largest and you find small presses that simply will not be able to survive the hit. This is doubly sad because independent publishers were beginning to make a significant comeback as authors and agents sought alternatives to the daunting big-money/high-platform conditions imposed by a blockbuster mentality industry.

Though Borders represented about 8% of retail sales, PW’s Jim Milliot points out that the percentage was higher for certain categories, mainly high visibility adult and children’s trade books.  In Borders Bankruptcy to Ripple Through Industry Milliot cites secondary damage to printers, authors, agents and especially independent presses. Also clipped are distributors of those presses. Specifically cited were Perseus (owed $7.8 million) and NBN ($2 million), which distribute for numerous indies.

One significant event overshadowed by last week’s Borders bankruptcy was the bankruptcy of Canada’s largest book distributor, H. B. Fenn, just a few weeks before. The loss of Canadian distribution on top of  the loss of American retail outlets was a double-barreled blast for many publishers.  Macmillan for instance lost $10 million in the Fenn collapse, compounded by another $11.4 million from Borders.

The outlook: smaller print runs trickling down to even more selective acquisitions trickling down to lower advances. Superagent Robert Gottlieb says Borders’ best chance to pull out of its nosedive is to go digital, an area where Borders has been Johnny-come-lately.

About that we will have something to say tomorrow.

Richard Curtis


Your Law Harbors Pirates, Guild Prez Tells Senators

Scott Turow launched his legal thriller career with Presumed Innocent. But his testimony before the Senate on piracy, in his capacity of President of the Author’s Guild, could have been called J’Accuse. What he was accusing Congress of was enabling copyright piracy to destroy literary and artistic creativity in the United States.

Turow had been invited to enlighten lawmakers about the devastating effect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 piece of legislation designed to punish digital thieves.  Tragically (we use this term deliberately), a provision of DMCA lets criminals off the hook, with the result that authors and other legitimate copyright owners stand by helplessly as these larcenists dance around the ruins of their labors. (See Takedown Notices: Antipiracy Weapon or Exercise in Futility?)

The DCMA, according to Wikipedia, “criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works.”

Well and good. But powerful Internet service providers lobbied for an escape hatch called “Safe Harbor”, which says that if an ISP is notified by a copyright owner that that ISP is carrying infringing or allegedly infringing content and promptly removes or blocks access to that content, the ISP does not incur liability.

That’s the theory. In practice, pirates plying this safe harbor make it almost impossible to get ISPs to take down stolen files.  What is worse, the fileswappers and hijackers are being egged on by Information-Wants-To-Be-Freeists, counseled by misguided libertarians and pampered by do-gooders whose pockets have never been picked. To hear these pilferers whining about being harassed by legitimate copyright owners, you have to wonder who is the victim of whom (See Is This Watchdog Guarding the Bad Guys?).

That’s the background for Guild President Turow’s devastating testimony before the Senate, which finally considered the trillion dollar piracy cesspool to be worthy of its attention.  Just a week before, he and two Guild colleagues had run a clever op-ed piece in the New York Times speculating Would the Bard Have Survived the Web? But on this occasion he was deadly grim. For a full transcript of Turow’s testimony you may click here. Here are some extracts.

“After 300 years as one of history’s greatest public policy successes,” he told the lawmakers, “copyright is coming undone. As we meet here this morning, our well-intended policy toward copyright online is undermining our virtual and physical markets for creative works. That policy is in desperate need of update. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ‘safe harbor’ for online service providers has turned out to be an exploitable gold mine for unscrupulous online enterprises. That safe harbor allows these rogue enterprises to profit from services that encourage and conceal the trafficking in stolen books, music, and movies, while disclaiming responsibility for that illegal traffic. The DMCA safe harbor has turned copyright’s incentives inside out, encouraging massive, global investment in piracy technologies and services…

“We have, inadvertently and with the best of intentions, instituted a policy that not only tolerates, but encourages investments in technologies and services that undermine our markets for creative work. We have, oddly but unmistakably, created the ideal environment for nurturing an innovative, global, networked industry that directly profits from trafficking in stolen books, music, and movies. In a digital age, where tipping points are always close at hand, the pirate economy can subvert an industry in a heartbeat…

“One is tempted to call it a vast underground economy, but there’s nothing underground about it: it operates in plain sight, as I will describe. Money clearly suffuses the system, paying for countless servers, vast amounts of online bandwidth, and specialized services that speed and cloak the transmission of stolen creative work. Excluded from this flow of cash are the authors, musicians, songwriters and the publishers who invest in them. The only benefit to the individual author is a parody of a benefit: that the work of the author will be better known.”

Turow offered five recommendations for reversing the assault on copyright:

1. Make online file-sharing service providers liable for facilitating the trafficking in stolen books, music, and movies if they frequently host and distribute stolen creative works or provide services that regularly facilitate the secret or rapid transmission of stolen creative work.
2. Require online file-sharing service providers to register an agent for service of process for copyright infringement actions with the Copyright Office as a condition to accepting credit card payments from the U.S. or ad feeds from U.S. online advertising suppliers.
3. Remove the DMCA safe harbors for online and Internet service providers that provide routine access to online file-sharing service providers that a federal court has found guilty of Facilitating the Trafficking in Stolen Books, Music, and Movies.
4. Remove the DMCA safe harbors for online and Internet service providers that provide routine access to online file-sharing service providers that have not registered an agent for service of process for copyright infringement actions and for which the Copyright Office has received at least 50 DMCA take-down notices.
5. Ensure that new legislative action can keep pace with developing technologies.

We’ve never been ones for urging anyone to write their congressperson, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Write your congressperson.

Richard Curtis