Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30, 2008 - Winding Down The Year

As 2008 - a year of turmoil, strife, challenge and change - winds down, lots is going on in the publishing game. Much of it points to continued tension in the business come 2009.

Publisher's Marketplace reports that the huge Barnes & Noble store in Harrisburg PA that has been under construction will not open. The Patriot-News said that the mall owner's financial difficulties have left it in default of the mortgages owed TD Bank (in the neighborhood of $50 million and change).

PM also reports, citing Freep.com, that Borders' share price, closing at $ .37 cents on Monday (a drop of $ .06) puts it in jeopardy of review by the New York Stock Exchange. The new price per share is down from the $1.00 it was at on November 26 when Borders made the announcement that it was no longer seeking a buyer. They quote a Farmington Hills turnaround expert, Ken Dalto as saying, "They tried to sell and there weren't really any takers at the price they wanted." and further, "Borders is a 1980s, 1990s concept. They are not going to have the market share they used to have. One way or another, they are going to have to downsize. The method of distribution of entertainment has fundamentally changed in the past 10 years. Borders doesn't have a cutting edge, that's the problem." The article also blames Borders' troubles on their inability to hold a market share from the powerhouse of e-selling, Amazon.

The written word lost several luminaries in the past few days. Playwright Harold Pinter passed away at age 78 on December 25. Children's book illustrator of one of my favorites, A Child's Garden of Verses, Margery Gill died at 83 (October 31st). Mystery author Hillary Waugh died on December 8th at 88. And Thomas B. Congdon, editor of, among many others, Peter Benchley and David Halberstam, died at 77.

Reported by everyone and their mother, on the "who wrote a book and lied" front this week, Angel at the Fence, the "memoir" by Herman Rosenblat - purporting to be a poignant history of how he met his wife while a prisoner at Buchenwald in Nazi Germany - has been disputed by historians and upon receiving new information from Rosenblat's agent, Berkeley (an imprint of Penguin) announced it was pulling the title. Penguin's had a tough year, having to pull the gang-memoir by Margaret B. Jones, Love and Consequences, and a scant month later they severed their relationship with romance author Cassie Edwards over her alleged copyright infringement and plagiarism of other sources.

An anonymous source at the Sunday Seattle Times said book reviews are being reduced to a single page on Sunday and a single review on Friday. At another paper, The Washington Post is losing Marie Arana, who had spent 15 years editing the Book World section of that paper. Arana is leaving to "pursue a full-time writing career" reports Galley Cat.

As newspapers cut their coverage, look to the web for continued reviews, not just for romance titles but books of every ilk. A wise author will be compiling a hefty database of these sites for their own purposes. Hey, how many papers or magazines (outside of RT) review romances anyway?

The end of the year is when we start seeing those "best of" lists (everything from best book to best cheese, I swear). So not to be left out of the stampede, I'm reporting some here (no one wants to hear what MY idea of the best books of the year were, after all!):

PW's Best Books List includes Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth on the fiction list (among numerous other notable authors' titles), Lie Down with the Devil by Linda Barnes on the mystery list, the Elizabethan paranormal, Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear under SF/Fantasy/Horror, and the first title of the Jordan Dane tri-fecta, No One Heard Her Scream under mass market. The lists were long and varied, but these titles popped out at me.

The NY Times, of course, does everything in a big way, so their list is not the best of the year, but (drum roll, please) The Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years - and the winner is: Beloved by Toni Morrison. Runners-up included Don DeLillo's massive tome, Underworld, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, John Updike's quartet, Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, and American Pastoral by American iconic author Philip Roth (who had so many titles under the other high-vote getters that they should just give him a separate list). Sadly for us feminists, the only other female author to make the pack of also-rans was Marilynne Robinson for Housekeeping.

The list was presented along with an essay by literary critic, A. O. Scott, discussing the questions raised during the selection process (debate? really?). Included were, what, exactly is fiction, what qualities would make something the "best". Even the notion of what, exactly, was meant by "the last 25 years" apparently led to a lively debate.

In the business arena, the NY Times also ran a story on December 24th predicting the e-book's slow rise is going to be picking up speed. The race is being fueled, apparently, according to Brad Stone and Motoko Rich, by the e-book device battle between Kindle and Sony (which was helped apparently in pre-holiday sales by the fact that the Kindle was out of stock, possibly the result of an Oprah plug in October which led to faster than anticipated sales. Oops.)

Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading division is quoted as saying, "The perception is that e-books have been around for 10 years and haven't done anything. But it's happening now. This is really starting to take off." He reports that the Sony reader sales had tripled this holiday season when compared to last year. Since the debut of the original model of the Reader in 2006, he says, they've sold 300,000 devices. Amazon wasn't talking, but a book market researcher, Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, said he believed the figure was approximately 260,000 units through the beginning of October (pre-Oprah). Others however suggest the number is closer to a million. Further information shows that many Kindle buyers are "outside the usual gadget-hound demographic". Almost as many women as men and it is a popular device among the 55-64 year old age group.

Simon & Shuster, along with Harper Collins and Random House, say that e-sales are still a small percentage of their overall sales, but they do agree that sales of e-books have "tripled or quadrupled in the last year".

Harlequin Enterprises reported in the NYT piece that "expected sales of digital versions of the company's books someday to match or potentially outstrip sales in print". So says Malle Vallik, director for digital content and itneractivity. Harlequin's 120 titles per month makes all of them available digitally, along with their e-only shorts under Spice Briefs and Nocturne Bites.

A last detail from the article: "Scroll Motion announced this week that it would begin selling e-books for the iPhone from major publishers like Simon & Schuster, Random House and Penguin. All of these cmopaneis say they are now tailoring their software for other kinds of smartphones, including BlackBerrys. Publishers say these iPhone applciations are already starting to generate nearly as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader..."

Both Amazon and Sony are expected to introduce new versions of their machines in 2009. And they'd better be good, because competitors like Plastic Log and E Ink, are on the way with their own devices (both models planned to be on sale in 2010).

And a little closer to home. From Penny Sansevieri, The Marketing Expert, comes some advice on writing web copy. She advises you to write in narrow columns of text; use bullet points and "read more" buttons (research shows people scan for interesting bits and then hunker down); stay on point (you have less than a second to grab attention, so distill copy to the important details); use captivating headlines and make sure to make your message obvious, using headlines, lists and bold text to convey your message; and use links - to other areas on your site and other relevant sites.

She also has some advice on making your book trailer stand out: 1. Keep it short (30 seconds); Use Flash as your program to stream your video; 3. Avoid poorly produced videos and bad acting - still shots can be just as engaging; 4. Make sure your music is Rights Free or that you own them; 5. Don't forget to include a cover of your book and where to find it.

In January there are free telecasses from AME University. The Building Blocks of Book Marketing on January 1, 2009 from 4-5 pm, and Book Signing Gold on January 22nd, same time. See Penny's link further down the page for details or send an email to author@amarketingexpert.com.

Once again let me suggest that you subscribe to this e-zine newsletter. It is chock full of info on marketing and promo and has lots of links to classes and other opportunities.

And further on the author marketing front, Amazon has launched Author Pages - though it is experimental. 2,500 "customized selling pages for authors", which "store" the company hopes to make home to webpages for all authors. (Reported by PW, PL and by Galley Cat). Here's what Amazon says: "Amazon has added a new way of finding books to its site, which the company is calling Author Stores, single pages that feature all books from a particular author, plus, in many cases, an author photo and some related content, such as a biography, message board and streaming video."

So much for tonight, folks, this is a lot of information. I've got plenty more where this came from so look for Winding Down the Year, the Sequel, tomorrow. Same place.


Deborah Blake said...

This is a great summary, Lise--thanks for doing it! This is the first I have seen of your blog, but as Arnold said, "I'll be back!"
Deborah Blake

Deborah Blake said...

Sorry, I'm getting over the flu and my brain is stupid...realized I have been to the blog before, in fact, I'm listed as a "follower" :)
but shouldn't I be getting updates then? I happened to stubble across it twice, but as you can tell, I forget about things...
Is there a way to subscribe and get the new blogs sent to me?

Lise said...

Deborah, I'm curious because I thought that was what a "follower" got too - notices when I posted - but I've encountered this problem with several blogs that I am "following", too. No notification. I'm looking into it!