Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 Roundup

The year is winding down, it’s time for that annual activity known as “looking back at the year that was while we’re all waiting for the old mirror ball to drop in Times Square” so let’s see what we remember about the year in publishing:

Amazon. Nook. iPad. Kindle. Kindle. Kindle. iPad. Google. Barnes & Noble. Dorchester. Digital. digital, digital. Then there was Riggio vs. Burkle. RWA vs. Harlequin. BEA vs. Tools of Change. Wiley vs. Random House. Rowling vs. Meyer. Salinger vs. Colter. E-book pirates against everyone.

Need a bit more to refresh your memory?

I think it is safe to say the word of the year was “Digital”.

Contrary to the predictions of all and sundry, digital did not begin a slow, steady march toward the expected “10% of sales by 2012”. It put on its boogie shoes and made a mad dash for double digits, leaving folks in a state of shock and awe as month, after month, the e-book sales went through the roof. (as reported by PW, digital showed a 171.3% year-to-date increase in digital sales).

One reason? It was the year of the e-reader wars. Sony was already lagging far behind when the Kindle began really heating things up. Then came the newer Kindle. Then came the Nook. And the iPad. And Kobo. Now the playing field is rife with e-reader gadgets and dozens of apps and while Kindle still reigns supreme, the iPad is nipping at its heels. B&N’s bookstore and sales of its original Nook and now the hot and well-received Nook Color, have been managed beautifully and their strategy is paying off (unlike Borders whose dismal third quarter is raising new speculation that they risk “liquidity issues” [PW, 12/13/10], B&N’s 2010 third quarter sales were up 64.3% over last year, based in great part on sales of the Nooks, the success of their new B&N on-line store and digital book sales). Much-anticipated books like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Ken Follett’s monster Fall of Giants were reported to have sold more in digital copies than hard copies. Other bestsellers did similar business, lending weight to the publishing fears that digital was going to cannibalize print.

From our particular perspective, the recent NY Times article supported what we already knew – that romance has always, and continues, to drive digital sales. Something Ellora’s Cave, Samhain and others could have told NYT! The powerhouse Harlequin has the Carina e-book imprint and the print houses are all on board with simultaneous (or nearly) release of digital formats for all their romance titles, making it not too farfetched to expect similar supremacy, and an even more massive rise in sales for next year.

Several publishing heavyweights have predicted that by 2012 digital will represent 25% of all book sales. No wonder everyone in the industry is scrambling to adjust those business models!

Beyond the issue of sales, comes the other big one-two punch for authors when we’re talking e-books: Changes in contracts regarding the digital format release of books and how it compares to print release, particularly as it pertains to the definition of “out of print”. Agents and publishers are already haggling over how to tweak this definition. It will be a vital issue for authors who are looking to regain rights over titles so that they can utilize the digital format for re-issuing backlist titles. Definitions too favorable to the publishers may mean an author can expect to NEVER see rights to those titles revert. The second sticky wicket as far as authors are concerned is even more contentious: Royalties on e-books. Right now, they are all over the place but generally not favorable to authors. We get 40% from some digital publishers. 25% from print publishers (against an average of 4 or 5% for print format). Arguments that lower production costs to publishers mean they should be paying a higher royalty to authors have so far fallen on (apparently) deaf ears. And the pricing tug of war between sellers like Amazon and publishers, and among publishers themselves over pricing of digital versus print, adds another wrinkle to the problem. As advances shrink, print runs get smaller, shelf-space for midlist titles continues to decrease, and marketing funds are chopped, for authors not in the top tier, might this make digital a more appealing option, if only for the higher royalties available? Except for the bestselling authors who get the full-page print ads and TV interviews, the rest of the pack of authors are out scrambling for ways to market and sell themselves anyway, so the smaller print advances, against higher digital royalties, may well make it a more appealing option.

Beyond the digital news, sadly, the world of books lost some major authors, and, by extension, some much loved characters. Robert Parker died at his desk, leaving one last Spenser novel to enjoy. J. D. Salinger slipped away, but we’ll always have Holden to remember him by. Belva Plain, whose epic romantic novels swept us away died at 95. Genre authors Dick Francis, Philip Carlo and popular romance author Elizabeth Thornton passed away, as did Eric Segal, author of that iconic three-hanky book of 1970, Love Story.

In our little corner of the world, we saw RWA quietly back away from their hard-line stance against Harlequin. Further, they have made baby steps toward studying the issue of digital and how it affects – and stands to benefit – the 10,000+ RWA members. We found some new confidence in the Dorchester situation as the independent publisher changed commanders at the helm. As authors of genre-blended romance and romantic fiction that doesn’t quite fit in the “box”, we saw our stories being accepted in greater and greater numbers by the e-pubs who are willing to give us – and our readers – a chance to embrace more diversity. Erotic romance and its steamy brethren continued to surge ahead, and Amish and Mennonite romance became a “thing”, but the real story was the continued rise of YA paranormal. We saw Publisher’s Weekly begin a romance review section (what were they waiting for?) and there was increased coverage of our genre by the news media, as well as a starring role for romance novels in the film RED.

What will 2011 bring? Obviously – more discussion and debate. More jockeying for supremacy on line and in the hearts of readers. Perhaps a Google settlement, once and for all. There’s bound to be new readership figures, contract quagmires, store closings, higher digital sales, new apps (by the dozen), better and cheaper e-readers. New strategies by the old-timers, and more innovation by the new kids on the block. There’s sure to be a “surprise” bestselling hit that makes a new star out of someone (perhaps even a digital-only novel!), and no doubt we will see the slew of books optioned for films resulting in yet another blockbuster motion picture.

What is the one thing that we can all be sure of?

People will keep reading.

So keep writing.

Here’s to success in 2011.