Archives for category: Book publishing

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Shelf Awareness‘s dedicated issue of September 26th, 2016 gives a detailed picture of Ingram Content Group as it was in those innocent times. Their piece includes this little gif which is no doubt now out-of-date. But I leave it in ‘cos I can’t make a gif myself, so am a bit impressed by it.

Ingram Content Group is part of Ingram Industries, a Nashville-based conglomerate with interests in marine engineering as well as entertainment and the book business. Ingram Industries are big in barges. The Content Group was founded in 2009, though before that there was a large book wholesaling business which had already been engaged in ebook facilitation and on-demand book printing for about a decade. They really have come a long way from their start — the date of which is a bit opaque to me. This New York Times article from 1984 tells us that in 1970 this division of Ingram Industries moved from being a school and library supplier into the wholesale supply of bookstores. Frustratingly it doesn’t tell us when the school and library supply business began, but the Ingrams started making barges shortly after World War II so we can perhaps assume a date between these two limits. Ingram Content Group is still a book wholesaler of course, but it’s so much more.

In this new world of virus consciousness Ingram is possibly even more important to the book trade than ever before. They can ship books to bookstores and now importantly drop-ship to the end reader; they can print books in their Lightning Source operation; they can manage digital files and thus ebooks; they provide warehouse and distribution services for lots of publishers; and of course they are supplying books to myriad bookstores — including Amazon. They are possibly now the biggest force in the book business — empty claim since I’ve no idea how you’d measure, but they are a vital part of the system of book creation and distribution. They are stepping into the breach in these constricted times, doing shipping for many bookstores. This includes Amazon*, who are of course reserving much of their warehouse space for household and medical products. (This of course sounds like a noble task, but one can’t help reflecting that margins are likely to be a good deal better for them with those sorts of product than they are for books, no matter how much they’ve succeeded in nailing publishers to the floor over larger and larger discounts.)

Chris Meadows at TeleRead wonders if Ingram ought not to be closing too in order to protect staff. “Ought” gets us into areas of ethics and moral philosophy which I’m not willing to explore. I dare say employees are glad to have the pay, and let’s hope that safety can be maintained, as well as book supply.

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* Again I speculate on whether this might represent a sign that Amazon’s thinking about abandoning the book business. Getting Ingram to ship on your behalf gets the books out, but must cut into margin quite significantly.

Of course we are all reluctant ever to imagine a book trade different from the one we know and love, but is it possible we are moving towards a world where traditional publishing evolves into an editorial development system, with sales handled by Amazon, and everything else by Ingram? For several years Ingram have offered a print buying service to publishers who don’t want to do their own: I don’t mean just the POD stuff they do at Lightning Source — they will contract with outside book manufacturers for books which print longer runs.

The times we are living through encourage one to get outside the envelope even as we can’t get out of the home.

Well, it’s not good of course.

Clearly publishing a new book this week is a bit different from publishing it a month or two ago. Publishers Weekly informs us that Simon & Schuster is the publisher who appears to have moved (delayed) the most publication dates — 145 thus far. Most publishers seem to be taking a bit more of a wait and see attitude to the issue. It is obviously desirable for the publisher to sell some books, and sales appear not to be as dramatically down (yet) as one might have expected. (Of course sales reports come from the past. The present may look different, not to mention the future.) For the publisher, income from one book rather than another, is still income. Cynically, for the publisher books are fungible when it comes to the accounting department. On the other hand for the author, having their book published into a weak market means a once-and-for-all loss of potential earnings. If only my book can be delayed until this is all past — our irresponsible president is after all telling me now that that’ll just be Easter! — I can still make all the sales I anticipated. Thus, once again, the wishes of authors and publishers diverge. I wonder if the arguments which will inevitably break out will drive more writers toward self publishing. Of course many authors are to a large extent made whole by the advance on royalties they have received. However a lot of this is going to hit the publishing industry down the road in the shape of advances which haven’t earned out.

Via Book Business Magazine I find this piece by Publishing Perspectives about publishers’ response here and in Britain. There’s detail on individual publishers’ responses, and links to other publishers’ crisis offers, including Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. The Association of American Publishers is also compiling a record of what publishers are doing in the crisis. Here also is Publishing Perspectives with a forecast for Italy. Is there such a forecast for America or Britain?  Given that we are meant to be two weeks behind Italy, perhaps there’s not yet been time to work one out. But publishers are dodging and weaving. Books continue to get sold, and books continue to get printed. And this is really just a week and a half into the brave new world of non-denial.

At random: Skyhorse Publishing has laid off 30% of staff, says Publishers Weekly, and Scholastic has also made layoffs. Book Expo America has been postponed and the American Library Association annual meeting is cancelled. Publishers Weekly is compiling a list of book happenings and non-happenings caused by corona virus. This will be updated. Big (and small) promotion events are peeling off. Bookstores are experimenting with on-line book events, and this might actually work out once we’ve nailed down the distribution end of things. Working from home does seem to be working quite well. Will anyone think of extending this into the future? Supervision remains an issue of course. It’s 35 years ago (or more) that I offended an employee by refusing to let her work from home and keep in touch by phone, but of course in those days we didn’t have the systems which now facilitate this mode of operation — not, I suspect, that my decision would have been any different today.

Now that attending school has been replaced by online learning, what a surprise, there are copyright issues. Publishing Perspectives has a story about how publishers are signing on to the Copyright Clearance Center’s “Education Continuity License”.

Things will be different when we come back to normality. Exactly how different is hard to know, but they have to be different. I suspect many publishers are personally unable to make any big decisions: there are just no precedents to inform any decision, and while you’re in shock it’s probably wise not to leap to any potentially dangerous dramatic conclusions. Time will help: lots of small decisions will begin to shape into an overall direction. Some books are being delayed. Bookstores are being granted extended billing. Print numbers are being cut, which means that publishers are going to be getting used to narrower margins. Maybe a few months of this will allow us to come to the realization that a narrower margin which is actually achieved is usually better than a wider margin which is missed. Budgeting routines will need to be changed. Forecasting sales which everyone has to do to create a budget is not going to be possible for a few months. It’s those sales forecasts which build in the reliance on high margin numbers; once you had the big number the machine used to have to be tuned up to achieve them. If however you just start with a book, print as few as you can get away with, and end up wherever it is you end up, having maybe done a couple of small reprints, your profitability while it may be lower will at least have the benefit of being real.

Bookstores are closing but enough still remain in business. Online sales will inevitably increase. One might anticipate movement in the ratio of ebook to print book sales, but print books can indeed still be supplied. Ingram offers to ship books direct to retail customers on behalf of publishers and booksellers, including Amazon. They remain open and as more and more bookstores close become proportionately ever more important to the book trade.

It’s basically about assessing the quality of journal articles, or, in more general terms, academic research.

When the world was young(er) it was pretty straightforward to know when a high-quality journal article appeared. There were probably only a couple of journals you needed to monitor in your subject area, and when a hot paper came out the buzz would alert you. Now there’s so much stuff being published, partly because of the growth of the academic industry, and partly because of the splitting of disciplines into more and more separate disciplines and sub-disciplines. As a consequence finding out what among the crowd is worth looking at has become hard. The assessing of the quality of academic research has become a topic of academic research itself!

Knowing what’s good and what’s not is also important for hiring decisions as well as for researchers. Just counting citations — the number of times your article has been referenced — is a fairly crude weapon.

“Altmetrics are non-traditional, article-level metrics that can include journal comments, blog mentions, Wikipedia mentions, Tweets, Facebook posts, Mendeley and CiteULike social bookmarkings, and many other items. Aside from articles, altmetrics can also measure videos, individuals, books, journals, and a host of other content types.” Thus John Bond in his Publishing Executive article.

If you don’t see video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Altmetrics is a website too, and brings us news of the top 100 articles of 2019. The most fascinating (to me anyway) is Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial from the British Medical Journal. The paper was published on 13 December 2018, though one is inclined to believe that the authors were hoping for a delay of about three and a half months until early April. Here’s a photo of one of their research subjects taking the leap — this one without parachute.

Presumably the point this paper is making is about research methodology and design rather than parachute use! The authors have surely got their point across, as it was the eighth most discussed article of the year.

Chris Meadows speculates at TeleRead on whether the current pandemic will doom face-to-face retail. Once you start thinking through the facts of the situation (would that facts were actually in readier supply) it does become tempting to believe the worst. Anything is possible, and extremes provide a siren call for analysis. (Mr Meadows is innocent of this implication: his piece admirably balanced, despite the arresting question in his headline.)

However I think it’s important to recognize that the outcome of any disaster is obviously not likely to be the best of all possible worlds, but even more importantly, it’s also likely never to end in the absolute worst possible situation. Even those dinosaurs didn’t all drop down dead from one week to the next. Like all things I suspect the outcome will be more nuanced, landing up somewhere in the middle.

There were quite a few bookstores in precarious condition before all this started. They might be compared to those over-70s with pre-existing health conditions. Some of them may make it, and we’ll rejoice when they do. Others start from a stronger place and will doubtless be able to withstand greater stresses. Mr Daunt appeared to be on the right track with Barnes & Noble, giving store managers more responsibility for inventory selection, but this must be putting the whole operation in danger. Layoffs continue apace — let’s hope that our government can get it together to vote support to laid-off workers and small businesses before too many members of Congress are forced into self-isolation!

When we come out the other side of this, as inevitably we will — it’s in no virus’ interest to kill off all its potential hosts — we’ll probably go about our business in different ways than we did before. I’ve been saying that these are early days, and we haven’t yet figured out how to behave under these conditions. Already we are seeing lines painted on the sidewalk outside the supermarket, which is letting people in in small groups, and is showing the queue outside how it should be spacing itself out. Governor Cuomo, who seems to be having a “good war”, was inveighing against all those New Yorkers in the parks last weekend. I dodge and weave when running through the park, and have observed these groups too. A father kicking a football with his two children is a very different story than a group of unrelated youths playing basketball. The family members live in close quarters anyway: the youths come from all over. We need to take care we don’t forbid the first while trying to stamp out the second.

In the case of bookstores, it does seem to me that people rather like having them. Just as the supermarket has the beginnings of a system, so too in a little while will other retail businesses. People want something to read, and we’re clever enough to work out a way to get it to them. I wrote about kerb-side delivery the other day: better systems will develop.

Available from Books Are Magic; half the proceeds go to Binc (The Book Industry Charitable Foundation), the other half to support store employees during the shutdown.

Good news: Pennsylvania which had last week ordered a shutdown of a long list of businesses, has over the weekend decided that printers are providing an essential service and may now continue in operation. Paper mills are also allowed to operate. Once printing works and distribution services shut down distributing books will become almost impossible. Without bookshops, and with Amazon prioritizing household goods and medications, it’s hard to see how anyone’s going to get physical books in any way other than direct mail. Ingram, which is so much more than a book distributor now, has announced it’s staying open. As Shelf Awareness tells us on 23 March, “Noting that it has book distribution and printing facilities in five U.S. locations, in the U.K. and Australia, Ingram Content Group has affirmed that it is remaining opening despite a range of shelter in place, lockdown and other restrictions put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ingram’s wholesale, distribution, print on demand, and digital services are considered essential, allowing the exemptions, the company said.” Here’s the Publishers Weekly account.

D. Eadward Tree’s talking about magazines in this 15 January Publishing Executive piece, but his warning of continuing supply difficulties applies to book publishing too. We are definitely in the middle of a large resizing effort in the printing and publishing paper industries.

Now obviously these sorts of problems are being exacerbated and dwarfed by the effects of self-quarantining, sheltering in place, lock down or whatever it is we are up to now. They may even be being rendered irrelevant, as demand withers. We look like we are moving from a supply-side to a demand-side hole. Although you’d think people might well want more books under these conditions, it is becoming harder to obtain them. As they did at Christmas Amazon is deprioritizing books, and focussing their efforts on stuff people really need, like medical supplies and household goods, including no doubt that favorite of hoarders, toilet paper. New York Public Library has closed, though you can still get ebooks from them. Many bookstores have had to shut: what after all is a bookshop without lots of people browsing?  Amazon is shutting its 21 bricks-and-mortar stores. Just yesterday morning Publishers Weekly told us of layoffs totaling 600: who’d have thought three booksellers could employ that many people?

Some bookshops are trying to survive by arranging kerb-side* pick up — you call ahead and when you get to the store someone will bring out the book and quickly give it to you. Books are the magic drug that’ll calm you down, and take your mind off your troubles! It is of course early in the process, and we haven’t yet worked out procedures which will enable us to work around the slowdown in retail, but it seems to me that publishers might seize the opportunity to develop their direct sales to readers. Yes, you need to keep people apart, but once things settle down a bit and testing becomes available (amazing that in the richest country in the world one has to say that!) then surely a “clean” crew could pack and ship from some secure location.

All in all, this ought to be the making of Bookshop.

There seems little doubt that publishers, most of whom are telling staff to work from home already, will be seeing a sales shrinkage. Probably the sharpest effect will be on trade books which are about to be published. Many titles are being delayed. It seems probable that booksellers will tend to favor books they know they can sell, rather than new books which have yet to establish their position in the marketplace. Backlist in other words, should perform less badly than front list. Beating that poor old horse yet again, let me say — set your books up for print on demand now. But this is all so new and unprecedented that we haven’t yet worked out how it is we should behave under these circumstances. I’d expect that in a couple of weeks we’ll have got a bit more used to new conditions and will begin to establish routines which may end up becoming a permanent part of our brave new world. Strange to reflect that all this is having a beneficial effect on our climate problems.

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* In America we seem to have decided that this is to be spelled curb-side. I love the signs that tell me to curb my dog: not that I have one any more. You curb a horse, but a dog wearing a bit I haven’t seen.

A review from Interesting Literature suggests that Censored: A Literary History of Subversion and Control by Matthew Fellion and Katherine Inglis is a book well worth reading.

One fascinating case study (there are 25 of them apparently) is the story of Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. The book was published pseudonymously in 1983 by Paladin Press, and was used as a template in a family murder ten years later. After the husband and the hit man he’d employed were found guilty, Paladin were sued by surviving members of the family. The moral position of a publisher who brings out such material is certainly open to question, but the legal position is however quite secure: “the judge found Hit Man to be reprehensible and ‘loathsome’, but the right to publish it fell under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” (In this context see also Security clearance.)

And that review is maybe as close as I’m going to get to this book at this quarantine-y time. It is published by McGill-Queens University Press. There is an ebook, available in Canada. I thought I’d put a hold on the physical copy at the New York Public Library, who have just reversed course and announced they’d be closing all branches. If I had it on hold I’d be able to go round and pick it up at our local branch as soon as the shut-down ceased. However, the library refuses to accept my hold request — closed it appears means closed. I guess there’s nobody there these days.

In a fit of benevolent inspiration I thought I’ll buy it from Bookshop, the new independent bookstore supporting online booksellers. No such luck; they don’t carry it. Can’t be because it’s Canadian can it: maybe it’s because it was published long ago, back in 2017. While I was willing to invest the dollars to support Bookshop, I don’t really want to get it from Amazon, who claim anyway to have but one copy left. Looks like they’re going to be the only way we can get anything for a few weeks anyway. They’ve just announced they are hiring more people. Let’s hope they stay healthy too.

UnknownWe all know that people working for government departments on hush-hush projects have to sign an agreement not to disclose secrets, and this seems like a really good idea. We don’t really want bomb making instructions available on every newsstand. I don’t think Kenneth W. Ford worked directly for the government, but as an academic he did many calculations and assessments in connection with “the bomb”, spending some time in Los Alamos. In 2015 The New York Times reported on Professor Ford’s troubles with the Department of Energy over publication of his book, Building the H Bomb: A Personal Memoir. This article created huge pre-publication demand for the book, according to The Federation of American Scientists website. They tell us that the book, published later in that year, did contain changes: the DOE “asked Dr. Ford to make extensive changes in his manuscript. Depending on one’s point of view, the requested changes may have been frivolous, unnecessary, or prudent. But there is no reason to suppose they were presented in bad faith.”

More and more we hear of “prior restraint” as companies increasingly make non-disclosure a part of their employment contracts. Often this requirement is deeply buried in the small print, and people only become aware of it when they want to cry out about discrimination, sexual harassment, etc.

Obviously we don’t want people blabbing secrets of national importance, facts which could lead to the identification of “assets” whose lives could be put at risk as a consequence. But the fact that you may have a boss who tried to hit on you and then refused a raise or promotion should surely not be covered by the same sort of security blanket. Taking a job with the government ought to make you consider the probability of some such prior restraint. Accepting government funding might also raise a red flag in your mind. But we are all now live more or less voluntarily under pretty wide-ranging barriers on self expression, imposed by political correctness, self-censorship, and legal impediments. In general it would seem that telling the truth should be allowable. If we are aware of something wrong at work, we should be allowed to speak out in order that the problem may be corrected. “Should” is aspirational of course: those high-value employees who get to slide by will probably always be allowed greater freedom than you or me. However being required to bite your tongue can lead only to creeping encroachment on our liberties as well as a metallic taste in the mouth.

“No publisher should ever express an opinion on the value of what he publishes. That is a matter entirely for the literary critic to decide. I can quite understand how any ordinary critic would be strongly prejudiced against a work that was accompanied by a premature and unnecessary panegyric from the publisher. A publisher is simply a useful middle-man. It is not for him to anticipate the verdict of criticism.”  —  Oscar Wilde

Well, he’s not wrong — Oscar would no doubt have said he was never wrong — but opinions will get expressed, won’t they? Opinions are what publishing people have in abundance. I used to grumble that we were unable to make any big decision without poling the cleaning staff too. But the decision not to publish the Woody Allen memoir is a doozy. The publisher is quoted at National Public Radio as saying: “Hachette Book Group has decided that it will not publish Woody Allen’s memoir A Propos of Nothing, originally scheduled for sale in April 2020, and will return all rights to the author.” And the books will be pulped. Doubtless there’s a not-insignificant advance to be written off too.

Stephen King among others has expressed concern at the decision, according to The Guardian. It’s undeniable that in an ideal world condemnation of any book should be made by the people who read the book. Mein Kampf, to ratchet discussion up many notches, surely has to be available if we want to be able directly to judge Hitler’s behavior. The publisher who opts to make controversial material available is obviously making a courageous decision, and their motives need to be honest (at least not solely commercial). There’s a need for people not to be adjudged guilty without their side of the story being heard: though there are obviously stories which you wouldn’t want to be the one upholding the standard of fair representation!

I don’t want to get into a discussion of no-platforming, but I do think publishers run a risk if they take part in pre-censorship activities. (Though there will be cases where prior restraint can be justified — national security, threats to the life of your employees or others, the recognition of plagiarism, serious error, and so on.) Publishers would be better employed in striving to maintain a stance of being a mere conduit between an author and their public. The real dumbness here is Hachette’s decision to take on Mr Allen’s book in the first place after their successful publishing of Ronan Farrow’s book which grew out of the earlier article and played such a part in the drive towards the Weinstein conviction. Dumb, dumb, dumb: and presumably greedy, greedy, greedy. Why would you agree to publish such a controversial volume if not in the hope of making a lot of money?

Wilde was of course talking about aesthetic opinions. A publisher should surely be allowed to make certain factual assertions — “The first . . .”, “The only complete . . .”, “Comprehensive . . .” though such statements do need to be reality based. In his claim Wilde was of course overlooking the obvious fact that a publisher is making a statement about a book by agreeing to publish it in the first place. Hachette/Little Brown should not have required a walk-out by their staff to remind them of this fact.

 

 

Bertelsmann’s going to be 100% carbon neutral by 2030, and Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House has spoken of their part in the plan. Publishers Weekly reports on the initiative and Publishing Perspectives also has a story. Thomas Rabe, Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann announces that the entire company will be joining Science Based Targets a program of the World Resources Institute. There are over 800 companies taking part by listing their programs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If you don’t see the Science Based Targets video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

This is of course good news: publicly-expressed intentions are important, but book publishing is perhaps not the biggest of greenhouse gas contributors. As Markus Dohle says Penguin Random House already sources 98% of the paper it uses from certified sources. The remaining 2% may be a  result of printing the odd job at a specialist plant which isn’t frequently used, or not frequently enough for PRH to have set up its own paper supply network, and where they are just using paper supplied by the printer. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative in North America and The Forest Stewardship Council internationally, do provide standards governing sustainable forestry — no illegal logging, replacement of cut trees, etc., but inevitably cannot guarantee zero emissions. However PRH is probably generating more greenhouse gasses from its logistics operations, warehouses, trucks, ships etc., than from the materials used in their books. Bertelsmann’s printing plants around the world do probably represent a sizable target for emissions controls, though printers have been active in these areas for years already.

Still, however close to achieving their 2030 target Bertelsmann may already be, it is important that industry leaders around the world announce their commitment to climate control measures. Thank you Bertelsmann.

We have long lived in a book world where there’s an apparent fiction at work over the ownership of the books as they sit about between publisher and ultimate customer. Bookstores send publishers orders, and the publishers (if the bookstore’s credit record is clear) will ship the books to them accompanied by an invoice, billing the cost of books, less discount, to the bookseller’s account. All seems pretty straight-forward: the bookstore has bought the books. Bookstores tend to get fairly generous credit terms from publishers, and may not face having to pay anything for two or three months. From an insurance perspective the books do now indeed belong to the bookstore: if the shop burns down, the bookseller’s insurance company is the one on the hook. But essentially the bookstore has those books there on a sale-or-return basis. If nobody comes into their shop to buy the books they will pack them up and return them to the publisher for full credit. The publisher will even pick up the freight cost. Thus in a way the bookstore doesn’t finally “own” the books till they sell them. This is formally termed a guaranteed sale arrangement.

Taking the logic of returns further, we now effectively live in a world of consignment buying, as reported in Shelf Awareness of February 18th 2014. Consignment is also called sale-or-return, although consignment selling might in its purest manifestation involve payment of a commission on the sale, rather than conversion to a discount sale as is done with books.

The reason the book trade came up with the idea of offering full returnability, is basically a marketing issue. You want to have books available in bookstores at publication date, preferably in profusion, so that anyone who reacts to the marketing hullabaloo by impulsively deciding to part with their money is able to do so without having to wait for a special order to arrive, by which time second thoughts may well have supervened, or the impulse to buy something else preempted the funds. To achieve this hyper-stocked position your sales representatives will seek to persuade bookstores to order more stock than they’d ever need under any circumstances other than the wildest bestsellerdom. It’s in the publishers’ interest for bookstores to over-order: it’s in booksellers’ interest to order cautiously. To overcome this dilemma the publisher moves the financial risk from the bookstore to their own accounting department by guaranteeing to take back unsold copies. “See safe” terms was what we often called such consignment deals in the days before they became the norm. This terminology was invented in Britain in the thirties when suddenly no-one could afford to buy anything. Better to have some books in front of the retail customer than to insist on the niceties of normal trade terms, so we’d see the bookseller safe so that we could make a sale.

The wheeze of guaranteed sale/sale-or-return, which now governs trade publishing, originated in the USA. When I worked in book sales in Britain in the sixties, the idea of returns hadn’t been invented — in the UK at least. I might occasionally get a phone call (actually, in those days it would almost certainly not have been a phone call, but a letter) from a bookshop that had made an ordering error, and of course we’d agree to take the books back for credit. But this was a very rare happening. We did however occasionally make arrangements for a consignment or see safe sale. Perhaps there was a special event, and the publisher would arrange for books to be supplied to the local bookstore on a see safe basis — after all who could know how many attendees there’d be and what proportion of them would want to buy a copy. Publishers are by nature optimists, but in many instances the reason for offering books for sale was mainly to appease a demanding author. Not fair to impose the cost of such promotion of the bookstore. These see-safe books would go out with a pro-forma invoice, recorded on the bookstore’s account but not billed to them. After the event, the books sold would be billed and unsold copies would be returned, though if there weren’t too many, they would often just be put into stock by the bookshop and paid for too. These sorts of book promotion events occur regularly to this day.