Guest Blogger: Richard Charkin

Eoin Purcell

They Can’t Eat You*
One thing I have learned since I started blogging is that asking can result in only two answers; Yes or No. The rest is variation on a theme.

I first learned this when I cheekily asked to meet Richard Charkin, then CEO at Macmillan, for a meeting at a point when I needed advice and direction. He was very active in the blog world, being at the time the only CEO of a major publisher blogging on a daily basis. He agreed and met me for lunch in London and we had a great chat about publishing, blogging and the future.

So, determined not to let his move to Bloomsbury be the end of his blogging as it seems to have been, I e-mailed and asked again. The result is below:

Charkinblog Banner**

Eoin wrote to me a week or so ago asking if I‘d write a guest blog for him. I had a bit of travelling ahead of me (London-Delhi-London-Berlin-London-New York-London) and so agreed to try. Of course I failed to write a word on the planes as I suffered a mixture of lack of inspiration, fatigue and laziness. But now guilt has reasserted itself and blogging is on my mind.

From December 2005 until September 2007, while I was working at http://www.macmillan.com I compiled a blog. I’ve spent this morning editing out possible copyright infringements and writing a preface because, amazingly, Macmillan want to publish a print version (on demand of course) for students of publishing etc. It made me realize how much I owed to guest bloggers and commentators and friends and how I owed Eoin a short piece for his blog.

Yesterday’s London Times had an interesting piece in the Business News section A novel Idea May Not Be Lucrative. The author’s conclusions are hardly earth-shattering. Most novels don’t earn very much money for their authors (or their publishers) but people enjoy writing books for reasons other than money. What is extraordinary is that the piece is the lead article in the business section of a major newspaper. The fiction publishing industry is tiny and hardly any of it is available to investors (in the UK only Penguin, part of http://www.pearson.com , and http://www.bloomsbury.com , my employers are fiction publishers and quoted companies). Sales of some novels are spectacular but even the most spectacular compare in revenue and terms very unfavourably with, for example, a drug, a car, an airline, or an oilfield.

As an industry we should be very grateful for all the attention (and I am) but why this journalistic obsession with the economics of books and fiction in particular?

Thanks Richard. I know that there are a good dozen readers who will be buying that book and they are not students either! A great way to turn on its head our obsession with media coverage. I’ll need to think a little more about this.
Eoin

* Bob Parson’s 16 Rules (corny and wise, a good combination)
** The Charkinblog banner was sourced from http://charkinblog.macmillan.com/

Is Scott Pack the best thing to happen to Indie publishing since sliced bread?

Eoin Purcell

Probably*
Just reading a rather nice review of 2007 from the lovely people at Fidra Books who I have been admiring from afar for some time (Blog is here and main publishing page here):

At no point did I say that I wanted us to buy a shop and open a bookshop or start developing a trade list but those are by far the biggest developments in our business.

Excellent progress I thought as I read and got excited about how well they would do with their list when it cam out packaged the right way. And then I read this:

The other thing that had a huge effect on Fidra was an email from Scott Pack asking why our books weren’t in more bookshops and Susan Hill pointing out that we should be pursuing a wider range of readers than the collectors who made up the main body of our customers.

Thanks to their well timed prodding our books are now available via Gardners to any bookshop that has an account and we’ve seen sales rise through outlets who wouldn’t have otherwise stocked our titles. Scott agreed with me that the ‘retro’ look of our books wouldn’t endear them to mainstream booksellers and we hatched a plan which will come to fruition later this year to repackage some of our bestselling titles in a contemporary format and launch them as a trade list to be sold into more bookshops. It’s all very exciting and when I saw the drafts for the cover designs that the lovely people at Snowbooks are creating for us I was really excited – I’m looking forward to being able to unveil them here soon.

I am delighted to see this kind of encouragement and engagement between independents. It just makes sense, long may it last. Scott seems very eager to share his expertise and that is very refreshing and exciting, especially when he has his own company to think about. Not to mention his busy blog.

Enjoying the season,
Eoin

*Contested only by the lovely people at Snowbooks of course

High Society – The kind of press you don’t need

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: THIS IS GETTING QUITE CONFUSING NOW. I WAS ON LUNCHTIME WITH EAMON KEANE COMMENTING ABOUT IT. MY ONLY TASK WAS TO SAY WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE IF PRESENTED WITH THE BOOK. I’M FAIRLY SURE G&M DID EVERYTHING I SUGGESTED.


Publishing is about risk

The risk of losing money and of a book flopping, the risk of missing the market and in some cases, the risk of believing someone you shouldn’t and taking the brunt of that when your error is uncovered. This has blown up in publishers faces recently. The James Frey episode being a glaring example of it. What seemed a true and exciting memoir was in fact an embellished, only partly true account.

There is no evidence that that is what has happened in the case of Gill & MacMillan’s recent book The High Society. In this case, it seems not to be a case of lying. By the account of RTÉ and G&M there are, at the very least, contemporaneous notes about every interview conducted for the book and accompanying TV series. That satisfies me if not others, we have always trusted journalists notes and I don’t see why we shouldn’t in this instance.

But it still must be unsettling when stories like this one emerge about a very controversial book:

RTÉ and Gill & Macmillan declined requests to see interview transcripts claiming confidentiality agreements, but they both said they remained confident about the authenticity of the material.

And when the follow up is a clip of the author on radio saying something that turns out not to be the case, its damn worrying. After all, we operate on a trusting basis with most authors and we rely on their word.

Feeling a little bad for G&M, RTÉ and Justine Delany-Wilson today, the whole affair strikes me as a concentrated effort to bring doubt onto a book that challenged the “great”, the “good” and the powerful in Ireland to face up to and tackle our Drugs problem (though the whole thing will most like sell more books).
Eoin

Damn, I’m not sure I like this idea

Eoin Purcell

I normally go wild for Snowbooks’ ideas
They tend to have huge potential, sound very exciting and generally seem to push things forward. Like Snowcase:

Hosting snippets of fiction for our visitors to read and comment on is one tiny way to explore the future and to muddy the boundary between self-publishing and the traditional approach. The puzzle, though, will come if someone signs up a great new author because of it. Will that prove we still have a place in the world of fiction or that pretty soon maybe we won’t?*


But this one just doesn’t excite me

Its called The PubBench (which is clever short hand for The Publishers Benchmarking Forum). There is much more here on the welcome page:

There’s a big difference between thinking you’re doing something wrong, and knowing that your challenges are the fault of the market. It doesn’t mean the challenges go away, but it does mean you’re more able to put things into perspective and maintain your confidence in your abilities. And when things are going well, you can judge whether that’s because of your genius or because of market forces.

And a little more on The Bookseller.

But why you ask

For one thing because it will cost £25 a year (€37.50 or so). I don’t oppose this because I don’t like people making money (if you knew me you’d know that would never be an issue). Rather I think it will act to upset the smooth working of the project.

If the idea is to share ideas, knowledge and experience then there will be two basic types of visitor: The Seeker of Knowledge and the Possessor of Knowledge. For the Seeker, the price is less of an issue if the available advice is quality. For the Possessor however there is simply no incentive to join and contribute. If the Possessor does not join and contribute then there will be no value for the Seeker and so they will not join.

And that is where the pricing issue becomes a problem. £25 is a huge cliff to climb from most people’s perspective. As Chris Anderson says:

The one cent barrier is very high. One cent tends to wall off viral effects. If you make something free, it is spontaneously distributed through word of mouth, and as you know, the Web is the world’s greatest word of mouth amplifier.**

Combined with the joining problem, if networking effects are truly being ruled out then all this will be is a closed talking shop which will not help break down the mystery that for some reason seems to surround publishing. It seems a far cry from what I would see as an ideal. Something more open and accessible like Slowfire (a vision that has yet to realise its full potential) would have been nice.

In any case I don’t wish to be too negative as I do admire the sentiment behind this move and I hope it succeeds for Emma.

Still vaguely underwhelmed
Eoin

*[From Emma’s blog on the topic on The Bookseller]
**BEYOND THE BOOK – Giving It Away: Free Lunch or Unrealized Opportunity?
From the Copyright Clearance Center – http://www.beyondthebook.com

I do like this though:

Richard Charkin leaves MacMillan for Bloomsbury

Eoin Purcell

ByeBye Charkinblog
Times they are a changing. Bloomsbury announced that Richard Charkin will join them as executive Director on 1st October:

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc has today appointed Richard Charkin an Executive
Director of the Company with effect from 1 October 2007.

Richard joins the team with responsibility for operations worldwide and with
particular focus on spearheading growth through acquisitions, new publishing
areas and international expansion.

MacMillan also commented and as you might expect, Richard had some words for his own blog:

What it means is that I won’t have to think of something to write about every morning on this blog. Just for the record we’ve had 1,137,267 visitors and generated $338.37 in advertising income. More importantly I’ve made new friends, learned tons and had fun. Thanks to all of you and pip pip from charkinblog.

As if to seal the deal, comments are closed on the post.

Seems like a good move to me
Eoin