Publishing Crunch

Publishing Success in Ireland, Part Five, Summing Up

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This series has been an exciting and interesting one for me to write and research. The first four parts are the real meat. You can read them one by one:

Publishing Success In Ireland, Part One
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Two
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Four

So what have we learned with this series?

    1) Success is a lot more mundane than most people think.
    2) 1500-2000 units will put your book in the top 1000 books of that year.
    3) The industry is dominated by the forces of UK publishing
    4) That Fiction outperforms but is heavily driven by hits (making this Fintan O’Toole article nonsense*)
    5) That Average Selling Price makes a real difference

Have I anything new to share?
I’ve three new facts to share today.
– Up to the last Nielsen figures (28/11/2009) the Irish Consumer Market was down approximately 4.52% in Value
– Volume was up 5.42% though
– ASP was down 9.43%

These three facts indicate a number of unsettling features of the Irish book market.

Firstly, price is driving higher volume, but that is at the cost of driving down the ASP. This is surely putting everyone in the chain under extreme pressure.

Secondly, while there are some startling figures for individual books (70K+ for Secret Scripture for instance) as a whole, the Average Sale per Title is down somewhat (if this figure means anything).

Thirdly, Irish publishers are doing A LOT worse than the market as a whole. Not having full data makes this analysis superficial only so treat it with caution, but I estimate that nearly every Irish publisher has suffered a fall in sales much larger than the market fall. This has been driven by the heavy push booksellers are sensibly putting into bestselling titles, making the space tougher for smaller titles.

In short, success however modest, will be even more precarious going forward!
Eoin

* Also Dan Brown (who O’Toole picks on) has sold, 57193 copies of The Lost Symbol in Ireland so far this year.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 15/09/2009

Just under a month to TOC Frankfurt & the Frankfurt Book Fair. If you twitter, search using the following hash tag and youy’ll see lots of people are talking about it #fbf09. There’ll be a TweetUp (Which I’ll miss, but there you go) at the fair this year and I’d nearly put money on a European publisher acquiring something Twitter related for their list, though I’ll wait and see!

There have been a few interesting stories bouncing around the web the last few days on writing and publishing and where we are at with them. The Bookseller has a feature on how the downturn is affecting Author Pay, David & Charles have made a radical decision to realign themselves along a vertical basis, the result is layoffs in the short term but something else in the medium to longer term. In the same week I stumbled across this fine article about GeoCities and online communities in the American Prospect, lessons we should note and think about as we embrace the idea of verticals. Speaking of Verticals, Filedby.com was chosen by CUP to expand an author promotion platform in which they use some of Filedby’s premium features to help authors develop an online presence.

Digital publishers (and aspirants) everywhere were saddened by the news that Quartet Press has been disbanded after running into a string of problems too insurmountable to continue. The site carries the message, but Mike Shatzkin and Kassia Krozser (in two [1,2] excellent articles) carried on some detailed discussion and analysis. I’m not happy about this outcome for the founders, but I’m sure we will see more from them soon.

And then there was Dan Brown and his latest book the Lost Symbol which is variously being hailed as the ruin of us all (DJ Taylor in the Independent) or something of a saviour (Jeffery A. Trachtenberg in the the Wall Street Journal). Amazon and Waterstones have been selling it at half price for about three months, and don’t they look like genuis’ now that The Book Depository and the Multiples have launched a massive price offensive?

And in sad news, it’s bottoms up to Keith Floyd who died today, the video above shows him at his somewhat slowed down more mellow best. For a decent interview of recent origin, try this Daily Mail article!
Eoin

Publishers, Survival is not a right!

Eoin Purcell

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Noble thoughts, but misplaced
I read an interesting blog post the other day about the demise of print publishing. It was written by Indie Publisher, Barbara Philips of Bridge Works Books on the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency blog. The ideas were worthy and valid (if pervaded by a sense that publishers have a RIGHT to exist) and in fact will work for a while, but overall the post was totally misguided.

For the record the suggestions were:

1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced.
2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors.
3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Dealing with them one by one
Killing Returns is a double edged sword. Yes it will save publishers from the practice of retailers and wholesalers paying for new books by returning old unsold ones, but equally it will force publishers to cut print runs (reducing margin) and find better ways to sell books than stacking them high and hoping display does the trick (as it often does). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact both these things would be good for publishers, it’s about time we printed the right amount of books rather too many and connecting with the audience properly is well worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Changing the publishing deal. This is eminently sensible. HarperStudio seem to be making some waves by following this strategy (Combined with Killing Returns). The problem, as I see it is that this remains a short termist strategy.

As the cost and difficulty of becoming your own publisher crashes (the last barriers remain access to bricks and mortar bookshops and distribution) more authors will take their self created platforms and followings and become their own publisher avoiding entirely the traditional distribution channels and selling online.

Being against Selling in more ways is like being against Apple Tart (Pie) or (Cotton) Candy-floss. Sure everyone wants to sell the same content in as many possible formats as we can, but what if consumers don’t want to pay anything like the were willing to pay for the print version?

The Traditional Publishing Model

The Traditional Publishing Model

These are not strategies, they are tactics
None of these moves are actions that will change the fundamental reality of book publishing for Indie or Major publishers. There are real strategies that might work (no-one knows though). You can delve into a niche like Osprey, Tor or Adams media. You can try and be the best marketer of general books as I believe HarperStudio is. Even better you can buy the best assets (Seth Godin‘s Purple Cow(s)) there are and use them as the foundation of your publishing business like Bloomsbury is doing. But the rest is just window dressing on a collapsing superstructure that cannot hold.

What The Digital World Enables

What The Digital World Enables

If you don’t trust my judgement on this, read Seth Godin’s recent post on competing with the single minded, read Mike Shtazkin on vertical niches, read Tim O’Reilly’s archive on publishing.

The world has changed. Publishers should certainly try and embrace a new way of business, but it needs to be entirely more radical than just killing returns, changing contracts, selling through more channels and sharing profits with authors. The industry needs to embrace the reality that power has shifted away from publishers and get on with figuring out if we can survive this shift the impact of which is only gradually being felt. Eventually everyone will realise that it has happened (Amazon and Google have certainly figured it out and so have Apple) and when they do, the change will become much more rapid. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SURVIVAL.

I am the proud owner of Season Two of Mad Men in DVD, sadly Season Three is already started, I am destined to be behind the curve in that show!
Eoin

Publishing success in Ireland, Part Two

Eoin Purcell

This is Part Two in a series (currently of indeterminate length but I suspect five) of posts. Read the first, Here.

The Categories
I promised at the end of my last post to offer up some analysis of the ICM in terms of categories and trends. The first thing to say about this is that I don’t think people will be surprised by the list in the image below. It reflects the top ten best-selling categories in the 2008 ICM. The image is small but clicking on it will take you to a google document that will have quite a lot of other data as this series moves ahead.

The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

What strikes me as the most interesting part of this top ten categories is that the overwhelming winner is General & Literary Fiction. At 30.9% of the Top 1000 it is 3 times larger than the next biggest, Crime & Thriller, which is also fiction. If you add in Young Adult Fiction and Childrens Fiction to the mix, fiction makes up a solid 47.29% of the Top 1000. Impressive no?

Interestingly, Autobiography of all varieties makes a solid appearance in the top ten, which is not all that surprising when you consider that it includes titles like:

    Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything
    Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes
    The Diving-bell and the Butterfly
    Parky: My Autobiography
    Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up
    My Booky Wook
    Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography
    Carra: My Autobiography
    Sonia: My Story

Yes readers, the celebrity publishing is alive and well in Ireland, just in case you thought we had a more literary bent here in Ireland.

What does the top ten not show us?
Well for one thing we miss the fact that the 11th most popular category was True Crime. I’m not surprised by this and I suspect most people would not be either. The rest of the top 20 is a bit more diverse. But the number of units and the percentage of the market these categories represent slide rapidly towards less than 1% of the whole ICM Top 100.

The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

Which neatly brings me to the core message this category analysis exercise MIGHT suggest, that publishing fiction is a good route to success. After all fiction seems to account for the bulk of the Top 1000 sales. On the face of it that makes sense, but I’m not so sure about it. However I think I will leave the next post to explain why that is the case.

Two very interesting meetings today,
Eoin

Self-publishing Attracts Star Authors Too

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: Covey has signed a deal with Rosetta & Amazon making Amazon the exclusive distributor of Covey’s ebooks backlist! Pretty big news: Here’s more in the New York Times:

Amazon, maker of the popular Kindle e-reader and one of the biggest book retailers in the country, will have the exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and a later work, “Principle-Centered Leadership.” Mr. Covey also plans to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon, which will promote them on its Web site.

The move promises to raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system.

Mike Cane has a post on it too

Self-Publishing Talk
This morning I had a very engaging chat with a student writing a thesis on self-publishing in Ireland and comparing it to self-publishing internationally. The discussion was wide ranging (though perhaps a bit too much of me). At one point I mentioned thatin some ways traditional publishing was getting caught in the middle with the lower tiers of publishing falling into Print on Demand and self-publishing territory (as I discuss here) and the upper tiers ripe for big stars to defect to self-publishing options. I couldn’t think off hand of an example (except for an author I worked with recently who only recently revealed a plan to self publish whose name I couldn’t reveal).

Then I came home and logged into twtetr and read this twitter comment (yes I use it compulsively: http://www.twitter.com/eoinpurcell) pushed me to this Wall Street Journal article about the plans of Stephen Covey:

Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” will launch a new self-published line of short books tomorrow called the Insight Series.

You don’t get much bigger than Stephen Covey, frankly he is massive.

Authors are brands
Really they may well be the only brands publishers have unless they manage to create a sensible strategy around their own names like Tor.com, Mills & Boon and Osprey have. If they don’t act to create better partnerships with these top level authors, I believe they will loose a lot of them to self-publishing enterprises like Stephen’s effort. It is simply too lucrative a proposition for many of them.

If you ask me (and you haven’t) game is heating up. It is becoming clearer by the day that the existing models of publishing are unsustainable. Change is unavoidable. I wonder will we, as an industry, respond?
Eoin

PS: If you’d like to think some more about that Author as Brand concept, here is a nice audio piece from New Hamphsire public radio featuring Sarah Weinman on the topic. It is well worth listening to.

On Fungibility

Eoin Purcell

Why the future will bite
Today’s lesson in why the future is neither necessarily a nice place comes in the form of this nasty headline and story I spotted in The Bookseller:

A total of 11 assistant editor posts have gone at Taylor & Francis imprint Europa Publications, with the function now offshored to New Delhi.

We will see more of these headlines and they are one of the very specific reason* why I avoided the editorial side of publishing in favour of commissioning and more relationship focused aspects. It all comes down to fungibility (that link goes to a pretty decent explanation on wikipedia but if you wanted an uncritical look at what I really mean, try Friedman’s The World is Flat which does a good job of explaining some of the economics).

Why is the editorial side at risk more than the commissioning?
The basic thought process goes like this. There is no reason why an English speaking editor in India, Pakistan, China, Canada, Germany or indeed any country in the world cannot edited a work written in English. This increases the competition. Even if all things were equal that would make the market tougher for editors anyway. But all things are not equal and pay scales differ hugely across these countries making it tempting for companies to outsource their editorial efforts and achieve productivity and expense improvements.

On the commissioning side there is less chance that an English speaker in India knows much about the market conditions of the Irish or UK market, they may well have a strong idea of who the major players are but do they know them and can they reach them on the phone, have they lunched with them or met them for sales events recently? Do they understand why certain books work in a small distant market or why they don’t? Probably not and learning these things and meeting these people requires on the ground experience an expense that most people won’t engage in. This builds an artificial protection for those engaged in commissioning and relationship type activities on the ground.

Of course this logic does not always protect the commissioning editor as I know too well but announcements like the one today and my own experience within publishing shows that where a bad economy might hurt the prospects for those working in the commissioning arena, even a good economy will not protect the editorial side of the business from the competition that changing technology has enabled!

Been a good few days,
Eoin

* The others being:
1) I saw that the larger share of the money in publishing rested in this area and
2) I felt much more at home with the commissioning and relationship skill-set.

Hire me, I am a man of leisure

Eoin Purcell

Why I have so much time
Yesterday I was laid off by Mercier Press. I’m not bitter or angry, sometimes companies have to make decisions that no one likes but that are necessary given the economic climate. It helped that I had commissioned a list for almost the entire year 2010. I will miss many of my co-workers at Mercier.

Honestly, I see this as a great opportunity. I’ve made no firm plans yet so I thought I would put myself out to the market and see what came back. Until I update this post I am available for short-term, medium and long-term work. If you have an offer drop me an e-mail (eoin.purcell AT gmail.com). I’ll consider anything publishing- or writing-related, but I’ll be honest (as my readers know) I’m no copy editor or proofer!

Looking forward to the future,
Eoin