Thursday, December 04, 2008

Black Wednesday for the book world

As the future of wholesaler Bertrams as part of EUK, the wholesaler arm of Woolworths hangs in the balance, the book world is holding its breath to see what happens. The most likely contenders are Lingenbrink, Libri and Koch or Neff - all of them German - or Dutch based Centraal Boekhuis. The strong Euro may make the company look attractive, but Germany in particular and the rest of Europe are like Britain, on the brink of recession, and European banks are tighter on lending than their UK counterparts.

Across the Atlantic and encouraged by the strengthening dollar, Ingram may also be a contender - they already have a presence in the UK via Lightning Source, but the recession in the US is if anything worse than here.

Negotiations also continue for a buyer for the troubled chain of Woolworths stores.

Yesterday I read of the redundancy of Telegraph Literary Editor Sam Leith after ten years service. I wish him well in his future career. Yesterday was not a good day for publishing all round Stateside, being tagged as "black Wednesday", following the news of 35 redundancies from Simon and Schuster and that Thomas Nelson are to shed 10 percent of their staff, effective on Friday. This comes on top of planned re-structuring at Random House. I see as well that the Penguin Group have frozen all 2009 pay rises for staff who earn more than $50,000 (£30,000) a year.

Total sales for America's three largest chains fell 6.3 percent for the quarter ended November 1st, with revenue falling to $1.93 billion. All three have blamed the decline in customer footfall, with sales particularly slow in September and October, traditionally the time for new releases in non-fiction. The book sellers are not alone, with other retailers also feeling the pinch. Both footfall and conversion at the store that I work in have tumbled in recent months. reporting Last Wednesday, the Commerce Department in the US reported that consumer spending fell by 1 percent in October, the steepest decline since 911.

Borders saw the highest drop of all the chains, at 9.4 percent. It also suffered the largest decline in like for like conversion on a branch by branch basis. CEO George Jones said the steeper decline at Borders was due to the company’s aggressive inventory reduction program. He stated that Borders are “fine tuning” their inventory program and have a team in place going from store by store to restore any titles that may have mistakenly been removed.

It is timely that BBC2's Money Programme is set to explore the state of the publishing industry in the New Year. The programme will include interviews with Larry Finlay of Transworld, Patrick Janson-Smith of HarperCollins, agent Carole Blake, author Catherine O'Flynn, Luke Brown of Tindal Street, Neill Denny of the Bookseller, and Nicholas Clee of BookBrunch. It will also feature Amanda Ross of Cactus TV, the makers of the Richard and Judy show. I look forward to watching it in due course and seeing what conclusions are reached.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Turning life's crap into compost

The daily Book News update that I receive today featured an article about one Bill Shapiro (editor of Other People's Love Letters) who is asking for authors to send in rejection letters for a new book that he is working on, entitled Other People's Rejection Letters. Letters can be typed or handwritten on paper, by text email or in any format the recipient chooses, and can be either emailed to Bill direct as an attachment or scanned in.

This is an interesting idea that I can see might have a considerable market. Rejection is a necessary evil that every writer has to deal with, and I have had more than my fair share over the years. Perhaps I will send Bill some of mine. The ones I found the most offensive were those addressed to Jane rather than June, showing that the writer had obviously not bothered to read my work. I can imagine how they would have felt if I had spelt their name wrong, but for some reason it was deemed acceptable for them to do this to me.

The post predictably featured several comments from would-be authors, on either side of the pond. One of these contained a link to the website of one Mary Patrick Kavanagh who has found a novel (no pun) way to celebrate the imminent (self) publication of her book. She will be holding a live funeral for it, on December 6th, which can be watched via webcast, hosted by Lifemark Chapel of the Chimes. This will include a viewing of the 'failed' manuscript, rejection letters etc, together with the authors much watched DVD copy of The Secret (I can relate to this one). Viewers are encouraged to bring remnants of their own dead dreams to be buried alongside the authors own dashed hopes. Mary goes on to say that copies of the rejected novel will be sold in the lobby to offset the cost of the appetizers served afterwards. Pity purchases are welcome and encouraged.

I don't why I didn't think of this when I self published my book 2 1/2 years ago - but then again I am not American - and things like this can only happen there. I applaud her sense of humour and enterprise and hope her book is a resounding success. Pity I am working that day, or I would have booked a front row seat !