Ten Things Happening Right Now

November 11, 2008 | Written by admin

Some good and bad news in the business of publishing…

1. Bad News: The financials for publishing look awful. I'm not an alarmist, because I happen to think the people racing out of the stock market are simply skittish, and that's made stock prices of publicly-traded companies artificially low, but we're seeing real problems with publishers and retailers. Harper-Collins announced that their sales were off 4.5% from last year (and, um, last year at this time they were 10% down from the previous year). Simon & Schuster and Hachette are also down. In fact, a report on the top 17 publishers of hardcover adult books reports that sales in September were down 30% (sales of trade paperbacks and mass markets were down 8%). Many publishers are announcing that they're trimming their lists. Some are cutting jobs (Rodale announced they were axing 10% of their work force). The chairman of Barnes & Noble flatly said he is expecting "a terrible holiday." Ouch.

2. Good News: On the up side of the business, there are numerous areas of growth. Children's titles are on an upswing. YA fiction is selling well. Harlquin is actually growing in a shrinking economy. And publishers are still in the business of creating and selling books, so they still need to buy books from authors. Things might be moving more slowly right now, but eventually publishers will remember that they need new books, and acquisitions will pick up. I see publishers working smarter and leaner — which is not a bad thing.

3. Bad News: There is a passing of the torch in publishing these days. Three excellent writers have passed from our midst. First, the wonderful mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away — the man who created Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and brought us all great cultural details about Native Americans in his books. Second, non-fiction writer Studs Terkel died last week. His book Hard Time remains one of the two best books ever written on the Great Depression, and The Good War is an eye-opening depiction of WWII. Third, sci-fi and techno writer Michael Crichton succumbed to cancer. One of the most influential popular novelists, he had a brilliant mind for creating storylines. The world of literature has lost a lot of talent in a week.

4. Good News: In a decision author representatives called "breathtaking," the Authors Guild settled their suit with Google. After three years of fighting, the two sides have finally come to agreement so that authors can get a fair share of revenues from books that are made part of Google's search engine. AND they did this by negotiating, instead of having some judge have to settle it for them (and thus make both sides happy, and lead to more legal wrangling, etc).

5. Bad News: The Orphan Works Bill is going to be presented to the next congress. Reiterating something I said in an earlier post, this is nothing more than giving lazy writers a license to steal. The short version: the government believes there have been too many lawsuites over material that has been lifted from websites. So this bill would allow another person to come along and "recast, transform, adapt, or integrate" your material, then sell it and keep all the profits. (Put another way: You could steal my answers to these types of questions, reword them a bit, and claim it as your own…with government protection.) On top of that, the bill suggests research will be handed over to the Copyright Office, AND any damages for someone stealing your work will be limited to whatever a judge thinks you could have reasonably sold your words for. A truly terrible change to our copyright laws for an writer who thinks for himself or herself.

6. Good News: Thomas Nelson is starting a new program that will provide free review copies of select titles to bloggers who agree to post 200 words and link to Amazon.com. In other words, they're going to take the informal system set up by CBA author groups, and formalize it. I think this is a brilliant move, and could really boost a book's online marketing. They're calling it the "Book Review Bloggers" program.

7. Bad News: Some significant changes at CBA houses. Joey Paul, the longtime editor at Thomas Nelson, is leaving to take another job elsewhere in the industry. There's a shakeup happening at Multnomah (now owned by Random House). Lots of rumors of staff trimming at other houses. In a bad economy, real people get hurt. Keep them in your prayers.

8. Good News: Lisa Samson's novel, Embrace Me, was just named by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of the Year. More Good News: My Oregon Ducks are 7 and 3. And even MORE Good News: It's almost Thanksgiving.

Posted in The Business of Writing

  • http://www.heatheragoodman.com Heather Goodman

    - Children’s sales recently went up because two of my sisters-in-law had twins (not to mention the rest of the nieces and nephews and surrogates).
    - Received my first Nelson book yesterday for review. I love books. Even more, I love free books.
    - My book club also named Embrace Me our book of the year–far more prestigious than some silly Library Journal award.

  • http://aweiswriter.blogspot.com Ashley Weis

    Whoa. Does this mean I can finally copy “Family Times?”

  • KR Dial

    Terrible Holiday Sales? I got your hot picks right here! Non-fiction titles like…Church in Foreclosure…My Mammon: My Master…and CEO Pay: Thumb On The Scale…will be choice stocking stuffers. Actually Chip, I really do appreciate any amount of good news to read. Thanks.

  • http://www.avilyjerome.com Avily Jerome

    Tony Hillerman died?!?!?!
    I loved him!
    Well, not him, but his books. I didn’t actually know him or I probably would have heard that he passed away.
    He will be sorely missed on my bookshelf.
    Thanks, Chip, for keeping us up to date on the happenings in the writing and publishing world.

  • http://danicafavorite.blogspot.com Danica

    Love your good news/bad news sandwich. Almost as good as leftover turkey sandwiches after Thanksgiving.
    Guess I’ll have to do my part to stimulate the economy by buying a few more books. It’ll be a sacrifice, but I consider it my patriotic duty. Any suggestions of what I might look for?

  • http://www.bonniegrove.com Bonnie Grove

    Come to Canada. We’ve already had Thanksgiving (in October), and we aren’t having a recession. I was at Indigo today. Business was booming.

  • http://reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com Krista

    Wow, lots of news lately!
    I think the publishing market is just following suite of all the other markets… We’re in a recession and we’ll have have to tighten our belts for a while while we ride it out. Everyone hurts in a recession, but I think the well-managed companies will rise to the top. Seperates the men from the boys so to speak (I so may be quoting that cliche wrong!)
    I signed up for T&N program as well, a wonderful marketing idea! I’ll be interested to hear Michael report on the results he sees down the road.
    Ugh, the Orphan Works Bill sounds horrible, as do many of the other bills that will come up this next year.

  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ Lynn Rush

    Thanks for the info, Chip. Guess we’ll take the good with the bad, huh? I think things are going to get worse before they get better. But all in God’s timing. Thanks for keeping us up to date.

  • Justin Jackson

    Hey Chip,
    My wife and I are aspiring writers and we really appreciate your blog. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into it!
    Justin and De Jackson

  • http://www.WritingfromHome.net Elizabeth M. Thompson

    Thanks for offsetting the bad news with several high points. We all need the encouragement.

  • http://www.traciehall.com Traci Hall

    Wow – this is terrific information, and I like that you balanced the good with the bad. This is my first visit to your blog, but I will definitely be back!

  • http://www.askcarolynwarren.com Carolyn

    Let’s hope everyone buys books for Christmas gifts this year.
    When times are tough, what could be better than curling up in a snuggly afghan with a good book?
    Get lost in another world… learn something new… be inspired… books are the BEST!
    I have a feeling that’s why Harlequin is still growing. Their books are cheap and they always end happy.
    Personally, I write business nonfiction, but I’m still optimistic. My personal motto is, “God is not tied to the economy.” I am trusting in God for personal sales, in spite of what’s happening out there.
    Thanks for a fantastic, informative blog, Chip! It’s the best.

  • kyle watson

    I have good news. I’m going to apply for a bailout and use the money to make my novel a bestseller.

  • http://www.authorchristinaberry.blogspot.com Christina Berry

    Regarding #2: Now that the contract has been signed, I announced the sale of my debut novel to Moody this afternoon. I find it a sign of God’s sense of humor that He would affirm nine years of writing toil during one of the worst economic times.
    But really, people read for escape. I can’t see that changing because of a tighting of their financial belt.