2009: The Year That Was (Jan – April)

So, here we go, 2009, the year that was in publishing. This is by no means a conclusive round-up, but the stories and events that caught my eye.
The year began with a lot of anxiety in the publishing world. There were already plenty of rumours and murmurings of editors walking the plank, staff layoffs, and publishers dramatically cutting back on their title commitments for the coming twelve months. We always knew 2009 would be a year of pain and change, whether we liked it or not.
In January, Author Solutions, owned by equity investors Bertram Capital, continued its strategy of development and expansion in the digital print-on-demand publishing world by purchasing Xlibris, a leading publisher in self-publishing services to authors. The purchase was announced on Thursday, January 8th, by Author Solutions CEO, Kevin Weiss. Little did we know in January that Author Solutions would stay firmly in the news, give us plenty to talk about, and ultimately, provide us with the biggest story in publishing later in the year.
The judge presiding over the Amazon/Booksurge antitrust lawsuit requested both legal representatives to attend court in Bangor, Maine. Amazon & Booksurge filed for the lawsuit against them to be dismissed in August 2008. The Judge would eventually rule that Booklocker’s action was valid and Amazon/Booksurge had a case to answer.
The case was taken by Booklocker.com last year following moves by Amazon to cajole some POD publishers into using their own print-on-demand company, Booksurge, for books sold through Amazon.com in the United States. For a period of time last year some POD publishers had their ‘first party’ buy buttons removed by Amazon from their online site. The strategy of Amazon was seen as an attempt to monopolize the POD book market.
I mentioned in an article last Christmas that book retailers in Ireland had performed marginally better in 2008 than on previous profits for 2007. However, the early figures presented in January for the completed trade period suggested that the UK book retail trade recorded profits that were marginally down. This was to be the continued trend throughout the year with layoffs and store closures.
Newsstand beat Blackwells by getting their hands on the first UK Espresso Book Machine. They were confident that they could create a demand for ‘on the spot’ printed books and planned to charge £10 for a standard paperback version and £14 for a large print book. Blackwell Books, also based in the UK, had hoped to be the first company to install these machines, but following delays their first installed machine did not appear until April in their bookstore in Charing Cross, London.

“The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.”

And so wrote Motoko Rich in the New York Times, January 27th, 2009. It was one of the most widely discussed articles for a long time in publishing. Rich was writing about the rise in self-publishing and the changes the publishing industry faced. It was nice to see a well established newspaper cast a cursory eye over an area of the publishing business which has long exploded into life. You can reflect back on that article and read my own thoughts on it.
Amazon unveiled the new Kindle (Version 2) in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City in February. Those who gathered were more intrigued and quizzical, than necessarily bowled over by the new electronic edition to the Amazon family. Even host, Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, and author Stephen King—there to read his novella, Ur—did not cause any major earthquakes or even tremors. You can find out about the unveiling of Kindle 2 here.
Smashwords, the on line ebook seller gave us an interview with self publishing guru, Dan Poynter, who had just published his acclaimed “Self-Publishing Manual – Volume 2”.
February seemed to be the month for interviews, with author, actor, social commentator and BBC correspondent, Wil Wheaton, talking about his new book ‘Sunken Treasure’ on Lulu.com’s blogspot to Nick Popio. Wil Wheaton is an author who was previously published by a traditional press but chose the avenue of self publishing with Lulu.
Independent book publisher Faber is always one of those to watch for new trends and different approaches to publishing. They announced in March that a forthcoming ebook release in April, ‘What Price Liberty?’ by Ben Wilson, would be sold to buyers at whatever price the customer was prepared to pay, even if that meant the download going for free. The book itself deals with the historical attacks on civil liberties in Britain and how we need to carve a different kind of liberty for today’s modern Britain.
In an effort to further expand their digital book business, US Book chain Barnes & Noble bought the ebook seller Fictionwise for a reported $15,7 million. Fictionwise continued to be run by its former owners. Here is a link to the official press release from March.
In life, certain things have a way of happening just at the right time. Keith Ogorek published an article declaring Author Solutions to be at the forefront of the indie publishing scene. You can read the article and my own reaction to it below. I was none too pleased!
In March, I began my series of ‘Adventures with Blurb’ articles, with the re-publication of Thais. These articles looked at my experiences using Blurb’s services.
Author Solutions continued its acquisition of another author solution company with a deal in early April to buy Canadian based Trafford Publishing, adding them to a large stable of companies including, AuthorHouse, iUniverse and their January acquisition Xlibris.
Lulu launched some new publishing packages which they said were aimed at authors who wished to focus their time on promoting and marketing their books rather than the nuts and bolts of putting their book together with Lulu’s on line tools. The announcement suggested a subtle change on Lulu’s publishing strategy and one that continued throughout the year. Lulu also launched the curious Lulu.poetry in April.
Felicity Woods, editorial assistant at the Bookseller.com wrote a nice piece about witnessing the Espresso Book Machine up close and personal at Blackwell’s London book store. You can read Felicity’s full Espresso experience here.
The London Book Fair 2009 at Earls Court ran from the 20th to the 22nd of April and you can read some interesting discussions on ebooks below.
We talked a great deal in 2009 about ebooks and ereaders. Amazon kept its eye focused on this area with the aquisition of Lexcycle, producers of the ebook application, Stanza. The Stanza application gives iPhone users access to a library of around 100,000 books and electronic magazines for the iPhone. Clearly with the epub format in mind, Amazon see just as important a future in portable on-the-go downloads as ereaders. Lexcycle was only in existence for just over a year.
April Hamilton, creator of Publetariat.com wrote an excellent article on what commercial publishers need to do to survive as a business.

“You think you are curators of literature, and both authors and guardians of culture, but those functions cannot possibly be performed by any organization being run with a primary profit motive. You are no more curators of literature than Nike is a curator of shoes. If you wish to remain solvent, you can only be authors and guardians of culture to the extent that it helps (or at least, doesn’t harm) your bottom line.”

You can read the article here.
Stay tuned for the Summer of 2009…

Leave a Reply