2009: The Year That Was (Sept – Dec)

SEPTEMBER

Bob Miller, President of HarperStudio, shared some pertinent views in September on the future of publishing with PublishingPerspectives.com on how he saw the need for the relationship between publisher and author to become more of a partnership of commitment.

[…]”I believe that publishers and authors should be equal partners, sharing profits fifty-fifty, as we are doing in all of our deals at HarperStudio. The author brings their creative work to this partnership, and their commitment to do everything in their power to help their book succeed. The publisher brings their financial risk (under our model, the publisher puts up the publishing costs, including the advance to the author, from which the author can decide to help the marketing effort if they’d like, or not), their passion for the project, and their staff time (we don’t charge any overhead to the profit split; the authors don’t charge for their time spent marketing the book either).”[…]

You can read my views on Miller’s perspective here.

Global online retailer, Amazon, formally lodged their objection to the Google Books Settlement in the US courts. The objection comprised of a substantial document detailing Amazon’s specific points of legal argument against the Settlement. You can see those objections here. Judge Denny Chin decided to extend the objection deadline into early October. We also saw the first signs of Google being a little unsteady on the feet, with the first of several concessions.
The ebook publisher that was, but actually wasn’t, Quartet Press announced in September that they were ceasing operation without having published a single book. Kat Meyer did not initially explain what brought about the sudden demise of Quartet Press. The naysayers suggested Quartet Press did not present a business model of digital publishing which really set them apart from the crowd, but then, their business model never actually saw the light of day and it was a little disingenuous of some to suggest this was the reason for their demise without knowing the full facts. More often than not, the success of most new businesses is based on the replication of an already tried and successful model—not the daring embracement of an untried one.

“For a variety of reasons large and small, Quartet Press has decided to discontinue operations. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a hard-working team, and the support of the community, things just don’t work out. This is one of those times. It’s disappointing to all of us, but it’s reality and we will all move on.”

Kat Meyer, Quartet Press, September 9th, 2009.

Twenty four hours later, Meyer did disclose in an interview to Publishers Weekly some of the reasons and struggles for the Quartet Press.

“We are truly grateful to all of you who have wished us well. Your support and enthusiasm for our venture was humbling, and we hope you will not see our company’s disbanding as an indication that any of us doubt the viability of digital publishing. Far to the contrary — if nothing else, we have learned that the future of digital publishing, while overwhelmingly complex, will be bright indeed, and we will each be working toward that bright future via our individual efforts.”

And more candid comments from Quartet co-founder, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare.
The end of a much more distinguished and long-serving publishing odyssey came in the same week in September with the announcement that Marion Boyars, a maverick British independent, had reached the end of the financial road and were commencing the winding down of their commercial operation in the early half of 2010. Only one further release followed in October from the publisher who brought us literary classics like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kesey and ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby.
Google, like a heavy weight boxer in the ring taking a few well-targeted blows to the head, continued to defend its position and the strengths of the Google Books Settlement, while at the same time clarifying detailed points and casting out its own interpretation and concessions like confetti to the gathered crowds.
Not to be squeezed out of the action and faux pas, Amazon tried to blow their toes off with a well-aimed shotgun by contact publishers and informing them of a new policy requiring them to participate in SITB (Search Inside The Book) for all new books, with Amazon wanting PDF files to be loaded up to their database a minimum of 3 – 4 weeks in advance of a release date (if not sooner).
We looked at story that seemed to slip by many publishing watchmen with news of Lulu’s new partnership program. The Lulu Publishing Partner program had actually been in operation since August and two of Lulu’s significant new partners were The Expert Knowledge Network and Authorsden. It was noticeable that any news service or commentary on Lulu’s program had been very circumspect and adhered largely to the detail contained in the press release without any great appraisal.
The details of the Lulu Publishing Partner program were described as a ‘mechanism’ for organisations to register members as Lulu authors and earn a share of the lifetime revenue generated by those authors’ book sales and the services the authors purchase. For me—while Lulu may mean any organisation from government departments, corporate bodies, to a workshop of local writers—it is more likely the ‘organisations’ who will most avail of this program will be small presses and independent publishers. It is no secret that a number of small presses already use Lulu as a print service for their books, and while the platform is not ideal, it serves its purpose for a publisher with a handful of titles per year. Lulu were not specific about who they were aiming this program at, but they were certainly succinct about whom it was not intended for.

“Currently, this program is open to U.S. companies only. Individual authors are not eligible.”

The US Department of Justice dealt the Google Book Settlement, in its then form, the final and fatal blow in a carefully considered and timed statement. In no uncertain terms, the Department of Justice declared that the Google Book Settlement should be soundly rejected.

“As presently drafted the proposed settlement does not meet the legal standards this court must apply. This court should reject the proposed settlement and encourage the parties to continue negotiations to comply with Rule 23 and the copyright and antitrust laws.”

CreateSpace decided to follow Lulu’s lead and go down the avenue of publishing packages, rather than primarily focusing on individual services to authors. While CreateSpace said the packages offered significant savings to authors when compared to their individual prices for each service – they remained on the higher expense column when you compared them to their competitors.

OCTOBER

Maybe October’s early news was a sign of the times and a forewarning of what was about to explode in publishing, but the fact was the borders between publishers offering author-publishing services blurred even more. Apex Publishing was showing real intent on dramatically increasing its output of traditionally contracted authors with the announcement of another autobiography of journalist and TV presenter, Garry Bushell. This followed the previous announcement a week earlier of David Van Day’s autobiography and six other signed contracts, including Charles Bronson and Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave musical fame.
Hot on the heels of this news was Legend Press’ New Generation Publishing offering an unpublished author a traditional contract to the bestselling title from their next 300 submissions. The NGP title that sells the most copies by June 2010 will be offered a traditional contract with Legend’s imprint Paperbooks.
It was widely predicted since the London Book Fair during the summer, but finally Amazon confirmed a wireless version of the Kindle would be available to order for the international market.
Judge Denny Chin acceded to request from lawyers in the Google Book Settlement case that a revised settlement should be presented to the courts in November.
The Romanian-born German writer Herta Muller was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel Committee at the Swedish Academy honoured Herta Muller for her lifetime work and described it in the following way.

‘the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.’

In October we took a look at what was going on throughout the Frankfurt Book Fair.

http://mickrooney.blogspot.com/2009/10/frankfurt-book-fair-gears-up-for-2009.html
http://mickrooney.blogspot.com/2009/10/frankfurt-book-fair-2009-or-china-book.html

Sara Lloyd, Digital Director with Pan Macmillan, provided the Fair’s real highlight when she spoke at the conference about the need for publishers to embrace the changes and challenges ahead in regard to business relationships with companies like Google and Apple. She stressed that these new relationships had ‘no established terms’ in the new digital publishing environment.
Thomas Nelson, the fifth largest trade publisher in the US, and one of the world’s most successful publishers of bibles and Christian books, dipped its big toe in the waters of self-publishing. They did what for many was the absolute unthinkable. They dived in. Thomas Nelson decided to step into the author solutions arena and offer publishing packages for authors wishing to self-publish their books. Some month’s back—at the start of the year—I had predicted this happening before the year’s end.
Thomas Nelson’s announcement to enter into self-publishing services was not so much the story, but rather the fact that Author Solutions was the company who Thomas Nelson decided to enter into what was described as a strategic partnership. The partnership meant Author Solutions Inc would manage the running of WestBow Press, Thom Nelson’s self-publishing imprint. Like a commercial vacuum cleaner, Author Solutions had busied itself over the past few years acquiring AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, WordClay, and in 2009, Xlibris and Trafford Publishing.
It was a fascinating week to follow the many nuances and threads of this news story and it has quintessentially for me summed up so many of the challenges and changes we are on the cusp of in publishing. Publishing, and all its peripheral models of business, all show signs of merging in the center. If you like, we might describe this as the first signs that two distinct models of publishing, who once cast steely eyes, aspersions, cries of elitism, cries of scam merchants, and a general attitude of disdain for each other, may be about to concede that they both have their own inherent weaknesses, but combined, they can provide a greater more creative and dynamic service to all authors.
Some further reflection and analysis below.

http://mickrooney.blogspot.com/2009/10/thomas-nelson-publishing-intrigue.html

Barnes & Noble announced the launch of their own e-reader at a press conference in Manhattan in October. The new e-reader would be called the Nook. Don’t ask; perhaps Barnes & Noble executives will reveal the reasons why they chose such an odd name for the device.

NOVEMBER

The first Self-publishing Book Expo took place in early November in New York City.

http://www.selfpubbookexpo.com/

Harlequin, one of the world’s leading romance and women’s fiction publishers launched Carina Press, a digital-only imprint trading independently of its parent publisher. First e-book titles are expected from Carina Press in Spring 2010. Initially, Carina Press will focus the romance and erotica genres. They will not be adopting the traditional advance –paying terms of contract and it will sell its e-book titles direct to book readers through its web site and other third-party e-book vendors.

Amazon announced that Booksurge would merge into Createspace.

The revised Google Book settlement was finally presented to the US Courts. According to a statement from the plaintiffs, the new agreement would only include books registered with the US copyright office and only those countries which share a common legal heritage and similar book industry practices.’ The countries included will be USA, UK, Australia and Canada, with other European countries now excluded.
Significantly, new books on sale internationally will be considered commercially available and cannot be used by Google by default. This is very much an agreement considerably watered down from the original settlement, so much so, that the Publishers Association in the UK has lodged a letter of support for the revised Google Settlement with the US District Court with the understanding that proposed revisions now agreed will be implemented in 2010.

Harlequin proved that the aforementioned unthinkable act for a commercial mainstream publisher was no longer the unthinkable act many thought it to be. They became the second major publisher to announce the launch of a full-scale paid-publishing venture in partnership with Author Solutions. This came hot on the heels of Harlequin’s new e-book imprint Carina Press and Thomas Nelson’s launch of their paid-publishing imprint, WestBow Press, announced at the end of October. Here was our own take on this much discussed news story with plenty of externally linked discussions.
Continued pressure from US writers’ organisations and publisher watchdogs resulted in Harlequin announcing a change to the name of its new paid-publishing venture, Harlequin Horizons. The imprint would be known as DellArte Press. Preditors & Editors changed its listing for Harlequin to Vanity Publisher and the Romance Writers of America (RWA) revoked Harlequin’s rating and benefits, and the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) who stated;

“Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is deeply concerned about the troubling conflict-of-interest issues created by these ventures, particularly the potentially misleading way they are marketed to aspiring writers on the Harlequin website.”

What fascinated me most about this whole debate was how the news of Thomas Nelson to launch WestBow Press was dealt with so differently at the time, and, yet, barely had the print dried on Harlequin’s launch of DellArte Press, when the publisher found themselves lambasted on high from pious writers and their guilds and national associations. It’s funny how when the debate heats up in publishing and the road map changes, authors have a particular knack of taking ownership of everything in sight, from the moral high ground to things which are not theirs, nor, god forbid, should ever be theirs. Where does an author get off in this day and age referring to the publisher they have a contract with, as ‘my publisher’, the underlying implication is the author has some inherent say in how the strategies, services and development of that business should operate. It’s ‘your book’ – their business, or better still…get your own publishing business, then you can have your ‘my publisher’. Ever thought of self-publishing?!
In November, a long self-publishing saga finally reached a legal conclusion. It is one, which on and off, since this site began, we have chosen to cover because of its fundamental relevance to authors looking to use various companies offering what I call author solutions services. Frankly, this paid-publishing nightmare for some authors of Diggory Press became a sordid online reality show. We all played our part, me included. I’d like to think I’ve learned something from it beyond the obvious publishing pitfalls. There were very important issues at stake, and in the online quagmire, they were consistently blurred and booted around the debating field.
On November 9th, at Torquay & Newton Abbott County Court in the UK, the final remaining three claimants in the action against Diggory Press gathered to bring closure on events. Two of the three claimants won their case against Diggory Press. You can read the full article here.
Borders UK formally entered financial administration in November with the appointment of MCR who began a period of assessment before reporting to creditors. The 45 Border stores in the UK continued to trade until December 22nd when the chain closed for good.

DECEMBER

“At its most basic, however, publishing is not a question of maxims or appraisals or even authorial merit. It’s a question of cash money. Which brings me to my criticism of Yog’s Law, my criticism of the industry for exploiting Yog’s Law, and my general exhaustion with the idea that all the bad people are on the outside of the publishing industry and all the good people are on the inside praying to Daniel Webster. Because nothing about Yog’s Law deals with the fact that a pay-you-later publisher can screw authors as effectively as a pay-us-now subsidy or vanity publisher.


To begin, it’s worth noting that Yog’s Law fits quite nicely with the publishing industry’s own propaganda of love and reverence for books and authors. ‘Look,’ the publishing industry says, ‘we’re not taking money up front! We’re gambling on you because we believe in you! We have faith in you! We’re not like those scummy people who ask for money in advance!’”

And hats off to Mark Barrett of Ditchwalk who wrote one of the best publishing articles of the year. You can read his article, The ‘New Money Flow in Publishing’ in full, here.

CreateSpace announced the introduction of full online distribution to authors who opt for their PRO plan offer. This had been long overdue and brought CreateSpace into line with many other author solutions services. Historically CreateSpace has only offered online distribution through their ebook store and parent company Amazon. Here is the full press release.
The Harlequin debate rumbled on with the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) following the RWA (Romance Writers of America) by to removing all Harlequin imprints from its approved publisher listings.
And I started to bang my head off the wall about the Harlequin/Thomas Nelson stuff–
Author Solutions CEO and president, Kevin Weiss, didn’t bang his head off the wall, he just released a snazzy ‘that ‘ill shut ‘em all up’ video press release.

In short, it was a fascinating year, and, yet, so many of the Book Fairs, Expo’s, and seminars never quite seem to ignite the way the publishing news did. We remain in heady times which look to continue changing well into 2010. Maybe in a few days, we will have a look into the crystal ball…

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