Trendspotting 2005

Phillip Sturrock,
Chairman & CEO,
Continuum Int’l Publishing Group

There’s a small word to describe China, but it’s hugely accurate: “big.” China is a country with a population of at least 1.3 billion, an annual economic growth rate of about 8%, and the motivation to modernize quickly. Literacy is increasing, the teaching of English is ubiquitous, and the accelerated development of the educational sector — from kindergarten to university — is a policy imperative.
All this has attracted the world’s biggest publishers to invest in China. Though it’s a recent member of the WTO with a commitment to free flows of investment, China has so far excepted publishing from this liberalization. But that will change. In September 2004, the deputy director of GAPP (the state regulatory body) foresaw the ending of this prohibition by 2006. The state most likely will retain control of sensitive areas, such as political criticism.
In the meantime, the big publishers are using more creative models. Bertelsmann is very active in retailing — either through mail or electronic clubs, and most recently in traditional retailing. Wiley, McGraw, Pearson, Thomson, and Macmillan have co-publishing agreements, which give them access to these huge but low-price markets.

Not to be left out, Continuum, a leader in the UK market for teacher education books, is looking to conclude a partnership arrangement with a normal university press (“normal” means a university dedicated to teacher education — there are currently 10 million teachers-in-training in China.) This should result in a hundred-title co-published program and increased profile for other arrangements, rights deals, and imports. It’s an exciting development!

Amy Rhodes,
VP & Publisher, Trade Books,

I think the biggest news in our industry this past year was the widespread use of Bookscan and its implications for the acquisition process. One cannot help but be brought up short by the very small numbers generated by the vast majority of books, just hope seems to continue to spring eternal when it comes to believing that the next book will defy the past. Whether or not Bookscan is capturing 65% or 75% or 85% of the retail sales (and I continue to believe that it is 85% for the average title that is not being carried in mass merchants), the math is clear and there needs to be some rationalization of the price of advances vis-a-vis the odds of earning out.

As publishers study their P&Ls to see how to impact on the small percent that is getting to the bottom line, there are only so many ways to have an effect. We can raise prices, but with retailers doing their own publishing, that seems particularly unfashionable; we can cut back on marketing, but publicity is the only tool that seems to actually generate sales; or we can try to rein in our unearned royalties line. And if we all are “using the same pencil” as the phrase goes, then we should learn how to add up to the same number and bring some reality back to the process.

Ellen Geiger,
Literary Agent,
Curtis Brown

Last week, my agents’ lunch group met at a Westside bistro. When I asked them if there were any new trends, they laughed and told me the only trend they could spot was that the business continued to get harder and harder. Because of this, as agents, our longstanding relationships with our favorite editors become more and more important as the demands of corporate publishing continue to grow.

On the other hand, some things — like promotion — are getting easier. There is an exponential increase in the ability of authors to promote themselves, thanks especially to the Internet. This is nothing new, but it is getting to the point where publishers expect their authors, especially nonfiction authors who are not yet household names, will know how to develop their audiences in this way. I am beginning to see an age break at around 50: Authors younger than 50 are Web-savvy or willing to learn; authors older than 50 tend to be more rooted in the old and now hidebound promotional ideas of yore — the author tour, the press release, the publisher who will really push them past the initial month of release.

Or, cribbing from The NY Times, you could talk about the new infatuation with bloggers being turned into authors. I think it’s a fad – like reality shows – only the good ones with real ideas and substance will survive.

Carol Fitzgerald,
Co-founder & President
The Book Report Network

One thing readers love about writers is the voice in their writing. For 2005 I’d love to see authors’ voices being used in promotion materials that are used to reach readers such as Internet mailings. In the past month I probably have read 25 newsletters from authors. Ninety-five percent read like press releases, catalog blurbs or the most stiff promotional copy. Most didn’t do more than bang me over the head with a buy message. Very few came across with the voice of the author.

Over the last eight-plus years at, I’ve learned that talking to readers and engaging them — instead of writing at them — makes an impact. An author writing a short note about why he wrote a book, or talking about characters, enhances the reader’s desire to pick it up. Sure it’s easier to crank out copy in the publicity or promo department, but after building more than 100 websites with authors and working with them on a voice, tone and attitude, as well as a design, for these sites, I know how completely refreshing the copy is when it takes on an author’s persona.

I do not think there is anyone who sells a book better than an author using his or her own words.

Jeff Abraham,
Executive Director,
Book Industry Study Group

We’ve known for years that a 2005 sunrise was coming — that time when general retailers in the US were to work with 13-digit barcodes. But it wasn’t clear at first — not even 9 months ago — how the book industry, with all its complexities and distribution channels, would respond to the challenges of changing book identifiers (from UPC to Bookland EAN), the new ISBN-13, and an opportunity to work more cohesively with trading partners around the globe. Would the last few weeks of 2004 be filled with dissent, anxiety, and confusion — or would we be following a workable plan of action?

Although much remains to be done, we can all take pride in the process we’ve been through as an industry. Thanks to dozens of caring, diligent, and insightful publishing and bookselling executives who attended meetings, voiced opinions, argued on behalf of agendas and compromised in order to further progress, the fundamentals have been set. We can all play in the new worldwide retailing sandbox.

Also, we may have created a second 2005 sunrise. Wearing only the palest of rose-colored lenses, it’s possible to see the acts of coming together, openly debating the issues, and reaching consensus on efficient business practices as the dawn of a new way of doing business in the book industry.

Sara Nelson,
Publishing Columnist, Books Editor
New York Post

Sometimes I have a hard time telling the difference between a list of predictions and a plain old-fashioned wish list. For example, do I really believe 2005 will mean the return of fiction and the end, at least until election 2008, of the political insider somebody-bashing book? Maybe I just wish it would be so, like I wish that the spoiled-twenty-something-who-hates-her-job genre would go away — but like totally.

On the other hand, this is a prediction and the opposite of a wish: 2005 surely means the dismantling, one way or another, of Miramax books as we’ve come to know — and respect — it. If there is a wish, it’s that Burnham et al will come out well and turn up someplace great soon.