Ink Slingers Up the Ante

Shortly before the news broke that Sara Nelson
would be taking the helm at Publishers Weekly, Jerome Kramer, Editor-In-Chief and Managing Director of VNU’s US Literary Group, says he got a call from her explaining that, due to a conflict of interest, she wouldn’t be able to write that regular column they had planned for VNU’s soon-to-launch The Book Standard. Talk about conflict of interest, these two will soon be direct competitors, vying for the limited time and resources of publishing’s elite.

Planned for a Jan. 27 launch, The Book Standard’s website and e-newsletters will benefit from its close relations with Nielsen BookScan, Kirkus Reviews, Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard magazine. Kramer envisions a website that will include news and reviews, as well as lots of numbers and charts — but, contrary to many’s expectations, he plans these numbers to complement analysis. In short: He claims not to be intimidated by Publishers Weekly, despite his fondness for its new chief. “We are going to strive to be an engaging, bright, literary and fun source of information, and we’re going to try to limit the amount of snark in our coverage — because that’s something I think gets in too easily in this industry,” he said. He is basing The Book Standard on the coverage he thinks has been absent in most of the industry periodicals, and plans to liven up—and speed up—the discussion of trends. “Nobody’s ever done charts; they’ve done lists, but not charts. The Nielsen piece is ours and ours alone. And I don’t think you can cover a business without good metrics and data,” Kramer said. The company has been sending out its Chart Alerts for about two months, and Kramer said the response has been good so far. (To sign up, go to

In other VNU news, Kirkus Discoveries should launch any day now, Kramer said. This free monthly HTML newsletter accepts submissions from self, e-published, and POD authors, and then reviews them, applying the same criteria it would a book from any of the large publishing houses (“the reviewer shouldn’t know” who published it, Kramer said). Authors pay $350 per review, and this comes with the caveat that the review could be negative.

Kirkus is also negotiating with a publishing partner to start a sort of “American Idol” for literary types, Kirkus Literary Awards, a yearly contest for unpublished and un-agented titles. The winner’s book will be published.

Publishers Weekly

So, is Nelson ready to go up against that kind of competition? “PW has both the reviews that Kirkus has, and the rights reporting potential of PublishersLunch,” she says. “ We also have a staff of reporters and writers and editors. PublishersLunch does some excellent reporting, but I don’t think the online medium allows for the kind of pieces you can do in a magazine. And as far as I can tell, the emphasis at is on numbers, not news.” She has mentioned elsewhere that she plans to redesign the magazine, and then shuffle and add to the web products.

Like Kramer, Nelson thinks of books as a form of entertainment, and one that should appeal to general readers. “PW now serves booksellers, publishers … and related media (i.e., film and TV folks), among other groups. No groups will be de-emphasized, but if we do what we’re doing well, we’ll be able to add or expand some groups,” Nelson said, pointing to the smaller, but not insignificant number of “civilians,” or book lovers who want in on the biz.

In a interview, Nelson admitted that leading an established staff and publication will have its challenges. “It’s a question of sort of releasing yourself from some of the things that have existed,” she said.

Publishers Marketplace

As the independent in this mix — and the one with the largest circulation — Michael Cader has the privilege to “believe in constant expansion, experimentation, and improvement, rather than the more traditional redesigns and relaunches.” That said, here are some of his plans for this year: his first day-long conference in the spring; PublishersMarketplace’s first print edition, a series of financial books based on its LunchDeal database; and a recurring series “looking more deeply at some ‘big questions’ regarding the future of the business” as well as “unexploited opportunities.” And, fans, stay on the lookout: He off-handedly mentioned a possible spin-off site or two.