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2013-10-10 19.08.55While many in the publishing industry attended the Frankfurt Book Fair, I chose to stay closer to home and go to the 8th annual New York Comic Con.

I have attended every NYCC and although the growth has been tremendous, the essence and fun of the show has not changed. It is still a great show to attend and learn about what is happening in pop culture.

The original NYCC had about 25,000 in attendance, this year there was over 130,000. It sold out again.

Book publishers have increased their presence every year. This year it looked like the publishers even stepped it up more.  It reminded me of the ABA of many years ago. When the annual book show created interest in the big titles, with long lines to meet authors and there was a buzz around. The difference is the people in line to see their favorite authors actually are BUYING the books. There was not the dread of the trolls who go to the ABA (and later BEA) just picking up free samples.

Most of the publishers were in the same area of the show floor. I walked through many times and came away very optimistic about the industry and the future of print. Actually I had a sense of deja-vu for many of the publisher booth’s looked like they were recycled from old BEAs. There was a lot of activity and energy.

I was mostly impressed by the Random House Inc booth (8-10 sections); the amount of fans at the Penguin booth; the title selection at the Abrams booth and the overall look of the Simon & Schuster booth. Amazon was there with Jet Comics and 47-North.

One booth was very cool, Anomaly Productions. They only have two books out, but both blend the qualities of print and the technology of digital. I remember them from last year with their oversized illustrated book ANOMALY: The Graphic Novel (which can be bought in a gift box). But I have read and am very excited about their new book – SHIFTER. The new book can be read like a old-school graphic novel. But there is also a corresponding smart-phone and tablet app that uses the camera and highlights selected parts and animates them in 3D. Very cool.

Others that were of interest include the 5-Hour Energy; Vivarin; Geico and Verizon booths.

The Artists Alley was once again in a separate section from the floor. It was in the north area of the Javits Center. This area was packed too. Many well known artists had their booths but also up-and-coming ones. What I have always like about ComicCons is the connection and easy-to-meet relationships between the fans and the creators.

I didn’t get a chance to attend any of the panels. I wanted to but just ran out of time and energy.

Maybe I should have stopped by the Vivarin booth a bit more?

Some random photos

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imagesI met Kurt Vonnegut twice.

The first time was at a book party for Andrew Dubus and his new collection of short stories, DANCING AFTER HOURS. I was the national accounts director of sales for Knopf (division of Random House) and back then there were a lot of book parties. I remember walking through the party and just “bumping into” Mr.Vonnegut. We exchanged a few words and that was it. I was thrilled. He probably didn’t even remember.

The second time I met him was 4-5 years later. The Random House offices were at 201 East 50th in NYC. I was walking from Grand Central Terminal and saw Vonnegut sitting on a bench along Lexington Ave. I did a double-take. I walked past him and thought he looked familiar. Kurt Vonnegut was very distinctive looking.  I turned back and stopped. Had about a five minute conversation with him. I don’t remember the details. I walked away feeling very cool for I had a chance to talk to a genius.

Although I am a fan of his work and was thrilled to meet him, I have not read every novel. I probably have read only 6-7 of his books.

IMG_3243My favorite is SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. I love time travel novels and found the story of Billy Pilgrim thought provoking. I also enjoyed the movie. Many people were required to read it in school. I never had to read. I read it because I had seen the movie first and wanted to understand it better.  I almost always read the book before the movie but in this case I didn’t because both came out decades earlier.  Charlie Kaufman is rumored to be writing a new script for a new movie. I can’t wait.

My other favorites are BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and the short story collection WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE. Both had the bizarre worlds and style that appealed to me. What I learned was that you could do whatever you want. The rules or writing, drawing, reading and creating are flexible. I took from Vonnegut that one could just be as one wanted to be. Go for it.

There is an interesting business story behind Vonnegut’s eBooks. Because a deal was struck a decade ago (years before Kindle existed), Rosetta Books acquired the digital rights. But Random House Inc. also has the rights. So, Amazon has two eBook editions of many of his titles. The Rosetta Books versions come up higher in search and are available on the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) for free. The books are also available in hardcover, trade paperback and mass market.

His work is also available for people to write fan fiction through Amazon’s Kindle World program. This was received by many as wrong, just wrong. But it remains. I do not think it takes away from his greatness. I believe it probably makes Vonnegut even more of an icon.

Kurt Vonnegut – an American master and an original. IMG_3246

I have one of his books signed — what an original signature too.

imagesimagesOpen Road Media released 10 early novels of genius Michael Crichton earlier this summer. These books are in the collection THE MED SCHOOL YEARS and written between 1966-72 and under the name of John Lange. The retro covers and the series look great. I have just started reading them and look forward to the complete set. Coincidently, Hard Case Crime is bringing out trade paperback of these books (with different covers) this Fall. I may end up buying both the eBook and the physical.

I have been reading Crichton for years and especially liked his string of books from the 90s; JURASSIC PARK (1990); RISING SUN (1992); DISCLOSURE (1994); THE LOST WORLD (1995); AIRFRAME (1996) and TIMELINE (1999). He dominated the decade with his six best-sellers (in addition to re-issues in mass market of some of his earlier titles like CONGO and SPHERE).

IMG_3153I read each of the books immediately. I would read them in 24 hours. He was so topical. I actually think he helped create the culture of the 90s. Each one of these books was made into a big movie. All well made with JURASSIC PARK being a movie/ride/experience that had a major impact on pop culture.

I was the National Accounts Sales Director for Knopf (part of Random House but pre-Bertelsmann).  We were having a good year and the numbers were strong. But this year Knopf was “dropping in” Michael Crichton’s latest AIRFRAME in early December.

IMG_3150Just in time for Holiday giving we were getting an “un-budgeted” 2-million copy gift that would propel us far beyond the annual goals.

This was great! We already had made budget, but the billing for mega-author Crichton would push the bonus to the max.  Every rep in Sales made more money because of this single book.

I mentioned this to Mr. Crichton when we had a “meet and greet” in the conference room. I thanked him. I went on how his book was going to make the entire Sales Force have better bonuses. He looked at me and said, “Do you think it will sell?”

I was confident in my answer; I knew it would blow out like his last few. I replied, “of course, you are on a roll!” He was the biggest selling author in America and he was one of the smartest people ever to pen novels. He had even won an Edgar for A CASE IN NEED written at Harvard Medical School!  Which brings us back to the reissues from Open Road. Can’t wait to read them.

By the way, AIRFRAME went on to be a #1 smash and sell millions of copies.

 

 

Forbes recently listed the top-16 earning authors for 2012-2013. It has the usual names but a few new ones. In total, the top 16 authors earned a half-billion dollars.

Top16

Although publishing news is dominated by the rise of the self-published author, the established methods are still very viable. Although the top seller, E.L. James, is the perfect example of how the new and the traditional come together to create a phenom.  James’ 50 SHADES OF GRAY trilogy was originally self-published and sold 250,000 copies. It was then picked up by Vintage (division of Knopf, division of random House, a part of Bertelsmann). Vintage was able to get physical distribution everywhere, re-edit the book and sold over 70-million copies world-wide.

The list:

  1. E.L. James – $95,000,000
  2. James Patterson – $91,000,000
  3. Suzanne Collins – $55,000,000
  4. Bill O’Reilly – $28,000,000
  5. Danielle Steel – $26,000,000
  6. Jeff Kinney – $24,000,000
  7. Janet Evanovich – $24,000,000
  8. Nora Roberts – $23,000,000
  9. Dan Brown – $22,000,000
  10. Stephen King – $20,000,000
  11. Dean Koontz – $20,000,000
  12. John Grisham – $18,000,000
  13. David Baldacci – $15,000,000
  14. Rick Riordan – $14,000,000
  15. J.K. Rowling – $13,000,000
  16. George R.R. Martin – $12,000,000

Some thoughts:

  • 15 of the 16 authors write Fiction – Only FoxNews personality Bill O’Reilly (written with Martin Dugard – wonder what he made?) wrote books that were non-Fiction. His KILLING LINCOLN and KILLING KENNEDY books remain hardcover bestsellers and eBook smashes.
  • E.L. James is an anomaly. She came out of nowhere and exploded onto the book scene. Chances are this will be the only year she is on this list. But what a year. Congrats!
  • James Patterson is more of a “Publishing Imprint” than an author. He has a stable of co-authors and writes in many genres. He brings out 14-20 new books a year. His output is impressive and larger than many independent publishers.
  • Old favorites continue to sell – Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Grisham all have been writing novels for over 30 years each. All have had best-sellers for decades.
  • The new Penguin-Random House publishes eight of the 16 authors. This fits with the dialogue that P-RH is about 50% of the best-sellers.  The biggest authors will continue to be published by the biggest conglomerate.
  • Large publishers published the other eight authors too.  The details – Hachette (2); Scholastic (2); Macmillan (1); S&S (1); Disney (1) and Abrams (1).
  • Three authors write primarily for young adults and children (Rowling, Kenney and Riordan) and a Patterson occasionally writes for kids.
  • 12 of the 16 authors were on the list last year. So there is little movement from the top. This plays into the brand name and celebrity of these top writers. They continue to get top billing, the best placement and exposure. Many write series and sequels that continue to expand on their previous books.

 

Zen Thinking

07.19.2013, No Comments, Uncategorized, by .

In today’s busy and confusing world, we are all faced with numerous decisions. Many of these deal with the unknown and creating new rules and methods. It can be daunting making so many decisions with the results being hard to track.

In my consulting business, I deal with a lot of decisions and plans that are creative and have to be made with little information. I pull together as much data and research as possible, but in the emerging digital content market and the disruptive publishing business, the plans and the results are elusive. Plus, the physical book world is changing so often that plans and decisions are must be made without full information.

When faced with so many decisions on complicated matters, I find it can be helpful to go in the opposite direction and look for inspiration in something very simple.

Simple tasks can open up the mind to solving complicated problems.

The other day I was having a difficult time coming up with a proposal for a potential client. I had the basics and knew where I was starting and where I wanted to end. But the difficulty was coming up with a plan to connect the two. The harder I thought, the less I was coming up with ideas.

I decided to take a break and just do something completely different.

I went out to the patio.

I weeded.

I came up with a solution.

Some times is it best to not try as hard – and the solution will come to you.

IMG_3035

BEFORE

IMG_3036

AFTER

Clear patio – clear mind – clear thinking – problem solved.

Pandora Radio

07.08.2013, No Comments, Uncategorized, by .

pandoraPandora Radio has been getting a lot of flack from musicians over the past few months. Most recently, the surviving members of Pink Floyd penned an open letter in USA TODAY trashing Pandora’s payment to musicians.  How much worse is Pandora than Spotify, terrestrial radio, Sirius XM or others?

The timing of the Pink Floyd letter is interesting as they just agreed to let Spotify stream their music and Apple is starting their own subscription music platform.

I am not taking sides here and do not claim to fully understand who is right and who is wrong.

Musicians have been complaining about the industry since the first song was recorded. Record companies, radio stations and producers have been taking advantage of musicians forever. It is the norm for this conflict to exist.

I like Pandora. I find it a great service and it has helped me discover (and buy) at least 20 albums over the past year. Yes, I buy albums and not singles. I have bought all of these through Apple iTunes but would not have either heard of nor re-discovered many of these bands.

Some of the musicians that I have bought because of Pandora.

  • The Dirty Heads                      the dirty heads
  • The Expendibles
  • Slightly Stoopid
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (always listened)
  • Green Day (rediscovered their early stuff)
  • Sublime (rediscovered – and use them as the basis for recommendations)
  • Dave Gilmour‘s solo stuff – especially his Live at Gdansk. So even though he is complaining as part of Pink Floyd. I bought his music because of it.images
  • Numerous reggae groups and performers. This is the area that I probably have learned the most and bought albums by Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, obscure Bob Marley stuff, and at least a half dozen others.
  • I created Sublime+++ Radio and have discovered a lot of new artists. I find the recommendations spot on for me.

I completely understand that in this world of digital and downloading that artists continue to get screwed. But it seems to me that Pandora is being singled out for all of the others sins. I like Pandora and at least in my situation, they are responsible for many of my music purchases.

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Carl Hiaasen has a new book out titled BAD MONKEY. It looks great and in the style that I have come to love from Hiaasen. I first started reading him with his first book TOURIST SEASON. Then pretty much read every one of his novels for adults. I have not read the YA ones though.

Hiaasen always appealed to me because of the warped sense of humor and the fantastic characters. Plus his background writing for the Sun-Sentinel newspaper led him to stranger truth than fiction. Many of those real people and situations made it into his novels of the bizarre world of South Florida.

booksHe is a native Floridian and has always been an outspoken critic of big business and their abuse of the land and culture. In 1998, he penned a short book for Ballantine’s Library of American Thought called TEAM RODENT: How Disney Devours the World. Needless to say the book was highly critical of Disney.

eisnerIn 1998, I was Sales Director at Random House. One of my responsibilities was to attend dinners and lunches with key authors and key customers. We were publishing then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s autobiography WORK IN PROGRESS. Over a three-day period I had two lunches and one dinner with him and key buyers from B&N, Borders and Costco. The B&N and Borders lunches were in NYC and the Costco one was at the Disney HQ in California.

I was seated next to Eisner at one of the lunches. He asked me what I was reading. Random House had just published Jimmy Buffett’s A PIRATE LOOKS AT FIFTY (more on that in another blog post) and it was a #1 best-seller and a major smash.

0679435271.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_I mentioned Buffett to Eisner. He wasn’t aware of Jimmy and his Parrot-head appeal. So I was reaching for an author to compare. I mentioned that Buffett represented the laid-back life-style and party feel of South Florida and the Caribbean. That he was similar to Carl Hiaasen.

Eisner straighten up and asked, “Isn’t Hiaasen the one who wrote that critical book about Disney?” Whoops?!? I got the sense that Eisner wasn’t use to hearing anything critical of him nor Disney. I said that it was but that Hiaasen’s “fiction is based in fact” – and his “fact is actually based in fiction.” It was a lame excuse.

Everything turned out ok. But I didn’t expect any offers from Disney…

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1984

06.13.2013, No Comments, Uncategorized, by .

The recent NSA spying scandal has had a lot of effects. The one to hit the book world has been the explosion of sales on George Orwell’s classic novel 1984. Most every media outlet has a story regarding the bump at Amazon in all formats — the hard cover, the trade paperback, the mass market edition and the eBook. The 64 year old book is in the top 100 at Amazon in three of the four formats. B&N and independent bookstores have also reported the sales spike in their stores. A book that is as relevant today as it was in 1949. I have probably read it 3-4 times. I am currently reading it again.

Trade Paperback

Trade PB

Goodreads has 419 different editions of 1984 on its site.

Flavorwire has a great look back at the history of the covers.

The biggest seller of these editions is the trade paperback from Plume (a part of Penguin which is part of Bertelsmann). It retails for $16.00 but Amazon sells it for $10.08 (37% off). B&N sells it for $11.76 (26% off).  Many prefer a trade edition because it is bigger.

Mass Market

Mass Market

The mass market edition from Signet Classics (part of Penguin which is now part of Bertelsmann). Publisher suggested price is $9.99. Amazon sells it for $6.92 and B&N for $9.99. The book is available used for as low as $2.00. This edition is the one that sells the most in bulk copies to schools.

There is also a deluxe, cloth-bound with a ribbon edition from Everyman’s Library (part of Knopf which is part of Bertelsman). It is currently out of stock. The retail is $21.00. B&N sells it for $15.48 and Amazon for $15.58. A wonderful gift edition that looks good on the shelf. I am reading this edition now for I like the smell and feel of the pages.

The eBook edition rights are owned by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. Ironically, in July 2009, Amazon erased editions of the eBook of 1984 from all Kindles. An Orwellian move in the new digital age. A digital publisher called Mobile Reference had illegally sold the editions. HMH produced an eBook of 1984 after that. Earlier this week, I checked all the retailers and they had a placeholder, ugly cover. Since then, Amazon and B&N Nook have replaced it with a real cover although Apple, Kobo, Google and Sony still have the old placeholder. The prices also were very different, Kindle ($6.57); Nook ($7.12); Kobo and Sony ($9.39); Google and Apple ($9.99) and the publisher suggestion of $12.95.

Deluxe Hardcover

Deluxe Hardcover

"Non-cover" for eBook.

“Non-cover” eBook

Designed eBook cover

Designed eBook cover

Van Halen edition

Van Halen edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is this November.  

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about Skyhorse Publishing and the 37 titles they have on the JFK assassination conspiracies. They are bringing out eight new titles, reprinting 17 and have an existing 12 in print. Type in “JFK Assassination” into the Amazon search engine and almost 1,800 titles appear.

The WSJ goes on to state that Skyhorse is investing over $1-million on bringing all these titles to market. I think it a smart gamble and they will easily make that money back. I would like to see an interactive, illustrated and enhanced eBook that goes over all of the theories. The new digital medium is perfect to visualize it.

In 1991, Oliver Stone produced and wrote his movie JFK. The movie was engaging and a success, but it played loose with the facts. It also created an enormous increase in all books related to the conspiracy.

I was the History category buyer at Waldenbooks then. At that time, WB was the largest book chain in the nation with over 1,200 stores.  One publisher had cornered the market on JFK Assassination books – Carroll & Graf.  I remember Herman Graf would come in and sell me title after title.

The best selling of all the titles were CROSSFIRE and HIGH TREASON. But Herman had books that blamed the Mafia, the CIA, Castro, LBJ, the KKK, the PTA, the NEA, etc. There was even one that stated it wasn’t a conspiracy but an accidental discharge. That last one didn’t sell.

As the History buyer people would always ask, “what is selling?” My pat answer was “JFK Assassination books.” I answered it so often it was automatic.

I was responsible for all history titles. One of them was a book called THE LAST TSAR – THE LIFE AND DEATH OF NICHOLAS II. The book did very well and the editor wanted to call me to thank me. I knew this because the Doubleday rep, Bebe Cole, called ahead of time and wanted to ensure I was at my desk.

The phone rang and I answered it. The editor of the book about Tsar Nicholas was on the line.  She thanked me for my support and also asked the basic question, “what is selling these days.” I started to give my pat answer of JFK Assassination titles but I stopped myself. I just replied, “books about the presidents always sell.”

The editor who called me?

Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

 

 

 

BEA and ABA

05.27.2013, No Comments, Uncategorized, by .

RndThis week is the annual national book convention, the Book Expo America (BEA). It is in New York. 2013-05-02 23.13.01

This is probably the 20th book convention I have attended. It was once called the American Booksellers Association (ABA) meeting. Not to be confused with the American Bar Association or the American Basketball Association. The name changed and there was a new owner, but overall the meeting remained the same.

My first ABA was in New York City. I was an assistant buyer for Waldenbooks. At that time Walden’s was the largest bookseller in the country with 1200 mall locations. Waldens sold genre fiction titles better than any other retailer. I remember attending the ABA in Miami. It was a few weeks after the Lozano verdict that created riots in Miami. I remember going to dinner and the streets being quite empty. It rained a lot.

I have been at conventions in NYC, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Washington DC. I missed the one in Las Vegas. But friends tell me it was 110 degrees and not pleasant. I also missed a few in the 1990s because the ABA had sued my employer, Random House. Since the ABA ran the convention, RH decided to not display for a few years. Other corporate publishers also pulled out including S&S, Penguin and Harper. Everyone is back now.

I remember the parties. I remember meeting numerous celebrities. It was fun. I met Reagan and Carter on successive nights. Ran into Oprah at the RH booth (she pulled her book after the BEA). I remember how gracious Tim Russert was with everyone (from that BEA I would text message sales reports to him). I can’t even remember how many writers I got to meet. It was always a thrill.

I remember the parties after the parties. Always trying to find the PGW party. It was the one to attend.

I don’t remember ever writing an order at any BEA. I don’t think it ever was much of a show for that. Although in the pre-computer days, people tell me that it was the main reason to go. But my experience was the show is made for flash and not business.

Today, the show has a semi-permanent home in NYC. Made it easier to just do it here every year. The other international book shows remain in the same place – Frankfurt and London and Beijing and Barcelona. So why not NYC?

The show has evolved. There is a full day prior devoted just to digital. There are IPDF and PubLaunch conferences aligned with it. The show is much more educational and less flash.

But I still enjoy it. I still get the thrill of seeing and meeting an author.

It is still a valuable experience.