This is one of the two most revealing sessions I attended at BookExpo and is well worth a watch if you’re able to tune into C-Span2 this Sunday, June 16th. Unfortunately it looks like it’s at 8AM Pacific.

The panel of three top publishing executives included John Sargent of MacMillan, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster, and Markus Dohle of Random House.  Mr. Sargent started by doing a bit of a victory lap about Fire & Fury and talking about the intimidating letter he got from the White House attempting to stop him from publishing.  All three noted the political energy right now and emphasized the value of free speech for everyone, including right wing views in an industry that frankly draws mostly from a liberal environment.

Another key point was the profitability, increasingly important, of backlist titles (older titles still in print, especially after a year) and classics, with an interesting factoid that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 spiked 9000% when a certain spokesperson coined the phrase “alternative facts.”  This profitability, as well as huge runaway bestsellers, allows the industry to fund new voices and talent and take chances on the frontlist, trying to determine tomorrow’s bestsellers.  The idealism that sees profit mostly as a means to a greater purpose was evident.  How sincere that is the viewer can judge.  (Side note: as for me, I have a great deal of respect for Reidy especially.  Simon & Schuster was reluctant years ago to join the lendable ebook market, honestly noting that they weren’t sure the economics would work for them and worrying about unrestrained copying, etc. However, Mike’s run the numbers and S & S now gives us by far the best circulation to cost ratio in OverDrive – interesting.)

A third point I noted was that if these large traditional publishers are supposed to be running scared because of ebooks and Amazon, they couldn’t seem more unworried about it.  It was noted that after a crossroads year of 2013 when Borders closed and ebooks reached their maximum percentage of the trade market, ebooks had settled down to under 20% of sales and print has been increasing 2-3% a year ever since.  Markus Dohle also mentioned the fact of growing literacy worldwide and the continued promise of the English-language book market in particular.

One final thing I found notable: Penguin Random House has over 300 imprints when its German sister company is included.  All have many smaller imprints rather than a few larger ones. Why?  The CEO’s see their  business as people-intensive and believe it’s important that everyone actively involved in promoting a title have actually read it and be familiar with it.

UPDATE: This is now available as a video clip by C-Span.

Here is the C-Span link if interested.  I’m betting this will be replayed – hopefully.


Recently I got intrigued in the developing cross-discipline discipline of “big history.”After listening to Craig Benjamin’s The Big History of Civilizations Great Course on CD (also available on video in Hoopla), like a lot of customers I was hooked, though irritated with myself because I had designated only 5 copies to start of David Christian’s Origin Story, the summary of which I’ll reproduce below but unfortunately I have no ARCs.  This book, a bit too new for NYT NF bestseller list though #2 on Amazon’s Natural History rankings, is a moderate hit here already – 10 copies now of the print with 45 holds and rising and 23 holds on the ebook.  Those probably won’t be the last copies we pursue.  Big history is also a concept that’s caught the eye of  Bill Gates.  The approach kind of makes you feel infinitesimal and fleeting, yet uniquely special at the same time.

Origin Story

Little Brown Summary: A captivating history of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In Origin Story, Christian takes readers on a wild ride through the entire 13.8 billion years we’ve come to know as “history.” By focusing on defining events (thresholds), major trends, and profound questions about our origins, Christian exposes the hidden threads that tie everything together — from the creation of the planet to the advent of agriculture, nuclear war, and beyond.

With stunning insights into the origin of the universe, the beginning of life, the emergence of humans, and what the future might bring, Origin Story boldly reframes our place in the cosmos.

Thanks to Mary and Jane at OAK for pointing this article from Quartz online magazine, called A Love Rekindled: Are EBook Dying or Thriving? The Answer is Yes.  In spite of that title, the real answer is who knows?

But ebook sales are anybody’s guess. Amazon doesn’t report its ebook sales to any of the major industry data sources, and it doesn’t give authors more than their own personal slice of data. A spokesperson from Amazon writes by email that “hundreds of thousands of authors self-publish their books today with Kindle Direct Publishing,” but declined to provide a number, or any sales data.

However, a new indirect technique, which I found fascinating, is trying to get at these data answers, with this (possible) result showing in another way a cryptic “underground” ebook market that isn’t going away but is different from the traditional output.

Again from the article:

Combine last year’s NPD BookScan numbers (that is, 85% of US trade print sales) and what Bookstat strings together of self-published book sales, and you have a very rough picture of the difference between what is generally reported in sales figures and what’s missing (not including a grab-bag of uncategorizable sales or books from Amazon’s own imprints):



Ebooks Update

May 8, 2018

PW reports ebook sales (from major traditional publishers who report to PubTrack Digital, mind you) fell 10% in 2017, but that fiction took a bigger hit while non-fiction actually grew somewhat in private sales.  It seems the situation is continuing to evolve like this: perhaps because of price sensitivity, the cheap and Amazon-dominated ebook individual market seems to be getting more and more independent, with much of the traditional trade staying print focused.  Sno-Isle OverDrive circulation continues to grow as well, but mostly it’s those traditional publishers that are driving that growth.  Maybe ebook readers really might prefer the coached, developed and vetted writing of traditional publication as well, but only if they don’t have to pay very much? Or maybe the demand for all kinds of ebooks is incredible but our OverDrive offerings focus on publishers and only Smashwords titles come from independent writers? Hm.

Also, check out this more total picture of sales figures with audio.  [“Thanks to Downloadable Audio Publishers See Small Revenue Gain in 2017”].  The reassurance here is that publishers as a whole are hardly being annihilated.

Meanwhile, Mike’s run some numbers on our current OverDrive collection, including only titles that are also still available in OverDrive Marketplace, but the numbers should be fairly close to the collection total.  That is as follows:

Ebook Ebook % Eaudio Eaudio %
Fiction Titles 70721 57% 24100 65%
Non-Fiction Titles 54201 43% 13180 35%
Total 124922 37280

From the article: 

Adult fiction remained the most popular e-book category–44% of sales in the category were in the digital format–but e-book sales in the segment dropped 14% from 2016, to 108 million units.

E-books have a much smaller share of the adult nonfiction market, 12%, but sales in the segment rose 3% last year, to 38 million units, NPD reported.

An article in Good E Reader asks Will People Buy Audiobooks and Ebooks from Walmart?

From the article:

“E-Book sales have been flat for past few years and print is still king. [6]87.2 million print books were sold last year, up from 674.1 million in 2016. The increase follows a 3.3% increase in 2016. Units have risen every year since 2013, and 2017 sales were up 10.8% from that year.

The digital audiobook and ebook industry desperately needs new sales channels to fuel growth. Amazon has dominated the US market for over a decade. Will Walmart be the golden goose that publishers have been waiting for?”

Last month, PW reported print sales were up to 687 million (confirming the missing 6 in the Good E Reader article), with increases in both hardcover and trade and retail outlets selling ever more and mass merchants less.

While this is what’s going on in private sales, our OverDrive usage continues to reach new highs. The dashboard for January shows circulation reaching almost 150k, and, even more exciting, an upswing in unique users to 23,662, over 20% higher than this time last year.  There seems to be a bump every January, probably reflecting new users taking advantage of holiday gift devices (?)  If deals like this Kobo Wal-Mart push and similar introduce more people in more areas to ebooks, will demand for ebooks rise from any source and overall format preferences change, or is there an inverse relationship and library use is rising in part because of customer resistance to direct purchases?  In these still early days there definitely seems to be a disconnect.


Jim ran across this article in Fortune discussing a new feature to locate eBooks in your area public libraries. He and I have gotten this to work for titles that are available and have a knowledge graph, where the borrow location search occurs toward the bottom (see below).  Zandra also got this to work for a couple of titles that are OUT, namely Star Trek Voyager A Pocket Full of Lies and Hawkins’ latest Into the Water (but The Girl on the Train, no, hm).  In those cases Google takes you to the right OverDrive site to place the hold, but not in a lot of others.  She also noticed that some titles don’t show up unless you include the author. From the article:


The list of libraries with available ebooks will appear as part of Google’s “Knowledge Graph” cards, the boxed-off sections that appear either above or next to the regular list of search results, which already offered information on searched-for books, such as a description of the book, the author’s name, GoodReads ratings, and options for purchasing an ebook.


Jim retrieved Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and I did this with Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which happened to be available when we searched.


Amazon Imprints Impress?

August 30, 2017

An article by Jane Friedman (9 Statistics Writers Should Know about Amazon) contains some interesting stats and presents the case that print books’ recent “resurgence” is simply about price, while Amazon is responsible for much of that and increases in ebooks as well.  The Audible explosion (doubling 2014-16!) is also impressive but not surprising given how many new bestselling titles are available exclusively as audible files long before they get to eAudio or books on cd.  Fortunately, more and more people have caught on to the unfortunate fact that an Audible edition does not necessarily mean any other audio edition is forthcoming. This used to be a common tantalizing pitfall in RINCs, or maybe you all are catching them right away.

Amazon now boasts several imprints putting out original trade paperbacks and some classic reprints. It has taken on some eye-catching popular names like Marcia Clark, Carolyn Brown and Rachel Caine, newly published or “poached.” The range of output seems serious, too, including science fiction (47North), romance (Montlake Romance), thrillers (Thomas & Mercer), literary fiction and serious non-fiction (Little A) and even translations and international writers (Amazon Encore and Amazon Crossing), among several others.  While we are trying to take a look at most of these as they approach publication, I’m still holding off on many of them unless the author has a track record.  It’s still nice to keep an eye on it as some authors are perpetually requested, while the circulation of collected titles is a bit hit and miss.  Let me know if customers expect more proactive selection or if this approach seems right for now.

Sorry no ARC’s this time but a sample:

Snap Judgment Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark. Summary: When the daughter of prominent civil litigator Graham Hutchins is found with her throat slashed, the woman’s spurned ex-boyfriend seems the likely suspect. But only days later, the young man dies in what appears to be a suicide. Or was it? Now authorities are faced with a possible new crime. And their person of interest is Hutchins. After all, avenging the death of his daughter is the perfect reason to kill. If he’s as innocent as he claims, only one lawyer has what it takes to prove it: his friend and colleague Samantha Brinkman. It’s Sam’s obligation to trust her new client. Yet the deeper she digs on his behalf, the more entangled she becomes in a thicket of family secrets, past betrayals, and multiple motives for murder. To win her case, she’s prepared to bend any law and cross any boundary that stands in her way. Sam has always played by her own rules, and it’s always worked … so far. But this case cuts so deep and so personal that one false move could cost her everything.



The Queen's Poisoner

The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler.  Summary: “King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles… and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life” — back cover.




The Barefoot SummerThe Barefoot Summer by Carolyn Brown. Summary: “Leaving one widow behind is unfortunate. Leaving three widows behind is just plain despicable. Oil heiress Kate Steele knew her not-so-dearly departed husband was a con man, but she’s shocked that Conrad racked up two more wives without divorcing her first. The only remnant of their miserable marriage she plans to keep is their lakeside cabin in Bootleg, Texas. Unfortunately, she’s not the only woman with that idea. Fiery, strong-willed Jamie wishes Conrad were still alive—so she could kill the scoundrel herself. But for their daughter’s sake, she needs that property. As does Amanda—twenty-eight, pregnant, and still weeping over the loss of her true love. On a broiling July day, all three arrive in Bootleg…with a dogged detective right behind who’s convinced that at least one of them conspired to commit murder. One momentous summer filled with revelations, quirky neighbors, and barefoot evenings on the porch offers three women the chance to make the journey from enemies to friends, and claim a bright, new beginning.”–Cover, page 4.