Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
For years, THE mark of success for a struggling author was landing a publisher and getting an advance. Today, though traditional publishing houses still drive much of the book industry, their hold on power is under threat — ie., Book-selling powerhouse Amazon.com now works directly with authors and publishes books; self-publishing has grown easier and gained some respectability; and Print-on-Demand will soon be in your neighborhood. So what’s the role and future of the publishing establishment? And what do shifts within the industry mean for readers and writers alike.
- Richard Nash Founder of Cursor, a New York publishing company; former publisher of Soft Skull Press
- Nancy Miller Editorial Director, Bloomsbury USA
- Madeline McIntosh President of Sales, Operations and Digital, Random House
- Jeffrey Trachtenberg Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
- Paul Aiken Executive Director, The Authors Guild
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. If you're an avid reader, your new best friend this holiday season could be a little guy named Kindle, Kobo, Nook or, yes, iPad. And if you're a publisher, this statistic might fill you with Christmas cheer or the holiday blues. About 12 percent of the U.S. population owns a tablet computer.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter the holidays, the Online Publishers Association says that number will jump to 23 percent. Despite the holiday hoopla over e-readers and tablets, there's no denying that how we read books is changing, and that shift has publishers scrambling to cope and adjust. For decades, the top New York publishing houses called the Big Six have dominated books, but new competitors in the game, like Amazon and a handful of self-publishing websites, aim to push big publishers aside.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo what do these changes in publishing mean for readers and for the books they love? Well, joining us to have that conversation, from the studios of the Argo Network in New York City, is Nancy Miller, editorial director of Bloomsbury USA. Nancy has been at Bloomsbury since 2009. She's had a distinguished editing career at big houses, like HarperCollins, Random House and others. Nancy Miller, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. NANCY MILLERHi.
NNAMDIGood to have you aboard. Also with us is Jeffrey Trachtenberg. He's a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Jeffrey, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFFREY TRACHTENBERGGlad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio at the -- in the studios of the Argo Network in New York City is Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operations and digital at Random House. She's been at Random House off and on for 16 years, heading online book sales and the conversion to the digital format. Madeline, is it Madeline or Madeline?
MS. MADELINE MCINTOSHMadeline.
NNAMDIMadeline, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Have you read a self-published book? What do you think? 800-433-8850. Madeline, I'll start with you. Given all the changes happening in books, what's the mood like inside a publishing house these days? Is there a sense of excitement, trepidation or both? And then you can answer also, Nancy, but first you, Madeline.
MCINTOSHI would say it's a little bit of everything. There's kind of a psychic disconnect between the business as we actually experience it today in which we're actually -- we're selling more books this year than we sold last year. We're really actually being quite successful on behalf of our authors. Then, at the same time, you know, we pick up the newspapers, and the media likes to tell us that that we are scrambling, as you said, to master the transition. So it's actually -- it's a mixture of a lot of different emotions, but we feel pretty good about our future.
MILLERI'd say it's both. We're very excited about the future. We just had a great week last week. We won the National Book Award for fiction with Jesmyn Ward's book "Salvage the Bones." And I think, you know, looking ahead, we see people reading. It's all good. But, you know, the world is changing, and we just have to be on top of it.
MR. PAUL AIKENKojo, if I may, I seemed to have dropped from your list. This is Paul Aiken. I'm executive director of The Authors Guild.
NNAMDII was expecting you to be in the studio, but I wasn't seeing you at first. So, Paul Aiken...
NNAMDI...thank you so much for joining us. Paul Aiken is the executive director of The Authors Guild, and you should know that we are watching each other on Skype, even if this broadcast continues. So, Paul, thank you so much for joining us.
AIKENMy pleasure to be here, and to be recognized.
NNAMDIJeffrey Trachtenberg, the digital revolution has turned the music, television and news industries upside down and is now doing the same with book publishing. Can you give us an idea of what happened to book sales over the past few years and how e-books have eaten into that market?
TRACHTENBERGI can. E-books were basically a flat business until Amazon launched the Kindle in November of 2007. E-books then began to grow very rapidly. Today, for example, major publishers say e-books generate 15 to 20 percent of total revenue. Barnes & Noble last week at an investor conference said they thought the e-book market would grow from roughly a billion in 2010 to 7 billion in 2015. Meanwhile, they thought the physical book market would drop from roughly 22 billion in 2010 to 14 billion in 2015.
NNAMDIHow were those numbers expected to shift, oh, say, 10 years from now?
NNAMDINobody can tell at this point. At this point, can we compare, Jeff, what's happening in books to what happened in the music industry or not?
TRACHTENBERGWell, I think, certainly, e-books are having a significant impact on the sale of physical books. One difference is, with music there is -- so many CDs were not guarded for digital rights protection. Kids were able to rip them right off and put them on the Web for free. We haven't seen that sort of digital piracy here, in part, I think, that's because people who read tend to be a little -- tend to be older. And they tend to be more affluent, so digital theft isn't as appealing in this country.
NNAMDINancy, I'll start with you first. Before we dive into the changes rocking this industry, could you remind us about the role a traditional publisher serves? Bloomsbury's book "Salvage the Bones," for instance, just won the National Book Award last week. Could you start off by describing how editors worked with the author, Jesmyn Ward, to bring this story to life?
MILLERWell, you know, it's true. In the middle of all the changes around us, what an editor does really at its core hasn't changed, and at the core, we're all making books. We're still editing books. Jesmyn's book came to one of our editors, Kathy Belden, in manuscript, and she fell in love with it. She circulated it to everyone in the company, and we all felt this is potentially an award-winning book.
MILLERAnd just -- you know, we bought it, and we got booksellers behind it from the very beginning. We sent out early copies to get early reads from them, and we really had a groundswell of support from the beginning.
NNAMDIMadeline, Nancy described a little bit of what happens once the final edit is done. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
MCINTOSHYeah. I mean, I think the one key thing for us to hold onto has been the idea that what we should not change as we move into our digital future is we should not let go of the fact that our key strength is the depth of experience on the editorial side, the expertise that an editor has in working with an author to help shape what becomes the final book product and then also the expertise that our sales and marketing and publicity teams have and then helping to bring that book to as wide an audience as possible.
MCINTOSHWe don't really think of there being a massive difference from the fact that what digital has opened up for us is the ability to make sure that that book can be read in any format, on any device and any context in which the reader wants to read it. But the key thing we have to do is to make sure that we're using every channel we can to get the word out about that book. And, often, that's really a one-to-one connection between a sales rep based in Chicago and the local bookselling community there or anywhere else around, really, the country or the whole world.
NNAMDIWell, now, on to the -- aforementioned Paul Aiken. Paul, Amazon has been worrying the publishing world by publishing its own books in a variety of genres. What kind of an opportunity does Amazon represent for authors?
AIKENWell, there's certainly opportunity there, an important opportunity, but there's also, frankly, a threat. What authors want is a future where there is a print plus a digital environment, the traditional publishing plus more direct ways to reach readers. And a very important element of that is having many physical bookstores out there selling books. You brought up the music industry before. A huge loss to that industry was when record stores went away. Once you lose that physical presence of your work on the streets, it still matters a lot to have that physical presence.
AIKENAnd you lose many communities of like-minded people gathering in a physical space to discuss records or, in our case, books. So while many of the things Amazon has done is terrific for authors and for publishing in general, the bigger threat and a big concern is that if this displaces the physical bookselling environment, we're in a much different world in which books have a much smaller cultural impact. And that's a concern for many in the industry.
NNAMDIIndeed, we'll talk more about that later. But, Paul, is Amazon focusing on big well-established authors at this point? What about authors who don't have big names?
AIKENRight. So Amazon is providing an important outlet for all sorts of authors, including authors who haven't been discovered before, providing a way for new authors to reach all of those millions of Amazon customers very inexpensively and efficiently. And that's a great thing. That's a new way for authors to get their books out there.
AIKENBut they are also moving into the space of approaching established authors. They're now, you know, looking to publish themselves, as I'm sure you're aware.
NNAMDIMadeline, how has Amazon's presence as a publisher changed the landscape for traditional publishers?
MCINTOSHWell, you know, really, it's just about having a new competitor, and I think there can be a lot of emotion that goes into the entrance of a new competitor. But the reality is that if another entity wants to come in and join what is a very challenging but energizing prospect of publishing books, then we see that as a good thing. So it's -- and if new competition means that it forces us to do a better job of articulating what it is we do for authors and readers, then I think that's a good thing, too.
NNAMDIBut, you know, Amazon's executives say their presence in the publishing business is nothing new. They cite the example of Barnes & Noble, which started publishing its own books in the 1990s. How is this either different or similar?
MCINTOSHWell, it is -- there are some things about it that, of course, are very similar. When you start to collapse the two roles of retailer and publisher together, that part of it is similar with the Barnes & Noble example, but I think the thing that is very different is more what concerns us, is what Paul was referring to, which is that there is nothing about earlier efforts by other retailers to get into the publishing space that was happening at the same time as this immense pressure on the physical bookstore.
MCINTOSHAnd what we really have to -- as a publisher, what we have to care about intently is making sure that there is a wide open and diverse marketplace for us to distribute our authors' books in physical and digital. So the fact of Amazon publishing is in and of itself a particular concern, it's really just us trying to make sure that there are lots of different kinds and shapes of retailers who are selling our books.
NNAMDINancy Miller, I should say that, despite the growing popularity of e-books, only 12 percent of us own e-readers, and 8 percent of us own tablets. Those numbers, as we said earlier, are expected to rise. So this is forcing a fundamental rethinking in publishing houses. But is there also a rethinking of what a book is?
MILLERWe are thinking about that very much so. We -- you know, we're thrilled to see people buying e-books. It's -- last January, 40 percent of our sales were e-book sales. That was after the holidays when people got their new e-readers and were loading up on them. But we've -- we feel now that in order to make the physical book more attractive, we have to look at things, like higher production values, you know, more -- putting more into the look of a book to make it more of an object that one wants to own. And we're looking at that with both our paperbacks and hardcovers going forward.
NNAMDIJeffrey, e-books are priced much lower than hardcover, so they generate less income for publishers. Can you describe the trickle-down effect this has for retailers and for authors?
TRACHTENBERGWell, I'm not sure I understand the question exactly. Actually, I think, digital publishing may be more profitable for publishers than physical publishing. They don't have to have a big warehouse for physical books. They have to distribute books by truck. They don't have to take returns. They've got all these costs which are now built into the traditional book publishing model, which don't exist digitally. So, on that front, I think, for publishers, digital publishing is actually a very good thing.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. In case you're just joining us, we're talking about changes in the publishing industry and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on changes in the publishing industry. We're talking with Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operation and digital at Random House. Nancy Miller is editorial director at Bloomsbury USA, Jeffrey Trachtenberg is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, and Paul Aiken is executive director of the Authors Guild.
NNAMDIBefore I go the telephones, Jeffrey Trachtenberg, allow me to clear up the last question that I was asking you about e-books being priced much lower than hardcovers. It's my understanding that retailers are buying fewer units of books, and, as a result, advances for authors are shrinking. Is that correct?
TRACHTENBERGYes. I would say that is correct. A lot of publishers have basically cut back on their -- the number of titles they are publishing in. They've cut back on the print runs that they're publishing as well. Now, there are some exceptions. When a new author has a hot manuscript out there, authors are still engaging in very competitive auctions, and people are still getting occasional seven-figure advances. But certainly the publishing business is watching its expenses much more closely today.
NNAMDIThe low pricing of e-books, Jeffrey, sounds a little bit like the gamble that retailers make on Black Friday. They sell everything as cheaply as possible and make their profits through sheer volume. Is that a part of the e-book strategy moving forward?
TRACHTENBERGWell, actually, that's not quite it, I think. The publishers last year, the major publishers, established a new e-book pricing model called agency pricing in which they set the consumer retail price of e-books rather than retailers. The end result of that has meant retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble can't discount e-books published by the six largest publishers in the country. So that has actually, I think, led to higher e-book prices. We see more e-books today priced between $12.99 and $14.99 than we would have seen at the start of 2010.
AIKENIf I could jump in for a moment on that...
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Paul Aiken.
AIKENYes. Yeah, it was really Apple that introduced that model to the publishing industry. Apple, which, through its iTunes store and through its App Store, has sold under this thing called an agency model -- when it entered the industry in January of 2010 and Amazon had 90 percent of the e-book market share -- Apple entered and was about to introduce its iPad and said, we're going to sell this under the same terms that we sell apps for the -- for iPhones.
AIKENAnd that meant agency model, where Apple acts as the agent of the publisher taking 30 percent of the sales price, and the sales price is whatever the publisher says it is, just says it is in the App Store for any apps that Apple sells.
TRACHTENBERGRight. The key thing is, is that those books can't be discounted.
AIKENThat's absolutely a key thing. And it helped diversify the market. As I said, back when Apple announced the iPad, which was not even two full years ago, Amazon was sitting there with 90 percent of the e-book market. With the introduction of the agency model, Barnes and Noble, which had just introduced its Nook, was actually able to compete with Amazon and has grabbed a substantial market share around the, you know, 20 to 25 percent. And we've now have a far more diverse market place than we had two years ago.
TRACHTENBERGRight. And the reason is because the prices are the same for those titles on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
AIKENYeah, that's right. There's no way Barnes and Noble could have gone toe-to-toe losing sale, losing money on each sale of a bestseller the way Amazon was at the time.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. There are a lot of callers who would like to speak with you. We'll start with Daniel in Woodbridge, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELWell, hello to all the panel. Happy Thanksgiving. It's -- this is a great topic today, one that I invested in as the founder of a Web-based children's entertainment company called Trojan Tub Entertainment that features my children's e-books. Couple of brief comments, first of all, I thought Kojo, a little earlier, mischaracterized Amazon's role in this. They're not so much a publisher as they are a distributor of e-books or working -- as the conversation was just saying -- more as an agent as well.
DANIELAnd that is allowing an independent publisher and writer, such as myself, tremendous economic and artistic freedom that really can't be found anywhere else. So I just find this whole e-book phenomenon tremendously liberating. Secondly, one of the panelists earlier mentioned a threatened lost of community due to the lack of physical books and maybe even harm being done to bookstores.
DANIELAnd while I'm not in the least eager to see the lost of sensible bookstores -- I'm a former academic, a great collector and lover of traditional books -- I think it's well worth saying that communities are forming underground, as it were, on social networks, on websites such as my own. The sense of community that one finds on Twitter, on Facebook, it's just tremendously encouraging and heartening for those of us who are putting out to sea in this great movement.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to start with Paul Aiken because, Paul, you're the one who made the comment on the loss of physical bookstores.
AIKENYeah. That was me. And, frankly, we need both. We need the online social networks, which are terrific, a great way to spread word about new books and new authors. But we also need the physical space. We still live in a physical world and will for a long time, and having a physical presence really does make a difference for the impact of any cultural item. Imagine what movies would be like if there were no movie theaters. Like, who would notice when a new movie comes out if it was just a, you know, direct-to-Netflix model? The cultural impact of movies would diminish markedly.
MCINTOSHAnd, sorry, Kojo, could I just -- this is Madeline.
MCINTOSHI just wanted to point out also that this -- the -- what the caller is pointing out is this key issue of the vital need to connect communities with books. And what that is all about, in my mind, is about helping individual readers to discover the next book that they want to read. And, absolutely, there are -- through social networks, through the Web, through any number of new approaches to the new media, people are discovering new ways to get that process to happen.
MCINTOSHBut it is interesting to me that we still find, not just anecdotally -- but we've all seen visual evidence of this, of physical bookstores where you have readers walking in with their electronic device in hand...
MCINTOSH...and using that experience of the physical store for them to figure out what the next book is.
NNAMDIMaking lists on their iPads while they're in the bookstore.
MCINTOSHWell, and actually buying it then from another...
NNAMDIBuying it online, right.
MCINTOSH...from a digital retailer, and so, I think, the point is that if the reader's needs were being completely fulfilled by the digital retail experience today, you wouldn't really find that happening. And so people -- clearly, the readers are the ones who are expressing the hunger for still having that local experience.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Daniel. We got an email from Erica, who says, "When I buy new records, most music labels now throw in a complimentary download code for the album, so I can enjoy the album in both an MP3 format as well. I was wondering if selling books with e-load download codes would be a possibility." What do you say, Madeline?
MCINTOSHThe concept of bundling, well, it's -- there are different ways to approach this. The fairly straightforward way is if it's simply with the purchase of the given book, whether it's in physical or digital, you're adding extra content into that. Another story that the author has written something of that nature, that's fairly straightforward to do. Where things get a little bit more complicated is trying to figure out what the appropriate business model would be if you are really trying to completely bundle the two formats together.
MCINTOSHIf you are really trying to create a system in which a consumer has -- buys a physical book and that automatically gives them full access to the digital copy, there are -- it's something that seems simple to do. And, clearly technologically, it's not that hard to enable, but the real question is, you know, what does that mean for the author's compensation? What does it mean between the business model, between the retailer and the publisher?
MCINTOSHDo you end up with a lot of people who realize they actually didn't really want both formats? They keep the digital copy and return the physical good at full price? That's something that we just have to weigh into a little bit carefully.
NNAMDIMark in Washington, D.C. has a question that you may have already answered, Madeline. But let me see if Mark is satisfied with that answer. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi. Thanks for taking my call. So I was in Politics & Prose last night and...
NNAMDIYes. Politics & Prose is a Washington, D.C.-based bookstore that I'm sure all of our panelists are familiar with, but go ahead.
MARKRight, and it's -- well, it's like the -- you know, the premier independent bookstore in Washington. And I was there, and I heard a really interesting author. And I thought I might want to read the book. The problem is that I pretty much stopped buying books as books because they just take up too much space. And, you know, I took hundreds of pounds of books to give away the other day, and I buy them on my Kindle.
MARKAnd I was wondering if there was some way that the publishers might be able to work with bookstores to -- so that if I was there, I heard the author, I downloaded the book on my Kindle right there, the bookstore would get some kind of a premium for that, for providing the space and this kind of stuff, and it would also go into the stuff you were just talking about, about going and browsing to see what you want to read next. I would be -- I don't think the -- I don't think it would work if the consumer had to pay extra.
MARKBut it seems to me that it would be worth it for the publishers somehow if I could do it through their system, download the book, that this would be a way that the publishers could subsidize the bookstores to try to keep them open, so that people would buy the books and do all the kinds of things you're talking about.
MCINTOSHSure. Yeah, first of all, just to point out that I think Politics & Prose is a -- is an excellent example of an independent store that is very much engaging in trying to think about how the digital format and digital marketing affects them.
NNAMDIIf you might allow me to interrupt, just on a point of information watch, Politics & Prose is -- had -- now has an on-demand book machine in the store that will print books for $99. But go ahead, please, Madeline.
MCINTOSHYeah. So just a couple of things I would point about -- point out about P&P, as we affectionately refer to it. So Politics & Prose is -- allows their consumers to buy through their own e-book storefront, which is -- the back end of that, I believe, is Google eBooks. So Google, when they rolled out, they rolled out with a strategy of enabling independent stores to use them as the back end, and that that would be the -- what the solution for the store to do exactly what the caller wants to do, which is to buy an e-book from Politics & Prose.
MCINTOSHUnfortunately, that does not mean that the caller would be able to download that onto his Kindle. He could download that onto a more of an open platform device, such as a tablet or a different kind of e-reader. But the -- and that's simply because Amazon has a closed platform approach. But the -- I do want to point out that, with Politics & Prose, we are working with them at Random House along with Politico, which is a political content website where it's kind of a three-way partnership, where Random House and Politico are publishing new digital original e-books based on the current election campaign.
MCINTOSHThe -- we work together to run on the Politico site a bookstore. It's a publisher-agnostic bookstore, so it's just a selection of great books in the content zone on the Politico site. And then when people want to buy, they connect through to a selection of different retailers, one of them being Politics & Prose.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. Paul, the Web has made self-publishing an option if authors can't get traditional publishing houses to bite. Amanda Hocking, one of the biggest stars of self-publishing on Amazon, now has a million dollar -- multimillion-dollar book deal. Are you seeing more interest from your authors in this non-traditional road to publishing?
AIKENAbsolutely, and not just through Amazon. There are many outlets, both -- e-outlets, Barnes & Noble has Puppet. Kobo has a platform as well, but also print-on-demand makes it possible for authors -- not only bring out new books that haven't found a traditional publisher, but also to bring back books that have gone out of print. There's a lot of interest in that, and there's -- and more and more of it's going on.
NNAMDIJeffrey, there is Smashwords. There is FastPencil. There is -- even Amazon could give self-publishing -- could allow self-publishers to publish. Could that be giving traditional publishers, at some point, a run for their money, Jeffrey?
TRACHTENBERGI think they are already beginning to have an effect. Unlike the music business, the book business requires a commitment on the behalf of consumers, a commitment of reading time of four, five, six hours for a title. So if I'm a reading a self-published book that I have bought from Puppet or from Amazon, that's four or five hours I'm devoting a self-published book that I'm not devoting to a book published by an established publishing house.
TRACHTENBERGFurther, if that self-published book is only 99 cents or $1.99 and I enjoyed it, after a while, I may begin to think that I don't want to pay more than $1.99 or $2.99 for any e-book. And that's going to have an effect as well.
NNAMDIBut, Nancy Miller, here is a problem. What about quality control for self-published authors? By eliminating editors, aren't we going to see a lot more bad writing out there?
MILLERWell, I think, you know, it's like the lottery with self-published books. There are always going to be a few that make it. And as e-books, that's going to be the case as well. But it's true that traditional publishers offer a range of services, including editorial. Quality control -- if you want to call it that -- is going to contribute immeasurably to the end product.
MR. RICHARD NASHYou know, there are a lot of unemployed book editors out there now. And many of them are offering their services to self-published authors. And as self-published authors get more sophisticated to do a better job, they'll hire them. And I think that we're getting to see the quality of that work go up.
NNAMDILet's see the experience or let's hear the experience of Cliff in Reston, Va. Cliff, your turn.
CLIFFHi, Kojo. It's a pleasure always to listen to your show. Yes. I published three books through traditional publishers, Prentice Hall and Addison-Wesley -- excuse me. And then I published a book myself using the Amazon -- actually, it's a print book. It's not available in electronic format. There are print services that will print your book. So the books that I self-published, I went through a lot of the same processes in terms of having editorial review. So I think the quality of the work is the same.
CLIFFBut the point I wanted to bring up -- there are actually two things -- one is that a comment was made by one of your guests that publishers have to endure returns by -- you know, when a bookstore doesn't sell all of its stock, it returns them. But in many cases, and I would venture to say most, although I don't know for a fact, the return -- the cost of returns actually gets passed on to the author. It depends on their contract, but I think that's a fairly standard thing.
CLIFFThe other thing...
MCINTOSHIn your case.
MILLERAll the panelists here agree that that's not the case.
NNAMDII think we heard four no's there, Cliff.
CLIFFI'm sorry. What?
NNAMDII think we heard four no's from our panelists.
NNAMDIWell, I can say, you know -- and I published through both Prentice Hall and Addison-Wesley -- and the statement, the bill of the payment statement that I get every six months includes deductions for returns, any returns. I had -- one of my books had a second revision. And when the publishers -- I mean, when the distributors heard there was going to be a revision, they sent back all of the first editions, and I got, you know, that -- the cost of those returns got deducted from my account.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time, Cliff, so allow me to have Madeline McIntosh comment on what you just said.
MCINTOSHOr I think Paul may take this one.
AIKENYeah. I can take that. That's the -- that return is for -- basically, those don't count as sales. You don't get royalties on those sales. So when the book is returned, something that had been credited as a sale is then debited. So it's just the royalty amount that gets reduced. It's not the cost of the production and...
MCINTOSHRight. That's -- I think that the point is that the cost of the printing, the handling, the processing of that return, the freight, all of that is what the publisher bears.
MILLERAnd the author does not have to pay back the advance that was given him or her...
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Cliff. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be joined by Richard Nash. He is founder of Cursor, which is a startup publisher based in New York. But if you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to the website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing changes in the public -- publishing industry. Four guests join us from the studios of the Argo Network in New York City. Jeffrey Trachtenberg is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Paul Aiken is executive director of the Authors Guild. Nancy Miller is editorial director at Bloomsbury USA. And Madeline McIntosh is president of sales, operations and digital at Random House.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y. is Richard Nash, founder of Cursor, a startup publisher based in New York. He's also the vice president of content and community for the website Small Demons. Richard Nash, thank you for joining us.
NASHThank you very much. Delighted to be here.
NNAMDIRichard, you spent nearly a decade as publisher of Soft Skull Press, which was known as the quintessential New York City indie publisher. You're now working on a new publishing model that brings writers together online to edit, publish and promote each other's work. Tell us about Cursor and its publishing community called Red Lemonade.
NASHYes. Well, Red Lemonade is an effort to make more transparent the process by which books come to be published and then to use that transparency and openness and community spirit to help promote the books once they are published. So to use Nancy's example of the book that won the National Book Award last week, Nancy pointed out how that book came via an agent to an editor, Kathy Belden, and that particular process used to be a very simple one.
NASHIf there was an author and he or she would submit to many agents and hope that an agent would love the book and that agent would submit to a row of editors and hope that one of those editors fell in love with the book, and the process was sort of relatively opaque to the author. And what we're doing is encouraging writers to upload their work to the site so each writer can read one another's work, give feedback on it and create a more open and inclusive situation, a situation where it's not either you're invisible or you're published.
NASHBut we retain one of those key aspects of traditional book publishing, which is that, in the end, the editor makes a decision about what to publish for better or for worse.
NNAMDIWell, Red Lemonade, nevertheless, is essentially cutting out traditional editors and putting the publishing process into the hands of writers as editors. So how is the system working out?
NASHWell, it wouldn't -- I wouldn't characterize it as cutting out. I would characterize it as adding another layer rather than eliminating the editorial layer. It adds a prior layer of your fellow writer as a participant in a sort of a rhythm of feedback about the book, about the book developmentally, about how the book reads to readers. And so the books that we published, you know, have thus far ended up as editor's choices in the New York Times book review and on Oprah's summer reading list, so it's going reasonably well.
NNAMDIMadeline, social media, self-publishing and models like Richard's really emphasize the connection between writers and their audiences. How are publishers working with retailers on that aspect of marketing their books?
MCINTOSHWell, I think the -- whether it's with retailers or just as part of everyday activity, we're doing a lot to -- particularly through Facebook, to try to make sure that we're making sure that we're capturing and having books part of the conversation, the idea of creating that kind of the nirvana image of the direct feedback loop between the author and the reader. That works for some authors, and some authors absolutely delight in it and really thrive with that kind of direct feedback.
MCINTOSHThere are some authors who -- what they really want to be able to do is to work with their editor on the book and then have us publish it and make it public. That's what we do as a publisher. So, I mean, part of what we do is try to be sensitive to the individual needs of the great diversity of authors we publish and not try to force every author into direct conversation with their readers.
AIKENIf I may jump in there...
NNAMDIPlease do, Jeffrey. Oh, it is Paul, Paul Aiken.
AIKENThis is -- no, it's Paul.
NNAMDIYeah. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.
AIKENYeah. Authors have really embraced this, and some authors are doing a terrific job online of reaching their readers through Facebook, through Twitter, through their own blogs and websites. It's a very important way that authors are establishing that direct connection with their readers. But as Madeline was saying, some authors are better at that than others. Some are more interested in that than others.
AIKENAnd we're hoping that what we'll retain is a diverse way for authors to get out there so that the author who is particularly good at marketing can do that as effectively as possible. But a lot of authors -- and, you know, examples spring to mind -- are not particularly good at getting out there. They're not interested in doing that to the same extent as some others, and there has to be a way to get those sometimes very important authors to readers as well.
NNAMDIRichard Nash, you're working on another venture called Small Demons that aims to really connect readers with the sights, the sounds, the experiences that authors create in their books. Tell us about that.
NASHYes. So what we're doing at Small Demons is that we are using technology to identify all the references inside stories, inside novels and memoirs and histories to the people in the books, to the places that are mentioned in the books, to the music, the movies, the television shows, the car brands and drinks and gadgets that are mentioned in books and create browsing experiences for readers so that, you know, in a universe where, unfortunately, there will be fewer bricks-and-mortar bookstores where people can browse and discover that they can browse by coming to our site, Small Demons, and looking for a book that they might love, like, say, Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" and be able to browse through all the songs mentioned in the book and click on a song and then see all the books that mention that song and go on a real journey kind of pretty deep into all the culture and the network of places and people that each book represents so that the author doesn't him or herself have to necessarily go and do it in person.
NNAMDIRichard Nash, thank you so much for joining us. Before you go, Nancy Miller, could a site like Small Demons be part of the elusive answer publishers are looking for to marry readers more closely to the books that they love?
MILLERWell, it sounds like an interesting site. I think it's more, you know, an enhancement to reading a book than an essential part of the reading of a book, in my opinion. But I think it -- anything that's going to connect a reader to a book is a thrilling thing, to my mind.
MCINTOSHAnd I can point out that Random House books are -- we are working with Small Demons, and so we think they have something really interesting that they're working on. And we're not exactly sure where it's going to go, but we want to help them try to get there.
NNAMDIRichard Nash, thank you...
NASHWe're very excited to index the Haruki Murakami's "1Q84"...
MILLERMmm, that sounds terrific.
MCINTOSHGood luck with that. Yeah.
NASHIt has vast quantities of cultural references in it, and...
MILLEROn every page.
NASH…we have a lot of users who are very eager to start exploring.
NNAMDIYou'll be happy to know that that's a book we'll be discussing in the next hour of our show when we offer our winter reading recommendations. But, Richard Nash, thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Matt in Herndon, Va. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHey, guys, great show today. Thank you for having me on. But I just wanted to say I'm a big fan of books, right? And, most importantly, I'm a fan of the content. You know, I used to commute a lot in D.C., so I listened to a lot of audio books at the time. You know, I listen to a lot of podcasts now, but I'm a huge fan of the Kindle because I currently travel a lot for work. And as a technical solutions engineer, right, it's very difficult to carry around 400-page books of technical products, right, on an airplane. And Kindle comes in very handy for that in electronic format. It's very easy to search subject matter.
MATTBut at the same time, I find it difficult to utilize when I need to look at colored photographs or pictures and things of that nature and diagrams I want to see, you know, maybe in a larger format or be able to take notes. So I think there's, you know, a place for both. And I think we're going to see, you know, a dramatic difference in the way people digest content here in the next decade. I just would hate to see what publishers lose out, like a lot of the music industry has, by sticking their head in the sand and, you know, like the...
NNAMDIJeffrey Trachtenberg, any indication that book publishers are sticking their heads in the sand?
TRACHTENBERGWell, I would say revenue seems to be growing still, so I would say no. And, also, we've seen that their e-book sales have grown significantly over the last three years. So I think one word you do hear often when you talk to publishers is we're experimenting. And I think they are more open to new ideas and to digital interest than people believe.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Matt. We move on to Ratica (sp?) in Reston, Va. Ratica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RATICAHi. I have actually started a self-publishing company. It's called I'm In It books, and it actually is targeted to kids and helping them read more. And what we've done is help -- we create customized books. So a lot of our kids, when they were young, they would get books that had their name in it. And the story had them in it. We do the exact same thing with these customized e-books, and it is only because of the e-book platform that we can afford to provide the service in this product, so...
NNAMDIHow has it been working out for you?
RATICAIt's actually working out very well. I had the idea in February. We launched the site in late summer. And with the holiday season coming upon us, with this unique personalized book, it's really taking off 'cause kids get very...
RATICA...into stories that have their own name and a picture that looks like them.
NNAMDIWell, thank you for your call and good luck to you, Ratica. We got an email from Daniel. "I was just looking at a book at Amazon, 'Selected Stories' by William Trevor, and was surprised that its cost in hardcover was $14. The Kindle version was $24.99. Amazon has a note saying Kindle price is set by the publisher. Can you, please, explain and comment on the justification for this pricing?" Madeline McIntosh?
MCINTOSHWell, I can't because I don't believe that's -- unless somebody corrects me, I don't think that's...
NNAMDIIt doesn't sound accurate.
MCINTOSHRandom House -- it doesn't sound -- well, it certainly is not a -- would not be -- make sense if that were a Random House book. To be clear, we set the consumer price for the e-book. We have nothing to do with what the retailer charges for the physical book. And so I really can't comment on that. It certainly does not sound from the description as though it's a Random House.
NNAMDIAnyone else has a…
TRACHTENBERGCould it be used hardcover book?
NNAMDIIt's entirely possible, but we got that by way of email, so I can't communicate with the emailer instantly. Finally, we got this tweet from @tomsherwood. "How does an author of a now out-of-print book, but one for which there appears to be lots of demand, get a digital publisher to pay attention? Who can help make 'Dream City' an e-book?"
NNAMDIFull disclosure: Tom Sherwood joins us every week on what we call The Politics Hour. He's an obscure Washington Post television reporter who's written an obscure book about Marion Barry called "Dream City." He's trying to find out how he can get a digital publisher to pay attention. Any ideas for him, Jeffrey Trachtenberg?
TRACHTENBERGVery -- he's already self-published his book. So if he self-published already, he's really...
NNAMDINo. It wasn't self-published. It was a published book, and I forget who the publisher was. It was published in the 1980s. It's now out of print.
TRACHTENBERGRight. So the digital rights, unlike -- undoubtedly reverted to the author. So the author himself could claim the book now and self-publish it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
AIKENWe help people on this all the time. You could contact us.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're out of time. Of course, Tom Sherwood doesn't think of himself as obscure, and that's Paul Aiken of The Authors Guild, along with Madeline McIntosh, Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Nancy Miller. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
For the first time since 2009, more people are leaving the Washington region than arriving ––including millennials. Kojo sits down with researchers to understand why migration to D.C. has slowed, and how millennials factor into the makeup of the city.
Many gardeners think that cooler weather means an end to gardening, but our roundtable of urban farmers offers tips for maintaining your garden throughout the fall months and preparing it for spring.
As D.C. and jurisdictions around the region put in their pitches for Amazon's second headquarters, we explore what winning that bid would mean for the region, and what it might cost taxpayers.