Chip MacGregor

December 2, 2008

What’s Happening in the Industry Right Now?


I've had a number of people asking state-of-the-industry questions, so…

— In case you haven't heard, the Author's Guild (along with most of the big New York publishers) finally settled their lawsuit with Google over their Library Search program. Basically, Google was scanning books from libraries and making them available, which seemed like a clear violation of copyright laws. In the end, Google paid $125 million and agreed to set up a new licensing system. The goal is to give readers more access to out-of-print books, make it easier for libraries and universities to access hard-to-find pages, and offer new avenues for people to buy copyrighted books online. The $125 M will be used to set up a nonprofit book registry, and it's expected that most American publishers will participate. This is good news for authors, who won't be getting jobbed by Google any more.

— Publishers Weekly has come out with its long list of the "Best Books of the Year," and in the religious fiction category, there are only two titles: Anne Rice's Christ the Lord and Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy. Woo-hoo! SO glad to see Susan's book on that list. From the moment she turned that manuscript in to her editor, I expected to see this sort of response. If you haven't read it, go buy a copy. Honest — it'll be one of the best novels you'll read this year.

— Rob Eager, the president of Wildfire Marketing in Atlanta, has done a fascinating study of CBA publishers. He dug into the sales numbers of 15 publishers on Amazon, and made some determinations based on the sales of each company's top twenty books. It's an interesting study, since it doesn't allow one hit to skew the results, but bases its research on each house's top twenty books. His findings:

1. Zondervan's top 20 titles have an average sales rank on Amazon of 1807. (Their top title was all the way up to #45.)

2. Thomas Nelson's top 20 titles have an average sales rank of 1954.

3. The next publishers in order were Tyndale (2341), Waterbrook/Multnomah (3666), and Baker (3793).

4. After that there was a big dropoff — FaithWords (8725), Harvest House (9558), B&H (12,066), NavPress (12,966), and Moody Press (15,589).

5. The next five publishers listed were a suprise: Regal (a growing company, 15,589), Howard (21,202 — how does a Simon & Schuster imprint rank this low?), Barbour (21,616, which surprised me because of all their fiction sales), IVP (22,756), and Kregel (47,738).

And yes, there are limitations to this study: Amazon isn't a perfect reflection of the market. A publisher could have one book making a huge pile of money for them, so this doesn't reflect income or overall business success. But it does offer some cool insight into which publishers are routinely helping books move toward the top of the lists. You can see the whole thing at

— At the ECPA dinner in Chicago last month (a gathering of 25 religious publishers), Simon & Schuster President Carolyn Reidy woke everyone up. She told her fellow publishing execs that it's time we face facts: books are no longer recession-proof. Retail sales are in steep decline, backlist isn't selling, publishers are getting squeezed by retailers who demand better terms, and it will all probably get worse before it gets better. Reidy noted that self publishing has become a realistic option for many authors, explained how the economics of digital publishing make it look like publishers will be making less on each book sold, and called into question the practice of full-credit returns (yay!). There was a lot of other thoughtful stuff — Barnes & Noble and other retailers publishing their own books, bestselling authors potentially creating their own publishing houses, and CBA readers leaving Christian bookstores behind in order to go to one-stop book-shopping outlets. Then she reminded everyone that in all her years in the business, publishing has always been considered "an industry in trouble." Yet here we are — threatened, and needing to change because of new technology, but still educating and entertaining readers, and ready to adapt to the new business realities as well as the new technology. If you can get a copy of her speech, by all means do so. Fascinating stuff, and it includes a call to religious publishers to make the tent big enough to include everyone.

An editor at Macmillan, Nicholas Blake, has garnered a lot of interest for a presentation he made to the Society of Young Publishers back in September. In essence, Mr. Blake made the case that there are ten essential skills an editor needs to be successful in contemporary publishing of digital titles. I've been asked about it so many times that I felt a need to clarify the source — you can find it at For the record, he states that the "islands of knowledge" an editor needs to become familiar with are: (1) Make sure to get the correct rights to each work; (2) Understand moral rights to a work; (3) Learn to assign ISBN's correctly; (4) Understand localization so that you can sell the work in all the appropriate countries; (5) Understand version control, since there are no impression numbers in ebooks; (6) Get to know all the output formats your company will offer; (7) Understand the conversion or output process at your company; (8) Understand metadata in your titles; (9) Know how to build in metadata elements in your books; and (10) Understand a digital workflow.

— I suppose if I have any measure of fame, it's for hosting my annual "Bad Poetry Contest" on my birthday each year. So I was thrilled when author Keri Kent sent me a notice that Writer's Digest is having their 4th Annual Poetry Contest. Woo-hoo! I'm sure you'll all want to race out and contribute. Remember: Let them know you're a sensitive artist with angst. That's sure to help you win.

— News of the Weird: So last week Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt announced they were not going to do any new acquisitions. (In more than 20 years in the book business, I've never heard of a company doing that, unless they were about to go out of business.) The VP of Communications (that will be funnier as you finish this sentence), Josef Blumenfeld, used the word "freeze" when making this announcement. Then some agents reported doing some new deals with HMH, and he mentioned it was just a "freeze-light," noting it wasn't a "hard freeze." Then the communications whiz was told that certain segments of the company were still acquiring new titles, and he responded to the press that talk of a freeze "had been taken out of context." So they're frozen, but not really frozen. And yes, he is in charge of communication for HMH. Be aware, everyone: The word "freeze" doesn't mean "freeze" so much as "cool." Or maybe "room temperature." We'll be asking Mr. Blumenfeld for a weather update soon. ("It's not really a blizzard — all that snow is made of water, so it's more like a flood…or maybe a spring thaw. In fact, this blizzard is blotting out a sunny day. But you're taking my use of the term blizzard out of context…")

— News of the Weird II: A French novelist, Mathias Enard, is publishing his first book, entitled Zone. It's a 500-page novel about a guy making his way way across Italy on a train, and it consists of one long sentence. No joke.

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