Monday, April 28, 2008

'Incognegro' gets graphic with crime noir

Special to the Journal Sentinel
Posted: April 12, 2008

Incognegro. By Mat Johnson. DC/Vertigo. $19.99.

In 1959 Dallas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and traveled through Louisiana and Mississippi, passing himself off as an African-American for six weeks. His resulting 1961 book, "Black Like Me," reminded America of racism that was then endemic to the South.

Griffin wasn't the first journalist to conceive of the idea of passing oneself off as a member of a different race for the sake of the story.

From 1918-'28 NAACP activist Walter White went undercover to investigate lynchings and race riots across the country.

Though African-American, White's blond hair and blue eyes gave him the appearance of a Caucasian, a trait he used to gain the confidence of racist mobs who boasted to him about their crimes - accounts he then published in the New York papers. His mission was risky and White had a few close calls of his own when his identity came to light.

White's heroic acts became the inspiration for author Mat Johnson's latest project, the graphic novel "Incognegro," published by Vertigo (a division of DC Comics).

"Incognegro" tells the story of the fictional Zane Pinchback, an intrepid reporter for the New Holland Herald who in the mold of White, travels undercover through the South to report on lynchings.

When the book begins, Zane is back in Harlem, angling for a job as managing editor of the paper, when he learns of yet another lynching about to take place in Tupelo, Miss. A black man is accused of murdering a white woman, and what compels Zane to risk his life once again is the news that the man scheduled to hang for the crime is Zane's own darker-skinned brother.

If this sounds like the set-up for a preachy history lesson, fear not. Instead, Johnson has used this historical material as the basis for a classic noir crime story, one that includes satisfying doses of deceit, moral ambiguity and plenty of R-rated violence. Along the way, Zane will face down the Klan, a family of separatist hillbillies fomenting a religious race war, and simple-minded ignorance and greed.

Johnson is best known as a prose writer. The author of two novels, "Drop" (2000) and "Hunting in Harlem" (2004), as well as the novella, "The Great Negro Plot" (2007), he's also no novice at penning graphic novels, having already published a short run of comics starring Papa Midnite, a character developed from the Hellblazer series, in 1995.

Referring to Incognegro, Johnson remarks, "I've been preparing to write this particular story all my life." Like Zane, he is often confused for being Caucasian.

"I grew up looking very European - my father is Irish and my mother is black - so I've been fascinated with those who've had similar experiences in the past." He so closely identified with the main character that Vertigo took a portrait of Johnson for the cover photo.

As it happens, the Incognegro character and the graphic novel form - which is most often associated with superhero characters - are perfectly matched. In the panel drawings, done in black and white by UK artist Warren Pleece, the African-American and Caucasian characters are not shaded differently to indicate race. The drawings still manage, through efficient visual shorthand (hair and clothing styles), to comment on racial and, in particular, class difference - something that would require long, descriptive prose passages to convey in a conventional novel.

PW's Bookstore of the Year: Vroman's of Pasadena, CA

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 4/28/2008

It's 9:30 a.m. on a Monday morning in April, and Olive Kemp is shopping at Vroman's Bookstore—PW's Bookseller of the Year—just as she has done nearly every day since she was a little girl. “She's such a regular that on her 90th birthday, we bought her a cake,” says Vroman's COO and president, Allison Hill, during a tour of the store.

At 90, Kemp is just 24 years younger than Vroman's, which was founded on November 14, 1894, by Adam Clark Vroman, five blocks from its current location on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Calif. Today, Vroman's consists of three operations, all in Pasadena: the main store, a second satellite store, as well as Vroman's Fine Writing, Gifts and Stationery, which is separated from the main store by an independent movie theater.

It turns out that having multiple generations shop at Vroman's is a regular occurrence: “Just last Saturday we had a woman come to have us print her wedding invitations and told us her mother and grandmother had ordered them from us,” says Dolores Bauer, manager of Vroman's Fine Writing, Gifts, and Stationery.

During the Monday morning staff meeting, promotional director Jennifer Ramos begins running through the number of people that attended events the previous week, including 400 for Isabelle Allende and 160 for L.A. crime writer Joseph Wambaugh.

“Los Angeles is often discounted as 'movieland,' ” says Ramos, “but after working both here and at Book Soup [in West Hollywood], I can tell you that we have an amazing book culture here and wonderful local writers.” (Sometimes the twain shall meet: Vroman's was the bookstore featured in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin.)

A reading with the local-born author Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World, brought in 85 people, 35 of whom heard about the reading on “We'll have to find out how to hook into that [MeetUp] more,” says Hill, instructing a member of the staff to look into it. The store already has a significant Web presence, including a traditional online store, a blog, and sites on and—where Vroman's is identified as a 101-year-old male (the maximum allowed).

Hill came to Vroman's four years ago after stints at Simon & Schuster, the Boston location of Waterstone's, and Book Soup. Her role is to oversee the general operation of the store and provide big picture, blue sky administration, according to majority shareholder Joel Sheldon.

“I think the management team we have in place now is positioned to make us more profitable than ever,” says Sheldon—a third-generation owner who served as Vroman's president from 1978 until last July, when Hill took over.

“I've seen a lot of changes since I started working in the store as a child,” he said. “There have been three cycles of how people shop—including mail order and the Internet—and three different cycles of media—from newspapers to television to the Internet. I tell people you have to embrace change, or else it will run you over.”

Profit and change are words you hear repeated over and over again at Vroman's. Hill reports that the company had $13.5 million in sales and achieved a 3.74% profit in 2007.

Changes have been made throughout the store to try and maximize profit. Just over 18 months ago, management implemented “license plate receiving”—a program in which wholesalers Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Partners/West indicate the contents of shipments via a bar code on the side of box.

“It expedites the process of getting books to the sales floor,” says Hill, “which is a big help, especially during the Christmas rush.”

Some changes directly affect the bottom line, such as the $50,000 in co-op the store received last year for magazine and greeting card displays. (Hill plans to add even more magazine display space to the store's sidewalk “newsstand” to take further advantage of such opportunities.)

Other changes are apparent to the naked eye, such as removal of much of the fixed shelving in favor of of the more versatile slatwall displays. “I'm obsessed with slatwall,” admits Hill, who mentions it at least a dozen times during the tour. “It's more flexible and makes for better displays, and is much better than having a bunch of titles on a shelf spine out.” One consequence of the change is that with fewer titles Vroman's was able to drop its investment in inventory from $2.2 million to $2.1 million in 2007.

“It was risky in terms of the loss of linear feet of shelving,” says Hill, “but was a strategic move away from traditional bookselling assumptions.”

Hill's emphasis on displays resulted in the appointment of Anne Edkins as the store's “visual merchandiser,” empowered to use every available surface—from end caps to bathroom walls—to promote the sale of books.

Unlike many stores, Vroman's has three different entrances and each takes on a different character. One of two front doors is focused on literature and enters into the fiction section; the other door—closest to the next-door independent movie theater—is the “hip” entrance and opens onto a display called “The Edge,” which features a mix of graphic novels and self-identified hipster books. The rear, main entrance, closest to parking, offers a display of family-friendly titles and is focused on female customers.

As indicated by surveys, about 75% of Vroman's customers are women, evidenced by the vast number of handbags and totes on display throughout the store—from reproduction PanAm flight bags to computer sleeves and purses.

Some 30% of the store's annual sales comes from nonbook items. Vroman's has produced its own line of Pasadena Pride souvenirs, including mugs and T-shirts, and is considering self-publishing a visual history of the area. In 1994, on its centenary, the store published Vroman's of Pasadena: A Century of Books, 1894–1994 by Jane Apostol, which shows that nonbook items—in particular cameras and photographic supplies—have been an important part of the store's product mix since its earliest days. (A.C. Vroman, the founder, was an avid photographer of Native American culture.)

Until the 1970s, the store was considered the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi. In 1915 it boasted a selection of 30,000 books, and today it has 85,000 titles across all three locations. Head book buyer Marie du Vaure has been with the store for six years and hails from Aix en Provence, France. “I strive to make it so that anyone walking in can find his or herself, and go beyond,” says du Vaure. “When I bring in more elaborate texts in gastronomy or I buy overlooked and more obscure titles in foreign literature, it is my hope that they fit with the overall effect and purpose of the store. Here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The same philosophy holds true in the store's commitment to its employees: in 1916, just three months before A.C. Vroman died, the store was incorporated and divided between Allan David Sheldon (Joel Sheldon's grandfather) and two others. Today, some members of management are also shareholders. Hill, as well as Clark Mason, Vroman's controller and CFO, are both invested and part of the succession plans. In addition, full- and part-time staff—129 in all—are offered a share of the profits. In 2006–2007 this amounted to $80,000, and a similar amount is expected to be divvied up this year as well.

The local community also benefits from the store's success: the “Vroman's Gives Back” program returns 1% of a customer's sales to a charity of their choosing. To date, the store has donated $441,000 to 22 different local nonprofits.

“It all adds up to a simple business philosophy: do good business and do good in the world,” says Hill. “It's kind of a mantra for us and something we make sure to be conscious of each and every day.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nebula Awards puts Austin and Texas writers at center of science fiction world

12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, April 24, 2008

By EDWARD NAWOTKA / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

People always judge science- fiction writing by its worst examples," says author Joe R. Lansdale. "Sci-fi is more respected than when I was a kid – when it was considered that old hokey stuff. People are beginning to appreciate what a unique genre it is and what an interesting pocket universe we have here in Texas."

That universe will get some international attention this weekend as the 2008 Nebula Awards are presented in Austin. Mr. Lansdale, a prolific author of mystery, horror, comics and sci-fi works, often set around his hometown of Nacogdoches, will serve as toastmaster.

The Nebulas are one of science fiction's top honors, dating to 1965, when Frank Herbert won the inaugural best novel prize for Dune. Winners are chosen by members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Sci-fi's other top awards, the Hugos, are voted on by fans. "The Nebulas are essentially like the Oscars, while the Hugos are like the People's Choice Awards," said Jayme Lynn Blaschke, a communications officer at Texas State University who also serves as the Nebulas' publicist.

Texas is home to 71 members of the writers group. "That makes it third only to California and New York," says Betsy Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of sci-fi publisher Del Rey books.

Ms. Mitchell will be on hand to honor the 68-year old British-born (and part-time Austinite) Michael Moorcock as a grand master. Another Texan, 78-year-old Ardath Mayhar of Chireno, author of some 60 books of fiction and poetry, will be deemed author emeritus.

Other luminaries expected to attend the Saturday night awards ceremony are Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, whose The Yiddish Policeman's Union is nominated for best novel, and Bruce Sterling (a part-time Austinite), whose story "Kiosk" is shortlisted in the novelette category, as is "Memorare" by another one-time Texan, Gene Wolfe.

A preponderance of the state's science-fiction writers live in or around the capital, and for good reason: Austin is both home to the state's longest-running sci-fi fan convention, ArmadilloCon, founded in 1979, and longest-running sci-fi writers group, the Turkey City Writers' Workshop, started by University of Texas anthropology professor Chad Oliver in the 1970s.

Looming over the history of Texas science-fiction and fantasy writing is the figure of Robert E. Howard, who was born in Peaster in 1906 and created the character Conan the Barbarian. Today, a roll call of the state's sci-fi and fantasy writers runs the gamut from established elders, such as the prolific Neal Barrett Jr., author of some 50 works, to incognito best-sellers, such as Round Rock resident Aaron Allston, who has penned a series of popular Star Wars novels.

The state is also home to a number of emerging voices, such as Chris Roberson, novelist and publisher of MonkeyBrain Books – a press dedicated to science-fiction, fantasy and genre nonfiction studies.

Surprisingly, as easily as one can lay claim to being a Texas writer, the science-fiction writers – perhaps because their books often take place in purely imagined settings – are reluctant to characterize themselves as such.

"If there is any unifying characteristic," says author Elizabeth Moon, author of the acclaimed "Vatta's War" series of space operas, "I'd say that Texas writers are independent, willing to risk someone's disapproval to write what they want." The diversity here "encourages flexibility of mind and attitudes" and offers writers space "to allow for contemplation," she says.

Maybe those endless miles of Texas horizon and sky are just the thing to inspire a writer to imagine life in the vast emptiness of outer space.

Or, says Mr. Landsdale, it's something even simpler: "Isolation," he says, in all its cultural, social and geographic relevance. "It makes you entertain yourself. It makes you creative."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Navy Sets Sail With E-book Deal

by Ed Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 4/21/2008

With the men and women of the armed forces constantly being shuffled from place to place, it can be difficult for them to bring along a personal library. In the past, publishers have produced pocket-sized editions of bestselling works, but today, e-books may provide the best solution., an online bookstore started in April 2007 by retired Army Brig. Gen. R.W. “Bill” Crossley, has contracted to become the first supplier of e-books to the Navy Exchange Service Command’s e-commerce site,, which launched earlier this year and serves an estimated 750,000 active duty and reserve navy and Marine Corps personnel and their families. Karen Connery, director of merchandising for the e-commerce Navy Exchange Service Command, said the use of e-books will add to the availability of titles sailors can read and make it more convenient for them to get a book.

Based in Marietta, Ga., offers some 80,000 e-book titles in Adobe, Palm and Microsoft formats, with free downloadable first chapters for many titles. The company also has agreements to sell e-books through Delta-Sky magazine’s e-commerce site and through FatPort, a Canadian WiFi provider, as well as its own Web store.

Crossley, a former chief of staff for Gen. Colin Powell, negotiated a deal in which the navy gets a 10% discount on eChapterOne’s regular prices as well as additional discounts for titles on the Navy Professional Reading program.

Crossley has his sights set on selling e-books to the army as well. “If it works for sailors, I think there’s no reason it wouldn’t work just as well for soldiers,” said Crossley.

Idlewild Opens in New York

by Ed Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 4/21/2008

This week New York City gets a new bookshop: Idlewild Books, a 1,000-sq.-ft. travel bookstore will open on W. 19th Street near Fifth Avenue. The name echoes the original name of JFK Airport and, said proprietor David Del Vecchio, “idle and wild are nicely associated with travel.”

Del Vecchio spent the last six years as a press officer with the United Nations—a job that frequently sent him to destinations like Angola and the Sudan. He was inspired to open a new store while hunting for books for his own travels.

“I was in a chain bookstore and realized I would have to go to five different sections to get what I needed—a travel guide, a map, a language book, a novel,” he noted. “At Idlewild, everything will be shelved by country, and in the case of the United States, by state—that way people will be able to browse according to the place of their interest.”

Del Vecchio emphasized that he believes literature about a country—be it a novel or a political biography—can be just as useful as a guidebook. His product mix will be at least 40% armchair travel titles: “Guidebooks you really can buy almost anywhere,” he explained, “but books on politics and culture are often much harder to find. Our section on Turkey might have guides, maps, a history of the Blue Mosque, a biography of Ataturk, and novels by Pamuk and others.” Graham Greene’s novels won’t be shelved in the U.K. section, said Del Vecchio, but in Cuba and Mexico, where the books are set. Sidelines will include the requisite travel bags and eye masks, as well as “curated” items from international artisans.

In preparation for opening the store, Del Vecchio took Donna Paz’s bookselling class and interned at Get Lost bookstore in San Francisco and at New York City’s Three Lives. He quit his job at the U.N. and will run the store himself, along with an assistant manager.

While many travel bookstores have closed in the post-9/11 era, Del Vecchio is confident he can make his concept work—even with sky-high gas prices and the crashing dollar curtailing many travel plans.

“New York is very diverse, and there are people here from all over the world who are interested in other places,” he said. “Travel and reading have been a big part of my life, and I know there are others out there like me. Of course, running a bookstore means you won’t have time to travel or read—that is the irony, but it’s one I’m happy to live with.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

Houston’s Domy Books Expands to Austin

By Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 4/18/2008 9:00:00 AM

Houston’s Domy Books, which celebrated its second anniversary on April 1, is opening a second location, in Austin, Tex., later this month. Located in a former convenience store on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Interstate 35, the new 1,800-sq.-ft. branch is nearly identical in size to the original location. Like its namesake, it will offer a selection of art books, graphic novels, magazines, literature and quirky sidelines.

The Houston location of Domy (which Russian slang for “home”) was originally opened as an art gallery in 1992, and converted to a bookstore in 2006 when owner Dan Fergus realized that contemporary art translated much faster to books than it did to the gallery or museum world. “An artist can put out a monograph of their work very quickly, while it might take years or a lifetime to get a show in a given city,” he said.

Domy offers no distinct sections and the products are mixed together to create “dialogue.” The space in Houston provides a venue for community events, from this month’s “Indie Press Book Festival” to readings and shows by local artists. The Austin branch will serve as a dual art gallery/bookstore; the launch event for the Austin store will feature Brooklyn publisher Dan Nadel presenting his newest titles from PictureBox Books.

“Austin should be a good fit for us,” said Fergus, adding, “Our greatest success so far as a bookstore is that we haven’t lost money—which is the sort of success we hope to repeat.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bonk's' Mary Roach talks about sex

Author explores the sometimes 'icky' world of erectile dysfunction and photoplethysmography.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Did you know that the University of Texas is at the forefront of research into vaginal photoplethysmography? Do you have any idea what that means? Mary Roach's new book explains.

"Bonk" surveys the history of sex research, from Leonardo da Vinci's "coition" drawings to the famous Dr. Kinsey and Masters and Johnson studies to present-day scientists working to cure erectile dysfunction.

Roach, it should be known up front, is no sanctimonious science writer. Her previous two efforts, "Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers," and "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife," were notable for their irreverence. Not that Roach ever belittles her topic — she merely manages to find humor where others would never think to look. She's also restrained enough to consign the really outrageous — and sometimes icky — factoids to the footnotes. (Hint: Read the footnotes!)

In advance of her Monday appearance in Austin, Roach spoke with us by phone from her home in Oakland, Calif.

Austin American-Statesman: After reading your book, everything starts to sound euphemistic and oddly sexual. So, I'm curious: Is the mysterious 'Woody' to whom the book is dedicated a real person or a euphemism?

Roach:No, it's my husband's real nickname. His name is Ed, but his whole family calls him "Woody." Funny, isn't it?

You spent some time in Austin researching your book. What did you find here?

Cyndi Meston — she runs the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas, where she studies the relationship between psychology and sex.

So what is vaginal photoplethysmography?

It's a tool to measure a woman's sexual response. Sex researchers are heavily reliant on multisyllabic phrases to mask what they are actually studying. In today's climate, it is more and more a problem getting funding. There are conservative groups who do Internet searches for the word "sexual" and when the research pops up, they put a spotlight on it and suggest that funding should not be funded. Scientists will say physical instead of sexual ...

It seems like the golden age of sex research was the '60s and 1970s. What changed?

That was the pioneering era. Two things happened. First, as discoveries were made, there was less and less to figure out. Then, when AIDS came along, sex research became very directed toward trying to get a handle on HIV and shifted toward studies of risk taking and sexual motivation.

You repeat throughout the book that there is a perception that sex researchers are perverts. Did you ever find an instance of a scientist being turned on by his or her own work?

Well, they are human, but I only ever heard of one instance in all my research of alleged impropriety. When you think of all the other professionals whose careers are ended because of sexual impropriety — dentists, psychiatrists — it's quite amazing. Pomeroy, a colleague of Kinsey, wrote a book about his years at Kinsey institute. He said that not once was there an issue — I wonder if he doesn't protest too much. It's hard to imagine someone wouldn't be affected by what they're doing.

You even volunteered to become the subject of a study at one point.

Yes, my husband, Woody, and I participated in a study ... It's all in the book.

The last chapter in your book cites a Masters and Johnson study that suggests homosexuals are better than heterosexuals at sex. Does that strike you as controversial?

First, that study is over 30 years old. Second, the most important thing in improving sex is to talk about it. Heteros have made a good deal of progress in talking about sex, but as a group, homosexuals were more at ease with everything about sex.

After so much research into sex, do you have a favorite tip you can share?

I'm an advocate of more laughter in the bedroom. If the guy has a "failure of erective performance," you just have to find a way to laugh it off before it becomes a serious problem. People should read my book in bed. (Pause.) I'm not just saying this to sell more books. OK, maybe I am, but you never know; it might help.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Our Digital Future – Rights, Contracts and Business Models

The following paper is scheduled to appear in the academic journal “Publishing Research Quarterly,” Volume 24, Number 2, published by Springer.

Our Digital Future – Rights, Contracts and Business Models

By Edward Nawotka

When in September 2007 Simon & Schuster CEO Jack Romanos announced his intention to retire at the end of this year, he told the Associated Press, “the digital option - electronic books, print-on-demand and any other application of digital content, are extremely positive ramifications for our business and that in the next decade that's what executives should be focusing their energy on." To many people, it was Romanos who first demonstrated the retail viability of the ebook when in 2000 when he encouraged Stephen King to release a 66-page novella entitled Riding the Bullet as a $1.99 download. It proved an unparalleled success, selling 500,000 copies in just a few days.

Eight years later, ebooks and print-on-demand titles remain less than 1% of the market. Nevertheless, Romanos’ successor at S&S, Carolyn Reidy has said she too believes the future of the book is digital: “I have it in my mind that a new kind of digital book will come out, for a new generation used to reading on the screen from day one and writing on the screen from day one," Reidy said. "You'll have different designs, different artwork, different jackets. Electronic publishing is not just selling and marketing books online; those are the first steps."

Yet, without the right business models in place and – especially the right contracts -- digital publishing can’t progress. Rights managers and agents know this above all, a topic that was addressed at 21st International Rights Directors Meeting of the Frankfurt Book Fair last October.

Get the Rights Right and the Money will Follow

The opening speaker of the session, Evan Schnittmann of Oxford University Press in the US outlined some of most common business models currently being employed for the use of online content. Echoing Reidy’s assertion, he suggested that while sales and marketing and sales departments were eager to strike up promotional deals, Schnittmann believes ‘rights departments need to be running these things’ because of the risks involved.

That’s not to say once a company has policies and the proper infrastructure – including useable electronic databases and warehouses -- in place, they shouldn’t take full advantage of the opportunities. Lucy Vanderbilt of HarperCollins UK, offered a variety of examples where HarperCollins had licensed book content for online use, including serializations of graphic novels and reviews from film guides. She identified her own company’s early commitment to converting many of it’s publications to a digital format and its building a (costly) digital warehouse as an asset that can now be mined. Vanderbilt’s advice can be summarized thusly: `Don’t underestimate the value of your material.’ Copyright protection is key, as is the need to keep contracts non-exclusive and limited to a distinct period of time.

The sentiment was echoed by speaker Maja Thomas of Hachette Group USA, who encouraged publishers to resist the urge to offer large discounts for digital content. Digital audio books are proliferating thanks to the emergence of new ‘hybrid digital’ players such as Iofi and Playaway – which offer individual audio books in their own players, as well as companies like which took downloadable audiobooks to a mass market audience by selling them on Apple’s iTunes ( bought for $300 million in stock in January 2008). The US audio market was now worth approximately one billion US dollars – with 14% of coming from digital downloads. Libraries are the biggest customers in the US, accounting for 32% of all sales. In light of these opportunities, publishers should resist selling their audio content on the cheap. ‘Go on out there and put a leash on that bear!’ she proclaimed.

Annette Beetz of German nonfiction publisher Grafe und Unzer Verlag says the business may very well come to you. She said that more often than not – as much as 80% of the time – her company is approached for digital rights from their material, in particular from companies looking to bolster their online content. When approached, it’s best to ask a few key questions: Can the customer track sales? How long will the contract last? What other opportunities can come from this deal? Perhaps the most important question of all is -- Do we as a company actually own the rights?

Franciska Hildebrandt of Campus Verlag emphasized that getting the language right, particularly between companies that need to translate documents back and forth, can be a tricky enterprise.

Negotiating digital rights is an evolving area, with many grey areas.

When Is Out of Print, Out of Print?

In early 2007, Simon and Schuster demonstrated its confidence in the digital future and rattled the supply chain in the process when it told literary agents that it would no longer agree to contracts that stipulated a minimum number of units must be sold or else rights would revert back to an author. This clause of contracts, they argued, was rendered moot by “current high quality and accessibility of print on demand titles” which meant a book was available, albeit in a digital form, in perpetuity.

After an outcry by the US Author’s Guild, S&S eventually relented and returned to traditional language in its contracts. Literary agent Simon Lipskar, for one, was ameliorated by the decision. “This is not about being confrontational or being obstructionist,” he explained. “I just believe that there needs to be the idea implicit in the contract that selling copies – and continuing to sell copies – is a requirement.”

The US’s largest publisher, Random House, agrees as well. When asked about Random House’s policies, spokesperson Stuart Applebaum replied: “Random House has always maintained a policy that in order to keep a work in print our titles have to be readily available in a format that is accessible to the general public, whether that be in a traditional book format or in an electronic form. If a title is not selling an acceptable number of copies in any format we will not warehouse those rights in perpetuity.”

Is Google a Friend and Foe?

But traditional bound book publishers are not forging the future alone and agents are likely to find themselves in conversation with a coterie of new digital publishers – ones named Google, Microsoft and Each is aggressively pursuing their own agenda.

Google and Microsoft are building massive virtual libraries of scanned books. Under its Google Book Search program, Google claims to have signed up “more than 10,000 publishers” and have already scanned “more than a million books,” according to spokesperson Jennifer Parsons. In addition, Google is relying on 27 library partners – including those at Harvard and Oxford University -- to supply books for scanning.

The company has come into conflict with a handful of publishers including McGraw Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and John Wiley & Sons, as well as the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild, all of whom have filed lawsuits claiming Google is engaging in massive copyright infringement. Google is defending itself by saying it will only display fragments of copyrighted material – specifically “two or three short quotations of text around their search term” -- and is thus making the information available under the concept of “fair use.”

Allan Adler, vp for legal and government affairs for the AAP, says that the lawsuits (each is individual, though filed in the same court) are entering its second year and remain in the “discovery” phase, in which each side is still acquiring information from the other.

Microsoft own scanning project, entitled Live Books Search, delivers material much in the same ways as Google. The main difference, claims Microsoft’s Cliff Guren, whose title is director of Publisher Evangelism, Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, is that the company is only scanning books for which it has garnered explicit permission to do so, either with an author or a publisher. “You have to strike a balance between copyright and usability,” said Guren, who added, “In particular, we’re very flexible in our effort to accommodate publishers in terms of how much of a book they want to make available to users.”

Should Consumers Be Able to Buy Books By the Chapter?

Amazon’s 2005 purchases of print-on-demand company BookSurge and ebook publisher Mobipocket are also starting to spawn new programs at the e-retailer, including an online self-publishing service called Books on Demand begun in August 2007. Somewhat more controversial is the company’s announced plans to make single chapters available for purchase – a business model analogous to downloadable music, which allows customers to buy individual songs instead of forcing them to purchase entire records.

Whether customers will want to cherry pick chapters from books remains unknown, but as far it concerns authors, agent Brian DeFiore wonders how authors will be compensated for such sales. “Right now, that type of transaction is not addressed in a typical contract with a publisher – and we don’t have contracts with retailers,” he said. “Serialization rights might give us an idea of how something like this might work, but it is an entirely new territory.”

Waiting for the iPod of Books

Nevertheless, DeFiore is anxious to see the advent of widespread digital distribution, and in particular an iPod-like device for ebooks that would prove popular with the customers. “Not only would it save the forests,” said DiFiore, “it would save the 35-40% return rate of books that get published and go unsold.”

In addition, it would pose a serious challenge the dominance of bookstores in distributing books., which has already radically reshaped the retailing landscape, made a massive splash in tk with the launch of the Kindle e-reading device.

Malle Vallik, Director Digital Content & Interactivity for Harlequin Books, -- a company whose entire front list is available as ebooks – saw an early prototype of the device and said she “impressed.” Other dedicated devices on the market include the Sony E-reader (which is delivering an updated device for the holiday shopping season) and the iLiad from iRex Technologies. Industry watchers are also waiting to see whether Apple’s iPhone and its high resolution screen will prove a viable ebook reader. HarperCollins has experimented with the device and has posted a web site that allows iPhone users to view a variety different titles online, while – a distributor of digital magazines – is also offering a coterie of magazines for free to iPhone users. In the UK, a company called iCue offers what it calls “m-books,” which are downloadable to mobile phones via SMS (short message service); in Asia, and Japan in particular, novels are being written exclusively to be read on cell phones.

Nick Bogaty, who spent five years as the executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (before taking over direct digital publishing business development for Adobe Systems in September 2007), believes that the widespread adoption of ebooks will not be dependent on a the delivery of single paradigm-shifting device, but on software. “People want to read their ebooks on numerous devices, from cellphones to laptops.” The September decision by members of the ISPF to adopt the OPS 2.0 e-book specification and the “.epub” file format as an official industry standard format should go a long way toward ebook cross compatibility across devices.

According to the IDPF, in 2006, publishers sold some $22 million worth of ebooks in the U.S., numbers which the organization expects top $30 million or more this year. In Asia, where laptops and cellphones are more sophisticated that in the US or Europe, the numbers are much more significant. The Digital Content Association of Japan estimating sales of e-books topping $126 million in 2006, with $58 million of that coming from sales from mobile phones – an increase of some 331% from the previous year.

“The numbers are growing very fast,” said Bogaty, “but they are growing from nothing. Give it another five years and it will be a real business.”

DC Commuters to Get Free Book Excerpts

By Edward Nawotka
Publishers Weekly, 4/8/2008

Starting May 5, Washington D.C. commuters will find “Bit o’ Lit” thrust into their hands as they make the long trek down those long escalators into the Metro. The new twice-monthly free magazine is expected to offer 32 pages of book excerpts, as well as reviews of films adapted from books, local literary listings and brief author profiles. “Bit-O-Lit” will be published every other Monday in a minimum first printing of 20,000 copies.

The inaugural issue will feature selections from National Book award nominee, Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion Books for Children), two thrillers -- Rubicon by Lawrence Alexander (Morrow) and The Last Oracle by James Rollins (Morrow), and DC-centric The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Presidential Power by Gene Healy (Cato Institute).

“Commuters are the ideal audience for this kind of thing,” said the publisher, Shannon MacDonald. “It’s one of the few times you can capture a reader’s full attention and a great way to expose them to new works.”

In addition to hawkers at Metro stops, Bit o’ Lit will be distributed via news kiosks and local bookstores. The magazine supported by advertising and publishers pay to place excerpts on a cost-per-page basis. A mock-up can be found online at

Recession Fuels Sales at Spring Book Show

By Edward Nawotka

Despite a last minute change of venue the Spring Book Show held in Atlanta this past weekend suffered few consequences and proceeded smoothly. Larry May, director of the Show, scrambled to move the remainder fair from its former home in the World Congress Center after learning it had been significantly damaged by tornados late last month. Fortunately the Atlanta Hilton – where most of the attendees were staying – was able to accommodate the group.

“We only lost about five tables of display space,” he says, “any negative impact of the change has been very marginal.”

Yes, the aisles were a bit tighter and the show was now spread out over three levels of the hotel, but everyone seemed more comfortable in the Hilton than the cavernous Georgia World Congress Center.

“I prefer it here,” said Darlene Carter, a sales representative with wholesaler Maximus Books. “The show was overwhelmed by the size of the conference center. It’s nice to have everything in one place together and not have to walk for 15 minutes to buy a cup of coffee.”

Barry Baird, executive director remainders and bargain books at Thomas Nelson, concurred. “Being here in the basement is more like CIROBE – more intimate and intense. It has a bazaar like feel that I like and feel is better suited to selling.”

The recession appears to have made bargain books even more attractive to booksellers and buyers, many of whom were bolstering their orders.

Sally Brewster, owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC and president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, explained: “Books of all kinds become a bargain during a recession -- $100 in books doesn’t look so bad, when compared with say, a trip to Puerto Rico.”

Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore in Atlanta, told PW he was surprised by how much high quality GLBT material among the remainder dealers. “I bought more than I thought I would,” he said, adding “I will be having a sidewalk sale for weeks.”

Deborah Hastings, publisher of Federal St. Press, credits the recession with increasingly interest in her affordable line of dictionaries and

“People are always looking for quality content at a value price,” said Hastings, who has differentiated her dictionaries by adding bright, bold graphics to the covers. “They appeal to consumers who favor higher and design, such as those shoppers at nontraditional booksellers like Target,” she said.

While Hastings felt consolidation resulted in fewer retailers, wholesalers, distributors at the show than she’d seen in past years, she pointed out that numerous foreign buyers were on hand, as well as a conspicuous number of Internet-only booksellers.

“The low cost of remainders allows them to take on a substantial amount of stock, with lower capital investment,” explained Larry May. “They can put together a complete inventory at relatively low cost.”

John Shableski, sales manager of Diamond Book, a graphic novel distribution company selling remainders for the first time at the show, was the most effusive of all in his praise.

“Larry May is a visionary,” said Shableski. “He saw the potential in graphic novel remainders early and jumped on it.” Granted, Shableski’s enthusiasm may have something to do with the fact that Diamond’s graphic novels proved to be among the hottest commodities all weekend: A rumor spread that Shableski sold Diamond’s entire stock of remainders in only a few hours.