Last night, at a party hosted by ICM agent Jennifer Joel, Parag Khanna celebrated the publication of The Second World, based on his globe-spanning travels to suss out the shifting power balances in the new world order. “It’s like witnessing the birth of a pundit,” quipped New York Times Magazine editor Scott Malcolmson, who worked with Khanna on last month’s much-talked about article distilling his thesis, as Random House and ICM staffers mingled with political scientists and international journalists around Joel’s living room. And it’s true: When it comes to making sense of globalization, Khanna seems like he just might be the MTV generation’s answer to Thomas Friedman.
Archives: February 2008
One literary agent thought my characterization of Reed Business Information as “a portfolio of industry-specific information brands that are already staking out territory online” was overly charitable: “Dude, Publishers Weekly has already lost to Publishers Marketplace,” he emailed yesterday afternoon. “The PW ‘brand’ is almost irrelevant among anyone in book publishing under 50 years old.”
“Michael Cader doesn’t do much original reporting,” he continues, “but his daily newsletter and multi-faceted Web offerings are much more useful to most of us in the industry than PW’s thin reported content. All they offer now that distinguishes them are the reviews, which anyone with a few bucks could start producing tomorrow.”
(Note: Having frequently reviewed and written features for PW, my own perspective on the magazine’s content is slightly biased.)
This agent’s final assessement? “RBI may sell successfully, but whoever has to buy it will be well advised to throw out their entire on-line operation and start from scratch.” It’s not an entirely unfair assessment; as I observed Monday, compiling news is one of several services that book industry professionals clearly value, and the perspective that comes with that compilation—both implicitly and explicitly—is another. (And the observation isn’t even limited to Lunch; Shelf Awareness works this particular angle quite effectively, too.) Perhaps, in the long run, “services” might even be a better place to be than “media,” particularly when everybody’s chasing after the same publishing industry stories anyway. And that’s something that anybody thinking about buying part or all of RBI should be thinking about.
Along those lines, an independent publisher emailed me to wonder, “It generally seems like successful industry magazines run the primary conventions in the industry they write about. Makes me wonder why Reed didn’t put PW and BEA together more aggressively.”
Following last month’s hoopla over Charles Bock, reviewers were sharply divided over the actual merits of his novel, Beautiful Children…and then there were the people who just hated Bock on general principle, without waiting to read the book.
Maybe you don’t want to spend $25 on a debut novel. Fair enough, but you can’t use it as an excuse to not read Beautiful Children anymore: Until midnight this Friday (February 29), Random House is giving away free PDFs from the book’s website. Not only that, online booksellers like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Powells and Northshire Books will also provide access to the files, which appear to be DRM-free. Bock’s reasoning for approving this giveaway is simple: “I want people to read the book. If that means giving it away for free on-line, great.” UPDATE: Not that he’s letting this “free” stuff go to his head; as an anonymous tipster pointed out, in tiny, faint lettering at the bottom of the website, there’s a little note that says “© Copyright 2008. Charles Bock. This is our intellectual property, so kindly don’t fucking steal it.”
(Full disclosure: One of the websites Random’s buying adspace on to promote the giveaway is my own Beatrice.com.)
(photo: Eric Ogden/NYT)
One of my favorite nonfiction books last year was Joan Druett‘s Island of the Lost, a tale of two 19th-century shipwrecks on opposite ends of the same island I consider, in the words of the PW reviewer, “a fine addition to the genre of survival tales like Endurance or In the Heart of the Sea.” Yesterday afternoon, Druett dropped me a line to let me know that South Pacific Pictures, the producers of Whale Rider, had acquired the film rights to the book. “It’s really great because now I have a reply for all the people who write to me suggesting that it should be made into a film,” she joked. I just hope they keep her on as a creative consultant, so she can make sure the production designers don’t bungle the ships’ riggings.
(photo from New Zealand Book Council)
Sunday night, poet Owen Sheers read from his first novel, Resistance, at KGB, pairing off with Richard Gwyn for one of the first events of Wales Week USA, an eight-day celebration of Welsh culture featuring, among other events, musical performances, art exhibitions, and a closed-circuit screening of last Saturday’s rugby game pitting the Welsh national team against the Italians (which, happily, they won 47-8).
Sheers and Gwyn will also read Wednesday night at Housing Works and Saturday afternoon at The Ear Inn with their fellow countryman, Lloyd Robson, and Thursday night Sheers is going to lead a discussion at the New York Public Library with the acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris. After the KGB event was over, I got out my camcorder and asked Sheers to tell me more about his participation in Wales Week USA, and about his fellowship at the NYPL’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers…
FishbowlNY spotted a story about Salman Rushdie‘s recent lecture at Widener University, located in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester. Apparently the local police thought the author, who’s still the object of death threats from fundamentalist factions of the Muslim faith, posed a major security risk. So while Rushdie roams Manhattan freely, Chester sent an armed escort and guard dogs to meet him at the Amtrak station, then flooded the campus with tactical teams, just in case. “When you’re in a cage for so long and you’ve managed to get out of the cage, the last thing you want is to have it upset,” Rushdie told the Philadelphia Daily News, describing himself as “absolutely horrified” by the reception.
FishbowlLA has a Q&A with Joseph Weisberg, the author of An Ordinary Spy, an espionage novel that was recently optioned by Oscar-winning screenwriter/producer Paul Haggis and Oscar-nominated producer Michael Nozik for the movies. In the interview, Weisberg, a former CIA agent, discusses how redacting several passages in his novel on his own, even before the agency conducted its own security review of his manuscript, didn’t let him entirely off the hook:
“What constitutes classified material is in itself a complicated question, and I think the best answer is, nobody really knows. Classified does not mean secret. In fact, most of what the CIA had me take out of my book was information that is widely known. It’s classified not because it’s secret, but because they don’t want the information confirmed by an ex-Agency employee.”
As for how Haggis, the writer/director of Crash, got interested in An Ordinary Spy, Weisberg admits, “Believe it or not, I don’t know. Nobody ever told me, and I never asked.”
Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson offers a sneak preview of his next book, Free!, with a cover story in this month’s issue of the magazine (which he’s convinced Condé Nast to give away 10,000 copies of) about “why $0.00 is the future of business.”
“It’s now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned. Storage now joins bandwidth (YouTube: free) and processing power (Google: free) in the race to the bottom. Basic economics tells us that in a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost. There’s never been a more competitive market than the Internet, and every day the marginal cost of digital information comes closer to nothing.”
As the pre-ceremony reception for this year’s Books for a Better Life Awards wound down and guests made their way through the Millennium Hotel for the presentation, I spotted New York Times columnist MP Dunleavey and got out my camcorder:
Dunleavey’s Money Can Buy Happiness would later prove to be the winner in the personal finance category, one of nine awards given out to self-help and motivational books in an annual ceremony that also serves as a fundraiser for the New York City chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“The sale of Publishers Weekly and the other print publications is a clear sign about the mindset of their owners,” emailed one book editor after reading yesterday’s post about the announcement that Reed Business Information is on the market. “They no doubt believe that the future of print advertising will be bleak. And they are right! The publishing industry has its head in the sand when it comes to its future because, quite frankly, print is an endangered species. A love for books has been replaced by most people by an enduring affection for video and high-tech appliances.”
Dialing it back to the specific question of RBI, this source doesn’t think Reed Elsevier will be able to find a buyer, “because only buyers who believe that print is a growth industry will plop down the money,” she says. “Only a fool would think that print has a future that is worth paying for.” Ahhhh, but here’s something to remember: Buying RBI isn’t the same as buying a bunch of magazines. What you’d be getting is a portfolio of industry-specific information brands that are already staking out territory online. The problem with RBI, in Reed Elsevier’s mind, isn’t that it traffics in print, but that it relies so much on ads. As CEO Sir Crispin Davis puts it, “[RBI's] advertising revenue model and the inherent cyclicality fit less well… with the subscription-based information and workflow solutions focus of Reed Elsevier’s strategy.”
In other words, collecting the money for access to Lexis/Nexis and other databases upfront is a lot more attractive to Davis as a business model than trying to sell adspace in magazines where the content is increasingly being given away free. Debating the rightness of that assessment is a subject big enough for another post… like the one I’ve just written about Chris Anderson‘s Wired article on free economies.
(Meanwhile, in an apparent costcutting measure, RBI pulled out of the Quills Awards, which it had co-sponsored for the last three years.)