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Posts Tagged ‘Soft Skull’

Could Microblogs Destroy the Auction Paradigm?

Monday’s item about the Twitter-ing around the Lynne Spear memoir elicited a thoughtful reaction from Maud Newton, who reminded readers that “online small talk, especially pre-deal, is a double-edged sword.” Newton focused on a string of Twitter posts by HarperCollins marketing manager Felicia Sullivan around the time that Emily Gould was shopping her essay collection, from the initial coy hint that Sullivan was “trying hard to be objective” while reading Gould’s proposal to the declaration that “if it’s a million, I’m breaking out the shovel and a 12-gauge.” Newton suggests that post might have been the source of the early rumor, floated by Gawker, about a seven-figure book deal—but, looking past this particular incident and taking in the big picture, she wonders “how agents will try prevent leaks in an increasingly-Twittering publishing world.”

I don’t know the answer to that, but maybe the subject leads us to a bit of advice Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash offered last week: “Ignore those agents who play publisher egos off one another and convince them when they’ve overpaid for yet another debut novel that they’ve ‘won,’ that they ‘beat’ the other house.” He reiterated the point yesterday in a panel discussion at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, quipping that only in publishing is the editor who’s willing to spend the most money on a (frequently untested, unproven) author and subject his or her company to the steepest financial risk the “winner.”

Now, I don’t want to lay too much of a burden on Twitter, but I do think it’s possible that one of the ways to shatter the mystique of the “potentially huge book” is the development of a publishing culture where industry professionals start mulling over possible projects more publicly, whether it’s actively soliciting feedback from readers with whom they’ve formed customer-based relationships or simply pulling the curtain back for those readers who are interested in such things.

And as long as I’m daydreaming, maybe Twitter could kill the concept of the media embargo, too.

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Today in AMS: “Transition Vendor” and Pressure on Non-Consentings

Today is a special day in the annals of publishing, as it is technically the last day of Publishers Group West‘s existence. Tomorrow the company will be known as Transition Vendor, and the switch of many publishers to distribution by Perseus formally begins, reports Shelf Awareness. It’s the most obvious sign of the “second phase” of bankruptcy discussed in this week’s Publishers Weekly, and how the weekly checks from Perseus will stop as the 70 cents on the dollar plan goes into effect – and publishers must get used to waiting up to 3 months for future payment.

Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash was the only publisher contacted by PW who said that the bankruptcy will definitely force him to delay some titles, although some others were not yet sure about what they will do for the rest of the year. “We’ll be doing triage on what books need to be published and which can wait,” Nash said.

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Today in AMS: S&S Bid Rejected, Economies of Scale

Buried at the end of Julie Bosman‘s New York Times piece about Perseus‘s offer to acquire the distribution contracts of Publishers Group West clients is that the federal bankruptcy court in Delaware rejected a bid by Simon & Schuster to reclaim books in Advanced Marketing Services‘ inventory that could be valued at $5 million. “We made an aggressive move to reclaim the books that were in their possession during the 45-day period before they filed Chapter 11,” said Simon & Schuster VP of marketing Adam Rothberg.

And the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a Jan. 31 hearing has been scheduled on AMS proposal to establish procedures to sell all or part of the company or to find an investor willing to put up new capital or refinance its debt.

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Today in AMS: WSJ Picks up the Story

When it comes to the Wall Street Journal, I’ve learned not to ask the obligatory “what took so long?” question because they seem to go through about triple the research and vetting standards that most of the major newspapers do in order to file stories. And by delaying on the AMS bankruptcy debacle, they give the story – and the perilous situation for Publishers Group West publishers – new life. Most of Jeff Trachtenberg‘s piece focuses on Perseus‘s plan to pay PGW’s publisher clients 70 cents on the dollar for their claims in exchange for dropping their claims against AMS and sign an extended book-distribution agreement with Perseus. Not only has Avalon, which announced its move to Perseus earlier this month, signed on, but so now has Grove/Atlantic.

“It’s a natural extension of what we’ve been doing the last few years,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s chief executive. Steinberger said it will cost an estimated $20 million to pay PGW clients for their claims. That money could be paid out in a matter of weeks, if the court approves the deal. But Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash is one publisher who is worried about his prospects for survival in the wake of bankruptcy. That’s because Soft Skull is owed $110,000 by PGW and anticipates big bills as booksellers send back unsold copies from the holiday season. Soft Skull is debited for the wholesale price of each returned book and so far, those returns total $20,000 this month. Nash is also $250,000 in debt, including $40,000 from family members that he considers a personal loan.

If Perseus is successful, it will have an estimated 250 independent book-publishing distribution clients. And that’s where it becomes tricky. Because if every one of PGW’s clients signs on with Perseus, it gives the distribution company a tremendous amount of power. Aside from their in-house imprints, they are also responsible for distributing books under the CDS and Consortium arms, totaling approximately 120 separate publishers. Add in PGW’s approximately 150 publishers and suddenly, the vast majority of independent publishers owe their abilities to get their books into bookstores to a single company. And if the AMS mess has proved one thing, it’s that the perceived autonomy PGW had ended up amounting to very little. Which is why, as Radio Free PGW points out, it’s a good idea to look at those prospective contracts very, very closely.

Scene @ NBCC Finalists Announcement Party

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When I arrived a few minutes early to Housing Works for the National Book Critics Circle‘s annual bash to announce their award finalists, I figured – like most parties – there would be a few stragglers and the food & drink stations wouldn’t even be fully set up yet. Guess again. Already packed, within ten minutes the bookstore was fully SRO, and it was impossible to move a square inch without bumping into one notable critic after another. Amy Bloom (left, pictured with independent publicist Kimberly Burns and PW’s Charlotte Abbott) was on hand to announce the fiction finalists, which was met with the usual mix of positive responses and grumbling undertone. Francine Duplessis Gray, in announcing the memoir/autobiography category, remarked that this category honored those with a penchant for self-indulgence, while Eliot Weinberger cracked that the criticism category was “the most prestigious for the most contentious.” The greatest round of applause was reserved for Alison Bechdel‘s FUN HOME, one of two books (the other Michael Pollan‘s AN OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA) voted onto the shortlist by the membership.

Among the many, many literati making the scene were Lizzie Skurnick (who’s recently been hired on by New York Magazine), the Complete Review‘s Michael Orthofer, Viking publisher Paul Slovak, Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash, Eat the Press’s Rachel Sklar, Emily Gordon, Poets & WritersDoug Diesenhaus, and former Balakian winner Scott McLemee, on hand to announce Steven G. Kellman as the category’s newest honoree.

Independent Publishers Get Hurt by AMS Chapter 11 Filing

Declaring bankruptcy isn’t exactly the best way to begin the new year, but that’s exactly what has happened as Advanced Marketing Services filed Chapter 11 papers on December 29. The full text filing is available via PW Daily, and looking through the list of its top creditors – scrolling past the instantly eye-popping numbers of $43 million owed to Random House and $26 million to Simon & Schuster, the real story begins: the plight of the independent publishers.

That’s because many of them – over 150, in fact – use Publishers Group West as their distributor. PGW, over 30 years old now, had been an independent distribution entity until AMS bought them in 2002. And even though PGW had been considered an autonomous unit within AMS, that only goes so far, especially when money owing is concerned. Because even though the volumes at play do not compare to what’s owed to the top corporate publishing companies, it’s all about the percentage of revenues – so companies like Avalon ($2.3 million), Cooks Illustrated ($1.5 million), Good Books ($970,000), McSweeney’s, North Atlantic Books, Milkweed and Soft Skull, to name a select few of PGW’s clients, are about to take a severe hit, what with expected revenues for the last three months – key months for all publishers, small or otherwise – suddenly disappearing.

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