July 18, 2004 THE LAST WORD
How Many Books Are Too Many?
By LAURA MILLER
Brace yourselves, novelists and would-be novelists. Figures released this spring show that a new book of fiction is published in the United States every 30 minutes. Even if you don't count the titles published through print-on-demand and other fee-charging, vanity-press-type outfits, the total still comes to 10,000 books a year -- or one book published every hour or so. And that's just the fiction.
The statistics come from R. R. Bowker, the company that compiles the Books in Print database and assigns ISBN's (International Standard Book Numbers) to new books and editions. Every year, Andrew Grabois, Bowker's senior director of publisher relations, crunches the numbers this way and that, and this time around the killer figure is 175,000: the awe-inspiring total of new titles published in 2003, a jump of 19 percent over 2002.
So that's a good thing, right? Surely the whopping number of books reveals a robust marketplace of ideas? The problem is, the demand for trade books (that is, titles of general interest, as opposed to technical books or textbooks) is dispiritingly flat. As more and more books are offered to the same number of readers, the question hardly anyone dares to ask is: how many books are too many? For authors, are better chances at being published eventually canceled out by the likelihood that their books will get lost in the crowd? It's the question I put to several editors, most of whom -- unsurprisingly, given their answers -- chose not to be named.
''In all honesty,'' one told me, ''a lot of big publishers will say that not only are other publishers publishing too much, but they are, too.'' Obviously, no company wants to decrease the number of terrific books it publishes, and no one plans to produce outright bad ones. Where the going gets tough, or ought to, is among the books that are merely mediocre.
While another editor I talked to protested that there's a place in the world for so-so books -- minor works by major writers, for example -- most worry that too many readers feel burned after taking a chance on an unfamiliar title and getting stuck with a dud. Other readers, people who may buy one book a month and don't follow reviews, are daunted by the task of choosing from so many alternatives. (Hence, their reliance on mavens like Oprah Winfrey.) M. J. Rose, an author who parlayed the success of her self-published first novel into a contract with a large publishing house, told me about a vacation during which she met a few dozen women interested in contemporary fiction. ''All were frustrated and complaining,'' she wrote in an e-mail message. ''They had no idea what to do with the number of books they encounter in the store. Sometimes they leave the store empty-handed because they are too overwhelmed.''
Even editors speak wearily of ''The Wall,'' the long shelves of new titles that face shoppers in the larger chain stores. ''So many books,'' said one editor who specializes in literary fiction. ''And in three weeks, they'll be replaced by a whole new batch.'' Even the chains themselves have developed reservations. When they began expanding in the 1990's, superstores would stock nearly every title on a publisher's list. ''They had shelves to fill,'' a publishing professional told me. ''But even they have become more selective. Lately, they've been cutting back on the midlist,'' a word used for literary fiction and serious nonfiction. If the chains pass on a book, it becomes effectively invisible to a huge population of readers.
''Everyone is reading the same 20 books,'' Paul Slovak, the associate publisher of Viking, complains -- a problem most attribute to the shrinking press coverage for new books. ''It's become a winner-take-all situation.'' Especially for genres that rely heavily on reviews to drive sales, like fiction, the toll is grim. But vanishing reviews, an editor from a venerable house said, are only partly to blame: ''We just don't have any credibility left, when we're each putting out 15 novels a year and they can't all be good.''
Editors have many reasons for publishing books even they aren't really excited about. The accounting methods of most publishers don't reward selectivity. If you budget for 93 books per year and publish only 80, you might see next year's budget, or even your staff, cut; so, that editor continued, ''if the celebrity memoir you budgeted for doesn't come in because the author is in rehab, you have to find something else to fill that slot, fast.'' Publishers may buy a weak first book to get a crack at the stronger second one, and young editors often have to cut their teeth on manuscripts that senior editors have passed over. One prominent editor points to the growing number of nonfiction books bought on the basis of proposals: ''For every book that turns out better than you expected, there's one that's worse. That's spilled over into fiction. Now people are selling novels off 100 pages. Or off 30 pages, and they get a two- or three-book deal!'' Disappointing manuscripts are pushed through nonetheless: ''You have to write a real stinker to get canceled.''
BUT a reader pays the same price for the stinker as for the masterpiece, and probably invests as much precious leisure time in reading it, too. His or her willingness to do so isn't an inexhaustible resource.
Could the oversupply of books be hurting the demand for them? The difference between publishing and other businesses is that a great many people don't produce books just to make money. They want to introduce their words, or someone else's, to the world, and a lot of them see prestige and even romance in calling themselves authors or publishers. It sometimes seems everyone wants to take up writing, is (incorrectly) confident of success and plans to get to it any day now. But what good is a hammer in a world without nails? If everyone is writing and publishing books, who will find time to read them?
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > The Last Word: How Many Books Are Too Many?
KANSAS CITY.COMRead a good book lately? Tell us about it
Hey, book lovers: It's up to us to get people reading again!
Last week a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts reported that "literary reading" has suffered a dramatic decline. Between 1982 and 2002, the percentage of adults reading literature - novels, short stories, poetry and plays - dropped from about 57 percent to 47 percent. Men and women, young and old, all ethnicities - just about every demographic group is reading less literature.
But maybe we newspaper readers can do something about that, at least here in Kansas City. Just e-mail us with the title and author of a good book you've read this year. Then, in a sentence or two, tell us what the book's about and why you liked it.
Send e-mail to email@example.com. Please put "good book" in the subject line. Deadline: 5 p.m. Monday, July 19.
Please keep your recommendation to one good book (fiction or nonfiction, new or old, doesn't matter) and be brief in your comments.
We'll make a master list of all these great reads and share them with you soon online and in The Star's FYI section.
(For more on the NEA report, "Reading at Risk," go to www.arts.gov/news/news04/ReadingatRisk.html.) Kansas City Star | 07/14/2004 | Read a good book lately? Tell us about it
NEA study proves a difficult read for the book world
By David Mehegan, Globe Staff | July 15, 2004
The book world is still reeling with shock, puzzlement, and worry at last week's grim alarum from the National Endowment for the Arts about the decline of literary reading in America. In a survey of 17,000 adults, the NEA study, "Reading at Risk," found a 10-point drop over the last 20 years in the percentage of Americans who read novels, short stories, plays, or poetry. While the report found a decline in all book reading, literary reading saw the biggest decrease. Among adults aged 18 to 34, the rate of decline was especially steep -- 28 percent from 1982 to 2002.
In the report's foreword, poet and NEA chairman Dana Gioia wrote darkly, "Anyone who loves literature or values the cultural, intellectual, and political importance of active and engaged literacy . . . will respond to this report with grave concern." While citing no single cause of the trend, the report pointed to increased television watching, use of the Internet, and such diversions as video games and other electronic entertainments.
Underlying the questions what is happening and why is a deeper question: Who cares? Why is literary reading important? Gioia's answer, in a telephone interview, emphasized the social and political importance of literature. "Reading a novel puts you in the mind of another person," Gioia said. "It develops your ability to imagine the world from another perspective. It helps us work together to build a society in which all people prosper together."
"I found the report very distressing," said poet David Lehman, series editor of the "Best American Poetry" and professor at Bennington College and New York University. "The results tally with all the anecdotal evidence, with my experience as teacher and editor. I fear that we set too little value on our own cultural heritage, as expressed in the words that could be considered timeless -- works of literature, history, and philosophy. A person who has not read a poem has not read the Gettysburg Address."
One writer pointed out that fiction can get to the truth of things that nonfiction cannot. "I spent a night locked up in Haiti because I had a copy of `The Comedians' with me," recalled Norman Sherry, professor of literature at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of the three-volume "Life of Graham Greene." (Volume three will be published in September.) The Greene novel was confiscated by Haitian police.
"The Comedians" is Greene's devastating 1966 fictional indictment of the repressive Francois Duvalier regime. During the 1970s, Sherry was in Haiti researching Greene's visits there. Greene "was hated and detested by Duvalier," Sherry said by telephone, "because that book is a total life of the country. Greene puts four characters together, and you get the whole of life, the living experience of Haiti. A really great novel can give you more than a book of history."
Asked if we should care whether literary reading declines, Connecticut novelist and short-story writer Amy Bloom answered, "Who cares if all the oceans dry up? You still have a faucet in your house. It's part of being an imaginative, . . . empathic person. When I would stay up, as a child, reading [Charles Dickens's] `A Tale of Two Cities' by flashlight in bed, part of what happened was that I was [protagonist] Sidney Carton. There was no one else to tell me who Sidney Carton was. I could feel more that was outside my own range. I could roam my entire interior landscape with complete freedom, and that sense of endless internal possibility is only available with reading."
Some say that making it a duty can discourage literary reading in childhood. "There is a lot of required reading in school," said Leonard Marcus, children's book editor of Parenting magazine, "and children learn not to want to read books that way, because it is like taking medicine." Marcus says his son, at about age 10, had devoured the long novels of Brian Jacques, the British fantasy writer. However, "his teacher found out and discouraged him -- `Why aren't you reading something of importance or social value?' If children read less, it has to do with their not being given enjoyable experiences to make books feel valuable to them."
While some college teachers, such as Lehman, find that the NEA findings confirm their own sense of a decline in literary knowledge and interest among youth, others are not convinced. William Pritchard, biographer of poets Randall Jarrell and Robert Frost, has been a professor of English at Amherst College since 1958.
"I was talking to a colleague today," Pritchard said, "and we both said we couldn't perceive in the students we teach any falling-off in what they had read."
Though he did not contest the NEA numbers, Pritchard suggested that the report's tone of impending doom (it warned, for example, that "at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century") might be a bit over the top.
"Robert Frost said that every age likes to think of itself as the worst," said Pritchard. "In an essay in 1935 called `Letter to the Amherst Student,' he wrote, `It is immodest of a man to think of himself as going down before the worst forces ever mobilized by God.' "Boston.com / A&E / Books / NEA study proves a difficult read for the book world
Spider-Man" star working on book adaptation
Thu July 15, 2004 04:17 AM ET
By Liza Foreman and Borys Kit
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Spider-Man 2" star Tobey Maguire is exercising his producer's prowess for Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the superhero franchise
The actor is teaming with Oscar-winning "Forrest Gump" producer Wendy Finerman to develop a big-screen adaptation of the novel "Everything Changes" by Jonathan Tropper, to be published next March.
Tropper's novel revolves around the twentysomething Zach, who is on the verge of marrying the perfect girl when he undergoes a life crisis as he faces feelings for his recently deceased best friend's wife and also deals with the sudden arrival of his flamboyant, womanising, estranged father. It will be published by Bantam's Delacorte Press.
Another of Tropper's books, "The Book of Joe", hit stores earlier this year and was optioned by Warner Brothers to be directed by Miguel Arteta ("The Good Girl").
Maguire was an executive producer of last year's "Seabiscuit", in which he starred, and producer of 2002's "25th Hour", directed by Spike Lee.
His Maguire Entertainment banner is also developing Len Williams' novel "Justice Deferred" at Warner Brothers. Also at Warners, Maguire Entertainment is producing "Urban Townie" together with Paula Weinstein. It is also among the producers of another book adaptation, "Electroboy".Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage
Online used-book sales concern some publishers
Bob Tedeschi, NYT Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Is Amazon.com becoming the Napster of the book business?
The analogy may not be far-fetched, some observers of the used-book industry say. Publishers, particularly textbook publishers, have long countered used-book sales by churning out new editions every couple of years. But the Web, particularly sites like Amazon and eBay, has given millions of consumers an easy way to find used books cheaply - often for less than $1 - without paying royalty fees to publishers or authors.
Mass-market publishers are not certain the used-book phenomenon is a problem worth addressing, but others in the industry have made up their minds.
"We think it's not good for the industry and it has an effect, but we can't measure it," said Paul Aiken, executive director of Authors Guild, a trade group. "There have always been used-book sales, but it's always been a background-noise sort of thing. Now it's right there next to the new book on Amazon."
Lorraine Shanley, a principal at Market Partners International, a publishing consultant, said that the industry was just starting to appreciate the dimensions of the problem.
"Used books are to consumer books as Napster was to the music industry," she said. "The question becomes, 'How does the book industry address its used-book problem?' There aren't any easy answers, especially as no one is breaking any laws here."
Shanley, whose company reported on used books this month in its newsletter, said that publishers were beginning to see the effects of online sales.
Greg Greeley, Amazon's vice president for media products for North America and Japan, strenuously disagreed with the notion that online sales of used books harmed the publishing industry. And Kathryn Blough, vice president of the Association of American Publishers, said that she "wouldn't jump to the conclusion" that used books were "eating away at the new-book market."
The publishers' association reported previously that sales of mass-market paperbacks and hardcover and paperback books last year were virtually unchanged from 2002, when they reached roughly $3.5 billion.
Amazon has listed used books alongside new books since late 2000. But analysts and industry executives said the momentum among consumers and newly minted used-book sellers was just now approaching the point of biting into new-book sales.
"We've not been able to pinpoint a definite effect, but my gut is that absolutely there's an effect," said Dominique Raccah, chief executive of the publisher Sourcebooks. "And it concerns me that we're not formalizing a reasonable, proactive response."
The industry's response so far has been to consider a study on the effects of the used-book market. But in the meantime, some research already suggests that used-book purchases are surging.
Based on consumer surveys, Ipsos BookTrends, a division of the research and consulting firm Ipsos-Insight, said that 15 percent of all books for adults and teenagers that were purchased from April to December 2003 were used ones - an increase of five percentage points from the like period in 2002. At the same time, the Web's share of sales rose to 12.7 percent from 9.7 percent.
Greeley, the Amazon executive, declined to cite statistics on the company's used-book effort, but he said sales had been growing nicely since Amazon started listing used books alongside new books and offering to sell its customers' used books for a 15 percent commission.
Greeley disputed the contention that Amazon could be hurting publishers or authors by selling books that yielded no royalties. "The lower prices of used books allow people to experiment with authors and genres in ways they might not have otherwise," he said.
But Albert Greco, a professor at Fordham University's graduate school of business administration who conducts research for the Book Industry Study Group, said he was "absolutely convinced" that used-book sales would "ultimately cut into an industry that's not growing at all."IHT: Online used-book sales concern some publishers
At Fox News, it's Author! Author!
Anchors writing books - and shamelessly plugging them - is hardly news any more at the cable network
BY VERNE GAY
July 11, 2004
The June evening must have been a perfectly pleasant one, and Roger Ailes must have been in fine Ailesian form (which is to say amusing and caustic). The guests had gathered at Studio D at Fox News headquarters, and the shrimp platters were running low. Time to get down to business.
The chairman of Fox News then took the stage to introduce his longtime friend and Fox News Channel anchor, Neil Cavuto, who was about to publish his first book, "More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life's Ultimate Lesson" (which, by the way, included a hagiographic chapter on one Roger Ailes).
And then, the Ailesian zinger. Cavuto, he observed, is "just the first person from Fox News Channel to put out a book this week."
An exaggeration? Well...
Consider the zinger of the long forgotten Duke of Gloucester, who once famously uttered to Edward Gibbon, the famously productive author of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": "Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh Mr. Gibbon? Another damn thick square book."
One wonders what the dear old dim-bulbed Duke would say of the publishing industry that has sprung up at Fox News headquarters, of all places?
Authors list goes on
The list is quite a list: There is Bill O'Reilly (scribble, scribble), who is banging out a new book for kids for the fall, as well as Sean Hannity (scribble), and now, Cavuto. But were you aware of "The Big Story" host John Gibson's book ("Hating America: The New World Sport?") or "On the Record" host Greta Van Susteren's ("My Turn at the Bully Pulpit: Straight Talk About Things That Drive Me Nuts"), which has been out since the winter. Alan Colmes' "Red, White & Liberal: How Left Is Right and Right Is Wrong," appeared in the fall. "Fox & Friends" co-host (and onetime jock anchor-reporter) Brian Kilmeade will become a publishing newbie in the fall with "The Games Do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports." Also in the works are books by Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday," "Fox News Watch" host Eric Burns (who already has several books to his name) and a White House correspondent James Rosen, completing a biography of Richard Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, a book that would impress even Mr. Gibbon.
Rosen began work on this big square book nearly 14 years ago, just after graduating from college. Forgetting anyone? Almost certainly, and to them, our sincere apologies, because it is said (by me, actually) that if you throw a rock inside Fox News headquarters, you will a) get arrested, and b) injure someone who has a book or book deal pending. Potential scribblers include Ailes, who has been approached on several occasions by HarperCollins' big imprint, ReganBooks, to write his own exceedingly colorful life story (so far, he's declined). It's believed that the anchor of "The Fox Report With Shepard Smith" also has been approached about a book. We won't even get into Fox's on-air consultants, most of whom are published authors or have become big-time bestselling scribblers since joining Fox News; political consultant Dick Morris is the most notable example, and even Chicago shock jock and "Fox & Friends" guest Mancow Muller has a book to his name.
You know the obvious question (why?) and can guess the obvious answer (money). The TV-star- as-author category has been a relatively hot one of late (Tim Russert's "Big Russ and Me" recently topped The New York Times' nonfiction list). Publishers like these authors because they have a ready-made audience and promotional vehicle - their own show - and that means publishers don't have to shell out big bucks themselves to hawk the books.
Brad Miner, executive editor of American Compass, the conservative "wing" of giant book club Bookspan, adds: "The thing about the Fox books is that their authors have a loyal audience watching them and hanging onto their every word, week after week. That builds up a sense of authority, and those guys have it."
Overall, though, the trend's become a controversial one, simply because the TV news star authors have proven such relentless floggers, and that - say the critics - has subverted the objectivity of both author and news organization. An Associated Press column recently scoured NBC News and Russert for their in-house promotional zeal, while Salon.com also sent a well-guided bullet NBC and Fox's way.
But Fox News' lit stars have proven to be tub-thumpers beyond compare. Cavuto interviewed most of his book's "heroes" on his show and incorporated book plugs in numerous other ways. O'Reilly and Hannity are masters of the tout who especially use their huge radio shows to get out the word and boost sales. Anyone got a problem with this? Says Cavuto, who got his idea back in 1997, in the wake of the diagnosis of his multiple sclerosis: "When you can bring the heroes out and show them to people...then I think that's fine. But if you're trying to push something that's bad, with no added value to it, there's no question that then it's bad."
Burns (whose book on journalism in Colonial times will come out sometime next year), says, "I can understand why [critics] would be upset, but if you watch this guy, whoever he is, on the air, then it means you care about his view and probably want to know there's another forum" where those views have been expressed in greater detail.
Besides, he adds, "imagine how strange it would be for people to have a show on four or five hours a week and not mention the book? That would be anti-social."
Because no one at Fox News wants to be a party-pooper, it all comes down to this question, then: How much plugging is too much? As the lit industry has surged at FNC, the answer has become a sensitive one there, say industry observers (who ask not to be named or quoted). The reason, they say, are perceived inequities over who can flog and how much. There's a common-sense realization that the more on-air flogging you do, the more book sales you ring up. But Ailes has limited the tub-thumping. Van Susteren, for example, refused to tout her book (published by Crown, a division of Doubleday) on her show, "On the Record," because she reportedly thought it was wrong to do so. The book tanked.
There's also long-standing speculation at FNC that O'Reilly has been allowed to build an "O'Reilly Factor" industry - replete with volumes (published by Broadway Books, a division of Bertelsmann) and tchotchkes like doormats - because several years ago he spurned a huge offer from NBC News and instead opted to stay with Fox. Because he walked away from so much money - as much as $20 million, goes the speculation - Ailes allowed him to go hog-wild on the promo front.
'Everyone rows the boat'
Baloney, says Bill Shine, FNC's vice president of production, who declined to comment on O'Reilly but said, "Everyone rows the boat together" at Fox News. "Over eight years, the success of this company has come because Roger has avoided situations where someone thinks they can have more or get more." (Ailes, who hasn't talked to the press in about a year, was on vacation and couldn't be reached.)
Shine adds that there are no hard and fast rules on tub-thumping, because "you've got to look at this on a case by case basis....You can't have a cookie- cutter 'Everybody Follows This' approach."
As for Van Susteren: "From day one when she told me she was going to write the book, she told me and her publisher that she wasn't going to put the book on her television show. At the time, she was fairly new here and wanted to focus on the TV show, and if you know Greta more than 20 minutes, you'd know she'd want to make sure she puts her head down and into the show."
Meanwhile, Shine says the book logjam hasn't created any logistical (or ego) problems. To the contrary: "If you look at the process of this whole book phenomenon, it's never hurt ratings of a show with [?]
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc. New York City - Entertainment
Waiting for the Movie
Reading's going out of style, even as publishers go wild
By Malcolm Jones
July 19, 2004 issue -
You don't usually go to government reports for arresting prose. But consider this sentence: "Indeed, at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century." Yikes. And that's not the half of it. According to a report on the reading habits of Americans issued last week by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of the adult American population now reads for pleasure. Using Census Bureau data, the NEA found that the number of Americans who say they've even opened a single book of fiction, let alone a poem or a play, over the course of a year has declined by 10 percent, from 56.9 percent in 1982 to 46.7 percent today. It gets worse. Young adults between 18 and 34, a category that once claimed the status of most-active readers, is now the lowest, dropping 28 percent since 1982. And by literature, "we're not talking about the number of people who reread Proust," says Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA. "Literature" means simply any books that people read without guns pointed to their heads. "If people read even three pages of a Harlequin romance, it got counted."
One of the most troubling things uncovered by the NEA poll is that people who read are also more likely to do volunteer work or attend plays or ball games. "This study suggests that there are two groups of Americans emerging in this electronic age," says Gioia. "The first group takes a very active and engaged attitude toward information and society. The other group are increasingly passive consumers of electronic entertainment. Unfortunately, one group is growing—and it's not the readers."
Oddly, publishers have responded to the decline in readers by publishing far more titles for people not to read. Two decades ago the number of new books published annually hovered around 60,000, then climbed more than 100,000 in the early '90s. Last year saw a record 164,609 new titles. "Forty years ago you used to worry that a good book would not be published," says Dan Frank, editor in chief of Pantheon Books. "Now everything is being published, and a lot of good books are being overlooked."
Frank agrees with Gioia that publishers need to be more discriminating about what they print, and that the media and educators need to be more aggressive. "The great success that Oprah enjoyed with her book club was because she was performing a process of selection for her audience," he says. In the meantime the NEA report is enough to make you wonder not just if Americans will ever be on the same page, but if they'll be on any page at all.
With Devon Thomas and Jac Chebatoris
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.MSNBC - Waiting for the Movie