Friday, December 24, 2004

Slow book sales spark new rivalry

By Edward Wyatt

Two of the book industry's giants, frustrated by two years of little to no growth, appear to be taking their frustrations out on each other.

Last week, Peter Olson, the chief executive of Random House Inc., the United States' largest publisher, disclosed the company's tentative plans to sell books directly to consumers through its own Web site. On Friday, Stephen Riggio, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble Inc., the country's largest bookseller, said he was "deeply concerned" by Random House's plans to enter his business, raising the possibility of a growing rift between the publishing titans.

The announcement of the new plans comes as the book business is suffering through a second consecutive year of almost-flat sales. The average age of book consumers continues to climb, and except for children's and religious books, few areas of the business seem to be picking up new readers. Many of the best-selling books of this year were published in 2003, including "The Da Vinci Code," (Doubleday), "The South Beach Diet" (Rodale Press) and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" (Hyperion).

Those disappointing trends have led most big publishing companies to weigh new ways to increase sales or to reach new consumers. At the same time, publishers have complained that they are facing greater competition from Barnes & Noble, which has been aggressively trying to expand its own publishing business. Recently, it began a series of full-page newspaper advertisements publicizing new advice and how-to books that it is publishing. Its growing effort to increase that business has begun to worry some of the publishers who are Barnes & Noble's biggest suppliers.

The dispute over online sales appears to be largely theatrics at this point, given the difficulty of building a retail business from scratch.

Olson disclosed the online plans last week in his annual year-end letter to employees in North America. Though the disclosure took up only part of one sentence in a three-page, single-spaced letter, it quickly became the talk of the publishing world.

Riggio of Barnes & Noble said that people at his company were surprised by the announcement in part because Bertelsmann AG, Random House's parent company that is based in Germany, just got out of the business, selling its stake in last year.

"We were partners with them," Riggio said Friday in a statement relayed by a company spokeswoman. "Now they're wanting to compete with us."

Riggio said that because this is the busiest time of year for his company, he had not had time to ask to Random House about its plans. "We want to be able to talk to the folks at Random House before we make any public statements," he said.

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said on Friday that Barnes & Noble's agitation seemed to be bigger than the energy Random House had put into the online sales idea.

"It's premature to characterize it as anything but a concept at this point," Applebaum said. "It's on the drawing board, but it's a drawing board with just a few pencils applied to it yet."

The extent of Barnes & Noble's concern about Random House's plans would seem to also stem from the company's size. Several other publishers already sell their books on their own Internet sites, including Penguin Group USA, the second-largest book publishing company. But David Shanks, Penguin's chief executive, said that Barnes & Noble has never objected to its online sales operations, which it started early this year.

W.W. Norton & Co., an independent company, and Harlequin, the Torstar Corp. unit that dominates the romance novel business, also sell their own books through their Internet sites. Meanwhile, Scholastic Inc., the education and children's publisher that operates book fairs and a small retail operation, sells its own books and those from other publishers on its site.

Olson's mention of online selling followed a list of potential initiatives, including different pricing and distribution models and the sale to outside companies of Random House publishing services, including bookkeeping and other back-office functions and distribution services.

"In the year ahead, I will report to you on our progress with initiatives, which, in time, may include direct sales online of our books to readers as a complement to our existing sales channels and the expansion of our proprietary publishing, as well as many other publishing, marketing and distribution ideas," Olson wrote.

Applebaum also noted that Random House has long sold books directly to consumers, mainly though book clubs, including Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild, run by Bookspan, jointly owned by Bertelsmann and Time Warner.

But as opposed to the book clubs, Riggio said, "We believe this is an entirely different matter."


© 2004 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. | 12/22/2004 | Slow book sales spark new rivalry

Monday, December 20, 2004

Bad Sex Writing Prize Goes to Tom Wolfe

Mon Dec 13, 9:44 PM ET

LONDON - It's the literary award no author wants to win, and this year it's gone to Tom Wolfe. The Literary Review gave Wolfe its annual Bad Sex award Monday for his best-selling novel "I Am Charlotte Simmons."

Judges said the book's sex scenes were "ghastly ... inept ..(and) unrealistic."

The nearly 700-page novel is set at fictional Dupont University in Pennsylvania, chronicling the bright, naive Charlotte Simmons' entry into a hedonistic world filled with heavy drinking and casual sex.

Reviews of the book have been harsh, but like most of Wolfe's work, it's selling well.

He gained fame in the 1960s with works including "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and "The Right Stuff." "The Bonfire of the Vanities," his scathing satire of New York in the 1980s, was a top 10 best-seller of the decade.

The Bad Sex prize, in its 12th year, is intended to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel," its judges say.

Yahoo! News - Bad Sex Writing Prize Goes to Tom Wolfe


Romances, satires among 2004's most checked-out

December 19, 2004

This week, Judy Kamiat of Palm Beach County's West Boynton branch discusses the best books of 2004, advice on starting book groups and anticipated releases for next year.

Q. What books were popular at your branch this year?

A. As far as our biggest circulations, London Bridges by James Patterson, Night Fall by Nelson DeMille and The Plot Against America: A Novel by Philip Roth were popular. We're also doing quite well with The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner. Danielle Steel has had about three to four titles out this year. Her new book, Echoes, has gotten better reviews than she usually gets.

Q. What's different about it?

A. It's set in World War II and has a more serious storyline. Patrons who read her will like anything by Nora Roberts. She has a new book called Northern Lights.

Florida's own Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip has done well. He's interesting. For some reason, his previous books circulated, but not big. This book was a July release and we still have a waiting list for it. It's hilarious. He pokes fun at all the pompous politicians and then he has characters that couldn't be any stranger. I heard him speak at the book fair and he said he takes it from personal experience. Even the premise of the book, being saved by a floating bale of marijuana, is not that unusual here. He even has one character who's a drug addict who goes into nursing homes and steals the pain patches and that actually did happen here. It was a light enjoyable read.

We also had a book called The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. It deals with an ancient manuscript that has a code. It was on the bestseller list for a while but I don't think it had the same kind of potboiler excitement that The Da Vinci Code had.

Q. It caused quite a stir. What did you think of it?

A. I thought it was very thought provoking. It's still on the bestseller list. It touches something with people. If you wanted to read it strictly from a thriller point of view, it was a page-turner. I was fascinated by all of the different issues it brought up. Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a book group?

A. You have to get a list of books and throw the idea out there. The best book groups are when the people involved have some say of what's being read. Let people pick and choose. You can do a theme party from your home. You find your own niche, a group of people -- not necessarily similar in background -- and people who like to read. I'm Jewish and we had some Catholic women in a group I did and having people of different religions made it interesting. I don't want to hear someone regurgitating what I think. I want a different viewpoint. So, you get into arguments and it's very refreshing.

What we've found around here is that a lot of the individual developments form book groups as part of their activities. I don't know of too many that meet [at the library] but I know of a lot in the Boca area.

Q. What kind of books do you enjoy reading?

A. I have eclectic tastes. I don't like big sagas, maybe if it's a good one. But I do like mysteries. There are cooking mysteries, cleaning mysteries -- all kinds of mysteries so that you can pick. I'm not a huge reader of nonfiction. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America the Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction was popular, so you'll see what the political bent of our patrons is. Maureen Dowd's Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, Bill Clinton's My Life and Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack had huge numbers are far as circulation. There's still a long waiting list for Clinton's book. We've also has a lot of success for George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?

Q. What's on the literary horizon for next year?

A. Steve Martini is coming out with a book called Double Tap. In January, Barbara Taylor Bradford releases Unexpected Blessings, a sequel to the bestseller she had last year called Emma's Secret. The Good Guys by Joe Pistone, Bill Bonanno and David Fisher is getting a lot of buzz.

Q. Joe Pistone? That the guy actor Johnny Depp portrayed in the move Donnie Brasco, right?

A. Yes, it's received a lot of pre-publication publicity, as did State of Fear by Michael Crichton. It's about how information is manipulated in the modern world.

Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Romances, satires among 2004's most checked-out: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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