The demise of print continues to be a story that garners the focus of journalists writing about books and publishing. Apparently it's easier to write the same story over and over rather than actually digging a bit and parsing the numbers and information specific to the industry.
Following on the heels of Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City, publishing's premier annual event, here are a few of my thoughts from the perspective of a writer, an author, and an independent publisher.
Battle continues for publishers
Since Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is always the elephant in the room, let's just acknowledge them early and be done with it. What's left to say about the online retailing behemoth, whose practices continue the trend toward shuttering smaller, independent bookstores? It appears that Jeff Bezos will not take his foot of the accelerator of Amazon until every last bricks and mortar store is boarded up.
In recent weeks Amazon has been delaying shipments of some Hachette titles. Two weeks ago, they stopped allowing its customers to preorder upcoming titles from the publisher, whose writers include James Patterson and Michael Connelly. The dispute apparently centers on Amazon's efforts to improve its split on e-book prices.
Last Tuesday evening, Amazon issued a statement saying it didn't expect the dispute to be resolved quickly. In the statement it said it had offered to fund half of a pool of money "to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%."
In response, Hachette said that "once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them, and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate."
While Amazon's stock price has fallen 25% since it hit a 52-week high of $408.06 Jan. 22, first quarter results were fine, at least in how Amazon defines corporate prosperity—which is sales growth rather than profit.
Amazon's revenue grew 23% to $19.74 billion, up from $16.07 billion in the year-earlier quarter. Growth surpassed analysts' average estimate of $19.4 billion.
BookCon is good news for books
If BEA is for the publishing industry insiders, BookCon is for the readers of books.
In an industry that tends toward doom and gloom, this year's BookCon consumer day at New York City's Javits Center on the second day of BEA offered publishers some optimism.
10,000 fans of books and the people who write them paid $30 each to be allowed in to roam a small portion of the exhibition floor, fill book-bags with pre-release galleys, and best of all—get to see their heroes—yes, heroes—the authors and other A-list celebrities. The lucky ones got autographed copies of the well-known authors, who were often greeted like rock stars.
While there was concern about the shift in focus this year from BEA to BookCon, booksellers were thrilled to have an opportunity to hand sell books.
Scholastic Corp. (NASDAQ:SCHL), the U.S. publisher of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series, will be looking to make changes in 2015, based up this year's success with BookCon.
Ellie Berger, president of the Scholastic trade division, said Scholastic will make changes for next year's event. "Next year we'll be more strategic, based on the experience today. There are more kids, librarians, and educators today than the last two days, a very different crowd that we're glad to see," Berger said.
Scholastic's third quarter results released in March were a mixed bag. Revenue was down slightly, from $378.6 million a year ago, to $373.5 million. The company reported a loss per share from continuing operations of $0.38, compared to $0.62 from last year's third quarter.
Richard Robinson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, said, "After a very strong first half, our education business was affected in the third quarter by the combination of our educational technology and classroom and supplemental materials sales forces. The sales force integration is now largely complete and our team is fully focused on driving profitable sales in the fourth quarter and into the first quarter of next fiscal year. With our strong sales and services organizations, we are well-positioned to provide the customized solutions that help boost student achievement at a time when the Common Core State Standards are driving high expectations for schools."
While publishing has been in retreat, this year's BookCon at BEA may signal something more significant for publishers and bookselling that Amazon may want to pay attention to.