By Rachel Deahl
Summers are supposed to be quiet in the publishing industry. That wasn't the case this year, thanks to Andrew Wylie.
When the New York Times broke the news July 22 that Wylie had launched his own publishing business, called Odyssey Editions, to release e-book versions of backlist books by some of the superagent's marquee clientele (living and dead) exclusively through Amazon, any hope of a slow summer was officially dashed.
Wylie's actions got his eponymous agency temporarily blacklisted by Random House, but did bring the boiling conversation about royalties on backlist e-books to a head. In most respects, what exactly Wylie was attempting to do with Odyssey Editions is still unknown, and differs, depending on whom you ask. Some think he was trying to make a quick buck by becoming a publisher. (As he told the Times: "The fact remains that backlist digital rights were not conveyed to publishers, and so there's an opportunity to do something with those rights.") Others think he was pushing the royalty issue. Some think he was prodding houses like Random to move faster in releasing e-book editions of classics like those on the Odyssey list, which included Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Still others say he was simply drumming up publicity.
Whatever he might have been up to, Odyssey Editions created waves and ended with Random House lifting its ban on business with Wylie's firm after Wylie agreed that the house would become the e-book publisher of its print titles initially included on the Odyssey list. (No statement was ever made about the royalty Wylie won for his clients on those titles, but it's rumored to be above the standard Random House has since said it set on backlist digital titles—a sliding scale that starts at 25% and works up to 40%.)
Although Wylie was tight-lipped about Odyssey—he responded to our questions via e-mail—he did say he was surprised by the response it generated. Asked if he thought the venture pushed the issue of the digital royalty rate to the fore, he said he thought "it contributed to, rather than initiated, the discussion."
Wylie is also keeping mostly mum about the fate of Odyssey Editions itself, which is still up and running. (A number of non–Random House titles are currently available through Odyssey Editions, including Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March.)
And what of the digital royalty rate that Odyssey Editions got people talking about? Is it fair? Wylie was also diplomatic on that topic. "I think inevitably there will be movement, but perhaps not for a couple of years."
By Craig Morgan Teicher
It may seem surprising to name a device among our publishing people of the year, but this has been a surprising year, especially where devices and their impact on publishing are concerned. The iPad has had a colossal impact on the book business in 2010, both in terms of what's already happened because of it, and the promise it holds for the future of books.
Everybody wants to be on the iPad, and, for the most part, everybody is: the iPad lets users read books from not just iBooks but from all the e-book stores—Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and, soon, Sony—via each company's apps. And then there's the App Store itself, which is brimming with stand-alone enhanced e-book apps as well as games and utilities based on books. Plus, all kinds of straight-to-iPad publications are debuting all the time: we can only assume we'll see more and more built-for-tablet books. And with Google in the e-book game, forget about it—it'll be all about the iPad.
Of course, iPad won't be the only tablet in town come 2011, but it has set the bar: every other tablet that hits the streets will be an iPad competitor, though almost certainly not an iPad killer. Whether or not E-Ink e-readers survive the tablet revolution remains to be seen, but you hardly hear anyone talking about the Kindle these days without comparing it to the iPad.
According to Apple, 7.5 million iPads have sold across the globe. That's a lot of people with screens to fill. While not all of them are reading e-books, there's no question that the iPad got lots of new device owners to try e-books for the first time while trying to squeeze as much functionality as possible out of their shiny new tablets.
The iPad may not be sentient, but it is, without a doubt, a major driving force in the book business right now, as much as, if not more than, anybody with a pulse.
By Andrew Albanese
With the launch this week of its ambitious e-book program, Google has overnight become the largest seller of e-books in the world, at least in terms of its catalogue, and Tom Turvey and his team are a big reason why. As director of strategic partnerships, Turvey has been the driving force behind Google's work with publishers, booksellers, and other partners since 2004. It hasn't always been an easy ride. As with any visionary program, there have been delays, questions, and challenges. But Turvey's experience and deep understanding of the book business have been key in bringing its e-book program to fruition.
A former v-p at ebrary, director of publisher relations at Barnes & Noble.com, and one of the first directors of online sales and marketing at HarperCollins in the 1990s, Turvey has been at the forefront of new bookselling ventures. But the launch of Google's e-book program could prove to be truly historic. The cloud-based, buy anywhere/read anywhere program adds a competing vision to the mostly closed, device-driven e-book systems offered so far by players like Amazon and Apple. And Google envisions a role for independent booksellers. "This was a huge, important point for us, and for publishers, too," Turvey tells PW. "The last thing we wanted was for 10,000 points of presence for buying e-books to be reduced to three or four." With almost three million titles available at launch, including two million freely available public domain books, Google's e-book program suggests that access to e-books should no longer be a roadblock to the future. And that means that the industry can now shift its focus to making e-books better, rather than just available.
By Rachel Deahl
Just before the 2008 BEA, I was assigned to cover a Swedish bestseller that Knopf was pushing hard at the forthcoming trade show. Knopf's publisher, Sonny Mehta, who's notoriously press shy, would talk to me directly about the book, the first in a trilogy—that's how excited he was. After we spoke, and Mehta told me the heroine of the books was unlike any he'd ever encountered, and that the publicity campaign Knopf was mounting involved (among other things) a 1,000-copy ARC giveaway at BEA, I figured the books still might not amount to much. I mean, Americans aren't going to buy books by some unknown Swedish author, right?
Today Random House is predicting that Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, launched with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, will sell 15 million copies in all formats in 2010 alone. Larsson has become an American publishing phenomenon, and it's largely thanks to Sonny Mehta.
Mehta, who's been at Knopf since 1987, is certainly no stranger to big authors, big books, and big deals. Although Larsson came to U.S. shores with a track record—when I spoke to Mehta in 2008 Knopf said Larsson had sold over two million copies in his native Sweden alone—there's no telling what would have happened if his books had landed in the hands of a different publisher. For Mehta, it was all about Larsson's punk hacker-with-a-heart, Lisbeth Salander. "I knew [the books'] potential success rested squarely on Lisbeth's shoulders and was banking on American readers being as captivated by her as I was," Mehta says in an e-mail last week. (In a letter by Mehta inserted in ARCs for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he called Salander "one of the most original heroines to come along in years.")
Still, there were concerns. Knopf changed the first book's title—its literal translation, which RH almost went with, is Men Who Hate Women—and Mehta was worried that Larsson's subject matter might turn off some American readers. "The trilogy defies easy categorization," Mehta says. "Larsson tackles weighty subjects—corporate malfeasance, violence against women, a co-opted state, among others."
The weighty issues, of course, didn't deter readers. And now Larsson's books remain something of an anomaly in the publishing business. History tells us American readers aren't interested in literature in translation. History also tells us that you need to publish in the supernatural YA category—preferably with stories featuring wizards or vampires—to reach the point where novels go from bestsellers to that other realm of cultural phenomenon. Larsson's books tell us what everyone in publishing still says is the fundamental key to success: with the right book, published the right way, the sky is the limit. Just ask Sonny.
By Jim Milliot
During one of publishing's most turbulent periods, John Wiley & Sons posted record sales and profits in its fiscal year ended April 30, 2010, due in large part to the steady leadership of CEO Will Pesce and his team. During Pesce's tenure as CEO—which will conclude when Wiley's fiscal year ends April 30, 2011—Wiley made two transformative acquisitions that at the time were each the largest in company history. The first, Hungry Minds in 2001, was followed five years later by Wiley's purchase of Blackwell. The smooth integration of those two very different companies, which included recognizing and developing talent from each of these organizations, is Pesce's proudest achievement.
Before Wiley went on this major acquisition spree, Pesce says he focused on improving the company's fundamentals and building a firm foundation for growth. When he joined Wiley in 1989, the company had solid growth plans, but was weak on execution. "Without execution, a good strategy isn't enough," Pesce says. As the company has grown, he says he keeps grounded by sticking to Wiley's mission—promoting knowledge and understanding around the world. Still, he notes, "You can't be around for 200+ years without being willing to adapt and change with the times." Wiley first moved content online 13 years ago when its STM group created Wiley InterScience (now known as Wiley Online Library). Insights gained from that move have helped guide the company as its two other business segments, higher education and professional/trade, move more deeply into digital publishing. Technology, Pesce, notes, can do some, but not all, things much better than print and paper can, so "it's not an either/or proposition; we deliver our content and services according to how our customers' needs can be best met." The increased use of technology however, hasn't altered the basic Wiley mission of delivering information. "I believe the Wiley culture and record of performance makes a compelling case that publishing remains a noble endeavor built on enduring relationships with authors, customers and colleagues," Pesce says. Serving as Wiley 10th CEO "has been the highlight of my professional life."
Andy Hunter & Scott Lindenbaum
By Andrew Albanese
Apple and Google got the big headlines in 2010—but it's worth noting that those companies started with two visionaries working out of their proverbial garages. Brin & Page, Jobs & Wozniak. So Hunter & Lindenbaum? Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum's company, Electric Literature, captured our attention with a breakthrough year in 2010. What began as a mission to use digital production and distribution to publish a vibrant journal of short fiction has sprouted a new, app-based venture—Electric Publisher—dedicated to creating innovative book apps, like the one made for Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries. It's a logical if ambitious next step for Hunter and Lindenbaum, who wrote about their experiences in a wide-ranging essay in the October 25, 2010, PW. "We hope to begin leveling the playing field between Condé Nast and the Kenyon Review," Hunter says. "Apps provide publishers with the means to transition from a business-to-business model to a business-to-customer model. At a time when book retailers are struggling, that's a critical opportunity."