The past year was full of big achievements; below, we highlight the notable people behind some of 2014’s major publishing events. And don't forget to read about HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, PW's person of 2014.
Trip Adler, Eric Stromberg
CEO Scribd, CEO Oyster
In fall 2013, two e-book subscription services launched about a month apart: Oyster, and then Scribd. At first, industry figures were underwhelmed. Literary agents were dubious of the financials, and the initial consensus was that the subscription e-book model was bad for the book business.
But as 2014 closes, Scribd CEO Trip Adler and Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg can look back on a pretty good year. Both now offer access to more than 500,000 titles—including books from two of the Big Five, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, as well as a growing number of independent publishers, like the Perseus Books Group. And their book publisher partners—especially HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray and S&S president Carolyn Reidy—are singing their praises. Murray says he’s “very happy” with the subscription services and wants to expand his partnership with them; Reidy says sales through the services have been “stronger than expected.” And both executives say the services support their backlists and help drive book discovery—claims the services have been making from the start.
While trade e-book subscriptions are still in their early days, the model made big gains in 2014. In July, Amazon added Kindle Unlimited, its own subscription service. Bookmate, a U.K.–based subscription service, plans to expand to North America in the coming year. And the model has long been active in digital publishing for children, with subscription models offered by Disney, Epic, Brain Hive, iVerse, and FarFaria, among others.
Over the last year, Oyster and Scribd have done much to raise the profile of adult trade e-books in the subscription market, and there is more to come. Among recent developments, Scribd added a new book recommendation infrastructure and 30,000 audiobooks to its subscription offerings. And Oyster has added new publishers and celebrity booklist recommendations, and has launched the Oyster Review, an online literary journal that also serves as a vehicle for book recommendations.—Calvin Reid
Director of the Frankfurt Book Fair
In an interview in October, HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray stressed the need for experimentation in the book publishing industry. “You have to try things,” Murray said. It’s fitting that Murray made those remarks from the stage at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Under the leadership of director Juergen Boos, Frankfurt has certainly been trying new things. Over the last six years, the Frankfurt Book Fair has added innovative programming and reached out to a range of new publishing stakeholders—tech companies, hardware makers, digital service providers, filmmakers, gamers, and other multimedia developers.
As the digital revolution hit the book business, one might have reasonably expected Frankfurt not to rock the boat too much. After all, Frankfurt is the world’s most storied book fair. Boos and his Frankfurt team, however, have aggressively pursued the digital future and have urged publishers to do the same. Consider this: amid a long-simmering discussion about e-book prices and with Amazon and Hachette in the midst of their high-profile dispute, Boos chose author Paulo Coelho to address this year’s fair. And onstage with Boos, Coelho told publishers not to be “greedy” and to lower their e-book prices.
In 2015, the Frankfurt Book Fair will undergo its first major overhaul in 15 years, which will see English-language publishers move to the center of the fair. It’s a big change, but Boos says he has no fear, and only one regret. “I wish we had done it sooner.”
Not unlike the book business itself, international books fairs are facing fundamental challenges. But the way Frankfurt has embraced change portends well for its future. “We know that digital is going to stay, print is going to stay, Amazon is going to stay,” Boos told PW at this year’s fair. “This is not the end of the world. I am not scared to change.” —Andrew Albanese
Sari Feldman and Robert Wolven
Co-chairs, American Library Association Digital Content Working Group
In 2011, when the tension between libraries and publishers over e-books was approaching its peak, the American Library Association established the Digital Content Working Group, with public librarian Sari Feldman (executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, in Ohio) and academic librarian Robert Wolven (associate university librarian at Columbia University) as its first co-chairs. And their work over the last three years has helped redefine library-publisher relations for the digital age.
Most prominently, after years of discord, all of the major publishers are now offering their full e-book catalogues to libraries. Wolven is reluctant to give too much credit to the DCWG for that development. Much of the progress, he says, is likely due to the fact that the publishers’ own data ultimately reflected what libraries have been saying all along: that libraries are good for publishers. But he acknowledges that “the direct conversations” between library leaders and executives at the major publishers “helped immensely.” Indeed, that direct communication is the DCWG’s biggest achievement of all.
From the outset, the DCWG viewed opening the lines of communication between publishers and librarians as the most important task at hand—even as their constituents clamored for immediate action on the e-book issue. Feldman and Wolven stressed all along that they were not negotiating with publishers. They were talking, and listening. And their patience paid off. Publishers say discussions with ALA leaders and
the DCWG have been instrumental in moving their e-book programs forward. And more importantly, direct lines of communication are now established between publishing executives and library leaders—which Feldman says is unprecedented—and those open lines will prove vital as the digital discussion moves beyond questions of basic access to e-books.
In June, at the 2014 ALA Annual Conference, Feldman and Wolven ended their three-year terms at the helm of the DCWG, although they will remain involved with the group’s efforts. But their calm leadership, in an often heated discussion, was critical to putting the DCWG on a path to success. Feldman, meanwhile, will have another chance to show her leadership skills—she has been elected ALA president, with her term beginning in summer 2015. “It was my work on the DCWG that inspired me to run,” she says.—Andrew Albanese
Publisher, Graywolf Press
Graywolf Press kicked off 2014 by celebrating its 40th anniversary as one of the country’s most respected literary presses, as well as the 20th anniversary of Fiona McCrae at the helm. But 2014 has been about much more than chronological milestones. The Press, which publishes approximately 30 titles annually, is experiencing a record-breaking year in sales. And it has continued, as it has for almost a decade, to amass awards and accolades disproportionate to its size, and in defiance of being headquartered in Minneapolis, far from Manhattan.
In 2014, Graywolf author Vijay Seshadri won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for 3 Sections, and two of the five finalists for the 2014 National Book Award in poetry were Graywolf titles: Second Childhood, by Fanny Howe and Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. And, in October, McCrae, a British expat who came to Graywolf in 1994 from Faber & Faber, where, for three years, she’d been director and senior editor at its U.S. offices in Boston, received the Golden Colophon Award from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) for “superlative achievement and achievement” in literary publishing.
With her usual modesty, McCrae tries to deflect credit for Graywolf’s transformation from a struggling regional press with a $200,000 deficit in 1993 into an international literary juggernaut, ascribing it primarily to her 12-member team. “We match our editorial strengths with robust marketing,” she explains, noting that while the common wisdom is that short fiction, works-in-translation, and poetry don’t sell, “we go roaring into those areas.”—Claire Kirch
Author and cofounder of We Need Diverse Books
While discussing the need to advocate for more diversity in children’s literature with two other YA authors back in March, Ellen Oh uttered what she now admits were “fateful” words: “If we’re going to do something, we’re going to have to do something really big.” It wasn’t long before Oh, author of the Prophecy trilogy of YA fantasy novels based on Korean folktales, had the opportunity to put those words into action.
After ReedPop announced in April that BookCon’s initial author lineup would consist only of white people and Grumpy Cat, Oh and a grassroots group of almost two dozen publishers, authors, and bloggers launched a social media campaign. Although #WeNeedDiverseBooks officially lasted only three days, it had a huge impact on the book publishing industry, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity for decades. The social media campaign, which amassed 106 million Twitter impressions within the first 24 hours of its May 1 launch, continues to reverberate throughout the industry and far beyond. The group, which incorporated this summer as the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), has announced a number of initiatives to promote multicultural children’s books and their authors, including a children’s literature festival in the summer of 2016; underwriting the Walter Dean Myers Award for established authors, to launch in 2015, as well as grants for emerging voices; programs to bring authors and illustrators into schools in underserved communities; and educational kits and materials for schools and libraries.
Most recently, WNDB announced an internship program to support individuals from diverse backgrounds who want to pursue careers in publishing. And, Oh says an interactive app of multicultural authors and books is in development. As of press time, WNDB’s six-week Indiegogo fund-raising campaign to finance these initiatives has raised almost $322,000 from more than 2,200 funders, including $110,000 from Daniel Handler, in the wake of comments he made at the National Book Awards that many considered racist. The campaign ends December 10.—Claire Kirch
Since releasing his first novel in 1976, James Patterson has published more than 100 books and, according to Forbes, has made over $700 million in the past decade alone. But the remarkable thing about Patterson is how deeply he believes that books are vital to robust civic engagement, and how much of his own fortune he puts toward that conviction.
In 2014, Patterson spread his generosity among schools, libraries, and literacy efforts (including book giveaways for kids and college students). He recently launched a campaign called #SaveOurBooks, which includes a letter-writing campaign to Congress to increase public library funding. And most notably, he pledged to give $1 million to independent booksellers over the course of this year, most of which has already been paid out in grants of up to $15,000, no strings attached. Patterson, like a host of other writers, also strongly weighed in on behalf of his current publisher, Hachette, in its high-profile dispute with Amazon.
But while many of the issues raised by the Amazon dispute are likely to fade into the background now that the two companies have reached a deal, Patterson’s efforts show that he is committed to addressing the deeper systemic issues facing writers, readers, and publishers. “The future of books in America is at risk,” he told PW earlier this year. “Bookstore traffic is down. Kids aren’t reading as many books. I want to really shine a light and draw attention to the fact that this is a tricky time.”—Andrew Albanese