We're even discussing Canada

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It's quiet in the US book industry, but pessimism has abated, Michael Cader reports</p><p>
Just how quiet is it here in the heart of US publishing? It is so quiet that topics such as Canadian bookselling and the Booker Prize pop up in newspapers and, for a brief moment last month, people were even talking about the World Cup.</p><p>
It is so quiet that the big story in all the round-ups of summer releases is about how full the shelves are of serious non-fiction such as Robert Caro's Master of the Senate and Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex, and more literary-minded fiction such as Ian McEwan's Atonement or Stephen L Carter's much-hyped Emperor of Ocean Park (which of course is really just code for saying that there are not a lot of mass market titles).</p><p>
It is so quiet that the biggest news has to do with television. Although nobody would question the singular impact of Oprah Winfrey in boosting the hand-picked selections of her show book club, it turns out she is not the only one who can push a book onto the bestseller lists.</p><p>
First in the ring was decidedly lightweight soap opera star Kelly Ripa, whose selection of Kate White's If Looks Could Kill sent it straight into the charts. Ripa promises "beach trash" that carries "no message whatsoever".</p><p>
Other morning shows quickly followed, with "Good Morning America" boosting Ann Packer's novel The Dive from Clausen's Pier (Knopf shipped 175,000 copies), and the "Today Show" offering John Grisham's recommendation of Emperor of Ocean Park.</p><p>
Most ironic of all is that the newspaper that literate Americans love to mock, USA Today, started its own book club and helped boost the in-print figures for Richard Russo's Pulitzer-winning Empire Falls (Vintage) by hundreds of thousands of copies. Even though the contentious efforts to organise New Yorkers into reading the same book at the same time fell apart, similar programmes continue to blossom in smaller cities around the country.</p><p>
Not only is it quiet, but it's rather peaceful; there is an uncharacteristic lack of pessimism in the air. Perhaps BookExpo America in New York set the happy tone for summer. With an unexpectedly large attendance of almost 32,000 people, the fair was more like a family reunion than a trade show.</p><p>
News from the corporate side looks positive, with leader of the pack Random House saying it is on target to meet its ambitious goals for the year--a nice surprise after c.e.o. Peter Olson's gloomy pronouncements from last autumn that foresaw the possibility of protracted tough times. Many people suspect Wiley got a bargain when it picked up failing Hungry Minds and, in its recent earnings report, it confirmed that it performed better than expected.</p><p>
In May most of the big booksellers reported increases as well; Barnes&amp;Noble bookstore sales were up 6.6%, Borders beat expectations, and earnings at AMS were up 13% after the acquisition of distributor Publishers Group West.</p><p>
In a modest but encouraging sign, listings for new job openings on our PublishersLunch.com job board have been at their highest point, and the wave of layoffs at both large and small companies from last autumn and early winter now seems long past. Continuing our theme of quiet, the biggest job news wasn't the naming of a new management team at Houghton, but the departure of Phyllis Grann from her non-job as vice-chairman of Random House.</p><p>
Old-fashioned discount wars are back, particularly online (which will surely help frontlist sales), with Amazon marking down all titles over $15 and reducing the threshold for free shipping. BN.com has pushed discounts on its top titles back to 40%, and is shipping all orders of two books or more for free. And rising general e-tailer Buy.com has challenged Amazon by promising to exceed any of its discounts by 10%. All of which has been enough to distract us from spring's angst over the precipitous rise of online used book sales (including newly released titles and even advanced reading copies) everywhere from Amazon to Half.com and BookFinder.com.</p><p>
Also quiet but growing is BookScan. Recently renamed Nielsen BookScan and integrated with the UK's BookTrack, the US version is slowly getting the big publishers to subscribe to its service, with AOL Time Warner and Holtzbrinck the latest to join (Harper and Random are on the sidelines for now).</p><p>
Growing at an even faster pace is a line of business from the Idea Logical Company to help publishers figure out what actually to do with data they receive, specifically the sales feed from Barnes&amp;Noble. Already working with seven publishers, including three of the biggest, Idea Logical is helping to analyse the data to enhance regular operational interaction with booksellers, including improving inventory management and preparing detailed dossiers for buyer meetings. Next up is drilling down to store level data. Quiet now, but that could make some noise.</p><p>
Michael Cader is the creator of the e-mail newsletter PublishersLunch.com.</p>