BISG discusses WBN US and digital changes

BISG discusses WBN US and digital changes

The debut of World Book Night US, coinciding with the UK’s second go-round on 23rd April 2012, was introduced in a keynote at the Book Industry Study Group a.g.m. in New York.

Random House president of sales, operations and digital Madeline McIntosh told delegates of the event's most recent developments at its meeting yesterday (20th September). These include the hiring of Carl Lennertz —ex-Harper, ex-ABA and ex-Knopf—as WBN US' executive director; the Association of American Publishers’ donation of space within its New York headquarters for Lennertz’s office; pledges from the big six publishers and Barnes & Noble; and Ingram’s willingness to help with distribution. WBN US is also in “very early” discussions with printers.

McIntosh said: "[It] feels like exactly the kind of thing we need to do, the embodiment of our passion about what we do. I hope it will be an infusion of energy so that people will realise that books are not old fashioned, that they are a fundamental part of our core culture and readers won’t let them disappear.”

The parameters mirror those of the UK with one million copies of 25 titles given away by 40,000 people. However, the US' geography and its intent to be fully national gives WBN US a challenge the British did not have.

McIntosh said Lennertz and his committee will select the titles by mid-November. They will cull “best of” lists like Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers, the American Library Association’s best books, or the last decade of American Booksellers Association Indy Picks, and come up with a shortlist of 100 books to be whittled down by three-quarters.

Although the US and UK selections will be quite independent, McIntosh thought it likely some choices will overlap. Lennertz is already working closely with the World Book Night c.e.o. Julia Kingsford and one idea is to pair up sister booksellers in the US and UK.

HarperCollins’ Caroline Pittis wondered why the project was not aiming to give away 10m books in the US, given the differences in demographics. She was among those who hoped the selection would favour books that were less obvious than the iconic and already extremely widely distributed, She suggested Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible instead of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (both Harper titles). Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark queried: “What will happen when some school or library decides to ban one of the books—the kind of thing that occurs here all too often, far more often than in the UK.” The Idea Logical Company’s Mike Shatzkin simply nodded his head sceptically about how the project would translate. Others, however, like BISG’s new executive director Len Vlahos were much more encouraging.

Elsewhere, Vlahos was encouraged that the percentage of e-book titles readers are accessing for free versus the percentage they are paying for has decreased in the last three years. Free represents about 14% of total books downloaded. 

Higher education students continue to argue current e-readers are not suited to their needs, according to a session presented by Brett Sandusky and Jeff Olson of Kaplan. Students want to be able to flag or highlight text, to change typography and to interact with tables and forms.

On the rights front, Curtis Brown’s Clark discussed a pilot program between the agency and a long-time co-agent, Zurich’s Peter & Paul Fritz. They are trying to find a way for royalty and rights reporting to be less cumbersome. Clark said: “We can get money wired electronically, but we don’t get data electronically.”

Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions’ Steve Paxhia presented on consumer e-book and college student buying trends. Consumers are showing increasing loyalty to e-books. In May 2010, when asked if they would wait three months for a book to be available electronically, only 30% said yes; now 45% said they would wait for the e-version.

Consumers’ favourite e-book device is the dedicated e-reader, it was revealed. While the Kindle still prevails and the Nook and NookColor have made massive strides, the iPad has declined as a preferred device for bookreading.

As for the student market, they said it is “pretty scary” that 30% of faculty “recommend” but do not require textbooks in core courses. Only 58% of students buy current editions as both students and faculty are tired of short revision cycles. Illicit behaviour, still mainly through scanning paper rather than electronic file sharing, is also "very scary". They said: "Students are telling each other how to pirate and faculty are helping.”  On the other hand, “premium” electronic product is something students do like and publishers should be investing in.

Finally, the situation for campus bookstores is far from rosy. Student text purchases at campus stores declined from approximately 58% to 48% in one semester. Amazon accounted for almost all of it.