Some Industry News – August 2016

Isn’t it a fact of life that when you go on vacation or try to slow down in summer or during the holidays that something is going to happen? Or do your family cars like to get flat tires or let their batteries die while in your driveway? Such was last week. (We had a car battery decide that it needed a permanent vacation while in the driveway the morning I was trying to go to work.)

In the industry we had a couple pieces of news that may not have crossed your desk.

Howard Books

The first was a shakeup in the staff at Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. They reduced their staff and shifted responsibilities around. Production and Art director positions have shifted from the Nashville office to New York. The main marketing responsibilities have been added to the plate of their VP of publicity (now VP of publicity and marketing) at the Atria imprint. They also dropped their VP and Editor-in-Chief, Ami McConnell and shifted those responsibilities among three in-house senior editors. I’m sorry to see Ami leave as she has been a long time friend in the industry. She is quite talented so hopefully will land elsewhere.

It’s always hard to make decisions like that, especially when it affects people. But market realities and the need to increase margins and sales in a corporate environment make for tough decisions (especially in publicly held corporations).  The important thing is to not attribute changes like this to “the collapse of CBA” or “the demise of print books” or “the Amazon Effect” or “Jupiter has aligned with Neptune.” The economics of publishing is a constant ebb and flow. One publisher can have a great year and the next be in the tank (see what happened to the revenue at Scholastic in the post-Harry Potter days or at Little Brown post-Twilight). I am guessing that Howard Books had ramped up to handle the extraordinary success of the “Duck Dynasty” books. It is hard to sustain that kind of windfall, even when sales outside a specific franchise are just fine.

I’ve exchanged notes with Jonathan Merkh, the VP and Publisher at Howard Books, and the future of the division is secure and the sale and acquisitions of key books will continue unimpeded.

The Christy Awards

The other news was that ECPA (The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) has taken both ownership and management of the prestigious Christy Awards. This is the premier award for Christian fiction in the industry.

For seventeen years it had been under its own management. By moving it under ECPA’s oversight it ensures the long term viability of the award.

Earlier this month ECPA made some changes to their own Christian Book Award program and had dropped the fiction category. Now the Christy Awards will slide into that spot and give it additional visibility.

I’ve been asked if this is a good thing. I responded with a resounding, “Yes!” I’m very excited to see the awards continue unabated for the foreseeable future.

The full press release can be found by clicking here.

Rumor Control

Six years ago I wrote a blog about rumors and the need to verify before spreading what you hear. In the ensuing half-decade-plus social media, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, loops, and groups have made it very easy to play versions of the “Telephone Game.

One of those happened last week due to a typo. By the time it came to me I was sent a message that read “The CEO of B&H was fired yesterday.” I was shocked that Lifeway would terminate such an important person in their B&H Publishing Group. So I went to my friendly neighborhood contact inside Lifeway and ask that she verify or correct the rumor.

It wasn’t the CEO of the B&H (Broadman & Holman) Publishing Group…it was the CEO of B&N (Barnes & Noble), the bookstore chain. (News about B&N’s move.)

A typo, B&N versus B&H, made a huge difference. Gratefully the rumor stopped very quickly and was corrected.

Next thing you know I’ll be hearing that the U.S. was disqualified in a relay race in the Olympics again or that a monkey in diapers attacked a Walmart employee.

Oh wait…

 

19 Responses to Some Industry News – August 2016

  1. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 22, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    Steve, I think your favorite posture is tongue-in-cheek. Thank you for a common sense look at what is transpiring in the industry and the reminder to double check information to verify its accuracy. You are a prince among agents.j

  2. Avatar
    Mary Felkins August 22, 2016 at 6:20 am #

    As always, Steve, your re-aligning your readers with what is truly true out there is super helpful. P.S. Gee whiz, did the Senate really get disqualified? I was hopeful for them to bring home the gold. And, it seems I won’t be shopping at Wal-Mart ever again, either 🙁

  3. Avatar
    Richard Mabry August 22, 2016 at 6:23 am #

    Steve, thanks for keeping us up to date in the changes in our ever-changing industry.

  4. Avatar
    Candy Nichols August 22, 2016 at 6:39 am #

    Thank you so much for keeping us writers informed.
    Who would you say is now the most important award for a fictional writer to try to achieve ?

  5. Avatar
    Traci August 22, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Or you might hear that Steve Laube bought another publishing related business… 😉

    Congrats on all the recent acquisitions, by the way. I kept hearing your name at OCW last week, whenever a smaller up and coming enterprise was mentioned. Sounds like things have been hopping over your way!

  6. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 22, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    Thanks for the news, Steve. I hope your friend finds a new job very quickly and pray that it will turn out to be a huge blessing for her.

  7. Avatar
    Rebecca LuElla Miller August 22, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Steve, do you know if the Christy Awards will return to an actual, physical award ceremony or will they do the online announcement again? I used to follow the ICRS ceremony online and missed it this year. The Christys didn’t have as much impact I didn’t think, and I didn’t see the usual buzz. But maybe that was only in my little corner of the writing world. But I do wonder what the new ownership will do with the award.

    Becky

    • Avatar
      Sylvia M. August 22, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

      I agree, Rebecca. I missed seeing the Christy Awards live feed this year too. It’s not only in your corner of the world. I don’t think it had the usual buzz either. It was rather confusing. The Carol Awards should still be broadcasted, right?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube August 22, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

      I suspect ECPA will make their plans known for the Christy Awards before next year’s event. 🙂

      Steve

  8. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 22, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    Hastings is closing all 128 stores, and they were the only bookstore in many towns in the western states. What do you think will happen for book sources in those towns?

  9. Avatar
    Steve Laube August 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

    Hastings was scattered throughout the U.S. This store locator map shows it best:
    https://www.gohastings.com/custserv/custserv.jsp?pageName=hastings_store_locator

    Only a portion of their sales were in books. They were heavy into movies and games and music. I think their model was hurt by the loss of music sales and the decline in DVD sales as much as anything. Their debt rose too high and their stores too big for the inventory they carried (which also suggested too much rent for their sales).

    Thus, like good ‘ol capitalism at work, people will find other venues for their book shopping. Some will go online. Some will find another chain like Barnes & Noble in their region. Others will find an independent store.

    I read an article today where the journalist was confused. He thought book sales were dying but read a statistic that said 17 million more books sold in 2015 than in 2014. Therefore he could no longer write that books were dying.

    As I’ve written before, the industry is an ever changing landscape. But usually there are some pretty smart people making decisions. And they find a way to generate sales in new places and in new ways. If they don’t, they go out of business. And bookstore retail is no different from clothing retail or hardware retail or computer store retail. Retail is retail. And the shifts in a city’s population, an economic slowdown (remember 2008-9?), paying too much to buy a company, poor decisions at the top (like JC Penny doing away with sale prices in 2014), any of those things can make a retail operation stumble.

    But people will still buy their shirt, their computer, their shovel, or their book. Just not in the same place they did last time.

  10. Avatar
    Carol Ashby August 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    In the last two weeks, I’ve driven through three towns of about 20-30k population that will have a >100 mile drive to a town big enough to have a Barnes &Noble. Online will be the only choice now. Makes a reader almost want to cry.

    • Avatar
      Carol August 22, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      Those were towns that used to have Hastings.

      • Avatar
        Steve Laube August 22, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

        Sorry to hear that.

        Unfortunately they weren’t able to support those stores, so the stores go away.

        It is an unfortunate reality of commerce.

        Once people stop buying at a store the store can’t survive, not matter what the store is.

        • Avatar
          Carol August 22, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

          Those local stores did a good business. The death of the chain killed them too.

          • Avatar
            Steve Laube August 22, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

            Their 128 stores did $401 million in business last year. And yet lost $16.6 million.

            So even if a couple local stores did good business the statistics suggests each store lost an average of $128,000 in their last fiscal year.

            Their bankruptcy filing said they had $80 million in outstanding loans and another $59 million owed to trade partners (publishers and vendors).

            They needed to be doing another $50 million or more per year in sales to overcome that type of debt.

            The bottom line is that there may have been 500 paying customers in the store each day, but they needed 600.

  11. Avatar
    Edwina Cowgill August 23, 2016 at 1:48 am #

    Thanks so much for the updates! It is amazing what 1 typo, 1 incorrect word spoken can do and it’s usually not a good thing!

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