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In an interview Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry describes ebooks as ‘exactly the same as print, but electronic.’ The bigger question is whether that’s what consumers want.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief This article was first published in Publishing Perspective on February 20, 2018.

‘Two Different Geographies’? or Expectations?

Shortly after the International Publishers Association’s biennial world congress left New Delhi, India’s journal Scroll.in ran a controversial interview with France’s Arnaud Nourry to mark the 10th anniversary of Hachette India.

The highly regarded CEO of Lagardère Publishing and Hachette Livre’s empire, Nourry has raised eyebrows in the book publishing industry for seeming to disparage digital publishing’s centerpiece, the ebook, as a “stupid product.”

Needless to say, this has quickly gotten back to Paris, where Nicholas Gary at ActuaLitté on Monday (February 19) asked whether the comment indicated that Nourry was “launching a missile” at the ebook.

In the interview with Scroll.in, Nourry speaks of the “two geographies” where ebooks have differing success. To get at this point, Scroll.in interviewer Harsimran Gill asks whether Nourry sees the ebook market plateauing.

Nourry answers, “There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20 percent of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5 percent to 7 percent because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format.”

Nourry goes on in the interview to say, “The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.”

His comments also raise the issue that publishers and consumers might have different expectations for the the ebook format.

“We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks—didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, Web sites with our content—we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.”

Could ‘Exactly the Same as Print’ Be Exactly the Point?

“The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” Arnaud Nourry

While publishing pundits have been quick to jump on these comments as short-sighted, Nourry does go on to say, “It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People … pay a price that is about 40 percent lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25 percent to 20 percent in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive.”

It’s clear that, at the right price, the ebook format serves a certain percentage of readers well. In fact, some readers may like the ebook because, as Nourry puts it, “It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.”

As Nourry says, many efforts at “enhanced ebooks” have been cast aside as expensive experiments that most consumers haven’t warmed up to. And even today’s attempts to bring augmented reality effects into children’s books seem to remain primarily in the novelty bracket.

What the market may have been telling the industry all along was that, for some readers, “electronic” is enough. The values of the ebook for many do lie in the conveniences that are made possible by the electronic element:

• Many ebooks can be stored and read on single or multiple devices.

• An ebook can be acquired in 60 seconds—no waiting for delivery, no travel to a store, no out-of-stock delays.

• An ebook can glow in the dark, change its fonts size, capture quotes, and even share passages.

• An ebook can provide an instantly available dictionary and other resources.

• And an ebook, yes, is normally less expensive, as Nourry is pointing out, than its print counterpart.

This shouldn’t prevent publishers from developing digital approaches, as Nourry advocates for in the interview, “to see how we can nurture one another and how we can go beyond the ebook on digital.” Any format that can move through that marketplace successfully may be worth pursuing.

Big Picture, Little Picture

“Amazon has had a fantastic role to play in the publishing industry. Apart from our little battle, it is a very efficient retailer, able to ship books almost everywhere in the world very quickly. It is a real opportunity for publishers.”Arnaud Nourry

Nourry in his interview tells Gill that on the international scale, 30 percent of Hachette’s business is in French-language content “across France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and other French-speaking countries.” He cites 25 percent of the company’s business in the States and in English-language Canada, with 20 percent “in the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland,” followed by 10 percent in Spanish “and another 10 percent in the rest of the world.”

He speaks highly of Arabic markets and the Russian readership as an interesting target for Hachette. He assesses China right now as “a difficult country.”

And he talks of how the bruising 2014 negotiations with Amazon were worth it because Hachette won the right to set its own prices for ebooks. In fact, he talks of it now as “our little battle”—although it seized the attention of the publishing industry for almost a year and triggered some acrimonious divides.

Today, Nourry sends warm regards to Seattle: “Amazon has had a fantastic role to play in the publishing industry. Apart from our little battle, it is a very efficient retailer, able to ship books almost everywhere in the world very quickly. It is a real opportunity for publishers.

“Google and Facebook are third-party providers for us in terms of advertising and community management, so they don’t have a central role. Of course, Google 10 years ago had the crazy idea of digitizing all books without permission. We collectively fought that and won. Google is good for discovering titles. We don’t use it a lot for advertising or keywords—it’s a tiny partner. Facebook is mostly an advertising channel, as we use other platforms of the same nature. It does not deeply transform our business.”

The nagging sense from this interview, however, is that Nourry and others in the business may be looking for digital to do more than the consumer wants.

The Bookseller’s Philip Jones in his leader piece on Friday (February 16) writes of how travel books have yet to make a good transition to digital formats: “Mobile-screen size, roaming charges, battery life, and the lack of wi-fi in some destinations has given paper a longer flight time than once we imagined,” he writes.

And certainly, some elements of the industry will always live more comfortably on paper than screens.

But the worrisome part of Nourry’s conversation with Gill may not be in his colorful disdain for the basic ebook as “a stupid product” but in how some in the industry seem unsatisfied with a consumer desire that an ebook be, as he puts it, “exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.”

What if that’s all the market ever wanted from an ebook?

by Porter Anderson - Publishing Perspective February 6, 2018

How is the political climate in the United States is affecting the sales of socially relevant books? One Canadian publisher says the ‘Trump bump’ is real.

‘The Trump Era Has Made It Important’

Concepts of diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism are the stock-in-trade of Canadian children’s book publisher Margie Wolfe and her team at Second Story Press in Toronto.

“We’ve done this for a very long time,” Wolfe says in an interview from her offices with Publishing Perspectives. “And we don’t do anything else. It’s taken time, particularly on the kids’ books side for people to accept—parents, educators, librarians—for people to accept that you can deal with difficult content for young people and do it in a way that’s both compelling and often entertaining.”

Near the end of January this year, Wolfe took part in the Children’s Books Salon—produced by Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurter Buchmesse New York—where international publishers met to discuss new titles and trends in the children’s book market.

There, during a comprehensive presentation by children’s books editors from HarperCollins, Wolfe asked if US publishers have seen changes to the children’s and YA book market as a result of the divisive American political climate.

‘The Response of the Consumer’

“The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them.”Margie Wolfe

While there were some at the Children’s Books Salon in New York City who said that they couldn’t see a direct correlation between the charged politics of the moment and book sales, “There were at least four people,” Wolfe says, “who came up to me later” during some of the event’s networking sessions among editors, “and told me that they are seeing response.

“It’s not so much in what you’re commissioning,” she says, “that you see the reactions. It’s about the response of the consumer now. If before Trump you were doing some of this kind of books for children and you weren’t getting a response, the Trump era has made it important that there is a big consumer response, and we’ve seen that.

“Some of the rights we’re selling is because of this” political climate in which immigration has become such a fiercely contested flash point. “For example, refugees are not bad people, and the parents who want someone to explain that will look to a book like Where Will I Live? about children looking for a home. They’re seen as human beings, not as aliens or awful people.”

This is, Wolfe says, a very clear “positive impact on a publisher like ourselves. The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them, a way that enlightens without being scary.

“And,” Margie Wolfe laughs softly, “more publishers—colleagues of mine, who would never have described their books as dealing with human rights in the past?—are describing them that way now.”

‘Caring and Compassionate Human Beings’

Not unlike Sweden’s Olika Förlag with its 11-year track record of working exclusively in books for children that address what’s “different” in society and the concept of “the other,” Second Story began its operation as a house dedicated to publishing feminist-inspired books.

Second Story, however, was based originally in more adult material and has been in operation far longer than Olika: this is a 30 year old house, established in 1988.

“I came from Women’s Press,” Wolfe says, “and so I was dealing primarily with adult women’s feminist publishing that dealt with a lot of the issues we’re seeing again today.

“But when we started Second Story, along with the adult program, we started developing more books for young people with the belief that if you can figure out how to tell it so it doesn’t feel like a lesson, then there are important things you can tell children from a young age. Then you’re not trying to change people’s minds as adults because they’re growing up with content that will hopefully create caring and compassionate and active human beings.

“One of the big breakthroughs for us was Holocaust books for young readers. we started doing them about 20 years ago. At first, the reaction was, ‘You can’t tell these kinds of difficult stories to children, you have to wait until they’re older.’

“But the first one won a children’s choice award. (There are several children’s choice awards in Canada, many run by libraries.) And the second one won a children’s choice award, from the library association here.

“And then, we did a book called Hana’s Suitcase.” That book, written by Karen Levine, was published in 2002 by Second Story and now proudly is displayed with a blurb by Bishop Desmond Tutu, who writes: “How extraordinary that this humble suitcase has enabled children all over the world to learn through Hana’s story the terrible history of what happened and that it continues to urge them to heed the warnings of history.”

Basically, Wolfe and Second Story had captured a mic-drop moment with Hana’s Suitcase and put to rest a lot of assertions that young readers weren’t ready for serious topics when told well and sensitively.

Hana’s Suitcase, Wolfe says, “has in the end become Canada’s most-awarded children’s book ever. Random House handles it in the United States, but we have it in more than 40 languages.” In Canada’s award program called the Silver Birch—in which librarians nominate books and children vote on them—Hana’s Suitcase holds a unique position as “the favorite of the favorites,” taking the “Ultimate Silver Birch Award” from the Ontario Library Association.

The book is Levine’s account of Japanese research into the case of Hana Brady, whose empty suitcase, dated May 16, 1931, was found marked Waisenkind, orphan, and sent to Tokyo in 2000 for a Holocaust education center’s exhibition. Levine traced the story, as told in a CBC documentary, of the Czechoslovakian Hana Brady, the impact on her family of the Nazi invasion, and the memories of Hana’s brother who, as it turned out, had moved to Canada.

“The book was a breakthrough,” Wolfe says, “for many people trying to do difficult stories for younger people. And that allowed us even more breadth. So now, we’ve done everything from euthanasia to same-sex marriage, we’ve done books on refugees, a picture book on Malawa, work with a child-abuse center. And if you read the stories, none of them are scary.

“They’re not scary stories. They’re great stories with important content. So the kid doesn’t know he’s learned anything,” she says with a laugh. “He just knows he’s read a great story that he remembers or she remembers. That’s what’s made it fabulous for us.

“In the past year, we’ve become the first publisher to get an award from the Civil Liberties Association” of Canada. And people who are foreign publishers looking for a certain kind of book have learned to come to us because they know this is the kind of work we do.”

And Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, Wolfe says, has selected Second Story over the major houses to have the North American rights to its own upcoming book, All About Anne, coming later this year with illustrations by Huck Scarry and a special set of responses to questions asked by children in many countries about Anne Frank’s story.

Image is of Margie Wolfe. Image: Second Story Press

 

Have you ever been an inspiroror? Are you unsure what one is? Well, my almost-nine-year-old niece Marie seems to know. We share the exact same February birthday along with an affinity for writing stories. A few months ago, when Marie’s mom attended Back-to-School Night, she spotted this and texted it to me:

“My aunt Cathy is the writer of: the art car. She is an inspiroror. I love love her, and her writeing.” — Marie.

Come on! It would be hard to feel rejected after that kind of praise. Marie loves me; she was spot-on drawing my poofy brown hair and art car t-shirt. And after seeing this mini-article she wrote, I was motivated to write my own blog post (this one!) after a long dry spell.

Inspiroror-ation comes from unexpected places. I’ve never drawn a comic strip, but in October, I was motivated by the morning news of all things. I watched Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello on CNN as they reported on several random stories. My brain strung them all together, and I drew a cartoon to illustrate what the news felt like that day.

I’m not going to post my lame drawing, because I prefer to avoid politics. Plus, it’s just really embarrassingly bad! At the time, I thought it was the CNN anchors that inspired me, but I now believe it was one of my writer friends, Lisa Sinicki. Lisa is a public relations professional in Atlanta, and author of My Mother Served Gouda When Company Came: Scenes from a cheese-lover’s life. You can find it on Amazon.

We became friends through an online Mastermind facilitated by Dan Blank, founder of WE GROW MEDIA. Lisa and I, along with a few others from that Mastermind group, have kept in touch and continue to support each other. Lisa draws playful cartoons, which she regularly posts in her newsletter. I recommend you buy Lisa’s cheese book (it’s gouda!) on Amazon and that you subscribe to her newsletter: Queen of the Chronic Overthinkers.

One of Lisa’s recent comics called “A Visit From the Idea Fairy” had my husband and I cracking up. I wrote to tell her the good news: “Lisa, it made us spit soda out of our noses! Someone needs to buy them!” She replied that she submitted some of her cartoons to The New Yorker: “I sent a couple of early one-panel things that got rejected. I recently sent in five better ones. I imagine that IF I keep submitting eventually something will stick.” I admire Lisa’s positivity, because I’m sure she’s much like me and other creative professionals who struggle to stay confident in the face of rejection.

For me, I think it was a large dose of false confidence that propelled me into action on my CNN/Lisa-Sinicki-inspired comic-strip-drawing day. I finished my masterpiece, and I should have quietly filed it away; instead, I sent it to The New Yorker. Wait, what? Yeah, I did. I guess I wanted to be like my inspiroror—Lisa! Then, I waited. And waited. And then, I got rejected!

Are you familiar with a site called SUBMITTABLE? It’s an app where writers and artists can submit their works for possible publication. Check it out and you’ll find yourself going down a literary rabbit hole. Before I could mutter “submittable,” The New Yorker rejected my first-ever political cartoon. Undeterred, I submitted a few writing samples to other publications. As a result, an online site called Parent Co. accepted my personal essay called “If These Scars Could Talk.” It was published on Nov. 4, 2017 as a part of their November writer’s contest based on the word prompt: gratitude. YOU CAN READ IT HERE!

ME: I’m on a roll! That thinking led me to submit some more. I’ve had a short story called “Yellow” sitting in my computer for about a year. I sent it out to a few publications, and an online literary magazine called STORGY accepted it (to be published on Feb. 16). In both instances, I chose to adopt Lisa Sinicki’s mantra: “If I keep submitting, eventually something will stick.” (This should be a meme for creative professionals).

“Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car” is my first children’s book.

My first—and last!!—political cartoon wasn’t published in The New Yorker, and I don’t know what sort of response I’ll get for my short-story “Yellow” once it appears on STORGY. But some positive wins have happened since I launched my children’s book last year. Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Book—All Ages for 2017. I’ve also spoken/presented at more than 35 elementary schools since launching my book. And the biggest win happens at that sweet moment when a student tells me, “You inspired me! I can’t wait to get home and write my own book.”

So, who is your inspiroror? Are you inspiroror-ing anyone? And as always, Be Amazing!

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