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June 22 2012

Publishing News: Penguin goes back to the library

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

Penguin tests digital library waters

Penguin LogoPenguin Group and ebook distributor 3M announced a pilot program this week to distribute Penguin books in The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. The program is scheduled to begin in August, and if successful, could be rolled out to libraries nationwide. There are a couple conditions, as noted in the announcement: Ebooks for lending will be windowed — or held back — for six months after publication, and the books will expire (and need to be repurchased) after one year.

Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, told the Wall Street Journal "the six-month delay is intended to prevent library e-books from undercutting other sales" and "the renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books."

Over at Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley wrote a nice commentary on Penguin's return to the library and its included conditions. He says Penguin has it all wrong in terms of protecting sales:

"Most recent studies of library patron's borrowing and purchasing habits indicate that the most active library users are also the most active purchasers ... These surveys suggest that windowing will indeed have an impact on sales: it will reduce them, by eliminating their exposure among patrons who would otherwise be among their most fervent marketers."

A Pew Internet study, "Libraries, patrons, and e-books," released this week states: "Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book." Statistics from the report also highlight another important point about awareness:

  • 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services.
  • 53% of all tablet computer owners say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 48% of all owners of e-book reading devices such as original Kindles and NOOKs say they do not know if their library lends e-books.
  • 47% of all those who read an e-book in the past year say they do not know if their library lends e-books.

Brantley says this is an area of untapped opportunity: "[B]oth publishers and libraries should be particularly trying to build relationships with the large portion of the population that is 'e-unaware' — prospective readers who have not been introduced to e-books, or find their adoption too difficult because of digital illiteracy. Libraries can bridge these divides and increase the number of readers that no bookstore or online retailer would be able to reach." Brantley's post is a must-read this week.

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Ebook accounting

Philip Elmer-Dewitt at CNNMoney highlighted an excerpt from a piece by Ken Auletta at the New Yorker (subscription/purchase required) this week that debunks claims and perceptions that ebooks cost almost nothing to produce. In the New Yorker piece, Auletta concedes that ebooks are about 20% cheaper to produce than print books, as they don't require paper, printing, shipping and warehouse, and there are none of the costs associated with book returns. But Auletta points out other cost considerations:

"... [T]hey create additional costs: maintaining computer servers, monitoring piracy, digitizing old books. And publishers have to pay authors and editors, as well as rent and administrative overhead, not to mention the costs of printing, distributing, and warehousing bound books, which continue to account for the large majority of their sales."

Elmer-Dewitt also submits that "[t]he accounting gets even more complicated when you consider that most books cost publishers more than they earn." To this end, Kevin Murphy over at Melville House shared a New York Times graphic that approximates publisher costs and profits for hardcover books and ebooks. According to the graphic, for a $9.99 ebook, a publisher will profit $3.51 to $4.26 — this is profit before overhead costs, such as staff salaries, building rent and utilities.

Tracking news that resonates

The first round of 2012 Knight News Challenge winners were announced this week. The theme for this round of awards was networks. Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice roundup of all the winners, as does The Nieman Journalism Lab, but one startup stood out in its practical approach to solving a problem newsrooms are experiencing across the board: shrinking resources. Using an editorial analytics approach, looks to help editors decide which stories warrant resources. From the Nieman Lab post:

" aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news — scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what's resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own — and competitors' — stories. will sort not just headlines but news topics — to spot trends and spikes in interest."

You can read full descriptions of the six winners here and here.


  • The anchor on ebook prices is gone. Now we'll see where they float
  • Open question: Do libraries help or hurt publishing?
  • Dominant form of journalism foretold by Reynolds Journalism Institute
  • More Publishing Week in Review coverage

  • April 02 2012

    Penguin book covers, illustrated by John Griffiths – in pictures

    The illustrator John Griffiths has died aged 85. During his career he produced a number of striking book cover illustrations for Penguin, highlights of which can be seen here

    John Griffiths obituary

    Illustrator whose bold creations adorned Penguin book covers

    In the 1950s there was a spectacular flowering of illustrative talent, much of which emanated from the Royal College of Art, in London. There, "commercial art" and "publicity design" were being redefined by Richard Guyatt as graphic design, with Ruari McLean running a rigorous typography course in parallel with Edward Bawden instilling a sense of deep deliberation into the subtle processes of illustration, offering a perfect example of the happy co-existence of fine art and commissioned work. This subtle blend of the refining of an individual voice, combined with the practical associations with industry, helped launch the careers of David Gentleman, Len Deighton, John Sewell and John Griffiths, who has died aged 85.

    Gentleman remembers "Griff" at the RCA as shy and self-effacing. These traits are entirely absent from his work; he approached illustration with the sure touch of a linocut artist, a difficult skill at which he excelled. At this time, there was little colour work to be had; if an artist wanted to make a bold statement, it was made in line.

    Like Gentleman, John stayed on at the RCA briefly as a junior tutor, an apparently idyllic though hardly lucrative role, which mainly consisted of helping new students negotiate their way around the labyrinthine complex, and developing their own practice with official encouragement. John, who was already married to Barbara Sparks, herself a talented artist in oils and watercolour, found seedy digs off Lavender Hill, in south London – becoming a near neighbour of Gentleman in the process. Both artists would win occasional commissions with largely like-minded organisations: illustrating schools publications such as Time and Tune for the BBC, and producing cover illustrations for Penguin.

    Penguin in the late 1950s was engaged in endless internal struggles to come to terms with the inevitable shift from typographic covers to illustration. Soon after the second world war, Jan Tschichold had designed a revised vertical grid to allow sufficient white space for selling blurb, or a telling vignette, but it would take a dozen years for Penguin to adapt it consistently. John's bold line was ideally suited to create strong visual narratives within this austere and limited setting.

    Penguin tended to pair illustrators with particular authors; Gentleman with EM Forster and CP Snow, Paul Hogarth with Graham Greene. John interpreted a number of Eric Linklater titles, and then proved just as adept with science fiction. But he could do whimsy too; Penguin relaxed totally for the occasional ephemeral and celebratory publications, and Griffiths provided memorable work for these.

    He continued his association with McLean, illustrating wine lists, and then producing the cover and a wonderful visual essay in 1959 on the more eccentric period shopfronts of central London and Brighton, for McLean's innovative arts journal Motif, He would revisit this theme regularly, most notably with the 1964 London Transport poster Rhubarb and Roses, celebrating Covent Garden market, a few years before its closure.

    John was born and educated in north London. An only child, he grew up in a house typically devoid of books and artwork. After brief spells in a drawing office and an advertising agency, where he met Barbara, whom he married in 1950, he pursued his overriding ambition to draw, enrolled at the Working Men's College, and progressed to the foundation course at Camberwell and on to the RCA. Then, with two young children, he took the bold and risky step of leaving London and going freelance. They moved to Teston in Kent, which remained the family home for 50 years. He found work where he could; his longest association being with a New Zealand publisher of school textbooks, which he continued to illustrate long into retirement.

    This was never an easy or lucrative career and, almost inevitably, he was obliged to return to teaching, a compromise that would benefit countless students at Goldsmiths, where he taught film and television studies, and St Martin's School of Art, with further stints at Medway College of Design and Maidstone College of Art.

    John was typical of his generation of versatile illustrators, who could draw straight lines and perfect circles freehand, could produce camera-ready copy, knew how to retouch, match colours, and how different colours and inks printed. Printing and printmaking were his enduring loves, and he hoped to devote himself to silk-screen work on retirement. Instead he took on a full-time caring role for his wife. Some time after her death in 2004, and after a final flourish of printmaking, the ailments of advancing age defeated his unique talents and he had to leave Teston, and join either his son, Edward, in Cambridge, or his daughter, Rachel, in Sanguinet, south-west France. The three agreed on France, where he had two full years, drawing a little, helping at the local school and playing a full part in village life.

    He is survived by Edward and Rachel, and his grandchildren, Robbie, Ella, Morgane and Matthieu.

    John Griffiths, illustrator and printmaker, born 2 August 1926; died 13 March 2012 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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