Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chip MacGregor ~ Blogging from BEA

Chip MacGregor is a literary agent and the President of MacGregor Literary

Ten things I’ve noticed at this year’s Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York…

E-Books: Amazon just announced that they’re selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed books. So yes, digital titles are outselling printed titles. But… that’s a bit of a tricky fact. Amazon will sell anything you choose to stick into a digital file (your company’s annual report, your seminar files, your class notes), so not every e-book they’re selling is really a “book.”

Readers: The color Nook is great, will read the most types of files, and allows you to surf the web. B&N is announcing a touchscreen Nook today. Apple has sold a couple million iPads, and it remains a cool devise, though most at the show feel it’s more a sales tool and less an e-reader. Kindle is still the leader, though it’s clear the folks at Amazon are doing everything possible to tick off publishers. The Sony Reader is trying to make a comeback with a touchscreen. Can’t see what feature Border’s Kobo Reader offers, or why the Pandigital or Alex e-reader cost so much. (This year’s BEA is being held in conjunction with BlogWorld and the New Media Expo, btw.)

Short and Cheap: If there’s one trend that’s clear among e-book documents, it’s that the short story and novella are coming back via digital platforms, and that a low price point (some as low as 99 cents) is motivating people to buy them.

Fiction Rules the Digital World: At the Digital Book Conference (a sort of pre-conference session) it was made clear that fiction dominates e-book sales. Some publishers claim fiction is outselling nonfiction on e-books by a ten-to-one margin.

And History Rules Fiction: Any quick look at a publisher’s list of novels will reveal that historical stories still hold mass appeal. From Amish (I’ve had more than one publisher ask me, “Do you have anything Amish?”) to The Great Immigration to British Class Stories, history rules.

Amazon is now a Publisher: The online retailer announced they’re starting their fifth publishing line – Thomas & Mercer, a line of thrillers. That goes along with Montlake, their romance line, and means they’ll compete directly with their suppliers. Eventually a major publisher is going to stop working with Amazon.

Stores Still Matter: A study here revealed only 6% of people who buy a book were satisfied by their online browsing experience… so 94% of readers want another way to view books. Which means the bookstore still matters. Now everybody is trying to figure out how to make money turning bookstores into showrooms.

Barnes and Noble may be for sale: Which makes no sense, since the retailer just fought off a buyout. But that’s the word at the show. And, of course, Borders is still trying to survive and remake itself.

This year’s International Focus in on Italy: Um… yeah. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend in Eat, Pray, Love, “If Italy ever invades Ethiopia again, and is successful this time, you can brag about knowing a language that is spoken in TWO countries.”

The Big Books include: Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, film critic Roger Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself, Justin Torres’ debut We The Animals, Alexsander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing, Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One, and Ronald De Feo’s Calling Mr. King. There are always celebrities here (Ellen Degeneres and Diane Keaton are both doing book signings), and the lunatic fringe lives on. To wit: Lawyer Mark Lane, who created a cottage industry by claiming conspiracies in the JFK assassination (until all were proven untrue) has a new book, this time detailing the conspiracies of the RFK assassination. It’s never too late to be crazy. 


Edwina said...

Always great to hear from you!

Thanks for the update!

Meg Moseley said...

Thanks for the report, Chip. Now I'd better start that story about the Amish in Italy....

Sarah Forgrave said...

Tons of great information here, Chip. Thanks for sharing!

Rick Barry said...

The one thing that never changes is the fact that everything always changes. Thanks, Chip, for this roundup from the ever-changing realm of publishing!

Ane Mulligan said...

I'm glad to hear about the numbers of print books still sold compared to e-books. Very encouraging.

I like my iPad, love it in fact. But I find I still prefer a print book. The e-readers are great for traveling. Much better that than 6 books weighing down my suitcase. But at home, I reach first for a print book.

While I realize the world is becoming more electronic as time goes on, and the younger generations love technology, methinks print will not die. There's something relaxing about curling up with a good physical book. Much more relaxing than electronic.

Michael Ehret said...

I can't wait to test what my preference will be--real book or ereader. But I have to say, as I age, I think the ereader will take prominence.

You can change the size of the font on those things! LOL.

Chip thanks for the info. Always good.

Gina Holmes said...

This was great, Chip. Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

Carla Olson Gade said...

Great recap. Very interesting to hear all that's going on.

Karen said...

Thanks for being "eyes" for us. Hope the new touch screens aren't messing with the ink technology that makes the best e-readers readable.

Dan Walsh said...

Great update, Chip. Great to see the pulse is still strong, and you're right on it.

John K. said...

Mr. MacGregor certainly seems to have an underlying negativity towards both Amazon (they'll publish anything like annual reprots...and i wonder just how many of those they've published compared to books. C'mon on...) and authors publishing eBooks.

A little more objectivity and a little less snarkiness would be appreciated. It's interesting to read several agents' blogs on their BEA experience. They all talk about Amazon and EBooks and they all have polar and contradictory opinions from one another. Fear seems to ooze out of the cracks of some of the folks berating Amazon. Why is that....?

Chip MacGregor said...

No negativity toward Amazon, it's just fact. (1) They'll publish anything. It's true. That's why they started their self-publishing side. (2) They're selling a ton of documents besides actual e-books. (3) They were a SELLER of books, now they're becoming a PRODUCER of books, putting them in direct competition with their main suppliers. It's an odd decision, based on profit. (4) And yes, that has ticked off all the major publishers. But (5) I don't have anything against authors doing ebooks. I'm all for it. Finally (6) I'm only a tad snarky, but at least I'm honest. So... maybe John can tell us if the rumors of Amazon hiring people to go onto blogs and defend them are true?

John Kelly said...

Thanks for clarifying, Chip. Don't know about the Amazon rumor. Just a lowly writer here.

I get a little concerned when it appears there's misinformation. Kind of like what's happened to Barry Eisler and his Thomas & Mercer deal. Even when he elucidates the facts, there are still snarky comments from agents and publishers (see he & Joe Konrath's latest dialogue on his website Here: http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/2011/05/be-monkey-conversation-about-new-world.html)
Of course, publishers aren't going to like Amazon - it's direct competition. But publishing is too bottom line for publishers to pull out of Amazon as a distribution channel. They may not like it, but they're not going to risk losing significant dollars over it.

I really do appreciate hearing all sides of this debate. It fascinates me (especially as a writer) because it doesn't need to be an either or proposition (ebooks vs. traditional publishing). At the end of the day, it looks favorable to writers (assuming they have a terrific book to sell) and that's obviously one of the reasons it's so interesting to watch.



Chip MacGregor said...

That leaves one piece out of the puzzle, John. Imagine you sold shoes, and you relied on a trusted supplier to provide you with leather. Then, after several years of doing business, you discovered your leather supplier was going into the shoe business, in direct competition with you. That's exactly what has happened here, and I don't think publishers are going to go along with it. Eventually, some of the big houses are going to pull out of Amazon. They're tired of Mr Bezos trying to ruin their business -- and I don't blame them.

John Kelly said...


The fact remains, it isn't just Amazon but technology that has created this wave. Publishers may pull out (I still really doubt that) but I believe you're going to see more and more authors jump ship to go to Amazon (and whoever else has a distribution channels other than traditional publishers). I agree with Mr. Eisler; it's not about ideology. It's about business. It's amazing to me to hear you say that 'Mr. Bezos trying to ruin their business...' when so much of this e-book shift was initially dismissed by the publishing industry. Several prominant agents have also been, well, let's use that word again, snarky. Fear breeds this. If the industry truly weren't worried about it, you'd simply dismiss it. Instead, you seem to be attacking it instead of trying to find ways to make it work for you.

As a agent, if one of your clients receives a lucrative offer from Thomas & Mercer, would you steer him/her away from it? By the way in your initial repsonse you said you didn't have anything negative against Amazon. Your tone towards them suggests otherwise.