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Publishers Marketplace's lowdown on 2018

A 2018 publishing industry wrap-up by Publishers Marketplace focuses on Trump's impact on the market and the rising influence of women. Still, the top fiction book of the year was written by (ho-hum) two men: Patterson and Clinton.

For the full story (published by Publishers Marketplace online, December 5, 2018):

Trump Books, The Women of Fiction, and Expanded Books Coverage in 2018 
NY Magazine looks at "Book Publishing's No Good, Very Good Year of Trump" for their best of 2018 package. Fortunately, PW debated making Donald Trump their "person of the year," they report, but realized that would be a mistake: "We were afraid that no matter how we explained it, if we put him on the cover, it would look like Publishers Weekly had endorsed Trump." (I can tell you now that here at PL we'll be calling it the Year of the Asterisk, but we won't explain that for a while.)

Holt president and publisher Steve Rubin says he has another "secret" Trump book coming next year. "As the president continues to astound us on a daily basis, if we can get books out there fast enough to take advantage of the insane news cycle, I think we're fine." (Paul Bogaards at Knopf is hoping for a respite: "It's a trend, okay? Trends don't last forever.") At the same time, Rubin notes, "I can't tell you how many books we've turned down about Trump," due to bad writing or just "the scuzz factor."

Even publishers that have profited from high-profile Trump-boosted books have their misgivings. Amy Einhorn at Flatiron Books, who worked on James Comey's book, tells NYM, "While I'm sure many would say [Trump has] had a good effect on publishing, I'm not sure I'd be one of them." She writes, "I think the people who are buying Trump books are book buyers who are not buying books in other areas they'd usually be buying."

At the same time, Einhorn reports that, "Before meeting Comey, we were dubious. Everyone on the left hated him and everyone on the right hated him as well. But the meeting completely changed how we thought about the project. Comey is a born storyteller."

Their second overview piece calls it "the year of the woman" in fiction -- even though the top-selling new novel was from James Patterson and Bill Clinton -- noting that "there has been a grassroots pushback against hot-take nonfiction — one led, of course, by women."

"If you’ll forgive me a maudlin moment, I’m here to declare that the state of fiction is strong, on the basis of no other metrics than excellence, variety, and Oprah's Dictum of Really Great Reads. Trump propped up the industry that prints literature, but women preserved its soul. Forget the White House and screw sales numbers: This golden age of women's fiction is the resistance that we didn't know was coming to save us."

Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, Lisa Halliday, Tayari Jones, Rebecca Makkai, Rachel Kushner, Ottessa Moshfegh and still many others are all part of the argument here. ("And yet another essay could be written about the Asian-American women — R.O. Kwon, Ling Ma, Crystal Hana Kim — who each made their own distinctive mark this year.") And they don't even mention Reese Witherspoon.

A separate year-end good news piece from the Columbia Journalism Review asks, "what's behind a recent rise in book coverage?" Among the positive developments that have nothing to do with Donald Trump, they cite the new Books section at TheAtlantic.com (along with its newsletter, "The Books Briefing," and plans for "additional products"); the concerted increase in coverage of books by New York Magazine; and the NYT's reinvigorated, expanding coverage of books in a variety of ways. (They don't even mention the year's launch of the PBS-NYT Now Read This book club, though BuzzFeed's recently-added book club is noted.)

A spokesperson for The Atlantic indicates that "in the month since its launch, the [books] section was already receiving a 20-percent higher median view time than other sections of the site." And Boris Kachka indicates NYM "started planning for their expansion [of books coverage] in June, after noticing significant feedback in reader surveys about the site's lack of book coverage."

The emphasis of this expansion, however, is on coverage over reviews. The story concludes: "But the best format for them to do so is likely no longer the traditional, single-book, literary review. To break through the noise, editors must translate old-fashioned book coverage to the lingua francas of today's impossibly paced media climate: shareable lists, essays, digestible Q&As, podcasts, scannable email newsletters, hashtags, Instagrams, even book trailers."

Finally, one more year-in-review item of note: Yesterday News Corp chief financial officer Susan Panuccio spoke at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, noting that, "We've been really surprised and really pleased with HarperCollins. They've obviously had been facing headwinds in the past, and there's obviously been Amazon coming in ebooks, and there was a lot of talk about those and the impact that that would have on traditional book publishers, and which, obviously still is a threat. But HarperCollins has had a great last year, and a really good Q1 this year. I think it's because of ongoing investment in getting the right content and the right authors. We've had tremendous success with some first-time authors who had some major hits."

She said their big publishing growth opportunities are in international markets and downloadable audio, the latter of which she acknowledged "are a really small of our business" but growing quickly and still "are a really interesting part of our business." Even though "Amazon has a big slice of that market," Panuccio says they "are probably underpenetrated" in digital in non-English markets and "there are some opportunities to drive that forward."
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