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Director’s Desk: Amazon, Frankfurt, and the Benjamin Franklin™ Awards

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by Jan Nathan, Executive Director, Publishers Marketing Association (currently IBPA)

Why Overpay Amazon?

Ever since Amazon.com sent many of our members a document that requires them to offer a 60 to 65 percent discount, my phones have been ringing off the hook. Talking with callers, I began to wonder. How come PMA members are fulfilling orders directly to Amazon.com and giving them the 60 to 65 percent discount when they could be giving 50 to 55 percent? As we’ve announced, PMA has made an arrangement with Baker & Taylor that lets all PMA members register with this wholesaler at no fee, and have two copies of each book stored in each of the B&T warehouses, to be reordered when necessary. By taking advantage of this arrangement, you can use B&T to fill all Amazon.com orders, and give B&T its discount of 50 to 55 percent instead of giving Amazon 60 to 65 percent. This would not only be more profitable; it would also increase your business with B&T, which might get you better discounts from them in the future.

Just a thought, but one many PMA publishers might consider.

Report from Frankfurt

The 2003 Frankfurt Book Fair was a whirlwind of activity, with new management, a new interior design, and a new location for PMA in a very active area within Halle 8, where Lisa Krebs and I represented our members. For those who have never been to this book fair, here’s a quick summary of how it differs from national exhibitions in America: it’s huge. There are nine buildings, some multi-storied, all containing publishers from around the world who are there to either acquire titles or to license rights to titles they publish. Halle, or building, 8 contains English-language publishers, primarily, although others are intermingled.

A typical day at the Frankfurt Book Fair has appointments starting at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and ending at 6:00 p.m. You schedule appointments with publishers from various countries around the world every half hour throughout the day, and if an appointment ends early, you tend to squeeze someone in who had forgotten to make an appointment with you. This is the pattern from Wednesday through Saturday (the fair is open on Sunday, but Europeans do not like to work on weekends, so most of them have left).

Some general observations may help many of you prepare for Frankfurt in years to come.

Though we say thisover and over again, each year we end up with books that contain “America” or “U.S.” in the title. These books do not “travel” when it comes to rights sales. Publishers overseas do not even want to look at them. Also, potential buyers will quickly pass over books with American references–for instance, dollars, measurement in cups and teaspoons, pictures of people who are clearly American.

Each person who comes to the PMA stand tends to have a specific need. They want titles that will expand and improve their lists. And many of them state that they are looking for bestsellers only. We then have to help them define bestseller not just in terms of immediate gratification–numbers sold the first year–but in terms of sales that will continue for years to come.

The more concise the book, the better, for translation. Many times we hear that a publisher likes a certain title but the cost of translating it could make it unprofitable. Often, translations into languages such as German and Dutch run much longer than the original, which means that a 250-page book becomes a book with 330 pages, or even more.

Four-color books are difficult to sell. Potential buyers may ask to co-publish an edition–they’ll send you their translated black plate and have you print with your next U.S. version. But this is not always possible, especially when translations run longer so that text and illustrations no longer match up.

Books with anything other than black text on a color page are especially hard to sell because the foreign publisher will need to change more than just the black-plate print.

Again, anything with poetry or poetic elements tends not to sell, since rhyming is exceptionally difficult to translate.

Humor doesn’t generally travel well.

What is selling? Parenting books, business books, titles on health and sexuality, computer books (unfortunately, we didn’t have enough of these this year), spiritual and inspirational titles, some travel books, and fiction, biography, and memoirs that relate to a specific ethnicity or area. Some books seem to move into just about every area in the world, others sell only in certain countries.

If publishers got interested in your books at Frankfurt this year, be sure to see Bob Erdmann’s article on page 29 for advice on how to turn the interest into sales.

Benjamin Franklin Awards™ Deadline is This Month

Within the pages of this newsletter, you’ll find the final call for entry for the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Awards™. All books carrying a copyright date of 2003 are eligible to enter this year’s competition. Don’t put it off until it’s too late. The December 31 deadline is a firm one; our judges have already received the initial batch of books and have begun judging.

We look forward to receiving your entry in this competition and to celebrating with all the winners and finalists at the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ ceremony on June 2, 2004, at the Chicago Downtown Marriott in Chicago, Illinois.

Ho Ho Ho

Finally, warm and happy wishes from all of us at the PMA office and on the PMA board during the upcoming holiday season!

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