Book Biz: Looking back at 2011 and forward to 2012

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Included in this month’s newsletter are looks forward (2012 Resolution) and backward (2011 Literary Year in Review). While the publishing industry struggles to redefine itself, the same old problems of literacy and accessibility throttle not only the potential of the trade but the ability of our citizens to function in a data driven culture. It’s disheartening to realize that countries like Finland and Barbados have 100% literacy rates while Detroit, Michigan (my birthplace) struggles with a population that is roughly 50% functionally illiterate.

This was our first Christmas in some time without a Borders in town, leaving a Barnes & Noble as the only new book retailer in Livingston County. Fortunately we are about halfway between Ann Arbor and Lansing, which still have a few excellent independent bookstores to shop. My lord, what a decade this has been!

Our publishing company, American Perspective, Ltd., has issued its first book in six years, Uncle Ed Said. It’s a collection of stories about life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the Great Depression. I know it sounds bleak, but the stories are actually humorous. My mother used to tell us, “We didn’t know there was a depression; we just called it life.” The book has been well received and sales are steady if not stellar.

Although we publish irregularly, it’s why we can be empathetic to the trials and tribulations publishers face trying to produce their titles, from creating CMYK PDF cover files with appropriate dpi to persuading the stores, shops and museums to carry our titles.

January 2012 Newsletter

2012 Resolution: Fewer Commas

Twenty five authors and editors submit their New Years resolutions, including Marisa Silver’s, “Use fewer commas.”

Ebook Pricing

Experiments to find the right balance between low eBook pricing while maintaining a level of profitability continues, with the latest iteration trending upward.

Free eTextbooks for California?

Citing the high cost of college level textbooks, a California legislator has proposed converting classes to open source eTextbooks, lowering the overall expense of a college degree.

Amazon Takes on Brick and Mortar…

In its ongoing attempt to commoditize everything and eliminate physical stores, Amazon has introduced a Price Check app that encourages brick and mortar shopping, but allows you to check pricing and order from Amazon online. An author examined the plan in a NY Times article and there are numerous petitions opposing the app, citing Amazon’s ability to forgo sales taxes, among other things.

…Causing Some Geeks to Love Amazon…

Unable to find comfort in a cozy bookstore, scanning a wide variety of genres, formats, designs, and stories, Slate’s Geek-in-Residence proclaims bookstores irrelevant and out of date, while another of the digerati protests his assessment.

…But Not the Kindle Fire

Amazon’s recently introduced Kindle Fire seems to have some off-putting design flaws. Amazon answered with an update automatically delivered and installed, but software was only half the problem. Of interest in the story is that Amazon needs eReader dominance so badly that it loses around $20 on every Kindle sold at Best Buy, Walmart, etc.

Perhaps in response to the negative reviews, Amazon has retreated on one touchy issue so now the Fire can access the Android apps marketplace.

eReader/Tablet/Smart Phone Sales

Google reports 3.7 million devices running their Android O/S were activated this past Christmas. Amazon reports selling a million Kindle readers a week in December, its top-selling items. Too bad it doesn’t make a profit on them.

eReaders have gone from exotic to commodity in just over four years as shown by this assessment of eBooks and eReaders from 2007. With color eReaders selling for less than $60, the B&N concerns about affordability have been addressed. (Confession: I don’t have an eReader, tablet or smart phone. And yes, I know exactly what that makes me.)

Is a Magazine Just an iPad That Doesn’t Work?

So the parent who shot this video would have you believe. When this very short video is over, scroll down and check out the comments.

Still fighting the Google Book Settlement

The Author’s Guild has petitioned the courts for certification of class status to pursue a lawsuit against Google and the Google Book Settlement. Google has asked the court to deny certification claiming each copyright holder needed to file a separate lawsuit.

From Twitter to Best Seller?

Apparently, #whitegirlproblems is a twitter feed that parodies the concerns of a fictional, spoiled twenty-something. The book launches this month.

2011 Literary Year in Review

A revival of interest in Papa Hemingway and the Kennedys, the loss of Steve Jobs and Andy Rooney, and the rise of self-published authors are remembered in this 2011 recap.

Comic Book Brings $2 Million…

A copy of Action Comics #1 with a bizarre provenance sold for $2.16 million at auction last month.

…While Das Kapital only Fetches $50,000

Abebooks announced their top ten rare book sales of 2011 netted $220,000+, including the $51,739 paid for an early edition of Das Kapital. So is Marx smiling or frowning in his grave?

Final Thought

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Past newsletters can be found at

About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.