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Sourcebooks NEXT.

Sourcebooks Next Blog

We’re at a historic point in the transformation the book.

Ebooks, reading devices, retailers and e-tailers, software and apps, and all the cool things we haven’t even imagined yet are changing the face of reading, entertainment and learning. Sourcebooks Next is our blog looking not from the perspective of pundit or prognosticator, but from the perspective of a publisher deeply engaged in the workings of the transformation. Please feel free to join us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One of the ongoing conversations at Book Expo America this year was the growth of ebooks. How fast is the market transforming? Is it cannibalizing the print book market? If so, which part? Or is it expanding readership? And all of the potential ramifications and implications of these questions.

I heard people say things like, “yes, ebooks are only a small percent of total book sales now, but you can see how they’re going to be 60% or 70% of the market in a few years.” And I thought to myself, “Really?” The “book industry” is not just one industry; books are purchased by different types of users and for different reasons. So it stands to reason that different parts of the market will transform at different speeds.

What currently sells in physical books

When you break out broad categories of physical books sold in 1st quarter 2011 (data from Bookscan), here’s what you see:

1st Quater book Sales

So the single largest category of physical books sold is adult non-fiction which makes up 42% of that market.

What’s selling in ebooks

On the other hand, when you look at what’s selling in ebooks, it’s primarily narrative. The only real data I can cite here are our own figures and the ebook bestsellers lists from individual e-tailers, which are dominated by fiction (the NY Times e-bestsellers separate fiction and non-fiction, but you can’t infer comparative volumes). For example,

  • Looking at BN Nookbook top 100 bestsellers, there were 12 non-fiction ebooks on the list.
  • On the Kindle top 100 bestsellers (paid), there were 16 non-fiction titles.

These counts were taken at one point in time last week and these lists change hourly. I checked back 3 other times and the results were roughly the same (under 20% of the bestselling titles). This is pretty much in line with what’s being reported by publishers.

Here is a chart of Sourcebooks’ unit sales for physical books:

Sourcebooks Physical book sales chart

And the same breakout for ebooks:

Sourcebooks eBook sales chart

So while the majority of our physical book sales are in adult non-fiction, the majority of our ebook sales are in adult fiction.

So what’s missing in this picture?

Right now we’re seeing relatively weak conversion of adult non-fiction to ebooks. While this category of physical books has declined a bit in the last few years (down 1.1% in Q1 2011, per Bookscan), as noted above, it’s still 42% of the print book business.

 Again via Bookscan, here were the 5 largest categories of adult non-fiction for Q1 2011:



General Non-Fiction









Reference is the biggest category of non-fiction and our experience at Sourcebooks is that reference is also the hardest category to get right in ebooks. At Sourcebooks, reference is highly formatted: lots of subsections, sidebars, pictures, diagrams, pull-quotes, etc. It’s highly “browseable,” “dippable,” not necessarily a linear reading experience. All the things that we put in to make the book more experiential as a printed book are the very things that are harder to replicate as an experience in an ebook. And there are so many different kinds of reference books.

The other difficult transformation area right now is children’s books (as distinct from young adult books). E-tailers’ bestsellers lists, publisher-reported data, and our own data are not suggesting strong conversion to ebooks yet for juvenile books, outside of cross-over YA (e.g., The Hunger Games and Twilight).

The importance of narrative

Stories seem to be at the heart of ebooks right now. Even the successful non-fiction ebooks we’re seeing skew to narrative - memoirs and biography and history. They’re all stories – and they’re all linear reading experiences.

Are apps the future of adult non-fiction and/or children’s books?

One of the interesting questions being asked today is what can digital look like for illustrated children’s books and reference products? It’s one of the things we’ve been thinking about a lot at Sourcebooks. Although it is still early days, I am inclined to believe that we are likely to make real progress with apps and websites. For example, you can look at the Books bestsellers list on Apple’s App Store and see a lot of illustrated children’s books.

That thinking is also why we decided to turn the #1 bestselling Fiske Guide to Colleges into the iPad app Fiske Interactive College Guide. And it’s at the heart of the development work that we’re now doing with our authors and other partners.

What do you think? Feel free to jot your ideas in the comments.

As always, looking forward to the conversation.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Name is Not IsabellaMichael Bolton called it a "wonderful thing" and Sinatra crooned that it’s "many splendored," but I’ll align with the Beatles, correct as always when they told us "love is all you need." As a reader, how many times have you just fallen so in love with a story, with its characters, with a writer’s exquisite turn of phrase, that you wanted to shout it to the world? When you’re a publisher, sometimes you get to do just that.

Two years ago at the Bologna Book Fair I ran into a self-published children’s picture book called My Name Is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry. Mixed in on a shelf with other small- and self-published books hoping for translation rights buyers to fall across it, it needed a little attention. I had a read and fell in love.

And I remember asking to take a copy for just a moment and running back to our booth to just show it to our team. I had to tell people about it!! Jennifer had done an amazing job publishing that lonely little book. She’d enlisted the terrific Mike Litwin to illustrate and she told a story that is at once a remarkable read-aloud, an educational powerhouse, and a touching connection between parent and child. The book was well-printed and she’d begun to sell copies wherever she could, plus snare a few awards. If I’m remembering right, she’d sold something like 1800 books.

And I remember thinking this book is brilliant and there are so many people who are going to love it. So right away, I tried getting in touch with Jennifer. I emailed. I asked my friend who’d represented her at Bologna to connect us. I was definitely possessed as only a person in love can be. And I was possessed because I believed we could bring Jennifer to a much bigger platform, that our team could be a megaphone for her (and for Isabella!).

My Name is Not AlexanderAmong the first things we did with Jennifer was to begin planning the future ­ we planned and began work on a second book almost immediately, the companion book for boys, My Name Is Not Alexander (we’ve since announced the second Isabella book for Spring 2012). One of the most important things we’ve done with Jennifer is worked with her to develop her characters and we started plotting how to build these characters as a "brand" of sorts. Most importantly, we wanted to allow Jennifer to never again worry about printers’ shipments and bills, packing boxes, collecting invoices, or cold-calling promotional appointments or reviewers. We wanted her to get back to flexing her creative muscle ­ in short, we wanted to let the writer write. When you love a writer that much, helping them be their absolute best is just one way of sharing that love with the world.

The earliest results for My Name Is Not Isabella included a big one ­ on January 9, 2011, author Jennifer Fosberry and illustrator Mike Litwin became New York Times bestselling authors, as the book snared 9th position on the Times Children's Picture Book list. How? Well, as both authors and publishers know, it’s not that easy. For starters we coordinated a big tour with bookstores and schools for Jennifer, putting her in front of kids, teachers, and libraries nationwide while we did the heavy lifting of tying in media and local booksellers along the way. And this spring we coordinated another tour as My Name Is Not Alexander came out.

We also very early personally showed it to booksellers that we knew would have an affinity for this book. And they got behind the book in some very important ways because what’s important is not just for the publisher or the publishing house to love the book, but for the love to spread. For booksellers, librarians, readers, bloggers, reviewers, teachers, and lots of other people to love the book.

As a result, we got heavy placement with our partners at national chain bookstores, who identified the book as a major one at early-season marketing meetings held with select major publishers. And we got a big break when bookseller Rona Brinlee raved about it on her holiday round-up on NPR’s Morning Edition. Was it a lucky break? You bet, we were blessed that Rona loved the book ­ but it was connections that started the train rolling when our matchmaking sales rep Tom Murphy plucked it out for Rona and suggested, "I think you might love this."

And our bookselling army has kept finding others who share the love. We just announced that Jennifer’s books have been optioned by Facinelli Films, led by Peter Facinelli, of Twilight and Nurse Jackie fame. Also, in exclusive partnership with the merchandising team at a major retailer, later this year you’ll see Isabella’s paper dolls, available as a companion to the books on prominent display in stores. Paper dolls!

Ebook users will also find My Name Is Not Isabella available as an innovative recordable book on the Nook Color ­ readers can experience the entire picture book, listen-along as the author (and her daughter!) perform the book for you, or record the book themselves for a loved one. And you’ll see other innovative and playful forms of the books soon, including apps and animated readalongs for devices we wouldn’t have imagined having "books" on years ago!

Like most great loves, the affair renews continually. It takes a lot of people and tremendous number of details to successfully unfold this kind of love story. Every day someone on our team pulls an arrow from the quiver and aims for a welcoming new heart. More importantly, every night, homes across the world share in our joy as parents and children together lovingly shout along with the story’s refrain, "my name is NOT Isabella!" And that’s the most important part of this love story.

That's the magic of book publishing the falling in love and making something extraordinary happen. Whether it’s picture books or romance novels or historical fiction or college guides or parenting titles it’s about finding these books that you love and then working incredibly hard (and I mean seriously hard) on behalf of the books and their authors.

This year, 2011, we’ve spread more love then ever before. This week, we brought The Heir, a first novel by Grace Burrowes, a remarkable talent discovered by Deb Werksman whose star is definitely rising, to the New York Times bestsellers list. It has been an extraordinary year for Sourcebooks so far beyond the predictable and ordinary. And it’s really all about finding these books you love and then working incredibly hard to spread that love to others.

As we head into Book Expo America 2011, those of you at the show will see the theme "Authors Are Our Rock Stars" at our booth, and we know we share that feeling with pretty much everyone at the show. We’ll have plenty of love to share about a lot of different authors and books. That’s a big task, but when you love something that much, you just have to spread the word.

Dominique Raccah
Chief Excitement Officer— Sourcebooks

Monday, May 16, 2011

An interesting article on digital transformation asking the question "As tablet computers surge, will video be publishing's next big hit?" was posted today on publishersweekly.com. As a pioneer in successful commercial multimedia publishing, Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah is quoted:

Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah, no stranger to the potential of multimedia, speaks of "a new era of creative partnership," and says 2011 may be the year in which some publishers begin to look and act "a lot more like film directors" for some types of books than the stereotypical fustian, tweedy book person. In college prep titles, a leading vertical for Sourcebooks, Raccah points to new videos produced for the electronic editions of Harlan Cohen's The Naked Roommate and Gary Gruber's SAT 2400—works that are available for sale as videos, in addition to using the videos to sell the books. The term "reader," as a result, Raccah suggests, is almost insufficient at Sourcebooks, which has sold more than five million "media-embedded" units (remember the book-and-CD combos from the 1990s, We Interrupt This Broadcast and And The Crowd Goes Wild?). Rather, Raccah speaks of her "constituents" and "stakeholders" in the marketplace, and stresses that for many titles, publishers should consider electronic editions more a "type of production" than just a publication.

Read the full article at:

The Producers: Books and Video in 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

Last Friday lots of folks from Sourcebooks spent the day at the Spring 2012 Launch. 

So what does a “launch” meeting entail?

Publishers work in different ways and run different calendars, so this explanation is pretty much from the Sourcebooks perspective, but most will have some form of large group introduction to future titles. For traditional book publishing companies, “launch” is often the first time that the whole company is introduced to the new books. It’s a fairly early look.

Among other things, it’s when:

  • The publicity and marketing groups start crafting and planning marketing and publicity plans
  • Each person on the sales teams identifies opportunities and question areas
  • The design department and art directors start developing ideas for covers

Many of these people have looked at some of these books already, but this is usually the first full-group look at them.

The focus for launch is to make sure that you’ve got the right pieces in place. Successful books are made up of hundreds of individual decisions. It’s what makes book publishing such a complicated process. So some of the decisions you’re reviewing are related specifically to what I’d call the merchandising package, including:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Publication date
  • Format (hardcover, paperback, mass market, board book, etc.)
  • Content
  • Trim size

This part of the process is oriented around print books, though increasingly we’re talking about alternate-format concepts at this stage and earlier. Yes, print books are still the vast majority of the book business and there are categories for which ebooks are still not an important part of the business.

And for each book you review a fairly comprehensive data sheet that includes basic data, initial drafts at key selling points, descriptive information, and competitive/comparative books.

The goal at launch is simple: you want the book to create an awesome experience for the reader and a real success for the author. [And it’s heartbreaking every time you don’t…that, by the way, is true for every publisher, but that’s a different post.]

So the thing you spend the most time on is the positioning of the book. What is this book? How does it speak to readers? How do we express that? Positioning is more than a title or a jacket. It’s all of the communication around the work.

You review other books that you’re going to be competing with in the space. What else is there? What’s not worked? What do we know today that we didn’t know when we bought the book? What’s really exciting about this book? What moves people?

You can probably see that there’s a fair amount of fact and data we’re looking at, but also an awful lot of craft. As the publisher, what we’re delivering is a lot of experience and hands-on knowledge of the marketplace. We’re trying to deliver both dollars and “wow” for our partners on the retail end. And ultimately that becomes all about how and where we strike the readers.

Having all of the elements aligned at the beginning is how you can really create a successful book - that having the right vision of the book has enormous impact. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of examples of what good versus bad positioning can do for a book.

I love launch. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s filled with joy, laughter and the possibilities that exist for authors. Even something seemingly as minor as a publication date can make an enormous difference in the life of a book. And titling is something we obsess over. Each book matters.

Friday’s Spring 2012 Sourcebooks Launch was no different. The room was packed. You could feel the energy. There were moments when the room vibrated. And there were books that lit up the room.

And then there were books that needed more work. Books that had real potential but we didn’t seem to have it all wrapped up yet. That’s what launch is for – identifying those needs and opportunities and making sure that what we believe about a book and an author truly come across when we communicate it to the outside world.

Ultimately, we want to create books that create awesome experiences for readers. [If you’re an author and haven’t yet viewed Kathy Sierra’s Creating Passionate Users video, here’s the link:


Books touch you, inspire you, call you to action. This year (2011), we’ve done more of that for authors than ever before in the history of our company. More bestsellers. More awards. More sales. It’s been incredible.

And it all starts with these seemingly mundane but incredibly potent data sheets for every book that help ensure that the idea is right. That the title communicates. The format makes sense. The cover direction is distinct. The publicity and marketing group has an angle. The list of these decisions goes on and on. It’s what makes great books soar, it’s why publishers matter – and if you're very lucky, all these little decisions can turn into something that can look like this:


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