January 28, 2005
News & Opinion: Getting Great Ink
People have been saying a lot of nice things about us and we just wanted to thank them. Robert Scoble told me he uses us for market research as he develops his new book (he also blogged it here.), Hello World gushed about a little gift package Aaron sent them, and Brendon at Slacker Manager yesterday listed us as a great place to go to find out about business books.
We have also being getting real physical ink. Jack had a letter to the editor published in Fast Company about their Was "Built To Last" Built To Last? article (he sided with the book). Jack was also recently quoted in a Crain's New York article about business scandal books [sub. needed]. Here is the opening from the piece that has Jack's blurb:
Back in December 2002, the future looked bright for publishers eager to bring out nonfiction books about greedy executives intent on corporate deceit. Wall Street Journal reporter Charles Gasparino had no trouble inking a deal in the middle six figures with the Free Press for a book on how prominent analysts cheated investors out of millions of dollars.
"The stars aligned very well for me," says Mr. Gasparino, whose book Blood on the Street has just hit bookstores. "We had a tremendous number of bidders.
Mr. Gasparino might face a different set of stars today. Following a parade of money-losing Enron titles, the business scandal category stands close to collapse, a victim of the exhaustive coverage found in newspapers, on cable television and on the Internet. Sales for Blood on the Street and the upcoming Conspiracy of Fools--the last of the big Enron books--may decide if the stars ever line up again for major books on financial villains.
"This will be a test," says Jack Covert, president of 800-CEO-READ, an Internet supplier of business books to corporate clients. A fan of Conspiracy of Fools author Kurt Eichenwald, Mr. Covert is betting that title will succeed when it comes out in March. "If it doesn't, maybe the genre is beyond resuscitation," he says.
The category goes back to the financial scandals of the 1980s and the books that dissected them, Barbarians at the Gate and Den of Thieves. Both titles came out in the early 1990s, and each sold more than 300,000 copies nationwide in hardcover.
The rub is that it has been pretty much downhill from there. In recent years, the merger of America Online and Time Warner inspired three high-profile books that were commercial failures, while the Enron scandal led to about half a dozen hardcover titles that made rapid progress to the remainder table.
Even The Smartest Guys in the Room, a book which sold an estimated 70,000 copies, was a money-loser for the Penguin business imprint Portfolio, which paid $1.4 million for the publishing rights. Some of the other major Enron titles sold as few as 25,000 hardback copies.
"There is still a market for these books when they're done well, but whether it's a best-seller market is the question," says Publisher David Rosenthal of Simon & Schuster, which is releasing 200,000 copies of James B. Stewart's Disney War in March. "You may not be willing to spend a million dollars."
Lowering their sights may be all that publishers can do, as they gradually run out of blockbuster categories.
Our last mention just hit newsstands in the current issue of Business 2.0 (Feb. 2005). I was quoted in a short piece about the podcasting phenomenon. And I quote (myself):
"Audio on the Internet is not interesting, " says Todd Sattersten, who runs 800-CEO-READ's podcasts. "What is interesting is getting it on your audio player so you can listen whenever you want."
It been a good month for us. Again thanks for all the support. I think you will be excited by some of the things we have planned to roll out over the next three months.