2009: The Year That Was (Jan. – April)

This post, from Mick Rooney, originally appeared on his POD, Self-Publishing and Independent Publishing blog on 12/24/09.

So, here we go, 2009, the year that was in publishing. This is by no means a conclusive round-up, but the stories and events that caught my eye.

The year began with a lot of anxiety in the publishing world. There were already plenty of rumours and murmurings of editors walking the plank, staff layoffs, and publishers dramatically cutting back on their title commitments for the coming twelve months. We always knew 2009 would be a year of pain and change, whether we liked it or not.
In January, Author Solutions, owned by equity investors Bertram Capital, continued its strategy of development and expansion in the digital print-on-demand publishing world by purchasing Xlibris, a leading publisher in self-publishing services to authors. The purchase was announced on Thursday, January 8th, by Author Solutions CEO, Kevin Weiss. Little did we know in January that Author Solutions would stay firmly in the news, give us plenty to talk about, and ultimately, provide us with the biggest story in publishing later in the year.
The judge presiding over the Amazon/Booksurge antitrust lawsuit requested both legal representatives to attend court in Bangor, Maine. Amazon & Booksurge filed for the lawsuit against them to be dismissed in August 2008. The Judge would eventually rule that Booklocker’s action was valid and Amazon/Booksurge had a case to answer.
The case was taken by Booklocker.com last year following moves by Amazon to cajole some POD publishers into using their own print-on-demand company, Booksurge, for books sold through Amazon.com in the United States. For a period of time last year some POD publishers had their ‘first party’ buy buttons removed by Amazon from their online site. The strategy of Amazon was seen as an attempt to monopolize the POD book market.
I mentioned in an article last Christmas that book retailers in Ireland had performed marginally better in 2008 than on previous profits for 2007. However, the early figures presented in January for the completed trade period suggested that the UK book retail trade recorded profits that were marginally down. This was to be the continued trend throughout the year with layoffs and store closures.
Newsstand beat Blackwells by getting their hands on the first UK Espresso Book Machine. They were confident that they could create a demand for ‘on the spot’ printed books and planned to charge £10 for a standard paperback version and £14 for a large print book. Blackwell Books, also based in the UK, had hoped to be the first company to install these machines, but following delays their first installed machine did not appear until April in their bookstore in Charing Cross, London. 

“The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.”

And so wrote Motoko Rich in the New York Times, January 27th, 2009. It was one of the most widely discussed articles for a long time in publishing. Rich was writing about the rise in self-publishing and the changes the publishing industry faced. It was nice to see a well established newspaper cast a cursory eye over an area of the publishing business which has long exploded into life. You can reflect back on that article and read my own thoughts on it. 

Read the rest of the post, which picks up with February, on Mick Rooney‘s POD, Self-Publishing and Independent Publishing blog. Also see the May – August post, and watch the blog for an upcoming September – December post.