Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Publishers, Sellers Cross Swords over Sour Sales

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Publishers, Sellers Cross Swords over Sour Sales

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- After the mushroom-puff appetizers were served and air kisses exchanged, the public scolding began.

In a rare family confrontation, notable for some blunt sentiments, the beleaguered community of literary Manhattan gathered within the marble confines of the New York Public Library.

The topic: the fitful state of the book publishing industry in the United States. The results: hand wringing, word wringing and declarations of despair and hope. Before the sometimes tense encounter had ended, Leonard Riggio, the combative chief executive of the nation's largest bookselling chain, Barnes & Noble, had declared before an invitation-only crowd of some 450 publishing executives, editors and writers that his customers "are not just drinking coffee." They are coming to his stores to buy books, he said, and he chided "elite New York publishers" for failing to understand their reading habits. Meanwhile, Cynthia Ozick, the critic and author, accused many of the same publishers of pandering. "Must you give astronomical advances to O.J.'s girlfriend?" she asked. "Must you give a full-page ad for a celebrity book? Whoopi Goldberg?" For an industry ordinarily preoccupied with the frantic hunt for potential best sellers, Monday's literary face-off about the business of books was a rare moment of introspection. The dust-up, organized by The New Yorker magazine, featured Riggio along with three publishing executives and Ozick, who gamely sparred with one other below a huge gold and maroon banner emblazoned with the words "Book Publishing: Dead or Alive?" The subtext of the event was the rather sluggish record of sales for hardcover trade books, the daily bread of the industry. The latest figures from the American Association of Publishers indicates that net sales of hardcover books have fallen by almost 10 percent this year, while on average 45 percent of books shipped by publishers are returned unsold. Such gloomy statistics prompted Alberto Vitale, the chief executive of Random House, to rise from his front-row seat to point out to Riggio that the entire industry has endured "two tough years. …

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