Friday, March 27, 2009

All I Know About Management I Learned From My Dog

For the last many months I have been writing this book and it will finally come to be a reality. It is a short book ---about 100 plus pages. I was fortunate enough to discover Tiffany Schwarz, a brilliant young photographer. The book will contain about 20 great pictures of Angel in full color. I am in the process now of working on the final editing, design, and creating a working dummy before production.

If you would like to see it, call Pinky my legal assistant at 212-790-9200 X560 and she will send it you. In any event, read the following introduction and let me have your comments.


Enter “Angel”

After 68 years of a special marriage, my wife Marcia died. I was grieving and I sought help. As weeks of counseling turned into months, my sage and sympathetic therapist, said, “You will feel better if you get a dog.” And week after week, he would walk me to the door of his office, and as I left I heard, “You will feel better if you get a dog.” I thought to myself disdainfully, “I had a dog, in fact I had several dogs”. Finally one sunny Sunday, Paula, my friend and I found a photograph in the local newspaper announcing the “Pet of the Week”. Since I was getting a failing grade in grief management, I thought, “Let’s give this dog thing a shot.”

Little did I expect when I was walking down a path of barking dogs crying for attention at the Briarcliff SPCA and rescuing “Angel”, an 11 year old female Golden Retriever mix with Chow, that I had not only found a companion in my 89th year, but even more important, I now know, I had found my management guru.

Angel is a full sized dog with the typical light and dark brown coloring weighing when I adopted her about 50 pounds. Now because of her full participation in my life, including her regular appearance at the dinner table she is a hefty 71 pounds. As you will see from her photograph she is quite a looker, and her wisdom shows.

In the year that we have been together, Angel has taught me a great deal. Without the benefit of language (which I now realize is less important than I thought it was), I had to understand what Angel’s needs were, and she had to understand mine. I learned there were rules to achieve a harmonious and mutually meaning full relationship between Angel and me.

As I learned about the rules and commands that made us achieve our common objectives, it appeared to parallel my more than half a century as a follower and leader in management. This relationship called for me to establish a compatible leadership style, gain her respect and trust, communicate clearly and consistently, make decisions in an informed manner, and display human values while respecting her animal values.

This seemed to be an epiphany. And I decided to test this bit of wisdom in light of my own business and personal experience and to share this.

I realize that asking you to believe that a dog could enable me to synthesize a career will take a leap of faith. If you are a dog lover, I know I have your attention and I established my credibility many sentences ago. For others, non-dog owners, I beg your patience. Even if you do not give Angel full credit, I think you will find my revelatory moments interesting and helpful in sharpening your management skills. And in the end you might even adopt a dog.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Thank you for clicking on.

The main purpose of the blog is to open a channel of information. I will be posting articles written about publishing, the law, and from time to time some stuff that is hopefully funny, just relieve the tension.

I hope to hear from you. Post your comments , questions and suggestions.

Since both Bob Halper and I attend most of the major shows and would like to meet you if you attend, we will post this information. We are always available at the shows to assist you if needed.

You will find links to other blogs and web pages. For the present you will find a link to the Cowan Liebowitz & Latman web page, and to the Stanford Professional Publishing Course.

Additional links will be added.

The New Recession Play Book

Having grown up during the Depression and having survived the named and unnamed recessions from 1950 (when I first became involved in publishing) to the present, I take what is currently happening to the economy very seriously. To refresh my memory, I read back issues of PW and other media and found that the recession “Playbook” in publishing in 2008 is just about what it was in previous downturns. Here is the drill:

*Reduce payrolls. In recent weeks, Pearson, McGraw Hill, and others have announced staff reductions

*Cut the number of new titles being published. Not a bad idea, since in 2007 we published over 280,000 new titles, and it is estimated that there were 100,000 self-published books released into the market this year

*Maintain retail prices or reduce them where possible in order to make them more attractive to the reader

*Reduce advertising and promotion expenses since there are fewer books being published

*Concentrate on and promote back lists

This playbook is sound, and it will work to some extent. But what is missing is a program that takes advantage of the opportunities that are available in a recession. There are, in fact, some measures that can be done best when the publisher, bookseller and printer are all hurting. These are inevitably issues that are too hot to handle during the good times, but now suddenly become doable. For example:

Returns: The difference between profit and loss for the author, publisher and bookseller is often the outrageous level of returns. While varying by product line, these can range from 25% to 60%. It is estimated that in order to achieve the $15 billion in net trade sales in 2007, there were in excess of $5 billion in returns. The author sees his royalty statement diminished by returns; the publisher sends millions of books to be pulped; and the bookseller incurs the labor and rental space to stock and then take books off the floor, then packing and shipping them to the publisher. All players are punished -- even the consumer who pays a higher retail price because of the inefficiencies in the system. During my tenure as Chairman of New American Library in the 1970s we instituted a “Bonus For Efficiency” program that enabled a retailer to achieve a higher discount if he kept his returns down. After a very painful beginning, the sturdy warriors of NAL persisted and consequently enjoyed years of increased profitability. The program was eventually dropped because not one other publisher in the industry followed suit. The recession provides the publishers and booksellers a unique opportunity to come together for their mutual interest.

*Production scheduling; The back list is the most important asset in the publishing business. Most publishers count on these sales for 50% to 60% of their revenue and a considerable portion of their profit. Printers are now suffering because of the decrease in new title production. The publishers can help their printers by placing orders for the back list on an annual or semi-annual basis, allowing the supplier to print at his option so that he can keep his plant operating at a more economic level. In exchange, the printer is able to bill on the normal delivery date and could possibly share some of the savings with the publisher.

*Technology: The delivery of information has been changing, and it will continue to change. This recession will end, and the publisher should be ready to participate in the new markets. It is prudent to use this period to be ready for the post-recession market by taking advantage of the current “down-time” to develop and implement new technologies.

Are these all the ways to take advantage of a recession? Not really. There are, no doubt, scores of other ways to take advantage of the current business climate. Publishers, printers, booksellers, librarians and just everyday folks in the business are very bright. Put to the test, they can create an entire new Playbook that will put all of us in the publishing industry on the offensive side of the line and get us through the hard times.

Publishing '09 "The Recession"

If you are dumb like me, you will need to know that the full screen button for the presentation is on the top right.

0001 MPL Publishing 2009 CLLScribe

Martin P. Levin




Not so quick! But given a determined effort it is likely that all the players will someday find that the possibility of adding a significant part of $8 billion to their revenue and profit may be enough to get the process started. It is likely that the old playbook for surviving in difficult times by staff and expense reduction will not work in today’s economic climate (see my article of December 4, 2008 ”The New Recession Playbook“).

Some veterans of the industry trace the introduction of the “sale or return” policy to the Depression instituted as a means to encourage booksellers to buy new titles. In 1950 when I first entered publishing, most trade publishers allowed “exchanges” for books that were “damaged in transit.“ The effect on the industry was minimal. The toxic return policy as it now exists is best described by the colorful publisher Alfred Knopf head of his eponymous company as a “gone today and here tomorrow” program. The percentage of returns to sales determines the profitability of both the publisher and bookseller.

The “elephant in the room” is a very large creature - and attention must be paid. Jeffrey Trachtenberg described the reality in his June 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal. The scene he describes is still happening as he reported it and will continue into 2009 unless the publishers and booksellers get together on a solution. While Trachtenberg describes the Time Warner Book Group (now Hachette) it is typical of all major publishers. This is what he reported:
There are two Time Warner Book Group warehouses on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Although separated by only an eighth of a mile, between them stretches a gulf of disappointment.
One building, dubbed the "happy warehouse" by one publishing executive, is filled with about 60 million hardcover books and paperbacks waiting to be distributed to stores across the U.S. The other is the "sad" warehouse. Piled high are some of the 20 million books returned every year by retailers. Many will be resold at cut-rate prices. Two million to four million will have their spines sliced off before being piled into a recycling machine the size of a Dumpster, chewed up and spat out as bales of paper.
Returns are the dark side of the book world, marking not only failed expectations, but the crippling inefficiencies of an antiquated business. It's a problem that's only getting worse.

Given this nightmare scenario from the publisher vantage point, one would believe that it must be the booksellers who are standing in the way of solving this problem. Not so. Mr. Trachtenberg interviewed the CEO of the largest books store chain and this is what he reported:
Steve Riggio wants Barnes & Noble to start marking down books and selling them on the spot. Customers would relish the bargains, publishers would generate more sales and costs would be cut. He says eliminating returns would "revolutionize the book business and revitalize the book business."
But Mr. Riggio says he can't implement the change by himself, since it's ultimately a decision for publishers. "We'd like to see this practice discontinued," he says. "Any rational business person looking at this practice would think the industry has gone mad."
To bring this story up to date, Bob Miller formerly the CEO at Hyperion and now at Harper Collins announced that in addition to a profit sharing arrangement with authors he proposed a “no return” policy. Sadly, Miller had to retreat from this position in order to launch his first list.

However, in the UK, Penguin an industry leader has now focused attention on developing a new return program for their extraordinary best selling backlist: This is as reported in Publishers Lunch:
Peter Field, Penguin’s Managing Director has said “We intend to speak to everybody we need to about this; it's an important conversation to have. We believe backlist should be firm sale but are attempting to identify a common purpose. I believe there will be different ways to tackle the problem, depending on different customers and regions, rather than a one-size-fits-all policy. We will talk about risk and reward and get the balance right. A common purpose can be found and, if we all manage our logistics better, we will all benefit and retailers will save money on returns."
Is there a hope that the recession will bring some movement to a rational solution of a virus that has infected the book publishing industry for over half a century? If not now, when?

There is a strong economic benefit.

There is new technology that has never existed before so that printing and buying decisions can be rationalized.

Nielsen now tracks the sales of every book and makes the data generally available on sales and returns. These data is available to every publisher, bookseller, and distributor to gauge how much a publisher prints.

Print on Demand technology is now available so publishers can fill in with POD printings where they have underestimated demand.

We are now in an era in which the nation’s attention is focused on environmental issues. No one has yet measured the loss incurred when hundreds of millions of returned books are stripped and fed into dumpsters.

What is missing? Leadership!

The industry voice, PW, reports the facts but fails to crusade. The publishers association with access to the most Washington, D.C. savvy Executive Director, Pat Schroeder holds back fearing an anti trust issue will arise, without seeking advice from the Justice Department. (To be fair, in other instances the publishers have joined together to defeat the illegal copying and recently Google, who sought to abuse “fair use”.) Why not see what help can be obtained from a new Justice Department?

Or a few brave Publishers who are willing, one on one, to work out individual return programs with major chains and independents. Given that about 50% (or more) of most publisher’s sales come from the back list, a new returns program can focus, as a start, on the backlist. And then go on from there.

This recession is a blessing. The financial and insurance industry has been bailed out by the government with multi billion dollar loans. The big 3 auto makers are likely to get more billions. And right behind them, will be millions of home owners. It would not be unseemly for publishers and booksellers to take advantage of what we hope to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for publishers and booksellers to be party to their own
“ bailout “ by working with each other to solve the returns problem.

I have the headline ready:


Martin Levin

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Proposition You Cannot Refuse

We, the undersigned officers of the International Mafia, make a proposal to President Barak Hussein Obama.

We regret that some of our members who are now unavailable because of the complications of making contact with them, but when you accept this proposition, which we sincerely recommend you do, we will make all the parties known to you. We wish to advise you that we believe in you, and what you are trying to do. We regret that many members of Congress, who are big mouths and are just out to steal from the common people, are opposing you. We guarantee you that we will enact your entire program in 100 days after you agree to this proposition... In addition since you are so good in speaking, with or without a teleprompter, we offer you the job of Consigliore to represent us not only in the United States of America, that we love, but in the world that infested with a bunch of no good cut throats, except in Italy.

Step 1: Fire the Governors of all 50 more states. Get rid of all the state legislatures. These guys are worse than the guys in Congress.

I have friends of mine who I will put in place. My Dons and their lieutenants a will need a place to stay so the Governor will have to move on quickly and give us some space. Now since this is the first time I am talking about this, we have to work out how work out the money we collect. But this goes for everything we do. You have one son-of-bitch of a deficit. I f anyone of my guys ran up a tab of this size, I would remove him. You know what I mean. So do not worry, we will see that the U.S. Treasury will make that deficit go away—over time, no rush.

Step 2. Fire the Supreme Court.

There is no reason that you need all these guys and that old broad hanging around. In our program which goes back to the days of Julius Caesar we know all about Justice and how to dispense it. In addition, as you will read further we need the buildings.

Step 3. Get rid of the Congress—both of them Take over all the buildings used by the Congress and the Supreme Court and turn them into Gambling Casinos.

Those Congress guys are not doing you any favors. All they think about is pork and they are big eaters. I think you will be getting the drift of my plan. We still keep the White House for your office and your speech writers and keep some rooms for high rollers. It would be nice if you stopped in to talk to the high rollers when you get a minute. I think your wife and the kids would be happier in Chicago and we have guys that can keep an eye on them. We will be in the East Wing making sure every happens the way it should happen. Keep all the museums, art galleries, and other tourist stuff to build traffic, make them all no charge, except for voluntary contributions that we will encourage. We have experts from Vegas who will be available to keep an eye on things so it all on the up and up. You can count on us to keep knocking down the National Debt with a cut of our take.

Step 4. Solve the banking crisis by allowing all banks to sell pot, which we will of course legalize.

You will be for ever trying to get these swindlers who pushed bad paper on dumb rubes to shape up. My guys will protect the good paper and create a “pot fund” that will make bad paper good. With the dough we collect and our skills in persuasion we will have this screw-up in good shape in no time. And, everbody will be mellow. If you think people hate the banks, once we get going they will love them. You won’t be able to keep them away.

Step 5. Solve the automobile crisis by use of our destroy and buy plan.

As far as we see it, nobody but nobody, should be driving a car that is more than five years old. We have a list, and we know who is holding back by not buying a new car. If some citizen is a slacker, we will find him try to reason with him. If he is dumb and difficult, we will wreck his car and sell it for scrap to friend of ours who is the business. If this dumb sucker says he can’t afford it, my guys will lend him the money at our usual rates of interest. We assure you that everybody building cars and selling cars will be back in good health again.

Step 6. Set up as you say “affordable health care for everyone” by putting the hospitals in the business of selling porn for profit.

Porn is one hell of a profitable business. If Mr. and Mrs. America, over 18 years of age, could go to the local hospital and buy or rent porn films, we would would have trillions to help pay for sick people who are dragging down our country . The money will stop flowing like blood right out of our bodies, not a pretty sight. This is a big deal. We can sell, rent, or show—and make big bucks. Maybe some reality shows, too. We have some guys who are in the movie business and they could take a look at some of the nurses nwould be thrilled to sit in and make sure kids pay attention. If get rowdy, we know what to do. Also I think some of our guys and gals might be reformed by contact with these smart people. If the building are falling down, we c an get more guys and gals who are good at using tools to help.

Dear Mr. President:
I hope you get the message. Even if you think I am nuts and want time to think this over, how about sending this letter around to those apes in Congress who are sounding off?


I will send you the names of the guys who signed this direct to your Blackberry. They are all stand up guys.

Copyright: Martin Levin Revised March 7, 2009, Not for reproduction