Dispatches from the Digital Revolution


This glossary is intended to serve as a helpful tool in understanding and navigating the publishing industry and its terminology. It will continue to grow in the weeks and months to come and as new terms and definitions enter the lexicon in the rapidly changing world of digital publishing.

Advance: Upon acquisition of a book an author receives payment from the publisher that will be deducted from future royalties. The advance is often equal to half the amount of royalties the book is expected to earn in the first year and serves to provide the author with a form of income while he or she is working on the book. The more well-known and successful the author, the greater the negotiating power he or she, and the agent have in determining the sum of the advance. The majority of books, however, never earn back their advances, which has a negative impact on the book profitability and a publisher’s margins.

Agency Model: The model used by The Big Six to sell ebooks. Under the agency model, the publisher is considered the seller and sets the price for the ebook, allowing publishers to control the value of their content. An online retailer such as Amazon then acts as an “agent” in return for a 30 percent fee.The agency model was created in response to Amazon’s attempt to set the standard price of ebooks at $9.99, much like how Apple set the standard price of a song at $.99. Though the agency model has resulted in an increase in ebook prices (the average price ranges between $12–15), many continue to be sold for $9.99 or less.

American Booksellers Association (ABA): a trade organization representing independent booksellers (often called “indies”). Established in 1900, the ABA offers educational programs, services, business information, and advocacy for independent booksellers.

American Library Association (ALA): Founded in 1876, the ALA is the world’s oldest library association, devoted to promoting library services and librarianship. Any person or organization may become an ALA member, but most members are libraries or librarians. Within the overall organization, eleven specialized divisions deal with topics such as public, academic, or school libraries, technical/reference services and library administration; additionally, members may join any of 17 round tables dealing with specific issues or interests (i.e. the GLBT Round Table). Each year, the association is responsible for conferring many notable book and media awards, including the Caldecott Medal, the Newbury Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Stonewall Book Award, among others. Its head office is located in Chicago.

Authors Guild: 

The Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional society of published authors, representing more than 8,000 writers. The Authors Guild and its parent organization, the Authors League of America, have achieved much for individual authors through the collective power and voice of their members– from improvement of contracts and royalty statements, to protection of authors’ rights under the First Amendment, to the redress of damaging tax inequities.

The Guild’s legal staff reviews its members’ publishing and agency contracts, intervenes in publishing disputes, and holds seminars and symposia on issues of importance to writers. The Guild also lobbies on the national and local levels on behalf of all authors on issues such as copyright, taxation, and freedom of expression. Reports to members bring them up to date on professional issues of immediate importance, and give them the information necessary to negotiate from a position of strength.

Backlist: Titles that have been in print for 12 months or more. A publisher’s backlist is typically its most reliable and stable source of income. A successful backlist provides publishers with a steady stream of revenue that allows it to take risks, and even lose money, on frontlist titles. See also frontlist.

The Big Six: The largest and most influential publishers in the industry. They are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These publishing houses are made up of numerous imprints and account for the overwhelming majority of book sales.

Bologna Book Fair: The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In Bologna authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to sell and buy copyright, find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production, generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships, discover new business opportunities, discuss and debate the latest sector trends.

BookScan: Since 2000, Nielsen has offered this subscription service that gathers, compiles, and disseminates book sales data from selected retail outlets. Before BookScan, there was no reliable way for a book publisher to get sales data for any specific title; now, those who pay for the service can search for book sales by author, title, or ISBN and get accurate sales data for any book, including weekly sales, yearly sales, and lifetime sales, sales by region, and sales by specific category of bookseller. However, here are some caveats: there is no data available on books sold before 2000, and Nielsen only gathers data from certain places where books are sold, meaning that a large chunk of sales may go unreported. Still, a mostly accurate source for sales data that isn’t available anywhere else.

Cache: A computer memory with very short access time used for storage of frequently or recently used instructions or data —called also cache memory.

Cloud: A communications network. The word “cloud” often refers to the Internet. However, the term “cloud computing” refers to the services that have enabled the cloud to become so prominent in everyday life.

Copyright: The exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work).

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): This is a United States copyright law that extends reach of copyright and heightens penalties for online copyright infringement.  It was signed into law in 1998 in order to limit the liability of online service providers from copyright infringement.

Digital Rights Management (DRM): Digital publishing and ebooks have generated the need among publishers to protect their titles against piracy—unauthorized reproduction and circulation. Piracy violates a publisher’s copyright and deprives it and the author of revenue. DRM involves encrypting a file before it is sold to a customer as an ebook to ensure the security of the content.

ePub: A free and open ebook standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum. ePub is currently the most widely used ebook format. The format allows for complex layouts, including reflowable content, multimedia and interactivity, and extensive typography features.

Frankfurt Book Fair: An annual meeting held in Frankfurt, Germany of international book industry experts, including authors, agents, publishers, and booksellers. It is the largest of its kind, and dates back to 1949. It typically takes place in mid-October. At the 2010 fair, there were over 7,500 exhibitions, 10,000 journalists, and 290,000 visitors. Dates for the 2012 fair are October 10 – 14.

Frontlist: A publisher’s most recently published books that are being actively marketed and publicized. Books are generally considered to be on a publisher’s frontlist for approximately one year. See also backlist.

Google Book Search Library Project: Announced in 2004, Google Book Search aims to digitize the collections of five major libraries. Under the agreement, Google would index the contents of the books, display at least “snippets” of the books among its search results, and provide partner libraries with digital copies of the print books in their collections. As copyright holders of scanned books were not notified of Google’s plans, authors and publishers sued Google in 2005 for copyright infringement. Google has argued that its scanning efforts do not violate copyright law as the company has permitted rights holders to “opt out” of the program. Google also asserts that its digitization of books constitutes fair uses under copyright law. Google, authors, and publishers announced a proposed settlement that included the establishment of a not-for profit entity, called the Registry, which would represent rights holders in their negotiations with Google over the use of their content. The settlement also provided Google with a non-exclusive license to digitize books and inserts published before January 5, 2009, and make use of digitized material, such as displaying “snippets” of books in Google search results. Under the settlement, Google also acquired the right to sell institutional subscriptions and ebooks to individuals. The settlement was, however, rejected in March 2011, largely due to antitrust concerns, as Google currently stands as the only entity capable of creating such an extensive digital library. Though Google and the authors and publishers involved in the settlement continue to work on a revised agreement, a proposed schedule for a lawsuit that could take the case to trial in 2012 has been set.

HTML: Stands for hypertext markup language. HTML is the standard markup language for web pages, which uses a set of markup tags to describe web pages.

Image file formats: Formats in which image files info are compressed when saved. The most common image file formats are JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), TIF (Tagged Image File Format), GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), and PNG (Portable Network Graphics).

Imprint: A department of a larger publishing house, which usually is defined by a specific mission or goal for its titles. For instance, Viking is an imprint of The Penguin Group.

Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA): a non-profit trade organization representing independent book publishers. They are advocates for publishers that are not a part of larger corporations, and offer educational programs, marketing initiatives, and other support for small publishers. The IBPA began in 1983.

Ingram: Ingram Content Group, Inc. is the largest worldwide wholesale distributor of books. The company currently supports approximately 71,000 retailers and libraries. Ingram boasts it has “the largest selection of trade books, e-books, interactive textbooks, audio, magazines, and other book-related products in the industry.”

International Standard Book Number(ISBN): A unique 10-digit number that identifies a book and any book-related products. The number is unique to the particular title, including its publisher and edition. An ISBN is used by booksellers, librarians, universities, wholesalers and distributors to identify books.

London Book Fair: A global event to negotiate rights and sales of content including print, audio, TV, film and digital products. At the event, exhibitors include publishers, literary agents, content providers, wholesalers, and non-book product services. In 2012, the event is taking place April 16 – 18 at Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London.

The Long Tail: The idea proposed by Chris Anderson in 2004 that profit can be generated from selling a large number of less-popular, niche items in small quantities. The proliferation of online retailers, particularly Amazon, provides customers with the availability to discover books or other items they would be unlikely to find through more traditional retail outlets. The Long Tail also helps to explain the rise and importance of niche publishing.

Mass market paperback: These books are produced at high volume with low production values (few or no illustrations, inexpensive paper stock, paper covers). This translates to low cost to the consumer. Genre works—thrillers, science fiction, etc.—are frequently published in mass-market paperback.

Metadata: Information that describes other information. In the context of the Internet, this includes “invisible” information, such as keywords, that search engines read and that increases discoverability online or in a database. Dublin Core is one example of a metadata schema.

Mobi: Amazon’s proprietary ebook format that it purchased before epub was firmly established as a free standard. Publishers must currently send files of their ebooks to Amazon to be converted to mobi, for which Amazon charges a fee. The proprietary nature of mobi prevents users from reading ebooks purchased from Amazon on devices other than the Kindle.

Not Yet Published (NYP): A term recognized within the publishing industry that refers to a title that has been announced but is not yet available for sale.

Orphan Works: Books that are still in print but whose rights holders are unknown or cannot be found. Orphan works have presented a particular problem in deliberations concerning the Google Book Search Library project, as inclusion of these titles in the library would give Google exclusive rights to profit from the sale of the millions of orphan works in existence.

Out of Print (OOP): A book is considered “out of print” when a publisher ceases to issue additional print runs for the title. However, with print-on-demand technologies (see Print-on-Demand) and ebooks, this definition starts to get a little bit dicey.

Print-on-Demand (POD): The digital printing of a text in response to a request from an end user, such as a bookseller or an individual consumer. POD has the potential to revolutionize the printing and selling of books by creating a “virtual warehouse” where physical inventory is replaced by digital files. POD also has been touted as a way in which publishers can more accurately set print runs and reduce returns.

Publishing Seasons: Most publishers operate on a spring and autumn publishing schedule. While books are published every month, it is during these two periods that the large number of a publisher’s titles is released, and its sales and marketing efforts are focused on promoting those seasonal lists. Additional seasons may include summer and winter, though it is not the norm to have more than two seasons.

Remainders: Often seen in the bargain bin, remainders are those books that didn’t quite sell up to their publishers’ expectations. To maximize sales and clear out warehouse space, a publisher will sell the remaining unsold copies to stores at greatly reduced prices. The publisher often takes a loss on these books, but once a book has been remaindered, it cannot be returned to the publisher. (See also returns.)

Returns: Publishing is a returnable business, meaning that retailers can return for full credit stock that does not sell. Current average return rates are around 30 percent for most large publishers, though they can sometimes be as high as 45–65 percent. Return rates vary according to book type; frontlist adult hardcovers typically have higher return rates than children’s or backlist titles. Publishers will account for returns in their profit-and-loss statements, generally set at 30–35 percent of gross sales.

Royalties: When a book contract is signed, the author and publisher negotiate the author’s royalty rate, which determines what percentage of book sales get paid out to the author. Royalties for hardcover sales are typically a higher percentage than paperbacks. Publishers often pay authors advances against royalties (see advances), so if a book does not “earn back” the amount paid in advances, the author will not receive any royalties on sales. Royalties are paid in lump sums on a pre-determined schedule, such as quarterly or semi-annually, depending on the publisher.

Sell-in/Sell-through: Sell-in refers to the number of books a publisher is able to physically get into a bookstore. (Sales reps work with the bookstores to negotiate this number.) Big sell-ins are exciting, but publishers can’t count on those numbers just yet, because not all of those copies will actually be sold.Books are returnable, so any unsold copies can potentially be packed up and shipped back to the publisher. (See returns). The term sell-through applies to the amount actually sold, and that’s the number you really want.

Short-Run Digital Printing (SRDP): The use of digital printers to produce small quantities of books, which can range from 10 or 20 copies to 300 or 400 copies. SRDP is an economically viable option for publishers when printing 400 or less copies of a book. For larger print runs it will be cheaper to print using a traditional offset press. SRDP effectively allows publishers to perpetually reprint books, particularly backlist titles, and keep them in print and in stock.

SOPA: The Stop Online Piracy Act, a piece of legislation introduced to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by a group of thirteen representatives from Texas to combat digital piracy. The official purpose of the bill was “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” Opponents of the bill, including technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia, argued that the bill was far too broad—bordering on censorship of the web—granting Congress the potential ability to restructure the Internet. Supporters of the bill included the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Association of American Publishers, among others. On January 14, 2012, the Obama administration released a statement saying they opposed parts of this bill and its Senate-born counterpart, PIPA (the Protect IP Act). That denunciation, coupled with the largest Internet protest in history on January 18, 2012, during which sites such as Wikipedia shut down access to its content for the day, effectively deflated the bill’s support.

Strip-and-Bind: A dramatic cousin to remainders and returns, a publisher may elect to strip and bind hardcovers that aren’t selling well, meaning that the press will strip the pages from the book’s hard cover and rebind them as a paperback. Although it’s a reasonable solution to low hardcover sales, the publisher cannot make changes or add any additional pages, such as a praise or brag page, to the new edition.

Tip Sheet: Resource for a sales team that summarizes the main selling points of a book and all relevant bibliographic information, including publication date, page count, production values, price, and ISBN.

Wholesale Model: Under this pricing model a publisher sets the recommended price of a book—known as the list price. The publisher sells the book to a retailer or wholesaler at a discounted price, and that retailer or wholesaler can then sell the book at whatever price they choose, generally at or below the list price. Discounting books—selling them below the suggested list price—has become more prevalent following the rise of Amazon.

Wholesaler: A company that sells books (and other media) to bookstores or other businesses; a wholesaler sells books to other companies but not to consumers.

XML: Stands for Extensible Markup Language.  XML is a platform-dependent language, meaning it can be used on wide range of devices. It is also a good tool for transferring data between different systems. XML is used in ePub files to enclose metadata and describe the structure of the book. See for more.

2 comments on “Glossary

  1. Pingback: Copyright and the public domain « appazoogle

  2. Pingback: Understanding the agency model « appazoogle

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