The British Book Industry Awards – the ‘Nibbies’ as was – returned to its ancestral home in the Great Room of London’s Grosvenor House on Park Lane this week and saw Transworld named Publisher of the Year, the fourth time it has received this accolade since these awards began in 1990.
Organised by the Bookseller and ably compered once again by arts broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, the evening was other grand, ‘publishing family’ affair, complete with its own rich uncle – James Patterson – putting in a guest appearance and delivering a warmly received speech about the importance of books. He received the Bookseller’s Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade – and a standing ovation from the Penguin Random House table, and others, that no one would say he didn’t deserve, such has been his extraordinary generosity towards independent booksellers in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and the UK.
There were some nice touches during the evening. Bonnier had installed a traditional black cab (sadly not one of the London Book & Screen Week branded cabs) ‘photo-booth’ parked – surely illegally, certainly surreally (and delightfully so) – at the edge of the tables. Its presence was rather symbolic. You could argue that the traditional London black taxi belongs to a more traditional, more analogue, print world. But the industry has been embracing digital change for some time now. After all, how many people in the room had the Uber app on their smartphones?
Yet there’s the rub (thank you Will Shakespeare: 400 years old and still providing us with phrases). The industry has not abandoned print – if you like, the ‘black cab’ of the content world. Just as traditional print books still have a huge role to play, so the traditional black taxi worked much better, was much cooler than an anonymous Uber car from the ‘digital world’ might have been.
Ripples from awards reverberate. Following Readings of Melbourne being named International Bookstore of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards last month, the Guardian interviewed MD Mark Rubbo who spoke about the company’s “clear vision” and how everything it does “is driven by our passion for Australian literature and supporting Australian authors”.
That concern for Australian literature and Australian authors is highlighted by proposals from the Australian government’s productivity commission’s recommendation to remove restrictions on book imports. The Australian writer and publisher Susan Hawthorne believes this would be catastrophic for the home-grown industry, killing it with a flood of cheap imports. “We will have a harvest of imported goods which will severely affect Australia’s ‘bibliodiversity’,” she says. “We can also expect to see in coming years fewer independent publishers (and booksellers) whose books are likely to be the starting point for the next cultural wave.”
Meanwhile, ‘bibliodiversity’ seems relatively healthy in the US. As BookExpo America opened in Chicago this week, the American Booksellers Association reported a 63-store increase in membership from last year. Yet CEO Oren Teicher voiced concerns over minimum wage laws that are making life difficult for small businesses working with fragile margins – precisely the same concerns that UK indies have expressed concerning the living wage here.
HarperCollins US and Simon & Schuster US both released quarterly figures, with their respective CEOs talking about a stabilising of digital. For the first quarter of 2016, ebooks accounted for around 28% of total revenue at S&S, down from 31% in the first quarter of 2015. CEO Carolyn Reidy believes digital sales this year will be about even with 2015.
At HarperCollins, digital sales for the third quarter of its fiscal 2016 represented 21% of consumer revenue. This figure includes digital audio. For the same quarter in 2015, e-book sales alone accounted for 22% of sales. Although the publisher suffered from the lack of a new Divergent series, CEO Brian Murray said that the decline in e-book sales was also partly about “consumers returning to print”.
In the same year as this week’s British Book Industry Awards were founded (1990), a tiny press called Tartarus, specialising in the literary supernatural, also began life. Coincidentally, Tartarus was the original publisher of the awards’ overall Book of the Year, Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney, now published by John Murray. And it was another small publisher, Norwich’s Galley Beggar Press, that originally published Eimear McBride’s multi-award-winning A Girl is s Half-formed Thing (now Faber). From indie houses to indie bookshops, there is an energy in the industry that is undeniable – and admirable,
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.