Before the Olympics provided a burst of more optimistic news (drug scandals aside), it was the ongoing refugee crisis and heated debate over immigration and national identity that dominated the agenda on both sides of the Atlantic, influencing the Brexit decision here and the rise of Trump in the US. Those pressing issues have filtered through to publishing where a number of initiatives looking at diversity and ‘ignored voices’ have been announced.
The London Book Fair is partnering with the Publishers Association to host a conference entitled ‘Building Inclusivity in Publishing’ on 15 November. It will look at issues such as unconscious bias in the workforce and in content, improving inclusivity in libraries and shops, and ways to encourage diversity in the choice of books. It follows schemes announced by Penguin Random House and Weidenfeld & Nicolson that will look at ‘under-represented communities’ and ‘under-represented places’ respectively. PRH’s WriteNow scheme hopes to give under-represented writers exclusive time with its editors and access to literary agents, and W&N is launching Hometown Tales which will offer mentoring to new writers who are invited to send 15,000-word submissions on the theme of ‘hometown’.
Earlier in the summer, HarperCollins launched a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) training scheme to tackle the poor BAME representation in the publishing workforce.
All these efforts have been acknowledged by LBF Director Jacks Thomas who said: “As so many people across publishing are working to make the industry more inclusive, our ‘Building Inclusivity in Publishing’ conference will provide a great opportunity to share and learn from each other’s experiences.”
In the US, the political climate concerning such issues was cited as PEN America relaunched its PEN/Nabokov award, with a new, more international focus. The prize – now worth $50,000, as opposed to $20,000 when the prize was last awarded in 2008 – will be given to a writer in the field of fiction, non-fiction, drama or poetry whose work “evokes Nabokov’s…brilliant versatility and commitment to literature as a search for the deepest truth and the highest pleasure”. PEN America president Andrew Solomon described it as “a welcome counterbalance to rampant xenophobia and increasingly jingoistic provincialism”.
Swedish publishing group Bonnier continues to flex its international muscles. It has followed the arrival of its Pocket Shop chain on these shores with the announcement of a new US division, Bonnier Publishing US which brings its two US imprints Little Bee Books and Weldon Owen together under one roof.
As plans take shape for Poland to be Market Focus at LBF 2017, two voices on different sides of the industry in Poland agree that the lack of price regulation has not been good for the market. Both the literary agent Magdalena Debowska and the publisher Sonia Draga of Katowice’s Sonia Draga Publishing House spoke to Publishing Perspectives on the issue. Debowska said: “[The lack of a] fixed price policy is one of the major factors responsible for the poor state of the book market…Books are considered to be expensive without a reason, since there are so many outlets which offer them so much more cheaply. So independent bookstores struggle to survive, and 2016 has seen a substantial decrease in their number.”
Draga said: “Distribution channels don’t get enough profits when forced to cut their margins by offering 25 to 30-percent extra discounts from retail prices.”
The focus on physical bookstores is noticeable everywhere now – from the New York Times carrying a feature on London’s no wi-fi bookshops (eg Libreria in Shoreditch, east London) to the UK Booksellers Association announcing its first ‘Bookshop Day’, on Saturday, 8 October, a “dedicated day to celebrate bookshops and the vital role they play in communities nationwide”. Australia has just held its sixth National Bookshop Day and the media had fun re-running the comments made by Nick Sherry, Australia’s former Minister for Small Business who predicted in 2011 that “in five years, other than a few speciality bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a bookstore. They will cease to exist”. Joel Becker, CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association observed pointedly: “We’ve seen an increase in our membership over the past couple of years of about 5%”.
Finally of course, one or two bookshops have been putting on their own in-store Olympics. Events at Porter Square Books in Cambridge Massachusetts included the gruelling War and Peace relay. Now that is one serious baton….
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.