The book market is in “secular” decline or the book market is poised for a golden, ‘post-truth’ future. These were two sharply contrasting views expressed at the Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference last week. The first statement was made by Hachette CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson in a pre-recorded interview with Bookseller editor Philip Jones and FutureBook associate editor Molly Flatt; the second was from commentator and digital sceptic, Andrew Keen. If you like, the day began with pessimism and ended with optimism.
Hely Hutchinson said: “The book market is in secular decline, whether the platform is print or in ebook, and it’s quite hard managing businesses in decline to make them continue to thrive, to be profitable and preferably growing their sales and profits.” Which was frankly a little grim to hear.
Keen was more upbeat. He believes the “hole in our culture” gouged out by the Brexit vote here and the election of Donald Trump in the US, presents publishers with an opportunity to heal, an opportunity to repair that hole with curated, reliable content, something he believes publishers have to do “because we are living in an age where information is free and extremely unreliable [and] mostly propagandist”.
In a rallying cry that delegates loved, he said: “Because of the centrality of books in our culture, because of the growing appetite for understanding the world responsibly, because of the way in which technology will allow us to know more and more what everyone is doing legally, I think you’re on the verge of, if not a renaissance, certainly something very profitable, both in economic, cultural and intellectual terms.” Which was a little cheerful to hear.
From analogue books to the analogue places to buy them. Once again I am very happy to be chairing the judging panel for the Bookshop of the Year in the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards, alongside Jonathan Atkins, International Sales Director at Pan Macmillan; consultant Sheila O’Reilly, formerly of the Dulwich Bookshop; and LBF non-executive Chairman David Roche.
Is there a bookshop that you have seen on your travels that you loved? One that had a hard to define character that made you think “this is a great bookshop”. It doesn’t have to be huge; it doesn’t even have to be tidy (the Foyles of Seventies was a great bookshop in its own way) – but it does have to have that quality of ‘excellence’ however you want to define it. Full details of how to nominate can be found here: http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/en/Forms-2016/Bookstore-of-the-Year-Award/
One such that might be on the list is Munro’s in Victoria, British Columbia, whose founder Jim Munro has died at the age of 87. He founded the store in 1963, with his then wife Alice Munro (who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature), and just before he died National Geographic featured the shop as one of the ‘top ten bookstores in the world’.
The fall-out from the election of Trump is still being felt. At Penguin Random House in New York, the publisher has offered to pay half the cost of PEN membership for employees. PEN America’s executive director Suzanne Nossel said she was “heartened and touched” by PRH’s decision. At the publisher, CEO Marcus Dohle said: “As devoted advocates of the free exchange of ideas and opinions through books, we are living in momentous times. [We must] stand together to both celebrate and protect the freedoms that make our work and success possible.”
Thanks to a happy collision of circumstances, the children’s market in China is taking off. The doubling of China’s one-child policy to two children – estimated to add to at least three million babies annually – coupled with a growing, aspirational middle class and a 2020 education policy on the part of the government that is encouraging reading, means that Chinese publishers are investing heavily in their children’s lists. There has been healthy rights activity too, as delegates at the recent China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair noted. Agent Andrew Nurnberg was particularly pleased to sell a Chinese YA property – Ghost Candle – to Random House US, describing it as a “milestone in our company” since the traffic is normally in the other direction.
So, to end where we began. At FutureBook, Hely Hutchinson admitted that he couldn’t think of a single app from the book world that had “blown him away”. Slightly embarrassing then that it was Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia that won the Digital Book of the Year in the adult category. The publisher? Hachette’s Orion.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.