Snapshot for 15 May 2020

Snapshot for 15 May 2020

Much shock and sadness at the death of Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy who died from a heart attack on 12 May at the age of 71.  Widely liked and respected in the international publishing community, tributes have come in from across the industry.  Ian Chapman, CEO and publisher of S&S UK and International descried her as “empowering, inspiring [and] approachable to every member of the company”.  Author Stephen King said “I’ve known her – and respected her – for years.  It’s a great loss”; and New York agent Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media described her as “an iconic figure”.

Her passing, coming just five months after the death of Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta, who was 77, and almost two years to the day after the death of former Penguin CEO Peter Mayer who was 82, marks the passing of a particular generation of leaders who all held prominent positions on different sides of the Atlantic for decades.  Book fairs, which face changed times anyway, will seem strange without Reidy’s presence.

As bookshops slowly reopen in parts of the world – in the US, Italy, Austria, Germany, New Zealand – and as booksellers in England and Northern Ireland await clarification from the government over “safe reopening protocols”, as Booksellers Association MD Meryl Halls put it, a bleak picture of the cost of the pandemic continues to emerge.

In China, stats body OpenBook Beijing estimates that sales at superstore bookshops were down more than 60% between January and March, with the total market down almost 16% compared to the same quarter in 2019.  In Russia it is estimated that the book industry has lost more than $680m, with the majority of the decline coming from the closure of physical bookshops which account for around 80% of sales.  Audio and digital sales have increased, as have sign ups to subscription services like MyBook, and publication of ebooks is now simultaneous with print editions, rather than a month later.  But publishers have warned that more piracy has been an unwelcome result of more digital activity and are calling for more protective measures.

In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association estimates that the book industry will have lost $3.8m by the end of May, chiefly due to the closure of bookshops.  Georgia suffered a double blow because online sales were banned for most of April too as the authorities tried to protect delivery workers.  The Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association has issued a nine-point appeal to government for help.  Among requests are grants for small publishing houses, and increased funding for libraries and the Tbilisi International Book Fair.

In the US, Barnes & Noble has reported two deaths from Covid-19.  Two employees at the company’s warehouse in Monroe Township, New Jersey, died on 13 April and 4 May respectively.  Staff at the warehouse have protested about safety issues and the company has said it is taking steps to protect workers, including several closures of the warehouse for deep cleaning, reducing the workforce to make social distancing easier, and distributing gloves and facemasks.

The affection for indie bookstores in the US can be seen by the success of the #SaveIndieBookstores campaign.  It ran from 2 April to 5 May and raised more than $1.2m to be distributed to independent bookstores in proportion to sales.  The campaign was a partnership between James Patterson (who donated $500,000), the American Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

In the midst of the pandemic, in some parts of the globe new bookstores are still appearing.  After a six-week delay because of the virus, Kinokuniya has partially opened its new store in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.  Kinokuniya’s Dubai store partially reopened at the beginning of May, as did its store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The chain’s four stores in Taiwan have been open throughout the crisis because Taiwan has not been locked down.  Kinokuniya’s other stores – in Singapore, Thailand, Sydney and the US are still closed.  In Japan, only a few of its stores are open, with limited opening hours.

In Italy, in recognition of the new, post-corona world ahead, nearly 40 literary agents and agencies have formed the country’s first Association of Italian Literary Agents, the Associazione degli Agenti Letterari Italiani (ADALI).  In its mission statement it talks about debating with other professional organizations “in order to conceive innovative proposals with a vast horizon, to support books and reading”.  Its mission statement says: “The position of literary agent is pivotal in the publishing industry, because agents work on a book from the very start of the project, and they assist authors throughout their creative processes… The best interests of the literary agent, so closely similar to the best interest of authors, are pushing us to innovate mechanisms which have proven ineffective, and which need to be reassessed.”

Talking of agents, Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown told the Observer that he believes publishing is still “clinging to the same model it had in 1920” which suggests it hasn’t moved with the times.  Yet he would surely concede that publishing coped with the arrival of digital in a way that its ‘modern’ partners in the music business did not.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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