Snapshot for 15 November 2019

Snapshot for 15 November 2019

There were warm words from Curtis Brown chairman Jonathan Lloyd this week in tribute to Ian Chapman Senior, the former William Collins chairman and CEO who has died at the age of 94. “He was an extraordinarily talented man,” he told the Bookseller. “It was very fortunate that he chose publishing as a career because he was one of those rare examples of someone who could have been Prime Minister. He could have been chief executive of almost any kind of company so the fact he chose publishing is to all our benefits.”

The book industry is at its very best when it remembers those it has lost, and it is also good when it issues bold warnings. The International Publishers Association president Hugo Setzer told delegates at the opening of the Istanbul International Book Fair earlier this month that the world is watching Turkey on freedom to publish.

“There are problems all around the world,” he said. “For example, in Egypt, where 2019 Prix Voltaire laureate [the Prix Voltaire is the IPA’s ‘freedom to publish’ prize], Egyptian publisher Khaled Lofty is in jail because of a book he published. There are journalists murdered in my own county, Mexico, and I could go on. But there are freedom to publish restrictions here in Turkey as well.

“The rest of the world is watching and demanding that freedom of expression and freedom to publish may be restored and guaranteed again. Your colleagues from around the world are inspired by how Turkish publishers are fighting for their freedom to publish.”

So it was a fortuitous turn of events that saw Turkish writer Ahmed Altan released from prison just a couple of days later – a decision that was praised by English PEN. Altan had been sentenced to life imprisonment, hence the title of his memoirs I May Never See the World Again. His publisher at Granta, Sigrid Rausing, said: “His extraordinary courage and ability to write under very difficult circumstances will hopefully be an inspiration to many other people – journalists, lawyers, judges, teachers – who are still in jail after successive waves of arrests. This is a good day for Ahmat and his family, and for human rights in Turkey.”

There is much speculation about James Daunt’s address to the Bookseller’s Futurebook conference later this month, and much speculation too about the enormity of the turnaround task he faces with Barnes & Noble across the Atlantic. But he has blue chip supporters, among them Penguin Random House US CEO Madeline McIntosh who says his success at rescuing Waterstones makes him “unparalleled” for the task in hand. She describes him as “a true book person”, someone who “understands why each [book] is a unique proposition to the reader and that this is not a commodity business—and that gives me great optimism.”

So the first letters have been exchanged concerning Hachette’s forthcoming White House exposé A Warning. These are now almost a book trade tradition and act as a free advertising campaign for the titles in question for which booksellers are delighted. The Department of Justice has exchanged letters with Hachette’s attorney, prompting a response from the American Booksellers for Free Expression whose director David Grogan said: “The Department of Justice’s demand that Hachette provide details about the author is a clear overreach. It would potentially intimidate the author into not publishing what could be very important information about the actions and policies of a sitting president and that president’s administration. It should be up to the public to decide whether A Warning is worthy as a book – not the government.”

It’s always a shame when two bodies that have the same aim fall out. Macmillan US would like more people reading and so would US libraries. But they are locked in an ongoing row over e-books. Macmillan fears that sales of new e-books are being damaged by free loans through libraries and has introduced new terms. Libraries are allowed to purchase a ‘single, perpetual access e-book’ during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). Additional copies will then be available at full price (generally $60 for new releases) after the eight-week window has passed. In response, dozens of library systems are boycotting embargoed Macmillan e-books. Multonomah County Library (Oregon) director Vailey Oehlke said: “When you can only buy something from one source and the terms of that purchase become this unreasonable, it’s time to say no more.”

Finally, in this week of remembrance, there was a touching piece from Ivan Held, president of the Putnam, Dutton and Berkley imprints at Penguin Random House, marking two years since the passing of crime novelist Sue Grafton. He noted that this autumn would have seen publication of Z is for…, the final volume in her famous alphabet series that began with A is for Alibi back in 1982.


Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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