A tough week for James Daunt, the west’s most important bricks and mortar bookseller. In the UK, Waterstones is having to cope with an ever-changing landscape of lockdowns, while in the US, Barnes & Noble was hit by a “cybersecurity attack” that saw customers’ email addresses “and if supplied by you, billing and shipping addresses and telephone number” accessed. However, crucially the retailer said that payment card details were not accessed, which prevented it from being a true septimana (week) horribilis.
‘October is the new December’ is a joint campaign from the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Booksellers Association. The bodies are urging customers to shop early and shop local, with a similar message put out by Alison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. ‘Now is the time to create the post-Covid-19 world we want to live in,’ she writes. ‘In the same way that our votes in the upcoming election will shape our country’s future, where we spend our money in these final days of 2020 will determine the communities we find ourselves in come 2021.’
A joint statement from the Australian bodies also highlighted the pressures the pandemic is having on the global supply chain. The two organisations note that ‘importing any goods by airfreight will not be an option for most retailers this year, putting pressure on sea freight with congestion in Singapore already causing considerable delays for imported books. Publishers are printing as much as they can locally, but Australian printers are either at capacity or soon will be.’
The International Publishers Association (IPA) used the first-ever virtual Frankfurt Book Fair to give an update on Freedom to Publish around the world. IPA president Hugo Setzer said: “If you think there is censorship in certain countries, but not in others, then nothing could be further from the truth. There have been cases in Germany and in my own country, Mexico. The pandemic has even been used as a reason to stifle free speech.”
As if to underline the seriousness of the issue, just before Frankfurt opened, Pham Doan Trang, the Vietnamese author, journalist and co-founder of Liberal Publishing House who was named the 2020 International Publishers Association Prix Voltaire (freedom to publish) laureate, was arrested for “conducting anti-state propaganda”.
Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos said: “We are very concerned about Pham Doan Trang’s arrest, just before the start of the world’s largest Book Fair, the place where freedom of expression is celebrated. We are glad that the international publishing community will be hearing from Pham Doan Trang [on Thursday 15 October] during the pre-recorded session Guerilla Publishing and International Support.”
Trang left a moving and impassioned letter with the Vietnamese American activist William Nguyen [also due to speak at the session above], giving him instructions to release it in the event she was arrested. In it she asks that her imprisonment be used to call for reforms of election laws in Vietnam, not her release. ‘I would like you to link my imprisonment with new laws to change how Vietnam conducts elections and forms its National Assembly,” she writes. ‘Do not give me any priority over other prisoners of conscience. Advocate for the others first, then me.’
She also adds: ‘Please take care of my mother. Let her know that she and her daughter are not alone. Make sure the police do not harm my mother, my brothers or my sisters-in-law; they have often been threatened by police.’
Finally, on the future of Frankfurt, Boos said: “We hope we can meet next year. We need the physical world again, but digital does allow us to reach further. Also, you have creative chaos with the physical – and culture needs chaos.”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.