It was a very good night for old companies at the British Book Awards. Penguin General (84) was named Publisher of the Year; Faber (90) was named Independent Publisher of the Year; and WH Smith Travel (237) took home Book Retailer of the Year. The pedantic will point out that the first and last are later creations, but the point remains that they are part of venerable companies who have proved adapt at invention and adaptability.
A special word should be reserved for WHSmith. No lesser figure than Henry James was praising its travel outlets back in 1893 when he talked about “the fine flare of one of W H Smith’s bookstalls…it gives the idea that literature is a thing of splendor, of a dazzling essence, of infinite gas-lit red and gold. A glamor hangs over the glittering booth, and a tantalising air of clever new things”. More than 120 years later those travel outlets are still being recognised.
More congratulations to Faber for Sally Rooney’s Normal People which was named Book of the Year. It is something of a golden month for Faber. At the Independent Publishers Guild awards it was also named Ingram Content Group Independent Publisher of the Year, and its long-standing author Simon Armitage has been named as the new Poet Laureate.
Lovely to see Tim Godfray acknowledged for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade. He was there through the very first campaign against VAT on books – and subsequent others – and through the tortuous years of debate and challenge over the Net Book Agreement, and much else besides. His retirement later this year coincides with his counterpart Oren Teicher in the US, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, and Lincoln Gould in New Zealand, CEO of Booksellers New Zealand, both of whom are stepping down too. The wheel turns.
Still with the far side of the world, the Australian Labour Party has pledged $AS200m for inclusive publishing if it wins at the federal election on 18 May. It has said it will partner with the Australian Publishers Association (APA) to champion the APA’s Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative ‘to increase access to published material for people living with print disabilities in Australia’.
HarperCollins worldwide partly attributed its 6% revenue growth in the quarter ending 31 March 2019 to higher sales in Christian publishing. This may seem surprising given the troubles at the US Christian retailer LifeWay. But the latter’s decision to close its 170 bricks and mortar won’t take affect until the summer, and LifeWay hopes to keep its customers, and that includes customers of HarperCollins’ Christian publishing of course, through LifeWay.com.
One warehouse door closes; another opens. The decision by Baker & Taylor to close its retail wholesale business in order to concentrate on the educational supply that is the focus of parent company Follett Corp has created an opportunity for Ingram which wasted no time in announcing a series of measures to help independent bookstores. Interestingly, there were rumours that Ingram was considering making a bid for Baker & Taylor anyway.
In 1979, the UK went mad looking for the golden hare buried by the author and artist Kit Williams. The clues to the treasure’s location were contained in paintings in his bestselling Masquerade, published by Tom Maschler at Cape. Now, 40 years later, Heinemann, which shares a home with Cape, has hidden a ‘golden’ copy of Thomas Harris’ long-awaited new novel Cari Mora and is posting clues to its location on social media. Wonder if anyone will go to Ampthill Great Park in Bedford where the golden hare was found, just on the off-chance.
Finally, there should be an extra BAFTA given to those winners who bother to acknowledge the writers in their speeches. Winners of this extra BAFTA this year would have been Phoebe Waller-Bridge who namechecked Killing Eve creator Luke Jennings when collecting one of the show’s three awards, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who acknowledged Edward St Aubyn, author of the ‘Patrick Melrose’ novels, when he collected the show’s Mini-Series BAFTA.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.