Snapshot for 20 December 2018

Snapshot for 20 December 2018

The UK publishing industry gathered to honour one of its true international figures earlier this month with a celebration of the life of former Penguin chief Peter Mayer at Christ Church in Spitalfields, in east London.

Profile MD Andrew Franklin described him as “the visionary who more than any other, transformed English language publishing.  He took a moribund, money losing institution and turned it into the world’s most admired and successful publishing company.  Penguin – the Penguin Group as he made it – became both hugely profitable and a global cultural force for good, with local publishing offices around the world.”

What better way for the year to end than with a love letter to books and bookshops?  The reasons for the blog post by Luiz Schwarcz, CEO of Companhia das Letras in Brazil, may be worrying – the fall in book sales that has seen the country’s two leading chains file for bankruptcy – but the sentiments expressed and the way the post went viral was heartening.

In the letter, he asks everyone – “publishers, booksellers and authors – to join together in the search for creative and idealistic solutions” to the problems besetting the Brazilian book industry.  He urges people to learn from campaigns in the country’s recent election and to heed “the solidarity networks that formed”.  He wants people to use “letters, Whatsapp messages, emails, social media posts and videos, produced with sincerity and an open heart, [to rally] around fellow bookworld stakeholders, especially its more fragile players”.

He wants people to seriously consider giving books as gifts this Christmas and writes: “Buy them at those bookstores that are heroically riding this crisis out, honoring their commitments, but also at those that have fallen on hard times, and who need our help to muddle through.”

Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House (which owns Companhia), released his own end-of-year letter too which praised PRH employees globally for “your unwavering commitment and dedication to our publishing; our collective, abiding belief in the power of words, stories and ideas; and our responsibility as corporate citizens that resulted in continued success for Penguin Random House”.

But it wasn’t a PRH title that took the first non-fiction author into Forbes’ Highest-Paid Authors list for the first time in more than ten years.  That honour fell to Michael Wolff, whose Fire and Fury (Little, Brown) helped earn the author $13m according to the magazine.  But with more than 5m copies of Michelle Obama’s Becoming in print, published by PRH, Obama could well become the first former First Lady to make the list.

There were some fascinating insights into the Chinese children’s market from Zhang Mingzhou, president of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).  While noting that the Chinese children’s market grew by 14.2% from January to September this year and now accounts for approximately 25% of China’s total retail book market, he notes that “most rural villages have no access to books, bookstores, or even libraries”, and adds that “how to get books to these areas – and address the inequality in access to, and distribution of, books – is the biggest issue for this country with a booming children’s book segment”.

He points out the work of the Shenzen-based iRead Foundation in promoting reading across China and notes that the joint IBBY-iRead Outstanding Promoter Award was created in September.  The iRead Foundation has pledged 1.2m CNY (approximately $173,000) biennially for the next 20 years for this award.

See you on ‘the other side’.  Happy Christmas.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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