It has been one of the book industry’s most extraordinary two weeks, certainly on a par with successive Harry Potter books (most particularly the final one), but also bringing to mind similar security operations with the manuscript of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman the Andrew Morton Diana titles and, going further back, Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and even Madonna’s Sex.
None of these, however, quite matched the clandestine and severe measures introduced to protect Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, (though if memory serves me correctly copies of the last Potter were kept in an area of THE’s – remember them? – warehouse called ‘the cage’, normally reserved for dangerous chemicals and the like.)
The packed lunch directive was the best part. Staff at the book’s printers, Clays, had to bring in their lunch in clear plastic bags, as if they were going through airport security. Could pages of text have been hidden in a wrap? We’ll never know! Someone may have even eaten page 14 before publication…
There were, it seems, dozens of different passwords being used and now, following an unspecified independent bookshop labelling its copies of The Testaments ‘Booker Prize Winner’, we might yet see embargoes on ‘Winner’ stickers themselves, with staff at the stickers’ printers having to bring in their sandwiches in in clear plastic bags. Absurd yes, but really no more so than the real story.
And what of the publication date embargo that was broken by the retailer that shall not be named (sorry, it’s the Potter effect)? Atwood had this to say: “I think anybody putting an embargo in place in the future should attach a dollar amount. They should say if you violate the embargo, this is what it will cost you and that money will go to independent bookstores.”
Oren Teicher, outgoing CEO of the American Booksellers Association, believes said retailer’s “blatant, flagrant abuse of the laid-down date for the Margaret Atwood book doesn’t pass the giggle test about it being alleged. Companies that size don’t make mistakes”. But perhaps you could argue that is large companies, because of their size, where genuine mistakes are made. Or is this to be naïve?
Whatever the truth, it all served to put a book on the front pages and on the News, which was a good thing, providing, to paraphrase the spiritual, some balm in publishing’s Gilead.
Teicher’s appearance at the BA Conference was special, as he shared the stage with his departing opposite number here, Tim Godfray. The pair have notched up 77 years of trade representation between them and Teicher noted that one change he had seen, and which gave him hope, was how many young people were coming into bookselling, something that wasn’t the case when he started out. This may be linked to the activist role of booksellers in recent years.
Teicher’s contribution to the trade is to be recognised in November when he will receive the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the America Literary Community. Previous recipients have included Maya Angelou, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Dick Robinson, president and CEO of Scholastic.
Some good news in Poland where the government has approved a reduction in VAT on e-books, from 23% to 5%. Ewa Szmidt-Belcarz, president of Empik, the country’s largest bookselling chain, told Publishing Perspectives: “It’s a step forward regarding the treatment of both book formats. E-book readers have been looking forward to a decision to match the VAT rates of print and electronic books, as they’ve felt somewhat discriminated against by the higher VAT rate. The old rate certainly wasn’t beneficial to publishers, either, because it made publishing e-books less profitable for them. It seems that this change will bring positive results.”
Good news from Canada’s indies too. Stats body BookNet Canada reports that 65% of independent bookstores polled reported revenue increases from new print books between 2017 and 2018.
Finally, another mark of the continuing success of Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing has been notched up in the US where it will be published in Spanish in October by Vintage Espanol. This will be the first time the title has been available in a Spanish language edition in the US. Rather than attempt to translate ‘crawdad’, the publisher has opted for the simple La Chica Salvaje, The Wild Girl.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.