Snapshot for 21 August 2020

Snapshot for 21 August 2020

Bill Kennedy, founder of sales and marketing agency Avicenna Partnerships which represents western publishers in the Arab World, continues to raise funds to support those who work in Beirut’s book industry, following the explosion that killed more than 200 people in the Lebanese capital on 4 August.

He has set up a fundraising site at  Kennedy  has a target of £100,000.  He says: “It is many of those who work in the local companies with which we all deal, and who have done such great work for publishers, who now and for the foreseeable future urgently need financial help.  Some have been let go, not all are covered by medical insurance, all salaries have not only been cut but also, they’re paid in Lebanese Pounds rather than US$ now and many find themselves in serious distress. If ever there was a time to find ways to get as much money as possible to those who contributed to what sales made the Lebanese market so good, that time is now.

Meanwhile, one of the UK’s oldest book charities – Book Aid International which was founded in 1954 – has just released its 2019 report which includes details of one of the world’s most unusual libraries.  In September last year the charity launched its Voyager Container Library programme in Rwanda, in partnership with NGO Grace Rwanda, which saw a disused 40ft shipping container transformed into a thriving community library in Gasave district, Kigali.  Book Aid refitted it with shelves, seating, lighting and stocked it with more than 4,500 books.

Chief Executive Alison Tweed says: “In 2019 we helped an estimated 19.5 million people around the world gain access to books, sending over 1.2 million books to readers in 26 countries.  We supported public library services across Africa. We partnered with dynamic NGOs to improve the quality of education in schools. We trained librarians, teachers and volunteers to create safe spaces where young people were supported to read, learn and grow…[and] we would like to express our gratitude to everyone who generously supported our work in 2019 and who, along with all of us at Book Aid International, believes in the power of books to change lives.”

No surprises in sales figures for June released by the US Census Bureau that showed bookstore sales down 35% compared to a year ago.  But at least this was an improvement on the previous month when the drop was nearly 60%.

US indies have been helped by the arrival of online retail newcomer Bookshop which enables independent bookshops to use the site to sell books, with fulfilment via wholesaler and distributor Ingram.  The bookshop receives a percentage of each sale made, a little like the UK’s Hive, which sees fulfilment by Gardners which owns the site.

Bookshop is not owned by Ingram; it was set up by independent publisher Andy Hunter (Catapult, Counterpoint, Soft Skull Press), who also publishes the online literary site Literary Hub and is the founder of digital publisher Electric Literature.  Some indies love the service; others are worried about its relationship with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) which has a 4% stake in the business.  But former ABA CEO Oren Teicher said: “Bookshop is not a program of the American Booksellers Association.  It is a totally separate B [as in Benefit – a B corporation is not for profit) corporation that is happening independently of ABA.”

The persistence of the Covid 19 pandemic has seen Hachette Book Group confirm that the publisher will not open its Manhattan and other offices until further notice, with staff working from home, while Penguin Random House has already said it will not officially open its New York office “until sometime next year”.

The Algiers International Book Fair is the latest public event to move online.  Scheduled to take place at the end of October, the director of the country’s Book Office Djamel Foughali said the decision was made in consultation with representatives of Algerian publishers and Book Office officials at the Ministry of Culture and Arts in the face of “the impossibility of holding this event which draws more than one million visitors a year during this exceptional period of pandemic”.

Publishers are worried because, as with many fairs in the region, the events are effectively giant bookshops with many publishers earning their year’s income in the 10 days of the fair.

Finally, as we all know, first there was Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.  Then came Bob Woodward’s Fear.  Now we have the latter’s follow-up, Rage.  There is an almost biblical, operatic flavour to Trump titles.  The President’s lawyers must be preparing their losing arias as we speak.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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