Congratulations to Stuart Wilson from the Pan Mac art department for a memorable cover for the Booker-winning Shuggie Bain. Thanks to his treatment of the striking image by photographer Jez Coulson we all know this boy even if we might not have read the book yet. The Christian symbolism of the image is powerful – and how clever that the down strut of the crucifix-like structure becomes the ‘i’ of ‘Shuggie’. A couple of questions remain though: who is the boy in the photograph? How old is he now? Does he even know about his strange fame?
Much celebrating this week, both here and in France, with the announcement that bookshops can reopen on 2 December and 28 November respectively. The French Bookseller’s Association estimates that the second lockdown has cost indies 60% of sales compared to the same period last year, so it is excellent news that Christmas browsing is back on. In the US, observers believe the holiday surge has already begun. According to NPD BookScan, unit sales of printed books increased 18.3% for the week ending 14 November, over the previous week.
Penguin Random House UK CEO Tom Weldon said the group had enjoyed “extraordinary” consumer demand during the Covid crisis and praised the whole industry for being “adaptable and flexible”. But he warned of the damage the virus is doing to education in more deprived areas. “It’s going to increase inequality,” he said, “and I think coming out of this pandemic we’re all going to have to work even harder on how we’re going to create readers of the future, thinking about kids, and ensuring everyone has fair access to books in our society.”
Meanwhile, the actions of his masters were being called into question by News Corp CEO Robert Thomson during its annual meeting. He used a colourful turn of phrase to say that he wouldn’t comment on “speculation and scuttlebutt” that HarperCollins was a leading contender to buy Simon & Schuster. But referring to reports that Penguin Random House and its parent company, Bertelsmann, is a front-runner for S&S, he said: “I would make one observation about Simon & Schuster. It will clearly be a serious antitrust issue if Bertelsmann acquires Simon & Schuster. However cute and clever the structure, if Bertelsmann is their beneficiary, it will be a book behemoth. And this will certainly be a profound antitrust issue for the entire book industry and, no doubt, for authors around the world.”
There has been a raft of announcements from the International Publishers Association (IPA) – and a piece of history made. For the first time in its long existence, the organisation will have an all-female leadership, with the confirmation that Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, founder and CEO of Kalimat publishers in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and Karine Pansa owner and Publishing Director at Girassol Brasil Edições in Sao Paulo, Brazil, will become respectively President and Vice-President of the body from January.
Speaking at the IPA’s annual general assembly, Bodour said: “As only the second woman to assume this role in 124 years, it’s important to highlight this advancement as one more step to make the IPA more diverse and more inclusive, and its further evidence that the IPA will always lead by example as it evolves in parallel with humanity’s progress.”
Bodour continued by saying the pandemic afforded the industry a chance to “stop and hit the re-set button”, a chance to look at “lessons learned and opportunities created”. She urged publishers to be “benevolent disrupters of our own industry” as everyone prepares for the post-Covid world ahead.
Who is the bestselling author of the last decade? JK Rowling? EL James? Stephen King? The answer is James Patterson, according to NPD BookScan. From 2010 to 2019 he has sold 84m units across print and e-book formats, more than King, David Baldacci and John Grisham combined, the stats body says. The current decade has got off to a good start for the author too, it seems. Patterson’s The Family Lawyer has just hit number one on the New York Times bestseller – the irony being, of course, that it sounds just like a Grisham title.
Finally, let’s leave the last word with Shuggie. Let’s hope the boy – the young man – on the jacket passes a bookshop window this week and thinks “Wait a minute…”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.