Snapshot for 3 October 2019

Snapshot for 3 October 2019

With so many angry words around on both sides of the Atlantic it was good to hear some positive sentiments expressed at the International Publishers Association (IPA) first ever Middle East seminar which wrapped up in the Jordanian capital, Amman earlier this week.

The role of publishers in helping refugees was discussed and in his keynote address, Hugo Setzer, president of the IPA, praised the way “the country has established itself as a leader in tackling the learning challenge for those children forced from their homes by war, famine or disease…This region is not the only one facing such challenges and your ground-breaking work can be used in many other regions to ensure that humanitarian crises do not deprive the affected children of their right to read”.

But elsewhere there have been angry words, from the House of Commons to the world of publishing.  When the jury for Germany’s £13,000 Nelly Sachs Prize – given to a writer promoting “tolerance and reconciliation” – withdrew the prize from novelist Kamila Shamsie after it learnt of her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, there was an outcry from writers.  The author herself said: “It is a matter of great sadness to me that a jury should bow to pressure and withdraw a prize from a writer who is exercising her freedom of conscience and freedom of expression…”

The jury said that “Shamsie’s political positioning to actively participate in the cultural boycott as part of the BDS campaign … is clearly in contradiction to the statutory objectives of the award” and meant that her work is “also withheld from the Israeli population” as a result.  “This contrasts with the aim of the Nelly Sachs prize to proclaim and exemplify reconciliation among peoples and cultures”.

The incident served to put books on the news pages once again.  The question of when to engage and when not to engage, when to support a cultural boycott and when not to, is one with which authors and publishers grapple more and more often in an increasingly global industry.

But there were some typically calm words from Barnes & Noble’s new CEO James Daunt.  Interviewed at the flagship store in New York, he told Publishers Weekly that shop managers will not have to look at planograms from New York dictating how a store should be stocked.  “The bookseller in North Dakota knows what the customer wants better than someone in New York,” he said, though he added that the vast majority of the buying would still be done centrally in New York.  The look of the stores was important he said, and to get it right “takes a special skill – one learned on the bookstore floor”.  The stores “won’t get turned around without spending money”, he added.  “The stores need love…and dollars”.

Back in July it was Dean Koontz who signed a deal with Amazon Publishing; this week it was the turn of The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro.  Amazon Original Stories is to publish his debut short story collection as a Kindle e-book and Audible audio in 2021.  This is a blow to his existing publishers Bloomsbury UK, HarperCollins US and Titan.

Penguin Random House Australia has just made a piece of industrial relations history.  It has voted in the first ever Union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) in Australian publishing.  According to the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance which negotiated on behalf of staff, PRH delegates in the editorial and publicity departments voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of the agreement.  The EBA will see pay increases for editorial and publicity staff in the first year between 3% and 6%, and 3% per year thereafter.

And so to Spider Woman, aka Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court, whose spider brooch went viral during that verdict.  Let us not forget that she is an author too, having written or co-written four books, most recently The Family, Law & Society for OUP.  In an interview last year she echoed comments made at The London Book Fair’s Inclusivity in Publishing conferences.  She argued that the judiciary needed to become more diverse so that the public have greater confidence in judges, and called for a more balanced gender representation on the UK’s highest court and swifter progress promoting those from minority ethnic backgrounds and with “less privileged lives”.  Will she land a new book deal as a result of her new found fame?

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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