When this is all over – and don’t we all long for that day – a publishing PhD student will perhaps explore why there were so many long books published in the autumn of 2020, so many, as Clays CEO Paul Hulley put it, ‘high extent’ books. Is it simply that, during lockdown, writers were spending more time at their desks?
In recent days some of the Covid conversation has looked at the effect on printers. The glut of titles delayed because of the virus has swelled on both sides of the Atlantic. Tanya Dunbar, divisional MD for trade books at printers CPI noted that “one of the most challenging aspects has been the high paginations we are seeing this year. Our average extent is 500pp, whereas usually it is nearer 360pp – so a big increase”.
In the US they are talking about a ‘capacity crunch’ brought on by the number of delayed titles, with fully-staffed printers still looking for more help and some printers outsourcing work due to high demand.
In Europe, the German government is giving booksellers and publishers $23.6m as part of its Neustart Kultur (New Start Culture) stimulus package. The emphasis at those bookstores with sales up to $2.36m last year is on digitising the supply chain, with a focus on new systems, creating user-friendly websites and further training for staff. For publishers, the emphasis is on help for new titles that might not otherwise appear. The German Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters said: “Publishers and bookstores are the lifeblood of our book industry. That’s why we are supporting them in the current crisis and strengthening their ability to compete. We are making it possible for publishers again to publish new titles. And we are helping bookstores to build their online activity.”
Praise and pleas from the International Publishers Association (IPA). It has praised the Kuwait National Assembly for amending the law on media and publications that previously required all books to receive prior approval from a committee before release. Kristenn Einarsson, the chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, welcomed this “change in favour of the freedom to publish”, describing it as “an important step forward”.
The following week the IPA called on the international publishers of Nobel Literature Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich – among them Penguin Random House – to condemn the brutal campaign of violence and intimidation against peaceful protests unleashed by the president of her native Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. IPA president Hugo Setzer described the repression in Belarus as “despicable” and he was joined by Rudy Vanschooonbeek, president of the Federation of European Publishers who said: “We call on all the international publishers of Svetlana Alexievich’s books to make their voices heard. We need you to raise international awareness of the horrific situation in Belarus and help bring about a diplomatic, peaceful end to this crisis.”
Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the UK’s Society of Authors, has also written to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, to ‘publicly condemn the violence and repression in Belarus and to ensure that the UK plays its part in raising awareness of the plight of Belarusian citizens [including many writers] in discussions with Foreign Ministers and as part of the UK’s ongoing diplomatic missions to the Council of Europe…the UN, UNESCO and elsewhere’.
The virtual Beijing International Book Fair has been underway this week and is pleased to see 11 publishers from Iran sign up, as opposed to typically just one or two who attend the physical fair. More widely, according to research by Shanghai’s Centrin Ecloud, bookstore sales in China have showed a marked improvement in May and June with sales as much as 80% above pre-pandemic levels.
Diversity still remains to the fore on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, the Brown Bookshelf, a body that works to increase awareness of the work of contemporary black children’s authors and illustrators, issued a call for action. It is calling for publishers to provide ‘significant and sustained investment in midlist black authors/illustrators’; to ‘map out concrete marketing strategies that include valuable input from black book creators’; and to ‘expand hiring practices to increase the number of black professional in publishing at every level’.
Finally, sad to see the closure of one of America’s most iconic bookstores – Barnes & Noble’s store in Baltimore’s Power Plant building in the city’s Inner Harbour. With its skyscraper ‘setbacks’ and four giant, funnels this former power station looks like an enormous brick cathedral organ. B&N has traded there since 1998 and said that although it had been a privilege to run “one of the most distinctive bookstores of the United Sates”, those attributes made it “extraordinarily expensive to operate and maintain”.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.