Snapshot for 5 April, 2019

Snapshot for 5 April, 2019

The Bookseller’s 1 April story ‘Brexit hits Bologna’ was a delight – and could so nearly have been true.  Snow White and the 27 Member States and Goldilocks and the Three Meaningful Votes sounded very like titles from the team behind the adult Ladybird books – and in fact, one half of that team, Jason Hazeley, was on the People’s Vote march where he greatly enjoyed the entertaining banners (because he told me).

But of course, Brexit is not an April Fool, and one prominent figure had this assessment of it so far.  “It has already affected our business, the damage has already been done,” said Bertelsmann CEO and chairman Thomas Rabe, commenting on Penguin Random House’s results for 2018.  “The pound is devalued, and economic growth in the UK and Europe would be higher without Brexit.  There is a significant element of uncertainty, which is very bad for people, especially people working for Bertelsmann…It will go down in history as one of the most destructive decisions ever.”

On a happier note, PRH did see worldwide revenues increase by 1.9%.  Chief Executive Markus Dohle described the company as being on a “growth trajectory” and looking “to grow above the market averages – organically and through acquisitions, particularly in categories that are expanding, such as audio and children’s books”, and as if to underline this statement, the UK wing of the publisher almost immediately announced acquisition of children’s publisher Little Tiger Books. 

Acquisition seems to be in the air in fact, with newcomers Welbeck Publishing (run by old-timers Mark Smith, ex-Bonnier and Quercus, and Marcus Leaver, ex-Quarto), announcing its arrival with the purchase of Carlton Books whose long-serving founder Jonathan Goodman (he established the company way back in 1992) remaining at the firm as publisher-at-large.

The other B-word in the air this week is ‘Bologna’ of course, where people are talking about a ‘BAME Bologna’.  Pushkin children’s books editor-at-large Sarah Odedina and Deborah Ahkenkorah, publisher at African Bureau Stories in Ghana, have formed a loose partnership to mentor African children’s book authors and publish their books in the US, UK and across the African continent.  Hachette Children’s Group UK CEO Hilary Murray Hill summed up the mood at this year’s fair like this: “People are particularly interested in [BAME] voices.  They want authenticity.  There are relatively few [BAME] authors’ books on submission, but more titles will come out in due course.  It feels like there is a real shift in children’s publishing.”

Congratulations to the Emirates Publishers Association, currently celebrating its tenth birthday.  Founded in 2009 by its president Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi of Kalimat publishing in Sharjah in the UAE, it has grown from 13 initial members to 138 publisher members today.  Al Qasimi notes the “significant role it plays in the development of the Arab publishing industry in the region and in the cultivation of Arab literature locally and internationally.  The organization heavily invests in training and mentorship programs for writers and publishers. And it aims to improve all publishing industry conditions and laws including the protection of intellectual property and related rights”.

Worrying news from Egypt where novelist Alaa al-Aswany says he is being sued in the Egyptian military court for “insulting the president, the Armed Forces, and judicial institutions”.  Faber is set to publish his new novel The Republic, As If in 2020.  The authorities in Egypt have apparently condemned the novel for criticising the regime of Hosni Mubarak who was president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  The International Publishers Association says it is monitoring the situation.

Publishers Weekly announced its Bookstore of the Year – Literarti in Ann Arbor, Michgan.  The shop opened in 2013, filling a gap created by the collapse of Borders.  Meanwhile, also in Michigan, Barnes & Noble has just opened its tenth ‘Bookstore of the Future’, in Rochester Hills.  The experimental store is half the size of a traditional Barnes & Noble and is described by the chain’s vice president Frank Marabito as “not your typical Barnes & Noble.  From the lighting to the paint colour to the flooring, we really wanted to create a bookstore with a more contemporary feel”.

Finally, to borrow from Salinger, let us all ‘raise high the roofbeam, carpenters’ for Lawrence Ferlinghetti who turned 100 on 24 March.  The legendary figure from the Beat Generation of the Fifties, author of A Coney Island of the Mind, founder of both City Lights bookstore and the publishing house of the same name in San Francisco must now surely be the world’s oldest bookseller and publisher: and that is something worth registering.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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