Figures for trade books in the US are healthy for the first six months of 2019 over the same period last year, according to figures gathered by the Association of American Publishers as part of its StatShot program. Sales increased by 3.8% and there was no surprise which was the biggest category within the adult book sector. Sales of downloadable audio increased by 35.2%, a success story that has now become familiar. Trade paperbacks gained too, up 3.2%, but e-book sales dropped 3.8% for the period.
Interestingly, the subject area that showed the strongest growth was religion, up 11.4%. This comes at a time of concern for religious publishing in the US with the decision of publisher Lifeway Christian Resources to close its 170 stores this year. But Jeff Crosby, publisher at fellow Christian house InterVarsity Press (IVP) noted that while many sales went through Amazon and other online retailers, IVP was enjoying “an uptick in work with general market national chains who remain, but also with the growing number of ABA independents, where a breadth of religion titles are being welcomed and promoted.”
There is much understandable excitement over the arrival of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments – but is the slogan on those pin badges Foyles and Vintage are offering strong enough? They say ‘Down with Gilead’, the latter being the dystopian society in which the two novels are set. Trouble is, in today’s parlance ‘Down with’ can sound like a message of support. Look what the online Urban Dictionary says for ‘down with’. It’s ‘Top definition’ for the phrase is: ‘In a state of acceptance or agreement’. That’s hardly the message Atwood’s heroine Offred would be happy with.
From Gilead to Uganda. The Writivism Festival has just taken place in Kampala,, Uganda, and saw novelist Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi among speakers. Writivism is East Africa’s largest literary festival. Makumbi’s novel Kintu is published by One World after having been turned down by several UK publishers, as she recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books. “I remember that when I took the book back home, there was a 14-year-old girl who picked it up and read it in two days. When she finished, she came to me and gave me back the book, and said, “When is the next one?” It wasn’t like, “Oh, I loved it,” or anything like that, she just asked, “When is the next one?” just in case I thought I’d written a fantastic book. I thought back on the British publishers telling me that the British would not understand the book because it’s too difficult, and I looked at this 14-year-old, and thought, god, how patronizing can they be.”
Next stop, Latvia. Sometimes different countries are connected by the similar battles being fought by their publishing industries. Thus the Latvian Publishers Association (LPA) is currently lobbying the government to reduce VAT on books to 5%. At its peak, the VAT rate was 21%. The LPA’s campaign is a long one and Renate Punka, the LPA’s chair, says: “Thanks to the persistence of our publishers and booksellers and the strong support of the Latvian ministry of culture, books were included in a range of products and services covered by a reduced rate of 10 percent. This decision was achieved through constant monitoring of the situation, collection of market data, and very active discussions with politicians and the ministry of finance. A few years later, the ‘reduced’ rate was increased to 12 percent, making it the highest among the EU member-states except for Bulgaria and Denmark.”
Congratulations to Penguin Random House NZ which was named Nielsen Publisher of the Year in New Zealand’s Book Industry Awards, organised by Booksellers NZ. Unity Books in Auckland was named Nielsen Bookshop of the Year. This is the shop in which NZ novelist Nigel Cox worked and once said: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, meet me by the philosophy shelve.”
Finally, Waukegan Illinois has entered literary history by becoming one of the very few locations in the world to boast a statue of a twentieth century writer. It has erected a statue of its most famous son, the SF novelist Ray Bradbury, outside Waukegan Public Library where the author of Farenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles spent many childhood hours feeding his imagination.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.