Five Fail to Provide Must-Have Parodies might sum up Christmas 2017. Many booksellers said there were fewer titles like those Ladybird/Blyton spoofs to attract people who don’t normally buy books. Sainsbury’s head of books and music, Peter Selby, believes the parody market – or parodies of nostalgic classics, at any rate – has run its course, and coined the phrase “trend void” to describe the lack of such titles this year. “The parody market that has served us so prodigiously over the past few years has reached the end of its shelf life this Christmas,” he said, “and [that] has left a bit of a trend void.”
It’s certainly true that these crazes do have a natural life: remember all those Magic Eye books from the Nineties? Will mindfulness head to a very calm remainder dealer in due course?
Although the figures were good in the Nightmare Week Before Christmas, with volume and value for printed books up 1.6% and 4.1% respectively, according to Nielsen, this wasn’t enough to prevent a volume and value decline for the four weeks to 23 December of 5.1% and 2.2%, compared to 2016. In the US, the volume trend for the week before Christmas – including Christmas Eve in the US figures, also from Nielsen – was even better than the UK, with unit sales for print up 7%.
Still, in the UK Waterstone’s MD James Daunt professed himself pleased with his chain’s performance, saying that bad weather and “the relative weakness of publishing” meant he had expected worse.
Booksellers Association (BA) Chief Executive Tim Godfray was in optimistic mood too, announcing in his end-of-year letter that “for the first time since the Net Book Agreement ceased to operate in 1995, the BA ended up at the end of this year  with more independent bookshops in membership than we had at the beginning of 2017”.
Physical bookshops are not going away – and certainly not in China. According to China Daily, in 2012 Shanghai became the first city in China to introduce policies aimed at supporting and subsidising physical bookshops, and the paper reports that in 2017 more than 20 new bookstores opened in the region.
In the city of Suzhou, around 40 miles west of Shanghai, the breath-taking Metal Rainbow Zhongshu Bookstore (yes, that really is its name) recently opened – a futuristic, highly-designed store, that is all curved ceilings with bright, sweeping colours beneath which one almost expects Austin Powers to appear (or his brother, Trend Void, to refer back to Sainsbury’s above). The shop is divided into four giant rooms: The Sanctuary of Crystal, The Cave of Fireflies, The Xanadu of Rainbows and The Castle of Innocence, each with a particular design motif. Bookselling baby! Groovy!
The same architectural boldness is found at the new Xinhua Bookstore in Shanghai. The state-owned chain – the largest in the country – is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary and marked the milestone with a new store in the city designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, winner of the Pritker Prize, the ‘Nobel Prize for Architecture’. The store is named ‘Space of Light’ with Ando saying he hoped it will “serve as a station for people to reconnect with books. May reading shed light into people’s heart as light illuminates a room”. This money and attention on bookstores is notable.
And still in the east, Taiwan’s Eslite chain, which has 44 bookstores in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, has announced plans to open four new stores in Taiwan this year.
Finally, one hopes agent Charlie Viney caught that early colour Powell and Pressburger classic from 1948 The Red Shoes which was shown one afternoon over the festive period. Why? Because it featured lots of shots of Covent Garden when it was a working market and in the background in a couple of scenes the offices of the old family firm, the printers and publishers Hazel, Watson & Viney, were clearly visible. A little bit of publishing history unwittingly recorded for ever.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.