We may be leaving Europe, but our bookshops are going to be represented at one high level international gathering – the unique bookselling ‘G20’ that will take place in China next year. Waterstones MD James Daunt will represent both the independent sector (Daunt Books, the Owl Kentish Town etc) and chains at the extraordinary retail summit being planned by China’s mighty Zhejiang Xinhua chain and the online book trade journal Bookdao.
The two-day event will take place in Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province, around 100 miles south west of Shanghai. The venue is scheduled to be the Intercontinental hotel where September’s G20 summit will take place. The idea is to bring together physical booksellers from around the world to discuss the future of bricks and mortar bookselling in the digital age. If this hadn’t already been announced before London’s two-day heatwave, one might have thought this was all the fantasy of an overheating book industry journalist. But it is happening and surely there has surely never been another occasion like it. Yes, some UK booksellers do attend the American Booksellers Association’s Winter/Summer Institutes, but those occasions are not anything quite as ambitious as this. One hopes that a G20-style photograph is taken, so that each bookseller ‘leader’ can be identified. All hail the Great Waterstone of China (but can he be seen from outer space?).
Physical bookselling seems to have been making the news everywhere, from the global – as above – to the local. The UK’s Head of Zeus has just appointed three former booksellers to sell into bookshops; the Booksellers Association (BA), in partnership with HarperCollins, NetGalley and The Bookseller has formed The Booksellers Network, a forum for sharing ideas aimed at shop-floor booksellers; and there was a proposal at the BA Conference for publishing CEOs to work in bookshops. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced more pop-up stores in malls (not selling books, admittedly – or not yet – but still physical outlets, nonetheless).
Publishers Weekly noted that revenue from five major publishers was down for the first six months of the year. PRH CEO Markus Dohle cited the lack of a bestseller on a par with 2015’s The Girl on the Train during the period as a contributory factor. This set self-publishing champion Hugh Howey off. “Am I the only one confused by the constant ‘We didn’t have a blockbuster’ explanation for a slow publishing quarter?’”, he asked. “Isn’t this what publishers claim to be able to do?” He also raised the issue of terms of license, adding: “As bookshelves dwindle, and Barnes & Noble appears on the verge of going the way of Borders, now would be a terrible time to take a work of art that lasts forever and sign it over to any publisher for term of copyright. The new standard has to be five to seven years of license, or self-publish, until things shake out.”
Bonnier Books’ CEO Jacob Dalborg discussed self-publishing with Publishing Perspectives, and urged publishers to look into it “to identify the best authors and offer them their core service of author development. I am sure that we’re missing several good authors right now”. He also recommended the route as a fallback solution to any author who has been rejected, arguing that it provides “the tools you need to build your own brand and reader relations”.
Barnes & Noble is ailing, but an obituary is too early. Its sales fell 6% in the first quarter, but Chairman Len Riggio – temporarily back in his old role as CEO after the firing of the short-lived Ron Boire – has announced five new concept stores that will include licensed restaurants. He also said that inventory had been cut too much and that the stores needed to be “jazzed up a little bit”. But he pointed out that the retail climate was tough,with the upcoming election keeping people at home “glued to their TVs and at their desktops”.
‘The New Powers That Be’ was a fascinating piece by Laura Miller in Slate on Harry Potter’s role in the rise of internet fandom and fan fiction. It introduces some words and phrases that may be new to many: ‘shipping’, when fans place two characters together as a couple; the ‘three year summer’, that being the gap between the fourth and fifth Potter books, and TPTB, which stands for The Powers That Be’ ie the rights holders themselves. It also included this great sentence: ‘Fannishness about Rowling’s books has morphed into fannishness in general, and even fannishness about fannishness itself.
And wouldn’t The Three Year Summer make the perfect, wistful title for a YA novel set in this world?