First off, congratulations to Fiona Mozley, who is surely the first ManBooker shortlisted author to be working in a bookstore (Little Apple Bookshop in York) at the same time as the hullabaloo. “Can you recommend one of the Booker titles please?” “Well, er…there is this one. It’s called Elmet…”
It has been a week of seemingly conflicting messages. Hachette’s worldwide chief, Arnaud Nourry, told the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris, that the book market would remain flat in the next three to five years, and then decline over the following decade. But this coincided with a report that sales of printed books in China were more than 10% up for the first half of 2017, compared to 2016, according to data company OpenBook, and that Barnes & Noble had delivered its “best quarterly sales performance [for trade books] for two years”, according to CEO Demos Pameros, and that it was even looking at opening more stores.
Nourry’s comments echoed remarks made by Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson at Futurebook last December when he talked about an industry “in long term secular decline”. That phrase sent a number of people checking their notes and looking up the video clip on which he was interviewed: did he really say ‘secular’? Or was ‘cyclical’? Circular? Secular it was, which, to remind those not fluent in economics terminology, broadly speaking means long term, regardless of current economic trends. So, in other words, any positive blips – like that news from China – cannot mask the overall trend. If you like, this is the climate change view of the industry, with traditional publishing being the Polar ice caps.
Both Nourry and Hely Hutchinson believe hope lies in mobile, or rather video games for mobile, hence Hachette’s purchase of Neon Play and Brainbow in the UK, and IsCool in France. Mobile is surely also responsible for the glowing audio figures that are being reported. According to the Association of American Publishers, audio sales were up 29% for the first four months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
The Booksellers Association’s CEO Tim Godfray put on a combative performance at is annual conference, quoting a specially commissioned report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research which shows that UK bookshops contribute an estimated £1.9bn to the UK economy annually. The report also notes the harder to quantify benefits of bookshops which “stretch beyond these monetary impacts [and encompass] education, literacy and the provision of informational and cultural conduit to society at large”.
Publishers continue to acknowledge the importance of indie booksellers. In the US, Abrams has just created the position of sales manager/indie ambassador, luring experienced bookseller Wendy Ceballos away from Third Place Books in Seattle. This is the same position that Kate Gunning occupies for Penguin Random House in the UK. Meanwhile, the American Booksellers Association and the Authors Guild have just announced a joint initiative to produce events in indie stores across the US. The events will pair a debut author with an established author in the authors’ home area, with the emerging authors chosen by indie booksellers for the ABA’s ‘Indies Introduce’ list.
Two international companies announced they were becoming even more global this week: HarperCollins unveiled HarperCollins Hungary, the new name for Harlequin Hungary which the publisher acquired in 2014, and Simon & Schuster is to launch Scribner in Australia and New Zealand in 2018.
Wonder how many cities are preparing their bids to host Amazon’s second headquarters, which the giant company is simply referring to as HQ2. This is a little like bidding for the Olympics or the World Cup, given the massive economic boost it will provide. “We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says. “Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”
But of course, the really big news of the week was that the Hemingway cats survived Hurricane Irma – as did the staff at Hemingway House at Key West in Florida who hunkered down with all 54 (sic) polydactyl (six-toed) cats who are descended from a cat named Show White that the author adopted while he lived there in the 1930s. The rules of journalism dictate that a feline-themed Hemingway title must be inserted here. Oh A Farewell to Mice will have to suffice. After all, there can’t be any left with that lot prowling around.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.