Snapshot of the Week – 27 October 2016

Snapshot of the Week – 27 October 2016

Jacks Thomas, Director of The London Book Fair remembers Carole Blake:

In the nicest possible way Carole seemed to have been in publishing forever – certainly long enough for me to admire her from afar in my younger years. As these things do in the book world, eventually our paths crossed – in this instance at Publishing News’s 21st birthday bash in Brighton –which was a memorable evening of revelry with much after-show fun with Carole and others in the Grand Hotel. Fast forward a few years and I was on the board as Carole took on the Presidency (very energetically) of the Book Trade Charity; a task she approached with characteristic energy. Latterly, of course, I have liaised with Carole in terms of book fairs – from responding to put-out tweets about warm white wine to tweets of appreciation when cold champagne was presented as a replacement…from conversations about the relative merits and demerits of book fair toasted cheese sandwiches (to be replaced by smuggled-in M&S salads)…to finding Carole in Remainders on the first day of this year’s book fair and having the great pleasure of escorting her — to much banter –to Carole’s more natural habitat in the Rights Centre. A Rights Centre that will sadly miss Carole – cheese toasties and champagne and all – next year and for many years to come.


A sad week.  The death of the agent Carole Blake has touched a great many people, and the outpouring of grief and condolences and memories shows the industry acting at its best – a community coming together like a family to remember one of its own. To add a personal note, in my long years writing about the business Carole was always helpful, always ready with a quote or an opinion or an anecdote. At Publishing News we could rely on her famous love of shoes to provide good diary page copy (“the Imelda Marcus of the publishing industry”), while on a more serious note, she was one of the very few agents to regularly attend the BA Conference – she said she always found it worthwhile.  She proved a steely fundraiser in her three years as Chair of the Book Trade Benevolent Society and she clearly loved so many different aspects of the industry. It was odd not to see her in the Lit Ag at Frankfurt last week; it would have been her 47th fair. One is sure that Superintendent Roy Grace – the creation of one of her most successful clients, Peter James – will raise a glass to her in a Brighton hostelry this weekend.

Is Swedish-owned Pocket Shop the new Books etc? Just before Christmas 2009, the branch of Books etc in the tiny Broadway Shopping Centre in Hammersmith became one of the last shops in the beleaguered chain to close.  Now, seven years later, Pocket Shop is to open in the shopping centre in November, almost in the exact same spot.  It will be Pocket Shop’s second store in the UK, following Birmingham Airport, which opened in July, and the company has plans to open in another travel location before the end of the year.

The chain, which has 25 shops in Sweden, Finland and Germany and is owned by Swedish publisher, Bonnier, has a bright and breezy approach that isn’t a million miles from the fondly remembered Book etc. Its CEO Anna Borné Minberger told the Bookseller that she believes there is an “interesting book market [in the UK], which has recovered after different challenges, such as digital, and is on the rebound”.

Certainly, in the years since Books etc and parent company Borders collapsed, digital has both risen and subsided, supermarkets are not the bookselling force they once were and physical bookshops are indeed having something of a revival – as Pocket Shop’s investment in the UK demonstrates. Interestingly, in Frankfurt last week, Jane Streeter of the Bookcase Lowdham attributed some of this revival to an unlikely source—Amazon. “Bookshops have become more beautiful because of Amazon,” she said in a panel discussion entitled ‘What Readers Want’. “There are so many personal interactions. We do more events, more curation… We do the physical things you can’t do online.” Her fellow panellist, German bookseller Patrick Marsial of Buchhandlung Musial in Recklinghausen, had this neat summary: “We are the ones with smiles on our faces, not on cardboard boxes”, though in fairness one should add that Amazon’s speed of delivery and efficiency puts many smiles on faces too.

With Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and Macmillan beginning the long run-in to publishing Elton John’s memories, there has been a Seventies flavour in the air. Interviewed by Publishers Weekly about Pew Research Centre’s study of US reading habits, Pew’s executive director Lee Rainie noted that people are now using tablets and mobiles, rather than dedicated e-readers. “You have people who are on the move, people who have commutes and things like that are taking along a device that makes books accessible to them in circumstances that aren’t classic book-reading circumstances. So now books can be omnipresent in people’s lives, if they want them to be.” Wonder if he was thinking of Stephen Stills’ 1970 hit ‘Love the one you’re with’ when he added: “Our data are very clear that there is a class of Americans who just can’t get enough books, and if they can’t be with the format they love, they love the format they’re with.”  And of course, this shift to mobile for reading partly explains US telecoms giant AT&T move on Time Warner. One has the network, the other has the content…

Brexit continues to dominate many conversations, with some voicing concerns over recruitment because of uncertainty over who will be allowed to work in the UK. Ian Hudson, CEO of DK Publishing, said: “I’d like to be able to provide assurance to those staff affected that their futures are secure – and I cannot.  We are already seeing this affect the types of people applying for jobs with us, which impacts on the diversity of the workforce, which we all need to improve on.”

Finally, many congratulations to Juliet Mabey and the team at Oneworld for their Man Booker ‘double’ with Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. This follows their win last year with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. The indie, founded in 1986 by Mabey and her husband Novin Doostdar, now joins that relatively rare group of publishers that have won the prize twice in consecutive years. That list, for those literary trainspotters among you, is: Weidenfeld in 1972/73, Faber in 1988/89, Secker in 1993/94 and Picador in 2004/5. The pressure must now be on for the first Man Booker hat-trick, though more immediately, Mabey must be hoping the novel really does live up to its title.


sqh1cgriRoger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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