A disturbing, memorable week. Never mind Most Favoured Nation – that being the clause in Amazon contracts over which the European Commission has secured a small victory – the letters MFN could well stand for Most Fevered Nation now, as the protests following US president Donald Trump’s controversial ‘travel ban’ continue to dominate news bulletins. They have washed up here too, of course, and have spread into the book trade on both sides of the Atlantic, producing comments and actions almost unprecedented in the book industry.
When did a major book retailer ever offer to fund a legal challenge to a ruling by its country leader, as Amazon has done? When did Publishers Weekly ever say of a new president:”From almost the start of his run for the presidency, [he] has shown little respect for the First Amendment and free speech issues”? When has there ever been such a palpable sense of unease, even prompting non-partisan publishers like Pearson to describe the new president’s policy as “deeply worrying”? And this is only week two. What happens when – as rumours suggest – the new president cuts funding to various arts bodies in the US? Concerning the latter, a group called Writers Resist Trump is due to lobby representatives on Capitol Hill at the Association of Writing Programs annual conference next week (10 February).
Industry folk have marched here and in the States. UK author Malorie Blackman has said she will not participate in any US events; US author Roxanne Gay pulled her forthcoming book with Simon & Schuster in protest at S&S’s decision to publish Dangerous by the Trump-supporting Milo Yiannopolous; and agent Barbara Zitwer is asking for entries to a Book of Protest to be published online at the start of the London Book Fair. Was there ever such a tumultuous start to the year?
Gay also made headlines for her landmark speech at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in Minneapolis. “Publishing has a diversity problem,” she told the largely white audience, “and so do the bookstores that work within the publishing ecosystem.” But she praised the Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee for its outreach to black organisations and she said that book people “were good people, but we are not immune from the ways of the world”. She concluded by praising bookshops as “sanctuary”, as “consecrated places”. She said: “Bookstores have always been important community spaces, but in the coming years, they will be more important, more necessary than ever. Books will be more important than ever as writers use words to hold this new administration accountable…”
The importance of books in a ‘post-truth’, ‘alternative facts’ world is being mentioned by many and is being held on to as a positive in worrying times. There was some good news from the latest research by Nielsen in the US presented at Digital Book World in New York, which showed that there has been an increase in books bought for boys aged nine to 12. Publishers hope, of course, that in due course these boys will see a president who goes into bookshops for his holiday reading, as the Obamas so famously did in previous years.
Away from the US, HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne shared some of his thoughts on the Indian market with The Economic Times. He described it as “an exciting, huge publishing market with great history and future”, and hinted that there was untapped potential in the children’s market. “A challenge we find with children’s books in India is to get homegrown authors. We are working on that. Sales in India are now beginning to reflect the patterns in countries like the UK where the business is very developed.”
Finally, many congratulations to the winners of the second Trailblazers Awards, organised by the London Book Fair, and supported by the Society of Young Publishers and BookBrunch. They were announced at a reception at London’s Soho House on Wednesday (1 February) and are Anne Russo, Sales Executive at Hodder Education; Caroline Tatam, Platform Marketing Executive at Cambridge University Press; Claire O’Neill, Business Affairs Manager at Audible; Zelijka Marosevic, Co-Publisher at Daunt Books Publishing; and Heather McDaid, Publisher at 404 Ink/Scot Lit Fest.
The awards recognise young publishing talent under the age of 30. The companies listed above are all familiar, except perhaps for one. 404 Ink is a new, ‘alternative, independent publisher’ and literary magazine – and surely the only publisher to be named after an Internet error message.