The year ended on a positive note for printed book sales in the UK, with value and volume for the 51-week period in 2016 up 5.1% and 2.5% respectively on the previous year – so the strong print theme that was much of the story of last year continued right until the end, helped, of course, by JK Rowling’s Cursed Child and those proliferating Ladybird and Blyton spoofs that seem to work best in physical rather than digital.
The atmosphere seems positive for bookshops too. Bonnier-owned Pocket Shop opened its third UK outlet – in Liverpool Street Underground station – and Booksellers Association Chief Executive Tim Godfray predicted the “possibility” of new openings outweighing closures in 2017. WHSmith is also bullish about its new specialist bookstores, the latest of which has just opened at Euston.
Internationally, Korea’s oldest bookstore, Jongo Books in Seoul, which originally opened in 1907 but closed in 2002, has just reopened, and in the US, Ingram is preparing a new service for independent booksellers called Indie Vault. The service will set aside stock just for indie booksellers, to help them when stock of hot titles is bought up by the major chains. The ‘vault’ stock will be for independent bookshops exclusively.
Sad deaths and political upheavals marked the second half of 2016, giving a sense to some that things are out of kilter, that some fundamental unfairness has taken root, with people passing away too early and countries lurching in strange directions. The loss of work friends and colleagues jolted many, and has been accompanied by a feeling that on the larger stage the world has taken a wrong turn, one that no one can quite explain.
Yet, as if to counter this, the book industry once again showed its best side in the outpouring of affection for agent David Miller of Rogers, Coleridge and White, who died just before the New Year – just as it did for Miller’s fellow agent, Carole Blake, who died in October, and indeed for Cassell editor Barry Holmes, who died in early December.
Miller is fondly remembered for his humour and generosity, and in a joint statement RCW Chair Gill Coleridge and MD Peter Straus said: “His kindness, intelligence, wit and humanity were unparalleled, and his passing marks a great loss to the publishing world.”
Cassell’s Holmes was not such an international figure as Miller or Blake, but it was equally moving to read the tributes from those who had worked with him. Many mentioned his adoption of the phrase ‘Sales Prevention Department’, when he talked, tongue-in-cheek about the sales and marketing department he led – it was the kind of phrase Miller would have used in fact – and Richard Millbank, now publishing director of non-fiction at Head of Zeus, said: “Many have rightly celebrated Berry’s ever-present sharp wit and cynicism in the face of publishing’s Permanent Revolution, but I remember also a kind-hearted, engaging and sympathetic colleague. I can still see him bent over a typescript, editing by hand, mouth pinched in concentration. All his friends and colleagues will miss him greatly.”
Perhaps other industries are like this as well; certainly, the book trade can seem special in the fond way it remembers its own. When the world seems fractious, seems to be pulling apart, it is reassuring to read this sort of unity and fellow-feeling. As Pan Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevethan put it, in his tribute to Miller: “I shall also miss him for his avowed philosophy that we all work together in the publishing community, in partnership, to bring great writing to the surface.”
But the year is starting in a worrying way for Australian publishers, with the parallel imports/reduced term of copyright issue rearing its head again. The Australian Productivity Commission wishes to scrap the Parallel Import Rule (PIR), which prevent booksellers selling an imported title if an Australian publisher offers the same title on sale within 14 days of the international publication date. It also wishes to reduce the term of copyright.
PIR is seen as protecting Australian publishing and stopping the country from, as Allen and Unwin publisher Robert Gorman puts it, “returning to the days when London and New York publishers decided what Australians read”. However, the Dymocks chain is in favour of the changes, though it would seem to be out on its own.
Lastly, congratulations to Dominique Raccah, founder and CEO of Sourcebooks, who was named PW Person of the Year. Her presentations are always enlightening and her development of the ‘Put me in the story’ range in 2012 has been an outstanding success. She is still innovating, with an augmented reality app for the Dragon Brothers picture book series due this year. Happy – or perhaps, Appy – New Year.