Snapshot of the Week – 8 December 2017

Snapshot of the Week – 8 December 2017

All credit to Melbourne-based audiobook retailer Bolinda for bringing their cleaner with them to the Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference last week. And not just their cleaner, but also their ‘hiker’, their ‘dancer’ and really their doer of any activity that can be accomplished while listening to audio books – which was the point the company made in a very creative way. It hired London-based actress Sarine Sofair to perform these tasks in front of a Bolinda backdrop in the coffee area of the conference, where founder and co-CEO Rebecca Herrman met delegates, some of whom may have been discovering her company for the first time.

Many people took pictures, but one wonders how many realised they had seen Sofair before – er, half-naked in Game of Thrones Seasons 4 and 5 where she plays Lhara, a prostitute living in Braavos, who splashes about, topless, in the Roman-style baths with the pirate-lord Salladhan Saan. Sorry, that Google thing is so useful. To top off a very successful visit, Herrmann was named FutureBook Leader of the Year, following on from PanMacmillan’s Sara Lloyd last year and Penguin Random House’s Hannah Telfer in 2015.

Still with Australia, Amazon has now officially launched where England are having such a tough time in the cricket. This has prompted the familiar debate over jobs created over potential jobs lost (and about batting orders too). Amazon promises to “create thousands of new jobs and invest millions of dollars” in the country. Mark Rubbo, MD of indie bookseller Readings in Melbourne, is pessimistic. “There’s a real risk that Amazon Australia could decimate local businesses – and with them, part-time casual jobs for students and parents of young children.”

He may be heartened by an overview of the US experience by the Harvard Business School (HBS). Its ‘Working Knowledge’ site notes that while the number of US indies fell by 43% between 1995 and 2000, between 2009 and 2015 they staged a comeback, with numbers rising 35% from 1,651 stores to 2,227. The figures come from the American Booksellers Association.

Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor in the Organisational Behaviour unit at HBS wondered how this happened and has just released the preliminary findings of his five-year research. He summarises the revival of indie bookstore with three c’s: community, curation and convening. He says they were the first to champion localism; they began to offer a more tailored stock range (leaving the chains to battle it out with online players on frontlist); and they worked hard to up the number of events/debates/storytimes/children’s parties/signings etc, promoting themselves as intellectual centres at the heart of communities. In other words, perhaps – just perhaps – there is room for both – for indies and Amazon.

Meanwhile, on these shores, Waterstones’ announcement of five new stores before Christmas was a welcome early present for publishers, even if two of the stores – St Neots in Cambridgeshire and Epsom in Surrey – are returns to towns in which the chain previously had stores. The three other stores – the Deal Bookshop in Kent, the Weybridge Bookshop in Surrey and the Blackheath Bookshop in south east London – are all what might be called ‘Indiestones’ or ‘Waterdependents’: in other words, independents in look and feel, but very much part of the mothership.

This good news is reflected across the Atlantic too. While Barnes & Noble’s figures for the second quarter to 28 October were poor in non-book categories, CEO Demos Pameros said that book sales held their own and that like-for-like store sales had continued to improve into November. He told analysts that the company’s plan is to open smaller stores that will concentrate on books that in fiscal 2019 it hopes to open more stores than it closes.

In China, they seem to be trying something the UK experimented with in the Eighties and Nineties: publisher-owned bookstores (anyone remember Penguin Bookshops?). State-owned publisher Citic Press Group has opened nearly 70 shops in airports across the country, while Chinese publisher Thinkingdom Media Group has acquired Singapore-based bookstore Page One.

Congratulations to Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy whom Publishers Weekly named its Person of the Year. It noted that Reidy had “steered the company through the Great Recession, publishing’s digital disruption, and a slow growth sales environment to keep it a commercial and critical success”.

Finally, that was a wonderful item on newly-declassified papers from MI5 that show the agency was monitoring the novelist Kingsley Amis after an intercepted letter described him as a “very promising” member of the Communist Party. Amis’ commanding officer Col John Baskervyle-Glegg (stop stop – they must be making this up) sent a memo which said that the young officer did not have a “particularly inspiring personality”. The army officers also described him as a “deliberate contrarian”. To which those older member of the publishing industry will surely think: ‘they should have known him in his later years….’

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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