Thursday, October 16, 2008

The mess - and the Messe

Penguin Chairman John Makinson: a re-shaping of the infrastructure?

The global financial crisis is on everyone’s mind, and everyone has an opinion about the possible consequences. Penguin Chairman John Makinson, who noted that his stand was packed on the first day of Frankfurt, told me in the Messe: “I’m more concerned about potential credit issues than the short term effect on consumer spending. However, I think it’s inevitable that there will be some affect on consumer spending. We’re seeing evidence that people are buying books in a different way. They’re buying more in supermarkets. We’re seeing fewer discretionary trips to bookshops and malls. But people still need household essentials and while they’re in the supermarket, they may pick up a book as well.

“So we’ve seen a reduction in bookshop footfall on both sides of the Atlantic. The situation is actually very tough to read in the US because it’s the month before an election so it’s difficult to get non-fiction authors on to the morning shows which are, understandably, full of politics. So, in that sense, we expect business to be a little slower there.

“The real issue for us, strategically, is not just the credit crunch, but the affect of the continued growth in online purchasing, the increase in digital content, rather than printed content, and the increase in e-books. If you take all of those elements, and add the financial situation, then the question is: will there be a re-shaping of the industry infrastructure? I do wonder whether the merchandizing wholesaler model is any longer fit for purpose. We’ve had ABS, Thomas Cork, the problems at EUK. I do think we need to sit down with the supermarkets and the wholesalers and work out a better way of distributing the credit risk.”

At Hachette’s splendid opening party at the Hessischer Hof, Orion’s Malcolm Edwards noted that, despite the frightening reports almost everywhere, the financial meltdown did not seem to have affected figures yet. “I think ‘super Thursday’ really made a difference. If you look at the same week last year, although the figures were good for Palin and Richard Hammond [presenter of UK’s Top Gear TV programme] – 12,000 for the week or whatever – they are not as good as the figures for the same week this year where we were up around 17,000 for Julie Walters. So I do think the publicity for ‘super Thursday’ in the nationals made a difference.”

But there was a note of caution from former Borders’ CEO David Roche (below), out walking the aisles at his first Frankfurt and shortly due to finish his two-month tenure at

HarperCollins. “I think it may be OK now, but I think January is going to be particularly tough when the credit card bills come in.” It was ever thus, of course, although it seems that this time, it could be even more so.
One author who surely isn’t feeling the affects of the global credit crunch is Paulo Coelho (above). Indeed, the man who could be described as the mystic of the malls is perhaps someone to whom people turn for an answer at times like this.
Sales of 100m copies of his books were celebrated at a party at Frankfurt’s King Kamehameha Club at which he sang on stage with Gilberto Gil. He was also presented with a Guinness World Records certificate for being the most translated author of the same book. You know which one it is. He dedicated the party to his agent of 20 years standing, Monica Antunes, seen here with him at the party. Bestselling alchemy sums up this partnership.

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