Thursday, May 28, 2009

So what about a solution?

Come on, Andrew, this is weak. In a piece in last Sunday's Observer entitled 'How intolerable life would be without books and bookshops', Andrew Marr wrote: 'The internet (and this recession) is destroying fine old local papers. Higher booze prices and the smoking ban are destroying pubs. Similarly, we all know how hard the world of Amazon and Google has hit the small bookshop. Life without papers and pubs is an intolerable prospect. Would there be any point in leaving home at all if bookshops went too?'

This is weak because it does not go far enough. What we want is a piece from Marr saying how bookshops are to be protected. There's no point in 300 middle class words on the smell of books and aren't they wonderful mmmm dusty bookshops I love them blah blah blah. We all know that and we all agree. What would be far more interesting would be to read Marr's ideas on what should be done. But of course, that is much, much harder and throws up all sorts of interesting questions concerning the free market and intevention.

But why didn't he have a shot? Why no speculation on lower rents for bookshops because they are educational? Why no discussion of the NBA? Why no discussion on what the situation is like in other European countries? Why no discussion of the Robinson Patman Act?

He might argue that he isn't qualified and that he'll leave that to the experts. But is he necessarily any more qualified to present a TV series on Charles Darwin? This might sound like I am launching an attack on Marr. I'm not. I agree with what he said - I just think it's easy to state the problem without any attempt at suggesting how it might be addressed. And I'm afraid pieces like his do sneak rather closely to bufferdom territory.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cracking the Google Settlement

I have been labouring with the Google Settlement for some days now, gathering the views of publishers and authors, hearing their fears about copyright, listening to authors talk about how to 'claim' their books etc etc. It is a very complicated subject, but I think I've finally cracked it. The way I see it is like this:

'You put last book in,
Your last book out,
In, out, in, out, shake it all about
You do the Google Boogle
And you turn around
That's what it's all about!

Oh, the Google Google Boogle
Oh, the Google Google Boogle
Oh, the Google Google Boogle
Pay low, rights lost ra! ra! ra!

You put your next book in,
Your next book out,
In, out, in, out, shake it all about
You do the Google Boogle
And you turn around
That's what it's all about!

Oh, the Google Google Boogle...'

....and continue for the next 27 verses until you've run out of money to pay the lawyers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Things can only get samey

This piece by Andy Beckett in the Guardian at the weekend is worth reading. It's a good potted history of the UK book trade over the last 100 years. It's devilishly difficult to work out whether things are better or worse. A part of me thinks he didn't make enough of the collapse of the NBA which led to a vicious circle. Publishers and retailers colluded to let that agreement go, which allowed the supermarkets into the book trade in a big way which in turn forced publishers to give the massive discounts that they now complain about.

But equally more and more people are reading now because of the supermarkets' invovlement in bookselling, and that has to be good.

One point everyone surely has to agree on though is that the front-of-store in chain bookshops has become dull. Same same same. Where are the surprises?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Twelve hours to remember

Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol famously takes place over just 12 hours. It strikes me that the first 12 hours of the book’s publication could be just as eventful

15 September 12.01AM: Publication day! Dan Brown’s UK editor Bill Scott-Kerr is woken by a furious banging at his front-door. It’s the first writ, from a Solomon Kee of High Wycombe, who claims his name has been used without permission. “That was The Solomon Key you fool,” the bleary-eyed publisher tells him. “We changed the title.”

6.00AM: Amazon’s warehouse in Wales is picketed by Christian militants who believe Dan Brown is the devil in chinos. The ‘symbol’ of the title is the mark that Christ allegedly made in the stone that guarded his tomb after the Crucifiction. Sorry, that should read Crucifixion

7.00AM: The website uploads a line-by-line demolition of the book’s plot, plus a subscription offer for their newsletter The Nutter

8.00AM: KwikSave takes 75% off the cover price, selling the book for £4.75.
Transworld’s promotional chocolate ‘symbols’ go into Tesco. They are produced by Galaxy, with the slogan: ‘Unlock your tastebuds for the adventure of your life – with Galaxy and Dan Brown’

9.00 AM: KwikFit decides to stock the title – its first book ever. It also promises to give customers a new exhaust at the same time, all for a tenner

10.00 AM: Waterstone’s slashes its price to 50p, plus dinner with the “real life Robert Langdon”, who turns out to be an unpacker (the last in the company in fact) at the chain’s Bradford branch

11.00 AM: On the streets of Delhi, the first pirated copies appear. They’re rather good, having been produced on the Espresso PoD machine that went missing after the London Book Fair. The PA’s Simon Juden is flown to the scene

NOON: Borders announces a 25p cover price, ‘plus a free Da Vinci Code Tarot Pack as well as The Holy Grail for Dummies'

1.PM: Exasperated by all the crazy discounting, Patrick Neale of Jaffe & Neal tells the Bookseller: “It’s madness. We’re refusing to stock it.” A clutch of other indies follow suit, drafting the NBA – the No Brown Agreement

2.00 PM: The author lands at Stansted on Air Force One which President Obama has lent to Random House “because of Dan Brown’s importance to the US economy”. In thanks, Brown promises to include Bo, the Obamas’ Portuguese water poodle, in his next book, The Knights Templars go Walkies

3.PM: The author arrives at the studios of QVC for his interview on Richard & Judy’s new show. The book’s ISBN appears inside a giant crop circle in Wiltshire. Tony Mulliken of Midas, brought in to handle the launch, denies all knowledge

4.PM: Footage on YouTube is alleged to show Dan Brown copying parts of Discovering Ley Lines by Shire Publications. The title moves to Number two on Amazon

5.PM: Transworld orders the first reprint. Sainsbury’s cuts its price to £1.50. Asda offers the book for 1p with a year’s free groceries. Nielsen computers crash after attempting to calculate the amount of money given away

Monday, May 11, 2009

Old book trade figure deemed honourable

Couldn't help smiling this evening as the News related the latest claims for expenses being made by MPs - moat-clearing, lawn mower repair, chauffeurs, pet food, swimming pool was a fabulous list. Then the report singled out those MPs who were truly, in the phrase, 'honorable gentlemen', because they were not claiming for expenses for second homes. Among them was Philip Dunne, Conservative MP for Ludlow and still quite widely known in the book trade because he is the former Chairman of Ottakar's, the chain that eventually merged with Waterstone's. He always seemed absolutely straight up and down when he was at Ottakar's - a man with no side, in the curious English phrase - so it is good to see him singled out for praise; and yes, if you look at his website, he still does look like the Christopher Reeve Superman.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

R & J for Tesco?

So Richard & Judy's show on Watch TV (or rather, Don't Watch, because no one did) has been axed. Not surprising, since the viewing figures were on a par with supermarket CCTV systems. In fact, perhaps that's where it should now be filmed - Richard and Judy wandering up and down their local Tesco, picking up paperbacks and chucking them in the trolley as they talk about them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wrong move for Waterstone's

Can I return to one of the issues of the moment in the UK, namely the job losses at Waterstone's. They company wants to use more part-time staff. How will this be good? How will these staff have the product knowledge? Tables that were there on Monday and Tuesday may have been changed by Wednesday. How is the new shift meant to know? Having worked in two bookshops I know that one of the ways you pick up stock knowledge is simply by being there every day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Part-time MDs?

So Waterstone's wants to increase the number of part-time staff in its stores. "Being full-time or part-time does not change your passion and enthusiasm for books," MD Gerry Johnson told the Bookseller. "It simply changes the number of hours you work in store. We have some absolutely brilliant full-timers and some absolutely brilliant part-timers. What matters to us is the enthusiasm and passion for books and the service they can give to customers."

Some angry booksellers in the chain - and not just those facing redundancy as a result of the distribution hub - might like this idea to be extended to head office. Johnson works Monday to Wednesday, say, then another MD comes in. "Being full-time or part-time does not change your passion and enthusiasm for management....." etc etc.

The chain is in an awful position, perhaps even worse than some independents. It has huge overheads, which indies don't, and Amazon seems unstoppable. I met a senior publisher the other day who admitted to having two Amazon accounts, "one at the office, and one at home - it's just so easy".

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writers on Obama - and Google

Right wing Obama fan?: Jeffrey Archer and wife Mary at Hatchards Authors of the Year party

To Hatchards, the 200-year-old bookshop on Piccadilly, for its annual Authors of the Year party. This is one of the UK booktrade's best-known events and is rather special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is extremely rare to have such a gathering of writers in one room and secondly, there are no publishers or agents present. This really is just for authors, plus a smattering of literary journalists.

Guests last night included Michael Holroyd and wife Margaret Drabble, AN Wilson - the three are pictured above - David Lodge, Tibor Fischer, Philip Kerr, Victoria Hislop, Lady Antonia Fraser, Robert Goddard and Man Booker-shortlisted Philip Hensher.

I couldn't resist asking the famously right wing Archer, former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, what he thought of Obama. "He's wonderful. He's had a remarkable first 100 days, and all of us want him to succeed. I can't remember a US President with so much good will behind him." But surely you're a Republican? "If I think back over the last ten Presidents or so, I could have voted Democrat five times and Republican five times. It's fifty-fifty. I could never have voted for Goldwater, but I would have voted for Kennedy. I would have voted for Reagan too - he was a wonderful Mayor of California."

Conversation veered from the trivial - Wilson and Drabble were talking about the prices at the British Musuem's restaurant - to the serious. I asked numerous writers for their views on the Google Settlement, possibly one of the hardest topics for anyone to get their minds around. Stanlingrad author Antony Beevor said: "I don't even think our agents understand it, and if they don't what hope have we got."

AN Wilson, author of The Victorians and much else, said: "I had a huge screed on it this morning from my agent Gillon Aitken but I haven't read it yet." Lodge, pictured left, whose best-known novels remain Small World and Changing Places, was a little more forthcoming. "The advice we're being given by Curtis Brown is not to opt out because then you can't control anything. If you opt out and wanted to take some sort of legal action at a later date, you'd have to make a private case against Google which would be impossible. Google is so powerful. They are in the driving seat, so you have to protect your position as best you can. I think the real issue is that we don't really know the different the Net will make on the culture of print that we have all grown up with."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is that a poem in your pocket or...

Text messaging strikes me as the perfect form for delivering poetry to readers. Smart publishers should embrace the cell phone, Twitter, Facebook, and other short message services as an ideal platform for promoting new voices. This April 30 marks the seventh annual Poem In Your Pocket Day. Prior to this year, I'd never heard the event, but a flyer was delivered to me in the new edition of Gulf Coast literary magazine. Apparently, it was originally a project of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs to get school kids to pay attention to National Poetry Month. Now, the phenomenon seems to be spreading. Gulf Coast, which is based in Houston, offers to send a "never-before-seen poem from a top-secret and acclaimed poet" if you send your cell phone number to gcpocketday at g mail dot com.

This year, the New York City and Poetry Society of America are collaborating to bring John Waldman's "Envelope Project," into public schools. It's a fantastic classroom exercise that encourages students to take the first line of a famous poem as the starting point for one of their own.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a fan. Last year he contributed his own poem, entitled Press Conference, to the New York Public Library's blog -- and it's pretty darn good.

Angelic blessings for the Fair

It is rare to see authors in the International Rights Centre at the London Book Fair and, to be honest, they're probably better off not visiting: after all, it's a dull place compared to the exhibition floor, just a warren of tables at the top of a long escalator. But for the last two days a rather special woman has been seated at one of the small tables, meeting her international publishers, alongside her agent, Jean Callanan. Lorna Byrne (above) is the author of an unnusual memoir Angels in My Hair, published by Century in the UK and about to be published by Doubleday in the US (where her editor is Jason Kaufman who also looks after one D Brown esquire).

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. Another angels woman. File it under crop circles and alien abduction. Call for the men in white coats. That Roger Tagholm seemed such a sane guy; now listen to him. All of which is fair comment until you meet her. Then, as I said here: she is extraordinarily credible, no matter how incredible her story. Byrne doesn't just see angels every now and then; she sees them all the time: yes, even at the LBF.

"Just being here I can't help but be distracted. I'm seeing what I call 'the teacher angels'. They're here to give encouragement and confidence and take away anxiety. People are worried about books, about the industry - but it's going to come back."

Once again, I found meeting her very moving, and I'm delighted that her book continues to be so successful. It was number six in the Sunday Times hardback chart in January and the third bestselling book in Ireland in 2008. Foreign deals have been concluded in 13 territories, in addition to the US and Canada. But, as Callanan puts it: "Lorna is about so much more than the deals."

She has plans for many more books and feels now is the right time. "Because of the economic situation people are looking for spiritual answers. They are realizing that material things are not as important, that there is a bigger picture." I think we'd all say 'amen' to that, wouldn't we?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CEOs pack the house

A clutch of CEOs (l to r): Penguin's John Makinson, Random House's Gail Rebuck, Hachette UK's Tim Hely Hutchinson and HarperCollins' Victoria Barnsley

Something of a first at the LBF at Earl's Court today. No, not a coffee bar without a queue to aisle W, but the presence of four CEOs and Chairmen on the panel at an industry seminar. The Digital Keynote session entitled 'Where's the money?' was packed, with people standing at the back of the hall, and others sitting on the floor near the stage. Every one knew that the UK heads of Random House, Penguin, Hachette and HarperCollins do not share a platform often and every one wanted to be there.

Moderated by the BBC's Media Correspondent Torin Douglas, it was fascinating to hear industry leaders' views on the D word. Penguin's John Makinson is concerned about protecting IPR and territorial copyright, and said that the Scribd site - "the You Tube of the document world" - needed to be watched carefully. For Random House's Gail Rebuck, digital is about "thinking beyond the book, and looking at added value". Did I mishear her or did she also say: "In the fullness of time we can eliminate print and returns." If she did say that, I don't think she meant it. Surely, she means a reduction in print.

Hachette's Tim Hely Hutchinson is emphatic that piracy must be fought. "Publishers should have zero tolerance of websites with disingenuous raison d'etres." But HarperCollins' Victoria Barnsley added: "We won't win by suing consumers. You have to make them want you. We have to leave the linear model of publishing. Digital is about giving the consumers control."

Are each of them fans of e-readers? Makinson described the Kindle as "very conservative. It seeks to replicate the book and is not designed for young consumers." Rebuck uses a Sony Reader and has found reading on it "almost a more immersive experience than a paper book. The only problem is, once you've finished reading a book, there's nothing to give anyone which is what you would do when you finish a paper book on holiday, for example."

Hely Hutchinson gave around 150 Sony Readers to Hachette UK staff. "Their views are divided around 50-50, with perhaps more in favour. Myself, I haven't taken to it." Barnsley still prefers paper books "because of the design qualitites. But when it comes to e-readers we're still at the black-and-white television stage. I like the flexible screens that companies like Plastic Logic are producing."

Today also saw Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Editor Drenka Willen (below) receive the LBF's Lifetime Achievement Award for International Publishing, sponsored by SBS Worldwide. In an affectionate address Umberto Ecco, one of the many authors she has edited, referred to her as "notre dame des ecrivants". Willen said that she accepted the award "with grace and humility". It was a touching moment and she received lengthy applause from guests who included previous recipient Peter Mayer of Overlook.

A taste of the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kabuki Publishing

Jonathan Karp has an insightful essay in this week's Publishers Weekly outlining twelve steps publishers can take to improve the business. The precis comes early:

It seems likely that the influence and cultural centrality of major publishers, as well as other producers of information and entertainment, will diminish as digital technology enables more and more people to create and share their work. This is exactly why publishers must distinguish themselves by doing better what they've always done best: champion books that offer carefully conceived context, style and authority.

The number Twelve is an obvious echo of the name of Karp's own imprint at Hachette where he's had an impressive track record since its launch in August 2005. The press, which publishes and promotes just a single book per month, has had numerous bestselling titles, notably God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

This is not the first time Karp has said as much, but what he outlines is worth repeating. I happen to agree with him that publishers need to focus on publishing unique, distinct titles and stop echo chamber publishing. As a publishing reporter, I also find it refreshing that he calls for more transparency and less BS when dealing with booksellers and the media. Hear, hear.

The credit crunch Fair

Initial impressions of 'the credit crunch Fair'? Busy busy busy. This is the first London Book Fair since the global economy collapsed, but you wouldn't necessarily have much sense of it at Earls Court today. Yes, we know times are tough, we know redundancies are in the air, but to walk past the stands of HarperColllins, Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, Simon and Schuster was to see crowded booths, all the tables occupied, a palpable sense of business being done.

HarperCollins' worldwide CEO Brian Murray (left)knows exactly where the optimism lies. "The hope is on the digital side of the business. We're finding that consumers want their books on a variety of different devices - Kindle, Sony....Our digital sales in the US are growing at a faster rate than we expected."

Does he think the iPod moment for books has arrived? "I don't think there will be an iPod moment for books. It's not the same as it was for music. Pirated music created a legal marketplace for pirated music. People wanted tracks rather than albums, so you can't compare the two markets. I think in the future you'll have everything in both formats. There won't be a reduction in titles, but there will be fewer copies printed."

As if to underline his points, HarperCollins has a Sony Reader on its stand promoting the company's new digital deal with the Tolkein estate. Lord of the Downloads you could say.

Penguin MD Helen Fraser chaired a session on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and noted that "many companies have now picked the low hanging fruit: they've reduced travel, they print on FSC paper, they've reconfigured their buildings, and yet they still find they have not met their carbon neutral targets".

The difficulty - and complexity - of CSR was underlined by all the speakers. The eponymous Alastair Sawday said that "in an ideal world governments would support companies who behaved morally". Michael Green, author of Philanthrocapitalism, favours a "capitalism that gives back", and cited Bill Gates as its poster boy. He also praised Starbucks for "working further down the supply line and giving better rewards to farmers". Veruschka Selbach of Earthscan said the house was planning a "biodegradable stand", which will surely be a first.

Of course, despite the crowded stands, if you bump into an editor out on the aisles - Cape's Dan Franklin, for example - it's all: "There are no books, it's very quiet...." which is always the tradtional response. After all, you don't want to admit to having missed something (not that Dan would miss anything).

David North ( left), here at his first LBF as MD of Quercus, was frequently punching the air and beaming. Nothing to do with a new rights deal, but everything to do with his beloved Everton making it into the FA Cup Final.

Meanwhile, Profile's Andrew Franklin, had his jacket over his shoulder. "I've just been to Brompton Road Cemetery. It's full of publishers....." Let's hope his words aren't prophetic.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Off to the Pesta Buku

While many of my friends and colleagues in Europe are preparing for this week's London Book Fair, I am 10,552 km (6557 miles) away at one of Asia's most popular book fairs, the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair.

Malaysia's major book fair - or Pesta Buku Antarabangsa as it is know locally - is more of a consumer fair than a trade fair and attracts massive crowds over its ten days. Over 2 million visitors were estimated to attend last year's fair and, judging by the shoulder-to-shoulder crush on opening weekend, similar hordes are planning on attending this year.

While consumers attend the fair to snap up bargains from the 190 exhibitors, 160 of which are Malaysian, the fair's central location in south-east Asia also attracts exhibitors from other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (or ASEAN) countries, such as Singapore and the Philippines, international companies such as John Wiley & Sons, the Oxford and Cambridge university presses and Cengage Learning, plus some from as far away as Brunei, Egypt and India.

I'm here as part of a Matrade-funded 'incoming buying mission,' along with publishing colleagues from Germany, Taiwan, Denmark and Italy. We're here to discover more about Malaysian literature and meet with our Malaysian peers.

Malaysia has a population of 27 million and has one of the highest literacy rates in the region (93.2% for citizens over 15). While not traditionally a country with a strong book-reading culture, the Malaysian Government, through the various agencies of its Department of Education (which include the Malaysian National Institute of Translation, which co-funds translations of Malay language works).

More about the fair will follow shortly.

Friday, April 17, 2009

All the fun of etc etc

You know you're at LBF when:

You know the face, but can’t remember the company
You know the company, but can’t remember the face
You can’t remember the company or the face (but let’s do business anyway!)
You’ve just spent £23 on teas and coffees
You can’t work find your own stand or anyone else's (that's because you've come to Olympia, duh)
You’ve run out of business cards (but seem to have everyone else’s)

Have a good one. See you there.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Publishers copy each other...? dare you suggest such a thing. Here's a current title from Windmill (Random House)...

...and here's one from Sceptre (Hodder)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stories about Pete

The UK publishing industry still cannot quite believe that Peter Bowron, the popular MD of the Random House Group, is no longer there. He suffered a heart attack in January and leaves behind three young children and his wife, the publisher Clare Ledingham. He was only 40.

Now, Lizzie Noble - the author, Elizabeth Noble (The Reading Group, The Girl Next Door), whose husband is Hachette US CEO David Young - is putting together a book of stories about Peter to give to his children. It's a lovely idea. Here is her letter about the project, which contains contact details should you wish to contribute.

Dear Friends of Pete and Clare

We were all incredibly sad to lose Pete in January. One of the greatest sadnesses for me, and, I know, for many of you, is that Anna, John and Sally can only know and remember and understand what a fantastic man their dad was through what all of us tell them; their own memories will be all too brief, sketchy and incomplete. To that end, and with Clare’s blessing, I need your help.

I am putting together a collection of stories about Pete, which will eventually be bound together in printed books for each of Pete’s family to keep. I’m not looking for condolences or for tributes – I’m hoping for great, colourful Pete stories that will, together, create a picture of who he was, at every stage and in every arena of his life. Funny stories, naughty schoolboy stories, work stories, sweet stories…whatever comes to you when you think of him.

If there are songs that especially remind you of him, send those too (we’ll burn a disk to go with the book). And if you have pictures, send a copy.

I’d like this to be as complete as possible, so if this has reached you, and you can think of other people who may like to contribute, but who we might not have reached, please do circulate and forward this as you wish. The more stories we get, the better – the more Anna and John and Sally will have to read as they grow older.

Please send your stories to me at the following email address:

It’s difficult to put a deadline on this, I know, but if you could try and get your contributions to me by May 31st, then I can get a book into production for the summer.

Thank you so much for helping me put together something that I hope will give Pete’s children something amazingly precious and special in the years to come.

Lizzie Young

Publishing in the middle of the Pacific

Aloha! I don't want readers of this blog to feel sorry for me, but I've had to spend this week working in Hawai'i. (A tough assignment, I know, and - yes - this is the view of Waikiki Beach from my hotel window.)

You really couldn't get further away from anywhere than the 50th state of the USA - it's slap bang in the middle of the North Pacific, 9 hours' flight from Sydney, Australia and 5.5 hours from Los Angeles.

Impressively for a state of less than 1.3 million people, Hawaii has a healthy publishing industry, the Hawai'i Book Publishers Association having 19 members, most of which are attached to institutions (there are also many self-publishers, as there are everywhere). The most eminent is undoubtedly the University of Hawai'i Press, which specialises in the humanities, anthropology and natural history with a clear bias towards Asian and Pacific subjects.

Hawaii's leading independent publisher is The Bess Press, founded by owner Ben 'Buddy' Bess way back in 1979. I had met Ben many years ago at a trade fair (I couldn't recall whether it was Frankfurt or BEA - encouragingly, neither could he) and it was great to meet him again this week and see that he's very much still in business, albeit having had one major restructure in recent years.

The Bess Press does what many regional trade publishing houses around the world do well, which is specialise in topics of local interest. Its list includes over 200 titles - guides to Pacific languages, Pacific history (especially related to the WW2 in the Pacific), educational/children's books and natural history. They sell well across the Pacific and North America - and sell boxloads of their titles through Costco's Hawai'ian stories (although Ben tells me they've yet to crack Costco on the mainland). The Bess Press is planning to attend this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, so look out for Ben at the Independent US Publishers exhibit in Hall 8.

Another pleasant surprise during my visit was bumping into the celebrated New Zealand Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, author of Whale Rider (and also associate producer of the wonderful 2002 film of the same name. Currently holding a Citizen's Chair at the University of Hawai'i, Ihimaera today picked up a Star of Oceania award from the University of Hawai'i for his contribution to Pacific literature and film.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Two Jerrys, but no President

The scene is set at this year's Galaxy British Book Awards......

.....for Ed Victor (and Jerry Hall) to make their grand entrance

So that's another Nibbies done and gone. As ever, it had some choice moments. Just how much was Ed Victor enjoying his walk up the red carpet with Jerry Hall? Who is burlesque model Modesty Blaise and why was she there? Why were all the titles shortlisted for the Tesco Biography of the Year, autobiographies? How surreal was it to have Jerry Springer presenting an award, and wasn't he good?

Of course, Barack didn't turn up - gosh, what a surprise - but his non-appearance was a gift for all those comedian presenters, few of whom - any? - he, or his fellow Americans, have heard of. Jo Brand? Jack Dee? Dara O'Briain? Thankfully, Simon & Schuster's Carolyn Reidy (above) over from the US, had her UK MD Ian Chapman with her to expalin. Brand said that the reason the President couldn't be there in person to collect his Nibbie for Tesco Biography of the Year (biography of who?), was that "he's back at my place, wearing one of my Brentford Nylon nighties and warming up the cocoa - at least, I hope he is".

If Barack couldn't be there, we did have Sebastian Faulks (below) arriving in true Presidential style to collect the Sainsbury's Popular Fiction Award for Devil May Care (Penguin). With Bond girl Tuuli Shipster (the model on the book's jacket) on his arm, they purred up to the red carpet in a vintage Bentley. Sadly, they were somewhat eclipsed by the aforementioned Hall and Victor who sent the paparrazis' shutters into overdrive.

I snatched a quick word with big Jerry and asked her what was on her bedside table. "I've just finished the last Alain de Botton. I've read all his books. But lately, because I've been working on my own book [due from HarperCollins] I've been reading lots of autobiographies. I really liked Steve Martin's and Bob Dylan's."

The red carpet is one of the Nibbies greatest rituals, with authors such as Cecelia Ahern (below) signing autographs and enjoying an Oscars atmosphere (the awards are rightly billed the Oscars of the book industry). Having said that, arrivals tend to go like this: 'Big name author, celebrity I haven't heard of celebrity I haven't heard of celebrity I haven't heard of, actress I vaguely recognise, big name author, publisher ignored by photographers publisher ignored by photographers publisher ignored by photographers, reality TV star, cable channel presenter, big name author, celebrity I haven't of celebrity I haven't heard of etc etc etc' Amusingly, it's no good asking publishers who x is, because they usually don't know either.

Then it's into the Great Room of the Grosvenor Hotel, on Mayfair's Park Lane, for what turned out be a somewhat slimmed down, credit crunch Nibs this year. There was no champagne reception, just straight into dinner where, not surprisingly, there were some 100 fewer tables. Publishers cannot make staff redundant, then take two tables at the Galaxy British Book Awards at £295 a head, plus VAT.

Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan hosted once again, and if it is all a bit cringe-making at times with painful links, it's churlish to carp when the R&J vehicle remains far and away the most successful marketing phenomenon the UK book trade has ever known. Yet small matters gripe. The Tesco Biography of the Year Award should surely be renamed the Tesco Life Story of the Year Award which would then allow biographies and autobiographies to be included. It is simply silly to have autobiographies shortlisted for such an award.

Footage from previous Richard & Judy shows are shown, with 'celebrities' discussing shortlisted books. But no captions are ever put up telling us who these people are. Ask at your table and you'll find nobody knows.

The full list of awards for the Galaxy British Book Awards 2009 is as follows:
Galaxy Book of the Year The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury) , pictured below
Outstanding Achievement Michael Palin
Richard & Judy Best Read When Will There Be Good News - Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)
Borders Author of the Year Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger (Atlantic Books)
Tesco Biography of the Year Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama (Canongate)
Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (Quercus)
Sainsbury's Popular Fiction Award Devil May Care - Sebastian Faulks (Penguin 007) Popular Non-Fiction Award The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
Waterstone's New Writer of the Year Tom Rob Smith for Child 44 (Simon & Schuster)
WHSmith Children's Book of the Year Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer Atom

Time was when the whole affair was broadcast to a big audience on Channel 4. Now it is only on Watch TV (tonight, Sunday, 5 April at 8pm, Sky Channel 109/Virigin 124),whose viewing figures are probably on a par with supermarket CCTV systems. It is absurd that is no longer on a mainstream channel because it offers glitz and glamour, and undoubtedly makes the world of books sexy.

There were touching moments. Towards the end of the evening, the screens showed pictures of those writers and industry figures who had passed away last year: Arthur C Clarke, Michael Crichton, Harold Pinter, Alexander Solzenhitsyn, Simon Gray, Oliver Postgate, Pat Kavanagh, John Updie, David Foster Wallace, John Mortimer and, lastly, Fred Newman, co-creator of the Nibbies and to whom Richard & Judy producer, Amanda Ross dedicated the evening. Among those watching the role-call was 90-year-old Diana Athill, once Updike's UK editor.

There was emotion too when Erland Larson, Stieg Larson's father, collected the Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year award for Girl with the Dragon Tatoo on behalf of his son. His tribute to Harvill founder Christopher MacLehose (above) met with warm applause. "Without publishers, the writer is nothing," he said.

And the best moment? These exchanges between Madeley and Springer. What did he think of Jerry Springer: The Opera? "It's very strange, because I can't share the experience with anyone. I can't ring up Carmen or Figaro and say, 'Hey, how was your opera, man?'". Would he be writing an autobiography. "What makes you think any of my fans can read?"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Forget the G20....

.....the real event is tonight's Nibbies. Or, as Alan Bennett, called them, 'the Nibbles'. Will report back later. Wonder if Barack and Michelle will show up....?

A difficult challenge

The UK's Booksellers Association and Publishers Association are working on an industry-wide initiative campaign to promote the value of reading. It's a devilishly difficult task. Many children associate books and reading with school. Compared to the vibrant, social, interactive world of online games - in which you can 'meet' on screen in the virtual playground - children, with some justification, see books as solitary and static.

If someone ask you what you did on Saturday night which sounds more interesting: "I read a book". "We went to the movies." One is a solitary activity; the other is an event.

Somehow the book trade needs to capture the 'coolness' of books - the idea that books make you cool, interesting, attractive, good company. The trouble with that, though, is that it smacks of 'something being good for you' - it's too teacherly, too prescriptive.

But here's a slogan for libraries: 'Three for two? How about five for nothing?'

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2008 US book sales shrank by 2.8%, estimates AAP


The Association of American Publishers (AAP) estimates that book net sales totaled $24.3 billion in 2008, down from $25.0 billion in 2007 – a 2.8% decrease.

Adult and YA book sales fell 5.2 percent -- to $8.1 billion. Overall, hardcover sales fell 13% for adult books, 12.4% for childrens.

Paperback sales grew: 3.6% for adults, 6.4% for childrens. E-books, as expected, grew by a whopping 68.4% and reached $113 million in 2008. This is still dwarfed by book clubs and mail-order sales, which though shrinking by 3.4%, still accounted for sales of $600 million.

Mass Market paperback sales, despite some continue to comprise a smaller and smaller segment of the market -- just $1.1 billion total overall in 2008, representing shrinkage of 3%.

Audiobook sales fell by an even more dramatic number – 21% -- and added up to $172 million.

Education was mixed. K-12 (the little kids books) fell 4.4% to $6.1 billion, while Higher Education, which includes college textbooks, hit $3.8 billion, up 2.7% on 2007.

The news everyone was expecting

Slide shows the slide: BML data spells out the grim trends this week

Well, there it was in black and white (actually, purple and white) accompanied by shots of suitably inclement weather: UK consumers bought fewer books in 2008 than in 2007 - some 330m compared to 341.9m. They also spent 6% less on books, down from £2469m to £2313m. The decrease can only partly be explained by the Harry Potter effect, since spending was also down 3% in 2008, if JK Rowling's titles are excluded. Spending in 2008 was also 2% below that seen in 2006, whether the Potter titles are included or not.
Nobody expected to hear Book Marketing Limited's (BML) Research Director Steve Bohme (below) reveal anything different at today's Books & Consumers Annual Conference held at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, near the Cabinet War Rooms in Westminster. And as ever, he delivered it all with his customary dry wit, accompanied by slides of ever worsening British weather (one of the few UK growth industries at present).

Although volume purchases have grown since 2003, when 299.7m books were bought, this does not meant that more people are buing books. "On the contrary," Bohme noted, "the proportion of 12-79s buying books fell in each of the last three years, from over 61% in 2004 to 57% in 2008."

It remained for the other speakers to put forward suggestions as to how this decline can be reversed. Charlie King, Head of Creative Marketing at Little, Brown, believes the entire industry must stress the value for money that books represent, but noted: "When you look at publishers' advertisements you won't find this." Here the industry has already ridden into a problem. There is a joint Booksellers Association/Publishers Association initiative to come up with a generic marketing campaign for books. The slogan that was chosen has already been rejected by some retailers who were unhappy about the concentration on price. Yet here was a publisher at the conference arguing for just that. It will be interesting to see what middle ground is arrived at when the campaign is released in June.

Peter Crawshaw of Lovereading looked at emotions and the consumer. "It appears that the more choice and control you give a consumer in a media channel, the less emotionally attached they feel to that media. Book reading is a high use, high engagement activity, alongside watching TV and listening to the radio, while blogs [how dare he!!], podcasts, ebooks and audiobooks score low when it comes to use and engagement."

Meanwhile, there were numerous nods and chuckles of agreement when BML's Rachel Levin presented research which showed that some consumers ended up not buying any books in three-for-twos "because of being unable to find a third title and putting them all back".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Embarrassing admission

So Ebury has now joined the Twitter flock. That's great - as long as you know exactly what Twitter is. I still don't, I'm afraid, and there's only so much new stuff I can cope with. Not cool to admit this, but there we are.
Naturally, I've heard of it, but I don't know what it is in any detail. And another screen-based activity? Enough already. When are we going to find the time to read all the books that are written about on such things? But here's the link anyway:
The service is launching with a line-a-day of a poem by Ben Okri to publicise his new novel from Rider Tales of Freedom.

Rights Market Blossoms in the Desert

Until recently, rights deals in the Arabic book market were virtually unheard of and piracy was the norm. That began to change in 2007 when the organizers of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair partnered with the Frankfurt Book Fair and made it their stated aim to “professionalize” book trade in the region. Among the top priorities was establishing a rights market. Three years later, there are signs of progress.

At the most recent ADIBF, held March 17-22, approximately 220 rights deals were signed as part of the “Spotlight on Rights” program, a new subsidy scheme which aims to support rights deals and translation. Under the program, publishers may apply for $1,000 subsidy to support any rights deal agreed to during the Fair. “Twenty applications alone were made on the last evening of the Fair,” said Lynette Owen, copyright director of U.K. publisher Pearson, who was assisting dealmakers with the paperwork.

She indicated that the majority of applications were made for translations from western languages into Arabic, though some of the last deals were Arabic to Arabic, and were made to facilitate distribution across the region, which is otherwise problematic. Titles coming under contract included illustrated children's story books, numerous education titles, books on health and fiction.

Publishers may apply for a maximum of 10 subsidies. One publisher who took full advantage was Sondos Asem Shalabi, head of foreign books and translation for the Publishing House for Universities in Cairo, Egypt. She struck 10 deals and applied for 10 subsidies to cover the cost of the Arabic translation of a series of entry level mass communication textbooks.

Urvashi Butalia, director of Zuban publishing house in New Delhi, said that the existence of the subsidy program prompted her to actively seek out books to translate, something she might not otherwise have considered. “I found two or three books that I’m interested in and hope the deals work out,” she said.

Publishers are asked to follow their initial letters of intent with a detailed proposal within four weeks of the end of the Fair. In total, 100 applications will be accepted, bringing the total dollar amount of support to $100,000. The program is set up to run through the 2011 Fair. “This is by no means the first subsidy scheme in the world, but it is new here,” said Owen. “Not every application will be accepted and there’s not an endless pool of money, but hopefully this will help ease the way for some publishers.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Literary Festival for a Xenomaniac

...or perhaps a peripatetic polymath. In spite of the rumor circulating that budget cuts forced PEN USA to cull their list of invited authors by 20 at the last minute, the roster of writers at the 5th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature looks downright amazing. From novelists to graphic novelists to novel ideas about the economic crisis, this Festival has a lot of everything for everyone. Of course, it doesn’t come for free – be prepared to drop a $100 or more on tickets – but it offers some fairly rare gets on this side of the Atlantic. The promise: Sixty events. Six days. 160 writers, of which approximately 100 are from overseas (or claim to be, despite a number who spend much of the year in Brooklyn). 

No chance to talk about children's books

Disappointing news this week from the Children's Book Council of Australia, which has announced that its 2010 biennial national conference - the only large-scale event on children's literature in Australia - is to be cancelled 'following advice re the current economic climate.'

Rotating every two years around Australia's six states, the CBCA conference normally attracts up to 1000 teachers, librarians, academics, publishers, authors and illustrators to talk exclusively about children's books for a few days. The 2008 event in Melbourne attracted a healthy international contingent, including Bloomsbury UK's Sarah Odedina.

I dare say the conference circuit generally is suffering, but given the CBCA conference relies heavily on sponsorship from book publishers to help cover its costs, we can only assume that publishers are shying away from the levels of support they have given the event in previous years.

In a letter sent out yesterday, the CBCA says 'we are taking action now to avoid the risk of a great financial burden to the CBCA ... This has been a very difficult and painful decision; however we feel that in such extraordinary times, we have no alternative.'

Given the importance of children's books in creating the readers of the future, it's a great shame. The 2012 conference is due to take place in Adelaide.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bentleys, bands and Byng

The stage is set: Richard & Judy on stage at last year's Galaxy British Book Awards

Bookings for the Galaxy British Book Awards, which takes place on Friday, 3 April, are, inevitably, down on last year. Publishers cannot make people redundant, then take two tables at £295 plus VAT a head. But it promises to be another glitzy affair nonetheless, with some authors - notably Sebastian Faulks - being ferried to the Grosvenor House in Mayfair by Bentley (because of Faulks' reinstatement of Bentley as the car of choice for James Bond).
This year, for the 20th Nibbies - so called because of the pen-shaped trophies the winners receive, and hosted once again by the UK's Oprahs, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan - the organisers have announced a first. Canongate Publisher Jamie Byng is to DJ at the post-Nibbie party, 'blending funk and jazz and rare groove and soul and hip hop and Latin and rock'. You certainly wouldn't get this at the Man Booker. "And now here's Booker Prize Administrator Ion Trewin with some more of La Traviata." (no offence meant, Ion).

One band who certainly won't be on his playlist is Ken Follet's Damn Right I Got the Blues. At the Nibbies in 2003, Byng said he'd rather put knitting needles in his ears than listen to them. Mind you, when the band played Mustang Sally and other such classics the dancefloor was packed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Indies' friend saved, but...

The purchase of wholesaler Bertrams by Smiths News (not part of WHSmith, incidentally - it separated from WHS in 2006), is good news for independents, since it secures the future of a supplier many of them use. But the future still remains difficult for indies. Some publishers and chain retailers are slightly mocking at trade gatherings over various comments on the Bookseller's website calling for the Net Book Agreement to be reinstated. Yet this mockery should not be so loud.

In yesterday's Guardian, the literary biographer Michael Holroyd wrote: 'The end of the net book agreement has not worked to our long-term advantage. Would that we, like the French, could repeal it.' He was referring to last week's story in the Bookseller on the French government's decision not to reform the law on fixed book prices ( MP for Savoie, Herve Gaymard said the law had been "incontestably positive" and that reform would be "imprudent".

One can hear the more hard-nosed and commercial of publishers and retailers now mocking Holroyd as the last person to comment on the business side of the industry. "He's back with the Bloomsbury Group and Lytton Strachey, isn't he?" Yet consider this. According to Gaymard, France - which has a population not dissimilar to the UK's, of 65m - has 3,500 independent bookshops. The UK, with a population of 61m, has 1,350. It can't help but make you wonder.

The action from Abu Dhabi

We've been posting all week from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which was bigger and better than ever. You can read-up on all the action via the ADIBF blog or come back and check out this blog, where we'll be reposting and expanding some of the best articles in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Punching a hole in Google

I had a nice surprise yesterday when I went to Google's home page to do a search. If you're thinking the illustration style is familiar, you'd be right: it's by the legendary Eric Carle. His ever-popular The Very Hungry Caterpillar celebrated its 40th birthday yesterday and Google decided to do a tribute to the book.

The tribute follows a similar tribute to Dr Seuss of 2 March this year. Google has done tributes to great artists before (my favourite is the one they did for Jackson Pollock's birthday) but these are first two tributes to children's authors/illustrators. Nice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rep visit leads to bestselling line

"I want to replace the rep with the e-rep," said Jesse Kroger, Marketing Manager of the Netherlands' largest bookselling chain, Boekhandels Groep Nederland, at the Academic, Professional and Specialist Booksellers Group Conference held in Grantham last week. While he believes there is "good value to some good reps", most "just use the catalogue". He believes that the current way of subscribing books is "very outdated" and that a more digital approach is more efficient.
He's right, of course. I mean, why have Frankfurt? Why have the LBF and BEA? Let's do it all online. An agent wants to sell a book - why not just e-mail the proposal? What on earth can a face-to-face meeting add?

If you want to read more, look at Alessandro Gallezni's comments, which I loved, following the Bookseller's:

While we're on the subject, Kroger might like to note remarks from the floor made by Andy Hayward of Constable & Robinson at the Independent Publishers Guild Conference in Brighton earlier this month. Bearing aloft a copy of Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison, one of MC Beaton's rural detective capers (think Agatha Christie in the Cotswolds) he pointed out that the house has now sold some 1.75m copies of her books. "When our reps were showing one of MC Beaton's hardbacks, which we'd only published for the library sales, a Waterstone buyer said: 'Oh, Terry Melia is importing the US edition paperbacks - why don't you buy the rights?'"

Which the house did and very profitable it has been too. Hayward's point is simple: without the rep visit, none of this would have happened.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

MVB throws down the gauntlet as e-Reader competition heats up in Germany

Buchreport ran a useful piece in its Leipzig Book Fair special issue last week shining a figurative backlight on an increasingly crowded and competitive field of e-Readers available in Germany.

At the heart of the article is the recent tension between an alliance of Sony,
Libri (Germany's largest book wholesaler) and Thalia (Germany's largest book chain) and the MVB (Marketing- und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels), a subsidiary of the German Booksellers and Publishers Association.  

Last Wednesday, the Sony Reader PRS-505 became available at all Thalia bookstores, as well as bookstores serviced by Libri. However, just days before Sony's latest foray into the German retail market, and to coincide with the start of the Leipzig Book Fair, the MVB announced the specifics of its plan to make the comparable Cybook from Bookeen immediately available to booksellers via the MVB online shop, The recommended price of the Cybook device is 280 Euros - a full 19 Euros under the recommended price of the Sony Reader. In addition, e-books finally became available for purchase in PDF format last week on Libreka!, the MVB-operated online book search database.

The much pricier iLiad from iRex is also available via 

Libri executive Holger Bellmann told Buchreport, "We have nothing fundamentally against competition , but when it comes from the subsidiary of one's own association, it does leave a bad taste."

Further competition is waiting in the wings and, though Amazon has still remained tight-lipped about a European launch of the Kindle, the Berlin-based company Wizpac announced the upcoming fall release of the Txtr at the CeBIT conference in Hannover earlier this month. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

See You in Abu Dhabi: Previewing the 2009 ADIBF

Next week is the start of the 19th annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs from March 17-22.

This is third fair since the formation of KITAB, a partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Since then, the ADIBF has been transformed from a modest book bazaar to a professional trade show, one that promises to permanently alter the landscape of publishing in the Middle East.

Though the changes are still nascent, the show's impact on the perception of Middle Eastern publishing is palpable. Programs such as the Sheik Zaid Book Awards and Kalima, a project to translate books into Arabic have at the very least helped raise the profile of the Arabic language literary community.

A “matchmaking” event run by the Fair is encouraging cross-cultural collaboration by introducing international publishers, agents and authors, and a new subsidy program which offers a $1,000 subsidy to any rights deals penned during the Fair is encouraging the establisment of a viable and aboveboard rights market for the region.

New this year at the Fair is an antiquarian book fair – with 16 exhibitors from the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands – and two solid days of educational programs.

Three dozen authors will also attend, including Amitav Ghosh, Rajaa Alsanea, Assia Djebar, Yasmina Khadra, and Henning Mankell. Chefs, sponsored by Gourmond magazine, will offer cooking demos. In all, number of exhibitors is up some 25%, from 480 to 600.

Last year, 159 international publishers came for the event. This year, organizers expect close to 200.

“Two years ago, very few people knew about the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, ” said Claudia Kaiser, general manager of KITAB. “Now, people are coming from all over the world.”

Hope to see you there...but if now, we'll be blogging live from the show floor. Look for a link on Monday.