Two weeks ago, we talked about the call for a new industry-wide campaign for books; this week we remind you of the one we built earlier: Super Thursday (5th October), the yearly celebration of the autumn’s new titles loosely based on the French notion of la rentrée. As it has been in the past, Super Thursday is also followed by the Booksellers Association-run Bookshop Day (7th October), making the season an important barometer for the trade as a whole, and an indicator of the key months ahead.
The mood around trade publishing so far this year has been curiously and cautiously optimistic, with the Nielsen-measured marketplace still a nose ahead - though perhaps lacking a single big defining title or trend. The titles to be released around Super Thursday this year build on that - there is no Cursed Child, but there is La Belle Sauvage, a new Dan Brown, more parody publishing and a rump of celebrities trying their hand at children’s fiction, including (we assume) a new bestseller from David Walliams. There are also two more Harry Potter books, both coming out of the British Library’s exhibition of 20 years of Potter. The offering feels broad and substantial.
Booksellers are right to feel optimistic. The key trends to emerge from publisher presentations we’ve attended in the first half of the year have been a focus on design and the overall look and feel of “the package”, the importance of influencers (particularly the early buzz that can be generated by booksellers) and the bedrock of talent now available to publishers - from literary stars such as Jennifer Egan and Roddy Doyle, to emerging brands such as Nadiya Hussain, Tom Fletcher and Matt Haig, many of whom (according to our previews team) are writing at the top of their game.
Next week The Bookseller will begin its half-year analysis of the market and the top trade publishers. Unless something remarkable happens (and it probably will), this year will truly be one of two halves, with the market likely to look very different once comparisons with the publication of Cursed Child at the end of July 2016 kick in. That playscript took in £9m in its first week, and £16m in total over the year, amounting to around a quarter of the Total Consumer Market’s growth in the year.
We should be careful not to read too much into this, or talk the market down because of it. There is a genuine buzz around books and, despite the world around us, a sense of ebullience, marked as much by the growth of agents such as Felicity Bryan Associates as it is by the occasional eight-figure advance. The market may be unpredictable, but this year’s Super Thursday shows a sector increasingly at ease with itself.
Philip Jones is editor of The Bookseller.