Our heroes and villains of 2008
18.12.08 | Philip Jones
In writing this week's Leader column for The Bookseller, I asked colleagues to nominate the heroes and villains of 2008. This is a longer version of the column that appears in print: feel free to add to the list using the comments facility below, or vote in our poll on the home page.
Leading the heroes are two figures from different parts of the business but who have so far combined to prevent a crisis turning into a disaster. Michael Neil, m.d. of Betrams/THE, has not been found wanting amid the collapse of Woolworths. Neil was quick to get the message out that Bertrams itself was not in administration and has remained a visible beacon for the business. On the other side of the fence Ian Hudson, Publishers Association president, has worked tirelessly to prevent the fallout at Woolies’ other book supplier Entertainment UK spreading. His messages of support for Bertrams have also been crucial.
He may wear the nickname "Lord Byng of Hype" like a badge of pride, but in 2008 Canongate’s Jamie Byng lived up to it, taking a punt on that unknown US Democrat Barack Obama and scoring two bestsellers. His response to one of his titles missing out on the Man Booker longlist earlier in the year may have seemed grumpy, but this is precisely the kind of up-front support authors need.
Waterstone’s m.d. Gerry Johnson has led the retailer back to its bookselling roots, and the chain rightly won the top prize at our Retail Awards. The latter half of the year may not have matched the first, but the opening of its biggest store for 10 years in Liverpool was a bold gesture of defiance in the face of the harsh retail climate.
Other heroes nominated were Dedalus' Eric Lane for fighting the Arts Council's cuts, and ultimately securing backing from an improbable source, the STM group Informa; library campaigners Tim Coates and Desmond Clarke for caring that books get back to their rightful place at the heart of libraries; Clive Keeble, bookseller and sometime commentator on theBookseller.com, again for caring passionately about selling books and the people who print them; Martin Rynja, publisher of Gibson Square, whose offices were firebombed earlier this year; author J K Rowling for pulling out another Harry Potter (and one for 2009, too please?); and finally, Stephenie Meyer for doing a good impression of Rowling with her Twilight series.
Even in a year such as this the villains were harder to pin down. Number one has to be the credit crunch: pay is frozen, book sales have shuddered to a halt, jobs are already being lost, companies have collapsed. It has long been held that books were recession-proof: crunch-resistant they are not.
Misery memoirs—that lucrative if slightly uncomfortable genre—is now in long-term decline: a few more tears may be spilled before it is forgotten but mostly these will be shed by publishers that piled in too late.
Book promoters Richard and Judy have lost much of their shine as their new digital slot failed to deliver viewers. It may not be terminal but the duo and Cactus m.d. Amanda Ross have much work to do in 2009.
Whoever is in charge of libraries merits a mention again this year: libraries face yet another government review and book borrowers dwindling stock. Much continues to be done in the trenches, and campaigns such as the National Year of Reading, help: but really it is leadership the service lacks--big time.