From politics to Potter, we take a look at some of the biggest stories in UK publishing in 2016.
Amid a mix of shock, dismay and jubilation at the “Leave” camp’s victory in the EU referendum, senior industry figures vowed to hold off on taking any steps in response until the implications of the result were clear, and to take a positive approach to the challenges ahead. But there were also warnings of an “enormous amount of work” in the future.
Waterstones m.d. James Daunt, a strong Remain supporter, said: “We will do nothing in the short term. We face deep uncertainty and will learn over the next months quite how challenging the retail environment may become. Personally, I will be turning off the radio and putting aside the paper to seek solace in a good book.”
Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, called the vote “seismic”, saying: “With so much uncertainty prevalent, what the government has to do is to introduce as much certainty as possible for consumers and business. We need to have clarity on how the disengagement process will work—and what will be the ‘shape’ of our future relationship with the EU?”
The Publishers Association vowed to support members in handling the consequences of the vote. Stephen Lotinga, chief executive, said: “The result must be respected, but will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the UK publishing industry. We will work with our members to ensure that their interests are protected and their concerns addressed.”
Meanwhile, Brexit supporters within the trade were jubilant. Biteback publisher Iain Dale commented: “It’s the most momentous day of my adult political life. No one should view what has happened as a threat. It’s only a threat if we let it be a threat. There will be a few bumps along the road but there are tremendous opportunities for Britain as a result of the people’s decision today.”
Politics: Trump’s election
The book trade reacted with “dismay”, “horror” and “frustration” to the news that Republican candidate Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton to the White House as US president elect. Concerns from the UK trade ranged from fears over an increase in uncertainty in the trading environment, to a rise of anti-intellectualism, to a rush to privatise public services in the country, such as libraries. But publishers also urged colleagues to keep on “connecting people across the divide” with books and not to “flinch in the face of temporary setbacks”.
Andrew Franklin, m.d. of Profile Books, was nervous about the global economic impact of Trump’s election, stating: “The impact for the trade in the short term will be small, but the global impact will be dire. It’s going to push the world into deeper recession. Consumer spend will shrink, as will the appetite for books. It’s certain that the market will be badly affected by this. [Trump is] a deeply malevolent force, he’s a misogynist, a racist... He’s all bad. There is absolutely nothing positive that can be said about this.”
Lizzy Kremer, agent at David Higham and vice-president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, said she was “horrified” and “distressed”, as well as “sad and anxious for my friends in publishing in America”, in reaction to the result. She told The Bookseller: “It’s obviously affecting the value of currency, it’s affecting the markets, it will affect business.”
Michael Schmidt, a Mexican citizen and founder and m.d. of Carcanet Press, worried the result would introduce an “atmosphere of anti-intellectualism that will be very damaging for the cultural sector... It will lead to a society that is hostile to exchanges of ideas and knowledge in favour of exchanges of materials and goods. [The result], like Brexit, will lead to insularity and will certainly further increase uncertainty in the market.”
Penguin Random House UK launched a nationwide campaign to find, mentor and publish new writers from communities under- represented on the UK’s bookshelves. The WriteNow scheme aims to find and publish new writers who are “under-represented in books and publishing”. Targeted groups are writers from socio-economically marginalised backgrounds, writers who come from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) or BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities, or writers with a disability. In January, PRH UK also removed the requirement for a university degree for all of its new roles.
Hachette also set out to target diversity with its Diverse Leaders Future Mentoring Scheme, designed to give up-and-coming staff from non-traditional publishing backgrounds the skills and confidence to rise up in the business. The measure is one of four being launched in its Changing the Story programme, which aims to make Hachette “the publisher and employer of choice for all people”, regardless of age, disability, race, gender, sexuality or socio- economic background.
HarperCollins incepted a 12-month training scheme for BAME graduates in June, aiming to address an underrepresentation within the business. It took advice from Business in the Community’s race campaign, of which HC UK is a member.
Authors: festival pay
After author Joanne Harris announced she was pulling out of a literature festival “for the first time in my life” because of its demanding contract terms in February—following Philip Pullman’s resignation from the Oxford Literary Festival “because of [its] attitude to paying speakers (they don’t) I can’t remain as a patron any longer. I’ve resigned”—a debate was ignited over festivals remunerating writers for appearing at ticketed events.
Harris called on for the Society of Authors “to have an industry standard contract rather than allow festivals to decide their own terms”, and in November the Oxford Literary Festival told The Bookseller it had “rebalanced its budgets” on the back of the “strength of feeling” on the issue, and would pay authors £150 to speak at its 2017 festival, and reimburse writers at all future festivals too.
Publishing: Potter play leads to frenzy
Central London was full of wizards, Harrys, Hagrids and Hermiones in July as Waterstones’ Piccadilly branch and Foyles’ Charing Cross Road flagship held extravagant parties to celebrate Little, Brown’s publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—the fastest-selling playscript of all time and the top-selling book of 2016 to date—at midnight.
Waterstones’ event was effectively a “Harry Potter” lock-in, with almost all the store transformed into elements of the wizarding world from the books and films. Hagrid’s motorbike, the golden snitch, Harry’s wand, costumes from the films and even “the cupboard under the stairs” at 4 Privet Drive featured: the last item was in fact the cupboard in the curving stairs to the shop’s mezzanine floor, “guarded” for the night by Waterstones staffer Eleanor Stammeijer.
Publicity: Zoella/WHS launch book club
Vlogger Zoe “Zoella” Sugg launched a book club exclusively in conjunction with retailer W H Smith. The Young Adult Book Club began in March with its initial eight titles, which featured fortnightly on “unique displays” in every W H Smith high street store with Zoella Book Club branding.
For the club going forward, Sugg is to review each of the books in a video and she will also conduct interviews with their authors. At the club’s inception, Sugg said: “Over the past couple of months I have been reading non-stop. Basically been eating, sleeping, breathing reading. I have always been a massive bookworm. The book club is possibly one of the most exciting things I’ve done this year because I can read books and recommend them. I’ve stuck to YA titles mainly because I want to influence and inspire lots of young adults.”