Centuries apart

This week we publish The Bookseller’s annual listing of the 100 most influential people in the book business. It is our moment to highlight and celebrate those who are stewarding this sector. It is a particular pleasure to have as our 101st the Booksellers Association c.e.o.Tim Godfray, who joins previous 101sts, Penguin Random House chair Dame Gail Rebuck (2013) and Dame Marjorie Scardino, former c.e.o. of Pearson (2012).

Last year, we used the opportunity to discuss the lack of diversity within this business—and gender bias at the top. As you might suspect, there has been little change in the past year. Women dominate the trade but they don’t dominate this list (34 out of the 100); executives with a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background have yet to break through at this level (four out of the 100). As my colleague, and 100 compiler Tom Tivnan notes in his introduction, this is less a result of an editorial decision than a reflection of how the industry is. Just over a third (34) of this year’s list are new entries, while four are re-entries. The number of “evergreens”, those who have been on all six Bookseller 100s, now stands at 23—the rump of these are publishers.

Looking back at the first Bookseller Century (as it was then known, in 2009), is like viewing another country. Borders/Books Etc was on the cusp of administration, Stieg Larsson was peaking, while Waterstones’ new distribution facility, the hub, was creaking. The Kindle was just beginning its worldwide roll-out, with UK publishers reportedly keen to prevent Amazon dominating digital sales in the UK, as had already happened in the US.

One wonders how this current crop will fare in the eyes of future chroniclers. It has been a so-so year for the trade: bookshops feel better, in part because digital has slowed; the corporates have got bigger, but notable indies such as Constable & Robinson and Quercus have stumbled. There is a constant hum of discontent among authors and agents about digital royalty rates, while self-publishing has demonstrated the advantages that exist outside the traditional route. Libraries (both school and public) remain unattended to by a government that is obsessed with cuts—or as Russell Brand put it this week, one driven by a ”fundamentalist philosophy of profit”. And there is a younger generation, whose fingers are as used to gliding across screens as they are with turning pages.

The challenges are great, but so should be the resolve. Why is Godfray this year’s 101st? Look back to 2009, and the BA was facing a defining moment. It would have been easy to retreat, but instead Godfray has steered the association back into the centre. A defiant, confident, combative and, ultimately, intelligent response.