First among equals

In 2009, The Bookseller compiled its first ever list of the 100 most influential people of the year breaking a 150-year tradition of eschewing such click-bait in its editorial pages. For those who don’t recall, the first ranking contained such notables as Victoria Barnsley, Annette Thomas, Anthony Cheetham, Katie Price and Gerry Johnson—even James Daunt snuck in, described back then as the “bookseller’s bookseller”. Happily, 22 of the originals appear in the same list this year—Daunt, of course, is our top-dog, the “influencer’s influencer”, perhaps.

A decade on, the feature breaks new ground again, expanding to 150, and putting participants into areas of influence, including bookselling, design, rights, writing and leadership. In part, this is to better reflect a sector that has become flatter, leaner and less deferential. Back in 2009, the magazine looked for businesses with sales of more than £10m, staying power, and innovation. But these criteria no longer chime with how the world works; Bluemoose Books’ Kevin Duffy, for example, has been hugely influential in the conversation about publishing in the North (with Comma’s Ra Page and Dead Ink’s Nathan Connolly), but I daresay his turnover is some way off 2009’s baseline. Similarly, Bernardine Evaristo finds herself in the 150 after her joint Booker win, which has seen her public influence grow and grow over the past two months—as the BBC, which apologised to her for not naming her in a discussion about prizes, can testify. 

The lesson from these newbies, but also from fellow entrants Sarah McIntyre, Kit de Waal, Syima Aslam, David Fickling and Michael Schmidt, is that we can all make a difference—and rapidly too. This is a listening business.
In expanding the list, we are also looking to recognise that influence does not always need to be played out in the headlines: designers such as Faber art director Donna Payne and Vintage creative director Suzanne Dean are not high profile, but the impact they have in curating and creating the look of today’s big books is immeasurable. Tellingly, there was not a single designer among the 2009 cohort.

The usefulness of such lists is not just in their annual outing but, as with the Rising Stars feature that we run in the spring, and the new “Bookshop Heroes” initiative coming in September (see p31), what they tell us about how the trade has changed over time. There were two BAME executives in the 2009 version, while 72 of the 100 back then were men: both ratios seem unimaginable today, just as this year’s quotient will soon look dated.

This being the last issue of the month, year and decade; it is also worth considering what all this tells us about the future. The world has become a more troubled place since 2009, and our role within it is no longer settled: the diversifying of the sector, as reflected through these listings has not been easy and will get no easier. But it remains our single best weapon against the upside-down. In that respect, The Bookseller 150 is a statement of intent: we are still here, and we are ready. 
Happy trading. Merry Xmas!