As I approach the end of my term as BA president, I have a chance to reflect on an eventful, challenging and amazing two years.
I feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to be president of our trade association, one which I truly believe to be second to none, and which is run by the most hard-working, committed team you could wish to meet.
I came to the role with the desire to work closely with other people in the book trade—our publishing partners, literacy charities, and writers. Happily for me there have been many opportunities to fulfil that wish, and I have been able to work on some really fruitful and positive projects and to liaise with such trade bodies as the Reading Agency, the Scattered Authors Society, BTBS, London Book Fair, PubEasy, Nielsen BookData and The Reader Organisation. I’ve met so many people and had the privilege of attending meetings and occasions which have allowed me to understand our industry from many different angles – including the OFT and the Department of Culture!
I’ve witnessed the first two World Book Nights, a re-invigorated World Book Day, and helped to instigate National Reading Group Day. The BA itself has moved to new premises and develops ever-closer links with other trade associations, both at home and internationally. The relationship with the American BA provides a solid and deepening foundation on which to build strong links throughout the trade, and I have been proud to see how highly regarded our association is around the world through the European and International Booksellers Federations.
So much hard work, dedication and thoughtful campaigning goes on every day at the BA to make it possible for us as booksellers to do the job we love. There is a real sense of camaraderie at the moment, and perhaps most gratifyingly with publishers. I have had, and continue to have, extremely encouraging and positive conversations with publishers at decision-making levels, and I do feel we are at the point in those discussions where we could make a real difference to our joint future.
There is a common desire to find a sustainable business model – publishers and booksellers know that the economic climate and digital developments make our future both exciting and uncertain. I firmly believe that open and honest communication is the only way to deal with where we are, and that belief was confirmed at the recent London Book Fair where I had numerous conversations with publishers in a really tangible atmosphere of co-operation and understanding.
The biggest challenge facing us all in the next few months is to find a way for booksellers to play a really positive role in the e-book market. There has been some very hard negotiating going on to try to establish our place in that arena, and the a.g.m. on 14th June should allow a great opportunity for BA members to hear what the various options are at this point. We have to hold our nerve and know that our position on the High Street, although under threat, is one that has a massively important and significant value in the wider community.
A small amount of cynicism can be healthy, but for me collaboration is the key to success. I am reassured that in a society obsessed with e-culture, there is still a deep and unshakeable faith in the beauty of the physical book, a real desire to protect our flesh and blood bookshops, and a passion for reading fuelled by our awareness that the written word has always had the power to transform the world.
The Booksellers Association a.g.m. takes place on 14th June at Foyles Charing Cross Road.