For those counting, there is an extra issue of The Bookseller this year. And it’s a bumper one, too. Our annual list of the trade’s 150 influencers shows everyone and everything that is good, bad and somewhere in between within our business after another year of toil, trouble and triumph. As my colleague Tom Tivnan writes in his introduction, after spending much of 2020 in a state of flux, 2021 meant a shift of gear for the powerful, a realisation that to manage effectively during these continuing dark times took a new set of skills, a deftness of touch perhaps along with a reconfiguration of what it means to lead. There has also been a shift in what influence means (or at least what it means in this context)—those making the biggest changes in the book trade in 2021 were not necessarily those running the biggest businesses during the year.
The challenges of the past 24 months have brought their own demands—just under half of the list are new since 2020. Publishing doesn’t change fast, of course, but nevertheless from the bigger publishers’ relentless hunger to acquire the smaller players to the appointment of a woman—Joanna Prior—to run top four publisher Pan Macmillan, we are beginning to see how publishing will look as it emerges from the pandemic. And yes, I do realise that a bit of that sentence belongs in the 1970s.
Some of our audience are leery about such lists, and I sympathise with their views. Perhaps no one power list is perfect (in fact far from it, as we learn after each publication), nevertheless their value builds over time, reflecting over a decade how the business has renewed itself. For its first 11 years men made up the majority of places, now women are in the ascendancy. Not everything moves as decisively. A few years ago we would have been delighted with this list’s inclusive crop (18%), but today it already feels a step behind. Focus just on the top jobs within the big trade publishers and that ratio reduces dramatically. As S&S UK c.e.o. Ian Chapman writes, “having principles is not just a ‘nice to have’”.
For all of that, in reading the entries this year, I was mostly struck by the positive tone and the sense that despite the challenges we all face, we are rising to them. I would not want to single out individuals, except since we do, it is worth further highlighting what makes our 151st, our de facto “person of the year”. For in Bernardine Evaristo, the Booker has never had a winner who has worn the prize so well and used it so effectively, not for herself but for those around her, those below her, and perhaps most importantly, those above. Evaristo shows the power of the platform, but also the importance of giving voice.
As I sign off after another year, a thank to you all our readers, contributors and colleagues. I’ve never thought trade magazines should be aloof from the industries they cover, and as a result we share in your anxieties, complexities and failings. I feel we got a lot right in 2021, but I won’t pretend we didn’t also get some things wrong. Luckily, 2022 is just around the corner to sort it all out. See you there.