Unexpected journey

Publishers may print many thousands of black and white books each year, but that does not mean our thinking about this sector needs to be so binary. The book business is a messy enterprise, with a long history and a changing future. There are no guarantees, with failure still a very likely outcome for many projects. Authors feel this acutely of course, for theirs are the books that stand or fall in the face of an implacable and often uncaring marketplace; but booksellers and publishers are no less unmoved when their investments fail. Is any of this getting any easier? It would seem not. Does it look like anyone is even close to giving up? Hardly. 

With summer behind us and Super Thursday just a month away, now is that most peculiar of times in the book market, with shops laden with new products and publishers expectant that their new offerings will sell out as well as they may have sold in. There are good reasons to be optimistic. It is all relative, of course, but a print book market that began the year strongly is continuing to keep its nose ahead of last year, with the recession all but behind us and the impact of digital absorbed (for now). There are also positive noises coming out of indies and genuine excitement for the future of  the high street, as last week’s imaginative sale of Dulwich Books to agent Susie Nicklin showed. Also noteworthy is the renewed confidence at Waterstones, Blackwell’s and Stanfords. There are parallels with booksellers further afield who, as our exclusive report on bookselling in Europe reveals, are now showing “more composure and better judgement” in the face of markets no less troubled than they were, but perhaps less threatening.

If some of the pundits are to be believed, the book business is once again headed off a cliff, driven by its fondness for celebrity, the (fading?) colour-your-own frenzy and the precarious state of the e-book market. But I never understand such stark assessments. The mistake, as ever, is to assume that because publishers get some decisions wrong, they must all be bad. Or that they are incapable of adjusting their sights to reflect a changed scenario. The sector might be slow, prone to over production, and a touch self-obsessed, but it isn’t stupid.

This week we launched FutureBook 2015 with a fresh vision, approach and a new Author Day. Some of the themes we are developing are pertinent to this: the importance of listening to authors, the question of how mobile reading will impact digital reading and the need to understand what the data we have is telling us. But really it is the spirit of interrogation that we most hope to service: that sense of opening ourselves up to a future curiously uncertain but clearly ours.