Tributes | David Whitaker

Tributes | David Whitaker

David Whitaker, a former editor of The Bookseller, has passed away. Whitaker died peacefully in his sleep overnight on 4th August.

Whitaker edited the magazine from 1977 to 1979, although his principal contribution to the book trade came via Whitaker Publishing, the business that owned The Bookseller until its sale to VNU in 1999. Whitaker was proprietor, m.d. and then chair of the business, until he retired in 1997.

The funeral is expected to take place at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, with details to be announced shortly. Tribute follow below. Further tributes may be sent to

A full obituary will run in due course.


Clive Bradley, former chief executive of the Publishers Association

For many years, David was a formidable power in publishing. He succeeded his father, Haddon, if anything even more formidable, in the days when it was common in the publishing trade, as it was then known, for companies to be owned and managed by the family hierarchy, and The Bookseller was no different. I was told when I arrived at the PA in 1976 not to worry: all the big decisions were made at No 13 Bedford Square (we were at No 19) at a regular lunch every Tuesday at Whitaker's, to determine The Bookseller’s editorial line that week. In attendance were Haddon, David and David’s great friend Michael Turner (Michael was later m.d. of Associated Book Publishers, a group which included Sweet and Maxwell as its money-spinner, and president of the PA at the time of the IPA Congress in London. David and Michael both had houses in Boscastle and together produced Victorian music hall there – David of course was the MC. Michael was also the translator of Tintin into idiomatic English with Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper). Also present at the lunch were Ronnie Barker, my predecessor at the PA, and occasionally Gerry Davies of the BA. Very properly, I was not to be invited: I came from devilish newspapers.

David edited The Bookseller for a time, rather well. He was close to all that went on, and to publishing’s and bookselling’s leading figures, and he could write stylishly and opinionatedly, not always in favour of changes in the trade, at least not those disapproved of by The Bookseller. But it was David and his sister Sally who appointed Louis Baum as the long-serving successor, and Louis brought a touch of professionalism and diversity which were welcome. This was stimulated further by the launch of Publishing News by Clive Labovitch and Fred Newman, a cheeky challenge to one-time monopolistic power.

But The Bookseller was not the whole of Whitaker’s. Vitally there was the annual British Books in Print, a vast essential tool for everyone, and its counterpart Standard Book Numbers, adopted as a worldwide system—its main office is in Berlin. David was the protector of the integrity of the system, much incensed by another cheeky intrusion, Francis Bennett’s Book Data Ltd, which provided important new services for book markets, though they were later to merge. This was all the beginning of the tsunami of new technology which engulfed the trade, Teleordering to start with, then a wealth of new systems involving metadata and the like; Book Industry Communication (BIC) a cross-trade body initially managed by Brian Green, was a leader. Others will write about these mysteries, but the Whitaker’s monopoly was dispersed to BIC, Publishers Licensing Services and other service providers.

My own relationship with David changed from rather frosty to, I think, mutual respect and, in our old age, bantering friendship. I am sure he would not object to a word of all this.

Martin Grindley, independent bookseller and former president of the Booksellers Association

I first met David Whitaker when, as a disenchanted daily newspaper sub-editor in my twenties with a family background in the book trade, I optimistically applied for the vacant editorship of The Bookseller in the mid-1970s. Ushered into his intimidating oak-lined office in Bloomsbury for the interview, David exuded an officer-class authoritative air as he made it crystal clear I was not to be a serious runner. His encouragement for my Plan B, to open an independent bookshop, was to prove more successful. Fast-forward 12 or so years and, with two bookshops in Essex and Suffolk, I found myself on the electronic book trade standards committee at the invitation of the Booksellers Association. Chaired by David, somehow the endless technical papers, presentations, negotiations and visits to test sites offered a stimulating peek into the future. His vision for the book trade’s digital DNA was delivered with humour, geniality and sheer perseverance. A “super networker” by nature as much as his position, he was great company. I hope all booksellers, when they scan a barcode sale or even a return, will say a little ”thank you” to the inimitable force that was David Whitaker.


Tim Coates, former head of Waterstones and library campaigner

David was wonderful: in the 1970s and 80s, when many of us  were trying very hard to improve the quality of bookselling outside university towns, so that more people had access to better bookshops, he was a whirlwind of inspiration and challenge and power.  I first met him when ISBNs were being made into barcodes, and then onwards as British Books In Print became available through a procession of technologies. He drove me on in my struggles with the  public library service, for which I was deeply and profoundly grateful. I remember once asking him why The Bookseller was so supportive of libraries when they didn’t deserve it. He told me it was because librarians are the largest group of subscribers, and laughed. 


Jeremy Neate, head of research at Nielsen Book

David was chairman when I joined Whitaker in July 1993. He had passed editorial duties at The Bookseller to Louis Baum 13 years previously but many colleagues spoke of working for him and enjoying the experience and his commitment – his strong presence was still felt throughout all aspects of the company’s products. A visionary, he saw accurate sales monitoring to improve the supply chain as a natural successor to Unique Product Codes (ISBNs) and the barcoding of books, both of which he was heavily involved in. I got the impression that he would have liked to have been more involved in the setting up and development of the BookScan service as well. Always enjoyable company, I last met David at his sister, Sally Whitaker’s funeral in 2016 where Andre Breedt and I were representing Nielsen Book in paying our respects. He was still very much interested in how the business was benefiting the trade that he loved but was equally inquisitive and impressed by Andre’s ‘Herringbone Suit’—a subtle charm that I believe was aimed to relax people that he had not met before.


Frances Hendrix, library campaigner

The very sad news of David's death was sent to me by librarian friends. My husband and I had been friends with Maggie and David for many years. He was a giant of a man but also a tremendous character and brain who was a great friend to the book world and to libraries. He will be very very sadly missed, people like David, who was brave, outspoken but also fun and kind, were hard to come by. He will be so missed, and there will never be another David Whitaker!