Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books are releasing 5,000 La Belle Sauvage book plates, signed by author Philip Pullman, to independent bookshops as part of “special plans” promised last month. However some booksellers have suggested the "horse has bolted".
The publishers announced it would distribute the limited edition book plates to support independent bookshops with sales of Pullman’s first instalment of The Book of Dust series ahead of Christmas, along with an exclusively produced print by Chris Wormell, the illustrator who produced the La Belle Sauvage cover picture. The signed book plates will be inserted into shops’ existing stock and accompanied exclusively by the prints, available from early December. The prints, which will be mounted and each wrapped in a gold envelope, depict Lord Asriel, his daemon Stelmaria and Lyra as a baby.
In the announcement, PRH Children’s praised the “magical job” that independent booksellers had done of selling the long-awaited accompanying series to His Dark Materials.
David Fickling Books and PRH Children’s will also be working closely with the Booksellers Association and its independent members around special plans for Philip Pullman in 2018. These will especially focus around Independent Bookshop Week (from 16th to 23rd June 2018), which celebrates independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. More details will be announced in early 2018.
The development is a response to disappointment expressed by from indies last month over the the fact that Waterstones had received 5,000 exclusive signed copies of the book, culminating in a blog from the Secret Bookseller. There had also been months of mounting frustration over deep discounting of the hardback, reduced to £10 by major retailers rather than the r.r.p of £20, with Pullman himself calling for the industry to look at the issue of deep discounting.
Ruth Knowles, publisher at PRH Children’s, said “Independent bookshops have done a magical job of selling La Belle Sauvage so far, and its position, for four weeks as the Number 1 bestseller in Nielsen’s Independent Booksellers’ Top 20 Chart, is testament to this. We know that signed copies are coveted by both readers and booksellers which is why we have made these exclusive book plates available.”
Fickling said: “What a gorgeous print by Chris Wormell and one of my favourite scenes. What an exquisite bookplate for a wonderful book by a great writer. We hope they will help bookshops in making La Belle Sauvage the perfect Christmas present for readers. Go Indies!”
However independent booksellers have greeted the news with some scepticism, while also expressing appreciation at the gesture.
Tim West, co-owner of Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London, told The Bookseller: “I don’t begrudge Pullman or the publishers their marketing campaign but this story is just another part of this campaign. I wouldn’t go out of my way to order the book plates or prints. A signed copy has much more significance if you have stood in front of the author and said ‘will you sign my book’. I’ve had signed prints before which people haven’t been interested in.
“I would be interested if Pullman visited independent bookshops to do signings [as part of Independent Bookshop Week]. He is a great author, after all.”
Bookseller Richard Drake of The Bookshop in Stockton-on-Tees told The Bookseller: “I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I think it’s brilliant. I like the fact they’re doing something, that Philip Pullman hasn’t ignored it [the issue].”
However Drake expressed disappointment over the book plates. He said: “My gut reaction is there is a horse that seems to have comprehensively bolted at this time. Why didn’t he do signed copies for indies and book plates for Waterstones? This might sound churlish. Yes, signed copies do make a difference, I have used signed book plates in the past, but only if they are buying the book anyway. I haven’t flagged it as a signed copy. There is a difference between a signed book plate and a signed copy."
He added: "We might also get people buying books from WHSmith who will come in and ask us for book plates, I would be astonished if that doesn’t happen. It just feels very much an afterthought.”
Bookshops will be able to request the book plates and prints through their PRH sales representative or by contacting: PullmanBookplates@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.