The book trade has abandoned the Liberal Democrats in favour of Labour and the Green Party in the five years since the last election, according to a poll of voting intentions conducted by The Bookseller. Support for libraries and making Amazon pay a fair share of tax are the issues the trade is most keen for the new government to address, the poll found.
A survey conducted by The Bookseller in May 2010 found the majority of the 126 respondents backed the Lib Dems (38%); Labour was second (32%) and the Conservative Party third (27%). This year, the number of respondents planning to vote Lib Dem has crumbled to just 10%, from a comparable total of 118 respondents. Labour and the Greens have been the beneficiaries, with 46% of trade respondents planning to vote Labour, and nearly 13% supporting the Greens, making it the third most popular party, despite its controversial “14-year” copyright plan. The Conservatives remain in second place, but with support down to 19%; Scottish National Party supporters make up 6% of the vote; The Left Unity Party and “Undecideds” both stand at 2%; and UKIP on 1%.
The majority of respondents were publishers (47%), followed by authors and booksellers (14% apiece), librarians (8%), agents (7%) and distributors (2%); the remaining respondents classed themselves as “other”.
One third of respondents who answered the question, “What policies relating to the book business are you particularly keen to see a new government pursue?” included support for public libraries or school libraries in their response. Other high-scoring priorities were reform of the tax loopholes that enable Amazon and other online retailers to avoid tax, the removal of VAT on e-books and the maintenance of the VAT-free status of print books.
Support for independent booksellers and publishers and the high street, reform of business rates, sustainable Open Access policies for academic research, copyright education and anti-piracy moves, and ending austerity measures were all also cited as priorities for the incoming government. So too were protecting authors’ rights, protecting the creative industries from adverse EU copyright law changes, the proliferation of unpaid internships and remaining in—or, in the case of the lone UKIP voter, leaving—the EU.
When asked which single party policy was most damaging to the book industry, the Greens’ position on copyright aroused the most ire, with one respondent calling it a “fiasco”, adding: “It is a stupid policy which not only showed how little it knows about copyright but also highlighted other weaknesses in its communications and policymaking. I had been thinking of voting Green but its reaction—a mix of muddled and patronising—further discouraged me . . . they are more interested in policies than people. Lost my vote!”
However, another respondent cited “draconian copyright enforcement policies, which fail to curb piracy while stifling innovation and culture” as the most damaging policy.
Perceived austerity policies and cuts to arts funding and library budgets were also cited, as was any move to leave the EU. But another respondent wrote: “For academic publishers, Labour’s education funding and tuition fee policies are a big concern. We could see a big reduction in funding for UK universities, which would potentially impact the world-leading status of our Higher Education system. It may be time to relocate more commissioning and marketing roles to be nearer to growing markets in Asia.”
The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was the politician who most impressed the trade (38% of respondents of all political persuasions). Ed Miliband scored 28%—“he’s looking better and better”, said one—but coalition duo David Cameron and Nick Clegg polled just 3% apiece. Votes were also cast for shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, London mayor Boris Johnson and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Broad political publishing boosts book sales
Election fever has had a marked impact for booksellers, with sales of political titles in the past month up 111% compared to the same period a year earlier.
From 29th March to 26th April, £918,986 worth of book sales have registered through Nielsen Bookscan’s TCM Top 5,000 in the Politics & Government category, up 111% year on year. Sales have been steadily rising since the start of the year, with £2,167,144 (239,499 units) generated through the TCM in the 17 weeks to 26th April 2015, up 46% by value on the comparable period in 2014.
By some distance the top-selling title in The Bookseller’s general election chart (below left) is The Establishment by Owen Jones (Penguin), which has clocked up nearly 54,000 units in all editions since the start of the year, followed by The Dream Shall Never Die by Alex Salmond (William Collins, 10,811 units). Cameron’s Coup by Polly Toynbee and David Walker (Guardian Faber, 9,215 units) follows in third place, with The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe (Oneworld) in fourth position, having shifted 5,835 in sales.
Waterstones non-fiction buyer Susanne Ard said: “Sales of politics titles have increased dramatically in the run-up to the general election, with January to April sales almost double that of the same period in 2014.” In addition to the key general election-themed titles, Waterstones has seen “significant uplifts” for books on austerity, international security, the NHS, banking, taxation and the EU. Ard said : “As booksellers, information and knowledge are essential to our trade and the general election has been an opportunity for Waterstones to share this passion.”
A broad church
Steve Potter, commercial manager at Wordery, said the company had noted a boost for titles written by or about politicians of yesteryear, such as Tony Benn and Baroness Thatcher, compared to contemporary politicians. “We are also seeing a real interest in the newer themes and strands of British politics alongside an interest in revisiting the good old days,” he said.
Patrick Neale, owner of Chipping Norton independent Jaffé & Neale Bookshop & Café, who counts the Prime Minister David Cameron among his customers, said the bookshop was “having a bit fun” displaying the Where’s Nigel? title by George Santillan (HarperCollins). “It has been selling very well,” Neale said.
Some booksellers have registered surprise that the election has had such a noticeable impact on book sales, attributing it to how close the election is to call, along with a broader range of publishing on the subject.
Foyles head of buying Jasper Sutcliffe said: “We have had prominent displays of the key books from across the political spectrum in each of our branches and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the uptake. Our readers are obviously engaged in the national conversation and the closeness of the result has certainly had an effect.”
Nic Bottomley, owner of Bath indie Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, said publishers had commissioned more broadly, and as a result there were “more sellable books out there with a more accessible treatment”.
London Review Bookshop retail manager Natalia de la Ossa, however, said that while the election has had an impact on sales, “there is a growing audience looking for non-academic political books and a better engagement from publishers and writers to meet this new demand”.
Intriguingly, Penguin’s 80p Little Black Classic edition of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto has sold 16,445 copies in the past nine weeks, making it the bestselling title in the series. Simon Winder, publishing director of Penguin Classics, said: “This certainly was not our plan, but by pricing it at 80p we seem to have accidentally radicalised an entire generation.”