HarperCollins and Blackwell's win big at British Book Awards

HarperCollins and Blackwell's win big at British Book Awards

HarperCollins and Blackwell's have taken home the biggest prizes at this year's British Book Awards after being crowned Publisher of the Year and Book Retailer of the Year respectively. Faber was named Independent Publisher of the Year, and former Hachette UK chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson received the Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade award.

After marking its 200th anniversary in 2017, HarperCollins has been named Publisher of the Year due to a stellar achievement across adult, children’s, educational, digital and audio publishing. The publisher's TCM growth of 8% in a flat market was led by David Walliams, who provided two of the four biggest selling books of 2017. While the success of Gail Honeyman, Joanna Cannon and Gill Sims showed HarperCollins has a "Midas touch with débuts", there was also astute work with its wealth of brands in 2017 too, including Michael Bond’s Paddington, Agatha Christie and the Mills & Boon imprint, which was reimagined and revived in 2017. Audio sales "rocketed" as HC adopted a policy of putting all narrative titles out in spoken word at the same time as print. Away from the trade, Collins Learning grew globally and honed its reference publishing.

The publisher has been making great strides on the critical industry issue of diversity too, increasing the BAME voices on its list and becoming the only publisher to be included in Business in the Community’s Best Employers for Race list. “HarperCollins is a 200-year-old brand, yet completely of the 21st century,” said The British Book Awards judges. “It had an exceptional 2017 in so many ways—from big brands to new names, super-commercial to high literary, and bestsellers to prize winners. You have a clear sense of what it stands for and where it’s going... It’s at the very top of its game.”

Blackwell’s, meanwhile, was named Book Retailer of the Year for confirming itself as a “resurgent force” in British bookselling. The 139th year of Blackwell’s trading saw the company outpace book sales growth as measured by Nielsen BookScan by some distance. That growth has been spread evenly around the business: across its high street bookshops, campus stores, institutional and corporate channels, and website alike, said the judges.

The retailer has also sharpened up its seasonal campaigns and promotions, such as the Blackwell’s Book of the Year, and created a new team to co-ordinate its events—which numbered 1,500 in 2017. It has branched into new book categories, and continued long-term work on its company values and infrastructure, including buying, stock and ordering processes.

The awards judges hailed the revitalisation of Blackwell’s. “It’s terrific for everyone that Blackwell’s is properly back in the game,” they said. “The DNA of the business is fabulous and the booksellers are exceptional”

The other awards on the night saw Faber & Faber crowned Independent Publisher of the Year, after experiencing one of its best years in both critical and commercial terms. The publisher was praised for its strong growth across fiction, non-fiction, children’s, rights and US sales; its host of literary award wins and shortlistings, and the way it champions other small and medium-sized publishers via the Independent Alliance. The judges also hailed the leadership of c.e.o. Stephen Page and outgoing publisher Mitzi Angel, saying: “a great performance across the board with some highly impactful publishing—there are no weak links.”

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, which in 2017 secured two Costa Awards, bestselling debut fiction and general non-fiction books, and sharp growth across e-books, audio and rights as well as print, was named Children’s Publisher of the Year. In the 20th anniversary year of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury targeted those who had grown up with the series with new “House” editions, titles linked to a British Library exhibition and lively social media activity. In all, Bloomsbury Children's Books achieved a sixth successive year of turnover and profit growth, a hike of a third in TCM sales, and similar growth in exports. “The sales numbers are impressive, with or without Harry Potter,” said the judges.

From a shortlist packed with independent publishers across the academic, educational and professional sectors, it was the newest one of all, Maths—No Problem!, that scooped the Academic, Educational and Professional Publisher of the Year award. As a "prime example" of how indie start-ups can flourish in the niches of the education market, the company was praised for beating off competition from far larger corporates to become the only UK publisher recommended by the Department for Education for primary schools’ mastery programme, which led to “spectacular” sales growth in 2017.

Imprint of the Year was won by Penguin Random House imprint Viking, which saw TCM growth of 21% in 2017 against 0.2% for the market as a whole. The imprint also secured a string of award wins in 2017 including the Baileys and Rathbones Folio, and strengthened its crime and thriller roster with titles from Jane Corry, Nuala Ellwood and Simon Lelic. Meanwhile Simon Prosser, the publisher of fellow PRH imprint Hamish Hamilton, was named Editor of the Year for his “deft” handling of star novelists including Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy, his steering of a range of surprise bestsellers in 2017, and his “passionate commitment” to diversity of voices in literary publishing. Prosser marked his 20th anniversary at Hamish Hamilton last year. "Simon had a remarkable year—a just reward for all his creativity and originality,” said the judges. “Making purely literary publishing work can be a hard road, but he makes it look easy.”

Madeleine Milburn emerged victorious over a "closely-fought" category to win Literary Agent of the Year, for her combination of prolific deal-making and long-term vision for her authors. Judges praised her “astute handling” of standout debut author Gail Honeyman, as well as her high-volume and high-value deals in film, TV, audio and digital rights, alongside print. “It was Madeleine’s year,” they said. “The care of her authors is exemplary. It’s clear she goes the extra mile for them. She spots opportunities that others don’t, and takes them in interesting directions.”

Madeleine Milburn

Rights Professional of the Year went to Karine Marko of the Quarto Group, who steered consistent growth in rights sales over 20 years at Quarto, with a record year in 2017. The judges admired her combination of prolific day-to-day deal-making and strategic thinking about Quarto’s rights. Highly commended in this category was Amy Joyner of Kogan Page, who has transformed the publisher’s strategies and systems since joining in 2015, said the judges.

Marketing Strategy of the Year was won by HarperCollins for its “creative, co-ordinated and committed” strategy behind Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which made it critically and commercially one of the biggest debuts of 2017. Highly commended in this category was Cornerstone’s campaign for Eskiboy by Wiley, which despite the challenge of converting music fans into book buyers, was able to spread content quickly through social media and influencers.

Publicity Campaign of the Year was won by Rosi Crawley and Emma Draude of ED Public Relations for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker). The “phenomenal campaign” achieved a huge amount of coverage and provided an “outstanding” base for the marketing and sales teams, said the judges. Highly commended in this category was Dusty Miller at Pan Macmillan for an events-driven campaign for This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.

In retail, The Book Nook in Hove was awarded Children’s Bookseller of the Year, for "superb customer service" which led to a substantial increase in sales in 2017. The shop was also praised for its extensive support for local schools, teachers and child literacy; its energetic events programme at schools and festivals as well as in-store; and its lively marketing via e-newsletters, social media and quarterly flyers— and a Book Nook-branded car.

Independent Bookshop of the Year went to Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop, which achieved double-digit growth in sales last year due to a combination of fantastic service, stock that is finely tuned to its market, a thriving book group, a packed events programme and effective local partnerships, said the judges. Beyond all that, the judges highlighted that Five Leaves pioneers in creating a distinctive identity out of its emphasis on political and social issues, a passion for diversity and a reputation for poetry. It organised Nottingham’s first ever Radical Book Fair in 2017, and will follow it with a Feminist Book Fortnight in June. “This is a very good bookshop—but so much more,” said the judges. “It’s genuinely collaborative, generous and public-spirited and has a stack of energy... Five Leaves is a very high-class literary bookseller indeed—long may it prosper.”

Individidual bookseller of the Year went to Greig Watt at Blackwell’s. Watt’s triumph means Blackwell’s has won this award—and its previous incarnation, Young Retailer of the Year—for four years in a row. Watt’s store at the University of Aberdeen was at risk of closure when he became manager in 2015, but he has since transformed it into one of the chain’s most respected locations. Unusually in this industry, he has been a manager in other retail sectors rather than a career bookseller, and has brought all of his knowledge to bear, drastically improving service, hand-selling and links to university students and lecturers, and increasing corporate and institutional accounts. As well as a jump in sales, his improved terms negotiation has improved profitability. “Greig’s commitment is incredible, and it’s really paid off,” judges said.

Highly commended in this category is Kurde Atfield, manager of Waterstones' Horsham branch. “Kurde’s understanding of her shop’s identity, her customers and its place in the community yields incredible results,” said the judges. “She’s found an individual tone that lifts it far beyond just ‘another’ Waterstones.”

After 40 years in the business, former Hachette UK chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson (right) was named the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade award. "Hely Hutchinson bowed out at the top of his game at the end of 2017, having created a legacy over his 40-year career that will endure for many decades to come", said the citation. Hachette is firmly cemented as the UK's second-largest trade publishing group, with its portfolio of a dozen different publishing businesses acquired over a 13-year period showing how corporate publishing can be both big and human, commercial and collegiate. "There are few executives still working in publishing today who have managed to combine longevity with success; leadership with understanding; steel with warmth. His contribution to the book trade has not just been outstanding, it has been shaping, nurturing and inspiring", the citation added.

The winners of the Book of the Year Awards are available to view here.