Publishers make a date with history

<p>The &ldquo;Titanic&rdquo;, John Lennon and the moon have one thing in common&mdash;they all have significant dates attached which publishers can hang a publication on.</p><p>Recent date-specific publishing has included the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, last year&rsquo;s Darwin: 200, and Lennon&rsquo;s 70th birthday. Next year marks a decade since 9/11, the Queen&rsquo;s Diamond Jubilee is in 2012, and in 2014 it is the centenary of the First World War.</p><p>A round number is a boost for hard- and paperback sales. This summer&rsquo;s 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain saw titles about our Finest Hour hopping up the charts, including James Holland&rsquo;s The Battle of Britain (Bantam Press), plus Daniel Swift&rsquo;s Bomber County (Hamish Hamilton), and the lingering success of Ben MacIntyre&rsquo;s Operation Mincemeat (Bloomsbury). </p><p>It is an obvious, if tricky, angle to get right, and one that the Booksellers Association is to herald with its forthcoming calendar. President Jane Streeter, also owner of indie The Bookcase, said that there will be downloadable resources for bookshops to tie into significant dates. She added: &ldquo;For us, as I&rsquo;m sure is the case with other [small bookshops], it&rsquo;s local anniversaries and [historical] events that work. One that worked for us recently was a title about the Lancaster bombers.&rdquo; </p><p>However, the anniversary is rarely enough on its own. Jonathan Ruppin at Foyles describes the impact as &ldquo;quite variable. A lot of it depends on the extent of other media coverage and how sustained it is. But we certainly research them in advance.&rdquo;</p><p>He added: &ldquo;The fact that interest is often passing means that it&rsquo;s a market driven principally by paperback sales . . . word-of-mouth factor is less relevant, as it depends more on the customer&rsquo;s individual interest, rather than a specific title being recommended.&rdquo;</p><p>Mike Jones, Simon &amp; Schuster editorial director for non-fiction, said: &ldquo;Unless [an anniversary] is pretty major it doesn&rsquo;t drive people into stores.&rdquo; It will, however, attract commissioning editors. Jones&rsquo; recent acquisition of Surviving the Titanic is one of two from S&amp;S, as well as a Hodder memoir, plus approximately eight forthcoming titles from The History Press and 10 backlist titles: a &ldquo;hamper&rdquo; of text, illustrated and different price points, for the disaster&rsquo;s centenary in 2012.<br />Jones said: &ldquo;[Competition] does concern me, but it&rsquo;s always a question of finding the best book, a unique twist.&rdquo; Jim Greenhough, Carlton commercial director, mentions the Battle of Britain: &ldquo;We did a &pound;30 box-set with the RAF. You have to do something that others aren&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p><p>A big event is good news for backlist. Jones is anticipating the centenary of 1914 for The First World War by Huw Strachan: &ldquo;For the anniversary we hope to resell and perhaps to rejacket.&rdquo; Greenhough added: &ldquo;If it&rsquo;s a big anniversary we&rsquo;ll create something new [but] it will get backlist going again.&rdquo;</p><p>Choosing the right anniversaries to celebrate is crucial, with Greenhough recalling passing on tie-in publication with a celebration of 1960 which never took off. Turning points in history, as well as music and royalty are all cited as fruitful. And not just round dates: THP&rsquo;s publishing on the Great Western Railway was boosted by its 175th anniversary, &ldquo;which demonstrates that there is room for anniversary publishing outside the biggest events and the &lsquo;100&rsquo; marker, especially for publishers with more specialist lists, such as ours,&rdquo; said THP&rsquo;s head of publishing, Laura Perehinec.</p><p>Greenhough added: &ldquo;Theoretically, every year is an anniversary of something. You have to take a subject that matters and put it in front of people.&rdquo;</p>