Pete Selby, head of books for W H Smith, has called on the book industry to make the high street more diverse and inclusive for young readers, saying that diversity is going to become a "significant" part of WHS' strategy.
Speaking at The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference on Monday 23rd September, Selby said high street book retailers and publishers have failed to encourage children into reading through not including a broad spectrum of characters.
Selby said: “The role of the high street has to play supporting a diverse and inclusive publishing programme is not just an obligation but, given the breadth and depth of our reach, a moral imperative in wanting to encourage all children to relate to and fall in love with reading and being read to in characters that look like them, think like them and act like them. At the moment, we are failing – as retail as well as the publishing industry we are failing.”
Selby announced diversity and inclusion will play a central part in WH Smith’s future high street strategy, adding that the retailer will take care to ensure it is not tokenistic in its approach.
Selby said: “We recognise that there’s a long way to go but that will become a significant, integrated part of our strategy. It is going to feel integrated - it’s not going to feel like it’s something that we’re doing that feels totally disparate. Smiths, other retailers need to work a lot harder and also from a publishing point of view we need to work together collectively.”
Selby told his audience booksellers and publishers, that the industry could play a key role in combatting bigotry and exclusion. He said: “It’s a collective responsibility of everyone in this room to work together to reflect the beautiful, diverse nature of our society at a time when invidious and pernicious evil works to undermine the tolerance and acceptance that many of us took for granted.
“The high street can deliver this. It has to deliver this. It’s the heartbeat that pulses the most disparate and diverse perspectives in our modern society. Let’s work together to embrace it and nurture it and protect it – it still has a lot to give.”