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Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine June Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

This month in publishing, there has been much news from across the pond as BookExpo took place, with tweaks promised for 2018 to try to find the right balance between Expo and Con. The big books of the BookExpo show have been slightly overshadowed, however, by the continuing fuss over the size of advances being paid to American politicians for their books, including $795k for Bernie Sanders and former FBI Director James Comey is looking at a rumoured $10m bidding war.

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Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine May Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

Big news from Amazon once again this month, as it hit an all-time high in the stock market and revenue from Q1 is up, prompting CEO Jeff Bezos to sell some of his stocks in the business for the largest sum yet. The tech giant’s Japanese expansion continues apace and they are widely considered to be “eating the world”, but all is not well with Amazon’s relationship with publishing. The introduction of a new buy button programme has drawn criticism from publishers and authors alike – including in the independent scene. What’s more, Amazon has this month announced and released a new book chart system, in which – perhaps unsurprisingly – their own books are notably faring better than anyone else’s.

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Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine April Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

This month in publishing news, there has been an unusual obsession with the smell of books. Not only did scientists pin-point that distinctive smell of second-hand bookshops, but the Guardian discovered what you can tell about an individual book from its smell – and why the scent is so addictive.

In the bookselling sphere, Amazon once again dominated the opinions columns, as their forays into bricks and mortar bookshops continue. Plans for a second New York City bookstore, and another in Massachusetts are underway, while Seattle has been tipped as the next Amazon experiment ground.

These expansions go ahead despite the fact that bricks and mortar bookstore sales have dropped once again, and a drop in sales from some publishers, including Big 5 giant HarperCollins. The truth is, the BBC reports, that people don’t have enough time to read, though a rise in library usage by young people indicates this could be a temporary blip.

Online, the Amazon’s expansion into Australia is proving to be larger than expected but, in terms of eBook sales at least, they may soon face competition as, though Google Books continues to circle in “low orbit”, Microsoft has launched its own digital bookstore. Even so, Microsoft have their work cut out for them, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has just been named the second richest man in the world after a leap in shares that has kept investors keen, and revealed in his 2017 letter to shareholders that he has no plans for Amazon to go anywhere. What’s more, Amazon has just made it even easier for self-published authors to convert manuscripts for Kindle. Both tech giants had better watch out, though, as this experimental eBook could hail a new kind of publishing entirely!

April has hailed its fair share of author drama too, not least of which with the release of letters from Sylvia Plath, claim her husband and fellow-author Ted Hughes was guilty of domestic abuse. While Hughes’ widow says these accusations are “absurd”, others have noted that whether or not the accusations are true, they are unlikely to affect Hughes’ literary standing.  Elsewhere, Alec Baldwin has trash-talked publisher of his memoir HarperCollins over “typos and errors” he was “surprised to see.” At the other end of the scale, Trapeze author David Barnett has accused writers with unpublished manuscripts of being “quitters, not failures.”

It’s been a big month for prizes as well, with both Man Booker International and Hugo Awards shortlists being announced, amongst many others. Significantly, Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for The Underground Railroad, and Bob Dylan finally accepted his Nobel Prize for literature, months after the original ceremony.

In international news, Bologna confirmed an international rights show in New York for 2018; national financial woes hit the Nigerian book industry hard; CNN explored how book manuscripts are smuggled out of North Korea; the AAP honoured Hong Kong publisher and bookseller, Giu Minhai, who is currently imprisoned in China; and book piracy bites hard for Zimbabwean authors.

Finally, this month, the press has asked whether publishing has become too liberal. With Naomi Klein planning to battle Trump, Communism for Kids sparking a backlash from the conservatives, and “pawternity” leave granted to HarperCollins India workers adopting pets, you can see where the sentiment might come from. But when YA rising star Angie Thomas claims publishers “made the assumption that black kids don’t read”, and highlights the issues of diversity in the industry, I wonder if the question should be whether we’re liberal enough where it counts.

Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine March Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

The big news from March in UK publishing is obviously the London Book Fair (LBF). Poland shone at this year’s Market Focus, and the Fair was busier than usual, with six-figure deals struck ahead of time and publishers cheerfully splashing cash as sales rose. This was seen as further evidence of the rise of print, with The Guardian stating that by the end of the month stats showing that print outperformed digital. Yet, despite the recent whopping $65m forward paid for the Obamas’ new book (which hasn’t pleased all and prompted a list of the biggest deals of all time) no single title emerged as this year’s big hitter.

Even before LBF, however, World Book Day (WBD) brought the public out in favour of their favourite books, causing a slew of bookish opinion to hit the web: is it of concern that, for 25% of children, WBD tokens give them the chance to buy their first book? Should we be worried that children are dressing up as YouTubers on a day dedicated to books? Are celebrities shutting children’s authors out of their own trade? The standard of fancy dress was high and the enthusiasm for books strong, if this BBC article’s anything to go by, but was soured towards the end of the month by authors’ reactions to the government’s “sop and whitewash” £4m contribution to the libraries crisis.

Author Susan Hill kicked off this month’s bookshop news, by cancelling an event at Norwich’s indie bookstore the Book Hive, claiming they were engaged in “censorship” and were “anti-Trump”. Her now-infamous statement in The Spectator went viral, garnering fierce responses not only from the Book Hive, but also from other authors.

Across the pond, Amazon unveiled its first East Coast bricks and mortar bookstore, which some claim could “change the industry forever.” Further, in spite of more urges from Isreal that Amazon should stop selling books that deny the Holocaust or promote anti-Semitism, possible plans for a Middle-East expansion are speculated, as Amazon bought Doubai-based online retailer Souk.com. Closer to home, The Telegraph claimed a post-Brexit Britain needs more companies like Amazon, while our home-grown bricks and mortars engaged in fighting talk. The Waterstones boss attacked the “god awful uniformity” of chains such as WH Smith, and indies worried that small, unbranded Waterstones may become a threat. Good news for all bookstores is that, following in the footsteps of Emma Watson, actress and singer Emma Roberts has announced her own book club.

Diversity hit the headlines again, first of all with an expansion of Hachette’s diversity programme (launched last year) as they announce The Future Bookshelf, then with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas rocking the boat even before its UK release. Buzzfeed and other outlets also got excited about the young black women breaking into “Britain’s very white” publishing industry.

In further political news, as Trump tried to read a book, satire has become part of the Trump book cottage industry. Following on in a similar vein, Costco has begun to stock Orwell’s 1984 due to its recent popularity, and the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is garnering some serious buzz. In the UK’s liberal heart of London, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, out this week, is to be reproduced chapter by chapter in a series of 20 posters pasted along Leonard Street, near Silicon Roundabout. We’re not shy about our politics in publishing, that’s for sure!

First National Indexing Day announced

The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and has designated 30 March as the first National Indexing Day to raise awareness of this little-known but essential profession.

Following on from National Indexing Day, index scholars and lovers will be gathering at the Bodleian Library for a two-day symposium on the Book Index (22–23 June) organised by Dr Dennis Duncan. As Dennis notes: ‘Records from the papal court at Avignon show that by the early 1300s people were being paid to compose indexes. In other words, the professional indexer has been around for a good century longer than the printed book.’

Follow #indexday on Twitter or for more information on the event itself click here.

Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine February Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

This month in publishing, booksellers have taken the spotlight, with Waterstones announcing their first year of profit since the 2008 financial crash. In fact, Bookstore sales rose 2.5% in 2016 and Amazon is determined to get in on the action, with plans to open 10 books and mortar stores across the US by the end of 2017, in a move to “solve digital retail’s biggest design flaw.” They are also rumoured to be scouting for shops in London. However, the footing is not even: Amazon has been given tax cuts while high street stores suffer – though, as the FT points out, UK tax law isn’t actually Amazon’s fault.

February has also marked the first full month of Trump’s presidency. Early February saw Trump pass an executive order banning entry to the US for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations. Publishing professionals across the board have stood up against the ban, notably Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. In response, Publishers’ Weekly followed the lead of Penguin Random House US and Hachette Book Group US by offering to pay half its employees’ membership fees to PEN America.

Members of the reading public have also registered their unhappiness, voting with their reading habits by sending dystopian fiction to the top of the bestseller charts, as well as organizing to flood the White House with books for Valentine’s Day.

On a lighter note, Trump’s actions have also kicked off a feud between Harry Potter author JK Rowling and television presenter Piers Morgan. Already having had to defend Harry Potter books against threats of burning this month, Rowling scored some biblical hits against Morgan before London-based Big Green Bookshop took up the gauntlet by deciding to live-Tweet the entire first Harry Potter novel at Morgan. The process would have taken 32,567 Tweets, however at the time of writing, Morgan has blocked the Big Green Bookshop and thwarted their efforts.

This has been a month in which defense of free-speech and liberal values have been at the fore: “sensitivity readers” have been highlighted; anger has bloomed in light of 2017’s all-white Carnegie and Kate Greenaway longlists; and the Authors Guild in America has called for vigilance in these “not normal” times. Meanwhile, more complex debates have erupted over the sale of a Juno Dawson book to a 12-year-old at school, and arguments continue to rage over Milo Yiannopoulos’s upcoming book, both for and against.

“Publishing has a part to play in this fight,” said Chief Executive of Faber & Faber, Steven Page, accepting the Frankfurt book fair independent trade publisher of the year award. “We are about freedom of expression, making the public aware and [providing] education. These are things that matter very much now.”

Publishers Association findings from post-Brexit survey

The Publishers Association have released findings of a post-Brexit survey used to identify the key priorities for the industry going forward. This included ensuring a strong government commitment to copyright and reducing VAT on epublications.

Key findings of the survey include:

· The majority (73%) of respondents will not change their business’s investment plans following the Brexit vote while 2% plan to increase investment

· Over a third (38%) said they wanted a strong commitment to the existing copyright framework while another 33% said they would like to see VAT reduced on epublications

· Over half (53%) of academic publishers surveyed said that reduced funding for academic research and Higher Education Institutes, was the main challenge they faced

· Almost half (44%) of the respondents said that cheaper exports due to the weaker pound would be the biggest opportunity post-Brexit, although some said this would be cancelled out by higher printing costs. More than a third (35%) said that higher costs of doing business, such as higher import costs, was one of the biggest challenges created by the Brexit vote

The survey also showed that many publishers are concerned by the uncertainty created by the Brexit vote. One respondent said: “As the timetable for Brexit is still not clear, the likely effect is still difficult to assess.” Another said the uncertainty “had already damaged UK sales and added costs to production”.

But some highlighted the opportunities that Brexit presented. One respondent said: “Brexit is an opportunity for us to review what we are doing and to improve our planning operations”.

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Our survey shows that despite the economic uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote, the UK publishing industry remains resilient and will continue to play an important role in the creative sector and the UK economy as a whole.

“However, it also highlights the challenges the industry faces, including higher business costs due to the weaker pound and the difficulty planning in an uncertain environment. We will make sure that these concerns are addressed by Government, as well as working to secure the industry’s key priorities moving forward.”

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