Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 3 August 2018

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 03 August 2018

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on Bonnier Zaffre's rise, Hachette's first half, and other book trade news


The boardroom ructions at Bonnier that have seen a number of individuals leave that particular publishing island with their metaphorical wheelie bags in tow - just like that programme that the whole country seems to have been watching (admit it - you've sneaked in the odd 10 minutes) - do not seem to have affected sales.

According to Nielsen BookScan, the company's value has risen by nearly 53%, thanks to strong performances from titles such as Heather Morris' The Tattooist of Auschwitz, while the presence of Wilbur Smith and Lynda La Plante, now in situ at the Bonnier Zaffre stable, arguably bode well for the future.

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Not surprisingly, the roar of the Wolff contributed to what ceo David Shelley called a "standout" first half of 2018 at Hachette UK. The success of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury (Little, Brown) helped the group to "significantly outperform the market", with an increase in market share in the UK Total Consumer Market from 12.2% in the same period of 2017 to 12.4%.

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Some positive figures in the US too, where book publishing revenue increased 5.5% in the first four months of 2018 over the comparable period last year, according to the Association of American Publishers. Sales of ebooks were down 3.8% during the period, while print sales of adult fiction and non-fiction increased by 7.3%. By far the strongest growth came from downloadable audio, where sales increased by 36.1%.

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Congratulations to Allen & Unwin Australia, which has signed probably the first book on the Thai cave rescue. Journalist James Massola, south east Asia correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's the Age, covered the story on the ground in northern Thailand and was approached directly by the publisher. The Great Cave Rescue will be out on 1 October. "Good news stories are few and far between," says Massola. "I can still scarcely believe I was there to witness first-hand the miracle of Tham Luang."

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American Dirt by US novelist and writer Jeanine Cummins is a timely acquisition by Headline's Tinder imprint. The novel is set around the US/Mexico border, and tells the story of a mother fleeing across the border with her young son to escape a drug cartel that has murdered the rest of her family. News of the acquisition coincides with an initiative from the American Booksellers Association Diversity Task Force, which has created a list of resources for booksellers "who are looking to support organisations that are helping children who have been separated from their families at the US/Mexico border by the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy".

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As preparations continue for the Beijing International Book Fair (22-26 August), China is acting to protect its capital's physical bookshops. The authorities are providing subsidies worth almost £5.7m to help pay for at least 40% of rents and improvements. The plan is to encourage more than 700 bookshops to open across the greater Beijing region, bringing the total number to more than 1,700.

Zhang Su, deputy director of the Beijing bureau of press, publication, radio, film and television, said: "Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are an important part of a city's cultural infrastructure. They carry the memories of a city, they embody a city's cultural heritage and they affect a city's cultural ambience."

Nevertheless, an expanded digital area will be a feature at this year's BIBF, and the fair says that "more than 68% of Chinese readers now say they prefer reading in digital format". Perhaps this is why the authorities are acting to protect bookshops, which, they have decided, are integral to the city's future. "We cannot rely on the market to ease the bricks-and- mortar bookshops' existential difficulties, and a government policy supporting them is absolutely necessary," Zhang said.

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A 24-Allen Key salute to the joint publicity teams at IKEA and Man Booker for their "reading rooms" promotion. You will recall that customers at the chain's Wembley store can pick up one of the shortlisted titles in its "reading room" and begin reading it there on the STRANDMON armchair (it says on the press release), or even take it home with them. From here it is surely but a short step to self-assembly novels, and having to walk past every section of Waterstones while you search for the exit.

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