Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 23 November 2018

Roger Tagholm
Opinion Friday, 23 November 2018

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on Indonesian insights and government interventions


It's not so much Uber as U-book. The growth of Indonesia's Go-jek "rider-hailing" service and its effect on the book industry was among fascinating insights at the London Book Fair's Indonesia Market Focus: Rights Forum, hosted by the British Council in London. Ricky Pesik, vice chairman of the Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy, explained how "consumers can ask the service to pick up a book from a bookstore and bring it to their home, just like with a food delivery. It is very popular."

Perhaps the growth of this service is one of the reasons why Indonesian publishers' revenues have shown an increase in the last year after seven years of decline. Publishers are also benefiting from the growth of online retailers in the country - though this does not include Amazon, which does not accept Indonesian currency.

The Indonesian government was worried by research suggesting there was a decline in reading, and this concern led it to introduce a national literacy programme that includes 15 minutes' reading time before school lessons, and also the appointment of a "reading ambassador". Donations to public libraries are also encouraged by making shipping free on the 17th of each month (17 May was the day the National Library of the Republic was established in 1980, and 17 May is also National Book Day, an initiative similar to the UK's World Book Day).

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Government involvement in national book industries is always an interesting subject. China Daily reports that since 2016 some 80 new bookstores have opened in Beijing, partly thanks to subsidies provided by municipal government. The authorities recently announced 50m yuan ($7.2m) in subsidies for the "development" of 151 bookstores. Beijing now has 11 bookshops open 24 hours, and the municipal government said that there were some 1,011 bookstores and 29 book malls in the capital at summer 2018. Zhang Su, deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press, Radio, Film and Television, said: "We are not just helping out the bookstores with financial problems. Our goal is to use these policies to attract more social capital into the bookstore industry and guide existing ones to upgrade their operations."

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In South Korea, concern about the plight of physical bookshops led the government to establish a National Bookstore Day, the second of which took place on 9 November. This year it included an academic conference on the future of bookselling at which Deachoon Park, chairman of the Korean Federation of Bookstores Association, outlined its aims for the next year. Among these was convincing politicians to amend the fixed price law, which the government introduced but which is being circumvented by loopholes.

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In other parts of the world, government legislation is perceived by publishers as being detrimental. The International Publishers Association (IPA) is concerned by the South African government's proposed Copyright Amendment Bill, arguing that the definition in the bill of fair use - too wide, too many exceptions - "will lead to authors and publishers suffering loss of income and in turn in a reduction in the quality of content available to the South African public".

The proposals mirror those introduced in Canada in 2012, since when Canadian publishers estimate that they have lost $50m annually in copyright revenue. The IPA notes that copyright experts have already advised that adoption of the bill in its current form "will conflict with South Africa's obligations under the Berne Convention [and aspects of] the Intellectual Property Rights Agreement".

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There have been two National Book Awards, one here that has been through various incarnations and now returns after a three-year hiatus, thanks to sponsorship by Specsavers; and one in the US, the famous, prestigious celebration of books which held its 69th prize giving in Manhattan earlier this month. The Specsavers event saw former doctor Adam Kay collect three awards for This Is Going To Hurt (Picador), while in the US the Chilean author Isabel Allende was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In a moving speech, Allende accepted the award "on behalf of millions of people like myself who have come to this country in search of a new life".

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But never mind all that. All anyone has wanted to talk about this week is the penguins! They made it out! Pass the tissues! Pass more! Give that film crew on David Attenborough's Dynasties a knighthood. Where's the book? Come on Nosy Crow! The Ramp or whatever. Cue the tie-in John Lewis Christmas ad…the plush….

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