Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 7 December 2018

Opinion Friday, 07 December 2018

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on diversity matters, and the Selfies

At the London Book Fair's first conference on Building Inclusivity in the Publishing Industry in 2016, the then CEO of Hachette UK, Tim Hely Hutchinson, made a thoughtful speech in which he called for a kinder, more inclusive publishing industry - one in which everyone "regardless of our respective genders, sexuality, ethnic, religious, social or other backgrounds" felt at home.

Three years on, and all the major houses have acted on diversity and inclusivity issues, with Hachette still one of the most prominent voices. At the LBF's third Inclusivity conference held in London earlier this month, the presentation by Saskia Bewley, Hachette's diversity and inclusion manager, was impressive. She explained how Hachette had established eight employee networks, among them the Christian Employee Network and the Jewish Employee Network, with others covering sexuality, disability and gender issues.

"We've created safe spaces in which people can have all kinds of different conversations," she said. "Do you know the stories of the people you work with? Don't be afraid of disruptive inclusion. It's in the process that we're transformed."

Bewley added that there was "a moral case for diversity and inclusion, as well as a legal one and a business one". The last was a nod to the keynote by self-defined "working class queer woman" Kerry Hudson, who reminded delegates that the potential disposable income of the BAME community was £300 billion, added to which was the £80 billion each for the "pink pound" and those with disabilities.


These issues have also been discussed in a Publishers Weekly feature on "the next black publishing generation". One BAME publisher said there were ongoing problems in marketing black-reader-focused titles. "The biggest challenge is trying to get a sales team that it is predominately straight white men and women to take a chance on unknown black authors. It constantly blows my mind how people don't care about a book because they don't fit into the narrative or don't understand the context. It's not until the New York Times - or any other big media outlet - makes a big deal of it that they go, 'Wait, how can we capitalize on this?'"


And all the while the Big Bad Wolf continues to howl - and in some new places now. Sorry? The Big Bad Wolf is the catchy name for the enormous book fair established in Malaysia in 2009 by husband and wife team Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng, founders of Malaysian remainder retailer BooksXcess. This year it took its fair to Manila in the Philippines for the first time - where it opened 24 hours a day for two weeks - and it also made its debut in Dubai in October. At the start of December it was part of the International Children's Content Rights Fair in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and it will finish the year with another 24-hour fair at the Malaysia International Exhibition and Conference Centre south of Kuala Lumpur. Ng says she hopes to change the reading culture in Malaysia, where reading to pass exams is placed above reading for pleasure.


Congratulations to both BookBrunch and the London Book Fair for launching the Selfies, the first UK industry award for self-published authors. The winner will receive £1,000 and almost certainly the attention of mainstream publishers - though of course, this may not necessarily be of interest to them: in this changed world there are those who are doing fine by self-publishing. What is certain though, is that an award for this sector is long overdue.

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