Tagholm's take - the news in books at 11 May 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 12 May 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, surveys the latest book trade news


Are we seeing a new "battle of the buttons"? Three years after Amazon famously removed the pre-order buttons from some Hachette titles during its very public terms dispute with the publisher, this week we have seen the first skirmishes in a new button bust-up.

This time around it centres on the "buy boxes" on Amazon.com. Hitherto, these automatically linked to editions that Amazon sells on behalf of a book's publisher. Now, third party re-sellers can claim these boxes provided they are selling editions in "new" condition. Rather than being the default seller automatically linked to in the top of the page's "buy box", Amazon itself can now slip down the list. "The problem with this outcome from an author's perspective is that neither the publisher nor the author gets a cent back from those third-party sales," argues the US Authors Guild. "Only Amazon and the reseller share in the profits. This has the potential to decimate authors' and publishers' earnings from many books, especially backlist books."

US publishers are watching carefully and remain curious about the source of re-sellers' "new" condition titles. The Guild says: "Could they be returns from bookstores that never made it back to the publisher?... We don't know. What we do know is that the resellers must be acquiring them at a cut-rate price and that there appear to be enough of these copies available that they could replace sales for the truly new copies - those that bring money to the publisher and royalties to the author."

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One US publisher has other matters on its mind too. No sooner did Simon & Schuster announce healthy figures for the first quarter of 2017 - revenue up 11%, at $161m, according to parent company CBS - than it felt its smile turning into a grimace as its its one-time author Milo Yiannopoulos threatened a $10m lawsuit. Following the cancellation of the contract for the Yiannopoulos' memoir Dangerous, the author has vowed to make "the name Simon & Schuster synonymous with censorship". He has also announced a new imprint, Dangerous Books, under which he will publish both his own memoir and "the best authors of all the conservative imprints in this country".

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Congratulations to Anthony Forbes Watson, chief executive of Pan Macmillan, for achieving a Nibbies hat-trick. Pan Mac was named Publisher of the Year at this week's British Book Awards (BBA), having previously won the accolade in 2015. So why the hat-trick? Because when Penguin was named Publisher of the Year back in 1999 it was under Forbes Watson's eight-year tenure as UK ceo.

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Still with awards, the rise and rise of audio around the world is acknowledged in this month's Australian Book Industry Awards, which will include an Audiobook of the Year category for the first time. The five-strong shortlist is a split between Audible Australia (three titles) and Melbourne-based Bolinda. Meanwhile, Emma Rusher of "communication specialists" House of Rusher is now head of industry promotion for the Australian Publishers Association, and becomes head of comms for Melbourne University Press in June.

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Congratulations to Anna Soler-Pont, founder of Barcelona's Pontas Agency, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Soler-Pont believes the agency was the first to act as primary agents for authors living in so many different continents and countries. She told Publishing Perspectives: "Very few literary agencies do what we do. The usual way of working has always been representing authors writing in one language, from one culture. And most of the agencies work with sub-agencies in different countries, while the Pontas Agency is known for selling rights directly from Barcelona into every single market. Also, few agencies have bank accounts in four different currencies as we do, in order to avoid rate exchange expenses for our clients."

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The debate over ebook figures continues. Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin weighed in from Abu Dhabi, where he told delegates at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair that he was sceptical about reports that ebook sales had plateaued or even declined. "I think it's drawn from statistics coming from publishers which don't accurately capture the large number of self-published titles. My guess is that ebook sales are still rising slightly, and will continue as other countries, such as India, China and Brazil, increase their own ebook markets."

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The American Booksellers Association has a new president, Robert Sindelar of Seattle's Third Place Books. The name of his three stores has an interesting origin. It comes from sociologist Ray Oldenberg's book The Great Good Place, in which he argues that each of us needs three places: first is the home; second is the workplace or school, and third - as Sindelar puts it - is "the place where people from all walks of life interact, experiencing and celebrating their commonality as well as their diversity. It is a third place."

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So congratulations then to one of Dublin's own "third places" - The Gutter Bookshop - which was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the BBA. Slánte.

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