Tagholm's take - the news in books at 13 April 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Thursday, 13 April 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, gives his view of the publishing news


As the Bologna Children's Book Fair was wrapping up last week, the American Booksellers Association was discussing diversity in children's books at its Children's Institute meeting in Portland, Oregon. In a keynote address, Isla Govan, co-author of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Strategies for Facilitating Conversations on Race, noted how unintentional bias could creep in when it came to hiring staff. She quoted studies showing that a woman named Aisha was less likely to be called back for a job interview than one named Kirsten, and she asked the audience: "How closely do your 10 most trusted people resemble you? We really have to be aware of our desire to clone."

The three-day meeting also included a presentation from NPD Book (formerly Nielsen Book), which showed that from 2010 to 2016 children's book sales grew faster than the general book market.

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With so much focus on children's books, it was appropriate too that Publishers Weekly's Bookstore of the Year went to a children's store for the first time since the award was established nearly 25 years ago. The winning store is Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary and possibly the only bookshop to be named after a line in a children's book ("Let the wild rumpus start!" from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are).

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Still with bookshops, it's interesting to note that by the end of this year Amazon is expected to have more bookshops than the UK's Daunt Books chain. Amazon recently opened its first store in Chicago, and has another four already trading. It hopes to open another five stores this year, which would give it 10 shops to Daunt's nine (comprising six Daunts and three Daunt-owned indies).

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The International Publishers Association has just published its Global Book Fair Report 2017, which provides a fascinating whistle stop tour of different countries' approach to bookselling and publishing. Thus it notes that in South Korea, "the arrival of a fixed book price system, which came into force on 21 November 2014, meant only the biggest online retailers navigated their way through 2015 without incurring serious losses". The report added that in anticipation of the new law, online bookstores offered special discounts, inflating sales by 7%, before normality was restored and sales began to tumble in 2015. "Bricks and mortar bookstores, on the other hand, were less affected by the new regulations in 2015 because many regional governments and educational offices implemented a policy of buying books from local stores for local public libraries."

Fixed prices had an effect in Greece too. The report observes: "Once profitable publishers and booksellers are now running at a loss, driving smaller companies out of business and making competition among the few remaining key players even fiercer. As a consequence, in 2014 the fixed book price was partially abandoned and the market deregulated. Sometimes books from stock (backlists) are sold at derisory prices of as little as €1, so market players need to be cautious at every step. The book market is restructuring..."

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Nationality is surely nothing to do with Kobo's latest acquisition, but the maple leaf flag certainly flutters over its purchase of Shelfie. Although Kobo is now owned by Japan's Ratuken, it is originally a Canadian firm, as is Vancouver-based Shelfie, the firm started by Peter Hudson as BitLit. BitLit allowed customers to receive a free, or discounted, ebook editions of print books they owned by signing the title pages and sending in pictures. Ratuken Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn praised Shelfie's "innovative advances in book recommendation, discovery and bundling", and added: "We know our best customers move fluidly between formats, reading digital and in print, and we welcome this opportunity to bring their reading life together."

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Admirable honesty from HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne, who noted that "big, breakout successes such as The Girl on the Train don't come around that often, and we haven't had anything of that standing". The publisher is making great strides on diversity, and was a worthy winner of the inaugural Inclusivity in Publishing Award, supported by EQUIP, at the London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards in March.

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There were some nice April Fools knocking around. Foyles introduced its Colon device, which allows customers to order books by "clapping the ISBN", while online site Shelf Awareness announced the opening of a new indie, Bohococobocoloco in Asheville, North Carolina, "a hybrid bookstore, BBQ, urgent care, auto repair - and brewery", complete with "rescued barnwood floors, industrial lighting and artisanal stencilled signage". It also has plans "for a mortuary and perhaps an outdoor patio".

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