Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 28 April 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 28 April 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, with his latest round-up of the book trade news


With so many eyes on France at the moment, here's an interesting thought concerning the liberal centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Given that he is in favour of moderate deregulation (his "Macron Law" was a controversial reform bill that allowed shops to open more often on Sundays), will this extend, should he become president, to France's cherished fixed prices for books? It will be interesting to watch. Macron also wishes to ban mobile phone use in schools for the under-15s. You can hear parents everywhere saying, "bonne chance avec celui-là..."

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There have been about 100 or so international authors and illustrators at the fifth Sharjah Children's Reading Festival, which finishes this weekend, among them Chris Higgins from the UK (creator of the My Funny Family series), Gayle Forman from the US, Moroccan poet Ikram Abdi, Saman Shamsie from Pakistan, and Cigdem Kaplangi from Turkey. While in the UAE, Higgins was giving talks in schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, arranged and funded by the government of Sharjah, another example of the support the emirate gives to books and literacy.

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Talking of Gulf giving, the generosity of one man quietly happens without fanfare, as a new title from London Wall Publishing explains. The Amir of Humanity is a biography of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the 87-year-old Amir of Kuwait, who, along with former UN Head Ban Ki-moon, established the inaugural International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait City in 2013. In the last four years, the Amir has donated an estimated $1.6bn for the Syrian crisis and has spoken about the importance of education for refugee children - sentiments that chime with Sharjah's own concerns in this area. Sharjah's Kalimat Foundation, the charitable body established by Sheikha Bodour (whose father is Ruler of Sharjah) and which works to improve access to books for children, is planning to take books into refugee camps in Jordan this year. It is also experimenting with "bibliotherapy" - the use of books to help traumatised children.

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Congratulations to Anna Soler-Pont, founder of the Pontas Agency, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last weekend by inviting many of its clients to a celebratory dinner and "at home" at its offices in Barcelona. Soler-Pont notes that throughout its history, Pontas has acted as primary agents for authors living in many different countries, selling rights directly from Barcelona into every single market, rather than using sub-agents. "And few agencies," she observes, "have bank accounts in four different currencies as we do in order to avoid rate exchange expenses for our clients."

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On World Book Day (23 April), Dr Michiel Kolman, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), gave a keynote address to the Reading Promotion Summit at South West Jiao Tong University in Chengudu, China. In it he reiterated how important it was that the Publishers Association of China (PAC) was now a member of the IPA (it joined in 2015, amid some protests), saying: "The addition of the PAC to the IPA family - along with publishers associations from several other countries - means the IPA now represents publishers that service around 5.6 billion people worldwide: that's 75% of the world population."

He noted too that UNESCO World Book Capital is an IPA-led initiative. Cities that receive this accolade "stage large-scale book fairs, public readings, celebrations and author talks", he said, adding: "Huge numbers of children take part throughout the year." With the thousands of children pouring into the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival this week - and the similarly packed children's days at the Sharjah International Book Fair in November - it surely cannot be long before Sharjah itself receives this accolade (in 2018 it will be Athens).

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The last few days have given us a snappy new definition of the internet. Speaking at the Publishers' Forum in Berlin, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo said we should think of it as "an arms race of monetised distraction". The battle ahead was about "the fight for time - we live in an attention economy", a statement with which few would disagree.

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Talking of attention distractions, that slowing up of Twitter this week was due to the volume of comment concerning the surprise departure of Sam Missingham, digital project manager at HarperCollins. Missingham is very much the Queen of Twitter (she has 23,000 followers), and nobody saw this announcement coming; now everyone is waiting to see the new website "for book-lovers" she is about to launch.

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The death of Rebecca Swift, founder and director of the Literary Consultancy, was very sad. It coincided with the release of the new film about Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion. Swift, who wrote poetry herself, wrote a biography of Dickinson for Hesperus Press in 2011. She must have liked these words of the poet's: "There is no frigate like a book/to take us lands away,/Nor any coursers like a page/Of prancing poetry./This traverse may the poorest take/With oppress of toll;/How frugal is the chariot/That bears a human soul!"

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