Tagholm's take - the week in books at 18 August 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 18 August 2017

Roger Tagholm, in assocation with the London Book Fair, on Usborne's China deal, reactions to Amazon in Australia, the US 'Big Read', and other book industry news


The 24th Beijing International Book Fair opens next week (23-27 August), and will be a very important fair for Usborne. It sees the official launch of Usborne China with partner Jieli Publishing House, far and away the biggest foreign language partnership Usborne has ever signed. Usborne already publishes in eight foreign languages; Mandarin now becomes the ninth. Usborne founder Peter Usborne says: "China is well on the way to becoming the world's biggest market for children's books. Jieli has been a strong rights customer of ours for many years, and I am thrilled to work with them from now on to bring the Usborne identity into the Chinese language market."

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While you've been away, Amazon has been flexing its international muscle. It announced its first fulfilment centre in Australia, just outside Melbourne, and appointed a country manager, Rocco Braeuniger, currently director of consumer durables at Amazon Germany. Robert Bruce, Amazon Australia's director of operations, said: "This is just the start. Over time, we will bring thousands of new jobs to Australia and millions of dollars of investment as well as opening up the opportunity for thousands of Australian businesses to sell at home and abroad through Amazon marketplace."

Joel Becker, CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association, expressed caution, and has asked to meet with the Premier of Victoria and relevant ministers. "Our concerns are rooted in the apparent impact that Amazon has had on local economies in the US, UK and other markets," he said, "as well as the possible impact on our own Australian tax base." Becker is also seeking "an assurance that [Amazon] will be playing by the same rules as businesses within Australia, without any special privileges or subsidies."

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Anyone remember BBC2's The Big Read? This was a year-long survey in 2003 to find the nation's favourite book (Lord of the Rings was the "winner'). It concluded with a series of nine programmes and resulted in the biggest uplift in backlist sales the UK book industry has ever seen. Now the US book industry is hoping the same will happen on its side of the Atlantic. The Big Read was the brainchild of Jane Root, the former controller of BBC2, who later moved to the US and set up the production company Nutopia. Root has now sold the same idea to PBS, which will broadcast The Great American Read, an eight-episode series, in summer 2018. In 2003, Penguin had 45 titles out of the original 100-strong list, and the then md of Penguin General, Helen Fraser, said it created a million pounds of business for the publisher. It will be interesting to see how the US industry approaches this opportunity.

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There have been warm tributes to long-serving Transworld editor (and novelist) Diane Pearson, who has died at the age of 85, and to Knopf editor Judith Jones, who has died at the age of 93. Transworld MD Larry Finlay said that Pearson had one of the "keenest eyes in the business", and noted that she brought Terry Pratchett, Joanna Trollope and Kate Atkinson to the publisher. He added: "Hers is a legacy that will burn brightly for years to come."

Judith Jones is famous for finding Anne Frank's diary on Doubleday's rejection pile in Paris; she also discovered Julia Child, and would go on to nurture many other cookery writers. She was also John Updike's editor for 50 years, and his novel A Month of Sundays is dedicated to her. Knopf's chairman and editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta said: "It is impossible to imagine book publishing without Judith."

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Congratulations to The London Book Fair non-executive Chairman David Roche, whose affectionate verse send-up of family life Just Where You Left It has just been published by Unbound. Here's a typical teenager mocking Mum trying to be modern:

She then downloaded WhatsApp
And signed up to Instagram.
There was too much of an age gap;
She tried to send a telegram…

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