Tagholm's take - the week in books at 21 July 2017

Opinion - Publishing Friday, 21 July 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on Milo vs S&S, the threats to UK indies, and other book trade news


The industry has seen some fine rows in recent years. As long as one isn't directly involved, they can be darkly entertaining. Hachette v Amazon was compelling; United States of America v Apple (sic: that is precisely the wording) on collusion over pricing was fascinating and felt like stalking at times (all those private emails read out in court!); and, further back, David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt was vitally important and even led to a major Hollywood release (Denial). Now we have - or at least might have - Milo Yiannopolous versus Simon & Shuster.

Whether it will come to court remains to be seen. The former senior editor at the right wing news site Breitbart has issued a $10m lawsuit against Simon & Schuster US, accusing the publisher of 'wrongfully, and in bad faith' terminating its contract with him for his book Dangerous (which he is now self-publishing). The lawyers at Publishers Weekly must have been on high alert when among the comments on one of the magazine's recent stories on the subject there popped up one from Yiannopolous himself. Fortunately, it did not come with a writ attached.

This view from Michael Perry at Inkling Books in Seattle perhaps gets it right: 'Milo wins financially whatever happens in court. The news stories that this dispute generates will get his book far more attention that he could create even with a large advertising budget. And if he settles out of court for little more than his legal fees…he's gotten all that publicity for free.'

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In the US, two of the industry's biggest names - 'hitmakers' the New York Times calls them - are to set up a new publishing division, Celadon Books, at Macmillan. Jamie Rabb and Deb Futter, respectively president/publisher and vice president/editor in chief at Hachette-owned Grand Central, join Macmillan in September to publish 20 to 25 titles a year. Raab says she'll steer clear of celebrity books 'unless that celebrity has something to say and it's not just another way to extend their brand', and Futter says she is looking for novels that are both commercial and literary, like Noah Hawley's thriller Before the Fall.

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Still in the US, a touching party took place at Denver's famous Tattered Cover bookstore to honour the retirement of Joyce Meskis, one of the country's most respected booksellers and a passionate defender of freedom of expression. She bought the store in 1974 and built it into one of the most admired indies in the world. The American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher called Meskis 'our leader, our mentor, our role model, our source of inspiration, and our friend… No one - and I mean no one - has been a more powerful and effective advocate for free speech than Joyce, for bookstores, for the broader community here in Denver, and for the entire nation.'

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The plight of indies was on the agenda in the UK when Labour MP Margaret Hodge hosted a reception at the Houses of Parliament to celebrate World Book Day. Booksellers Association Chief Executive Tim Godfray said that independent booksellers in 275 towns could be put out of business by business rate increases of 10% or more. 'The Business Rates system is not fit for purpose and should be fundamentally overhauled,' he urged.

The event was followed by the sad news that the Torbay Bookshop in Paignton, Devon, is to close after 23 years. Owner Matthew Clarke, who has spent his entire working life in the book trade, said there wasn't any one single reason, but did cite the effect of the internet on the High Street in general. 'We haven't reached the bottom yet, but we need to drive home the point that the internet is not the best place to find something - that's the appeal of the bookseller.'

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Australia has a new literary prize, announced by Penguin Random House Australia to mark the formation of its new literary division, PRH Literary, which brings all its literary imprints - Hamish Hamilton, Vintage, Knopf, Viking and Penguin - under one roof. The Penguin Random House Literary Prize, worth A$20,000 (approx £12,150), is for unpublished manuscripts. The publisher will work with national buying and marketing group Leading Edge, which represents about 170 Australian independent bookshops, to judge entries.

Congratulations to Ashleigh Gardner and the team at Wattpad, which has just signed a partnership with Hachette in France that will see a range of Wattpad stories uploaded on the online writing platform - many of them in the YA field - published by Hachette Romans in print and digital format. Wattpad is the site where readership figures look like ISBNs (only the ISBNS are often lower...).

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Congratulations also to Taiwanese book chain Eslite, which has created what it calls a 'book street' in Zhongshan Metro Mall in the capital, Taipei. It says that at 300 metres it is the longest book street in the country. It is not known how many Winnie the Pooh books are on display.

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