London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – April 2017

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – April 2017


Publishers are entering the spring in good spirits thanks to some very positive news: in 2016, British consumers bought more books in all formats—print, digital and audio—than in 2015. And they spent more money on them too.

Some 360 million units were sold in 2016 – up from 353 million in 2015 – with value standing at £2.4 billion, up from £2.24 billion the previous year.  Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen which compiles the figures, said: “The book industry will be buoyed by these strong results and overall growth.  This year we’ve seen a range of bestsellers from a diverse selection of genres come to the fore—from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to Ladybird Books for adults and Enid Blyton parodies and social media sensation Joe Wicks’ healthy cookbooks.

“And these key titles and series have contributed heavily toward this upward trajectory.  It’s refreshing to see how books generally, and print books in particular, are still appealing to younger consumers, both male and female, despite so many other forms of entertainment and information competing for their attention.”

All of which meant that the London Book Fair in mid-March was a bustling, busy affair, with publishers commenting on the “content hungry” atmosphere.  The growth of streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime was compared by Hannah Griffiths, head of literary acquisitions at All3Media, to “five major dedicated book chains opening up in Britain tomorrow”.  These platforms are hungry for material and publishers are more than happy to provide it.

There was also much discussion of the importance of books in a “post-truth” world in which President Trump’s team talks about “alternative facts”.  Joanna Prior, MD of Penguin General, said: “I feel very positive.  I think we need books, we need long-form journalism and narrative to help us understand the crazy times we are living in, to give us context.  And I think people need a trusted brand, a trusted voice.  Books still matter, and as an industry I think we’re actually rather good at getting that message across.”

The new head of the International Publishers Association, Michiel Kolman, said publishers should stand as “beacons of trustworthiness” in this age of fake news and alternative facts.  He hoped publishers would “take a leading role in providing trustworthy, reliable information – it’s the core of what we do”.

At Faber, Chief Executive Stephen Page sounded upbeat. “There is no shortage of excellent copyright being directed at the book world,” he said.  “We are seeing a lot of highly contested auctions and there are a lot of books that are exciting people.  There is a confidence around which you can see from the speed of auctions.  People are hungry for material.”

That ‘girl on the train’ still has a lot to answer for given that the mood for psychological thrillers shows no sign of abating.  Sphere publishing director Lucy Malagoni snapped up UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Aimee Molloy’s The Perfect Mother, a thriller set in the wake of the abduction of a six-week-old baby, and film rights went swiftly to TriStar.  The same publisher also signed a “high concept” thriller, with commissioning editor Lucy Dauman securing world English language rights to SR Mastrantoné’s debut The Killer You Know from agent Joanna Swainson at Hardman & Swainson.  The novel follows a circle of friends who get together for a reunion – and discover that one of them is a serial killer. 

The book fair also saw another series of agent one-on-ones in which prospective authors were able to pitch their work to some of London’s top agencies.  Laura Williams at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (PFD) said: “Meeting writers face to face is a very different experience from sifting through the slush pile.  It’s an opportunity for us to see if there’s that click which is necessary for authors and agents to work together, and for writers it’s a great way for them to get feedback on their chapters.”  She also added that PFD reads everything that comes into the agency.

Prolific children’s writer Michael Morpurgo was among the Authors of the Day at the fair and he had some interesting views on the children’s and young adult market.  “What needs mentioning is that there are not enough books by new authors.  We know it’s the greatest risk of all to publish new writers and that’s something the publishing world needs to think about, because that’s where you next Philip Pullman or JK Rowling will come from.”

He also attacked the government for withdrawing funding for libraries, describing it as “awful short-termism.  We seem to forget that stories, poems, books are our national heritage and the right of every child to have.  It’s completely wrong for the government to abandon libraries”.

Latest entries:

London Wall Publishing’s Project Manager, Fiona Marsh, with US actor, Trey Gerrald, at the 18th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards held during BookExpo America in New York receiving the Gold Award for Romance Fiction for The Echoes of Love by Hannah Fielding. 

Launched in 1996 and conducted each year to honor the year's best independently published books, the "IPPY" Awards recognize merit in a broad range of subjects and reward authors and publishers who "take chances and break new ground." Independent publishers, along with independent booksellers, have long held an important role in the world of books, offering an alternative to "the big five" conglomerated media publishers.