London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – February 2019

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business February 2019



The media made much of 21 January being the ‘bluest’ day of the year, the day when we all apparently feel our most down.  But for publishers and booksellers, January shaped up rather well (that’s if you put Brexit anxiousness to one side).  Independent bookshops reported strong Christmas sales, with 27% of respondents to the Bookseller magazine’s annual Christmas sales survey describing their figures as “excellent”.  More than half reported year end figures up on the previous year.


Publishers sounded buoyant too.  Of the top five general trade publishers, only one – Penguin Random House – failed to grow its business in 2018, according to data body Nielsen BookScan.  PanMacmillan grew 9.5%, helped by the doctor turned writer Adam Kay (This is Going to Hurt) and the wellness guru Joe Wicks; HarperCollins was 8% up on 2018, much of this down to Gail Honeyman (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and the children’s writer David Walliams; and Hachette UK was up 3.1%, boosted by the roar of Michael Woolf whose Trump exposé Fire and Fury performed so well.


But inevitably, Brexit remains a concern.  At Faber, Chief Executive Stephen Page said: “The manner by which we decide to withdraw from the EU (or don’t) could have repercussions on our publishing processes, our pricing, our costs, our copyright framework, the high street and our staff.  We’ve planned as far as can, but one of the challenges for next year will be about coping with whatever environment is thrown at us while remaining concentrated on publishing our books excellently.”


On the retail side, James Daunt who runs Waterstones, is pessimistic.  “If we have anything that resembles a hard Brexit, it will be catastrophic.  If we have a soft Brexit, it will be terrible.  I’m one of those retailers that thinks everything about the way we are heading is bad for the economy.  It we get back to a sense of stability and we get back to growth and more spending, then we will benefit from that.”


At the Society of Authors the its chief concern as the new year gets underway is the continuing decline in author incomes.  Its last survey found that the median annual income of professional writers is £10,500, well below the minimum wage and down by 42% in real terms since 2005.  The Society’s chief, Nicola Solomon, said the body would continue to work “to improve this situation: whether through campaigning against benefit cuts for the lowest paid in the form of Universal Credit, advising authors on their contract terms with publishers, or lobbying MEPs to support improvements to copyright law”.


Talking of copyright, a complicated row has broken out following the lending of scanned copies of physical books by San Francisco’s Internet Archive Open Library.  The library has been lending digital version of books by UK authors without authorisation from the copyright holders and without any form of payment.  The UK Society of Authors said: “If widely adopted this form of ‘lending’ could destroy the e-book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work”.


Brexit or no Brexit, bookshops can surely look forward to at least one sure-fire bestseller later this year.  In September, Penguin Random House imprint Chatto & Windus will publish The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, set 15 years after the first novel ends.  Observers note that sales of the original story increased following Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, with some drawing parallels between modern America and the world of the original novel.  Atwood herself says: “Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book.  Well, almost everything!  The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”


Finally, a doffing of the cap to Stephen King whose single tweet caused his local newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, to reverse its decision to cut its book reviews session.  The newspaper promised to keep the reviews section if it got 100 new subscribers; within 48 hours of King’s tweet, it had 200.


King offers this admirable maxim for twitter.  ‘Don’t say nuthin’ if you got nuthin’ good to say is pretty fair ad

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.