London Wall Publishing

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

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



What a journey it has been for James Daunt from opening a single shop, Daunt Books for Travellers in London’s Marylebone in 1991, to now being poised to run 927 bookshops, following the acquisition of US chain Barnes & Noble by Waterstones’ owners New York hedge fund Elliott Management for approximately $683m (£537m).  Once the deal is complete, Daunt will run 627 Barnes & Nobles, 293 Waterstones (including, of course, stores in Dublin, Brussels and Amsterdam), and 7 Foyles, not forgetting ownership of nine Daunt Books and three further independents which are part of the Daunt chain.  It could be said that James Daunt is western bookselling.


If anything was a ringing endorsement of the future of physical bookselling, then surely this move by Elliott Management is it: after all, why buy a book chain if you don’t think it has a future?  Most publishers on both sides of the Atlantic are positive, although one or two observers have questioned Elliott’s ultimate motives: that it is more interested in a relatively quick flotation or sale in due course. 


Publishers have been poring over the details in the PA [Publishers Association] Publishing Yearbook 2018.  It contains both good and bad news.  Let’s get the bad out of the way first.  Overall industry revenues are down 2% on the previous year, coming in at £6.05bn, compared to £6.15bn for 2017.  The good news – or better at any rate – is that consumer book sales, that is non-academic, non-professional, general trade titles that form the bulk of stock in high street bookshops, chain and indie alike, held more or less steady, down just 0.1%.


However, publishers will be concerned by a 3% fall in fiction revenues, down to £588m (£386m in the UK, the rest is export), which is believed to be the lowest the yearbook has ever recorded and which the PA says is the lowest in the last five years.  UK digital fiction sales increased marginally, largely driven by the ongoing increase in audio downloads, something that the US market is also experiencing.


There is discussion over whether the fall in fiction is due to the rise of Netflix: there is only so much time for reading in any given day and the siren call of those series and box sets is powerful.  Yet by the same token, hardback fiction and all those tables of new releases in bookshops have never seemed so alluring, with all publishers having upped their game when it comes to production values.


Congratulations to London Wall Publisher’s Hannah Fielding who won Gold medal for Romance for Aphrodite's Tears at the 2019 Independent Publisher Book (IPPY) Awards at the end of May.  The glittering award ceremony was held in New York’s famous Copacabana nightclub on Times Square.  This is Fielding’s sixth award for Aphrodite’s Tears which also won Best Romance at the International Book Awards, National Indie Excellence Awards, American Fiction Awards, NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards and New York City Big Book Awards.


The Royal Society of Literature (RSL) revealed the results of a poll of more than 2,000 authors which showed that more than two-thirds (67%) or professional writers earned £10,000 or less in 2018.  Only 5% earned more than £30,000 from their writing in 2018.  Writers said the most significant kinds of support for them were a room of one’s own (80%), peer support (65%) and emotional support (60%).  The chair of the RSL, the writer Dr Lisa Appignanesi, said: “The most striking thing for me is the emphasis on writers who are wanting and needing the fellowship and support of other writers.  We always think of writers as people who revel in their loneliness and separateness.  It is so crucial that they earn enough to survive, that writers are paid…”  She suggested that publishers who pay huge advances for established author should consider a living wage for young writers “if they believe in their future work”.


Finally, there were powerful and inspiring words from Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon at the company’s annual conference in June.  “We are creating books for our society for generations to come.  As trust in politicians, businesses and the media continues to decline we have the opportunity to shape policy, culture and society.  We are a proudly commercial company with a social mission at our heart [and] we are prepared to use our voice to campaign on behalf of what matters to us whether that’s freedom of speech, inclusion or literacy.”


But the real good news from the industry in the last month?  Brexit received scarcely a mention, a welcome relief (but it will be back).



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.