London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – March 2018

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business March 2018



A new chapter in the debate over e-books opened this week with the publisher of a good many e-books himself describing them as “a stupid product”.  The chief executive of one of the world’s biggest publishing groups – Arnaud Nourry, boss of the Hachette Group – gave an interview to the Indian news site in which he criticised all publishers, not just his own houses, for failing to unlock the true possibilities of the format. 


“We’ve not done very well.  I think the plateau, or rather slight decline [in sales] that we’re seeing in the US and UK, is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the e-book format.  The e-book is a stupid product.  We, as publishers, have not done a great job in going digital.  We’ve tried.  We’ve tried enhanced or enriched e-books – didn’t work.  We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures…”


He added that the problem with the e-book was that it was “exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.  There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience”.


A number of observers have been quick to point out the numerous advantages of e-books, now so familiar they are almost overlooked: their portability, the ease of text searching and the ability to adjust the font size being three.  People have argued too, that when it comes to the text – especially with novels – consumers don’t necessarily want any bangs and whistles: the text is enough.


But Nourry is right on the plateau or slight delince – at least for the moment.  Simon & Schuster UK has just released its 2017 results which showed increases in print and audio and a decline in e-books.  However, it’s worth noting that Amazon does not release sales figures for its self-published e-books, so an exact picture of e-book sales is difficult to ascertain.


The debate about changes to the Man Booker Prize continues too.  A number of publishers signed a letter calling for the organisers to reverse their decision to allow US authors to enter.  They argue that the rule change, “which presumably had the intention of making the prize more global, has in fact made it less so, by allowing the dominance of Anglo-American writers at the expense of others…”.  Juliet Mabey, publisher at One World – which benefited from the change when Paul Beatty’s The Sellout won in 2016 – had a very measured and sensible response.  “On the one hand, I think the sentiment behind expanding the Man Booker Prize to include all English-language writing is an acknowledgement that a pre-eminent English-language prize must judge its entries against the best writing in English, period,” she said.  “That is clearly a compelling argument. 


“On the other hand, there is a concern that given the size of the publishing industry in the US, writers from the UK and Commonwealth will inevitably be overshadowed to a degree.  I think the change in rules is positive one for the prize itself, but perhaps not good news for [the UK’s] indigenous and the Commonwealth literary scene.”


There was some good tub-thumping by agent Gordon Wise of Curtis Brown, who has stood down as president of the Association of Authors’ Agents.  In a departing missive he was positive about the publishing industry’s contribution to the UK economy, with revenues totalling £4.8bn in 2016, according to the Publishers Association, with “significant growth” in exports.  He called on the government to “defend and nurture [such] extraordinary achievements” and urged it to be aware that the creative industries need to be able to recruit “workers with languages and country-specific knowledge in relation to our export markets, ensuring our skilled workforce is as diverse as the readerships we wish to reach”.


The UK’s independent booksellers continue to flex their muscle.  Simon Key at The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, north London, is exploring the idea of an independent alliance that could secure indie exclusives and extra discount from publishers.  The latter now realise that the visibility of books on the high street is more important than ever and it seems likely that some interesting deals could be secured by independents for the summer.


Finally, respect to Judith Kerr, OBE whose famous The Tiger Who Came to Tea is fifty years old this year.  The celebrated author, who is 94, has just finished a project and said: “I usually have to take a gap when I finish something, because I can’t think of what to do.  The feeling of having finished is wonderful, but it wears off within a couple of weeks.  I hate not working.”

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.