London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – November

As the publishing industry begins the run-in to Christmas, buoyed up by its most successful Books are My Bag campaign yet (designed to promote bricks and mortar bookshops), it finds itself in a rather interesting place. 

The fury of digital growth has eased – most famously marked in recent weeks by Waterstones’ decision to stop selling Kindles – and the famous year-long stand-off by the Hachette group with Amazon has ended.  Publishers have accepted that self-publishing is another route to market and most have upped their game as a result: publishers strive to offer more to authors now (though not necessarily when it comes to advances) and give greater attention to the physical look of books.

So in essence, the industry finds itself in calmer waters.  It is waiting for the next big thing.  To use a surfing analogy, the industry is like those surfers who straddle their boards, looking out to the horizon, waiting for the next set of waves to come in. 

October’s Frankfurt Book Fair pointed to where some of those waves might come from.  A battle would seem to lie ahead between some of the major publishing groups and the EC, following the latter’s moves towards a digital single market and its desire to modernise copyright for the digital age.  The EU commissioner responsible for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, told the fair: “Our copyright rules were written when all the many ways in which content can be treated and accessed did not exist. We need to make sure copyright can function in a digital single market. At the moment, the national laws of the 28 member states apply which leads to all kinds of legal uncertainty.  For example, we need more legal certainty for researchers when it comes to text and data mining.  Teachers need more legal clarity over whether they can use part of a textbook for online learning. Archives need to know if they may or may not digitize all or part of a book.”

Now this may seem like a very dry stuff, but it could lead to another Amazon-like stand-off.  Hachette Livre Chairman and CEO, Arnaud Nourry, said at the fair that while he supported the EC’s aims “as a citizen,” he did not understand why it wanted to tamper with copyright.  We have not heard the last on this subject.

Meanwhile, the EC has Amazon in its sights too (Amazon is usually never very far from somebody’s sights).  It is assessing a complaint about its dominance of the print market in addition to its investigation into the company’s activity in the e-book market. 

Publishers are often privately critical of Amazon and publicly cautious.  With authors, it is different.  One of the most recent stars of the world of self-publishing is the Swedish behavioural scientist Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, author of The Rabbit who wants to Fall Asleep, a kind of Fifty Shades of Nodding Off.  Before being snapped up by Penguin Random House, he self-published the title on Amazon’s CreateSpace and has nothing but praise for the service.  He recalls that Amazon contacted him when the title began to rise up their charts and said: “’This is so exciting, this has never happened before’.  We want to tell the media and do some interviews – and soon the book went to number one.”

Of course, it isn’t always as easy as that, but such experiences do give many writers hope.

Publishers copy each other?  How ever could you think?  Ever since the success of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, there has been a run of titles featuring the word ‘girl’.  Among the latest is The Girl in the Red Coat (Faber) by Kate Hamer, while The Girl from the Train (sic) is not a sequel to Hawkins’ novel.  This one is by Irma Joubert and is a Second World War novel, published by Thomas Nelson.

The options available to authors – and how to find handholds amid the sometimes bewildering pace of change in the industry – will be addressed at the Bookseller magazine’s inaugural Author Day Monday, 30 November in London.  The magazine believes now is the time for authors, publishers and the book trade to come together, share ideas and move from discussion to action, and it extends “a warm welcome to both independent and traditionally published authors, as well as to their agents and publishers”.  Speakers include Nicola Soloman from the Society of Authors and Orna Ross from the Alliance of Independent Authors.  It promises to be a fascinating day.

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.