London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – October 2016

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – October 2016



With publishers and booksellers all back at work after the summer break (yes, of course people only had a fortnight off, if they’re lucky, but it always feels as if there has been a sort of trade-wide shutdown), and with the industry gearing itself up for the Frankfurt Book Fair later this month, there is a mood of cautious optimism in the air in the book business.


This optimism extends to ‘independents’ in all its guises – bookshops and publishers.  Thus in the UK both Jaffe & Neal in Chipping Norton and Winstone’s Books in Sherborne, Dorset announced new stores, and Louise Chadwick, a former director of programmes at charity BookTrust, has opened a children’s store in Shrewesbury.  There is a sense that something has changed out there with regard to both physical books and physical stores.


Ros de la Hey, who runs the Main Street Trading Company bookshop in Edinburgh and who is also President of the Booksellers Association, is very positive about bookselling in the UK and Ireland.  She told the BA Conference in September: “[The new openings we are seeing] are ever more creative and exciting places to work and, more importantly, shop.  They are hubs of their community: lively, constantly changing.  It’s all about experience.  The statistics are beginning to turn in our favour, with physical book sales increasing for the first time in years and e-book sales levelling off.”


This fall in ebook sales has been off-set by increased sales of print books, largely driven by colouring books and that ‘girl on the train’ (funny the way she’s called a girl, when in fact she’s in her thirties: strictly speaking it should be The Woman on the Train).  But one has to be wary of overstating things here.  Yes, Paula Hawkins novel has sold tremendously well – and may receive another surge with the film – but in recent months the white heat of those sales has declined.  However, that decline is compensated for by all those fantastic sales of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play script.  One of the characteristics of the book trade is that it often only needs one or two absolutely scorching titles to make all the difference to annual figures.


As if to underline this shift towards the importance of physical bookselling, a unique bookselling ‘G20’ will take place in China next year.  Waterstones MD James Daunt will represent both the independent sector (Daunt Books, the Owl Kentish Town etc) and chains at an extraordinary retail summit being planned by China’s mighty Zhejiang Xinhua chain and the online book trade journal Bookdao


The two-day event will take place in Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province, around 100 miles south west of Shanghai.  The venue is scheduled to be the Intercontinental hotel where September’s G20 summit will take place.  The idea is to bring together physical booksellers from around the world to discuss the future of bricks and mortar bookselling in the digital age.  One hopes that a G20-style photograph is taken, so that each bookseller ‘leader’ can be identified.  All hail the Great Waterstone of China (but can he be seen from outer space?).


There is optimism among indie publishers too.  The recent Independent Publishing Report from law firm Harbottle & Lewis showed that nearly half (48%) of Independent Publishers Group (IPG) members reported growth in their main category over the last year, with another two in five (40%) stable.  Jonathan Harris, IPG President, said that the industry is in “extremely good shape” and pointed out that three of the six books on the Man Booker shortlist were published by independent houses – “a testament to the strength of indie publishing”.


Let’s not forget the writers.  It’s always fascinating hearing what has influenced debut novelists.  Yaa Gyasi, who was born in Ghana and raised in the US, has written a Roots for the 21st century.  Homegoing will be published by Viking in January.  Her biggest literary influence was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  “So many of the things he does in that book,” she says, “are things that writing students would be told never to try.  So it felt permissive, to read a book like that.”


Finally, eponymous literary agent Lucy Luck believes the climate for literary publishing has been “much more optimistic” in the past 18 months, and told the Bookseller magazine: “There are smiles on the faces of people working at Waterstones.  I do get a sense that it hasn’t been so polarised [between big sellers and the rest] – it feels like it’s spread a bit more.”


Long may that continue.

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.