Archive for the ‘UK publishers’ category

This House Takes Note of the Cultural, Civic and Educational Significance of Libraries, Bookshops and Booksellers in the UK

October 15th, 2016

Weddings are usually associated with speeches, alcohol, dancing and laughter . This Thursday I attend my first House of Lords Debate. What associations does it leave me with? Speeches, symptoms of dehydration , eye-watering discomfort and shuffling disappointment.

While angels grip heraldic shields and black microphones bear witness in grids above, Lord Bird, who was ennobled after having launched and established the Big Issue, that dignifies homeless people, gives the chamber 15 minutes of lively, off-script, impassioned, looping anecdote touching on literacy in his past life.

It is followed by the fully scripted , slightly self congratulatory, cliche stuffed, red leather button-backed, middle of the road oratory, topped off with broken folk-dance defensive whitewash from Lord Ashton of Clyde.

For the first ever time in the UK, young people are now less literate than pensioners. But, having established the  importance of the book and the vulnerability of bookshops and libraries, where are the specific , costed suggestions for protecting them? In the absence of plans to improve the situation, calls for action are hollow and simply ignored. Amazon is rightly slammed, but they still owe UK billions in unpaid taxes.

No doubt the Earl Kinnoull’s Trust of Culture in Perth & Kinross, and the Bishop of St. Alban’s Rural Coalition have merit. Books Beyond Words, Cityread, the British Library, Books Are My Bag and many others are hugely worthwhile. What we are facing,though, is decimation of bookshops and libraries in the UK at a scale never before encountered. Unimaginable only ten years ago. Unacceptable to any UK citizen today.

How about Business Rate Reductions for Bookshops Not Bookies, as an initiative? Reduce Business Rates for all bookshops and increase them for all Pay-Day Loan Companies and Betting shops. Sadiq Khan, Philip Glanville, this is definitely one for you two.
How about new charities to seed-fund opening of new bookshops in the UK? Lord Bird and Baroness Rebuck, this is clearly one for you.

Both these suggestions would be fiscally neutral, and both readily achievable. Both would represent long-term solutions for the future- not populist knee-jerk reactions- but non-partisan frameworks for the benefit of all UK book lovers.

The libraries are already protected by law in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Funding needs ring-fencing- our taxes legally cover this. The government absolutely needs challenging for its inexcusable non-enforcement of the law of this land in respect of public libraries. Lord Collins of Hyde, this is your responsibility.

There are no illuminated green exit signs in the Lords Chamber. But bookshops, booksellers and libraries are being unceremoniously elbowed into obsolescence, unless all the people who could possibly do something to stop books facing a bitterly unfair and disastrously bleak future please step forward.

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In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

Jason’s Road trip

May 12th, 2014

I am Jason and I run a bookshop. On Thursday 8-5-2014 at about 07:56 I was bicycling to work on a route I have taken for the last 12 years. I live in Stoke Newington. I was travelling south on Whitmore Road where it becomes Pitfield Street. The light was normal but there was a slight drizzle or very light rain. As I passed the junction with Hoxton Street on my left, I noticed a car proceeding towards me very quickly. I was wearing high visibility, cycling waterproof top , black waterproof bottoms with reflective strips and a cycling helmet. It was clearly my right of way. Before I registered any danger I felt myself flying and landing on the road in excruciating pain. I howled loudly. I was spread-eagled on my front. I do not recollect losing consciousness. Opening my eyes, I saw that I had landed on a part of the pedestrian zebra crossing. I summoned all my energy to crawl or slither off the road in case another car struck me. As I was curling into the recovery position I heard someone asking if I was alright. I said “no”. I heard a voice saying “Call an ambulance”. I repeated the words “Call an ambulance”. I heard someone else saying “I am so sorry. I was rushing to take my daughter to school”. My eyes were closed. I was in agony. Minutes later someone in a green uniform said they were a passing paramedic and instructed me not to move. They went through some questions to assess my condition, which I was able to answer. Following that, the ambulance personnel took over. There was a process of maybe 15 minutes whereby I was supported into an ambulance. That was followed by a lengthy delay where a policeman asked me questions and finally supplied me with a small blue book of information about the accident. I was admitted to the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital. I spent about six or so hours undergoing constant checks and tests. I received an ultra sound and a CT scan on my abdomen. I was administered painkillers. I was advised to remain in hospital under observation for a further period of about 5 hours. I discharged myself and was taken home. I have been in constant pain since then. 48 hours later I have taken photos of my injuries. I am still in a state of shock. I have been told by the hospital consultant that my stomach muscles have been severely torn. My internal organs have been bruised and apart from that, I have suffered several skin abrasions on my face legs and hands and also further bruising. I cannot sleep without waking with pain. My lower intestines contort me in pain. I am using a walking stick, a sling, ice packs and have had a session of cranial osteopathy.

But I am now on the mend & hope to be back at work soon.

Today, I visited the book shop for an hour. It has been as if I had stepped into an alternative reality for four days and I’m now being allowed brief visits back to my old life…

A Man With a Button

February 10th, 2014

The tall man’s goatee beard that was tied in knots reminding me of boyhood images of Blackbeard. He was in his later middle-age and wore a hipster tweed suit that struck me as somewhat incongruous. His softly spoken brogue and complimentary good manners together with his broad range of highly literate book purchases piqued my interest and respect.

When this customer gave me his cue, I was ready to engage with him. Though I really couldn’t have guessed where this was going…

He asked me to direct him to the nearby Google campus and I gave him directions; but I’d been slow to realize that he was teeing me up for a revelation.

“I am the inventor” of the button that will bring the smell of books to all future e-readers,  he explained; and,  when my mouth dropped open, he went on,  ”I am a perfumer”.

He proceeded to sing the praises of the smell of the books in Trinity College Library, Dublin; “an olfactory delight”, was his measured appraisal.

I was part spellbound by his enthusiasm, part amazed by his eccentricity, but wholly amazed that he truly foresaw a future for his book smell button.

It’s true that I had once come across an antiquarian bookseller who regularly put his beaky nose deep into the pages of any antiquarian book he was considering buying to inhale the book’s past and to inform his appraisal.

But I was finding it  almost impossible to separate the crazy notion of book sniffing from the real craze of sniffing glue, conflating  them in my mind into people buying e-readers for their addictive fix of the smell of old books.

On innumerable occasions customers have complimented me on the smell of the bookshop – it had somehow reinforced the authenticity of the place to them.  This man’s smell button was purporting to somehow reinforce the authenticity of an e-reader.

Whereas our bookshop smell genuinely arises from the mixture of new and antiquarian books, the book smell button is as artificial as is the quest to copy all the various aspects of the book using digital, electronic or mechanical means.

They are two separate artifacts. Is there any point conflating them?

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Inauguration Stations

February 5th, 2014

Hello Hello Hello! Hello. We are the Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout and we would like to welcome you to our new-look blog.

We’ve been selling books in Old Street Roundabout for thirteen years and we figured, with the arrival of this most auspicious of anniversaries, that it was time to create a place to talk about it. So here we have it: a soapbox for a material girl in a digital world.

At the beginning of last week the Standard broke the news that the area around Old Street Roundabout (or ‘Tech City’, as it is snazzily styled) has become the place for tech start-ups to locate themselves. One interviewee said: “There’s a great energy in London’s start-up scene. It’s still proving itself.”

I mean, isn’t this just a really astonishing piece of news? Tech companies in Silicon Roundabout? It’s dynamite!

This story could have been written on any year for the last decade so, apparently, nothing has changed. Old Street is still the up and coming place for the up and coming. But then, they do keep coming – and this high turnover of businesses and the people that work in them has put the shop in contact with an ever shifting population of workers. It’s given us a window onto these different people’s changing book-buying habits.

First off, we’ve seen the decline of technical books. Since the beginning it’s been our policy not to stock software how-to manuals and such the like as they grow obsolete so quickly, but we have always offered a service ordering specific books that our customers need. As the years have gone on the number of these requests has steadily declined, to the point that now we can go weeks on end without any enquires about technical books at all.

On the flip side of this decline, we have seen a steady increase in sales of science fiction. What is interesting is that our past experience has shown that technical books and science fiction have often gone together – customers with an interest in one would frequently have an interest in the other.

What this suggests to me is that, whilst our customers are looking less and less to print to learn how to do specific things, they are turning to books more often as a form of escape. Several customers who spend their workdays sat at computers have told me that when they get home they want a way to relax which doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

It has always been the job of speculative fiction to look forwards: to imagine, for better or for worse, what will come next. For most of us, the future will mean more time spent at a computer. And as the amount of time that we’re plugged-in steadily increases, the existence of books as a means of respite – as an access to the thrilling sensation of  complete immersion in one’s own imagination – will become more important than ever.

But then, we would say that.

What do you think?

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Bokaflod

October 22nd, 2013

The first thing to say about self-published books is that there are an awful lot of them.

And they’re breeding. A report by Bowker has found that self-publishing has increased by 422 per cent since 2007. The year on year growth shows that self-publishing is a platform that is here to stay, but one question that hasn’t been settled is whether this is a positive development.

Publishers certainly don’t think so. They have, after-all, traditionally been the gatekeepers, separating the wheat from the chaff, and preventing those fools that dare to mix metaphors from ever seeing their names in print. They may have been feeling vindicated last week with the news that Amazon and other online retailers have been selling self-published books containing indecent material, including scenes of rape and the sexual abuse of children.

These retailers rushed to remove the offending titles from their stores, with the Kobo sites even closing down last week to ensure that all of this content had been taken down. However, these revelations have opened up the debate as to how self-published works can be effectively regulated without curbing freedom of speech.

The situation is entirely different in an independent bookshop. Just as with titles released by publishers, each self-published book will be individually considered by a buyer before being stocked. There is no danger that the offensive titles uncovered last week would ever find their way onto the shelves for this reason. The problem, therefore, is restricted to the digital medium, as booksellers are often able to take the quality controlling role that has been historically been fulfilled by publishers.

This is, of course, reductive. Publishers do a lot more than merely acting as moral guardians, and their declining influence has disadvantages for writers as well as readers. Many great books owe their greatness to their editors; you need only look at Ezra Pound’s annotated first edit of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland to see the enormous impact that a bit of judicious excision can have.

Publishers also know how to create a product, one that communicates quickly to a prospective reader what kind of experience they will have if they take the book home. This is one area where self-publishing still lags behind. So many self-published books that arrive at the shop have covers that give no real clue as to what the book is about and are typeset poorly. Customers are often short of time and want to make decisions quickly. Elegant and coherent book design helps make this possible, and so without the resources to pay for design and marketing specialists, many self-published books leave these customers cold.

But whatever else it means, self-publishing means more books, and I would say that this can only be a good thing. The BBC recently reported on the ‘bokaflod’ in Iceland, where 1 in 10 people will publish a book in their lifetime. Kristin Vidarsdottir, manager of the Unesco City of Literature project, told the BBC that “Even now, when I go the hairdressers, they do not want celebrity gossip from me but recommendations for Christmas books.” The financial crisis fuelled a renewed interest in reading and writing. And whether they are good or bad, if more books mean more people reading, surely it cannot be such a terrible thing?

SF

(Please feel free to comment, we would welcome your opinion!)

Marriage of Convenience

October 7th, 2013

In an interview this weekend for the Guardian, Managing Director of Waterstones James Daunt discussed his decision to stock the Amazon Kindle in stores across the country.

The decision came as part of a dramatic overhaul that Daunt has been carrying out at the retail chain since he was hired by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, after Mamut bought Waterstones from HMW two years ago.

In reply to those that have said that stocking Kindle tablets and e-readers is like ‘inviting the fox into the henhouse’ Daunt has said that he is merely ‘giving customers what they want’. He went on to write off concerns that book-buying customers might disappear completely once they have got hold of an e-reader, convinced that the market is reaching an equilibrium and that only a small minority will abandon print books altogether.

These comments, however, fail to address the matter from which criticism has stemmed. The issue is not whether Waterstones should remained focussed on print books, but rather whether Daunt is wise to allow Amazon to set a shop-front in their stores across the country.

In an article in the Bookseller this month it was reported that Amazon ‘control 79% of the e-book market in the UK’. It is a battle that, for the moment, they have won. And so they seek to tighten their strangle-hold on the physical book industry. Their purchase of Abe Books and The Book Depository, combined with the astonishingly low prices they are able to offer by not paying tax of any kind, has meant that they have already claimed great swathes of the book-buying public. Now, it seems, Daunt is determined to funnel those customers still dedicated to buying from the high street into Amazon’s ever-widening maw.

Once customers have bought a Kindle from Waterstones will they not be tempted to do all their shopping in one click, bundling their ebook and print books into the same basket? It is certainly true that – as Daunt mentions – many readers retain a strong tactile relationship to books. But are they going to continue to return to high street for them if they are being led by the hand from the stores that they frequent?

In the short run, it makes a lot of sense; Waterstones will make more money. But in the background Jeff Bezos will be lurking, keeping an eye on his enormous clock and rubbing his hands together with glee.

SF

Darcy’s Death is Pants

September 30th, 2013

A pall was thrown across the literary world last week with the shocking and untimely passing of Mr. Mark Darcy. A preview of Helen Fielding’s new book Mad About the Boy – the third in the Bridget Jones canon – has revealed that the object of Ms. Jones’ affections, and of many thousands of women around the world, succumbed in the period between the second and third book. The cause is unknown.

 

Grieving Bridget Jones fans took to social media to express their anguish at the loss. “Noooo! Not Mark Darcy!” wrote Fiona Ufton. Max_Normal was rather less plaintive: “RIP #Darcy ya fop.”

It does seem a rather extreme way of clearing the path for Roxster, the 29 year old toy-boy who is to be Bridget’s squeeze in the new book. Couldn’t Mark and Bridget simply have got a divorce? I suppose it is probably more convenient that he dies. It’s a clean break, stops him from cropping up later and causing mischief.

Or perhaps there are other forces at work. Perhaps, like the rest of us, Fielding has been tearing her way through the Game of Thrones series and delighting in the way George R.R. Martin leaves the path strewn with the mutilated corpses of our favourite characters.

Many things separate Ms. Fielding’s writing from that of Mr. R.R. Martin, but the important difference here is that the latter never promises happily ever after. The Game of Thrones series declares from the very first page, loudly and violently, the impossibility of a fairy-tale ending. We expect a high body count, so when R.R. Martin gives us one we accept it because he is simply following through.

But Fielding did write a fairytale, and the princess got the prince. So the fact that they haven’t continued getting exponentially happy in our absence is… well, it’s just poor form.

SF

Battle of the Book Prizes

September 23rd, 2013

It was announced this week that, as of 2014, American authors will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize. Up until now the prize has been open only to authors holding a British, Irish, Commonwealth or Zimbabwean passport; it will now be open to any author writing in English and published in the UK.

The submission rules have also been amended, allowing more entries to publishers that have previously had books longlisted.

The decision had been met with a mixed reaction. Previous winner Howard Jacobson spoke out against it, as did one of this year’s nominees, Jim Crace, who commented in the Telegraph that “There’s something in there you would lose if you opened it up to American authors.”

It has been argued that opposition to the decision presented by authors comes from a place of fear, and that by allowing some American authors into the mix will shine a light on those complacent English novelists whose writing is diminishing in quality but are still managing to find their way onto the list. There certainly have been those who have bemoaned a decline in the Booker winners in recent years, and perhaps not without cause. Julian Barnes’ brevity in The Sense of an Ending, for which he won the prize in 2011 felt like a false economy. He is a great writer, but it’s not a great book.

But this seems to beg the question as to who these changes will actually benefit. Is the pressure from across the pond going to make our authors write better books? It seems an unlikely source of inspiration. Is it going to help readers in the U.K. pick the best new American fiction? We already have the Pulitzer to tell us that.

One party that it will certainly benefit is the Booker Prize itself. Jonathon Taylor, chairman of trustees, said: “By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world.”

Well bully for them. This comment shows that something greater is at stake. It seems that the competition is not to find the best book, but the best prize. And the Booker is determined to win.

SF

New English Bookselling Idea

October 12th, 2011

What I’d like to see getting going is a celebration in England on every St George’s Day that involves all the women buying books as gifts for their menfolk, and all the men buying roses for their womenfolk. This is how the day (known as La Diada de Sant Jordi http://tinyurl.com/yvxbp4) is celebrated in Barcelona where St. George is the Catalonian patron saint. It makes for a huge injection of adult interest in books in that region of Spain.
Does anyone agree that it sounds like a great celebration to adopt and introduce in England? Valentine’s Day is a single day marketing device that provides card & gift shops with an enormous financial uplift every year. I think bookshops and publishers could benefit from something similar.
If you like this idea & can promote it then please spread the word. If you know anyone else you think may like it please let them know.