Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 28 September 2019

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Books Friday, 28 September 2018

Roger Tagholm on President Trump's latest gift to the book trade, a moving memorial to Ernest Hecht, and other book trade news


Hmm, that worked well Mr President. President Trump's telephone conversation with Bob Woodward was a cheery affair that was widely broadcast. Not sure if it was the President's intention to give Woodward's Fear - Trump in the White House a sales boost, but the title has now made publishing history. Simon & Schuster US has confirmed that it sold 1.1m copies in all formats in its first week of publication, making it the most successful title since S&S was founded 94 years ago. The President really is the consummate sales director. Once again, he deserves an industry award.

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Figures for trade publishing overall in the US were good for July, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), with adult book sales rising by 11.1% in value over the same month in 2017. But this wasn't enough to offset a sharp decline in educational and professional publishing - and a decline in adult trade ebooks too - meaning that total sales figures for the year to date were down 1.5% by value.

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In the US, the AAP itself has had a re-boot. Addressing its annual meeting in New York, AAP chair and Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle noted that in addition to copyright protection and the protection of freedom of expression, the AAP was now championing the value of publishing to culture and society - and the economy - and will more actively support laws and regulations that, according to the AAP's mission statement, "incentivise the publication of creative expression, professional content and learning solutions".

At the meeting, the AAP's 16th International Freedom to Publish/Jeri Laber Award was given to Azadeh Parsapour, publisher of Nogaam Publishing. She runs her digital publishing company from London, and specialises in titles that would likely be banned or censored in Iran. She delivered her acceptance speech by video, since, as an Iranian citizen, she is prevented by Homeland Security from entering the US.

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Congratulations to Kuala Lumpur, which has been named 2020 UNESCO World Book Capital, following Sharjah's tenure in 2019. With the slogan "KL Baca - caring through reading' ("Baca', pronounced "ba-cha', is the Malay word for "Read' or "Reads'), the program focuses on four themes: reading in all its forms, development of the book industry infrastructure, inclusiveness and digital accessibility, and empowerment of children through reading. Among other planned events and activities, there will be the construction of a book city (the Kota Buku Complex), a reading campaign for train commuters, enhancing of digital services and accessibility for the disabled by the National Library of Malaysia, and new digital services in 12 libraries in poor housing areas of Kuala Lumpur.

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Perhaps it could be called the Patterson effect. Penguin Random House Australia is offering $100,000 in funding to booksellers that run children's reading programmes. Australian booksellers with dedicated children's book sections are eligible to apply for up to $5,000 in funding for projects that "get kids reading". PRH CEO for ANZ Julie Burland said: "We know that reading levels across Australia are slipping, and that screen time is increasing. If we want our stories to be heard in 20 years' time, we need to work together to share the passion of reading."

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The International Publishers Association and the UN have launched the Sustainable Development Goals Book Club. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals were established in 2015, and include "Quality education", "Gender equality", and "Peace, justice and strong institutions". The aim of the SDG Book Club is to use books "to encourage children and young people to interact with the principles of the SDGs through a curated reading list of key children's books related to each of the 17 SDGs". The list will include titles for each SDG in all six official UN languages.

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Interesting comments to Publishing Perspectives from Marina Kameneva, head of Russia's largest bookshop chain, Moscow Books, concerning a decline in the market. "The Soviet government paid much more attention to the problems of book publishing overall, including retail…" she said. "Despite our efforts, bookshops have struggled in the consumer services market, and this is resulting in so many store closures, along with the end of our system of centralised distribution of books. That system, in the Soviet context, reached even the most remote regions of the country."

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There was a splendid memorial service for Ernest Hecht, the founder of Souvenir Press and a recipient of the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement award, who died in February. Among the guests who gathered at St Paul's, "the Actors' church" in Covent Garden, were Bloomsbury's Richard Charkin, Profile's Andrew Franklin, Sceptre's Carole Welch, the agents Jane Gregory and Lavinia Trevor, and the former md of Waterstones Alan Giles. The Order of Service included "Ernest's eternal wish": "One-nil to the Arsenal".

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