Tagholm's take - the week in books at 10 November 2017

Roger Tagholm
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 10 November 2017

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on diversity initiatives, the Sharjah International Book Fair, YA authors against piracy, and other book industry news


Ahead of Monday's Inclusivity in Publishing Conference, organised by the London Book Fair, congratulations to HarperCollins, which has been included in the inaugural "Best Employers for Race" list compiled by the charity Business in the Community. The recognition follows HC's Inclusivity in Publishing Award at the LBF's International Excellence Awards earlier this year.

HarperCollins is the only publisher in the 66-strong list, which also includes the John Lewis Partnership and Sainsbury's. Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, praised the publisher for "taking a comprehensive and strategic approach to tackling race inequalities with their organisation and [showing] commitment and leadership on this issue".

From the Publishers Association's 10-point diversity action plan, to new imprints and publishers such as Little Brown's Dialogue, the children's house Knights of, the ongoing work of charity First Story and next week's conference itself, something is shifting out there.

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The audiences at events at the 36th Sharjah International Book Fair, which wraps up this weekend, were hugely diverse, with a packed crowd of mainly Indian schoolchildren to hear Slumdog Millionaire author Vikas Swarup (all right, strictly speaking the novel on which the film is based is called Q & A) talk about the village in which he grew up and how "there was no X-box, no mobiles, no TV - I only had books to provide an escape and I read everything".

This year's fair coincided with the official opening of Sharjah Publishing City, the emirate's ambitious free zone publishing hub - Sharjah Book Authority Chairman Ahmed Al Ameri, and his team, deserve praise for seeing this venture through. This year, the rights "souk" - the matchmaking sessions fuelled by generous translation grants - seemed to have increased in size again. Among repeat customers were Tim Bent from OUP New York, Julie Attrill from Wiley UK, and agents Suzanne Brandreth from the Cooke Agency Canada, Lorella Belli from the UK and Ayser Ali from Turkey, all cementing relationships made on previous visits and doing deals that would not have been done had Sharjah not created this space.

This year, the UK was the fair's first Guest of Honour, with a pavilion showcasing the Best of British Brands - complete with floating tea cup swinging above the displays. The London Book Fair worked with strategic partners the Publishers Association and the British Council to bring over a number of authors, among them former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, whose "in conversation" was a packed event.

Among speakers in the professional programme was Bassam Chebaro, president of Arab Scientific Publishers (Dan Brown's Arabic publisher), who spoke about the scourge of piracy. "I am worried the pirates will ruin everything," he said. "They are pulling the carpet from beneath us."

Sarah Clayton, Hachette's sales manager for the Middle East and North Africa, said that Egypt was the worst offender. "At the Cairo Book Fair this year, pirated copies were being openly sold in their own part of the fair."

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Piracy has been discussed closer to home too, with YA author Samantha Shannon seeking to clarify - for those "who believe all art should be free" - that if that were the case, creation would be "the realm of the privileged". A study by the UK's Intellectual Property Office earlier this year found that 17% of ebooks consumed online were read illegally. In the US, Shannon's fellow YA author Maggie Stiefvater pointed out to her fans: "If you want box sets, extras, fancy editions, spin off series, tours: your love isn't enough. You have to actually buy the book. Yes, books are spendy…"

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Talking of buying books, there has been considerable activity on the retail front in the US, both good and bad. Book World announced that it was closing its 45 stores across the MidWest, bringing to an end 41 years of bookselling. On a happier note - unless perhaps you are a neighbouring indie - Canadian chain Indigo Books & Music has said it will open up to five stores in the US in the next two years "to test the market response to the concept", according to ceo Heather Reisman. The first store will be in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Kinokuniya is to open a third store in Texas - in Austin - bringing its US total to 13.

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Farewell to New York agent Roslyn Targ, who has died at the age of 92. An expert in foreign rights, Targ is credited with bringing the works of writers including F Scott Fitzgerald, JD Salinger, Harper Lee and John Dos Passos to European readers. She is also a throwback to a golden era, with various obituaries relating how she once spilled red wine all over her gown at a banquet. Minutes later, she emerged from the restroom, having removed her dress and wrapped a shawl around her like a sarong. One guest observed: "What can you say to this Targ woman! She even changes for different courses!"

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