Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 6 July 2018

Opinion - Books Friday, 06 July 2018

Roger Tagholm on a case of blatant piracy, a warning from Germany, and other book trade news


So here are the pirates at OceanofPDF.com sounding so reasonable. Having explained how easy their free ebook downloads are, they continue: "If you get [the] financial means later to buy the book, then you must support your favourite authors and buy that book." This is at the bottom of their Mission Statement on their homepage. In other words, having effectively removed an author's front-door and allowed people to come in and steal their possessions over and over again, they're saying: "If you like the stuff you've stolen, don't forget to buy it and replace it."

It's a whole new concept in book buying: steal first, pay later. At the time of writing, the site has a frightening range of titles, including James Patterson and Bill Clinton's The President Is Missing, Stephen King's The Outsider, Anthony Horowitz's Forever and a Day, and Kate Mosse's The Burning Chambers.

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Some interesting comments from Penguin Random House (PRH) ceo Markus Dohle on wanting to grow both PRH's physical and digital businesses. Dohle noted: "Today we are selling our books through 120,000 retail locations worldwide - and that number is growing." Is this the first time anyone has tried to estimate how many bookshops, or locations that sell books, there are in the world? He didn't specify what was included in that figure, but it was an interesting, optimistic observation nonetheless.

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Bookshop news is suddenly everywhere. Faber has just bought Robert Hillman's The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, a Sixties-set "up lit" love story set around the creation of "Australia's most beautiful bookshop"; Penelope Fitzgerald's 1978 novel The Bookshop is getting a new lease (ha!) of life thanks to the film adaptation starring Bill Nighy; and Malaysian book chain BookXcess has opened the country's first 24-hour bookshop, in Cyberjaya, the town south of Kuala Lumpur that aims to be Malaysia's Silicon Valley.

Incidentally, where are the 24-hour bookshops in the UK, or for that matter, the US? China, and now Malaysia, are leading the way here. But not so fast. It did happen briefly in London, back in 1993. Anyone remember The Bookshed, opened by library campaigner Tim Coates, in a former Woolworths near Victoria Station? It stayed open around the clock for a two-week period before Christmas, a now almost forgotten first for the UK book trade.

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Warnings from Germany in recent weeks over the long-term trends for the industry. According to a survey carried out by research body GfK, between 2012 and 2016 the German book trade lost 6.1m buyers. Fortunately, book sales have managed to hold up, thanks to greater purchasing by the buyers who are left. But publishers are worried that younger readers are not coming on board in sufficient numbers.

The reason is obvious: the demands and temptations of social media and digital entertainment. Dwell time and down time - travelling, waiting, relaxing - is time for checking and posting and scrolling and "Netflixing", not necessarily for consuming publisher-produced, paid-for content. (Although social media can obviously create conversations about books too.) But publishers and editors on the Frankfurt Book Fair's recent editors' trip to Germany heard publisher after publisher express concerns. One publisher said it was planning to reduce its output from 500 to 350 titles a year as a result. Parents sometimes say that their sons or daughters are best left to their own devices. Hmm. That's the problem.

Further worrying news at Barnes & Noble, where the doors are revolving again. Ceo Demos Parneros has been dismissed after little more than a year in the job, while his predecessor Ron Boire didn't even last that long. Parneros had managed to sound cheerful to investors earlier this month, talking about "a pipeline of real estate opportunities" that should give the company a net increase in store count next year. US publishers are watching closely.

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The Society of Authors is worried about the rise of "morality clauses" in contracts. Fortunately, no one has suggested Video Assisted Referees (VAR) to judge each alleged misbehaviour yet, though with the amount of mobile phone footage from launch parties that must exist, plus all those street cameras outside places like the Groucho Club, one can almost imagine it. The VAR stamp might appear on books, so that one would know an author is squeaky clean; it could sit next to those FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) stamps which show the publisher is supporting the protection of the world's forests. You know what would come next. Judges tied on the Man Booker winner? "It's gone to penalties and here's Hilary Mantel with the first..."

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