Bookseller Briefing 24/17 – week ending 16 June

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PRH launches ‘inclusion tracker’ to measure diversity

Penguin Random House UK is launching an “Inclusion Tracker” to measure the diversity of its authors and staff in the pursuit of a new company-wide goal to “reflect UK society by 2025”.

The aim is to bring the composition of its authors and staff into line with that of UK society, in terms of social mobility, ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexuality. PRH has said it wants to see “a positive shift towards this goal every year through to 2025”.

To measure its progress in achieving the aim, PRH will now be asking newly-acquired authors and new employees to complete a voluntary “Inclusion Tracker”. PRH will then publish this data on its website each year.

The publisher will begin sending out the online questionnaire on 1st July to all authors it is signing new contracts with, and all new employees who join the company. The Inclusion Tracker will ask for information covering gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and social mobility. According to PRH, all data will be treated anonymously and confidentially, and completing the form will be entirely optional.

Tom Weldon, c.e.o., Penguin Random House UK, said: “We are determined to publish a wider range of voices and books to more fully reflect the diverse society we live in.

“Books and reading can make an enormous difference to people’s lives, expanding our imaginations and empathy and helping us make sense of different perspectives.

The news coincides with the launch of the publisher’s 2017 WriteNow campaign on 13th June, a scheme launched last year to find and develop new writers from under-represented communities. Earlier this year it selected 12 writers from over 2,000 applications, including authors from LGBTQ, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and socio-economically marginalised communities and writers with a disability, who are now being mentored by PRH editors to help refine their manuscripts and bring their books to market.

In its second year, the publisher will partner with Spread the Word, Literature Works and New Writing North to offer 150 aspiring writers access to free regional events in London, Bristol and Newcastle, where they will get one-on-one time with editors as well as access to literary agents and published authors. These will include Elif Shafak, Kit de Waal, Afua Hirsch and Fox Fisher. The 150 will then be whittled down to 10 “exceptional writers” who PRH ultimately would like to publish.

Weldon added: “As the UK’s number one publisher, our job is to tell the stories which aren’t often told. That’s why with WriteNow we are taking our teams outside of London and into communities to meet and mentor aspiring authors. We want to find and bring to life writing that connects with all readers, bringing the best new under-represented voices to bookshelves.”

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, a development agency supporting creative writing and reading in the North of England, added: “New Writing North is delighted to be working on WriteNow and that this pioneering and important project is coming to the North East. With Penguin Random House we share a mission to ensure that British writing is representative, inclusive and diverse.”

At the end of last year, statistics partly compiled by The Bookseller showed that of the thousands of titles published in 2016 in the UK, fewer than 100 were by British authors from a non-white background. It also found of the top 100 bestselling titles of 2016, just one was by a British writer from an ethnic minority background.

The Publishers Association (PA) will welcome the drive to pin down data on diversity in the industry. The trade organisation announced at the start of this year at the Westminster Media Forum it would also be looking into a series of measurable “commonly agreed targets” for the industry, “so that we’re not having the same discussions [around diversity] in 10 years’ time”. Its president Lis Tribe, m.d. Hodder Education, just last month urged publishers to set benchmarks. “Individual companies are working on this, but we can encourage and support, and I think benchmarks are interesting and can help. We can say, ’This is where we want to get to’,” she said at the time.

Other initiatives proposed to help tackle the issue of the under-representation of authors of colour in the industry include the Jhalak Prize for Fiction. Won in March by Jacob Ross for The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree), it launched last year to help open publishing up to British writers of colour across all genres, albeit not without ruffling a few feathers – a “discrimination” complaint was lodged by Philip Davies MP with the Equality & Human Rights Commission, although later dismissed. It received 118 submissions in total but an analysis showed that across the genres, only around 10 books aimed at adults were aimed at the mass market.

Little, Brown Book Group meanwhile recently launched a standalone “inclusive” imprint called Dialogue Books, spearheaded by Sharmaine Lovegrove, to “source, nurture and publish writing talent – and reach audiences – from areas currently under-represented or not covered by the mainstream publishing industry”.

WHS Travel to open 15 UK stores this year

High Street sales at W H Smith continue to tumble – down 4% like-for-like in the past 15 weeks. However, its Travel arm continues to trade strongly, with sales up 5% like-for-like, as the company revealed it is set to open 15 more UK shops this year.

In the 15-week period from 1st March to 10th June 2017, total group sales at W H Smith were up 2% with like-for-like sales flat, the company said today (14th June).

In its High Street business, the bookseller and stationer is focused on its profit strategy and said its sales over the last quarter– down 4% in total and down 4% like-for-like – were in line with expectations. “Gross margin improvement and cost savings have been delivered in line with plan,” the company added.

In its Travel arm, a focus on customer service, along with “execution, space and category management” have helped sales to rise 8% in total and 5% like-for-like. A boost in passenger numbers has also helped and the company is set to open a further 15 stores in the UK this year. It has also won six retail outlets in Rome, which are slated to open in July.

A spokesperson for W H Smith said: “Whilst there remains some uncertainty with regard to the broader economic environment, we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in the business to position us well for the future. We remain confident in the outcome for the full year.”

In April, the retailer reported that spoof humour titles had helped to drive profit in the first six months of the year.

HC opens BAME traineeship programme to non-graduates

HarperCollins UK is running its BAME traineeship programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals for a second year, this time opening it up to non-graduates “to make sure the company can draw on the widest pool of potential talent”.

The programme, designed to tackle underrepresentation in the business and wider industry, enters into its second year after successfully launching in 2016 with the support of Business in the Community’s race campaign and the Publishers Association.

HarperCollins will select two candidates for a paid 12-month rotational training contract, encompassing different aspects of the publishing business, to begin in October 2017. As well as learning about HarperCollins’ divisions and functions during the programme, the successful candidates will receive training and support from HarperCollins, and have the guidance of a senior mentor throughout the year.

It is hoped the application process will create “a pipeline of talent” from the final assessment stage candidates, who will be invited to apply for other entry level roles in the business alongside other candidates. Following the 2016 BAME Traineeship scheme, as well as the two successful recruits a further eight candidates have gone on to take up entry level positions within HarperCollins UK in areas such as marketing, sales and design.

Applications for the traineeships launch on 14th June and will be advertised on multiple social media platforms, through HarperCollins’ university networks, student unions and other influencers, running for four weeks and closing on 12th July.

HarperCollins’ separate and long-running Graduate Scheme runs every two years, and is next planned for next planned for spring 2019.

Director of People, John Athanasiou, said: “Our first BAME traineeship programme was very successful and we as a company are already seeing the benefits through the very talented individuals who are now well into their year-long training programme, and those that have taken other positions in the company.”

C.e.o. Charlie Redmayne said: “I am proud that already some outstanding new talent has entered our industry through the HarperCollins BAME traineeship programme. It’s initiatives like this that move us forward as a company and bring us closer to better reflecting society at large and enabling us to reach even more readers.”

The BAME traineeship is one of a series of diversity initiatives at HarperCollins. Its diversity forum won the Employee Network category at Business in the Community’s Race Equality Awards in October, and the company won the Inclusivity in Publishing Award at this year’s London Book Fair. The Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize is now in its second year, and recently announced its shortlist, featuring six writers of varied BAME backgrounds.

Walliams, HarperCollins and talkRADIO launch The Story Hour

HarperCollins has partnered with talkRADIO to bring “A Summer of Walliams” to the airwaves from this Sunday 18th June.

“The Story Hour” on talkRADIO in association with HarperCollins Children’s Books will run from 3pm-4pm every Sunday, with the aim of airing the best children’s audiobooks, targeting family audiences.

Walliams will kick off the programme with three readings from The World’s Worst Children followed by three readings the following week from the sequel, The World’s Worst Children 2, which has been the UK Official Top 50 number one spot three weeks in a row . The series will continue over the summer with audio versions of Mr Stink and Demon Dentist with “bespoke introductions” from Walliams for each episode. From September, the programme will feature stories from other HarperCollins Children’s Books authors.

HarperCollins and talkRADIO share the same parent company; the latter is owned by the Wireless Group which was bought by News Corp last year.

HarperCollins’ brand director Jen Callahan-Packer said the move follows data revealing that more people are listening to books. The value of audiobook downloads to UK publishers increased by 28%, to £16m in 2016, according to the Publishers Association’s Annual Yearbook, making the sector the fastest growing in the book industry.

The move complements HarperCollins UK’s “Total Audio policy” , which means it releases an audiobook of every print narrative title on the same publication day as other formats -the only UK publisher to do this.

Callahan-Packer said: “At HarperCollins, our long-term commitment to Total Audio and making our author’s content available in audio format simultaneously with print editions has led the way, and we’re hugely excited by the potential of this innovative brand partnership with talkRADIO.”

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books, said: “We are thrilled to partner with talkRADIO. ‘The Story Hour’ offers us a fantastic opportunity to reach a new audience of parents and children listening to stories together – it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time as a family and a wonderful invitation to the joys of reading too.”

She added: “We hope that ‘The Story Hour’ will become a regular weekend favourite and what better present for dads on Father’s Day than to join in with their children’s laughter as they listen to David’s hilarious stories.”

Dennie Morris, managing editor at talkRADIO, said: “‘The Story Hour’ is a fantastic new addition to our programme schedule, and we are delighted to be working with both HarperCollins Children’s Books and David Walliams. David’s recognisable voice and personality will help us reach new audiences and this will be a perfect way for us to start #loveaudio week.”

In April The Bookseller reported on how publishers are responding to the surge in audiobook downloads by investing more in the sector, hiring new staff, upping the number of titles they publish and exploring audio-first opportunities.

Talkradio is a national talk radio station launched in March last year.

German and French book trades issue impassioned plea for government support

Germany and France have called on policy-makers in their respective governments in Berlin and Paris as well as in Brussels for sustainable policies to promote books in the digital age.

The trade associations of both countries issued a joint statement at the annual German trade conference, organised this week by Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels in Berlin.

The impassioned plea for a forward-looking European strategy for books and the book industry as a whole is far-reaching and aims beyond the boundaries of the signatories. These include Börsenverein as the single body for the German book industry as well as the French organisations Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), Syndicat de la Librairie Française (SLF) and Syndicat des Distributeurs de Loisirs Culturels (SDLC).

Apart from copyright issues and the demand for open borders, the statement asks for clear support of fixed book prices – both of which are in place in Germany and France – and calls for reduced VAT for e-books and practicable strategies for interoperability and accessibility across borders for books in digital formats.

“In times when some nations withdraw into nationalism and isolate themselves, Europe can answer with a dynamic openness, in which books play a vital part. They are the mainstay of our education, an important engine for integration and the foundation of society”, said SNE president Vincent Montagne. Adding that the “Franco-German collaboration can and will make a significant distribution to this endeavour.”

The joint statement came on the back of a number of national and Europe-wide reform proposals for the book industry; first of all the European Commission’s plans for a digital single market. While this was welcomed in principle, conference attendees have voiced the need for closer scrutiny by the member states of the European Union (EU) and the European Parliament.

Referring to the “innovative and well-oiled publication structures” in France, Germany and other EU countries, Börsenverein c.e.o. Alexander Skipis said that they need to be kept in place despite Brussels’ understandable desire to ease access to digital contents. “The sustainability of the European book industry can only be guaranteed by a far-sighted and prudent approach to the reform process.”

More than 700 publishers, booksellers and other members of the book industry attended the two-day conference which this year was all about strategies and innovations. While the German book market ended 2016 with sales marginally up by 1%, this was mainly due to increased online sales.

Brick-and-mortar booksellers are increasingly coming under pressure. Even though they remained by far the largest sales channel, turnover was down 0.8% on the previous year to €4,39bn, with their market share declining accordingly to 47.3% (2015: 48.2%).

The major factor in the decline, say booksellers, is a marked drop in customer traffic, something that has hurt many other German retailers as well. The decline of the high street in the wake of customers migrating to the internet, and exploring ways to drive more people into the stores, respectively keeping existing customers on board ran like a common thread through the conference.

Publishers prepare to #LoveAudio

An industry-wide #LoveAudio campaign is launching next week, designed to shine a spotlight on the fastest-growing sector in UK publishing.

The Publishers Association (PA) has spearheaded the social media campaign, with its members running a number of audiobook competitions and promotions from Monday 19th June to Sunday 25th June, supported by interviews and podcasts promoted in “take-overs” across social media accounts.

The week will feature behind the scenes videos of audiobook production and clips of authors talking about the power of audio, as well as samples and promotions designed to get more people engaged with the medium, from publishers including HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Canongate, Creative Content Digital, Simon and Schuster, Faber and Macmillan, and the RNIB.

A number of high-profile authors and narrators will be getting involved. Hodder has rallied authors Miranda Hart, David Mitchell, Peter May, Katie Piper, Simon Scarrow and Elly Griffiths to produce special “audio messages” while at Orion Ian Rankin and Laura Barnett will be asked to divulge their favourite “Desert Island Listens”. Penguin Random House is asking Jon Culshaw to discuss narrating Doctor Who and is hosting a discussion between Mad author Chloe Esposito and her book’s narrator Emily Atack. And at Pan Macmillan Daniel Weyman, who read Peter James’ Need You Dead and won “Narrator of the year” at the Audio Production Awards 2016, will be interviewed, sharing his experience why everyone should #LoveAudio.

The week-long focus coincides with new research from Nielsen’s UK Books & Consumers Survey showing that in 2016 10.3% (5.5m) of the UK population aged 13-84 had bought or listened to an audiobook in the last year, whether that was on CD, tape, downloaded or streamed, with the number of people buying and listening to audiobooks rising 3% between 2014 and 2016 across formats. The research, based on over 100,000 online interviews, also revealed a male skew, showing audiobooks are most popular with men aged 25 – 44yrs.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive for the PA, said: “The fact that one in ten people are now listening to audiobooks is testament to the incredible flexibility of the format.

“Not only can audiobooks bring stories to life and enable people to enjoy reading while doing other things such as running or driving, it is also a great way of making books more accessible. As well as providing a wonderful opportunity for people with print-disabilities to enjoy published products, audiobooks are a great way of removing barriers to reading for those who might otherwise struggle.”

Sarah Shrubb, chair of the PA’s Audio Publishers Group and Audio Publisher at Little Brown, added: “The audiobook sector has seen high double-digit growth every year for the past few years, fuelled by ubiquitous smart phones and tablets. Apps to buy and listen to audiobooks are available for all these devices, and they sit on the screen alongside apps for podcasts, music, movies and TV; it’s as easy to tap and listen to, say, a Harry Potter audiobook as it is to tap and watch a Harry Potter film or read a Harry Potter e-book.”

She added that retailers such as Audible have reached out “brilliantly” to this “audience-in-waiting”, raising awarness and making audiobooks easy and seamless to buy and listen to.

“Publishers have risen to the challenge of this growing market by recording more and more of the books they publish, and producing fantastic audio editions with massively talented narrators, such as Juliet Stevenson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry,” Shrubb said. “All of these factors are combining to create a burgeoning new market that has grown, and will continue to grow, faster than any other sector of U.K. and US publishing.”

The industry-wide campaign follows news that HarperCollins has partnered with talkRADIO to bring “A Summer of Walliams” to the airwaves from this Sunday 18th June. “The Story Hour” on talkRADIO in association with HarperCollins Children’s Books will run from 3pm-4pm every Sunday, with the aim of airing the best children’s audiobooks, targeting family audiences.

Walliams will kick off the programme with three readings from The World’s Worst Children followed by three readings the following week from the sequel, The World’s Worst Children 2. From September, the programme will feature stories from other HarperCollins Children’s Books authors.

In April The Bookseller reported on how publishers are responding to the surge in audiobook downloads by investing more in the sector, hiring new staff, upping the number of titles they publish and exploring audio-first opportunities.