Bookseller Briefing 30/17 – week ending 28 July

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SoA criticises removal of BBC radio quotas for drama

The removal of quotas for radio comedy, drama and readings will have a “significant impact” on the Society of Authors’ members, the organisation has said.

As part of its Operating Licence for the BBC, Ofcom – the regulatory authority for the broadcasting industry – has removed quotas for radio comedy, drama and readings, in a move that will result in “less innovation and risk-taking and less diversity”, according to the SoA.

BBC programming was previously defined by a licence set by the BBC Trust which gave a commitment to a minimum of 790 hours a year for comedy, drama and readings across BBC Radio 3 and 4. However, now Ofcom has removed the quotas, it will jeopardise opportunities for writers to contribute these programmes, according to the authors’ campaign body.

Increasing funding pressures on BBC Radio make it likely that cuts will affect drama and comedy going forward, and as the budgets for radio programming are already “tight”, the “smallest cuts are felt more deeply” in radio than with TV, the SoA has said. Over the last decade, with quotas in place, there has already been a reduction in bespoke drama commissions, the removal of drama from the World Service, the Friday Play from R4 and The Wire from R3, the SoA argued.

The Society said in a statement: “The radio drama department is seen very much as a patron of the arts – nurturing new voices, helping sustain established voices, seeding writers of all genres and disciplines. Drama and comedy programmes attract significant audiences and the Audience Appreciation figures are high. It is worth noting that Radio 4’s Afternoon Plays each get a bigger audience on one day (around 1 million) than the National Theatre gets in all its South Bank venues in a year.”

It continued: “We appreciate that significant cuts have to be made at the BBC overall, but radio producers have always worked to tight budgets and consequently the smallest cuts are felt more deeply in radio than with TV. The consequence of fewer commissions will be less innovation and risk-taking, less diversity, less choice, more repeats, and more reliance on out of copyright works rather than contemporary commissions. This is not best serving the UK audience and will have a significant impact on our members.”

While the Ofcom consultation has now closed, interested parties can continue to lobby the BBC directly as it seeks comments on its Annual Plan. This consultation closes on 30th September 2017. Comments can be sent to the annual plan’s email address:

Bookseller’s debut longlisted for Man Booker Prize

A bookseller’s as-yet-unpublished debut is among the novels longlisted for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize 2017, alongside books by authors including Arundhati Roy, George SaundersSebastian Barry and Zadie Smith.

Fiona Mozley, aged 29, who works at the Little Apple Bookshop in York, was longlisted for her novel Elmet (JM Originals), a book about family as well as a meditation on landscape in South Yorkshire. The bookshop, whose staff didn’t know her title had been put forward for the prize, called it “fantastic news” on its Facebook page this morning (27th July). The book, due to be published next month, was the first ever acquisition of John Murray assistant editor Becky Walsh, who revealed Mozley wrote the story while commuting on the train. “To be longlisted is an impressive achievement for anyone but for a debut author who wrote Elmet while travelling up and down to London from York on the train is just amazing,” she told The Bookseller.

Two other debut novels have been recognised: Saunders, a prolific US short story writer, is longlisted for his much-praised debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury). The father-and-son story, which has already secured a film deal, features Abraham Lincoln and is set in 1862 against the background of the American Civil War. And fellow American Emily Fridlund is longlisted for History of Wolves (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), set in a dying commune in the American Midwest.

The other authors to have made the cut on the 13-strong literary line-up are Colson Whitehead, Ali Smith, Kamila Shamsie, Mike McCormack, Mohsin HamidJon McGregor and Paul Auster.

Roy has made the cut for the first work she has written since The God Of Small Things (Harper Perennial) last won the Booker Prize 20 years ago with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. She is one of four authors on the list to hail from Hamish Hamilton’s stables, nurtured by publisher director Simon Prosser, along with Pakistani novelist Hamid’s fourth novel Exit West; Ali Smith’s Autumn, part of an ambitious series of four seasonal novels and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, about friendship, music and stubborn roots in North West London.

Meanwhile Barry is one of four previously shortlisted writers to appear again in the “Man Booker Dozen”, along with Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Mohsin Hamid. His American epic Days Without End (Faber & Faber), published in February, has already made him the first novelist to win both the Costa Book of the Year and the Walter Scott Prize twice. The novel follows Thomas McNulty, a migrant who flees the Irish famine during the 1850s, and his brother-in-arms as they go to fight in the Indian Wars and ultimately the Civil War. Costa judges earlier this year called it “brutal”, “terrifying”, and, in its exploration of the two characters’ gay relationship, “one of the most wonderful depictions of love in fiction”. Barry has previously been longlisted for the Booker prize for The Secret Scripture in 2008 and On Canaan’s Side in 2011.

Another much-garlanded author on the longlist is US scribe Colson Whitehead. His book The Underground Railroad (Fleet) about slavery in the antebellum American South this year attracted multiple awards including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction in April, as well as praise from former US president Barack Obama. It follows runaway slave Cora’s bid for freedom using a literal underground railroad, incorporating elements of magical realism.

Three independent publishers have an author longlisted for the prize. Canongate author Mike McCormack is recognised for his Goldsmiths Prize-winning novel Solar Bones, a book that is written in a single novel-length sentence, Faber & Faber counts two entries on the list with US author Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 entering alongside Barry’s Days Without End, and Bloomsbury has Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone through two British Muslim families, as well as Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo.

IMPAC Award-winning author Jon McGregor only moved to 4th Estate a year ago from Bloomsbury to publish Reservoir 13, which is the final book to make the cut. Set in a Derbyshire village, the title tells a story of lives haunted after a teenage girl goes missing.

Chair of the 2017 judges Baroness Lola Young commented: “Only when we’d finally selected our 13 novels did we fully realise the huge energy, imagination and variety in them as a group. The longlist showcases a diverse spectrum — not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender.  Nevertheless we found there was a spirit common to all these novels: though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming – a tonic for our times.

“Together their authors — both recognised and new — explore an array of literary forms and techniques, from those working in a traditional vein to those who aim to move the walls of fiction.”

The Man Booker Dozen were all published between 1st October 2016 and 30th September 2017. A shortlist of six books will be announced on 13th September and the winner on 17th October at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall broadcast by the BBC.

For the past two years books from independent publisher Oneworld have won the prize. Last year’s winner was The Sellout by Paul Beatty – the prize’s first American winner. To date over 360,000 print copies of the Oneworld edition have been sold through Nielsen BookScan and 26 foreign language rights deals have been secured (19 of which were sold since his prize win).

Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones, commented: “There are so many great novels on this year’s longlist. I think it’s the strongest there’s been in years. Obviously, I’m delighted to see our current Book of the Month, The Underground Railroad, in there and if I were forced to predict a winner I’d say that it’s a toss-up between that book and George Saunders’ virtuoso debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, but really almost any of these books would make worthy winners.”

Frances Gertler, web editor for Foyles, said: “Ali Smith is a huge favourite at Foyles but Sebastian Barry is a strong contender and we also loved the Saunders. As last year, there are a couple of dark horses and it will be intriguing to see how these fare.”

Inside Amazon UK’s new headquarters

Employees from the book world were among those who celebrated the launch of Amazon’s new 15-storey headquarters in London’s Shoreditch on Wednesday night (26th July).

The Publishers Association’s chief executive Stephen Lotinga attended the event, which featured a performance by singer Ella Eyre, along with Sam Missingham, formerly of HarperCollins, RCW agent Sam Copeland and Thomas & Mercer author Mark Edwards.

Former Waterstones managing director Dominic Myers, now head of Amazon Publishing in Europe, and former HarperCollins managing director Simon Johnson, who is also now at Amazon, were also in attendance.

Amazon’s UK Country Manager Doug Gurr hosted the event at the 600,000sq ft space, which includes half an acre of public piazza and events space and 20,000 sq ft of retail, including cafés and restaurants offering alfresco dining.

The e-commerce giant said the interior was designed to “celebrate the industrial heritage and rich culture of Shoreditch” and would be complemented by a “rotating selection of art provided by local artists”.

Employees get the benefit of working in “light and airy open plan work spaces with adjustable sitting/standing desks” and there is also be a large auditorium for employee events and two large outdoor spaces offering views over London.

The architects’ initial plans for the building suggested that it would have a basketball court, a tennis court, and a swimming pool but none of these amenities came into fruition in the end.

With the opening of the new building, Amazon announced it would more than double the number of staff working in research and development from 450 to 900. They will primarily be working on Amazon’s global Prime Video service, over three dedicated floors in the new building, the company said.

Politicians Sadiq Khan, the Labour London mayor, and Conservative Culture Minister Matt Hancock, both threw their weight behind the opening.

Khan pointed out Amazon’s was the latest in a long line of recent major investments in London by global tech firms over the last year. “London is open to talent, innovation and entrepreneurship and the natural place for major global companies to call home – and it’s great news that Amazon has put its confidence in our unique blend of talent, creativity and access to finance,” he said.

While Hancock called the move “great news for Britain”.

“Amazon’s increased investment in developing cutting-edge technology in London is another vote of confidence in the UK as a world-leading centre of creativity and innovation,” he added.

BBC’s ‘Saturday Review’ saved from the axe

The BBC has backtracked on plans to axe “Saturday Review”, its cultural discussion programme presented by Tom Sutcliffe on Radio 4.

Earlier this year, it was announced that “Saturday Review’ would come to an end in the autumn as part of cost-cutting measures at the corporation, and a Saturday highlights edition of arts and culture programme “Front Row” would be broadcast instead. At the time, Gwyneth Williams, controller of Radio 4 and 4 Extra, said the broadcaster had to make “difficult decisions on how we can best safeguard the overall range and breadth of content on Radio 4 whilst delivering savings”.

However, “after a great deal of consideration”, Williams has now confirmed that Saturday Review will continue to be broadcast on Radio 4.

She said: “The initial decision to close Saturday Review was a difficult one to make, but after a great deal of consideration I will be keeping the show on air at this time. Bearing in mind the challenging financial climate I am glad that, for now, I’m able to have both Front Row and Saturday Review as part of Radio 4’s ambitious and wide-ranging arts content.”

Saturday Review is broadcast on Saturday nights at 7.15pm, while Radio 4’s flagship arts & culture programme Front Row is broadcast on weeknights at 7.15pm.

Solomon calls for changes to special sales deals

The Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon has called on publishers to adhere to a seven-step plan to ensure that special sales or “ultra-high” discounted sales do not damage authors’ overall earnings or the market for full-price sales.

Solomon makes her case in an open letter published on The Bookseller website.

Special sales deals are often struck with non-traditional outlets such as The Book People and The Works, which retail titles at high discounts and offer lower financial returns for authors per book than sales through more traditional channels. The SoA is campaigning for authors to have the right of approval over special sales, for such sales to have separate ISBNs and be recorded on Nielsen Bookscan, and for publishers to monitor more closely how discounted books are distributed.

Solomon said that discounted books sometimes end up competing directly with full priced titles in certain outlets, for example, discounted books selling on Amazon Marketplace are listed alongside the full price copies.

She also said that special sales income for authors is usually based on the money received by the publisher, not the cover price, so authors can earn “far less (sometimes nothing)” from such sales. She added that in some contracts where royalties are based on net receipts, the percentage rate payable to the author reduces when the discount increases. She slammed this practise as “simply illogical” and “unfair to the author”.

Further discussing the potentially detrimental effects of special sales, Solomon said that as special sales are not recorded by Nielsen Bookscan and they don’t appear in official public sales figures, this can do damage to an author’s career as publishers will typically look at previous sales figures when deciding whether to commission another book. She added that seeing books for sale so cheaply can affect full price sales by damaging the perceived value of books and the price that readers expect to pay for them. “If an author is associated too often with bargain books, it could damage their professional brand”, she said.

To combat this, Solomon proposed that publishers give authors a right of approval over ever special sales deal. “Discounting is sometimes a valid strategy and publishers risk losing as much as the author if those deals cannibalise conventional sales. But an author usually only has a handful of books from which to earn, while publishers have many, so an author is more at risk if the strategy does not work. A publisher should always explain the reasons why it wants to do a deal, the likely receipts for the publisher and author, and the likely impact on traditional sales.”

The Society of Authors is also encourging publisher to differentiate special sales editions from the full-price editions, monitor them closely and follow up suspicious sales on Amazon and to include special sales figures in their records of a work’s lifetime sales.