Bookseller Briefing 36/18 – week ending 7 September

The Bookseller

South African publishers investigated for alleged price-fixing

The Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) and its 91 members are under investigation by the country’s competition authority over alleged price-fixing on books.

PASA, which is the largest publishing industry body in South Africa, comprises publishers including the South African branches of international publishers Oxford University Press, Taylor & Francis, Macmillan, Pan Macmillan, Pearson and Penguin Random House, as well as book importers, sellers of books, government departments and education providers.

South Africa’s Competition Commission issued a statement last week saying its commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele had initiated an investigation (complaint), having received information indicating the association and its members “may have been involved in fixing prices of books in contravention of the Competition Act”. This entailed allegedly agreeing to fix prices and trading conditions for the sale of educational books and support materials – from pre-school through to student textbooks – as well as for trade books and e-books.

The price-fixing arrangement “appears to be historic in the industry dating back as early as [the] 1980s”, the Commission said.

Bonakele commented: “Given how widespread the practise is and the importance of the products, we expect the participants to cooperate with the investigation by, by among other things, immediately bringing their cartel activities to a stop and approaching the Competition Commission.”

PASA’s executive director, Mpuka Radinku, responded by issuing a short statement saying the body had “noted a media statement issued by the Competition Commission on 29 August 2018 indicating that PASA and its members will be investigated for ‘fixing prices of books’”.

“PASA is aware of the investigation and has been co-operating with the Commission. PASA further notes that its Constitution and Code of conduct do not allow the Association and its members to get involved or participate in anti-competitive practices,” it finished.

None of the member publishers contacted by The Bookseller have yet responded to a request for comment.

Faber to celebrate 90 years with special publishing

Faber is launching a special publishing programme to mark its 90th anniversary in 2019 as a “publisher of distinctive literature”, featuring short stories, poetry and new branding.

The programme will celebrate the company’s history, authors and design heritage, beginning in January with Faber Stories, a landmark series of individual volumes in paperback livery, showcasing short story writers working in a range of genres and styles. Then in February, Faber Social will offer The Greatest Hits, the reissue of six “momentous” music publications. In September, the poetry list will be celebrated decade by decade, with ten collections of Faber poetry.

May will see the publication of Dear Mr Faber: The Untold Story of a Great Publishing House. This story is told through the words of the staff and authors who lived it – in letters, memoirs and diary entries that capture the excitement, hopes, fears and triumphs of 90 years of Faber.

Faber Children’s will usher in its 90th programme with Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs in September, a canine rejoinder to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019. Faber’s love of cats is also commemorated by new editions of the Millions of Cats and one of T. S. Eliot’s most popular cat poems, “Cat Morgan”. Two cats even grace the new Faber Children’s colophon, specially designed for the year by Júlia Sardà.

The children’s list also features new editions of Ted Hughes’s collections of animal and nature poems.

Faber’s 90th branding and jacket design has been conceived and created by creative director, Donna Payne, and the Faber design team. Inspiration was taken from Faber’s archive, utilising fonts from the Wolpe Collection, revived by Toshi Omagari of Monotype Studio (Berthold Wolpe was Faber’s illustrious Art Director from 1941–1975). Promotional materials were designed by former Faber designer, Luke Bird.

Chief executive Stephen Page said: “It is exciting to be entering our ninetieth year on the back of such strong recent publishing success, and the list we will present in 2019 is among the richest in the company’s long history.

“Alongside the thrilling list of writers and new books, we will be celebrating Faber’s past and archive with some standout publishing from our backlist, focusing on short stories, poetry, Faber Social’s music publishing, children’s books, and our own history. It will also be an opportunity for us to champion literature and writers, and their vital place in our society and the world, which feels particularly necessary in these troubling times.”

First Irish Book Week planned for the end of October

Bookselling Ireland and Publishing Ireland are launching Irish Book Week, a new nationwide celebration of Irish books and bookshops.

The inaugural Irish Book Week takes place from 27th October to 3rd November and will see events taking place throughout the country, celebrating Irish books and the central role bookshops play in Irish society and culture.

The week aims to encourage people to visit their local bookshop, and to highlight the “important role bookshops play in the fabric of Irish life – fostering cultural creativity, community spirit and generating economic activity”.

Speaking about the week, chair of Bookselling Ireland John Keane said: “Ireland has such a rich literary heritage and we are delighted to place that centre stage with Irish Book Week. A visit to your local bookshop always brings something different, and we are encouraging people to check in and see what is going on in their local community.”

Ivan O’Brien, president of Publishing Ireland, added: “Irish people love to read and talk about books, and share them with family and friends. Irish Book Week reinforces the message that books and bookshops are the best place to find a story that will engross, educate and entertain.”

Booklaunch magazine to offer paid-for book extracts

A new, free magazine titled Booklaunch will be launched later this month, aiming to recreate the experience of browsing a bookshop in print. The publication will feature 1,500-word extracts from recently published and forthcoming titles, spanning a range of genres, with publishers paying a fee for the extracts’ inclusion.

The first issue, out mid-September, is promised to have a print run of 35,000, as well as being available online.Distribution channels include the London Review of Books, where it will be distributed as an insert, and bookshops can stock issues of the magazine on request. The ambition is to expand the circulation of the magazine to 100,000 and to run at least quarterly, according to founder Stephen Games, previously a BBC documentary maker and one-time arts correspondent of the Independent. 

Games told The Bookseller: “Reviewers are absolutely wonderful but many times I’ve read a review and bought the book and it’s not at all what I’m expecting. When you’re reading a review, you’re reading the reviewer: they can be entertaining and thought-provoking, but it’s them. My question was, ‘How do we allow the writer of the book to speak directly to the audience?’ Effectively what we’re doing is replicating the experience of browsing the bookshop. You pick the book off the shelf, you flick through a few pages, and you think, ‘I like that, I’ll buy it’.”

Despite operating under a pay-to-play model, Games said there is a high bar and successful submissions would have to be “good value”, indicating an inclination towards books at the literary, intellectual or “up-market” end of the market. There will be one specially “featured title” and “editor’s choice” per issue. A QR code on the page will link through to purchase of the book, with orders then processed by Blackwell’s (from whom the magazine will take a referral fee).

In the end papers of the magazine, Booklaunch is planned to act as a “marriage broker” for helping up-and-coming authors to find literary agents and publishers, showcasing extracts from a small number of unpublished manuscripts (or else from books, without a UK deal, that have done well in foreign markets), again for a fee.

For further details, publishers and authors can review the Booklaunch website – www.booklaunch.london – and make enquiries on editor@booklaunch.london.