UK Books – The Bookseller’s c.e.o. predictions for 2019


Published January 7, 2019 by The Bookseller news team

Following on from The Bookseller‘s ‘alternative’ predictions for 2019, senior figures from across the book trade share their hopes and expectations for the year ahead.

David Shelley, c.e.o., Hachette UK

Some of these are as much hopes as aspirations, but in 2019 I hope and believe we will see a stable market for physical bookselling in the UK, with Waterstones continuing to power ahead, the supermarkets maintaining share, WH Smith Travel continuing to grow, and a continuing resurgence for the independent sector. Depending on the ramifications of Brexit, I hope we should also see continued increases in sales overseas, particularly in the India, China and the Far East.

In terms of publishing trends, I think that in 2019 we will continue to see the development of the market for luxury editions of key fiction and non-fiction titles, and an increased demand from readers to see their favourite authors in live events such as literary festivals. In the audio market, we should see an increase in the range of retailers actively marketing audio downloads and we should see different models in the marketplace. I also think in the wake of Brexit all sections of society will be craving ‘uplit’ more than ever before.

I think and I hope that in terms of diversity and inclusion the discussions in the industry will take an increasingly intersectional approach, focusing on how interlocking systems of power can impact on those who are most marginalized in society. And I also hope that we will work even more together as an industry to address some of these deep-rooted issues, with maximum transparency and vigour.

Charlie Redmayne, c.e.o., HarperCollins

We have seen a fairly flat TCM in recent years and I see no change in 2019 – Brexit will create some (hopefully short term) challenges dependent on how that falls – and from a macro-economic perspective this is causing great uncertainty. We are also now a long way through an economic cycle – so I suspect there is more market risk than opportunity.

In tough times there is  a demand for books that either explain or alternatively provide that crucial escapism.

I see continued growth in Audio – with big players competing for market share, and smaller start-ups innovating in this space – particularly in the Children’s area.

The retail picture is more of the same – Amazon continuing to grow its physical share, Waterstones doing well as long as its management team stays in place, innovative independents thriving as they deliver a service to a market they understand and the supermarkets becoming an increasingly challenging environment with growing competition for space.

As an industry we have faced up to many social challenges in the past few years and have made strides – in 2019 we will face increasing environmental pressure as our world is polluted with plastics – we will rightly be challenged to tackle our environmental footprint.

Tom Weldon, c.e.o., Penguin Random House UK

Looking ahead to 2019, the book business feels pretty robust from where I am sitting.

Clearly, Brexit looms large although who knows where we will be by the time of publication. As I write, we are planning for a number of different scenarios.

I will be focused on three particular challenges – and opportunities – in 2019.

First, how we ensure our inclusion agenda is fully aligned with our commercial imperative. As we said earlier in the year, for us, publishing more diversely is not just a moral imperative but a commercial opportunity that enables us to discover new talent and to reach different readers.  Only when the two are aligned can we achieve truly meaningful and sustainable change.

Second, how we can shift gears in our direct to consumer marketing to ensure that we are reaching the widest possible audience and engaging them in a two-way dialogue about books and reading.

And third, how we can use the power of our brand to front the causes and issues that we care about – such as creativity and inclusivity – to raise awareness and to help shape the conversation.

Other than that, our focus will be, as it always is, on brilliant publishing and I am excited by how our lists are shaping up for 2019.

Anthony Forbes Watson, managing director, Pan Macmillan

The political s**t storm will continue unabated through 2019 with never less than half the country unhappy and uncertain:  the perfect recipe for another year of  thoughtful, poignantly voiced non-fiction about the things we care about most – the NHS, the legal system, homelessness and inequality, inclusion, the legacy of empire, health and sanity; and the things we find most curious and different – Japan, cats, monks, the moon, kelp etc.

The UK high street will struggle through the winter snow but by year end there will be more independent book shops than at the beginning, the newly enlarged Waterstones will hold its own in a very tough physical retail environment and there may be a move to sanctify James Daunt.

Class and regional diversity initiatives will multiply, and there remains much work to be done. We will continue to work steadily towards our goal of becoming more representative of society.

Rapid audio growth will continue and serve along the way to direct the spotlight at men and how they do and don’t read.

In a domestic market squeezed by rising costs and price resistance, with only so many ways of dividing up the cake, international markets will continue to grow in importance as the risk of being severed from some of them increases.

Perminder Mann, c.e.o., Bonnier Books UK

With Brexit looming and continued political uncertainty, we can expect to see more books that explore the themes of identity, belonging and displacement.

We have recently changed our recruitment process, accepting only anonymous application forms in a bid to tackle unconscious bias and attract more diverse candidates and I think we will continue to see similar initiatives across the industry. I hope that we’ll also see more publishers throw their weight behind diverse voices, especially in children’s publishing following the CLPE study last year that showed that only 1% of main characters in children’s books are BAME.

Sadly, the British high street will continue to decline and I think this will encourage some retailers to focus on the experience they’re offering customers in-store – independents will have the opportunity to shine here. With the increasing consumer shift to e-commerce, discoverability will be the major challenge for us all and will force us to become more creative and experimental in how we get our books into the hands of readers.

Ian Chapman, c.e.o., Simon & Schuster

At Simon & Schuster, we anticipate continued solid performances across the retailers as they all strive to deal with a challenging retail environment. There will be continued support for all the bricks and mortar stores, as we work on creating premium books, a quick and efficient supply chain and bespoke offerings. We also foresee growth in our valued client publishing business and increased focus on a truly global publishing strategy.

There will be ongoing emphasis across the board on the cultural and commercial benefits of diverse publishing by diverse people, including, of course, editorial. Publishing remains resolutely white, middle-class and London-centric and it would be a disservice to everyone to say we have ticked the diversity box.

Marketing analysts have been telling us for a little while that there is a shift in consumer behaviour, with customers looking for experiences rather than product accumulation. I think 2019 will be the year we remind ourselves that in selling someone a book, we are selling them an experience – a profound and enriching experience and one that holds more value than ever in a troubled and divided world. We will likely see this through experimentation in format and delivery of audio, creative live events and a renewed focus on quality publishing serving the broadest possible market.

 Ian Hudson, c.e.o., Dorling Kindersley

China will continue to take centre stage as publishers become even more global in their search for growth.

Diversity and inclusion will stay at the forefront of publishers minds with social inclusion and mobility coming to the fore.

Publishers will need to redouble their efforts on environmental and ethical supply chain issues as these become more and more important to consumers, whilst at the same time increased print and production costs might tempt some to cut corners.

Stephen Page, c.e.o., Faber and Faber

It is a measure of the political crisis that it is still hard to predict the outcome of the Brexit process. If there is no deal, then of course that will be the major factor in the performance of the UK market next year. The manner by which we decide to withdraw from the EU (or don’t) could have repercussions on our publishing processes, our pricing, our costs, our copyright framework, the high street, and our staff. We’ve planned as far as we can, but one of the challenges for next year will be about coping with whatever environment is thrown at us while remaining concentrated on publishing our books excellently. Perhaps being a company celebrating 90 years of life in 2019, all of them as an independent, gives us some solace that big history can be coped with.

So aside from the main market issue, there are a number of trends that seem interesting. Firstly, independent publishing is enjoying a strong period, and that will continue. The appetite for new and distinct voices, ideas and originality is strong, fuelling original and bold publishing, and that suits indies.

Bookshops seem to have enjoyed a good Christmas, but continued decline on the high street will require innovation amongst retailers outside the book world to reassert vibrant shopping environments in parallel to online. Our continued excellent ecology of bookselling requires this and I am hopeful that this will start to happen. Bookshops have blazed a trail here.

The book world will thankfully become more inclusive and increasingly new talent in the industry will come to the fore to meet the changing needs and behaviours of society.

I see no likelihood of developments in e-book, and so audio will continue to be the dynamic universe for digital publishing. More competition will enter the audio market, and publishers will become bolder in the kinds of audio books they produce, and how they use audio as an integrated part of their publishing and marketing.

Overall, if the stupidity of a no deal exit is avoided, 2019 will be an interesting year where the firm platform for writers and readers, for publishing and bookselling, will hold, but will have to weather some chillier winds. Let’s hope they are not too chilly.

Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive, Bloomsbury

It is promising to end 2018 with headlines in The Bookseller saying “Book sales going brilliantly.” It certainly feels that way .

And 2019? We may see if books live up to that old adage of being good performers in times of economic uncertainty as an affordable luxury.

The uncertainty does not feel good though. Politicians of the last decade can be judged to have done a really bad job of running the country. What a mess they have got us into. Perhaps they need a publisher in charge. Charlie Redmayne for Prime Minister?

Of course one of the keys to getting through domestic uncertainty is international sales. 65% of our revenues come from outside the UK and a weaker pound will boost the value of foreign earnings for UK publishers.

It is good to see the emphasis on diversity and inclusion across our industry following both the Gender Pay Gap survey and the new Governance Code implemented in August by the Financial Reporting Council for public companies. Its emphasis on employee voice may be one of the best things to have come out of the May government.

Ken Fund, c.o.o., Quarto

2019 has its fair share of hurdles in store for retail, not least with the UK’s impending separation from Europe, but also the growing challenge of competing with online. Brexit uncertainty will no doubt impact consumer confidence and spending across all sectors, although we hope that books, categorised as low-cost items, continue their trend of resilience during times of hardship.

The rise of online continues to grow at the expense of the high street, as stores become more like showrooms and consumers turn to online transactions for cheaper deals. Publishers are having to review the way they market their products in this digitalised landscape to attract the attention of both retailers and consumers. Customised publishing for the high street is needed to differentiate a product from what is available online, at a competitive price.

Striking and creative packages, innovative concepts and bespoke products will be key to attracting customers. It is no longer enough to rely on traditional channels to market. Branding and high-profile authors continue to dominate the industry, placing greater importance on author-publisher relationships long after books go to print.

Cally Poplak, managing director, Egmont Publishing

Children’s book purchases are concentrated in the hands of a decreasing number of heavy buyers, so finding new readers, new book buyers and new routes to market, home and abroad, becomes increasingly business critical. The challenges to this come from all sides: reduced range and promotional spots at retail; the decline in reading to children at a younger and younger age; the steep increases in paper prices. I am optimistic about the opportunities for businesses and charities to work collaboratively to introduce more parents to the joys of reading to children in print from an early age; for publishers to reach busy shoppers where they are; to grow international markets like China; and to broaden our portfolios to reflect society. It starts with a more diverse workforce, which is why I’m thrilled Egmont’s new recruitment process, which does away with CVs, has resulted in 21% of new recruits coming from a BAME background in just 6 months.

Barry Cunningham, publisher and m.d., Chicken House

Chicken House is predicting continued growth in the Children’s market – with independents stepping up with promotional activity to complement the strength of Waterstones initiatives with their Book of the Month and other buying choices. Strong middle grade is still the heart of our market – but we are predicting break out new YA and a renewed interest in new formats – with diversity as a properly integrated part of our publishing going forward. New ways to enable schools to buy and share books are underway – making headway in the face of difficult funding times. Whilst we still see a very strong part of our business in buying and selling translated books – with China as an especially rapidly growing new home for both our books and new titles originating from authors there.

Jane Winterbotham, deputy m.d. and publishing director, Walker Books UK

Non-fiction is still growing and will continue to feature issues that young people are engaged in – environmental and social challenges, and empowering books for girls will remain strong in fiction and non-fiction. Mental health for young people remains a topic of concern for many parents too, for children of all ages.

There is a continued squeeze on the high street from online retailers, as evidenced by the drop in footfall in the lead up to Christmas, plus the uncertainties of Brexit impacting on consumer confidence could be challenging.

There’s still a long way for publishing to go before it reflects the diverse society we live in, but we look forward to publishing more and more books from BAME authors.

We’re still seeing lots of interest in children’s fiction from film companies, and of course Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series will be huge when released (date tbc). Rather than publishers chasing this market, quality and a book’s success speak for themselves to film and TV producers, who regularly investigate children’s and YA books for potential adaptations.

Our export and co-edition sales continue to see considerable growth and we have identified a number of territories to focus on next year.

Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month is such an influential showcase for new middle-grade that publishers will continue to vie for the spaces, but the very best of YA is still reaching its audience.

We have seen more and more requests for free books going via publishers and authors online, something which Mel at Authorfy has addressed by creating a monthly prize box for schools to win sets of books, and we have always supported requests for occasional copies for fundraising in schools and libraries, but school and library sales remain an important part of the business and supporting author’s incomes. We strongly support school library funding as it’s totally vital.

Stephen Barr, president, SAGE International

Academic publishing will continue to evolve rapidly. On the teaching side, student and faculty demand and the Teaching Excellence Framework will push publishers to innovate and invest beyond the textbook with additions and new products such as video, gaming, courseware, and assessment, while also trying to address the affordability concerns of increasingly indebted students.

Meanwhile on the research side, there is the renewed push to maximize the open dissemination of research findings and to promote evidence to drive decisions.  In this ”post truth” world, we need research funders and publishers to work together to find open access models which also maintain all the strengths of the global scholarly communications ecosystem, such as author choice, robust peer review, easy discoverability, reliable long term archiving, and support for the academic societies that help shape and evolve disciplines, especially in the social sciences.

And then sitting atop all this is the uncertainty of Brexit. Publishing is one of the UK’s major export industries and publishers have to prepare for the worst case of a no deal exit in March, while the UK universities and academics we serve worry about the impact of losing valued European colleagues and being shut out of European research collaborations and funding opportunities. 2019 will be busier than ever.

Daniel Ropers, c.e.o., Springer Nature

Publishers, funders, librarians and researchers have collectively set ourselves ambitious goals for 2019, and achieving these will require a greater level of collaboration than ever before.  This includes translating Plan S implementation guidance into a workable plan for all, but also other ‘big ticket’ challenges facing the community: the need to make access to research information easier than today, allowing for a frictionless experience to the scientific versions of record; the ambition to create publication repositories with easy-to-link-to interfaces; the further development of open data standards; the extension of the metrics of quality and reputation; and last but not least, the combined efforts to develop new processes and methods to stop fraud.  None of these are easy but it doesn’t mean that publishers should give up on change and improvements, or that the community should give up on publishers.  It will take a team effort requiring openness, collaboration, and trust to accelerate progress and we for one, are looking forward to playing our part in it.

Jane Harley, policy and assessment director for UK education at Oxford University Press, and chair of the Publishers Association’s Educational Publishers Council

2018 has been a difficult year for educational publishers here in the UK and these challenges will roll over into 2019 with school funding shortfalls and a drive for efficiencies and value for money. However, opportunities for digital are being driven by the DFE and their new Curriculum Fund has ambition to drive demand for complete curriculum resources. We will see a new Ofsted framework which aims to put a broad, rich curriculum front and centre of what is expected from schools, providing an impetus for them to focus on how resources can support teaching. Publishers will need to continue to focus on their wider services supporting teachers, the evidence-base for their resources, and the time teachers can save with genuinely high quality, curated content.  Overseas markets have become increasingly important for the health of the UK’s educational publishing sector and we must work harder to champion the strength of our high quality materials and maintain the demand post-Brexit.

John Fallon, c.e.o., Pearson

In much the same way medicine is becoming more personalised, education is moving in a direction where precision education, personalised to suit learners’ specific needs, could soon become the standard for students. We are only at the cusp of what is possible, but innovation that enables the creation of a more engaging and intuitive learning experience is poised to have a transformative impact on the world of education. The bigger challenge will be how all parts of society work together to ensure this is applied in a transparent way that brings the widest benefits to the most people.

This is increasingly important as learning becomes even more of a lifelong journey. Whilst a traditional schooling, including a university degree, remains important we see a growing trend toward AI enabled products to assist teachers and improve learner outcomes, online study, micro-learning in bite sized chunks, and reskilling to meet the future world of work.

Lis Tribe, group managing director, Hodder Education

The Education market in the UK is so connected with government policy that this year more than any other it’s incredibly unwise to make any prediction about what may come next.  However, if the current government stays in, then we will see stronger moves towards kite-marking of textbooks, in an effort to focus schools’ procurement on quality materials.  The scheme will falter over digital resources, as the department fails to fully appreciate the breadth and complexity of online materials now used in schools.  Funding will continue to be very tight, and only ‘need to have’ resources will succeed.  If Labour forms a new government their focus will be on teacher recruitment above any other priority, which would be good news for schools, if not publishers.

The International market will continue to thrive as International schools increase in number around the world.  UK publishers will put more resources into their international businesses during 2019, in an effort to prop up the top line in the face of declining UK sales.

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o., Publishers Association

There’s a huge amount of uncertainty as to what next year will bring, but I remain incredibly optimistic about the prospects for publishing.

Publishers are significantly better prepared and less exposed than many other industries to Brexit, and our continuing growth in virtually every other market in the world should provide some comfort.

The developing policy landscape around Open Access will continue to be extremely important for academic publishing in 2019.

The big opportunity next year will be to convince the government that they should axe the reading tax. There is a once in a generation opportunity to ensure that the benefits of not taxing reading and learning continue into the digital age.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive, Society of Authors

2018 delivered the depressing if unsurprising news that author incomes continue to fall. ALCS’ survey found that the median annual income of a professional writer is £10,500, which is well below the minimum wage and down by 42% in real terms since 2005. We should all be concerned about the fact that writers are struggling to make a living from their work. If this trend continues, writing will become the preserve of a privileged few. New voices, working class voices and diverse voices will be discouraged from pursuing writing as a career, and the opportunity to grow our readership base will be lost.

At the Society of Authors we will continue to work to improve this situation: whether through campaigning against benefit cuts for the lowest paid in the form of Universal Credit, advising authors on their contract terms with publishers or lobbying MEPs to support improvements to copyright law. Thanks to the generosity of authors, the SoA will continue to administer and distribute around half a million pounds in prize money and grants to help authors buy time to write and support those in need. We will work closely with industry partners and will also continue to run events to educate and entertain. We are moving to a new office in Bloomsbury in March – we look forward to providing better facilities for members and welcoming industry colleagues to our new premises.

Of course the spectre of Brexit looms over everything. We have been raising our concerns over the key Brexit issues affecting writers, such as copyright, free movement and EU funding and will continue to do so next year.

The publishing industry grew by 5%, and exports by 8% this year. It’s clear that the public’s appetite for reading is not waning: as long as more effort is made to pay writers their fair share, we’ve no doubt that the industry will continue to thrive.

Lizzy Kremer, president, Association of Authors’ Agents

In 2019 we will see a continuation of this era of winner-takes-all mega-selling books: it will be interesting to see which book will be next. One of the most fun things about publishing is that the biggest books and trends are sometimes the ones no one predicts.  My hope is that the growing confidence and success of some independent publishers and some sectors of our high street and independent bookselling trade will give oxygen to writers formerly on the margins, truly original ideas and adventurous thinkers. There is nothing I would love to see more than an out-of-the-blue, market-redefining hit.

Some publishers have enjoyed notable profits from generating their own fiction and non-fiction ideas in-house over the past couple of years. (Publishers call this ‘IP’ generation: a trending name I’d love to see die in 2019, until editors start writing the resulting books themselves.) I think we can expect corporate publishers to bring ever more attention to this as an area of growth. As agents we will work very hard in response: to protect our authors’ access to a fair share of every book’s profits, and to protect the unimpeachable status of the author as the essential, irreplaceable, inimicable source of the very best and most valuable assets with which we can work.

Meryl Halls, chief executive, Booksellers Association

We are cautiously optimistic as we head into 2019 on the back of a strong 2018 Christmas for high street bookshops. We predict that calls on the government for high street regeneration will only grow in the coming year, with booksellers set to move to the forefront of collaborations with other retailers as they continue to cement their position as retail leaders in the UK. Meanwhile the book industry more broadly will continue to pioneer and establish progressive agenda issues, with a focus on environmentally responsible bookselling and publishing, social and cultural responsibility, inclusivity and diversity.

Brexit is of course a pressing concern to our members: in our latest survey, booksellers highlighted an economic downturn and its impact on consumer spending power and price inflation on all goods as their key concerns around Brexit. As such it is vital that the book supply chain is prepared in the event of a no deal Brexit, so that booksellers can continue to thrive and act as leaders on the high street.

James Daunt, c.e.o., Waterstones

The state of the economy is of prime importance. We always hope for a good year and most retailers are fairly pessimistic both by nature but probably because right now only a screaming lunatic would be positive. If we have anything that resembles a hard Brexit it will be catastrophic. If we have a soft Brexit it will be terrible. I’m one of those retailers that thinks everything about the way we are heading is bad for the economy. If we get back to a sense of stability and we get back to growth and more spending then we will benefit from that.

The government need to rethink business rates completely. It’s by no means straight forward and obvious as to how you do that and in particular when the government needs the seven billion or whatever it gets from rates, so it’s not something that can just be magicked away. We’re going to see a lot of retail casualties at the beginning of the year after Christmas and a lot of jobs going and that’s certainly very bad.

There are some big books announced for 2019 already – Margaret Atwood, Le Carre. There are some enormous books that may appear: will we or will we not see Hilary Mantel? I’ve been doing this game long enough to be used to its gentle ebbs and flows. We had a slightly weaker 2017 than we would have ideally liked and a nice strong 2018. 2019 certainly looks like it’s got some big books in there.

David Prescott, c.e.o., Blackwell’s

I know there is a lot of nervousness around the trade at the moment, whether it’s around Brexit or the economy, but history shows us in economic downturn the book is actually surprisingly resilient and always has been. In terms of demand from customers that may well continue despite everything that is going on.

My wider watchword around the industry is publishers need to continue to support booksellers. Our biggest concern would be people looking at external factors to the book trade and withdrawing their support to become very insular. That would be a challenge to potentially ourselves and the rest of the indies. We would hope to continue to work with our publishing partners and we would hope they would continue to support us.

The business rates system is broken and has been broken for a long time. The government know that and they know between shops and online there are big inconsistencies to put it mildly. It’s taken far too long and too many people have gone to the wall. I would be very surprised if there was a fundamental overhaul of business rates in the next 12 months.

Brigitte Ricou-Bellan, director, books, Amazon UK

We’ve seen growth in non-fiction and fiction, including compelling narratives by women, such as Michelle Obama’s Becoming and the Man Booker Prize winner Milkman by Anna Burns – a trend that we expect will continue into 2019.

We believe children’s will continue to be a growth area, with viral successes like this year’s The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley driving wider consumer interest in books.

We’re also excited for the growth of our Kindle Unlimited and Prime Reading programmes.

Rob Moss, m.d., Wordery

Brexit is a concern. It’s going to affect the buying of books and the exporting and the warehouse in Norwich – it’s going to affect the source of labour. We think it will adversely affect online much more than it would a bricks and mortar shop. We can plan when we understand but at the moment we don’t know what to plan for. There will be benefits –  the weakening of the pound will drive exports – but we are concerned about getting books through customs.

We’ve seen a good performance outside of the EU – Australia and the Americas are big markets for us. We’ve gone back to basics – a good inventory, good supply chain, robust operations and not being overly reliant on one channel or route to market. In publishing you have to develop a thick skin and that creates a good lean culture.
For next year’s trends – health and lifestyle is really strong and graphic novels and education.

Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP and chair of Book Industry Communication (BIC)

Looking back over 2018, one of the most striking features for me is how much of what happened last year – good and not so good – revolved around information and information skills. From the polarised Brexit debate to the challenges of fake news and misinformation, 2018 was arguably the year most people realised that the real revolution happening all around us is more to do with information – facts, statistics, data and evidence – and how we use them than it is about technology.

Of course, books and reading have always been fundamental to this process. In 2019 our hope is that all of the players across the book trade will come together to focus on two shared agendas – promoting readership and ensuring the supply of high-quality diverse books (diverse in both authorship and representation). I’m excited that CILIP will be playing our part in this, both through the new Carnegie Greenaway Awards and a new magazine we are launching for the book trade focusing on diversity.

It has been great to see the book trade thriving during the past year, and particularly the continued flourishing of fiction for children and Young Adults. In 2019, I hope that we continue to see the encouraging signs of a new audience emerging for our public libraries – 15-24 year-olds who are finding their way to libraries as places of learning, respite and digital access. I am also hopeful that Councils across the country will realise what a jewel they have in their library services and start to reinvest to secure a better future for them.

All-in-all, I am really optimistic about the year ahead. Librarians are a creative and resilient bunch and I am looking forward to seeing how our sector makes the most of the opportunities 2019 has to offer!

Tim Coates, former managing director of Waterstones, author, and consultant on library matters to academic and public libraries in the US

The public library service in England is now in a really serious crisis. Last year the number of book loans fell by 10  million – that makes 20 years of consistent decline. From the great heights the service achieved in the 1980s, it has dwindled to a sad and moribund state. It can hardly last another decade unless something reverses the fall. It seems that no one knows what to do and no one will take responsibility.

The library profession repeat that libraries are about more than books. But 80% of what libraries do is about books. If they don’t deal in and lend books – which is not an easy thing to do well – they aren’t worth having.

That recitation about the diversity of library services has caused local councillors and the Arts council to believe that book funds don’t matter. Nothing could be more wrong.

The situation could be reversed – but it won’t be so long as the people in charge continue to deny reality and proclaim how wonderful the service is. It isn’t. The safest prediction in the book trade is that the next set of library figures will show even more horrendous decline.