Bookseller Briefing 28/19 – week ending 12 July

Hodder tight-lipped as Boris Johnson hints at further delay for Shakespeare biography

Hodder & Stoughton has remained tight-lipped after Boris Johnson suggested his long-awaited book on Shakespeare could be delayed yet again.

The Tory leadership hopeful’s Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius was originally scheduled for release in October 2016 to mark 400 years since the bard’s death. But, in July that year, Hodder announced it would not be published for the foreseeable future.

This April, it was revealed the biography was now slated for April 2020.

However, at a hustings on 5th July, Johnson hinted it could be delayed again as he claimed he is making “sacrifices” in his bid to become Prime Minister. The comments came when Johnson, who is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph in addition to being an MP, was asked for an example of setting aside self-interest for the good of the country.

According to the Mirror, he replied: “It’s a good question – and it’s embarrassing but true, it is obviously possible to make more money by not being a full time politician. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it but you know you have to make sacrifices sometimes and that is the right thing to do.

“There’s no doubt at all that being a full time politician means I won’t be able, for instance, to rapidly complete a book on Shakespeare that I have in preparation.”

He went on: “It means that unjustly neglected author will no longer get the treatment he deserves as fast as it might otherwise happen. That will grieve me because… I love writing about him.”

Reports of Johnson’s advance for the book have ranged from £90,000 to £500,000. Hodder & Stoughton declined to comment on Johnson’s remarks.

The news comes as the Tory Party’s 160,000 members vote to choose the winner of the leadership contest in the coming weeks, with a series of hustings across the nation planned, which will see Jeremy Hunt and Johnson take part in a head-to-head debate in front of Tory activists. Votes will be counted on Monday 22nd July.

English library borrowing plummets while US remains stable

New library borrowing figures from the US show how far England is lagging behind other countries because of its facilities’ falling book stocks, according to new analysis from library campaigner Tim Coates.

Using statistics from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, ex-Waterstones boss Tim Coates produced a chart showing English book loans have plummeted year-on-year since 2009/10 while American numbers remain relatively stable.

According to the statistics, book loans in the USA stood at 7.4 per person in 2006/7, peaked at 8.3 in 2009/10 and were 7.1 in 2016/17.

During the same span of time, Coates’ analysis of CIPFA data showed English book loans fell from 5.7 to 3.1 per person, a 46% decrease. Coates said this was well down on 8.6 in 1996/7, while England’s most recent figure available for 2017/18 was just 2.8.

Over a period from 2007/8, loans in Australia have also fallen, but far less sharply, from 8.2 per person to 6.6, a 20% drop, according to National and State Libraries of Australia data analysed by Coates.

He said the figures lend weight to his argument that library use in England is dwindling because there has been a move from making their sole focus books – something he claims has not happened elsewhere.

Coates said: “25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK, which means the leaders of the profession, the local and national politicians and government officers responsible for the service, consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council.

“Across the UK the number has fallen from 90m to less than 60m and what remains is of low quality. They did it because they believed, and continue to believe, that libraries are more than about books’ and they should concentrate substantial resources to all kinds of other activities and purposes. In Australia and the US, while there was similar desire to widen the scope of the library service, they have not reduced the book collections at all.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport claimed some libraries had recently seen an increase in borrowing, although did not directly address Coates’ point about a decrease in book stock.

A spokesman told The Bookseller: “The way people use libraries is changing and libraries need to adapt and evolve as new technologies become available, in the same way that other public services do. We are encouraged that around a quarter of the country’s libraries are seeing a boost in visits or borrowing. Our libraries continue to play an important role in helping people and communities access computers, information and advice to improve their life chances and achieve their full potential.”

Coates published his own survey last month on library use in the UK and US, claiming again that things like the often-blamed Government austerity programme were not the root cause of British library woes.

He said: “Until the book collections are restored, that decline will continue. It is terminal. Giving the sector money would be wasteful if they do not acknowledge fully the cause of the problem- and spend anything they are given on printed books.”

Analysis by Coates of figures released late last year by CIPFA showed spending on books in public libraries had fallen by 20% in the 12 months to the end of March 2018. That study showed book lending to adults from English libraries fell by 6.7% in the previous year, a total drop of 31.6% across the last five years. In England, 105 libraries closed – impacting on loans – with 14 more handed to volunteers.

However, Coates’ views on the reason for falling library use are not backed by everyone. Nick Poole, c.e.o. of library and information association CILIP, told The Bookseller last month cuts in funding were the main reason for the problems.

He said: “There are essentially five ingredients which make up a successful library—we need bright, attractive spaces, professional staff, good-quality book-stock, good IT and a diverse programme of activities to help keep users interested. There is no doubt that better books in libraries equates to more use. The problem is that after 10 years of public sector austerity and local government cuts, we are running the service on a shoestring—which means we can’t deliver the great libraries and high-quality stock that people want everywhere across the UK.”

Indie publisher and playwright launch The Literary Map Company

Children’s publisher Tessa Strickland and playwright and education specialist Rosamund Connelly have joined forces to launch The Literary Map Company.

The new company produces highly detailed hand drawn maps to explore certain cities in the UK based around the literary works of a famous author.

The first two maps to be published are ‘A Walk Along the Thames with Charles Dickens’, published in August, and ‘A Walk through the City’ with Charles Dickens published September. These will be followed in March and June next year by ‘A Walk with Charles Dickens through the Law Courts’ and ‘A Walk with Jane Austen around Bath’.

Stock is already available for the first map which has been taken by Gardners, Bertrams, Stanfords and some venues on the walk. The text is written by Connelly, who runs London through Literature tours, and the maps are illustrated by Helen Cann, illustrator and cartographer based in Brighton.

Connelly, who is an adult education teacher and English specialist as well as a playwright, told The Bookseller about the inspiration behind the company. “Years ago, I created and led a Dickens tour of London and Kent that included a trip down the Thames. I drew a small map to illustrate the literary landmarks  as I wouldn’t have been able to point them out to the whole group as we went down the river,” she said. “More recently, I was asked to create a Dickens day tour in London. I decided to resurrect my map.”

Responses to the map were so positive that she decided to suggest a plan to her schoolfriend, Strickland, who is founder and editor-in-chief of independent children’s publisher Barefoot Books.

Strickland said: “The publisher in me finds it hard to resist turning interesting ideas into beautiful and practical objects. I knew from my time with Ros at school and university that I could trust her to do a first-rate job with Dickens.”

Connelly revealed that she did extensive research for the walks themselves. “We found it could mostly follow the routes of the Thames path, but we also took step-free access into consideration. As we wanted the map to reflect the essence of Dickens’ novels, as well as annotating the locations, I chose relevant extracts and original illustrations to accompany them.”

Strickland said: “I also think the best way to get to know a place is by walking it. When I tested the concept by walking the Thames with a couple of friends, map proof in hand, I was delighted by how much was added to the experience of walking by being able to stop, consult the map, look, imagine the city, the characters and scenes from the novels, and read the extracts aloud.

“It’s also a great pleasure to create something locally: everyone involved in this map is within a day’s journey of London and the printer, Avenue Litho, is based in London.”

The company is based remotely, between the founders’ homes in Bath and Cambridge as well as sessions in London.

Connelly and Strickland added they are open to suggestions and variations to the comapny’s publishing plans. “With the first map only just off press and the second, on Charles Dickens in the City (based on A Christmas Carol) due to come out in September, we are testing the waters at this stage,” Connelly said. “However, we’ve already received requests for maps on walks with Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, William Blake and (in a sideways leap from authors to characters) Sherlock Holmes, to name a few. And of course we welcome requests and suggestions from booksellers.”

Bertrams outlines changes to ordering and returns processes

Wholesaler Bertrams is introducing a raft of changes to its ordering, supply and returns processes as it seeks to modernise its warehouse following its acquisition by the private equity firm Aurelius for £6m in February 2018. But the moves have alarmed some customers and suppliers, with reports of the level of returns increasing, and one distributor reporting delayed payments.

Under new c.e.o. Raj Patel, the wholesaler has sought to improve its warehousing, customer ordering and despatch process, with the introduction of a new Purchase To Pay (P2P) project. The previous process relied on manual intervention, while the P2P process uses technology and a documented standardised process. Bertrams says it has worked with key publishers and suppliers to minimise disruption, and the new system brings it into line with other sectors.

Phil O’Donnell, chief operations officer, told The Bookseller that the operations team undertook a “cross-functional ‘lessons learnt’ exercise” following a successful Christmas trading period in 2018. As a result, a P2P project has been launched, triggering some changes in process. O’Donnell said: “The changes have been gradually introduced over the last few months by working with key publishers and suppliers to ensure an efficient flow of books into the warehouse and prompt despatch, thereby reducing the number of discrepancies between book suppliers and our customers.”

Detailing the changes, O’Donnell said books ordered are now part of an “electronic acceptance or cancellation process”. As part of the new process books must have the correct paperwork at point of delivery and will be triple-checked in an “auto-matching process”. He added: “Books received into the warehouse must have the correct paperwork in the consignment to prevent rejection at point of delivery. Books rejected due to no paperwork, or substituted titles delivered, or books sent in error, will be notified to the supplier for immediate correction. Books received form part of a three-way auto-matching process against invoice, stock count and purchase order.

“These changes are part and parcel of our warehouse modernisation programme so that we become a best-in-class operator using technological advancement while enhancing customer and supplier experience, once the management of change is completed. The P2P project is due to be finished by September 2019.”

The changes come after a number of indie publishers reported the wholesaler returning high levels of stock. One publisher told The Bookseller: “We’ve experienced an unprecedented and extremely worrying number of returns from Bertrams over the past few months, almost a stock dump. For the first time in our history, returns have eclipsed sales, creating a very difficult (untenable) situation. We’ve been given no explanation for these high returns, but it’s affecting our business dramatically and I know we’re not alone.” There has been speculation of over-buying from a number of retailers in the run-up to a possible no-deal Brexit, prompting unseasonally high returns once the crisis passed.

A senior spokesperson at Bertram Group denied that there was anything unusual in the levels of returns: “We are not returning unprecedented levels of product. Nothing is out of the ordinary and we consider the return levels to be on a par with the industry. We are creating vital warehouse space in preparation for academic and peak trading in the second half of the year.”

Changes have been made to the amount of stock indie booksellers can return, however The Bookseller understands exceptions may be made in some circumstances.

Ian Hunt, m.d. for retail and education, said: “We have not reduced credit terms or discount levels for indies. But we reduced our minimum order value (for free delivery) in recognition of the tougher summer trading period for the high street. However, we have changed our policy on the amount of stock independent book shops can return.”

One major UK distributor said they had put their Bertrams wholesale account on stop due to non-payment of invoices since May. The Bookseller understands the invoices will be settled by the end of July. Bertrams denied the allegation of non-payment, but did admit there have been some payment delays.

A senior spokesperson at Bertram Group said: “We continue to pay all invoices in full for stock we have ordered. We acknowledge there’ve been some payment delays earlier this year due to slower than anticipated customer cash collections in the UK and USA, but this has now been largely resolved. We are also developing new systems to aid a more efficient and faster process for invoice payments. Inefficiencies have occurred due to mistakes between both parties. We are working with publishers to identify best practice methods and processes to speed-up the entire invoicing and payment process.”