Week 46/20 – week ending 13 November

Indie bookshops respond to second lockdown

Following the announcement of a second lockdown, independent bookshops had to close their physical doors again from Thursday 5 November. Thankfully, many are prepared for it, as a result of their experiences earlier in the year – and a number are also using Bookshop.org to boost sales. We talked to a number of independent bookshops about how they plan to get through lockdown 2.

Chepstow Books in Wales – where the “firebreak lockdown” ended yesterday, 9 November – was among the early group of stores to sign up to Bookshop.org. Owner Matt Taylor is “really excited about the potential for this, especially as an outlet for authors and publishers to link to in social media and advertising”, adding that Bookshop.org had been an important part of the store’s lockdown sales. The store also has its own website, and had been delivering and sending books out to customers, along with holding them until the store reopened (as it did yesterday). Taylor adds that support from big names has helped: tweets from Lucy Worsley lifted sales, along with signed copies from Stephen Fry, Arsene Wenger and Richard Osman, who provided bookplates.

Natasha Radford, owner of Chicken and Frog in Brentford, is feeling “optimistic” about the second lockdown. The store’s experiences with Bookshop.org have been positive so far, with sales from Hive customers and new customers, but she feels that “we need to be cautious in our marketing of it, as converting Amazon customers is the ultimate goal. We don’t want existing shop customers to leave the physical shop.” She adds that the site has encouraged a number of customers to buy directly from the store. During second lockdown, the shop’s strategy is to use Bookshop.org alongside click and collect orders, which may be made via phone or email. The store’s tuition centre remains open, and Radford observes that sales have been high: “Lots of people are buying for Christmas, so a lot of beautiful hardbacks and Christmas titles have been sold, as well as books to read over the school holidays.”

Sarah Dennis of Mostly Books in Abingdon describes Bookshop.org as “a great step forward for the industry, for consumers, publishers and authors to have a central site that they can use which directly benefits bookshops”. She intends to use Bookshop.org as a “support to the business” and to Mostly Books’ existing web presence and online store. Through lockdown, Mostly Books is staffed during normal working hours and taking orders through phone, email and social media, with the website stock being updated throughout. Local delivery within a five-mile radius is free, and the store is also operating a new click and collect service. Dennis adds that following the lockdown announcement, the store was “extremely busy” as people stocked up for Christmas and bought in bulk. Online orders have increased too, and signed copies and “gifty hardbacks” are proving to be particularly popular.

Eleanor Lowenthal, owner of Pages of Hackney, says that although the store has joined Bookshop.org, it is not promoting it to customers: “As we have our own website, it doesn’t really benefit us in the same way it does bookshops which aren’t already trading online, and we’d obviously rather have our own customers buy directly from us.” Although glad that Bookshop.org may generate new sales and take some custom away from Amazon, she is wary that it might take direct sales away from bookshops. The store is open for collection from the door and delivery through lockdown, and customers can order through the website or email with enquiries. It is also running online events, featuring names such as 4 Brown Girls Who Write and Eileen Myles. After lockdown was announced, in-store sales were strong, with people buying large piles of books. Recent popular titles have included Intimations by Zadie Smith, Strangers by Rebecca Tamas, Ghosts by Dolly Alderton and Indelicacy by Amina Cain.

The London Review Bookshop has joined Bookshop.org, and manager Natalia de la Ossa says she hopes the platform will help support indie bookshops at “such a critical time”. Staff at the LRB bookshop will continue to work Monday-Saturday, with shorter hours, to fulfil phone, email and click and collect orders, and can also gift wrap and post books when needed. De la Ossa says that after lockdown was announced, sales increased hugely. The store is offering a number of ways to help people order books, such as selected staff picks, gift boxes, and suggestions for book packs.

Vanessa Lewis of the Book Nook in Hove describes having to close the store at this time of year as “devastating”, but adds: “We feel more prepared this time and can only hope our customers rally like they did before.” Although the store has not yet signed up to Bookshop.org, Lewis plans to do so soon, adding that despite loving the concept, Book Nook’s priority is currently to attract customers to its own website. The store offers free delivery in Brighton and Hove, click and collect and advice over the phone, along with regular events on Facebook Live, including an exclusive event on Zoom with Alex T Smith. Before lockdown, the store was so busy that it “felt like Christmas” as customers stocked up. Lewis adds: “We are also incredibly lucky to have the support of so many authors and illustrators in the area so we have stocked up on exclusive signed editions. We are constantly thinking of ways to adapt and are going to use this lockdown period to prepare our new gallery space for children’s book illustrators, which is very exciting!”

Heather Thomas officially took over Westwood Books in Sedbergh alongside her husband Paul on 1 June, so this is their first experience of lockdown as owners of the business. The store has worked on its social media presence to get “out there”, and is planning to join Bookshop.org; Thomas says: “I think it’s great for those who haven’t got their own web platform set up, but for those who do it could water down their direct sales.” The store rushed to get its website up in preparation for lockdown, and is able to take orders through phone and email to provide a click and collect service. Thomas adds: “Since the lockdown was announced we were slightly quieter, but then on Wednesday we had a last minute rush! People were buying either huge piles of lockdown reading for themselves or grabbing Christmas presents whilst they could.”

Jessica Paul, co-owner of Max Minerva’s in Bristol, says it was a “no-brainer” to join Bookshop.org, explaining: “It’s a way for us to access those customers that would normally click on a publisher’s link to Amazon. This diverts some of that traffic, and that’s really important. It also allows our existing customers a chance to support us doing what they’ve always done – shop online. Our website mirrors our own stock, but the idea that I can direct them to a wider range of titles and not have to do anything else – it’s very appealing.” The store will be open for click and collect along with its online store, and is also offering signed bookplates from authors who are big supporters of the shop. Before lockdown, the store was “very healthy” as everyone was rushing to buy their books before doors closed, with popular titles including Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Again, Francine Toon’s Pine, Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie, and Raynor Winn’s The Wild Silence.

Through the Welsh lockdown, Dr Niki Brewer of the Gwisgo Bookworm spent time posting and delivering books locally – click and collect wasn’t allowed. The store has joined Bookshop.org, looking at it as “an extra string to our bow” alongside its online store. Brewer adds: “It does appear to be the most positive thing to have happened for a long time to help bookshops and such good timing right now. I think one of the most important aspects of it is if it persuades publishers and authors to move away from promoting their books on Amazon. Every bookseller sheds a tear of frustration each time this happens on social media, especially when the big publishers do it!” She said that people have been shopping early for Christmas, and that she has sent out copies of the BA Christmas catalogue to local addresses so they could put their orders in. The store has also offered to wrap and post books directly to people whose families don’t live locally. Brewer says: “Our thoughts are with all the bookshops in England that have had to close at the worst possible time.”

Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves in Nottingham “welcomed” Bookshop.org and has signed up to it, although the store’s main priority remains to focus on its own online store. Bradshaw says: “We think it will be best for shops without their own transactional websites, but we have also started encouraging local writers to affiliate to it to get commission and to help build it as an alternative link to Amazon.” He says that Five Leaves’ online had been developing well, and is offering free UK postage to anyone shielding, housebound, low paid, or who needs financial support. The store’s “mystery boxes” have grown in popularity again, and although Five Leaves offers click and collect, he says: “We don’t expect much of that as we are a city centre bookshop – it’s much more useful for small town or village bookshops where people can walk rather than make special journeys (which are discouraged anyway by the current regulations).” The store has offered online events including interviews with local writers, book launches, its Night School, and a talk by Old Mistresses author Griselda Pollock. Popular titles include Feminism, Interrupted by Lola Olufemi, Time and Tide, edited by Catherine Clay and published by the store itself, Black and British by David Olusoga, and Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given. Bradshaw says that the store is looking forward to a good Christmas: “We had/have the right books for our range of customers this year – it’s not every year we can say that with certainty.”

Sara Bowers of Steyning Bookshop says that the store was very busy before lockdown started: it was open until 9pm from Monday to Wednesday, and received visits from authors including Elly Griffiths, Jane Hissey and Nick Sharratt to do pre-lockdown signings. The store also held an online event with Maggie O’Farrell, and fulfilled a number of orders for signed and dedicated copies of Julia Donaldson’s new book Counting Creatures. The store is working with Gardners to get its stock onto its site, and is signing up to Bookshop.org following messages from customers asking why is wasn’t “on the map” yet – but it prefers to get direct orders by phone, email, or its own site.

Emergency Poet, run by poet and writer Deborah Alma, aims to get poetry to people, initially through her 1970s ambulance, in which “patients” were prescribed poems, verses or lyrics after a “free private poetic health consultation”. Alma says: “We’re so new, just over a year old and we set out to be a mini-poetry arts centre of sorts, with bibliotherapy, workshops, retreats, training and regular poetry readings, with the bookshop one part of the whole, plus a small cafe. This Covid year has meant that we have cut everything back and just operate as an indie bookshop.” She has enjoyed running the bookshop and setting up lists on Bookshop.org after a very busy first year, saying: “It’s enabled me to get to grips with what I’m doing and trying to understand the mysteries of Batch and Batchline! Any money we’ve made has been ploughed back into developing a stock holding, and so things feel very much on hold for us. Bookshop.org feels like a ray of hope for us booksellers!”

Lockdown is word of the year, Collins tells locked-down public

Collins has named “lockdown” as its word of the year. Lockdown heads a list with a strong Covid flavour: other prominent words include “coronavirus” itself, “social distancing”, “self-isolate”, “furlough”, and “key worker”.

Collins’ list, compiled by its lexicographers from monitoring the Collins Corpus of 13 billion words, also reflects the Black Lives Matter movement (“BLM”), social media (“TikToker”, “mukbang”), and royal events (“Megxit”).

Helen Newstead, language content consultant at Collins, said: “We have chosen ‘lockdown’ as our word of the year because it encapsulates the shared experience of billions of people who have had to restrict their daily lives in order to contain the virus. Lockdown has affected the way we work, study, shop, and socialise. With many countries entering a second lockdown, it is not a word of the year to celebrate but it is, perhaps, one that sums up the year for most of the world.”

BA lobbies for essential retailer status

The Booksellers Association (BA) has written to key government ministers and selected members of the House of Lords calling on the government to classify bookshops as essential retailers. The association wants bookshops to be able to open under current lockdown restrictions in England, and to be exempt from closure during any future lockdowns.

Bookshops have closed in other locked down countries, but not in Belgium, where they have been granted essential status (Inquirer.net story).

Meryl Halls (right), Booksellers Association MD, makes the case in the letter that bookshops provide an essential contribution to society, from the proven links between reading and improved mental wellbeing, to providing educational resources to children and adults, to contributing to local economies. She also points out that the Christmas trading period can make or break the sustainability of a local bookshop. The granting of essential status to garden centres, she argues, offers a precedent. Supermarkets may continue to sell books while bookshops are closed, adding to the unfairness of the restriction. (In France, supermarkets are forbidden from selling books and other “non-essential” items.)

In a statement, Halls said: “On behalf of our members, we urge the government to categorise bookshops as essential retailers. Bookshops play a unique part in the culture of our country and books have a crucial role to play in the health and well-being of our population. Bookshops have been designated as essential in other countries, and the ‘essential’ categorisation will acknowledge the crucial role that bookshops play in our culture, economy and wider society.”

She echoed the words of Philip Pullman in adding: “Bookshops are lanterns of civilisation and, for many, beacons of hope. We urge the government to consider classifying them as essential retailers.”

Children’s books still too white

Research finds 3% growth in the number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK in the last two years but only 7% of the children’s books published iover the last 3 years feature characters of colour

Meanwhile, the CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) and BookTrust have announced a partnership to drive long-term and systemic change in representation in children’s literature and publishing. Both organisations are calling on the publishing industry and those who work with children’s books to improve the representation of characters in children’s books and of the authors and illustrators responsible for them.

Findings from BookTrust’s Represents Interim Research and CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature, both report some positive progress over the past three years (2017-2019), but there remains a long way to go for representation in children’s books and publishing to mirror UK society.

Key findings include that the number of children’s books published in the UK over the last three years featuring characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background has increased to 10% in 2019, rising from 4% in 2017, 7% in 2018, according to CLPE. However, in the UK primary school population 33.5% of children are from a minority ethnic background.

The number of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK in the last three years has grown to over 8%, an increase of 3%, rising from less than 6% in 2017. According to BookTrust, the number of British debut creators of colour has increased from 12 in 2017 to 24 in 2019, but nearly half of these are self-published or published by a hybrid publisher.

BookTrust Represents aims to increase the number of published creators of colour of children’s books, and for children to have access to and to read more books by creators of colour. According to BookTrust: ‘The latest findings show that whilst there has been an increase, there is still a long way to go.’

The CLPE report, which identifies and evaluates representation within picture books, fiction and non-fiction for ages 3–11, ‘provides a benchmark to track and understand progress and a toolkit to support both producers and consumers of children’s literature to be more critically reflective in the move towards a more inclusive future.

‘Both reports have made a significant contribution to the wider conversation about representation in children’s books and publishing, by ensuring consistent evaluation and supporting publishers to maintain momentum. However, the figures from each update illustrate the significant extent of under-representation across the board in children’s publishing and literature and the challenge that remains for the wider industry.’

Jill Coleman, director of children’s books at BookTrust, said: “Books play an important role in shaping children’s lives: these stories and characters will affect how they see themselves and the world around them, their motivation to read, and their aspirations to become authors and illustrators of the future.

“We are pleased to see that there has been slow and steady progress in the representation of authors and illustrators of colour since 2017: but we are ambitious to achieve more. We have now revised our targets and want to challenge ourselves and the publishing industry to increase the number of creators of colour in the UK to 13% by 2022.”

Ceo of CLPE, Louise Johns-Shepherd, said: “We began this work in 2017 and we know that since the publication of the first statistics work has been done across the charity, arts and publishing sectors to put in place a range of measures designed to institute real change.  This change will take time because we also know that the structures and systems in place are entrenched and societal. Whilst the third year of data shows a continued increase from the first and second year of this work, we believe that there is still much to be done.”

Sarah Crown, director of Literature, Arts Council England, said: “The CLPE and BookTrust’s respective research into the diversity of characters in children’s books, and the representation of writers and illustrators of colour across the children’s literature sector, has been crucial in helping to address historic imbalances and lack of opportunities.

“While it’s encouraging to see consistent improvement over the past three years, there is significantly more work to be done, to ensure all children can see themselves in the books they read and that the children’s publishing industry reflects the diversity of twenty-first century Britain. I’m pleased that we’re able to continue to support both these organisations, working with them to identify actions and foster collaborations to increase the rate of change.”

CLPE’s Reflecting Realities Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature research is at: https://clpe.org.uk/publications-and-bookpacks/reflecting-realities

BookTrust Represents report Representation of people of colour among children’s book creators in the UK is at: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/represents

‘Essential’ status: Daunt backs BA call

Waterstones CEO James Daunt has backed the Booksellers Association’s (BA’s) call for bookshops in England to be granted “essential retailer” status (BookBrunch story). Speaking on Radio 4’sToday programme this morning, Daunt said: “The government knows and indeed recognises that retail is a very safe environment, which is why so much of it is open.” He pointed out that high street branches of WH Smith, England’s second largest chain bookseller, continued to trade.

Daunt mentioned the precedent of the opening of garden centres during the first lockdown, and to official policy in Belgium, where bookshops remained open despite severe lockdown rules. Smaller, independent shops, he said, were likely to be severely hit by restrictions to their ability to trade. Asked whether there was any evidence that smaller bookshops had gone out of business during the pandemic, Daunt said: “I have no doubt that if they don’t get their Christmas many of them will go out of business. We’re at a key moment for booksellers.”

It was put to Daunt that if lockdown were to be effective, a line had to be drawn somewhere, even though it might be unfair on some. “The question is, has the line been sensibly drawn,” Daunt said. “And I think in this case [it has] not.”

Strong early results at Bookshop.org

The organisation is also reporting that 2,500 publishers, authors and book bloggers have signed up to ‘ethical alternative to Amazon.’ Customers can browse book recommendations from authors, publishers and book bloggers, including Malorie Blackman, Max Porter, Nikesh Shukla, Eimear McBride, Emma Gannon, Melissa Harrison, Damian Barr Literary Salon, and the Poetry Book Society.

Nicole Vanderbilt, managing director at Bookshop UK (pictured), said: “It’s been incredible to see the reaction from book lovers over the past 10 days, and hugely gratifying to have generated £100k in profit for bookshops in such a short period of time. It’s clear there is a hunger from consumers to support independent high street retailers while shopping online, which is all the more needed for bookshops in England while they are forced to close.”

Indie booksellers involved in the platform are bullish. Jay Armstrong, founder of Elementum bookshop in Dorset, said: “It’s been said that we’re in the same storm but in different boats. It’s early days but Bookshop.org has already thrown a lifeline to our tiny craft, helped steer us into safer waters and enabled us to set a different course. The UK team’s hard work, humanity and optimism lies at the core of everything they do. Bookshop.org is a game changer for tiny independent businesses like Elementum.

“To our absolute surprise and delight, Elementum was featured on the Bookshop.org homepage at launch. For the week we were there, the commission generated from sales covered our rent and utilities. Having benefitted from neither a rent reduction nor self-employed support, you can imagine the difference this has made. It’s not just about the bank balance, it’s about the boost to morale which gives you the will to carry on, knowing that what you’re doing is a good thing and in its own way makes a difference too.”

Jessica Paul, owner of Max Minerva bookshop in Bristol, said: “Bookshop.org is a game changer for independent bookshops, by giving publishers the option to link to and recommend indies, it’s taken the sting out of Amazon. This is another weapon in our arsenal to provide curated, thoughtful recommendations to our customers who want to shop online.”

Jo Zebedee, of The Secret Bookshelf in Northern Ireland, said: “As a small independent bookstore, building our own online shop was something we were struggling to find the resources for. We knew of Bookshop.org’s American store and were excited they were coming to the U.K. A week in and we’ve had tremendous fun building lists for the storefront and have been astonished by the success of it!”

Bookshop.org offers an online marketplace that ensures independent bookshops receive the full profit margin (30 per cent of the cover price) from each sale they generate on the platform. Books are offered to consumers at a small discount and delivered within 2-3 days.

Bookshop.org first launched in the USA in January and has already raised over $7.5m for independent bookshops in the States.

Obama and Camilla lined up for next week’s Booker Prize ceremony

The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction announcement next week will see a ‘star-studded programme, including HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and President Obama’ in what is described by organisers as ‘a ceremony without walls.’ The traditional Guildhall prize-giving dinner had to be scrapped due to the coronavirus crisis.

Obama perhaps owes the organisers a favour as they have postponed the event by two days to avoid a clash with the release of his memoirs next Tuesday. Certainly, with five American or American-based authors on the six-strong list, the former President will be following the result closely. Camilla, meanwhile, has a long-standing interest in literary affairs and has presented both the Booker and the Women’s Prize in the past.

Other guests include former winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. The evening will also see featuring readings, produced by The Old Vic, from actors Ann-Marie Duff, Thandie Newton, Ayesha Dharker, Nina Sosanya, Stuart Campbell and Paapa Essiedu, and a live performance from the Chineke! Chamber Ensemble.

The prize-giving itself will be broadcast in partnership with the BBC from London’s Roundhouse on Thursday from 7-8pm. It will be broadcast on Radio 4’s Front Row (7.15-8pm GMT) and livestreamed on BBC iPlayer and BBC Arts Digital (both 7-8pm GMT) available to listeners and viewers across the world.

The ceremony, hosted by Radio 4’s John Wilson, includes both virtual and in-person special guests. Obama will talk about what reading Booker Prize novels has meant to him and Camilla will share her thoughts on the importance of reading during the pandemic (both on video).

Ishiguro will be talking to Wilson about the experience of having won both The Booker Prize and The Nobel Prize in Literature, and Atwood and Evaristo will describe what they’ve been up to in their year as Booker Prize winners.

All six shortlisted authors — Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor — will join the ceremony via a special screen in the Roundhouse.

For the first time, The Booker Prize has partnered with The Old Vic to bring the shortlisted books to life. The six readings, directed by The Old Vic Baylis Director Katy Rudd, have been performed and filmed on The Old Vic stage and will be showcased at the ceremony.

This year’s chair of judges, Margaret Busby, will be interviewed by Wilson before announcing the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. The winner will then join the ceremony live on screen to deliver an acceptance speech.

The BBC arts editor Will Gompertz and arts correspondent Rebecca Jones will be bringing the story to BBC News and BBC World News audiences in the UK and across the globe, theoretically reaching more than 500 million households.

Last night BBC Two broadcast a special 30-minute Booker Prize programme, presented by Kit de Waal, which profiled the six shortlisted authors, followed the progress of the prize and examined the wider landscape of the publishing industry in the wake of the year’s unprecedented global events.

Over three consecutive nights leading up to the winner announcement next week, The Booker Prize and Waterstones are hosting Instagram Live conversations, featuring interviews with two shortlisted authors every day. On Monday, author and presenter Sara Collins will interview Tsitsi Dangarembga (6.30pm GMT) and Diane Cook (7.15pm GMT); on Tuesday journalist Sarah Shaffi will interview Avni Doshi (1pm GMT) and Maaza Mengiste (7.30pm GMT) and on Wednesday presenter and BookTuber Simon Savidge will interview Douglas Stuart (7.30pm GMT) and Brandon Taylor (8.15pm GMT).

Following the announcement of the winner, the Southbank Centre will host the first digital event with the winning author on Monday 23 November as part of its ‘Inside Out’ series. The interviewer will be Bernardine Evaristo. The winner will also be interviewed by author and former prize judge Natalie Haynes for the Hay Festival Digital Winter Weekend on Friday 27 November.

The full shortlist for this year’s prize is:-
– Diane Cook (USA) with The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
– Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) with This Mournable Body (Faber)
– Avni Doshi (USA) with Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
– Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA) with The Shadow King (Canongate Books)
– Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA) with Shuggie Bain (Picador, Pan)
– Brandon Taylor (USA) with Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)