Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gladys gazes into the crystal ball

Given the surprises we’ve had this year: Pearson buying Harcourt, Collins Booksellers acquiring Book City, Borders putting all its international stores up for sale, Angus & Robertson’s now-celebrated ‘pay up or its goodbye’ letter to its suppliers, it would be a brave person to make some predictions for the trade for 2008. Michael Cairns, US-based former president of R R Bowker and now an industry consultant, has posted a few predictions to his PersonaNonData blog, including ‘there will be some additional consolidation in trade and this could result in a higher profile for Hachette, Bloomsbury and/or Macmillan.’ If I could hazard a few predictions of my own, they would be:

• Melbourne’s Discovery Media is purchased by Cengage, which promptly changes its name to DisCengage.
• Borders merges with Barnes & Noble in the US and announces plans to build an international bookselling chain … all over again.
• French mega-publisher Lagardère buys another ailing UK publishing house only to discover six months later that it already owned it.
• Clive James finally finds the speech he was supposed to make at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.
• With both the continuing consolidation of publishers and the proliferation of literary awards, we finally arrive at the day when one publisher wins everything.
• Christmas stock deliveries are flawless as distributors fail to reach agreement on whose turn it is to muck things up.

By all means share your own predictions with readers of this blog by making a comment below.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The perks of the job

You may recall the case a couple of years ago of Joe Gordon, the Edinburgh bookseller sacked for maligning his employer, UK chain Waterstones (or 'Bastardstones,' as he preferred) in his blog. I'm reminded of the case by poet (and sometime bookseller) Tracy Ryan, whose latest collection of verse, Scar Revision, has just been released by Fremantle Press (I'm still getting used to that name change, Clive). Her poem 'Curriculum Vitae' is a thoughtful meditation on work and the worker and includes a section inspired by Mr Gordon's fate. Ryan seems to speak with some experience as she describes the job thus:

Refuge of intellect
Without resources, without room to move.
But huge compensations: books, and books,
And books, and special discounts, and first look-in
When stock's discarded. Teabreaks
Where no one minds you reading. It's the perks
They get you with, and once they do, you're got.

Sound familiar? The poem also contains a 'downsizing' episode that will ring a bell with quite a few chain booksellers. Well worth ordering a copy for stock just to have a read.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Check under the beds again!

We are living in the era of the survey, by my troth. Mary Cunnane received one before Christmas from a student at a publishing course run by one of our leading universities, who was eager to learn more about the romantic and glamorous world of the literary agent.
In the main, the student's questions were straightforward enough: 'What are the most and least satisfying aspects of your line of work?' and 'What skills or qualifications would be ideal for this kind of work?' were two. Buried further down, however, Cunnane discovered an altogether more troubling question: 'How do you educate yourself about the market and all its different fascists?' Sadly, I am not privy to Cunnane's response (although I like to imagine she named a few names). I realise the industry isn't quite the socialist nirvana it used to be back in those heady days of the 1970s, but I had no idea that it had swung so far to the other side.