A blog from Tonto Books, featuring musings from the publishing world and some occasional special guest appearances.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Publishing will eat itself...

Interesting article in the Observer this week about Frankfurt and the state of the book industry ('It's carnage ...' Inside the genteel world of books). To summarise: the publishing industry should be boarded up like an old abandoned mine.

The feature's author, Carole Cadwalladr, does a nice job of wading through the bizarre world of solicited/unsolicited submissions, slush piles, and agents, and gets some interesting quotes from industry faces.

Selected highlights include Bloomsbury editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle on the joys of being a writer ('It's a horrible job. It doesn't pay well. It's lonely. It's depression-inducing. It's frustrating. There's no fun to be had... When my writers say I could earn more money at the till at Sainsbury's, I say, well go and do it.'), Curtis Brown agent Jonny Geller on why writers should never attend Frankfurt ('It's soul destroying. You see writers being traded like pork bellies.') and publisher-turned-agent Patrick Janson-Smith on the state of the industry in general ('You look around and you think the world needs another book like it needs a hole in the head... If you're not in a three-for-two or Richard & Judy, forget it. There's no point. If you ask me, publishing is in a mess.').

This comes in the same week that Anne Enright's The Gathering (described by judges as as 'bleak, depressing and uncomfortable') won the Booker Prize. Chairman of the judges Sir Howard Davies launched an attack on the 'kid gloves' approach to reviewing literary novels. 'There appear to be some novels where people leave their critical faculties at home,' he said. His comments are printed in the Times (Rank outsider Anne Enright takes Man Booker Prize).

Meanwhile, Ed Handyside, founder of this fair city's own Myrmidon Books (Tan Twan Eng's Gift of Rain was long-listed for the Booker), discusses the peculiarities of the publishing industry in Publishing News (Boxing Clever).

'We've found the UK supply chain to be especially challenging,' says Ed. 'We actually find it easier, and often less costly, to sell our books overseas. There, buyers are content to judge us by our products. In British trade publishing the formula is reversed: the assumption made by press reviewers and some influential booksellers seems to be that a small press can't possibly produce books worth taking a look at. We've sold thousands of books in the Far East, South Africa and Australasia but, despite the enthusiasm of Borders, some independent booksellers and a few brave Waterstone's branches, you couldn't find any of our titles in our own city of Newcastle until a couple of months ago.'

All very interesting, and a good insight into why the book industry is currently circling the drain.


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