Publishing News (18.01.2021)
Can Reading Help Overcome Loneliness?
In the wake of a third national lockdown, many people will suffer from loneliness, finding themselves with more time on their hands over the winter months. In recognition of the continuing impact on people’s mental health, The Reading Agency has been awarded a £5m Arts Council grant to expand its “Reading Well” project, which will allow the scheme to donate more mental health books to libraries across the UK. Meanwhile, the “Reading Friends” programme helps connect people with others through books.
This comes on top of the £750m package that the government dedicated to tackling loneliness during the first wave of the pandemic.
The Society’s website stated:
“The funding will be targeted at sectors that are well-known for having the power to bring people and communities together such as the arts, libraries, charities and radio. It will be a lifeline to cultural organisations, charities and local community groups who are delivering much-needed work to ensure no one feels isolated in their local community.”
This financial package will provide immediate and targeted relief to the people who are most at risk.
Evaluations of the impact that these schemes have had prove that putting money into encouraging people to read together is a worthwhile venture. A survey of those who participated in “Reading Friends” revealed that 83% felt more connected to other people after taking part in the scheme.
The Reading Agency undertakes vital work in ensuring that the extent of the problem is widely recognised. Their “A Society of Readers” report found that by 2030, the issue of loneliness “will have reached epic proportions,” particularly amongst those over 60.
How can reading assist with loneliness?
The power of reading to do just that has been proven tenfold since last March. Whilst reading has sometimes been perceived as a solitary hobby, the online culture that has grown around books has proven the opposite. From bookstagram to BookTok, digital events and book clubs have shown that reading is an inherently social activity. Books are made to be talked about with friends and family and whilst many people still can’t be together, swapping opinions and recommendations over a Zoom call can make a huge difference to those people who are struggling. At a time when we all need a bit of an escape from reality, losing ourselves in faraway worlds and larger than life characters provides welcome distraction from the news and financial worries.
The Duchess of Cornwall to Launch an Online Reading Room
On 1 January 2020, the Duchess of Cornwall announced her plans to launch a book club that would try to encourage readers of all ages to discover new authors. The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room will launch on 15 January via Instagram, with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, recommending four books for the winter season.
Each recommended book will also have exclusive content from the authors and Camilla discussing the works in question.
Inspired by the success of the reading lists published by Her Royal Highness at Easter and in the summer of this year, the channel will offer new seasons of book recommendations, as well as providing exclusive insight from the authors themselves, in a community space for book lovers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.
The reading lists the Duchess published at Easter, which received a positive response, inspired the Reading Room. The books were chosen by Camilla ranged from the modern fantasy novel The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, which she called “storytelling at its best”, to A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
However, the titles for the first winter season of the Reading Room won’t be disclosed until 15th January.
Despite this, the initiative has already gained lots of attention. The Instagram account has received support from author and artist, Charlie Mackesy who talked about his book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse on the Instagram account.
It is worth noting that this type of initiative is not new. The world of book promotion, particularly on digital platforms has long been used by bookstagrammers and book bloggers alike . However, the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room will offer a new type of royal exposure for books.
Whilst the reading list has not yet been disclosed, it would be great to see a variety of books from diverse authors and indie presses on the Duchess's list.
The project has been described as "a community space for book lovers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds." If the project truly reflects this, it could become a great resource for the online book community.
In the past, the Duchess of Cornwall has helped launch two National Literacy Trust digital platforms for parents and teachers to support children affected by COVID-19. The trust helped launch the Virtual Library to give primary school children an online library. We hope that this project is just as beneficial for readers as it is for authors and who are struggling to sell many books this year.
Ultimately, we're excited to see how this project grows and hope to keep you updated in due course.
A Post-Break Summary of All Things Brexit, Pandemic and Publishing
The two biggest events of the year 2020 for the publishing world? The COVID-19 pandemic that still has Britain in its grip and, when many of us were putting mince pies and a glass of sherry out for old St. Nick, the UK and EU agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal.
On 24 December 2020 at 3:01p.m., Boris Johnson tweeted:
The deal was welcomed by The Publishers Association (PA) in a tweet by The Bookseller less than one hour after the PM’s tweet. Stephen Lotinga, the PA chief executive, said that a deal was always the preferred option and stressed the importance of Europe for the publishing industry: “Europe is one of UK publishing's most important markets, accounting for a third of our book exports, so maintaining seamless trade is of the utmost importance to the industry.” The deal is hoped to continue the UK’s status as the largest exporter of books.
However, on 4 January, the immediate joy became relief intermingled with concern over the “maze” ahead. Heads of larger publishers spoke of their relief and appeared upbeat in the wake of the agreement; indie publishers did not mirror their feelings. Bluemoose Books and Galley Beggar Press revealed a more sombre outlook, with concerns of how welcoming England is to other cultures.
The Society of Authors, as well as the PA, also looked at what this meant for copyright laws. They remain “cautiously optimistic” that the deal is committed on both sides to maintaining the World Intellectual Property Organisation Treaties and The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights standards, but the UK government is showing a concerning lack of support for the EU Copyright directive.
With the end to freedom of movement and the introduction of visa and work permits, freelancers working with European companies or authors may have a complicated and extended “working from home” environment.
The news also sparked a response from The Alliance of Independent Authors, who were concerned about what this means for indie authors distributing their own books and the customs declaration papers this will involve. The COVID-19 pandemic brings its own logistical complications to this matter for indie authors as post offices will be experiencing longer queues, and helping people with their documents may be more difficult due to restrictions.
The Pandemic’s Impact on Publishing
Speaking of COVID-19, no 2020 review would be complete without an examination of the effects of the pandemic on publishing. No industry was immune to both the economic and emotional toll of the virus: the pandemic threatened to wipe out a decade of growth for independent bookshops and forced the postponement of countless new releases.
Long anticipated events in the industry, such as the London and Frankfurt book fairs, were cancelled, or scaled down to virtual events. Most employees, too, have been working from home since March of last year, despite brief hints of a return to the office during the autumn. Though this has been challenging, it has also undoubtedly changed the way the publishing industry operates for good. Flexible working demands and a desire to spend more time with friends and family have driven a permanent shift to more remote working.
For independent bookshops, publishers and agencies, the pandemic amplified the divide between the industry’s biggest players and everyone else. Whilst Penguin Random House were preparing to buy Simon & Schuster and Hachette reported a “stellar” third quarter, hundreds of other small bookshops were considering the viability and future of their stores.
Despite a brief respite during the summer and Christmas periods, when booklovers were welcomed back into physical stores, the UK’s independent bookshops have adapted to new ways of working whilst competing with online giants such as Amazon. They have come up with imaginative new ways to run their businesses and serve customers during the unprecedented world we have found ourselves in, from offering free home delivery services to migrating book clubs online.
However, despite all its obvious negative effects, the pandemic also showed us just how much books are valued by the public. At the beginning of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, the BBC announced that people were stockpiling books. Sales of fiction had risen by a third, while children's education went up by 234% to the third highest level on record. People sought escapism and education through the written word, and continue to do so during the UK’s third lockdown. The path out of the pandemic in 2021 may look uncertain, but the industry’s resilience and public demand for literature offer a beacon of hope.