Supply-chain Issues Threaten Publishers’ Sales Success
By Naomi Churn
In January of this year, official book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan reported that UK book sales hit an eight-year high in 2020, with an estimated more than 200 million print books flying off the shelves. This was a stellar publishing achievement, especially as bookshops remained closed for much of 2020.
The Big Five publishers released some big-hitting titles last year, with Charlie Mackesy’s charming The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, Richard Osman’s witty mystery The Thursday Murder Club and popular cookbook Pinch of Nom topping the charts and driving up sales.
Success of the Indies
But independent publishers also appear to have fared well during the pandemic. Canongate, for example, recently reported a record-breaking year for 2020, with a turnover of £13.9 million, an increase of 16% from 2019. Canongate were also crowned Independent Publisher of the Year at The British Book Awards for their efforts throughout 2020, particularly in promoting Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, which has sold more than 310,000 copies to date. CEO Jamie Byng also commented that this success has continued into the first half of 2021.
All indications point to the publishing industry successfully weathering the storm created by a global pandemic, as people turned to books more than ever for comfort and entertainment throughout the various lockdowns.
Supply Chain Issues
However, with a busy pre-Christmas period on the horizon and many big-name titles set to be released this autumn, Brexit-induced supply chain issues threaten to disrupt this run of success. A shortage of HGV drivers, attributed to both Brexit and COVID-19, has caused major disruption to distribution services for many publishers.
Companies such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette UK have all acknowledged the negative impact this shortage is having on their supply chains. Readers who have pre-ordered popular September titles through Amazon are being told they may have to wait long beyond the publication date to receive their books.
In light of the success of 2020, the next few months are anticipated to be one of the busiest ever pre-Christmas periods for book sales. But booksellers currently do not have the stock levels to meet the demand. The Booksellers Association has stated that:
“Booksellers are starting to get nervous, given how crucial this Christmas period will be to this year’s bottom line for the high street sector and for future viability.”
Publishers and retailers are preparing as best they can. Many publishers are extending lead times on titles, moving printing and production to the UK and absorbing the extra costs involved. Hachette UK has even started training distribution staff as HGV drivers, while major retailer Waterstones has reported significantly increasing stock levels to ensure they are ready for Christmas.
Industry-wide disruption is set to continue throughout the autumn season, and how publishing sales will fare in response to this remains to be seen.
Man Booker Prize Announces its 2021 Shortlist
By Naomi Churn
When it comes to literary prizes it doesn’t get much more prestigious than the Man Booker. On 14 September, Booker judges Gaby Wood and Maya Jasanoff revealed the six titles competing for the top spot, which is worth £50,000.
Anuk Arudpragasam's A Passage North follows a young man on his journey into the war-torn north of Sri Lanka to attend the funeral of his grandmother’s caretaker. The book deals with themes of loss, longing and conflict and is the second novel from Arudpragasam, whose first offering, The Story of a Brief Marriage, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
Damon Galgut’s The Promise explores the decline of a white South African family living on a small farm outside Pretoria during the unravelling of apartheid. Galgut was born in Pretoria where the novel is set, although he now lives in Cape Town. One of his previous books, The Good Doctor, was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The only debut novel on the list is Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This, which asks the pertinent question – what happens when your entire life is lived through a screen? This is Lockwood’s first novel, but her memoir Priestdaddy was published in 2017 and was named one of the best books of that year by the New York Times Book Review.
The protagonist of Nadifa Mohamed's The Fortune Men is Mahmood Mattan, a father, petty thief and long-time resident of Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, who is accused of murdering a shopkeeper. The reader watches as Mahmood’s faith in justice dwindles, as he fights for his life against severe prejudice. Sathnam Sanghera, author of the best-selling Empireland, called it “chilling and utterly compelling.”
Veteran prize-winner Richard Powers has made the list with Bewilderment, a poignant novel following astrobiologist and recent widower Theo Byrne as he searches for life throughout the universe while raising his unusual nine-year-old son, Robin. Powers has published thirteen novels to date, and his previous book Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle crosses oceans and continents in a bid to tell the twin stories of a daring female aviator, Marian Graves and the actress who will eventually play her on screen. New York Times best-selling author Shipstead said her plan with Great Circle was to write a book about “scale, travel and what it means to live a life that’s truly free.”
Booksellers largely welcomed the shortlist and hailed it as one with promising sales potential. Waterstones fiction buyer, Bea Carvalho, said the shortlist “represents contemporary fiction at its brightest and most ambitious.” Some expressed disappointment that Kazuo Ishiguro’s hugely popular Klara and the Sun was overlooked, while others voiced concern that Nadifa Mohamed was the sole British writer on a list featuring three American authors.
Despite these concerns, the publishing industry has had a largely positive reaction, acknowledging it as a balanced list with something to appeal to every reader. The shortlisted authors will have to wait on the edge of their seats until 3 November for the prize winner to be announced.