Publishing News of the Week (06/07/2020)
Hachette UK Announces Five New Regional Offices
In an exciting turn of events, Hachette has announced plans to build five new regional offices located in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol. As the UK publishing industry is heavily London-centric, the move to more regional parts of Britain from a leading publisher is a positive step towards better representation and inclusivity across the country. London is often a barrier for publishing applicants living outside of the capital. If Hachette decides to recruit locally, then the move could create more opportunities for those looking to break into the industry with more diverse voices being represented.
Yet Hachette hopes the move will benefit its staff just as much as any potential new recruits. According to a staff survey conducted by Hachette, 41% of respondents expressed interest in relocating outside of London. The survey started a year-long consultation between Hachette and its staff, who volunteered to relocate to the new offices. According to David Shelley, CEO of Hachette UK, this is mainly because staff “no longer want or can afford” to live in London.
Hachette expects that up to forty London-based staff in total will move over the next year and further estimates that at least a hundred from across the company will have relocated by 2022. The publisher has not disclosed how big the new offices or teams might be, though this could lead to a significant expansion of the Hachette workforce. A redistribution of staff may also mean fewer work in the London offices.
The Bookseller has speculated that Edinburgh will most likely be the largest office, with Manchester also taking precedent because of Emma Layfield’s relocation to the city last year as ‘Picture Book Development Director, North.’ It seems that the relocation of existing London staff indicates that Hachette is committed to moving existing and successful divisions to underrepresented parts of the UK. This will give the new divisions a strong foundation as opposed to starting from scratch entirely.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has been a popular choice for many people in publishing. This has often raised questions on whether UK publishing has to be primarily located in London. We at The Publishing Post are glad to see that Hachette has taken this one step further by announcing plans to physically provide offices in other locations. As such, we wonder if more publishers will take the initiative to locate offices outside of London and perhaps offer more flexible working conditions to their staff in general.
Bertrams In Difficulty Long Before COVID-19
As publishers prepare for the ‘new normal’ without Bertrams—one of the UK’s leading book wholesalers—we debate whether the collapse of this distribution giant can be laid completely at the virus’s feet. Was the coronavirus the cause, or was it the catalyst that heightened the company’s pre-existing struggles?
Diane Slaney from Candlestick Press said that they “have unpaid invoices going back to November 2019,” a month before the earliest coronavirus cases. Sam Jordison, CoDirector of Galley Beggar Press, made the revealing statement that “Bertrams was obviously having trouble last year” as they “haven’t paid their December dues.”
Popular bestsellers, like David Walliams’ Slime (HarperCollins) and Alex Michaelides’ summer hit The Silent Patient (Hachette), were not in stock at Bertrams, supposedly due to supply chain issues. With the above information available to us, is it cynical to question this? Are publishers like HarperCollins and Hachette likely to have supply issues on these books, or is this a result of outstanding invoices?
It has also been reported that changes in the distribution model and the rise of the digital age has negatively affected book wholesalers, who have ultimately seen an unswerving fall in demand. The financial uncertainty caused by Brexit is also a contributing factor: this being the reason for the collapse of The Book People last year.
What does this mean going forward? Gardners are in exactly the right position to pick up Bertrams’ business and dominate the market, but limiting the competition is concerning; competition ensures prices do not skyrocket.
If nobody else enters this space in the market, there is growing concern that this may have an adverse knock-on effect on Gardners. According to Richard Drake (of Drake the Bookshop), “hopefully the extra trade that Gardners will now inevitably do will not diminish [their] excellent service.” We can only wait and see.
Many publishers have expressed frustration over the thousands of pounds owing in unpaid bills. Galley Beggar Press has outstanding invoices amounting to nearly £10,000 and was in need of emergency funding from the Arts Council. Could we see some small publishers irrevocably damaged by Bertrams’ collapse?
To make matters worse, The Bookseller revealed that Bertrams’ refusal to communicate with publishers over late payment issues had been the status quo for over a year. Wholesalers unable to pay funds owed to small publishers can result in bankruptcy for these businesses. When The Book People filed for administration in 2019, Galley Beggar Press were owed a whopping £40,000, and were only saved by a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Administrator Turpin Barker Armstrong announced, according to The Bookseller, that there would be a sale of Bertrams’ assets. However, it seems unlikely that publishers will recoup all payments owing to them. Publishers Weekly stated that, despite being owed huge sums, it was uncertain how much money publishers would be repaid. The first claims on Bertrams’ assets will be by the taxman, as well as the hundreds of staff made redundant by the closure.
The plight of many independent publishers suggests they are in need of greater legal protection to prevent wholesalers from holding their stock without payment. There is a clear imbalance in the relationship between indie publishers and powerful wholesalers that needs addressing. The big four UK publishers have the financial and legal power to weather such a crisis. As it stands, it may be weeks until publishers see a penny of their money, which may come too late to ease the pressing financial woes of the smaller players in the industry