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Publishing News of the Week (31/08/2020)

Bertrams Can Only Pay £600,000 of its £25m Debts

In our first issue, the news team reported on book wholesaler Bertram’s going into administration and the anger publishers felt at their unlikely-to-be-paid-back debts.

Today, the extent of those debts is revealed. Standing at a whopping £25 million, Bertram’s can only pay 2.4% of this back as thy only have £600,000 available to them.

In the official ‘statement of affairs’ published on the UK Government’s Companies House page shows that 2,500 trade creditors are owed. The 63-page document lists the company's debts ranging from £15 for Anchor Creditors to over £2million to HarperCollins Distribution. Penguin Random House’s distribution company Grantham Book Services is also owed over £2 million.

Independent children’s publisher Sweet Cherry is owed in excess of £3,000. Bookpoint is owed £184,360. Central books, a distributor of books and magazines since 1939 are owed over £325,000. 2,500 companies have lost thousands of pounds. Oxford University Press and Pearson Education are owed more than £11 million.

Independent publishing houses that are concerned about the payment of debts were advised to petition the administrator for payment.

We reported that the change in distribution and the pandemic caused the closure, but Bertram told the BBC ‘'It's nothing to do with e-books or Covid-19 — people still like to hold and smell books.” There are no reports of another explanation. He is said to be devastated over the loss and has described this collapse as “like a bereavement”.

In the initial report, there was speculation over the gap Bertram’s left in the market and whether Gardners could fill this. This was confirmed by The Bookseller on 10th July as they are to re-open Bertram’s Norwich warehouse following their parent company, The Little Group, purchased Bertram’s assets. This move is said to give them extra warehouse capacity and allow it to grow and expand its range in the book distribution.

This is reported to be a positive move as Gardners now have the capacity to take on the gap and have an established operation in the middle of the country, with direct access to all areas. Bertram’s collapse made around 460 people redundant and it is unclear if they will be taken back on by Gardners.

As the warehouse was bought by Gardners, the online bookselling division, Wordery, was bought by Waterstones-owner, Elliott Advisers.

Women’s Prize Sponsor Bailey’s New Reclaim Her Name Series: Just Another Cack-Handed ‘Girlboss’ Attempt At Feminism?

The Women’s Prize celebrated its 25th anniversary this month with the launch of its “Reclaim Her Name” project together with its sponsor Baileys.

Twenty-five novels whose female authors were originally published under male pseudonyms have now been re-released online for free with the author’s “real” names displayed on the cover, with hard copies donated to select libraries throughout the UK. The covers of the twenty-five titles have also been redesigned and given a new modern look by illustrators, also all women, from across the globe. According to Bailey’s and the prize, the project is “championing female writers throughout the ages who faced many obstacles, not least sexism and prejudice” and “finally giving female writers the credit they deserve.”

However, Bailey’s and the prize have come under fire for potentially misunderstanding the nature of pseudonymity and anonymity: restoring an author’s “true” female identity does not necessarily equal a feminist act of reclamation.

As Catherine Taylor writes in The Times Literary Supplement on the subject:

“the troubling aspect of the Bailey’s project is that its rather superficial analysis and one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the complexities of publishing history, in which pseudonyms aren’t always about conforming to patriarchal or other obvious standards.”

In imposing the author’s “real names”, the project undermines the choices of authors such as George Eliot and Vernon Lee, who actively made the decision to present themselves as male in their writing and their wider lives. In a time where the transgender community is facing increasing offensive and trans-exclusionary attacks, the “Reclaim Her Name” project, when put under a microscope, seems to be just another erasure of transgender and non-binary experiences.

In addition to this troubling disregard of an author’s autonomy and enforcement of a singular cis-feminine narrative, Bailey’s edition of The Life of Martin R. Delany by Frances Rollin Whipper was mistakenly published with the distinctive silhouette of fellow social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass splashed on the cover. Frances Rollin Whipper was the first African-American to publish a biography in 1868, under the pseudonym Frank A. Rollin.

Baileys have since published an apology on their website:

“We are very sorry to say that a mistake was made [...] This was caused by human error at our agency VMLY&R and we should also have spotted this in our reviews. We have since withdrawn and replaced the front cover and are conducting a full investigation to understand exactly how this happened. We will also be putting further measures in place to ensure it can never happen again.”

But this was not the project’s only blunder. A Chinese-English writer, who published many books under the name Sui Sin Far, and only one under the name male pseudonym Mahlon T. Win has had this single-story printed under her birth name by Bailey’s and the prize. In doing so, her Chinese identity and heritage have been erased, and again the nuances and complexities of pseudonyms have been ignored. Sui Sin Far wrote at a time when it was incredibly significant to publish under a name that reflected her Chinese heritage.

Although the project may really have good intentions, the execution, on the whole, can only be described as shoddy.

Autumn to Spark Mass Publishing with 600 New Titles

On 3rd September 2020, the book industry is set to be overwhelmed with 600 new releases. COVID-19, and the effects of the lockdown, meant that many books were held back from their original summer publication dates. Subsequently, hundreds of books will now be hitting the shelves in the autumn and will be competing for the Christmas bestselling spots.

Autumn’s big commercial releases will include Martin Amis, Roberts Harris and Galbraith, David Attenborough, Elena Ferrante, Caitlin Moran, Nick Hornby, Ant and Dec and Will Young. Every year on the day dubbed ‘Super Thursday’, hundreds of anticipated books are published. But this year, extra books will be hitting the shelves with a series of what the Bookseller has called “mini-Super Thursdays” that will take place across September and October. It is important to note that this total also includes countless academic and reference books published on the same day, though we can’t imagine those will pose much competition for the Sunday Times Bestseller list.

600 new titles should mean good news for booksellers, many of whom are recovering from the losses caused by lockdown. However, it will also mean that bookshops — particularly small independent bookshops — will be making hard choices on which titles are awarded a place on the shelves.

The high competition between titles is majorly concerning for debut authors who are worried about the lack of exposure and the heightened competition that their books will face in the lead up to Christmas.

With this in mind, Sam Missingham has provided a useful post on her blog, The Empowered Author, that gives “advice and encouragement to think beyond your first book.”

The post, titled Dear Debut Authors, is a collection of personal accounts of the publishing process written by several different authors spanning from Malorie Blackman to Gareth L Powell. Dear Debut Authors features tips on how to stay positive and focused and to remember that a debut book is only the start of your career.

It’s an undeniably hard time for authors and more so for debut authors who are working hard to get their name out there which, more often than not, heavily relies on the marketing and exposure of their first book.

Although autumn looks set to have an avalanche of high-profile books, we wanted to showcase Sam’s brilliant post which reminds authors that they are not defined by a small marketing budget or the unfortunate events of the year. Success takes time, it doesn’t have to come on Super Thursday.

You can read the Dear Debut Authors post here.

The Future of The Bookseller as it is Officially Sold.

It’s been at the heart of publishing since 1858. And now it will be at the heart of The Stage.

This is only the third sale of The Bookseller since 1858 and now it has joined forces with the 140-year old theatre magazine The Stage, that has been owned and managed by the Comerford family since its inception.

Terms of this transaction are not made available to the public and the deal is effective immediately. This does leave speculation behind the motives and the details of the sale, especially after Nigel Roby’s extraordinary ten years as Chief Executive.

Both publications parallel each other in their respective industries;

“Bringing the two businesses together will make both of them stronger and give both companies a far better chance of enduring and thriving in the current, challenging environment than they would have done alone.”

Which asks the question: has COVID-19 been tough for them?

In regards to everyday operations, the two publications will run independently but with both senior executives reporting to Hugh Comerford. Philip Jones and Emma Lowe from The Bookseller are set to join the executive management team when The Bookseller relocates to The Stage’s office at Bermondsey Street. Roby launched a series of industry-leading conferences in his time to revolutionise the publication and keep it at the heart of the publishing industry. He calls leaving a “bittersweet moment” and continues on to comment that:

“Owning and running The Bookseller has been the greatest privilege of my working life. To know that The Bookseller and the brilliant team behind it can go forward with confidence is profoundly heartening. Leaving was never going to be easy. And it isn’t!"

Roby’s achievements include:

  • The FutureBook Conference “has tracked, interrogated, and challenged the way the international book business has embraces the digital content revolution” and to this day remains the stand-out gathering for smart thinking.

  • Re-launching the British Book Awards as an annual black-tie gala in Mayfair presenting industry and book awards.

  • Books In The Media

  • Jobs in Books

  • BookGig

These are all tools and events that publishing hopefuls and readers of The Publishing Post find invaluable, keeping us in the loop and helping us to up-skill our way into our dream jobs, so we owe our thanks to Roby. But I am sure we are all asking, what changes will this bring to publishing’s heart?



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