The Lament of the Bookseller: Too Many Cooks, Too Many Books; Analysis: Publishing ; Bookshops Make at Least One Third of Their Annual Profits during the Pre-Christmas Period, but Should More Be Done to Help Sales Year- Round?
Gray, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
IT'S THE time of year when bookshop shelves groan under an abundant harvest of titles, offering readers a feast of literary treats to feed on as the nights grow long.
This year's autumn book-buyer can pick from scores of new titles, including keenly-awaited novels by Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Tony Parsons, Zadie Smith and Donna Tartt, autobiographies of David Attenborough, Murray Walker and Kate Adie, and no less than six "celebrity" cookbooks.
The surfeit of riches is a traditional feature of the book industry's pre-Christmas sprint, when many shops make at least one third of their annual profits.
But this year the stream of titles from the publishing houses has become a flood, provoking booksellers to warn that some high- quality titles are at risk of being drowned. With heavyweight names like Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Ruth Rendell and Nigella Lawson demanding prominent displays in windows and in the front of shops, other books will fade into the background.
Even authors with track records, like the thriller writer Ken Follett, have difficulty competing, with some book chains warning that his new novel Hornet Flight could miss out. David Attenborough's autobiography will be a guaranteed seller, but while some shops might have chosen it for a weekly promotion at quieter times, they say it is too far back in the queue now.
Other new releases, such as Umberto Eco's Baudolino, Giles Foden's Zanzibar, or Middlesex, by the American Jeffrey Eugenides will get a fraction of the promotion they might have received at less crowded times of the year.
"Middlesex is a phenomenal book that deserves to do fantastically well, but I have got so many hardbacks to promote that it will inevitably lose out because it is less well known," one director of a high street chain said. "If it was released at a different time it would get a much higher profile."
The situation has been much more pronounced this year because of what book chains describe as a "dearth" of new titles in the spring and summer.
So deep is the concern with which booksellers have viewed this year's lists that they have called a conference with publishers later this month to plead for a more even distribution of releases throughout the year, to allow middle-ranking titles room to breathe. The meeting has been called by the Booksellers Association to tackle what it calls an "absurd and unmanageable glut" of books by trying to persuade publishers that a more even spread would be in their interests.
Tim Godfray, the association's group chief executive, said trade in the first half of the year had been "depressing", with very few new titles. Many shops had felt that publishers were delaying releases until Christmas because they feared the World Cup and Jubilee would distract potential readers.
"More good titles need to be published in the first six months of the year," Mr Godfray said. "The difficulty is that bookshops don't really have the space to give these titles the proper space they deserve when they all come out at once."
"We have to persuade the publishers that it is in their commercial interest to spread the publication dates. This is the first year that booksellers have really felt that that it warrants getting together and talking to the publishers as a matter of urgency."
But publishers argue that they are taking common-sense commercial decisions in putting out popular books at a time when the country is most thinking about buying them, and the figures support their logic. …